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BA2 Histories of Japanese Society Review paper

This review paper will compare a selection of sources regarding anti-Christian sentiments in the early Tokugawa period. Using Deus Destroyed[1], A 17th Century Buddhist Treatise Refuting Christianity[2], Kirishitan Monogatari[3] and Ideology and Christianity[4], I will be writing about different aspects of the described actions against Christianity within this period.

First I will look at early anti-Christian activities which started to take place in 1587 under the command of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Deus Destroyed tells us more about how Christianity was seen in early Tokugawa and what might have been the reasons for Hideyoshi to put a total ban on it. It shows that Hideyoshi did not care about Christianity as a faith at all. What he did see in Christianity was a good unifier. He wanted to use it as a means to control the peasants and the citizens and therefore did not immediatly ban it. Hideyoshi also saw he could use it to get access to various Portugese products and trade networks and  appreciated the hierarchical way the Jezuites were organized. In the part about the edict, Hideyoshi states that Christians ruin everything and Japan is the country of the gods and Buddhists.

The text A 17th Century Buddhist Treatise Refuting Christianity gives us insight in the nature of anti-Christian discourse. It talks about the Taiji Jashû-ron, an anti-Christian essay, written  in 1648 by a Buddhist called Sessô Sôsai. In this essay, Sessô regards Christianity as some sort of Buddhist sect. One reason for this comparison could be the fact that there were no other imported religions around to compare it with, but more importantly, it provided room for critique and rethoric, much like the way Islam and Christianity were compared in Europe during the Middle Ages when Muslims said that Christianity was essentially the same as Islam, but the Christians just went the wrong way at a certain point. It is also worth noting that Sessô’s essay, even though it was part of a seemingly ideological anti-Christian campaign, must have been meant for a selected audience as it was written in such a way that only well educated Buddhists could understand it.

Kirishitan Monogatari gives us descriptions of concrete actions against Christians. It shows how they have been killed and tortured in gruesome ways. The text was very accessible to the public and this populistic and propaganda resembling way in which it had been written also gives us some more context, as is pointed out in chapter three of Ideology and Christianity in Japan. For instance, the chapter about the uprising of the Christians in Amakusa and Shimabara reveals a political context in which the shogun exhibits his power and sets an example for the peasants by sending the samurai to kill the rebels.

Having taken in consideration the edict of Hideyoshi, the essay of Sessô and Kirishitan Monogatari and what is written about it in Ideology and Christianity, it becomes clear that there is a wide variety in the manners early Tokugawa anti-Christian literature literature was written. These differences could be linked to various political situations. While a good deal of this literature talks about the fact that Christianity is alien and bad doctrine-wise, looking at its context, it seems that most of it has been written with a political goal in mind, rather than an ideological purpose.


[1]    George Elison, Deus Destroyed, Cambridge (MA.): Harvard University Press, 1991, Chapter 5 pp. 109-141, notes on pp.420-428

[2]    Jose Miguel Pinto dos Santos, A 17th Century Buddhist Treatise Refuting Christianity, Bulletin of Portuguese Japanese Studies, Lisbon: Universidada Nova de Lisboa, 2002.

[3]    Author Unknown, George Elison (trans.), Kirishitan Monogatari, in George Elison, Deus Destroyed, Cambridge (MA.): Harvard University Press, 1991, pp. 319-374, 475-488

[4]    Kiri Paramore, Ideology and Christianity in Japan, London: Routledge, 2009, Chapter 3