Project Canterbury

Sea-Girt Yezo

Glimpses at Missionary Work in North Japan.

By John Batchelor

London: Church Missionary Society, 1902.

Chapter VII. Early Friends.

"He (God) knoweth the secrets of the heart."--Ps. xliv. 21.

IN the last chapter I mentioned the name of one of the very first friends it was my privilege to make in Japan. This was Mr. Kimura, who, it will be remembered, ate stewed cat in the hope of its curing him of his illness. He was the very first of my early friends to be called to live with Jesus in heaven. Besides this gentleman, I wish to say a few words about some other very interesting people I have had to do with, and the first of these is Mr. Terata.

When I reached Hakodate I found Mr. Terata residing there. He was a soldier, but also a candidate being prepared for Holy Baptism by Mr. Williams. He was formerly one of our C.M.S. staff, working first in Hakodate and then in Osaka and other places. He is [70/71] now an ordained clergyman, and is a chosen missionary of the Japanese Church, being entirely supported by the Christians. At present he is stationed on the Island of Formosa. He is a very eloquent speaker and has done right good service in the cause of his Master. He and Mr. Kimura were great friends and of a kindred spirit. Before they became Christians they were up to all kinds of mischief, they told me, and used to practise unnecessary jokes on other people. Thus, for example, as boys they would chase other people's cats and dogs, cut the wellropes at night and so allow the bucket to fall into the water below, or even be so mean as to take a person's gate off the hinges and throw it into the garden of a neighbour. All this was very bad, but, of course, changed before they became Christians.

Mr. Terata told me that he even contemplated slaying a man once, and the person he thought of killing was none other than the C.M.S. missionary then stationed at Hakodate. It happened in this way. Mr. Terata went into the [71/72] carpenter's shop one evening when a service was being held to hear the missionary preach. On that occasion he was very much struck by the sermon, and became quite angry on account of it. It appeared to him, he said, as if someone had been telling the preacher all about his own goings on, and that every bit of the address was aimed at him, and him only. He became very wroth indeed at this, and determined to have the speaker's head off for such an insult. He returned that night to his barracks and thought the matter well over, but in the end came to the conclusion that it would be more sensible to go to the preaching once again and make quite sure that an insult was intended for him. Accordingly he went again one evening, and at that service came to the conclusion that the preacher was not speaking specially at him more than every other person present. There was therefore no reason why he should cut off his head. I think from all this we may conclude that this was God's way of convicting Mr. Terata of sin. This was the real turning-point of his life, indeed the new life commenced in him from this time. After this had taken place he went more often to the services, and at last to Mr. Williams to be prepared for baptism. We are very thankful for Mr. Terata and look upon him as a monument of God's saving Grace and Power.

In 1878 the old carpenter's shop was pulled down in order to make room for a church, the first C.M.S. church in Yezo. The foundation stone was laid by Mr. Eusdon, then British Consul, on August 14th, and there was quite a large concourse of people--I should say at least 1500 persons present. The building, which was an imposing one, was completed and opened on November 24th, 1878. The opening day was a delightful one, and a young man named Sano was admitted into Christ's visible Church by baptism. Poor Mr. Sano had much trouble in becoming a Christian, for all his relatives were dead-set against his doing so, and did all they could to dissuade him from it. [72/73] However, after a great deal of trouble his father's consent was t last obtained, and the issue was that, as was stated just now, he was the first person to be baptized in the new church. I am sorry to say that he has had great trouble since in the way of persecution, in consequence of which he no longer walks with us. The poor lad became a backslider. At the time of his baptism Mr. Williams wrote very highly of him, and all the rest of us then on the spot could thoroughly endorse what he said. "He," i.e. Mr. Sano, wrote Mr. Williams, "has attended our classes and meetings with great regularity during the last two years, and has given the most unequivocal proof of his attachment to Christianity--not only to Christianity as a system, for I feel sure that he really loves Christ as his personal Saviour. He is only about seventeen years of age; and yet when, about twelve months ago, his father told him that he must either give up coming to the classes or he would drive him forth from the parental roof, he did not hesitate. . . . The father, who really loved his son, soon relented, and the brave little fellow was speedily recalled; and from that time to this, both at home and abroad, he has borne a fruitful testimony for Christ." All this was very true, yet Satan got in at last, and poor Sano became and still remains a backslider. Let us pray that he may return to his Saviour.

