Our nation is at present engaged in a mighty struggle with Japan, upon the outcome of which the supremacy in the Pacific and Far East depends.
Since Pearl Harbor and the warfare in the jungles of the Pacific Islands, we have a new interest in this powerful enemy that for the moment dominates the Far East.
What Is Japan’s Religion?
Japan, of course, is not a Christian nation. Not even nominally so. The western nations are known as Christian nations. We realize that this is only nominally true, that as a whole these nations are not imbued with the Spirit of Christ either. However the western nations are nominally Christian because in them there is the Christian church, and in an external sense they have been brought under the influence of Christianity. Such is not the case with Japan. Of Japan’s eighty million population, only some half a million are nominally Christian, and this latter number includes Catholic’s and Protestants, modernists and fundamentalists. The nation as a whole does not claim to be Christian; it isa non-Christian, heathen nation.
There are three chief non-Christian religions in Japan. They are Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism. Confucianism is a religion imported from China, consisting of an ethical code of conduct comparable to modernism. Buddhism, of much greater proportions and significance in Japan, is also an imported religion. This religion is more of a philosophy than a religion, and was imported from India through China. In a future article, the Lord willing, we shall have more to say on Buddhism and its influence upon Japan. For the present it is enough to say that it teaches a resignation that is utter passivism, and has furnished no national inspiration to Japan.
Shinto, in distinction from Confucianism and Buddhism, is the native religion of Japan. It is Shinto that has effected the national inspiration and ideals. It has been the national inspiration of the past, and it furnishes Japan with its hopes for the future. Such is the case also in the present war.
What is Shinto?
The Japanese refer to Shinto as kami-michi, i.e. the way or the doctrine of the gods. Shinto may be defined as nature worship in the broadest sense, including both living and dead. It is the creature worship of ancient Rome and Greece, as described in Romans 1. It is the worship of objects, forces and phenomena of nature. Some of these are worshipped directly, others by personification. There are shrines dedicated directly to animals and persons, both living and dead. At these shrines worship is paid and prayers made. Even the practice of hari-kari (suicide) is only a phase of Shinto. Such an act of suicide is not intended merely as an escape from life, but it is an act of atonement, a religious rite whereby the suicide atones for his misdemeanor or failure in duty.
The chief goddess of Japan is Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. Shinto traces its gods back to two original gods, whose names translated into English are The Male who Invites and the Female who Invites. The sex relationship is fundamental to Shinto.) One day the Male who Invites dipped his three pronged fork into the waters of the earth and lifting it up the drippings from the fork formed the islands of Japan. After Japan was thus formed, the rest of the world was made after the model of the creation of Japan. After Japan was made the Male who Invites and the Female who Invites went down to the main island and each walked about it in a different direction. When they met again they gave birth to various gods. From the Male who Invites’ left eye sprang the Sun Goddess. Seeing her beauty the Male God ordered her to ascend to heaven and rule there. Another god sprang from his nose, and this brother went up to visit his sister the Sun Goddess. Trouble ensued and the Sun goddess chewed up her brother’s sword and spit out the fragments upon Japan. These fragments became gods and these are the gods from which later the Emperors descended.
The Emperor of Japan is little more than a political figurehead. Theoretically he rules, however. This Emperor assumes a great place in the popular mi ad, largely because he is looked upon as a god, a descendant appointed by the Sun Goddess herself to rule.
The imperial family of Japan has no surname. Mutsu-Hito, Yoshi-Hito and Hiro-Hito (the names of the last three Emperors) are personal names. There is no family name for the royal family since there has been no need of it. Other nations have had changes of dynasties but in Japan there has been no such change. According to Japanese claim, from the earliest times. It ought to be added, however, that this continuous line is not necessarily a blood line since several Emperors have appointed successors in the absence of an heir apparent. But Japan claims that it has had only one dynasty because this family is the duly appointed family to reign. It reigns by divine right. Other nations have had changes in dynasty because there was no divine right to reign. All other governments have usurped their power—Japan’s alone is the duly appointed reign. The Emperor has descended from the Sun Goddess, who is the chief god, and because of this he is destined to have all power.
The Emperor is indeed deified. The place Jehovah God occupied in Israel, that is the place the Emperor occupies in Japan. One of the leading historians of Japan urged the divinity of the Emperor in one of his books as follows: (1) From the divine names given him. (2) From the divine acts ascribed to him. (3) From the divine honors bestowed on him. (4) From the fact that the Emperor is the object of religious faith. He adds that the place Jehovah occupied among the Hebrews, that is the place the Emperor occupies.
Dr. A. Pieters of Western Theological Seminary, with whom the undersigned took a course on the History of Japan, and who spent over thirty years in Japan and is well versed on Japanese history and religious thought, told of an incident in his own experience. At the time of the illness of Mutsu-Hito about the turn of the century, the Japanese made a great pilgrimage to pray for the Emperor’s recovery. And to whom did they pray? To the Emperor! When the question was asked, How can you pray to the Emperor for the Emperor’s recovery? this question was answered thus, We pray to the Emperor in his divine nature that he may heal the Emperor in his human nature!
Two Corollaries of the Emperor Worship
Emperor worship. The first is: worldwide dominion of the Emperor ultimately. Someday the Japanese dynasty will rule over all the world, for the imperial line is the divinely appointed line and it alone. The second is: Japan’s duty to conquer the world and bring it in subjection to the Emperor.
Is It Believed?
You ask, of course, do the Japanese people believe all this? There are those that do not. But even as in our country a vast majority have a historical faith in the Scriptures, so in heathen Japan the masses believe the teachings of Shinto. Shinto is their aspiration and hope, the Emperor is their idol. As a matter of fact the school books the Japanese children study inculcates Shinto with its Emperor worship from early youth. Japanese life is profoundly affected by this heathenism.
It is evident then that Japan is a heathen nation, to which the description of Romans 1 may be directly applied. How thankful we must be for the knowledge of the true God and His Christ. For Christ shall reign and He alone, and of His kingdom there shall be no end!
It is also evident that in the present warfare Japan’s religion is vitally at stake and deeply involved. If Japan were to win, the doors of the Eastern nations would be and remain closed to true Christianity before long. From this viewpoint also we sincerely hope Japanese aggrandizement may be stopped. Our nation is fighting a people that is heathen in the full sense of the word.