This problem goes back a long way. It is similar to the problem many Americans have with liquor, but even worse. At one time, in the United States, we had Prohibition. Prohibition meant that selling and making liquor in the U. S. was illegal. Only people who were outlaws were involved with liquor back then. Eventually, Prohibition ended, but many Americans still have an attitude that anyone who drinks alcoholic drinks must be a sinner. The Bible actually says that getting drunk is a sin, but it never says taking one drink is a sin, but there are those Americans who think drinking is “the appearance of evil.” The Japanese also have an attitude about Christianity similar to the attitude that many American Christians have about liquor. Many Japanese simply don’t want anything to do with Christianity because it was banned in Japan once upon a time, and I am sure you are wondering why it was banned.
Portuguese Catholic missionaries came to Japan in the mid 1500’s. They were very well received. Many Japanese became Catholics. The Portuguese Catholic priests were very respected, and people listened to them. They were so respected, the Japanese began putting them in prominent places in the government. Even today, the Japanese I know who are Christians say they became Christians because Japanese love the way of life of a Christian. It is a way of peace, joy, love, kindness, purity, etc., and it goes very well with the basic philosophy of how to live in Japan. Initially, Christianity in general was doing well in Japan, but it all came to an end.
The Japanese uncovered a plot by the Portuguese to take over Japan. The Portuguese were using the Portuguese Catholic priests as spies. The Portuguese Catholic priests were all thrown out of Japan. The Japanese government looked on suspicion at anyone who was a Christian. They put up signs all over Japan saying, “If you see a Christian, kill him.” There was mass persecution of Christians in Japan. They would tie a Christian to a cross and put him out in the waves of the ocean and say, “Give Christianity up or we will let the waves come up and drown you,” and they drowned many Christians. They would hang a Christian upside down in a big pit of dung and say, “We are going to lower you into this pit if you don’t give Christianity up.” They would say to Christians, “If you don’t give Christianity up, we are going to kill your children.” There are books written in Japanese about those times, and they demonize Christians. They say the Christians wouldn’t give up, and many of them were not only killed, but also their children. I had one Japanese girl tell me that she read a book about the Christian persecutions, and she could never be part of a religion that would let their children be killed. She missed the point that it wasn’t the Christians doing the killing, but the Japanese people who didn’t like Christianity. Evidently, the book she read was written with an attitude against Christianity.
By the time of Toyotomi Hedeyashi, the man who built Osaka castle, united all of Japan, and tried unsuccessfully to also take over Korea, Christianity was completely in hiding in Japan. No one knew who the Christians were. They met in secret.
I read a book written by a Japanese Christian about a boy whose mother was a Christian, and the woman’s mother in law discovered that she was a Christian and threw her out of the house. The boy was raised by his grandmother to hate Christians. The father continued to meet the mother, but only in secret. The boy grew up hating Christians. He didn’t know that his childhood playmates were also Christians. When he was grown, he wanted to marry the sister of the family of kids that he had always played with. He admired her spirit of sweetness, kindness, and bravery in the face of obstacles so much, but the brother told him that he wouldn’t want her because she was a Christian, and it caused the boy to really struggle because he had been taught to hate his mother because of her Christianity. Eventually, after a lot of listening, thinking, learning and inward struggles, the boy learned to understand Christianity and became a Christian. At the end of the book, he was going through a snowy pass on a train to meet the Christian girl and finally marry her. Something happened to the train, and it was going too fast and had no brakes. Everyone on board of the train was going to die. They figured out that the only way for the train to stop so that everyone could be saved was to throw something large under the wheels of the train, but they couldn’t find anything large on board to throw under the wheels of the train. The boy, who was by this time a young man, went outside and was standing on a platform on the outside part of the train trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly, the people inside heard a thud, and the train stopped, and everyone was going to be fine. The young man had thrown himself under the train to stop it so that everyone on the train could live, but he was dead. He had truly understood the message of Christianity and not only became a Christian, but acted out the sacrifice for others in a very dramatic way! He saved everyone on the train just as Jesus saved us from eternal punishment in Hell. The name of the book is “Shiokari Pass” by Aiko Miura, if you are interested. You can also get it in video form online, but the video is only Japanese. The book has been translated to English. It is a great movie and book!
By the Meiji Restoration, in the 1800’s, Christianity was finally allowed to come out of hiding in Japan. However, it had been banned for almost 300 years. The bad attitudes that had developed during those 300 years toward Christianity continued. Now, they are tolerant of Christians, but Christianity has a hard time flourishing in Japan because of the bad attitudes developed because of the Catholic priests from Portugal and the subsequent persecution of Christians in Japan. When I write articles like the one where the Japanese girl was shunned by her family because she became a Christian or the one about the Japanese boy who was afraid to become a Christian because he didn’t want to be thrown out of his family, perhaps you understand a little better now.