Table of Contents
A Key Person - Yajiro
Dainichi and Deus
Interaction with Buddhism
Impact of Historical/Contextual Conditions
The Christendom Approach
Lessons for the Church and Mission Today
The Jesuit order, or Society of Jesus, is a monastic order that was founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534. Its purpose was largely to protect the power of the papal administration - each father had to take a vow to undertake any mission upon which the Pope might send him. The Jesuits' work may be divided under three heads - teaching the young, preaching to the ignorant, and foreign missions. It was thus in accordance with the features of his order when Francis Xavier carried the Gospel to Japan (Natori 1957:20-21).
(return to Table of Contents)
One month later Xavier himself was invited to visit the daimyo. When Francis showed the daimyo a "very rich and ornately illuminated Bible" and other books and told him the Christian law was contained in them, Takahisa replied that he should carefully preserve the books, for "if the law of Jesus Christ was good and true, the devil must be greatly displeased by it." He gladly granted the permission requested to preach the new doctrine and provide for the support of the missionaries and their companions. He was interested in securing the trade with Portuguese merchants that he thought Francis' presence would bring to his port. A few days after the audience Takahisa published an edict giving his permission for the preaching of the new doctrine and for any of his subjects who wished to do so to convert to Christianity. The first convert was a young man of the warrior class, a samurai given the name Bernardo at baptism. He was very much attracted to Francis Xavier and stayed by his side throughout Xavier's time in Japan (Ibid.:vol. 4,63-66).
Xavier and the others spent their first winter in Japan trying to improve their Japanese and learning as much as they could about Japan, especially about the religions of Buddhism and Shinto. Only Fernandez gained any proficiency in the language. Xavier also devoted a great deal of time to a catechism which he wrote and which then had to be translated into Japanese. Yajiro worked with him to complete the translation, the main difficulty being finding Japanese words for Christian concepts. In the end, the translation was imperfect. A combination of Yajiro's lack of education, especially in regards to Buddhist philosophy, the poor pronunciation and unusual gestures of the foreign priest when read, and the strangeness of the new doctrine itself made the book mostly unintelligible (Ibid.:vol. 4,107-109). Yet many people came to hear Francis speak, including the administrator of the castle of Ichiku, some distance northwest of Kagoshima. The administrator arranged for Xavier to visit the castle, where through his ministry the administrator and several family members and servants, about fifteen in all, were baptized. The lord of the castle was also convinced of the truth of Christian teachings but did not receive baptism out of fear of the daimyo's disapproval (Ibid.:vol 4,111-117).
At the beginning of July, while waiting for an opportunity to travel to the capital of Kyoto, the Jesuits received news that a Portuguese ship had landed at Hirado, on the northwest of the island of Kyushu. Francis set off for Hirado immediately, hoping to receive answers to the letters he had sent in November with the return of the vessel that brought him to Japan. When Francis reached Hirado the Portuguese welcomed him, but they did not have the letters he had hoped for so he started back to Kagoshima after only a brief stay (Ibid.:vol. 4,118-124).
The status of the mission in Kagoshima had worsened. The bonzes had perceived the incompatibility and danger of this new teaching for them. They were numerous and powerful and because of them the number of converts had been limited to only around a hundred. Xavier believed that most of the city would have converted if not for them and for fear of the daimyo. The bonzes continually complained to Takahisa, telling him his lands would be destroyed by the new religion. He had ignored them up until now, when he saw that the Portuguese merchants had not come to him but to his rival at Hirado. He yielded to the bonze's demands and forbade further conversions under penalty of death. Xavier decided then that it would be best to leave Kagoshima for Hirado (furthering his plan of reaching Kyoto) and Takahisa gave him a ship to sail to Hirado, glad to be rid of him. Before departing, Xavier briefly visited the small community of Christians at Ichiku, leaving it in the care of the administrator. He left the care of the Christian community in Kagoshima to Yajiro. With tearful good-bye's the small company of priests and Japanese (Yajiro's two attendants and Bernardo) departed at the end of August, 1550 (Ibid.:vol. 4,124-132).
