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Chapter Thirteen Christianity and Christian Activities



Chapter Thirteen Christianity and Christian Activities
An invitation to Francis Xavier

When investigating Christian activities under the rule of Sōrin, despite the existence of certain historical documents stemming from Japan, it is those works by the priests and acolytes of the Society of Jesus which most clearly convey events at the time. Such records are today known by titles such as the `Nihon Shi` (Luis Frois), `Nippon Junsatsu Ki` (Alessandro Valignano), `Iezasu Kai Shi Nippon Tsūshin`, and `Iezasu Kai Nippon Nenpō`, and all contain such a wealth of information as to satisfy any curiosity. Of course, there are one or two mistaken entries, and the depiction of individuals is often coloured by the emotional stance of the writer, yet the records are by and large correct, full of vibrancy, and occasionally dramatic. This has made these records popular as historical resources, and it is to that end that the author proposes to take a look at the influence of Christianity in Bungo and beyond.(159) 

The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima on the 22nd day of the 7th month of Tenbun 18 (1549) intent on spreading the word of the gospel. He was initially welcomed by the Lord of Kagoshima, Shimazu Takahisa (島津貴久), and was granted permission to begin proselytizing activities. However Takahisa`s attitude towards Xavier and Christianity soon cooled, which had a palpable effect on conversions. As such, in the following year, Xavier travelled from Kagoshima to Hirado where he spent a restless month. He then went on to Hakata and Yamaguchi before finally arriving in Kyoto, intent on gaining from the shōgun permission to engage in proselytizing activities across Japan. However at the time both the court and shōgunate had lost most of their authority, a fact which forced Xavier to conclude that gaining permission to proselytize from the shōgun was ultimately meaningless. He then returned to Hirado, knowing that the only way in which he could preach would be to gain the permission of each daimyō in their respective territory. He then travelled on to Yamaguchi where, under the protection of the Ōuchi family, he began preaching. Yet he was again to be disappointed. As he himself said…「此方面に於て発見したる諸国中、日本民のみキリスト教を伝ふるに適せり」(amidst all of the different lands I have visited while in the East, I regarded that of the Japanese to the most suitable to receive Christianity). Yet Xavier also wrote the following…「但し之には非常なる労苦を要すべし」(天文二十一年一月四日付、ザビエル書簡)(however the task requires enormous effort).(160)

Xavier then planned to head back to India and re-think the strategy for proselytizing in Japan. However just before he left, he received an invitation from Ōtomo Yoshishige (Sōrin) of Bungo province. According to the letter`s details, Yoshishige, in addition to informing Xavier when a Portuguese vessel would be available to take him back to India, also wished to discuss matters with Xavier, and invited Xavier to visit his (Yoshishige`s) residence. For his part, Xavier, in order to judge whether this regional lord was inclined towards Christianity and his lands fit for preaching the gospel, made his way to Bungo with five companions, ostensibly to meet some Portuguese traders currently residing there. And so in the 9th month of Tenbun 20 (1551), Xavier stepped onto the soil of Bungo. The day after his arrival he was summoned to a meeting with Yoshishige, where he was most heartily received (according to Xavier`s own records dated for the 29th day of the 21st year of Tenbun). Xavier was overjoyed at such a reception. As detailed further on, this example of hospitality clearly conveys just how curious Yoshishige (Sōrin) was in regards to the `other`. This meeting would be the key that opened up Bungo province to Christian proselytization. What is more remarkable is the fact that at the time Yoshishige was only 22 years old, and only a year and a half had passed since he had succeeded to the position of head of the Ōtomo household.(161-162)     

After spending two months in Bungo, Xavier did as he first planned and took a Portuguese vessel back to India. Before his departure, Yoshishige presented Xavier with letters of friendship to the King of Portgual. As a gesture of respect to the governor of Goa, Yoshishige also had one of his retainers accompany Xavier to India. With his desire to expand his horizons and engage in dialogue with foreign kings, Yoshishige was certainly not a parochial Sengoku daimyō, but one imbued with a character that delighted in doing things on a grand scale.(162) In the seventh month of the following year of Tenbun 21 (1552), Padre Balthasar Gago arrived in Kagoshima with two Portuguese companions. One month later, Balthasar was in Bungo, where he received lodgings from Yoshishige. Cosmo de Torres, a missionary who had been instrumental in spreading the gospel in Yamaguchi, learnt of Gago`s arrival in Bungo, and sent an acolyte by the name of João Fernandez to meet him. Fernandez was fluent in Japanese, and thus he was to serve as Gago`s interpreter in meetings with Yoshishige.(162) Gago received an invitation from Yoshishige to come and teach him about the message of the gospels, an invitation which was accepted. Yoshishige paid very close attention to what was said during this meeting. Gago taught Yoshishige such fundamental aspects of the Christian faith as `thou shall not kill`, `thou shall not commit adultery`, `thou shall not lie`, and `thou shall not covet thy neighbor`s goods`. In response to this, Yoshishige asked a number of questions, one of which was particularly poignant. Yoshishige asked how he was supposed to bring order to his territories if he couldn`t order the execution of `evil-doers`. It appears that this was the sort of dilemma that was troubling Yoshishige at the time, the dichotomy between religion and politics (according to the record of Luis Frois, dated for the 16th day of the 9th month of Tenshō 6).(162-163)

