The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Seeds of Stories from Other Countries

Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 461-467

[From the book "Clear Round!" by Elizabeth Anna Gordon, 1851-1925. Gordon was fascinated by the link between Christianity and Buddhism, and spent much of her life in Japan. Nijima is a real person: born Niijima Shimeta, 1843-1890, he later used the name Joseph Hardy Neesima.]

                                         VI. THE STORY OF NIJIMA.

In old Japan, the Samurai were the military class, and the retainers of the Daimiô (princes). They were distinguished above all others by their loyalty to their masters and intense patriotism. They loved the Right and hated Wrong. The celebrated tale of "forty-seven Ronins" affords proof of this. It was the privilege of the Samurai to carry two swords; a long one for fighting, and a short one to kill themselves in cases where honour was dearer to them than life. It was a certificate of noble birth. "The girded sword is the soul of the Samurai." ["Yet in one day, obedient to Mikado's word, they laid down for ever their two trusty swords."--Sir E. Arnold. And "as the sword was the soul of the Samurai, so the Samurai were the soul of Japan."--Griffin.]

Of one of these Samurai, who had doubtless inherited these characteristics, I have a remarkable story to tell you, in which the Hand of God can be distinctly traced during the wonderful period of Japan's awakening.

When Commodore Perry entered Yedo Bay, a little boy, aged ten years, named Nijima, was living at Tokyo. His family were Sintoists, but at fifteen he refused to worship the gods in his household-shrine, as he said that they were only "whittled ones," for they never touch[ed] the food and drink which he offered them. Soon after, a portion of a Chinese geography-book about the United States fell into his hands, which he read many times, and "I was wondered so much as my brain would melted out of my head, because I liked it very much;" and "from that time I wish to learn American knowledge, but alas! I could not got any teacher to learn it. Although I would not like to learn Holland I was obliged to learn it, because so many of my countrymen understood to read it." He would steal away to a Dutch teacher, and on one occasion his Daimiô (prince) caught him and flogged him for running off from his work, and asked:

"Why you run out from here again?"

Nijima replied: "I wish to learn foreign knowledge, and I hope to understand very quickly; therefore, though I know I must stay here and reverence your law, my soul went to my teacher's house to learn it, and my body was obliged to go thither too."

Then the Prince said very kindly:

"You can write Japan very well; and you can learn yourself enough with it; if you don't run away any more, I will give you more wages. With what reason will you like foreign knowledge?"

Nijima's thirst for knowledge brought him ridicule and blows, and he became ill with his thwarted purpose and unsatisfied longings.

He went to an arithmetic school to enable him to understand a "Book of Nature" which came into his possession. One day he saw off the shore at Yedo, "largest man-of-war of Dutch lying there, and she seemed to me as castle, or as a battery, and I thought, too, that she would be strong enough to fight with enemy. While I look upon her, one reflection came into my head, that we must open Navy, because my country is surrounded by water, and if foreigners fight to my country we must fight with them at sea; since foreigners trade, price of everything get high, the country get poor; therefore because the countrymen don't understand to do trade, we must learn foreign knowledge."

So when he could get away from work he went to a Government marine school to learn navigation; but studying at night so injured his eyes that for eighteen months he had to leave his books, and after this an attack of measles further "spoiled" them.

Then an abridged version of the Bible in Chinese came into his hands, which he studied by night for fear of "the savage country's law to cross (crucify) my whole family." When he read the opening sentence, "In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth," he put down the book and looked around saying, "I! Who made me? My parents? No; my God. God made my parents, and let them make me. Who made my table? A carpenter? No; my God. God let trees grow upon the earth, although a carpenter made up this table it indeed came from trees; then I must be thankful to God. I must believe Him, and I must be upright against Him;" and he prayed to his Maker: "Oh! If You have eyes, look upon me; if You have ears, listen to me." He longed to read the English Bible, but could find no teacher. At last he made up his mind to leave Japan in search of the truth; but death was the penalty if he returned, and probable danger to his family.

Disguised as a servant of a Samurai he was put by friends into the bottom of a boat and covered up, and at midnight, with muffled oars and hushed voice, the true-hearted young patriot, who went to seek light and blessing for his country, stole away from the shores of Japan as a culprit and was put on board an American schooner bound for Shanghai, on which an English speaking friend had engaged his passage.

