Looking to the East

It has always been a regretable thing, that American schools leave out so much of history, of our connectedness and relationships with other countries. In a few words, entire cultures are summed up and dismissed, as if they have no significance next to our own. The older I get, the more I want to know, the more I seek histories and cultures that in school I barely heard mentioned, and some, not at all.


I have been watching a Japanese series, MAGI, about the Tensho Boys’ Embassy. This was an episode in history corresponding with the rise of the Hideyoshi Shogunate–the same period covered in SHOGUN, and afterwards. Elizabeth is near the end of her reign in England, and the Spanish and Portuguese have gotten the Pope to split the world into their possessions.  

It confused me at first, as a few months ago I read a novel, SAMURAI, by the Japanese author, Shusako Endo, which described such an embassy that traveled across the Pacific to New Spain, then onwards to Europe across the Atlantic. This docu-drama sent the boys westward to Macau, Goa, and on around the Cape of Good Hope. 

It turns out, the events of SAMURAI are derived from a later event. Both are fictionalized history. Both have been adapted to film/tv versions. 

Knowing some about the times in Japan of the first embassy, it is interesting to see what becomes more and more clearly a Christian-slanted view of the times, events, and players. This clearly colors the story-tellers’ interpretations of the Shogun, Hideoshi, and his attitudes towards Christianity’s attempts to change Japan, even make it a Christian state.

It also amplifies, perhaps, or at least focuses particularly on the Japanese persecutions of the Japanese Christians, and the European–mainly Portuguese and Spanish–missionaries. It has a few words to speak through the mouth of their Hideyoshi, regarding the concerns and fears of the Japanese ruler, about Christianity as a threat to established religions and philosophies. In fact, he comes across as almost paranoid. 

They don’t entirely ignore that the missionaries came to Japan “with the Bible in their right hands, and guns in their left hands.” It is acknowledged that some of the Japanese lords, the daimyo, converted to the one mainly to aquire the other. It is, after all, a Japanese production, and has a loyalty to Japanese history. Whether it dwells unfairly or inaccurately on the persecutions that ranged from expulsions to executions, I can’t say. 

I am wondering now, though, how focused on martyrdom many Christians seem to be; wondering what Christianity today would look like if they in their various sects had never been particularly persecuted. Even today, it is a major ‘card’ played by some Christians, to claim victimization–over, for instance, the temerity of anyone who says, Season’s Greetings rather than Merry Christmas. 

That seems so petty and narrow-minded, and bound up with the profoundly mistaken notion that the US is, or is meant to be, a Christian state. Of course, it never was–but the predominance of Christians in its early history, in American culture, made that an easy assumption to make, and to not be corrected early on. So, many Americans who have never really given it conscious consideration, still assume it, and base a lot of pernicious attitudes on it. 

Well, no religion, no state, no person is without flaw. To reach for a faith in the flawless sometimes means transcending the packaging, the promoters, even the true-believers who have no doubt of their righteousness. I have always appreciated the Celtic Christianity that was built on the foundational idea that communion between the individual and the Divine is a personal matter, that go-betweens only muddle the conversation.

Courteous comments and conversations are always welcome here.

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