Tamura Naoomi's the Japanese Bride: Christianity, Nationalism, and Family in Meiji Japan

Article excerpt

In 1893, Christian minister Tamura Naoomi provoked a heated debate among his contemporaries when he published an English-language book on Japanese family practices titled The Japanese Bride. While the book made no controversial or radical theological arguments, and mentioned Christianity only as a framework that could assist in reforming Japanese family practices and the position of women within the home, Tamura was censured for behavior considered unbecoming a Japanese Christian minister. Published immediately following the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution and the Imperial Rescript on Education, and on the eve of Japan's entry into war with China, the book contradicted and countered many Japanese leaders' claims that Japan was a modernized and civilized empire. This curious and often overlooked controversy provides an interesting window into the complex ways in which ideas such as the proper family, and the link between the family and the state, were considered and defined in this period.

KEYWORDS: Tamura Naoomi - The Japanese Bride - Japanese women - family - nationalism - Nihon Kirisuto Kyokai

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In 1893, Christian minister Tamura Naoomi ... published a slim volume in English titled The Japanese Bride. The seemingly innocuous book was published by Harper & Brothers and received favorable reviews in the United States.1 In Japan, however, it was met with condemnation. First the secular press, then the Japanese Christian press, denounced Tamura for daring to expose the Japanese people and nation to ridicule by describing traditional Japanese family and marriage practices to an American audience. Later that year, the Tokyo Presbytery (Tokyo daiichi chukai ...) of the Nihon Kirisuto Kyokai ... (Church of Christ in Japan) took the drastic step of initiating disciplinary proceedings against Tamura. The following year, when Tamura refused to issue a public apology, the General Conference (taikai ..) revoked his ordination for defaming the Japanese people, behavior deemed unbecoming to a Christian minister.

At first glance, the conference's reaction seems extreme and inappropriate, since Tamura's book made no controversial or radical theological arguments, and mentioned Christianity only as a framework that could assist in reforming Japanese family practices and the position of women within the home. Furthermore, since it was published in English, it was largely inaccessible to the Japanese public, as well as to many of the Japanese Christian leaders who criticized him. Also, much of the content was not new, since it was based on a book Tamura published in 1889 titled Beikoku no fujin ... [American women], in which he had also advocated reforming Japanese family practices according to an American Christian model, but for which he had not been criticized (TAMURA 1924, 208).2

But Tamura published The Japanese Bride at a critical time. In the four years between the publication of his earlier book and The Japanese Bride, a number of historic political events occurred: the establishment of the Meiji Constitution (Meiji kenpo ...) in 1889, the promulgation of the Imperial Rescript on Education (kyoiku chokugo ...) in 1890, and Christian leader and educa tor Uchimura Kanzo's ... forced resignation from his teaching position for failing to show the Rescript proper respect in 1891.3 Additionally, by 1893 it was apparent that Japan was about to enter into war with China over Korea,4 and this impending conflict increased the stakes for defining and regulating the nature and form of what constituted the proper imperial subject, the foundation of the nation-defined as a family-state (kokka ..),5 under the emperor-and Japan's reputation among Western imperialist powers. In this atmosphere, while Christians were not the only ones scrutinized and considered suspect by nationalist ideologues such as Inoue Tetsujiro ..., they were particularly vulnerable because their religion was considered foreign and Western, and they maintained close, if somewhat difficult, relationships with foreign missionaries. …