The good captain concealed him in his own cabin under a heap of clothes, while early next morning the Japanese officials searched the ship to ensure that no Japanese was secreted on board. Picture the penniless youth venturing among unknown tongues into the vast mysterious world beyond, where everything was so utterly unlike "things Japanese"; and seeing his beloved native land receding from his view! To add to this anguish he was expected to do menial work on board; having always had servants to wait upon him, his Samurai blood rebelled, and once or twice, when the sailors rudely ordered him about, he thought of seizing his sword and cutting down the men who insulted him; but, when he reflected that he could not thus realised his great purpose, he calmed his passions, and meekly submitted to the indignity.

He had only four dollars in the world, and at Shanghai was still in danger of being betrayed, and taken back to Japan. But he found another American vessel bound for Boston, and begged the captain to let him work his passage there. "I begged him if I get to America, please let me go to a school and take good education." The captain kindly took him as his own servant, called him Joe, and taught him English and navigation on the voyage, which lasted a twelvemonth.

At Hong Kong he found a Chinese New Testament, but how could he get it? having promised the captain to ask for no money. He thought of his two swords, and he finally exchanged his short sword for the New Testament. This action, to a Samurai, was the depth of humiliation; it meant his costliest possession, the badge of his nobility; but to gain the pearl of great price, Nijima sold his "all." [See "Pilgrim's Progress': "We buy the truth," and Christian and Faithful as they passed through Vanity Fair.] He spelled out the first three Gospels, and at last came to S. John iii. 16: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This impressed him very deeply, and he felt that this was the Saviour he needed. "When such thoughts pressed around my brain I could not read book very cheerfully and I could not work very well, and I only looked around myself a long time as a lunatic."

At Boston he bought a second-hand "Robinson Crusoe," and this book first taught him that he might pray to God as his heavenly Father, a present real Friend. The shipwrecked Crusoe prayed in his distress, and why not he? So every night he prayed to God: "Please don't cast me away into miserable condition."

For ten weeks during the captain's furlough, Nijima was left alone "with rough and Godless men who kept the ship," doing hard, heavy work, such as he had never done before. Everybody he met frightened him, saying, "Nobody on shore will relieve you, because since the war the price of everything got high. Ah! You must go to sea again." He thought too, "I must work pretty well for my eating and dressing, and I could not get in any schools before I could earn money to pay a school."

On his return the captain told the story of this bright young Japanese seeker after truth to the owner of the ship, who sent for Nijima, and asked his name. "The sailors call me Joe," he replied.

"You are well named, Joseph," said Mr. Hardy; "God has sent you to be a saviour to your people."

Mr. and Mrs. Hardy thought the opportunity of giving this youth a thorough education was a sacred trust from God, and well they filled it. Nijima was sent to academy, college, and theological seminary, where he, too, faithfully used his opportunities.

The third Japanese Embassy to the West arrived in Washington in the winter of 1871, bent on inquiring into foreign institutions, especially education. Requiring an interpreter, and having heard of Nijima, they commanded him to appear before them. Being an outlaw, he was greatly troubled at this message, and declined to meet them except as a friend; or to serve them except on condition of their granting him a formal pardon for having left his country, and also the privilege of teaching Christianity when he returned to Japan. As they were desperately in need of his services, these two papers were sealed with the Imperial signet and given to him. He was thus enabled, after seven long years of absence and silence "as of the tomb," to write to his home, where he had been given up for dead. The next year was spent with the Embassy, visiting all the capitals of Europe; by his faithfulness and conscientiousness he gained the confidence of these gentlemen, so that on his return to Japan, three years later, they, being at the head of the Government, gave him the greatest help in establishing his College. The one great purpose of his life was to found a Christian College.