Another young friend of mine was a lad who at that time was a medical student in the hospital at Hakodate. He also became a Christian after some time, and his name is Murai. He passed his medical examinations and has been a doctor for many years now. At present he is residing at Hakodate, and is a member of our Church there. You will be glad to hear that this Church has become quite self-supporting and has its own native pastor. Now, these three young men, namely, Messrs. Terata, Sano, and Murai, did me a very good turn one evening, and perhaps saved my life. I will tell you how.

[74] On arrival at Hakodate I found that, among other places, a village called Arikawa had been selected by Mr. Williams as an out-station. It is only about seven miles from Hakodate. As soon as I could talk a little it was my privilege to walk to this place almost every week and either preach myself or hear one or other of our helpers do so. On a certain occasion when I went to take service those three young men accompanied me, as indeed they did more than once. It was at the beginning of the winter, when the snow-screens had been set up before the doors of the houses as a protection from the wind and snow. On that occasion Mr. Terata preached after I had done so, and a good meeting we had, the place being well filled with quiet listeners. After service we all started on our return journey to Hakodate. Before we got through the village, however, we were much surprised by a man jumping suddenly out from behind one of the snow screens, flourishing a drawn sword in his hands! I do not know whether the intention was to kill or only frighten me, but certain it is that when he saw my three friends he quickly took to his heels! They evidently suspected mischief was intended, for they all [74/75] kept very close round me till we had got a good way on the journey home. However, no harm came of it, and I did not mention the matter to any one for several months after, and then I happened to speak of it in the course of a private conversation with our Consul. He seemed to think it much more serious than I did, however, and said I ought to have reported the matter to him at once. He had been many years in Japan and knew that there were still some Japanese of the old school yet about in some of the out-of-the-way country villages. I knew that I was in the Master's hands and nothing could persuade me that there was any real danger, and so I continued to go to Arikawa and preach, often quite alone, though sometimes in company with others. Though there might have been danger for the missionaries in those times and in some places, yet there is no danger whatever now: I or, I believe, any other missionary would undertake to go anywhere in Japan to preach with the greatest pleasure, and without the least fear of getting any harm. Christianity is understood now, and Japan is a civilized country.

Another friend was Mr. Murai's mother. It was often my privilege to visit this lady in company with her son. This happened while I was studying the language and before I could speak Japanese at all well, and I remember the laughs we used to have together at the mistakes I made in attempting to make myself understood; it was plainly evident, moreover, that the old lady was often greatly puzzled. When such was the case her son used to interpret my meaning in so far as he knew it. Being very thin and weak at the time, she used to feed me up with all kinds of nice Japanese cakes, and gave me as much tea to drink as I desired, and more too sometimes. It is a good thing, I often think, that Japanese tea-cups are so tiny, for, you see, these people always drink green tea, which is not good for us, and it is impolite not to take a sip or two when tea is made for and offered to one.

[77] Mrs. Murai was not a Christian at that time, indeed I was told that she was afraid to become one for some reason or other, and was very bigoted. However, it is a pleasure to be able to tell you that she became a Christian in after years. She died some few years ago, a very peaceful death. As she was lying on her death-bed, expecting to be called to her Saviour every moment, she sent and asked a few Christians to come and sing to her. When they arrived and had gathered round her bed and had prayed that the Lord would still continue His peace-to her and grant her His presence, they sang, at her request, a pretty children's hymn she was very fond of, and that was,

"Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so."

I was told afterwards that she died in quiet peace, and that her soul sped its way to the Lord Jesus while the last verse was being sung. It was a truly beautiful death.

