HIDEYOSHI AND HIS EDICTS AGAINST CHRISTIANITY 1583-1598.

14 03 2010

Portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi written in 1601.

A conversion that attracted much attention about this time was that of Imaoji Dosan, Hideyoshi’s physician, a man who had been educated in the best schools of Japan and China, and who was the most celebrated practitioner in the country. Father Figueredo had occasion to consult this physician. Dosan, surprised to see a person of so great age whose general health seemed so good, asked him how he had preserved his strength. The Father replied that from his childhood he had lived an abstemious life, had subdued his body by labor, and above all, had learned the secret of contentment so well, that, even though the ailment which brought him to seek advice should cut short his days, he would not be troubled thereby, since this would introduce him to a life incomparably better than the present and one that had the great advantage of being endless. Dosan, who did not believe in the immortality of the soul, began to argue and to ask questions which received such answers as finally led him to put himself under the Father’s instruction with the result that after a while he received baptism. His pupils said to number eight hundred, were also baptized, while many other persons were led to say: “If such a wise man as this believes the Christian doctrines, they must be true.”

It was about this time that the Christians of Kyushu lost the two men who had hitherto been their most illustrious leaders. Omura Sumitada died May 2, 1587, at the age of fifty-five; while a fortnight later followed the death of Otomo Yoshishige, who was fifty-eight years old. During the last part of his life Yoshishige had shown much zeal in the observance of religious ceremonies. Crasset says of him:

“He lived eighteen years after his baptism in piety and devotion, more like a perfect religious man than a worldly prince. He began his conversion by afflicting his weak and infirm body with cruel and continual penances. He fasted several days in the week, disciplined himself daily, and frequently too in public, to repair (as he used to say) the scandal he had given by his loose and libertine life….. He confessed and communicated five or six times a week. He recited his rosary daily on his knees, and over and above, another pair of beads with his domestics…. Every year he retired for eight or ten days to make the Spiritual Exercises…. Though he was naturally of a warlike disposition, yet after the unction of grace had penetrated into his heart he never waged war but in his own defense, and the fruit he reaped by it was extirpation of idolatry and the establishment of the Christian religion. This was his pleasure and glory above all other conquests. He hunted the bonzes like savage beasts and, in a word, took the singular satisfaction in exterminating them out of the land.”

How great then was the consternation of the missionaries when, in a single night, Hideyoshi’s attitude towards them was entirely altered and an edict was issued in which they were ordered to leave Japan within twenty days.

What was the cause of this sudden change? As has already been noted, some Japanese historians state that Hideyoshi from the first was opposed to Christianity and had been waiting some good opportunity to declare his enmity. Another or an additional explanation given by some is thus expressed in the “History of the Empire of Japan,” prepared by the Japanese Department of Education for the Colombian Exposition of 1893:

“When Hideyoshi in the course of his campaign against Shimazu reached Hakata, the Christian priests showed such an arrogant demeanor that Hideyoshi, enraged by their conduct, ordered that they should leave Japan by a certain day and prohibited the people from embracing Christianity.”

Mr. Murdoch calls attention to Hideyoshi’s custom of using outbursts of simulated fury to conceal his deep designs, and holds that Hideyoshi did not wish to extirpate Christianity, but only to reduce it to the position of a serviceable political tool. This led him to take active steps against Takayama, whom he regarded as too much under the control of the foreigners, while Konishi and Kuroda, as men that could be trusted, were left undisturbed.

Roman Catholic historians say that several causes united to arouse the enmity of Hideyoshi. The first was the evil conduct of the European merchants, most of whom gave themselves up to such debauchery as made the Japanese despise a religion that had so little good effect on the lives of its adherents. Thus Hideyoshi was led to think that the missionaries could not believe that the religion they taught was a help to virtue. He one day dropped the remark that he greatly feared the upright conduct of the missionaries themselves was nothing more than a mask of hypocrisy used to conceal the plans of the Europeans to gain possession of Japan.

