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. 858-865

[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.]


The Martyrs of the Morning Land.

At Kioto we visited the Christian church and read the inscription over the door, "To the living and true God (Deo viva a vera), and to Francis Xavier, the first Apostle to the Japanese."

Early in the sixteenth century, owing to civil wars, frightful earthquakes, famine, and disease, the country of Japan was in a state of absolute misery, ruin, and confusion. Such was the preparation for the coming of the Gospel-message. Seven years before Pinto's discovery, a Spanish soldier, Ignatius Loyola (in 1534), founded an Order, which was called the Society of Jesus, and his missionaries, who went into all lands (you will recollect their labours in Canada), were men of very holy, blameless lives, who cheerfully underwent all sorts of privations, even death itself, for Christ's sake. (The existence of the land and kingdom of Japan was unknown to Europeans until the year 1542, when Pinto, the Portuguese navigator, discovered it.)

A Japanese named Anjiro had fled in Pinto's vessel to Goa, where he met a Portuguese disciple of Loyola's, who taught and baptised him as Paul of the Holy Faith. This missionary should be reverenced by us all as the author of the splendid hymn--

       "My God how wonderful Thou art.
         *        *        *        *
       Yet I may love Thee, living God,
       Almighty as Thou art.
       For Thou hast stopped to ask of me
       The love of my poor heart."

His name was Francis Xavier, and like our Lord's own ministry upon earth (three years) his work for God in Japan was very brief--only two years; and I want you to note that it is not the length of our service or its quantity, but its tone and quality, that the Great Master blesses. Xavier first heard of Japan when he was evangelising Southern India in 1548, and the Prince of Satsuma's invitation reaching him at Malacca, through Portuguese merchants. He proceeded thither, in a Chinese junk (a journey of 2000 miles), accompanied by Anjiro, his two servants, and two other Fathers, Balthasar de Torres and Juan Fernandez; the Japanese he employed as interpreter. These men, coming with the message of peace, proclaiming the Gospel to the poor, and the joys of Paradise after the sorrows and turmoils of this life, were received with gladness by the afflicted Japanese people. Xavier said of them, "This people is the delight of my soul." Although it was a time of war they succeeded in establishing some Christian communities, and in animating them with missionary zeal. Nobles, priests, learned men and poor were alike converted.

Xavier left Japan, and died near Canton in 1552; but the seed he sowed bore fruit, and within twenty years the Christians numbered 300,000. Fernandez also returned to China; but Balthasar de Torres remained until his death, twenty-one years later, in 1570, living as a vegetarian, and going barefoot.

One of Xavier's great difficulties was to prove to the Japanese that those who did not worship the true God would be consigned to actual fire hereafter. They could not reconcile this with the infinite goodness of God. "If the Incarnate Word died for all why should not His death be profitable for all?" they asked. "If He condemns to eternal punishment all those who are not obedient to His law, why has He delayed its announcement to us during more than 1500 years? This God must be very cruel if He is not willing to put an end to the punishment of the lost, or very impotent if He is not able to do so."

The Japanese have such a tender love for all their relations, and the memory of their ancestors is very dear to them. They could not be content to regard them as reprobate. "What," they cried, bursting into tears, "our own fathers, our children, our relations, our friends! Must they remain during all eternity the unfortunate victims of the vengeance of God?"

In 1581 the Jesuits reckoned 150,000 adherents in all classes, and over 200 churches. The Daimios (native kings), who were converted, propagated the faith in every way; there were also many Christian princes.

In 1582 the Christian Daimios sent an embassy of four to Gregory XIII. At Rome. It took them three years to go round the Cape of Good hope, by St. Helena, to Lisbon. On their return, eight years later, great changes had come; in 1587, owing to the steadfastness of some Christian maidens, a sudden edict appeared, commanding the missionaries to leave the country. Sixty-five fathers determined to remain; but to close the churches, and avoid everything which would provoke hostility, such as preaching, processions, & c., they retired to the seclusion of their colleges, and occupied themselves in educating a native priesthood. The Christian princes invited them into their dominions, where they taught and administered the sacraments in private houses. Taiko Sama, the ruler, contented himself with destroying the churches; but an apostate Daimio, Don Constantine, persecuted the Christians most cruelly. A brave soldier, aged 70, was the first martyr, July 27, 1589. In spite of persecution the Christians increased at the rate of 10,000 yearly, till in 1605 they numbered one million eight hundred thousand. After Taiko Sama's death a period of peace ensued. But the great Shogun Iyemidzu determined to eradicate Christianity, and shut up the country against foreigners. Thousands of Christians were banished to the mines in the island of Sa-o. Their goodness and faithfulness led the governor, Okubo Nagaysu, to conversion.