Yoshishige listened to a number of sermons by Gago, the effect of which saw him enter into amicable relations with Ōuchi Yoshitaka (whom he had previously loathed), an act which makes one wonder about the extent of Yoshishige`s magnanimity. Furthermore, Yoshishige was troubled by the fact that there were no Christians living in his territories, and so he expected such believers to appear in time. Naturally he gave permission to missionaries to live within his territories and to preach their message to the population.(163)

Gago later travelled to Yamaguchi to consult Torres on matters related to proselytization. However, just before this occurred, events in Yamaguchi underwent a dramatic change. The death of Ōuchi Yoshitaka (via treachery) resulted in Yoshishige`s younger brother, Haruhide, succeeding to the head of the Ōuchi household and taking the name Yoshinaga. Yoshishige made a request to his brother, asking him to protect those Christians found within his lands, a request that Yoshinaga did his utmost to fulfill. Upon learning that the acolyte Pedro Del Caseva was to journey to India, Yoshishige again sent a retainer to accompany him with letters addressed to the governor at Goa, promising that missionaries would be welcome in his lands and would receive lodgings (according to a letter by Luis Frois dated for the 23rd year of Tenbun).(163)

Protection for Christianity and an increase in the faithful 

Christianity in Bungo province developed steadily under the protection of Sōrin, however this very fact infuriated members of Buddhist sects. They often engaged in verbal assaults against missionaries. Knowing this had little effect, they steadily increased the amount of `incidents` directed against missionaries. In response, Sōrin produced an edict, stating that any person seen throwing stones at missionary residences would be punished.(164) In the 22nd year of Tenbun (1553), Sōrin officially allowed missionaries to engage in the work of proselytization. These missionaries gave sermons in the streets, and were successful in their efforts to administer aid to the sick. The missionaries would eventually amass a following of 600 to 700 believers within territory centered on Funai. In the 6th month of the same year (1553), a more elaborate residence was built for the missionaries in Funai. A cross was raised at the site, which was followed by a ceremony commemorating the founding of the mission.(164)

Sōrin certainly wasn`t completely ambivalent towards Christianity. However when one recalls that in the 1st year of Ganki (1570) Sōrin had Iun (怡雲) of Daitokuji in Kyoto visit Bungo, it does appear that Sōrin, at this stage in his life, did not indulge in Christianity or Christian teachings. He may have feared a scenario in which a number of prominent retainers, by converting to Christianity, would set in motion events that would spark off a civil war inside Bungo province. Thus he refrained from converting. On the other hand, one of Sōrin`s chief retainers with a history of service among the toshiyori councillors, Kutami Akiyasu (朽網鑑康), continued to advocate conversion among the Ōtomo retainers, although he himself hesitated to convert, concerned about Sōrin`s reaction to such a move (according to Luis Frois` History of Japan).(165) One could say that each side restrained the other.(165)

In the first year of Kōji (1555), the number of converts in Funai reached 1500. However, these converts were drawn from among poor and sick commoners, for no warriors had been convinced to undergo conversion. At this time, a Portuguese by the name of Luis de Almeida offered Sōrin 1000 crusados to erect a paediatric hospital under Sōrin`s care (letter from Balthasar Gago dated the 5th day of the 9th month of the first year of Kōji). However resistance to the presence of the Jesuits emerged from time to time among the local populace - stones were thrown at the residences of the missionaries, and rumours were spread insinuating that the priests ate human flesh. To counter-act this activity, Sōrin had guards placed on duty outside the missionaries` residences, which subsequently defused the situation. In addition, Gago finished writing a explanatory treatise on Christianity, which he presented to Sōrin. Sōrin was said to be overjoyed at receiving such a gift (according to Eduardo da Silva, in a letter dated for the 5th day of the 9th month of the first year of Kōji).(165)