Xavier and his companions made a successful voyage to Hirado where they were greeted by the canons of the festively flagged Portuguese ship. They wished to show the natives how highly they regarded their priests. The young prince, Matsura Takanobu, was delighted when the group visited him in his palace. His territory was small, but the Portuguese ship in his harbor had attracted many wealthy merchants, greatly increasing his revenues. Because of this, Takanobu readily gave the priests permission to preach their new doctrine in his land. In a short time around a hundred persons had become Christians through preaching and the public reading of the catechism which had been composed in Kagoshima. The Portuguese ship was soon ready for its return trip to China and Xavier was anxious to press on to the capital. He decided to go on foot to Yamaguchi and from there seek means to continue to the capital. Less than two months after his arrival in Hirado, at the end of October, Xavier, Fernandez, and the faithful Bernardo set off for Yamaguchi. They took with them only a small amount of clothing, a blanket, a few books, and a sack of roasted rice (Ibid.:vol. 4,134-139).
It was a very long 155 miles to Yamaguchi. They were fortunately able to travel the first leg by boat, but from Hakata they were forced to walk the remaining seventy-eight miles on foot. Travel over the rough, snow covered mountains was very difficult and lodging was less than adequate. "At times, when they came to an inn at night, hungry, soaked, and thoroughly chilled, they were turned away. At other times their feet became swollen because of the great cold and deep snow…" (Ibid.:vol. 4,139-147) Upon reaching Yamaguchi, the three poorly clad strangers found a place to stay in the house of a man named Uchida. The news of their arrival soon spread throughout the city and many nobles and others were interested to hear about their new teaching, so Francis decided to interrupt his journey to preach the Gospel in this large city (Ibid.:vol. 4,152).
Xavier went twice a day with Fernandez as his interpreter to one of the many streets or intersections where many people could be found. Here Fernandez would read aloud from the Japanese catechism and then give a commentary upon it, at times translating interjections by Xavier. Changing their location each day, the Jesuits eventually preached in every major gathering place in the city. Fernandez preached mainly on the creation of the world and man and of three serious sins of the Japanese: abandoning God to worship "wooden objects, stones, and senseless things," the sin against nature of sodomy, and the infanticide practiced by many women. Xavier would stand next to him, silently praying for the success of his words. The reaction of the crowds was mostly poor and boys followed them, taunting and insulting the foreign preachers (Ibid.:vol. 4,152-154).
Xavier and Fernandez were also invited into the homes of many prominent nobleman, some genuinely interested in their teachings and some just to satisfy their curiosity or while away the time. The secretary of the daimyo was one who showed them good will and through his introduction they received an invitation to visit him. Ouchi Yoshitaka was one of the most powerful daimyo in Japan at the time, controlling provinces in northern Kyushu and six on the main island. Xavier and Fernandez appeared before him in their poor clothing. Yoshitaka asked them many questions and then listened to Fernandez read from the catechism for over an hour. When Fernandez reached the section on the sin of idolatry and the passage on the sin of the people of Sodom, the daimyo was visibly upset by the teaching. They were dismissed without a word, but they continued their street preaching for some time, with little visible success. One day, when Fernandez was preaching, however, one of his hearers came and spat in his face. Showing no emotion, Fernandez withdrew his handkerchief, wiped his face, and continued with his preaching. This act of self-control made such an impression on Uchida, their host, who was present, that he asked for baptism. He and his family were the first to receive it in Yamaguchi. Conversions were few, however, and eight days before Christmas the trio left Yamaguchi to continue on their journey toward Kyoto (Ibid.:vol. 4,156-163).
They were forced to travel as far as Iwakuni by foot and it was the coldest time of the year. The snow was frequently so deep that it reached to the knees or higher of the three travelers and in addition they had to pass through frigid streams. During this entire time, the priest was going barefooted. On the way he hurt his feet and tore his clothes, but Xavier was so engrossed with God that he did not notice this and was surprised in the evening to see his feet bleeding (Ibid.:vol. 4,167-169). Fernandez speaks admirably of Francis during these days:
To have any idea of what he endured it is necessary to have seen him as I did. Everything breathed penance, even his prayer as he went. Meditation and contemplation were habitual with him. There was nothing to be seen but snow on mountains and valleys, nothing round us to distract him. And all the time as he prayed Father Francis never lifted his eyes or looked from side to side. His hands and arms were still; only his feet moved, and very quietly. Certainly he showed by the modesty and reverence of his gait that he walked in the presence of God (Yeo 1932:259).