But now let me tell you of some people I knew who, alas! did not become Christians. When I first arrived in Hakodate my attention was at once drawn to two, whom I supposed to he very strong and good characters. One was named Mr. Jinno, and he was acting as Mr. Williams's teacher of the Japanese language. The other was a woman, whose name, I believe, was Watanabe. She was Mrs. Williams's teacher. I will tell you about Mrs. Watanabe first. This lady had been married, but her husband, much to her distress, had died. When this happened she shaved her head clean and became a Buddhist nun. There are plenty of nuns among the Buddhists, some of whom live in the temples and convents, while others are mendicants who travel about the country and get their living by begging. All of these nuns have beads or rosaries by which they count the number of times they repeat their short prayers. The prayers are simply vain repetitions of some such sentence as this: [77/78] "Namu Amida, butsu," which, I was told by a devout Buddhist, only means, "O Buddha, help me." One often hears old people saying it when walking up or down a hill, or when in any particular trouble. Well, the thing which first struck me about Mrs. Watanabe was the way in which her shaven head used to shine. It was so bright that I often wondered whether she did not polish it with something; but I came to the conclusion that it became so bright and shiny only through constant washing. This woman was very merry and, I thought, very happy, for she was always laughing. At that time I was wrestling hard with the language, so that I could not talk to her much. I tried to find out why she did not become a Christian, and, so far as I could understand, there was only one reason she could give, and that was that her husband had died a Buddhist, and out of love for him she would die one also, for she was very fond of him. Otherwise she thought she would become a Christian. You see, the Buddhist priests say prayers for the dead, so as to get their souls, so they say, out of what is called purgatory. The priests get well paid for their prayers. They not only say the mass in the temples, but also in the home of the deceased, where the candles are lighted and incense burned just as if the service was being conducted in a temple.

I do not think old Mrs. Watanabe ever became an outward Christian. I lost sight of her after two or three years. I think she was one of those people who imagine that they will be saved by God's mercy, even though they believe only half in Christ and half in Buddha. There are many who think in this way, which, of course, we know is not what the Lord Jesus wants, for He desires to have the whole heart and life.

I can never think of this old nun without, for some reason or other, calling to mind another Buddhist nun who lived in Hakodate. There was once a very great stir made at that place by the report [78/79] that a certain nun belonging to one of the temples had died and risen again. I believe it was said that she had been among the dead for nearly, a week, and during that time had paid a visit to purgatory and Paradise, walking about with angels and being taught matters connected with what happens beyond the grave. There used to be large meetings in the temples, at which she gave her experiences while out of the body. And besides this, she used to meet people privately and impart to them the secret knowledge she had gained there. She undoubtedly brought no small gain to her sect by her so-called revelations, though, of course, the wiser and more learned of the people--even among the Buddhists themselves--held aloof in unbelief. But there is another strange thing connected with this nun, a thing which I would not have believed had I not been in Hakodate at the time it happened. It is a matter which I should feel inclined to doubt even now, had not the same kind of thing happened again within the last three or four years, both at Hakodate, Sapporo, and other places I could name, and of which other missionaries, foreign and native, [79/80] could bear testimony. The nun I have mentioned used to take a bath at least once a day, and the water in which she had bathed, instead of being thrown away as it ought to have been, used to be sold or given to the Buddhist believers as a medicine. Some of the people drank it and others applied it to the various parts of their bodies if affected with disease. It must be understood, however, that the Japanese do not use soap in their baths. A person with rheumatism in the arm or foot would wash the place with it, those having sore eyes would bathe their eyes, while those with bad heads would wet their heads with it a few times, each one devoutly repeating the words, "Namu Amida, butsu," given above, while applying the medicine.

The case just referred to as having happened but a very short while ago had to do with the archbishop of the Buddhists. Some three years ago he came to Yezo to visit the various Buddhist temples, and to collect money for the cause of his religion. He, too, used to take his daily bath, and the most devout and ignorant of his followers used to be very eager to get the bath water. Think of that even in this late day! This kind of thing cannot, I imagine, last much longer, for the masses of the Japanese are fast becoming an educated people, and will, as a consequence, cease to believe in such absurdities.

