Sunday, 6 August 2017

(Part Of) Japanese Church History

Today happens to be the anniversary of the Church that I'm attending in Sasebo and 平和聖日 (Holy Day of Peace) for the 日本基督教団 (United Church of Christ in Japan - for convenience,  I use 'the Church' and 'United Church of Christ in Japan' pretty much interchangeably in this post, but I am not talking about the whole of Christianity in Japan) and there was a message from the organisation, plus today's sermon was about it and I wanted to share what I learnt.

By the way, I assumed that today was 平和聖日 because the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki on August 6th, but apparently, it's basically the first Sunday of August, which happens to be on August 6th this year.

The Church that I'm currently going to was started in 1889 and is closely tied to the history of Imperial Japan. When the navy of Imperial Japan decided to make Sasebo one of its naval bases, Sasebo turned from a village of under 4000 people turned into a major port. In that same year, the Japanese Church sent missionaries to Sasebo and that's how the Church started. In other words, the history of the Church I'm attending is closely tied to the navy of Imperial Japan.

Which leads us to the role of the Church during the war. History books might have told you about State Shintoism during the period before WWI and the Church was also drawn into it. During WWII, the Japanese Church worshiped the Emperor as God as part of worship. That included things like 宮城遥拝 (kyuujyou youhai), which is basically facing the Emperor and saluting, forcing Korean Christians to worship at shrines, and others. In fact, from the 24th to 26th of June, 1941, the Church sang the national anthem (君が代; kimigayo), did the 宮城遥拝, and prayed for the war dead during the General Assembly for the founding of the United Church of Christ in Japan, using the reasoning that "while we are Christians, we are also Japanese citizens and must show our loyalty to the nation" (rough translation, actual Japanese is 「われは 基督教信者と同時に日本臣民であり、皇国に忠誠を尽くすを以って第一とす」)

In fact, the Church actually sent a letter to other Churches within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere called 日本基督教団より大東亜共栄圏に在る基督教徒に送る書翰 (the translation is basically the first part of the sentence), which included things lines like 「世界は畢竟キリスト教によりて救わるるのである。しかも武士道の上に接木せられたるキリスト教に由りて救われるのである」(The world is saved by Christianity. Moreover, it is saved by Christianity which is grafted on to Bushido).

And in this way, the United Church of Christ in Japan supported Japanese war activities, which  repented for in the 'Confession on the Responsibility During World War II'. As a result, when there was a 大嘗祭 (daijyousai; the first offering of rice to a newly enthroned error) in November 1990, the Church opposed the movement to use state funds for religious ceremonies. And this June, with the special law for the Emperor to step down being passed, the Church is once again reminded of the events of 1990.

Interestingly enough, this confession was published in the name of the chairman, not on behalf of the Church. Even 50 years later, there are still people opposed to having this become the official confession of the United Church of Christ in Japan because it might hurt the Church (from what I heard today. The confession was approved by the committee so I'm not too sure what the difference in it being published in the name of the Chairman and in the name of the Church is).

And this is why the Church now is active in taking a stand against the revision of the constitution and militarisation in general. Up until now, I've never really understood why, but knowing the history helps to put things into perspective.

Further Reading
Most of my information was taken from today's sermon and the message that was handed out, but I did find these resources online:
Catholic Church History in Japan (Didn't really use it for this post but it's fascinating reading)
Confession on the Responsibility during World War II
Sasebo Naval Base  (not about the Church but it was interesting!)
日本基督教団より大東亜共栄圏に在る基督教徒に送る書翰  ( and this is the google translated version)

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