A second cause of distrust is said to have arisen in connection with an unusually large Portuguese ship that came to Hirado. Hideyoshi, who was thinking of having some vessels built in European style, asked Father Coelho to induce the captain to bring this ship to Hakata. The captain came in a small vessel, alleging that the shoals outside the harbor did not give sufficient water for the larger one. Hideyoshi spent three hours with Father Coelho and the captain on board the small boat, apparently satisfied with the excuse and pleased with the entertainment offered him; but it was afterwards thought that he suspected the merchants and missionaries had some secret reason for not wishing to accede to his request. ]

Most stress is laid by the Jesuits upon Hideyoshi’s anger at the obstacle which Christianity offered to his own debaucheries. According to their account, a man named Yakuin, who had formerly been a Buddhist priest, had now become the procurer for Hideyoshi’s licentious pleasures. Some Christian maidens of Arima, show he urged to go to Hakata, rejected his offers with so much contempt that he returned baffled and angry. He arrived on the evening after Hideyoshi’s visit to the Portuguese ship. The Regent was still making merry with some wine that he had received from the captain. When Yakuin told his adventures and declared that the Christians had treated him with souch insolence and violence that he had been glad to escape with his life, Hideyoshi roared out that he would cut the throats of all the Christian women of Arima. Then Yakuin joined with others that were present in declaiming against the foreign religion whose followers, they alleged, were preparing to join the Portuguese in overthrowing Hideyoshi. There was even the pretence of disclosing a plot already formed for this purpose, with Takayama Ukon for its leader.

Hideyoshi was quick to take action. In the middle of the night Father Coelho, who had remained on the ship where the Regent had just shown himself so gracious, was aroused from his sleep and called on deck. A voice from the shore commanded him in very impolite language to come at once to land in order to receive a communication from Hideyoshi. The message proved to be a demand for answers to the following questions: “Why do you force the Japanese to become Christians? Why do you make your followers destroy the temples? Why do you persecute the Buddhist priests? Why do you violate Japanese customs by eating meat? Who has given the Portuguese permission to buy Japanese and carry them as slaves to India?” Shortly after-wards another messenger arrived read an order that had just been issued for the banishment of Takayama, and departed without saying anything more.

The Vice-Provincial was overwhelmed with astonishment. He at once set to work at the preparation of a long letter in answer to the questions that had been asked. In it he said that Hideyoshi himself had given permission for the preaching of Christianity; that since this religion taught the existence of only one God, it was to be expected that those who followed it would renounce all idols and seek to overthrow the buildings in which they were enshrined, although the missionaries had never taken part in destroying temples except so far as the daimyos approved; that while it was not to be supposed that teachers of two religions so different as Buddhism and Christianity could work in harmony, the Jesuits had never maltreated the bonzes; that, although the missionaries according to the customs of their own country had eaten meat when entertained by the Portuguese merchants, they were willing to abstain from it hereafter; and that they were not accountable for the conduct of the merchants, whom they had often reproved for their traffic in slaves, an evil that could easily be prevented if Hideyoshi would prohibit the daimyos and others from selling captives and criminals to the foreigners.

Twenty-six martyrs museum. Location: Nishizaka-machi, Nagasaki, Japan

The next morning (July 25, 1587) the following edict was published:

“Having learned from our faithful counselors that foreign religious teachers have come into our estates, where they preach a law contrary to that of Japan and that they have even had the audacity to destroy temples dedicated to our Kami and Hotoke; although this outrage merits the most extreme punishment, whishing nevertheless to show them mercy, we order that under pain of death they quit Japan within twenty days. During that space of time no harm nor hurt will be done them, but at the expiration of that term, we order that if any of them be found in our states, they shall be seized and punished as the greatest criminals. As for the Portuguese merchants, we permit them to enter our ports, there to continue their accustomed trade, and to remain in our estates provided our affairs need this; but we forbid them to bring any foreign religious teachers into the country, under the penalty of the confiscation of their ships and goods.”

Orders were sent to Takayama Ukon, who was encamped near Hakata, that he must give up his fief in Akashi and go into exile. For some time he dwelt on an island belonging to Konishi’s estate. He was then ordered to remove with his family to Kanazawa in the province of Kaga. The daimyo of that place received him as a retainer, giving him a revenue that enabled him to support the faithful vassals that followed him into exile.

Coelho hoped to avert the threatened disaster by making a show of submission. As no ship was ready to sail to the Indies, he succeeded in having the time permitted to elapse before the departure of the missionaries changed from twenty days to six months. In response to his summons, all but two of the European missionaries assembled in Hirado for a conference. There were then in Japan forty Fathers and seventy-three Brothers, forty-seven of the latter being Japanese. It was decided that for the present it was advisable to refrain from all open exercise of their ministry. While awaiting the time set for leaving Japan, they accepted the asylums offered by the Christian daimyos of Kyushu.

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