In Iwakuni Xavier found passage for Sakai, a voyage of many weeks by small Japanese ships which kept mainly near the coast. At one harbor where they stopped, a prominent man heard they were from India and, seeing their poverty, gave them a letter of introduction to a friend of his in Sakai (Schurhammer 1982:vol. 4,169,176).
The trio were forced to spend their first night in Sakai in a makeshift shelter, having arrived too late to find their intended host. The next morning, however, they succeeded in locating his home. There they were hospitably received by Kudo, a wealthy merchant and one of the most distinguished citizens of Sakai. The letter of recommendation had included the request that Kudo place the foreigners in the company of someone going to Kyoto. The merchant found an opportunity for them to join the company of a nobleman about to leave for the capital, and Kudo also gave Xavier a letter of recommendation to another friend in Sakai. Kyoto was two days distant from Sakai. The nobleman traveled in a sedan chair, while Xavier, his companions, and the rest of the company ran behind. Xavier was more joyful than ever on this two day journey. "At times he skipped with joy or tossed an apple into the air and caught it again. His eyes were filled with grateful tears that God had chosen him to herald His holy faith at the court of Japan." (Ibid.:vol. 4,177-187).
Unfortunately, the reality that Xavier met in the capital was much more grim. Xavier had two main goals in Kyoto: 1) to speak with the "king" of Japan and obtain permission from him to preach and the sending of an embassy to the governor of India, and, 2) to visit the university of Hiei-zan, in order to proclaim the faith there and dispute with the scholars of that institution. On the day after their arrival, their host Konishi sent them accompanied by a servant to a son-in-law who lived in Sakamoto at the foot of the Hiei-zan mountains, the entrance into the university. This "university" was made up of hundreds of monasteries and temples and was the chief site of the Buddhist sects and scholars in Japan. Xavier was unable to obtain entrance into the university or meet with its superior. To do so he was in need of a rich present, all of which he had left in Hirado. So he soon returned to Kyoto in order to obtain an audience with the emperor. When he visited the palace, however, he was "bitterly disillusioned." It was an obvious display of poverty. Even so, he sought to see the emperor, but here too was told that he needed a gift as the price of admission. He had to return to the home of Konishi, where his host told him about the true status of the king: for more than 200 years the shogun had ruled, allegedly in the name of the king. And now, the shogunate had also lost its power. There was no centralized power in Japan - the country was controlled by the daimyo who exerted their control over regional territories (Ibid.:vol. 4,191-205).
Xavier remained in Kyoto ten or eleven days and tried to preach in the streets and squares. He came to the conclusion that the land was not ready to receive the gospel. "The freezing cold, the preparations being made for the coming New Year, the searching for one's daily bread in the devastated city, and especially the ominous indications of a renewed outbreak of the civil war left no room in the capital of Japanese Buddhism for attention to the words of the foreign preachers." Xavier and his companions began their long return to Hirado, Xavier with a new plan in his mind. "There was a prince in Yamaguchi mightier than the king of Japan and mightier than the shogun in the north. He would return to him, but no longer as a poor man of Christ, but with his letters and gifts, for Japan did not understand the poverty of the cross." After three long months of hardship greater than or equal to that of the journey to Kyoto, the three travelers arrived back in Hirado in March, to the elation of Father Torres, who had baptized around forty persons in their absence (Ibid.:vol. 4,212-215).