His careful habit of looking into every minute detail, and taking minute notes of whatever came his way, and especially his great interest in education, had prepared him to be an invaluable aid to the Embassy and to his country; his examination of the various school systems in the States was the basis of the Embassy's report on education; and was later on introduced in a modified form into Japan, and became the foundation of the existing system of education. Before leaving America he was, in 1874, ordained as the first Evangelist; on his return to his native land, Nijima was the means of bringing the Gospel into the very heart of Japan. The story of the fulfilment of his life-dream, the College, is too long to tell here; but despite overwhelming difficulties, the opposition of Buddhist priests, the deep-rooted prejudices of the people, the College was founded in September 1876, under the shadow of Mikado's palace, in the sacred city of Kyoto, the age-long centre of Buddhism, where foreigners had never been permitted to reside, under the name of Dôshisha--the "one-endeavour, or one-purpose company."

Amongst the first students were a band of fifteen young men who had been prepared, unknown to Nijima, in no less remarkable a way for the College. Early in 1871, a prince belonging to the "Foreigners-expelling party" in the island of Kinushu, started a school to train men to oppose all Western ideas, and in especial Christianity. In answer to their application for a foreign teacher, the Government at Tokyo sent an American captain (who was in their employ) with his family alone into the old castle-town of Kumamoto. So great was the hatred to Christianity that for six months after he began his work he did nor dare let it be known that he was a Christian. After a year of two's patient waiting, Captain [Leroy Lansing] Janes invited some of his advanced pupils to study the New Testament with him in English. The young men's patrons held a long consultation, and finally gave permission for them to attend, on the ground that as the school was started to prepare men to oppose Western ideas and specially Christianity, it was necessary, in order to effectually oppose, that they should know something about it; hence they might learn the Bible with that object.

For over two years the captain laboured without apparent result; but at length men were converted, and on January 30th, 1876, nearly forty went into a wood on a mountain-side and signed a solemn covenant pledging themselves to follow Christ the Truth, to love each other as brethren, to live pure lives, and to devote themselves for Japan.

This step caused persecution and imprisonment to overtake them; the school was broken up, and parents even threatened as a last resort to commit suicide (harakiri) if their sons did not renounce their faith. As the ties between children and parents are nowhere stronger than Japan, it can be guessed what a terrible threat this was. Yet they stood firm. Hence Captain Janes sought an entrance for them into the Christian college. One of those noble confessors [Yamamoto Kakuma] is now the Principle of Dôshisha University, having succeeded the Founder at his death two years ago. Four others hold professorships in it; and the rest are scattered up and down the Empire in positions of eminent usefulness. The following are some of Nijima's reflections:

"What is the true end of education? The full and symmetrical development of all our faculties; not a one-sided culture. However much students may advance in the arts and sciences, if they are not stable and persevering in character, can we trust them with the future of our country? . . . We seek and send out into the world not only men versed in literature and science, but young men of strong and noble character, by which they can use their learning for the good of their fellow-men. This can never be accomplished by abstract, speculative teaching, nor by strict and complicated rules, but only by Christian principles; the living and powerful principles of Christianity; and therefore we adopt these principles as the unchangeable foundation of our educational work.

Don't be Jack-of-all-trades. It is well to be widely informed on many subjects. We ought to be well posted at least in one subject of the professional studies. It will be a rich treat to us. Success in our life will chiefly hang upon it. Let this be our offense or defensive weapon on the battle-field of truth. Though our talent may be small, yet it is solid and weighty. Be single-minded for a single purpose. We shall sooner or later reach a mark. Never shoot arrows into the air; aim at an object. . . I never knew a single case of a talented, puffed-up, yet unsettled-minded man, having accomplished anything."

It is delightful to know that now numbers of young Japanese, for love of their country, willingly expatriate themselves and live in America or England for five, six, or seven years to "learn foreign knowledge," so that they may return and be a blessing to her; and that the rich Daimiôs provide as much as £1000 in order to pay the expenses of a promising young student abroad. And this is not all: the Emperor himself takes leave of them and speeds them on their noble errand, among his last words being the injunction, "Mind you be a credit to your country." And hitherto no Japanese has proved himself unworthy of this trust!

[If any of our reader are sufficiently interested in Japan to wish to know more of the hero's life, they can obtain a delightful "Sketch of the Life of Rev. Dr. Neesima," by the Rev. Professor Jerome Dean Davis, Dôshisha University, Kyoto, Japan, which gives a full account of his undaunted struggles for The Light and Truth.]

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