Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

William B. Cooper and the Beginning of the American Church Mission's Work in Tokyo, 1873-1882

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

William B. Cooper and the Beginning of the American Church Mission's Work in Tokyo, 1873-1882

Article excerpt

2009 marked the sesquicentenary of the establishment of the Protestant Episcopal mission in Japan. American missionaries made up of both men and women, many of them from the southern states, together with their colleagues from British and (-anadian Anglican missionary societies helped to develop and to support the Nippon Seikôkai (the Japan Anglican Church) formed in 1887.' The missionary movement symbolized the desire of American Protestant Episcopalians to share with the Japanese their religions ideas and in doing so to improve the well-being, both physical and spiritual, of Japanese people. This article explores the beginnings of American Episcopal missionary work in Japan by focussing on William B. Cooper (d. 1885), recruited in 1873 with several others from Nashotah House by the mission's founder, Bishop Channing Moore Williams (1829-1910). 2 Cooper was a flawed missionary who failed to learn much Japanese language, chose to marry in the mission field and, ultimately, did not retain the confidence of his bishop. Yet, for all his failings and his uneasy relations with his bishop, Cooper gained the respect of the Japanese before illness led to his early departure from Japan. He was associated with Tai Masakazu (1848-1927), the first Japanese Anglican priest, whom he baptized in 1877.3 Cooper carne from the diocese of Mississippi and was one of the first group of four graduates from Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin: Charles H. Newman of Wisconsin; G. D. B. Miller of Boise, Idaho; and Clement T. Blanchet (1945-1928)4 of Illinois who came to Japan in answer to bishop Williams' call for missionary reinforcements as the opportunity to preach openly the Christian Gospel to me Japanese appeared in 1873.' These four from Nashotah House represented a broadening of the base of support away from its Southern and Virginian roots for Episcopal missionary work.

In stressing the role played by Cooper and his colleagues, Newman and Blanchet, in the beginnings of the mission in Tokyo, the intention is to underline that the lesser names should not be forgotten in the history of overseas missions as well as to draw attention to the human price that was exacted from the early missionaries. While ill-health caused Cooper to withdraw from missionary work, and Newman left because of marriage, it was Blanchet's views on faith healing that would ultimately lead to his withdrawal from Japan. The nine years between 1873 and 1882 proved to be very difficult ones for the American Church mission at a time when other Protestant missions in Japan were rapidly expanding both in terms of missionaries and converts. Some of the reasons for these difficulties related directly to the missionaries themselves, but there were others relating to the traditional resistance of Japanese society to the Christian message and the challenge of exploiting the clear Japanese thirst for Western knowledge in such a way that it would lead to the growth of Japanese interest in Christianity. It has to be remembered that when it came to Christianity, it was neither acceptance nor rejection, all or nothing, for Japanese. Japanese took from Christianity those elements and parts that they felt were relevant for them (not always those things that missionaries would consider important) . Yet, before investigating the problems that Cooper and his colleagues faced in opening Protestant Episcopal work in Tokyo, it is necessary to provide background context.

BISHOP WILLIAMS AND THE EARLY YEARS OF THE AMERICAN CHURCH MISSION

For political and economic reasons, the Tokugawa bakufu ("tent" government, the Shogunate) who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868 decided in the mid-seventeenth century to proscribe Christianity, which had been propagated in the country by Portuguese and Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries since the middle of the sixteenth century. The bakufu simultaneously imposed maritime exclusion laws that severely limited foreign contact with Japan. In 1853 the American Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and his squadron of black ships engaged in a display of gunboat diplomacy that supposedly ended Japan's isolation and opened the country to Western intercourse. …

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