Xavier did not remain in Hirado long, but loaded the gifts which had been destined for the king on board a ship and sailed back to Yamaguchi with Fernandez, Bernardo, and one other Japanese believer. Immediately after his arrival, Xavier asked the daimyo's secretary to obtain another audience with the daimyo. When it was granted, this time the priest came "dressed in silk as the ambassador of the governor of India." He gave to Yoshitaka two letters from dignitaries in India written on "magnificently illuminated parchments" and many presents, including a musical clock, a richly engraved three-barreled musket, a pair of spectacles, and two telescopes. The Japanese had never seen many of these marvels. The daimyo was delighted with the letters and gifts and offered Xavier many things in return. He refused them all, asking only for permission to "preach the law of God" and for those who wished to convert to be able to do so. Yoshitaka granted both requests and forbade any of his subjects to harm the priests. He also gave the priests an empty monastery for their use and declared that he wished to send an ambassador back to India with gifts in return (Ibid.:vol. 4,216-220).
The daimyo's edicts placed the foreign priests in a completely new light and their residence was filled daily and all day long with many inquirers of various classes. Endless questions were asked and in addition to his religious teaching Xavier's knowledge of science was also of great interest. He would turn from his discussion of creatures to speak about God and answered many questions and objections regarding his teaching. The opposition was especially sharp with the bonzes of the Zen sect. Two and one-half months passed with no converts until the work finally bore fruit. The first of those who became Christians in mid-July had been among "the keenest adversaries of the priest in his preaching and discussion." In his interaction with the Buddhist monks, Xavier discovered the word he had been using for God was not at all appropriate and he began speaking out against this deity of the Shingon sect. This led to great conflict with the bonzes and Xavier would probably have been killed if not for the protection of Yoshitaka. The bonzes spread many lies about the new religion and associated it with various recent misfortunes (Ibid.:vol. 4,220-229).
"But the more the bonzes became enraged, the more the Christians increased in numbers." By September there were over 500 believers, with others being added daily. The converts were chiefly from the people at court and the daimyo's officials. When a man who was held to be the most learned person in Yamaguchi was converted a great sensation was aroused. Others were near to conversion, including Naito, the secretary to the daimyo, and his family. "Xavier's heart was filled with joy by the young Christian community of Yamaguchi." Their thirst for knowledge of the faith, love for the missionaries, and zeal for converting their countrymen made him forget all his hardships. The converts helped Xavier by collecting the teachings and fables of the different Buddhist sects so that he could find arguments to refute their teachings. "Xavier's converts were Christians in the truest sense of the word…" Their only concern was the sorrow they felt for their deceased relatives. They asked the priest if those in hell could be freed "through prayers and alms" as the Buddhists taught, but Xavier was unable to give them a satisfying answer. He could only hope that the reality of hell would cause them to not be negligent about their own salvation (Ibid.:vol. 4,229-235).
After four months in Yamaguchi, Xavier received word that a Portuguese ship had landed in Bungo on the northeastern coast of Kyushu. He immediately summoned Father Torres from Hirado, so that he might care for the community in Yamaguchi. Before his departure for Bungo, Xavier further received letters from both the daimyo, inviting him to come, and the captain of the ship, who was an old friend. Soon he departed by boat with a few Japanese followers, including the ever faithful Bernardo. Reaching the capital of Funai, Xavier was welcomed by the Portuguese ship and soon had an audience with the daimyo, Otomo Yoshishige, who had an enduring affection for the Portuguese (Ibid.:vol. 4,237-249). He listened with interest to Xavier when he spoke to him about the Christian faith and gave him permission to preach in his land, also providing a residence near the harbor. Xavier's main interest in coming to Funai, however, was to receive mail from Europe and India. Since there was none, he decided that he must return to India to see what was happening there and return to Japan the following year with more missionaries. He sent a letter to his confreres in Yamaguchi, telling them he would have to leave them behind and ordering them to write an account of the state of things in Yamaguchi for those in Europe (Ibid.:vol. 4,258-267).
While waiting to depart, Xavier received four letters from Yamaguchi. The first two, from Father Torres were intended for their confreres in Europe and gave general accounts of the work in Japan. The second two letters from Torres and Fernandez brought disturbing news. The Jesuits had been forced to flee Yamaguchi when a rebellion had broken out against Ouchi Yoshitaka. He was eventually defeated and committed suicide. Torres and Fernandez had been protected by Naito's wife, first in a bonze monastery and then in her own home. Order had not been fully reestablished when Antonio brought the letters from Yamaguchi. The future of the church in Yamaguchi seemed dark, but it soon brightened. The rebels offered Yoshitaka's empty throne to the younger brother of Yoshishige, the daimyo in Funai. He accepted and promised to protect and support the missionaries in Yamaguchi. Xavier borrowed 300 cruzados from one of the Portuguese so that Torres could build a church in Yamaguchi on land that the daimyo had given them (Ibid:vol. 4,267-279).