Old Jinno, whose name I mentioned just now as Mr. Williams's teacher, was in some respects the roost remarkable man that I ever remember having met. He thought he knew everything worth knowing, especially about religion. I asked him at one time why he did not embrace the religion of Jesus, and he told me that he was a man of such an upright life, and had so much knowledge and learning himself, that there was no necessity at all for him to embrace Christianity! Besides, he had read Christian books, Shinto books, Buddhist books, and all the works of the Chinese Confucius and Mencius. Moreover, [80/81] he had selected all the best passages from each and made his own form of religion out of them all. And he told me that I need have no fear for him, for if any one ever went to heaven it would be himself! I have met a large number of very self-righteous men among the Heathen, but never one quite so hardened as this one. He is dead now, and I am sorry to say that I believe he died without accepting Christ as his Saviour.

Mr. Jinno was such a very good teacher that I thought I would [81/82] take a few lessons from him, and so got him to come to me. It did not last long, however, for the old man left me in a great passion one day, and never came back again. The fact was, I happened, quite inadvertently, to touch him on his tenderest spot, and that was his self-righteousness. It happened in this way. In the course of our lessons we were reading some Buddhist sermons. The subject was the necessity of not only hearing good things, but of doing them also. And the matter was illustrated thus: Once upon a time a certain human soul was taken to the next world and an angel was deputed to show it round, that it might look at all the beautiful things in Paradise. As they were going along, the soul saw some very beautiful fungi growing like mushrooms on the trunks of some trees. So beautiful were they that it said to the angel, "Look, what very nice mushrooms are growing on yonder tree!" "Oh," said the angel, smiling, "they are not mushrooms; they are the ears of men and women. They came from the bodies of people who heard good things during their life upon earth, but did not practise what they heard. Therefore their ears only came to Paradise." "Now," said Mr. Jinno to me, "if you will but preach nice things to the people, your tongue will be sure to go to heaven when you die." I was much surprised at this remark, but took it simply as my teacher's little joke. I therefore immediately replied, "And so, by the same way of reasoning, I may say that if you yourself will kindly come and hear those good things you tell me to preach, your ears also will go to Paradise." You cannot think how angry the old man was. He replied to me in this way: "What do you mean in answering me back after such a manner? I am your teacher, remember that; and, moreover, I am old enough to be your grandfather. I know far more of these things than you can possibly know. I am a good man, and there is nothing you can teach me." He went on in this strain for a long time, and then got up and [82/83] walked away, and never came to teach me again! I often went to his house to see him after this, and spent many an interesting hour with him. He was always most friendly, but I am sorry to say that he remained as self-righteous as ever. He had not the slightest idea of sin and his need of the cleansing blood of Jesus. There are many like him in the world. May their eyes be opened to see the light!

In the year 1876 work was commenced in a place called Ono, which had a farming population of about 2350 souls. In the year after I came up from Hong Kong I found that Mr. Ogawa, then a catechist, was stationed there with his family. After remaining in Hakodate about two months, Mr. Williams finally made arrangements for me to go and stay with him for the purpose of studying the language, as I wanted to be in a place where I could not hear any English spoken. The person who owned the land upon which the preaching-place and catechist's house stood was a farmer. I often went out with him to his farm to see how the work was done, and to learn the names of the tools they used, and of the weeds which grew and the seeds which were being planted. This old farmer was a very ignorant but most staunch Buddhist. It seemed that nothing could move him to think of Jesus Christ. He thought that Buddha was every bit as good as Jesus, and quite as well able to save mankind. This old man (he is dead now) used to think, as other Buddhists do also, that Jesus would do to be the foreigner's God, while Buddha was the god for the Japanese. He thought, in addition to this, that every land and people had its own special gods, and that if a person gave up the gods of his own country he would certainly be punished by them. This man also thought that if he became a Christian he would thereby become an Englishman, and so prove disloyal to his Emperor. Every one I have told you about is just a special type of the people, for there are many like them. All were interesting, and there was much to learn from each. I am glad I knew them.

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