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Sea-Girt Yezo

Glimpses at Missionary Work in North Japan.

By John Batchelor

London: Church Missionary Society, 1902.

Chapter VI. The Beginnings of Missionary Work in Yezo.

"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper; either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good."--Eccl. xi. 6.

THE special object the C.M.S. had in view when it was determined to occupy Yezo was that of preaching the "Good News" of our Redemption and Salvation to the poor benighted Ainu who dwell on this island. It has already been noticed that the Rev. W. Dening was the first missionary sent here by our Society. This was in the year 1874. When Mr. Dening first arrived he spent a few months, to begin with, at Nagasaki studying the Japanese language, for a knowledge of this tongue is always necessary to a missionary in any part of the "Land of the Rising Sun." After having acquired a sufficient amount of the language to make himself understood, he came north to Hakodate, bringing Mr. Futagawa, a well-known Japanese convert, with him as assistant. Upon arrival they immediately hired a carpenter's shop in the best part of the main street of the city, and forthwith began to preach Christ to the people. When I arrived in 1877, services were still held in this very place, and the [59/60] first man I heard preach there was the Rev. J. Williams, and after him Mr. Ogawa. Mr. Futagawa did not remain long in Hakodate, for he found that his services were required in Tokyo, so he returned south again. In the meantime, however, Mr. Ogawa had been brought to a knowledge of his Saviour and was beginning to be helpful in the work. He was baptized in Hakodate by the Rev. J. Williams in 1875, and was the second Hakodate convert. The first person baptized in this place did not, I am very sorry to relate, remain faithful to his Lord and Master. Like Judas he was a thief, and left not the Church only, but Hakodate also. We do not know what has become of him, but our prayer is that God will be merciful to him and bring him back to Himself.

[61] Mr. Dening had fully realized that the preaching of the precious Word of God was the missionaries' first work; and so, although I found when I appeared upon the scene that he was at home on furlough in England, yet Mr. Williams, with Mr. Ogawa's help, was holding preaching services at the several villages Mr. Dening had opened. These were Ono, Nanaye, Kikyo, and latterly Arikawa. But besides the work of opening up these Japanese villages, Mr. Defiling had kept in view the Society's wish to reach the Ainu, and so in 1876 he paid his first visit to Piratori, the old Ainu capital of Saru, where he was well received. He was not, of course, able to do anything in the way of preaching to these people, his first necessary duty being to study the language. He spent a month here with Chief Penri, and then re turned to Hakodate to his work among the Japanese. This visit to Piratori, however, must [61/62] be looked upon as the very beginning of work among the Ainu, for it was preparatory to it, and Piratori has never been given up since; indeed it has for many years (since 1878, in fact) been my own headquarters for the Saru district, for I used to visit there before my appointment to the Ainu people as an especial sphere of labour.

Upon arriving, then, in Hakodate from Hong Kong, I found Mr. Williams in charge of the work in Yezo. It was a source of great interest to me to be thus enabled to see the very commencement of the work here. On the one hand there were Mr. and Mrs. Williams, both struggling hard daily to [62/63] compass the intricacies of the verbs in the Japanese language, while I myself at once settled down to the A B C, so to speak. It made me quite envious to see the little Japanese children of three or four years talking most fluently and without the slightest effort, while I could not say three words properly. They, dear little mites, got no headaches through trying to learn the language, but we sometimes suffered much. I had not been here long before I had the great joy of seeing Mr. Williams baptize a certain Mr. Kimura, who was a soldier. This man soon became one of my greatest friends. He, with two or three others, used to take almost daily walks with me, when he endeavoured to instruct me in the first principles of the Japanese tongue. Poor Kimura, whose name was afterwards changed into that of Watanabe, did not live long after his baptism. He was [63/64] consumptive and therefore taken to a hospital, where he soon died. Before going there he used often to stay in the back quarters of the C.M.S. house. Mr. and Mrs. Williams resided there at the time, and as I had just arrived from China in a very weakly condition, they most kindly took me in and cared for me, for which kindness I shall ever be grateful. This is how it came to pass that Mr. Kimura and I saw so much of each other. We were both weak, and so had a kindly fellow-feeling. He was, in spite of all his distress, a very bright kind of man, and I learned some very curious things from him during our talks and rambles together. I will mention one of them. He knew quite well that he could not get well and would not last much longer, for he felt that his medicines were not doing him any real good. The Japanese were at that time just about breaking away from the old-fashioned quack doctors, but were not quite free from them yet. Kimura seemed to think that after all there might perhaps be something in some of their remedies, and so, especially as the European medicines were not curing him, he determined to try one for himself. I went in to see him in his room one evening, and discovered him cooking what I supposed to be a late supper, for it smelt very nice indeed. Upon asking him what he had in his pot, he began to show me a nice lot of meat stewing, and asked me to partake of some with him, as it was a good medicine, especially for persons suffering from weakness as he and I were. However, I had finished my supper and so declined. Had I been hungry, most likely I should have eaten with him. I was glad afterwards that I took none, for I learnt that his medicine consisted of stewed cat. Poor Kimura had killed a cat and was eating it in good faith as a medicine. He had been and consulted a quack doctor, and stewed cat was the remedy prescribed. It did him no good, for he entered the hospital soon after and died. I went to see him just before the end, when he told us that he was quite happy [64/65] and had dreams at night in his sleep of the glories of heaven. And so, trusting in Jesus, in Whom he had found quiet peace, he fell asleep.