The time had come for the departure of the Portuguese ship. The daimyo was saddened that Xavier was leaving, but Xavier promised him he would return the following year. Yoshishige sent a noble of his court as an ambassador to India, as Yoshitaka had intended to do, along with a gift of Japanese armor. Xavier desired to take with him some educated Japanese, especially some bonzes, but none of them were willing to endure the voyage. He had to content himself with his two loyal Japanese followers, Bernardo and Matheus, and Yajiro's original attendants, Antonio and Joane, who would serve as interpreters. In the middle of November the junk weighed anchor and set off. Xavier had spent a little more than two years in Japan (Ibid.:vol. 4,290-298). He was never to return, dying of a fever the next year off the coast of China (Yeo 1932:317-319 and Cary 1994:vol. 1,49).
(return to Table of Contents)
Yajiro was knowledgeable and sensible, but not really learned. He could read only the native Japanese syllabary kana, but not the Chinese ideographs used by the scholarly Japanese community. He taught Xavier many things about Japan - some of which were mistaken notions about the land and its people. Nevertheless, he convinced Xavier that there were better opportunities to spread the faith in Japan than in India (Ibid.:36).
It was in reply to Xavier's question, "If I went to Japan, would the people become Christians?" that Anjiro made his famous reply, "My people would not immediately become Christians; but they would first ask you a multitude of questions, weighing carefully your answers and your claims. Above all, they would observe whether your conduct agreed with your words. If you should satisfy them on these points - by suitable replies to their inquiries and by a life above reproach - then, as soon as the matter was known and fully examined, the king, the nobles, and the educated people would become Christians. Six months would suffice; for the nation is one that always follows the guidance of reason (Cary:vol. 1,22).
And so Xavier was persuaded to go to Japan.
Francis sent Yajiro, who spoke Portuguese moderately well, to the seminary in Goa for training (Drummond 1971:36). He was given the name "Paul of the Holy Faith" at his baptism and in January, 1549, Xavier wrote of Paul, "'In the space of eight months he has learned to read, write, and speak Portuguese.'" (Cary 1994:vol. 2,22) Paul's theological training in hand and with Xavier's affairs in order, they left for Japan, arriving in Kagoshima August 15, 1549 (Drummond 1971:36). Yajiro was very active in Kagoshima preaching to his relatives and friends. Through his efforts his mother, daughter, and many other relatives and friends had become Christians by November (Cary 1994:vol. 1,33).
Yajiro's importance as a translator and teacher of Japanese can also not be ignored. Although in a letter written less than two months after his arrival in Japan, Francis says that the missionaries have already begun to understand the language, in a letter six days later he writes: "'The people talk to us a lot, but because we don't understand them, we have to be silent. Now we must be like infants in learning the language. God grant that we be like them in simplicity and innocence of mind.'" (Maynard 1950:256) Although Fernandez gained at least a moderate level of proficiency in the language, Xavier was for the most part limited to speaking via an interpreter or reading transliterations of the prayers, ten commandments, and his catechism. Because of his local ties in Kagoshima, Yajiro's presence in Xavier's company also provided him with an initial connection to the local people and a home in which to stay.
(return to Table of Contents)
Xavier preached in the name of Dainichi in Kagoshima and Ichiku. It wasn't until 1561 that the Jesuit Brother Almeida returned to Ichiku and cleared up the problems there that were associated with this name (Ibid.:399-401). In Hirado as well, it was the glory and love of Dainichi about which the people were taught (Ibid.:412). Dainichi continued to be the preferred term for God until Xavier's second visit to Yamaguchi. Now Dainichi is the name of the highest deity in the Shingon sect of Buddhism. When the bonzes in Yamaguchi heard Xavier teach, they thought that his God corresponded to their Dainichi and they told him so, welcoming him. Through him they hoped to gain advantage with the daimyo and the spread of their sect's teaching (Schurhammer 1984:vol. 4,223-224).
