chapter  11
Pages 32

The Russo-Japanese War was a watershed for the Christian religion in Japan. For several centuries prior to the revolution of 1868, Christians had been regarded by the state in Japan as a fifth column for the Western imperialist powers and their religion had been virtually obliterated by ruthless and sustained persecution. Even after 1868, although it was no longer possible to exclude missionaries from abroad or to prevent the emergence of groups of Japanese Christians, the authorities remained suspicious and Christianity in Japan retained its radical and even slightly subversive aura. Yet the special circumstances created by the war with Russia persuaded the Japanese government to change its attitude towards Christianity. In taking on Russia, the Japanese state was well aware of the importance of maintaining peaceful relations with the other Western powers and it had no intention of allowing Orthodox Russia to wring some propagandistic advantage from the claim that it was fighting to defend Christian values against ‘heathen’ Japan. Despite its relative weakness, Christianity in Japan thus assumed a symbolic importance, since the government was eager to demonstrate that even the Japanese Christians supported the war against Russia. The situation was such that the hitherto hostile state offered the Christian churches in Japan the status of respectability, provided they too would campaign for the war. Support for a war in which tens of thousands would be killed and maimed struck most Japanese Christians as a reasonable price to pay for their acceptance by the authorities and, writing in

English to Albert Johnson in December 1906, Kōtoku Shūsui described the changed role of Christianity in Japan as follows:

The most comical fact of the results of the late war is the conciliation (or rather embrace) of Christianity with Buddhism and Shintoism. The history of Christianity in Japan was until now a history of horrible persecutions. The Japanese diplomatists, however, earnestly desiring to silence the rumors caused and spread in Europe during the war that ‘Japan is a yellow peril’ or ‘Japan is a pagan country,’ suddenly began to put on the mask of western civilization, and eagerly welcome and protect (Christianity), and use it as a means of introducing Japan to European and American powers as a civilized Christendom. On the other hand, Christian priests, taking advantage of the weakness of the government, got a great monetary aid from the State, and under its protection they are propagating in full vigor the Gospel of Patriotism. Thus Japanese Christianity, which was before the war the religion of (the) poor, (has) literally now changed within only two years to a great bourgeois religion and a machine of the state and militarism!1