Alas! sectarian jealousies proved one source of the troubles. Spanish, Dominican and Franciscan monks came on the scene, setting at naught the edicts and prohibitions had great processions. The Jesuits themselves, lulled into a false security, were led in acts of injudiciousness. But the cause, above all, was the unchristian lives of the foreigners, traders, and seamen, and the fact of their exporting large numbers of poor helpless Japanese (especially children) as slaves to Manilla and Macao, in such large numbers that "even the very negro slaves themselves could own slaves, for human flesh became so cheap." The Protestant Dutch and English, in revenge for Alva's prosecutions in the Netherlands, fostered false accounts, and did all they could to poison the mind of Japanese rulers against the Catholic Christians, and commercial jealousies between Portugal and Spain fanned the flame that burst out in 1614. In 1619 an Englishman, Captain Cocks, in the East India Company's service, reported that the Christians suffered as many deaths and tortures as in the primitive persecutions.

Very few, if any, renounced their profession; the most hideous forms of death did not scare them. The adversaries were sooner weary of inflicting punishment than they of enduring it. They made their very children martyrs with them, and carried them in their arms to the stake, choosing rather to resign them to the flames than leave them to the "bonzes" to be educated in the pagan religion. All the churches were demolished, and heathen pagodas erected on their ruins. In 1624 all foreigners but the Dutch and Chinese were banished. More terrible persecutions followed. Thousands fled to China and Formosa, thousands more died on the cross, were beheaded, drowned, or burned alive. All these accounts are preserved in English, Dutch, French, and Japanese. They certainly bring the heroes of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "who loved not their lives unto the death," very near to our own days. "The annals of the Primitive Church," wrote the historian Griffis, "furnish no instances of sacrifice or heroic constancy in the Coliseum or the Roman arenas that were not paralleled on the dry river-beds and execution grounds of Japan." Another chronicler states that the description of their torments reads like a chapter out of Dante's "Inferno."

While some were martyred the rest were made to look on. The victims were "flung from high precipices, burned alive, torn asunder by oxen, tied in sacks of rice-straw, and set on fire--put in cages in sight of food and starved to death."

These horrors continued for about twenty years without provoking any serious resistance from the Christians; but at length those who remained at Shimabara, and 37,000 were slaughtered wholesale in one day. The persecutors were aided by the Dutch Resident, Koekebacken who stated that he bombarded the besieged Christians from his ship for fourteen days with 429 great gun-shots.

The massacre baffles description, thousands were led to Papenberg (a rock at the entrance of the harbour of Nagazaki), and hurled into the sea. Later investigations show that the Shimabari martyrs were precipitated from the high cliffs, not far from Nagazaki, which surrounded the huge volcanic sulphur springs (like Solharta near Naples), the hot steam of which is ever seething and boiling (thence the name, "The big hell."), and flung from the steep rocks above.

To discover who were Christians when their numbers became so reduced, a test was invented, called the "E-funni," or trampling on the image of Christ. Even numbers of children in arms were put with their feet on it. At first an ink drawing was laid on the ground; but in 1669 a brassfounder invented a copper relief. More than 200 priests were martyred by this test. The Christians were "everywhere spoken against" as an evil incarnate. Proclamations against the Jashurnon (corrupt or evil set) were posted up in the centre of towns and villages, at crossroads and mountain-passes. They were still to be read in many places till the collapse of the Tokugawa rule in 1868, but have now disappeared. We had the privilege of seeing some of these precious relics in the Government museum at Tokyo, and of reading in the Japan Mail the following account of the persecution of the Tokugawa Shoguns from 1600 to 1868, taken from the "Shiggakki Zasshi" (an historical society magazine, which has lately published the results of the researchers into a number of rare old MSS., it has been the official duty of Mr. Okada, of the Historical Bureau of the Japanese Cabinet, to examine.)

1. A certificate from a Buddhist temple, called Tereuke-Shamon had to be produced in proof of orthodoxy for the suspected man and his household.

2. Image trampling.--In Edo (Tokyo) in Kri-Kiristian Yashika, and in the garrison at Nagazaki, the faces were closely watched to see whether the renunciation were willingly or reluctantly made. This dates from 1612, and was used chiefly for peasants and townsmen; and later on, it was found necessary to include beggars, as not a few Christians discovering that thus they could follow their faith in peace, consented to share the lot of the outcasts rather than renounce it.

Foreign shipwrecked sailors often had to undergo this test. The use of this test was not discontinued till some time after the arrival of Commodore Perry.

3. Rewards from fifty rye to laymen, 100 for deacons, and 200 for priests, rising to 100, 200, 300, were offered and posted throughout the Empire. Those were open even to Christians if they turned informers. Very few did.