The affection of the bonzes puzzled Francis. He wondered if elements of Christianity had somehow been preserved in Japan (from the apostle Thomas' preaching in the East or through Nestorianism). After all there were many elements in Japanese Buddhism that were similar to Catholicism: rosaries, signs of the cross, incense, vestments, prayers in choir, bells, sacrifices, and ceremonies. The Dainichi of the Shingon sect was also sometimes represented with three heads. Several days later he asked the bonzes about the trinity, the incarnation, the crucifixion, and other doctrines. They, however, knew nothing about these things, saying these doctrines sounded like dreams or fables, and some even ridiculed Xavier (Ibid.:vol. 4,224-225).
From some of his new converts, who were more learned and able to read literature containing Chinese characters, Xavier ascertained that Dainichi was not a personal God. The name actually means something similar to materia primae, or the material of which all things are made, a purely pantheistic notion. In the popular mind it also had an obscene meaning, referring to the center of the human body and its power of procreation. After learning these shocking things, Xavier immediately switched from he and Fernandez calling out "Dainichi wo ogami are!" ("Pray to Dainichi!") in the streets to "Dainichi na ogami asso!" ("Do not worship Dainichi!"). They preached that he should not be honored as God and that the Shingon sect, like the other Buddhist sects, was fraudulent and a creation of the devil (Ibid.:vol. 4,225-226).
From then on, Xavier used only the Latin word Deus for God, hoping to involve any further problems such as that with Dainichi. Ironically, not even the Latin Deus, pronounced Deusu in Japanese, was safe. The bonzes, enraged with Xavier's denunciation of Dainichi and there sect, soon correlated Deusu with Daiuso, Japanese for "the Great Lie." (Ibid.:vol. 4, 229) One can only wonder what kind of confusion the use of Dainichi for so long must have caused in the minds of the Japanese to whom Xavier preached. Especially since he had come from India, it is very likely that many people took the Jesuits to be preachers of "some eccentric form of Buddhism." (Brodrick 1952:422)
(return to Table of Contents)
Xavier developed a special friendship with one of the oldest and wisest monks. His name was Ninjitsu, which means "Heart of Truth" in Japanese, and he was the equivalent of a bishop. Francis lamented that "'if his name squared with his profession he would be truly blessed.'" He tells of their many conversations, in which he found Ninjitsu "doubtful and unable to decide" whether the human soul is immortal or not. Sometimes he was convinced one way and sometimes the other (Brodrick 1952:382-383). Ninjitsu was cynical like many of his fellows, but more frank than most. One day when Francis observed the bonzes meditating, he asked what they were doing. Ninjitsu replied, "'Some are calculating how much they got out of the people last month, the rest planning how they will dress and amuse themselves.'" (Yeo 1932:246) Unfortunately Ninjitsu never became a Christian. He told a later missionary, Brother Almeida, "'I wished to know all that Father Francis came to preach; but … I was unable to understand. Though I should like to be baptized before I die, my position, my dignity, and the veneration in which I am held prevent me.'" Almeida refused his request to baptize him in secret (Cary 1994:vol. 1,36-37).
On his journey to Kyoto, Francis and his companions stopped at one Zen monastery where the bonzes were happy to receive and converse with him. The superior welcomed them and served them some fruit. At the end of a long day's journey, the travelers were no doubt tired and hungry. Xavier had learned that the bonzes were educating many boys in the monastery, however, and that they committed "unnatural sins" with them. "In a loud voice he reproached them for committing such ugly and shameful sins without remorse, and for letting it be secretly known that there was no future existence in another life, though they openly ordered the people to have feasts celebrated for their dead from their own desire for gain." (Schurhammer 1982:vol. 4,143-144) However well they understood his speech, the message of his "blazing eyes and burning cheeks" left no mistakes. The bonzes were generally stupefied by Francis' unexpected lecture, and some broke out in laughter. Francis turned on his heel and left, with his companions following. "'We continued our journey,' says Fernandez briefly." (Yeo 1932:252)
Xavier also sought to dialogue with the bonzes at the greatest center of Buddhism in Japan, the university at Hiei-zan, and would have done so had they allowed him to enter the complex (Schurhammer 1982:vol. 4,197). It was his interaction with the bonzes of the Shingon sect in Yamaguchi that first caused him to doubt the validity of using Dainichi as the Japanese name for the Christian God. Their great favor puzzled him and he then questioned the monks about various doctrines, soon discovering that the Dainichi of the Shingon sect was a god of a completely different sort. The bonzes soon switched from being his friends to his staunch opponents (Ibid.:vol. 4,223-227).
