Christian Prophecy in Japan: Uchimura Kanzo

By Howes, John F. | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Christian Prophecy in Japan: Uchimura Kanzo


Howes, John F., Japanese Journal of Religious Studies


Uchimura Kanzo (1861-1930) was an extremely accomplished Meiji Christian convert who emphasized a Christianity he considered in tune with traditional Japanese religiosity and free of Western influence. When a child, he observed his family's distress as Meiji rulers dismantled the Tokugawa political system. Then he assumed responsibility for their support when he turned sixteen. Though thus burdened by family responsibility, he finished a Japanese undergraduate degree in fisheries science, studied further in the United States, and then returned home to encourage Bible study among the Japanese. He became a respected essayist. The result: a complete works of more than twenty thousand pages and many loyal followers who helped form the new democratic Japanese society after 1945. Samples of his writings cover such themes as these: Old Testament-style prophecy; Japan's role to emphasize Christianity's Asian roots; the Christian believer's utter dependence on God; Christian morality; and churchless Christianity as Japan's contribution to world Christianity.

KEYWORDS: Christianity - Japan - Bible study - theology - missionaries - prophecy - pacifism - Uchimura Kanzo

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THE AUTHOR AND evangelist Uchimura Kanzo ... (1861-1930) is one of Japan's most outstanding essayists and Christians. This article first outlines the events of his life and then provides an introduction to his thought through a consideration of representative selections from Uchimura's own writings.

The changes brought about by the Restoration have been frequently used to divide discussions of Japanese history into "modern" or "premodern," so decisive are they considered. Little snippets in Kanzo's recollections indicate he knew how the changes affected his family. Kanzo was born a samurai in 1861. He remembers the troops of the Tokugawa shogunate as they passed his home northbound en route to ultimate defeat. He also remembers that his father shortly thereafter was appointed governor of one of the new provinces. The father turned down the appointment to continue with his daimyo. His income declined as the new government phased out the institutions of the old one. Kanzo, the eldest son but only sixteen, became legal head of the household. From then on he had to provide for his parents.

Fortunately, Kanzo excelled at languages. His parents encouraged him to study English. Kanzo, along with another lad who would become Kanzo's lifelong friend, Nitobe Inazo ... (1862-1933),1 was studying English when both were recruited in 1877 to study in the rude new northern settlement of Sapporo. Government leaders needed administrators for Hokkaido. Students in training for this task received everything they needed plus a good stipend. This enabled Kanzo defray his family's costs in Tokyo.

Students received all their education, with the exception of mathematics and classical Chinese, in English. They became very able in it. Once they graduated, they corresponded in English. They thus became part of a very small group of Japanese whose members dealt with foreigners effectively. Kanzo finished as valedictorian of the second class and entered the bureaucracy as a fisheries researcher. His early publications in the field reflected great promise. He could have contributed greatly to the development of Japanese biology had not his experience led him in other directions.

As a student, he had been converted to Christianity under the influence of the American instructors. They shared the conviction of many contemporary Americans that faith in Christianity formed an important part of the curriculum. The school principal, at once a devout Christian, inspired scientist, and a charismatic teacher, encouraged them to accept Christianity and invited a Protestant missionary to Sapporo to baptize them. Kanzo and his friend Inazo joined the group.

Christianity had been prohibited and ruthlessly suppressed in Japan for more than two hundred and fifty years. …

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