Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jesuits in Japan redux

- Blackthorne and Fr. Alvito SJ (Shogun)

In the news: more on the upcoming Scorsese film based on the Shusako Endo novel, Silence, about the 17th century Jesuit missionaries to Japan. The film has several contributing Jesuit consultants, including James Martin SJ, and the cast includes Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe (Inception).

The characters in the novel/movie are based on real people - Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Chiara and Portuguese Jesuit Cristóvão Ferreira - who were in Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate and the Shimabara Rebellion, when it was getting tough to be an "out" Christian. Here's a bit from Wikipedia about Cristóvão Ferreira ...

Ferreira was sent to Asia, where he was a missionary in Japan from 1609 to 1633, becoming the head Jesuit under the oppression of the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1633, Ferreira was captured and renounced Christianity after being tortured for five hours. He became the most famous of the "fallen priests" and changed his name to Sawano Chūan (Japanese: 沢野忠庵). He registered at a Buddhist temple in accordance with Japanese law, and called himself "a member of the Zen sect" .... he married a Japanese woman and wrote several books, including treatises on Western astronomy and medicine, which became widely distributed in the Edo period. He also privately wrote a book on religion entitled 「顕疑録」 (The Deception Revealed) in 1636, but it was not published for 300 years. He participated in government trials of other captured Jesuits. He was often present during the use of efumi, whereby suspected Christians were ordered to trample on an image of Jesus Christ. He died in Nagasaki in 1650.

I've read a past discussion between Endo and Jesuit William Johnston on Christianity and Zen Buddhism - link - and what's interesting is that Endo, a Japanese Catholic, seems much more Christianly conservative than Johnston. I've not read his novel, but I would guess that it's a kind of opposite in theme to the past movie on a similar subject, based on the novel by James Clavell, Shōgun. The story in that novel and movie was ....

based on the adventures of [real life] English navigator William Adams. The series follows Pilot John Blackthorne's experiences in Japan in the early 17th century. After his ship, the Erasmus, is wrecked along the coast of Japan, Blackthorne must juggle his identity as an Englishman associated with other Europeans, namely Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests, and the Japanese culture into which he is thrust. As an Englishman, Blackthorne is at odds with the Portuguese and the Jesuits. The powerful Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne—a Protestant—at a disadvantage, but it also brings him to the attention of Lord Toranaga .... Blackthorne and the warlord forge a tenuous alliance.

I did rent the Shogun movie a few years ago and I read the book many years ago and liked both - the Jesuits in them were, ahem, kind of diabolical ;) .... the main Jesuit character was based on real life Jesuit João Rodrigues. I hope the Scorsese movie gives an account of events that balances Catholic, Protestant, and Japanese views, rather than erring on the Catholic pov.

Read more about the history of Christians in Japan here. In modern day Japan, Catholics are a tiny minority and even among them, the church's teachings are not going over well ... Japanese bishops: Vatican mindset doesn't fit Asian church.


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