(return to Table of Contents)
The first time Xavier, Fernandez, and Bernardo were in Yamaguchi, they experienced very little interest and were often ridiculed as they preached in the streets without procuring the consent of Yoshitaka. When they returned months later, however, with their gifts for the daimyo, it was a very different story. When an edict allowing the preaching and conversion was issued and protection of the foreigners offered by Yoshitaka, people become very interested in Christianity. Although it took a few months, it was here that the first real breakthrough in Japan was made, with hundreds of converts. The acceptance of the people seemed to hang upon acceptance by the daimyo.
Even the daimyo themselves were not exempt from the power of Buddhism, however, and the general stigma that would be associated with converting to Christianity. Yoshishige, the daimyo of Bungo province, was afraid to convert because doing so might be an excuse for one of his powerful vassals to rebel against him (Schurhammer 1982:vol. 4,259). The Buddhist monks had a great deal of power at this time in Japan, especially those at Hiei-zan near Kyoto. They were actually a militant group, with over three thousand "warrior priests" ready to exert their will. It is said that whenever a quarrel or important discussion took place, the support of the bonzes was essential (Natori 1957:38-39). The power of these Buddhist monks, along with the other conditions Francis describes, no doubt contributed to the closed doors to the Gospel which he experienced in the capital.
(return to Table of Contents)
Although he was to be disillusioned about any sort of nation-wide power that the emperor or shogun might possess, Xavier's tactics to "win the king" or at least a local ruler fit well with the historical conditions in Japan described above. He was reflecting the Christendom approach of the church in general. When he finally treated the daimyo of Yamaguchi as if he were the king and came to him with pomp and formality, the method was effective, as it might have been with the emperor or shogun had they possessed any real power. Perhaps the hand of Providence guided Xavier in not bringing his gifts with him to Kyoto, for even if he had won the emperor's favor, it would not have furthered the mission.
(return to Table of Contents)
Francis' interaction with the Buddhists in Japan is striking. While modern approaches would be more likely to avoid contact with the "enemy" religion altogether, Francis spent a great deal of time interacting with, teaching, arguing with, and learning from the Buddhist bonzes. How important this must have been for him to begin to really understand the Buddhist concepts which are so pervasive in Japanese culture, even apart from their religious associations! Does modern mission need to reevaluate the need to dialogue with other faiths, with the dual advantages of understanding the mission field better and perhaps influencing our reciprocals with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
A last issue raised by Xavier's time in Japan, although there are probably many more to be discovered, is the importance of acceptance of the mission by those perceived to be in authority. Sometimes this may not be possible, with leaders that are staunchly opposed to Christianity. The leaders of the world do have great potential to influence that world, however, simply because of their positions. These leaders need to be prayed for: for the strength and witness of those who are Christians and for the salvation of those who are not. Too often the non-Christians are just written off as liberals or pagans who will hopefully be replaced in the next election.
(return to Table of Contents)
(return to Table of Contents)
1994 A History of Christianity in Japan. 2 volumes. Richmond Surrey, U.K.: Curzon Press.
Drummond, Richard H.
1971 A History of Christianity in Japan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
1950 The Odyssey of Francis Xavier. Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press.
1957 Historical Stories of Christianity in Japan. Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press.
1982 Francis Xavier. 4 volumes. M. Joseph Costelloe, trans. Rome: Jesuit Historical Institute.
1932 Saint Francis Xavier. London: Sheed & Ward.
Return to Table of Contents
Return to paper index