4. In 1628 an edict forbidding Christian books, and all foreign books which contained any reference to religious teachers, rites, ceremonies, or customs. This included even books of mathematics, astronomy, law, medicine, as most of them contained some mention of the Christian faith. Ninety years later the Buzukei discovered that thus they impeded all national progress by stopping books on arts and sciences, and so they interdicted only religious works.

5. Taking Oaths.--Two forms were in use, the Japanese and the Southern barbarian of foreign oath. The former was taken by persons who had embraced Christianity, and desired to renounce it. In the Japanese oath the gods of the sixty-four provinces were invoked to witness the sincerity of the confession. The foreign form was drawn up by the noted Itakura Shigemune, and is still extant:--"I hereby declare that, though since the --- day of the --- month of the --- year of --- I have been a Christian, on this --- day of the --- month of the --- year of --- I renounce the Christian faith, and that I am a member of the --- sect (here the name of the Buddhist sect to which the person belongs was inserted); I repent of having believed the Christian religion, and promise that neither I, my wife, children, nor connections shall ever accept the Christian creed again. I promise that even though a man come and exhort me to confess my sin in renouncing the Christian religion, I will pay no attention to him. This document shall henceforth testify that I never intend to relapse into my former belief. If I break this promise may the punishment of God, the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Angels fall on me, while I live may I be afflicted with leprosy both white and black; when I die may I be seized by the devils, of hell, and be subjected to the five cold and six hot tortures."

Yet, in spite of this, foreign religious teachers continued to enter the country in various disguises, and succeeded in making converts before the authorities became aware of their presence. About twenty entered Japan disguised as merchants, but were discovered. And all "crossed." As they came from Manilla, the ruler determined to punish the Manilla people, and so, collecting all the lepers possible in Japan, he filled a large ship with them, and sent them as a present to Manilla, thus introducing the horrible disease of leprosy. A Japanese lady from the district of Satsuma told me she distinctly remembered as a child (she was then a Sonto-ist) the Keristans, in their dark blue cotton costumes, selling rice sandals (which they made) from door to door. For, notwithstanding, all these frightful persecutions, which nothing in the whole "Book of Martyrs" exceeds, the Light was not wholly extinguished; in places it continued to glimmer for centuries. In 1829 seven Christians were crucified in Ozaka. Thus, for over two centuries, a mighty fire had been smouldering beneath ashes of persecution. In Nagazaki we found an interesting photograph, evidently taken from an old-time picture: the priests, distinguished by the cross on their robes, are administering Holy Baptism to large numbers of Japanese in a river.

In the Roman Catholic Cathedral are many pictures of these martyrdoms. So, when the Sealed Land was re-opened, the French missionaries who entered the country (as well as the Japanese authorities themselves) in 1868 were astonished to find in the villages over 10,000 people round Nagazaki (Griffis), one large community in particular, at Urakami, who wore the dress prescribed for them by the Fathers, knew the prayers, made the sign of the cross, and baptised.

From the year 1641, the Dutch had a monopoly of the Japanese trade onward for 250 years, but under most ignoble circumstances. They were confined to the island, "Deshima," just off the town of Nagazaki, and were strictly watched as prisoners. They were permitted to leave it once a year on condition of their trampling on the cross. It measured 600 by 240 feet. We visited the spot, and paced the sort of quarter-deck to which those miserable creatures for love of self consented to be confined; and you will share our unutterable disgust of these pious hypocrites who (while boasting of their religious fervour, and uniting to blot out the Japanese Christians with a fiendish cruelty unsurpassed by Nero and Caligua) could thus write [it is the Dutch Resident, Koekebacken's letter we quote]: "In this service we have to put up with many insulting regulations at the hands of these proud heathens. We may not keep Sundays or feast days, or allow our spiritual hymns to be heard; never mention the name of Christ, nor carry with us any representation of the Cross, or any external signs of Christianity. Besides other things, we have to submit to many other insulting imputations, which are always very painful to a noble heart. The only reason which impels the Dutch to bear all these sufferings so patiently is simply the love of gain, and of the precious marrow of the Japanese mountains."

This representation of the Dutch Company had to bind himself not to enter into any connection with the Christian sect, not to bring any missionaries into the country, and every year to give the Court information as to the Christian sect.

Though in 1873 none were prevented reading Christian books or attending divine worship, or even professing Christianity, not till 1876 were all former edicts against Christianity revoked, and the notice boards with the proclamations against the evil sect taken down.

[Mothers should read a history dealing with the religious persecutions in Japan from all sides.--ED.]

Proofread by LNL, Nov. 2023