When the people consulted the old-fashioned quack doctors they did not always know what curious superstitions they (the quacks) held. I am sure poor Kimura did not, any more than I did, when he followed the advice of his quack. I have found out of late years, however, that some of the very old-fashioned people believe that consumption is a consequence of being possessed by cats. Now those who believe in such things as this also believe that the only remedy for the disease is the flesh of a cat. In such cases cat's flesh is eaten to expel cats. In the mind of the quack doctor, Kimura's cooked cat was more of a charm than a medicine. The Ainu also, I find, have the same belief.

Something of the same kind happened in another part of the island not many years ago, when I was out on one of my preaching tours. It was early autumn, and I was travelling on foot. As it was my custom in those days, I was carrying my gun in order to pick up a duck or a snipe or two for supper and the next day's dinner, if I could meet with any on the way. As I was going along I happened to shoot a duck, which, however, was only wounded. As it was flying away a large hawk came by and seized it in its claws, whereupon I again fired and brought down both the hawk and duck. The duck I carried to the inn and had cooked for our supper, but threw the hawk away as of no value for food. The mother of the inn-keeper was very aged and had suffered from a bad disease for many years. I went and had a chat with her, and among other things told her about the hawk, for I thought it was a very curious thing and would interest her. "What," she exclaimed, "have you done with the hawk?" When I told her that I had thrown it away she expressed great disappointment and sorrow, for, [65/66] said she, "it would have been such a good thing for my sickness." Upon asking her how, she informed me that the skin of a hawk is a special remedy for her complaint. I asked her how it was to be taken, and she said that the skin was to be carefully taken off and buried beneath the hearth, directly under the centre of the fire. It was to be left there till it was burnt into a black cinder. After this it was to be taken up, the ashes carefully wiped off, and then ground into powder. This was to be placed in a cup and warm water was to be poured over it; it was then to be swallowed. I could not find out why the hawk's skin should be better than the skin of any other bird, for the old lady did not appear to know. All she could say was that it was a very old remedy and very potent. These are merely samples of the remarkable kinds of quack medicines I have known the people--old-fashioned people--to believe in. There are many others, such as dried beetles, centipedes, and some others too dreadful to mention.

It has already been stated that there are about 2300 Christians belonging to our Church in Yezo, and that these are by God's blessing increasing every year; but it must not for a moment be supposed that these visible results are the only fruit God has given us. There is much going on which we do not see, and often the fruit does not grow till long after the seed has been sown. The sowing, indeed, goes on day by day, here, there, and everywhere. In fact, the missionaries do just as the text at the head of this chapter recommends:--"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good." Often when the preacher has imagined that the seed has fallen upon the hard wayside, or on rocky soil, or among the thorns, and so has been downcast about his work, he has heard many years afterwards, much to his joy and encouragement, that it has after all [66/67] struck root deep down into the heart and is producing good fruit. I will give you an example or two.

In the year 1899 Bishop Fyson wrote to the Society these words:--"Many of the people have immigrated here from the Main Island, where they have been in contact with the foreign missionary in some form or other, and after talking to a little knot of hearers one frequently hears such remarks as, 'Oh, I have a sister in a Christian school at such-and-such a place,' or, 'My brother belongs to the Christians,' or, 'Mr. So-and so'--mentioning some well-known missionary--'often used to stay at my house.' And more than once, in travelling through the country, I have been greeted with, 'Are you not Mr. Fyson?' 'Yes.' 'I remember seeing you at Niigata twenty years ago, and hearing you preach there.' So the seed sown in various places has not been altogether [67/68] mentioning the name--"about fifteen or sixteen years ago, 'and I heard you preach there. I have not forgotten all these years what you said about the love of Jesus, and would now like to be further instructed." I cannot tell you how rejoiced I was. I, too, then remembered preaching at that place, and I remembered also how sorry I felt for the people, how hard their hearts appeared, and how discouraged I was. No impression to speak of, beyond that of mere curiosity, seemed to have been made. But, to! here had been the seed secretly lying in the man's heart all those years, and the watering it received that night at Oikarumai, by the Holy Spirit's gracious working, made it to put forth roots. May God still bless it and make it grow!

But the Holy Spirit works more quickly than this sometimes. The owner of the inn at which I stayed at Oikarumai that night was also at the service. He was a staunch Buddhist, and had a shrine in the very room in which I held the service, in which, in fact, it was intended that I should spend the night. This man also acted as a kind of sub-priest of the village and caretaker of the shrine. It was he who used to burn incense, light the candles, and place the host (i.e. rice and wine of the Buddhist mass) upon the altar. I did not expect much encouragement from him, I must confess, but, wonderful to relate, this old man jumped up at the end of the service, took his own special picture-idol of Amida down from the wall and handed it to me. [With reference to this deity a certain German author has written as follows: "As leader of the legion of Buddhist deities, Amida is enthroned aloft, the immeasurably resplendent, the deity of consolation, help, and deliverance, to whom thousands of idols of every size are dedicated throughout Japan. This god leads its faithful followers to happiness, where they enjoy the blessed sight of Amida, of the loveliest gardens, with flowers, water, birds, &c." (J. J. Rein, "Japan.")] He said that he had now made up his mind to become a disciple of Jesus. I was exceedingly glad at this, and received him as a catechumen at once. He was baptized at the end of the year 1900.

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