The number of conversions continued to grow, with one episode in which a Zen priest became a Christian believer. The origin of these believers also spread beyond the boundaries of Funai. In Naoiri gun Kutami gō, the home territory of the Kutami family (mentioned earlier), 200 converts were counted among the local residents. In the same year (Kōji 1), Sōrin donated one of his residences to be used as a chapel. In the following 2nd year (1556), despite the disarray caused by the revolt of Ohara Akimoto in Higo province, missionaries were granted territory in accordance to their wishes, along with horses, and various other items, for which they were profoundly grateful (according to Luis de Almeida, in a letter dated for the 11th day of the 10th month of Kōji 3).(166)

In the 3rd year of Kōji (1557), the protector of Christianity in Yamaguchi, Ōuchi Yoshinaga, was killed by Mōri Motonari. Padre Torres, who had been instrumental in proselytizing activities carried out in Yamaguchi, decided to shift the main centre of Christian teaching in Japan from Yamaguchi to Bungo Funai (according to Luis de Almeida). Torres himself came to live in Funai. Thereafter Bungo would be at the epicenter of proselytizing activities in Japan. Sōrin (Yoshishige) granted a house to Torres, and often visited the abode to enjoy evening meals therein. Sōrin also built hospitals for the ill and had a residence built for the hospital`s doctors. News of this spread as far as Kyoto and Sakai, which resulted in 200 or more people from those regions journeying to Bungo to receive baptism and medical care. Such measures are regarded as the main reasons why there was a considerable growth in the number of Christians (according to Balthasar Gago, in a letter dated for the 2nd day of the 10th month of Eiroku 2).(167)

We have already seen how Sōrin, upon Francis Xavier`s departure from Japan, gave Xavier a letter of friendship to be handed to the Portuguese king Don João III. However the letter arrived late, when the king was on his deathbed. He subsequently passed away before a response could be written. His grandson, Don Sebastião I, upon his succession to the throne, agreed to a response to Sōrin`s letter on the 16th day of the 2nd month of Eiroku 2 (1559). This letter made its way back to Bungo. In it the king expressed his gratitude to Sōrin for the protection he afforded Christianity, and asked him for his continuing support.

In the 10th month of Eiroku 3 (1560), Balthasar Gago, operating in Bungo under the auspices of Padre Torres, set out for a journey to India. Sōrin, by way of gifts for the King of Portugal, gave Gago a short sword (or wakizashi), the handle of which featured a decorative golden snake, while he presented Gago with an opulent sword for delivery to the governor general of the Indies. Unfortunately both items were damaged in a storm and so had to be returned. Sōrin then sent the governor general a suit of armour and a helmet, together with a long halberd (or naginata), gifts for which the governor general, Don Francisco Coutinho, was only too happy to receive (according to a letter by Balthasar Gago dated for the 14th day of the 11th month of Eiroku 5). This is but one way in which we can speculate on the measures Sōrin took to encourage trade with the Portuguese.(167)

From the 2nd year of Kōji (1556), Sōrin resided at the castle in Usuki, making it his official residence from the 8th month of Eiroku 4 (1561). Two years later Padre Luis de Almeida made his way to Funai, and from there proceeded to visit Sōrin at Usuki. In the same year, the missionary João Batista made landfall at Yokoseura (横瀬浦) in Hizen province, and he too would pay his respects to Sōrin in the following year (of Eiroku 7). In the 8th year the missionary João Cabral and Padre Guilherme visited Sōrin, as did Padre Miguel Bas (according to records of Miguel Bas dated for the 3rd day of the intercalculary 8th month of Eiroku 9, amongst other sources). In Eiroku 10 (1567), an area within the town of Usuki was judged appropriate for the building of residences for missionaries and a meeting hall. Sōrin visited the site with his two sons Yoshimune and Chikaie, and shared a meal with the missionaries. Thereafter, three of Sōrin`s female retinue visited the meeting hall in Usuki. The meeting hall eventually became the quarters of Melchior de Figueiredo, who resided there with João Cabral (according to a letter from Melchior de Figueiredo dated for the 15th day of the 8th month of Eiroku 10).(168)

