LIBERAL RELIGION IN JAPAN
Origin and Growth
During the large part of the decade between 1880-90 the Japanese people actuated by a strong pro-foreign zeal, seemed about to undergo a complete Westernization. Among an influential few, of whom Yukuchi Fuknzawa was leader(1884) a movement was made for the acceptance by the nation of the Christian religion. This movement was radically significant, although it was in its origin, chiefly one of practical politics. Soon afterwards (1886) Fumio Yano, who had been closely associated with Fuknzawa, returining from a stay in England, set forth in some noteworthy newspaper articles, Chirstianity as the only means of moral salvation for his country. Mr. Yano recommended Unitarianism as that form of Christianity in which the essential Christianity is freed from supernaturalism. Other active public men at about the same time had much to say in favour of Christianity in a rationalized form. From these circles suggestions were made to the American Unitarian Association to send representatives to Japan to utilise the growing liberalizm.
In compliance to these suggestions, Rev. Arthur May Knapp was commissioned to Japan in 1887. The next year Rev. Clay Mac-Cauley joined him as colleague. At the same time the Keiorijiky University of Tokyo received three professors from America, Garrete Droppers, W. J. Liscomb and J. H. Wigmore, who had been also appointed assistants in the Unitarian mission. (The bulk of this article is the substance extracted from the pamphlet “The Unitarian Movement in Japan” received from a friend in Japan. The theistic Directory by V. R. Shinde published in 1912 pages 76 to 82) Rev. H. W. Hawkes of England in the winter of 1889-90 associated himself with the Mission as a volunteer worker. The first Unitarian Church of Tokyo came into existence in the spring of 1890, and numerous inland agencies for promoting public lectures and distributing literature were arranged for; a magazine, now the Rikugo-zasshi(cosmos) began its issues in the month of March; courses of lectures on religious ethical and social science topics which developed in the next year into the Jiyu Shin Gakko(School for Liberal Theology), and later became the Senshin Gakuin (School for Advanced Learning), were begun.
In the next four years, Mr. Knapp and some of his assistants had to return home for one reason or other. But a large staff of Japanese assistants conducted the work, much increased in scope and effectiveness. The Mission headquarters in Unity Hall, Shikokumachi Shiba, Tokyo, is a commodious building erected by the Unitarians of America and England: here religious services in Japanese are held weekly: rooms are provided for the others officers of the Japan Unitarian Association; also offices and store rooms of the Postal Mission and the editing of the magazine the Rikugo Zasshi. The Senshin Gauin Lecture course, conducted by seven lectures, were held in the Unity Hall through nine months of each year.
The dominant purpose of this Mission as appears from its publications and its way of working, is not the teaching of a fixed and authoritative body of doctrine or the reproduction among the Japanese of a specific system of ecclesiastical organization and Government. When the Mission was established its founders stated that its aim would be to ‘express the sympathy of American Unitarians for progressive religious movement in Japan and give all necessary information to the leaders of religious thought and action in that country.’ In consequence of this purpose, the workers of this Mission have sought to discover to encourage and to co-operate with any church association, group of persons, or with individuals irrespective of form of religion, sect or personal belief that might wish to know the most mature and advanced thought of Christianity about any of the higher or spiritual problems and interest of man. Churches and associations distinctively “Unitarian” exist in Japan, and much “Unitarian” literature is published and distributed, but the Unitarian Mission disclaims any organic connection either in the origin or direction of these organizations and accompanies its publications with no authoritative or prescriptive endorsement of their contents. In short, the method of this Mission is to actively familiarize the new idea of the ‘Sympathy of Religions.’
With this unique, universal aim the Japanese Mission of the American Unitarian Association did its work till 1900 A.D. When the successful superintendent Rev. Clay MacCauley returned to America, leaving the Mission to the care of the Japanese Unitarians to be independently guided and controlled by capable Japanese themselves. The veteran leader is Mr. Jitsunen Saji who has advanced through Buddhism to Unitariansm. Associated with him are Messrs. Tomoyoshi Murai, Saburo Shimada, Iso Abe, Nobuta Kishimoto, Zennosuke Toyosaki (Manchester College scholar 1901-3), Saichero Kanda and others, whose religious life was at first under the influence of orthodox Christianity; also Mr. Kinza Hirai who for years was an ardent advocate of progressive Buddhism together with his friend Mr. Zeushero Noguchi, and Mr. Yoshi Ogasawara who, with experience in orthodox Christianity is now carrying on a work of distinctive social and moral reform under the Unitarian name in Wakayama in central Japan. A few years later Mr. MacCauley paid a visit to Japan. The American Unitarian Association continued their pecuniary grant at the rate of three thousand dollars per year by the help of the Hayward Fund for foreign missions.
The Actual Work
(1) Sunday Lectures, Only a morning service was held until the summer of 1899, when the number of voluntary workers being suddenly increased, there began to be held two services in the morning and evening. At each meeting two persons speak. Besides the seven regular speakers, the prominent members and some times outsiders are asked to stand in the pulpit. In 1903, the attendance at the Unity Hall, Tokyo, was reported to be about 300. Rev. S. Uchigasakri, lately a student at the Manchester College, Oxford has now accepted the office of minister of the Unitarian Society at Tokyo(1912). (2) The Postal Mission is an important work of the Association in 1900 it distributed about 1,00,000 pamphlets. Many young Buddhists who much appreciated these pamphlets desired to study in the Unitarian school but could not do so on account of their pecuniary dependence on the clerical system. (3) Rikugo Zasshi or Cosmos, is a monthly magazine, the organ of the Unitarian movement in Japan. Except in the department of lectures given at Unity Hall, Unitarianism is not preached directly. The paper is meant to be the pure organ of liberal religion and free discussion. Though not commanding a large sale it is one of the most effective means of work. (4) The Library in the Unity Hall contains several thousands of valuable books, magazines and papers chiefly English and is open to all. (5) Mofussil Work – Superintendent Saji goes on tours and holds public meetings. An ethical society at Nagoya and a Sunday Association at Ajino were the two branch associations about the year 1900. Mr. Ogasawara’s “Industrial Hall” at Wakayama whereby he means to promote a reconciliation between capital and labour and also improve public morality is a noteworthy Unitarian endeavor. There is a great scope for social work for the Japanese Unitarians. One of them Mr. Shimada, a stateman and a reformer is an active member of the Temperance Union and is also devoting most of his time to the Anti-prostitution movement.
In a paper read by Mr. Sennosuke Toyosaki, the Japanese representative in the international Liberal Religious Council at Amesterdam in September, 1903, observed “Outside the Christian church the Buddhists have recently been displaying a new spirit. Three years ago, an association was organized in Tokyo for the reformation of Buddhism. It is called “the Buddhist Puritanical Association” and the programme acknowledges freedom of thought and inquiry, the authority of reason and conscience, the abolition of certain Buddhist rituals, and the cultivation of fraternal relations among different religious bodies. Although started by only a small number of young Buddhists, I attach peculiar importance to this activity as it embodies a new spirit of reform amongst the advanced Buddhists. Noteworthy is the fact that this new Buddhist movement is deeply sympathetic with the Unitarian movement and that probably they will join hands in near future.