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  • Xavier's Legacies: Catholicism in Modern Japanese Culture
  • Helen J. Ballhatchet
Xavier's Legacies: Catholicism in Modern Japanese Culture. Edited by Kevin M. Doak. UBC Press, 2011. 232 pages. Hardcover $85.00; softcover $34.95.

This is an unusual book. The topic itself is unusual because, unlike most academic research on the history of Roman Catholicism in Japan, the focus is neither the "Christian century" that began with Francis Xavier's arrival in Kagoshima in 1549 nor the underground communities that survived the anti-Christian policies of the Tokugawa and early Meiji regimes. In fact, the "legacies" of the title refer to the influence of Catholicism on modern Japanese culture, while "Xavier" itself is not only the name of the famous saint but also the baptismal name of Iwashita Sōichi, "the first influential Japanese Catholic intellectual" (p. 16).

The book is also unusual because of the unashamedly partisan approach taken by the editor in the introduction. The overall percentage of Christians in Japan is small, and public awareness, let alone understanding, of the various divisions within the religion is not high. Even so, Doak makes a point of asserting the distinctive contribution not just of Catholicism, but of a particular type of conservative Catholicism. Unlike Protestantism, he tells us, Catholicism in Bakumatsu/Meiji Japan had roots in traditional Japanese culture stretching back to Xavier, and it took a critical attitude toward "modernism." He denies that it has been backward looking or marginal and criticizes the fact that scholarly research on Christianity in the modern period has paid more attention to the influence of Protestantism.

I would certainly agree that prior to World War II, French Catholic missionaries, and the much smaller number of Russian Orthodox missionaries, were less enthusiastic about the benefits of modern Western civilization than Protestant missionaries, who were primarily of North American origin. On the other hand, I am less certain about Catholicism's exclusive "roots in Japanese tradition" (p. 3). My understanding is that—apart from the fact that Catholicism in Tokugawa Japan had been thoroughly rejected and even demonized—the main aim of the French missionaries in their early encounters with the underground Christians was to investigate the level of orthodoxy of existing beliefs and practices, particularly methods of baptism. Anything rooted in Japanese tradition that was incompatible with the standards of the Vatican was to be corrected.1 Moreover, there is evidence that early exsamurai Protestant converts did not abandon "traditional," pre-Christian, values such as loyalty, but turned them in a Christian direction.2 Further, prominent Meiji Protestant Christians such as Kozaki Hiromichi, Uemura Masahisa, and Nitobe Inazō later claimed that traditional Japanese teachings were Japan's equivalent of the Old Testament.3

Doak is correct in his observation that there has been relatively little academic work on Roman Catholicism in modern Japan, especially by comparison with the number of publications [End Page 196] on Protestantism, and—though he does not mention this—the growing body of work on the Orthodox Church, where the focus is gradually expanding outward from studies of Archbishop Nikolai.4 But why is this? First, the prewar Japanese Christians who made a public impact specifically because of their faith, Uchimura Kanzō, Nitobe Inazō, Kagawa Toyohiko, Yanaihara Tadao, and so on, were Protestant. A less obvious reason is that Japanese Catholic historians themselves have shown little interest in the modern history of their faith. Postwar research into the history of Christianity in Japan was pioneered by scholars who were committed Protestants, such as Sumiya Mikio, Takeda (Chō) Kiyoko, and Dohi Akio. Their energy mainly came from guilt over what they saw as the willingness of prewar Protestants to compromise with the emperor system. This led them to focus on Protestantism, and to pass this focus on to the next generation. By contrast, the attention of Catholic historians has been directed at the more obviously heroic sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Doak claims that this neglect of Roman Catholicism has concealed the Church's "tremendous impact" on modern and present-day Japan (p. 4). His main evidence for this impact is the presence of Catholics in the political and social, as well as the intellectual, elite. For example...


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