The Portuguese king Sebastião I sent two letters of friendship to Sōrin, the second of which was dated for the 2nd month of Eiroku 5 (1562). In this he made mention of his desire for protection to be afforded to the missionaries, and his wish that Sōrin should convert to Christianity. He probably believed that such a moved would result in a large increase in the number of believers. In the first letter, the king had addressed Sōrin as `illustrious benefactor`, however in the second letter he stated that Sōrin was `our most noble and esteemed benefactor in Bungo`. None of this convinced Sōrin to convert though.(168-169)

If Sōrin`s favourable stance towards the missionaries was based on his purely religious convictions towards Christianity, one would presume that he would have already undergone (or should have undergone) a conversion. Yet the fact that he didn`t, and gave no clear indication of what was on his mind, lead one to conclude that there must have been non-religious factors involved in Sōrin`s attitude. The largest of the reasons given involve the military and financial benefits Sōrin would have accrued (through favouritism shown towards the missionaries). The evidence to be given later on enables one to fully investigate this point further. However if the missionaries had felt strongly about impure motives on Sōrin`s behalf (in gaining military and financial benefits), just as the motives of Shimazu Takahisa of Satsuma and Matsuura Takanobu of Hizen Hirado had led to missionaries leaving their lands, those missionaries living under the rule of Sōrin would have deserted him.(167) Even if Sōrin had attempted to fool the missionaries, he would not have been able to continue to do so for nearly twenty years against such sharp minds. This leads us to conclude that Sōrin was indeed sincere in his religious beliefs concerning Christianity, and recognizes the often complicated figure of Sōrin, very unlike the Shimazu or Matsuura.(169)

In the 9th month of the 10th year of Eiroku (1567), while engaged in a war against the Mōri, Sōrin sent a letter to Bishop Don Belchior Calnero residing in China. In this letter, Sōrin emphasized that he had in no small part added to the protection of the Society of Jesus, and that he planned to dispatch missionaries to Yamaguchi and provide them with protection so that they could continue their proselytization activities. However in order to do this, Sōrin needed to defeat the Mōri. As such, all imports of saltpetre (used for gunpowder) to Yamaguchi were to be stopped, and thereafter every year 200 kin of good quality saltpetre was to be delivered to Sōrin`s own territory by Capitão-mór (captains of Portuguese vessels plying the trade routes to Japan, often under orders from the king of Portugal). For this, Sōrin would pay 100 thaïs, or any other sum of money that the Bishop saw fit to impose.(170)

In the 8th month of the following year, Eiroku 11 (1568), Sōrin again sent a letter to Calnero. In this correspondence, Sōrin expressed his pleasure upon hearing that a cannon had been prepared as a gift for him from the governor of India (to whom he had sent armour and a helmet) through the mediation of the missionaries, yet he also expressed his profound regret that this gift had been lost at sea when the vessel transporting it had sunk, and asked that every effort be made to send a replacement. Sōrin also emphasized that at present, his territory was bordering on that of an enemy, yet if his lands were to prosper, then with church halls dedicated to God in his lands, the missionaries, Christians, and indeed those Portuguese who ventured to his territory would all prosper. What Sōrin was essentially saying was that he would `put on armour over his priestly robes`, which provides us with a stark portrait of the political manuvering Sōrin now employed.(171)

By the end of the Eiroku era, Sōrin was locked in combat against the Mōri of the Chūgoku region. Those missionaries who gained favour with Sōrin prayed for his success. Sōrin, who had not been particularly inclined towards Christianity, now spent most of his time asking for the missionaries to pray for his victory. It was about this time that Yoshimune began paying visits to the missionaries` quarters in Funai (according to Melchior de Figueiredo in an entry dated for the 2nd day of the 9th month of Eiroku 12). Sōrin`s attitude towards Christianity had not undergone any radical change. On the other hand, Sōrin had pledged his protection to Manjuin (万寿院), tutelary temple to the Ōtomo family and the largest temple in the Funai region, and had invited and studied under the famous Zen monk Iun of Kyoto`s Daitokuji Zuihōin (大徳寺瑞峰院). As a consequence of this, Sōrin had constructed the temple of Jurinji at Usuki, and many of the more prominent members of the Ōtomo family were encouraged to study Zen (according to a letter written by João Batista dated for the 3rd day of the 9th month of Ganki 2).(171)   

Hence Sōrin simultaneously showed an interest in Christianity and Buddhism. Though this may have meant that he temporarily favoured one faith over the other, both existed within his psyche without any sign of contradiction. All Sōrin really wanted was peace of mind and the space to allow his soul to roam free. This very fact perplexed the missionaries. Nevertheless, they had to admit that Sōrin certainly did justice to his reputation as a politician.(172)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012