Japan Missionaries and the Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, even more than the Sino-Japanese War of the previous decade, opened new doors for Christian witness in Japan. Prime Minister Katsura Taro, whose first wife was a Christian, went out of his way to assure missionaries and pastors that Japan’s war against a so-called Christian nation in no way implied an anti-Christian stance on the part of the government. The YMCA was permitted to minister to soldiers at the front, and churches were given access to military hospitals where the wounded were cared for. A few Christians, notably Uchimura Kanzo, opposed the war as unjust, but the vast majority supported it with enthusiasm, thereby demonstrating their loyalty as Japanese subjects.

The effects the war had on Southern Baptist work were mixed. At Moji, from which the majority of men and munitions were sent to the front on the Asian mainland, and to which many sick and wounded were evacuated, the war had “a decidedly demoralizing effect,” reported Maynard, “causing many to neglect their church duties.” At Sasebo, headquarters of Admiral Togo‘s fleet (which won the war for Japan by destroying the Russian fleet sent from the Baltic Sea), the congregation virtually disappeared, for nearly all the men were connected with the navy. The church’s rented quarters had to be returned to the landlord. Security in the town was so tight that no missionary was allowed to enter, though Pastor Ozaki was able to minister in homes and hospitals. The work at Nagasaki was similarly hampered. Among those drafted into service were the Sunday school superintendent and Pastor Sugano’s wife, a Red Cross nurse who served aboard an army hospital ship. Without a tear, it was reported, Mrs. Sugano left her two-year-old daughter in the care of the sick father and a feeble grandmother.

In Kokura, where the Mission now had a new chapel seating 125, a gift from Maryland Baptists, the war gave a boost to the work. “The physician in charge of the three military hospitals at this place,” said Maynard, “being a devoted Christian, gave us every facility for reaching the sick and the wounded.” The physician even preached in the Baptist church several times. Tens of thousands of Scripture portions and tracts were distributed, and a number of conversions were reported. Afterwards the Baptist Sunday school received a lacquer cup and a letter of thanks from military headquarters in Tokyo.

In Kumamoto the story was much the same. “The war has in no way retarded the progress of our work,” wrote Harvey Clarke, “but our sympathy for those in distress seems to draw us closer to the people.” The missionaries were permitted to conduct services in the military hospitals and to deal personally with the soldiers. For this ministry each was given a bronze medal. Lucile Clarke ministered so effectively through her singing and her genuine interest in the soldiers that she received from the emperor a silver cup bearing the imperial crest. She treasured the award as long as she lived. It can be seen in retrospect, however, that such actions on the part of the government helped to blind the missionaries to the injustices and ultimate consequences of Japan’s growing involvement in Korea and China. This “first victory of yellow armies over white,” followed by dissatisfaction with the spoils of war, paved the way for Japanese imperialists to “restore Asia to the Asiatics.”

SOURCE: The Southern Baptist Mission in Japan, 1889-1989, by F. Calvin Parker (University Press of America, 1991), pp. 64-65

Academic area specialists have similar problems these days.

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