Hirai Ryuge Kinzo

Hirai Ryuge Kinzo was a Buddhist from Japan who spoke of “The Real Position of Japan toward ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church..” His extended remarks express a strong critique of U.S. treaty relations with Japan, the behavior of some Christian missionaries in Japan, and the prejudice against Japanese in America.


This Parliament of Religions is the realization of a long cherished dream, and its aim is to finally establish religious affinity all over the world. As I believe it my duty to try to remove any obstacle that might prevent the completion of this ultimate purpose, and to caution against an impediment toward the fulfillment of this grand desire, I wish to show to this assembly a vigorous obstacle which is ignored generally, but which really is in the way and prevents our progress towards this destiny, or at least offers a great hindrance to the promulgation of Christianity. I may perhaps find similar cases everywhere; but partly because the space of this paper does not allow a long dissertation, and partly because I belong to the nationality of Japan, this presentation of my observations refers only to my country.

There are very few countries in the world so misunderstood as Japan. Among innumerable unfair judgments, the religious thought of our countrymen is especially misrepresented, and the whole nation is condemned as heathen. Be they heathen, paganThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga..., or something else, it is a fact that from the beginning of our history, Japan has received all teachings with open mind; and also that the instructions which came from outside have commingled with the native religion with entire harmony, as is seen by so many templesA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... built in the name of truth with a mixed appellation of BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... and Shintoism; as is seen by the affinity among the teachers of ConfucianismThe Confucian tradition emphasizes the importance of following inherited rites (li) in a conscientious manner so that one can fully activate his or her humanity (ren) and thereby realize the Way (dao) of Heaven (tian). Major figures include Confucius (551... and TaoismThe Daoist tradition incorporates a highly diverse range of philosophical, religious, and folk values and practices, all of which share a concern for realigning human life so that it is in better accord with the natural rhythms of the universe. Symbols of... or other isms and the Buddhist and ShintoShinto, the “way of the kami” refers to the indigenous Japanese religious traditions which focus on the worship of kami. Initially, rituals devoted to kami took place outdoors in natural surroundings. Later, wooden structures were constructed to house... priestsA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the...; as is seen by an individual Japanese who pays his or her respects to all teachings mentioned above; as is seen by the peculiar construction of the Japanese houses, which have generally two rooms, one for a miniature Buddhist templeBuddhist temples differ considerably from one another depending upon culture and particular school, but most are associated with the residence of the sangha of monks. Theravada temples focus on one or more images of Sakyamuni Buddha. In Mahayana and Vajra... and the other for a small Shinto shrine, before which the family study the respective Scriptures; as is seen by the popular ode:

Wake noboru
Fumoto no michi wa
Ooke redo,
Onaji takane no
Tsuki wo miru Kana,

which translated means, “Though there are many roads at the foot of the mountain, yet, if the top is reached, the same moon is seen,” and other similar ones and mottoes, which will be cited from the mouth of an ignorant country old woman, when she decides the case of bigoted religious contention among young girls. In reality Synthetic religion, or Entitism, is the Japanese specialty, and I will not hesitate to call it Japanism.

…You send your missionaries to Japan, and they advise us to be moral and believe Christianity. We like to be moral, we know that Christianity is good; and we are very thankful for this kindness. But at the same time our people are rather perplexed and very much in doubt about their advice. For when we think that the treaty stipulated in the time of feudalism, when we were yet in our youth, is still clung to by the powerful nations of Christendom; when we find that every year a good many Western vessels of seal fishery are smuggled into our seas; when legal cases are always decided by the foreign authorities in Japan unfavorably to us; when some years ago a Japanese was not allowed to enter a university on the Pacific coast of America because of his being of a different race; when a few months ago the school board in San Francisco enacted a regulation that no Japanese should be allowed to enter the public school there; when last year the Japanese were driven out in wholesale from one of the territories of the United States; when our business men in San Francisco were compelled by some union not to employ the Japanese assistants or laborers, but the Americans; when there are some in the same city who speak on the platform against those of us who are already here; when there are many men who go in procession hoisting lanterns marked “Japs must go”; when the Japanese in the Hawaiian Islands were deprived of their suffrage; when we see some Western people in Japan who erect before the entrance of their houses a special post upon which is the notice, “No Japanese is allowed to enter here”—just like a board upon which is written, “No dogs allowed”; when we are in such a situation, notwithstanding the kindness of the Western nations from one point of view, who send their missionaries to us, that we unintelligent heathens are embarrassed and hesitate to swallow the sweet and warm liquid of the heaven of Christianity, will not be unreasonable.

If such be the Christian ethics—well, we are perfectly satisfied to be heathen. If any person should claim that there are many people in Japan who speak and write against Christianity, I am not a hypocrite, and I will frankly state that I was the first in my country who ever publicly attacked Christianity; no, not real Christianity, but false Christianity—the wrongs done toward us by the people of Christendom. If any reprove the Japanese because they have had strong antiChristian societies, I will honestly declare that I was the first in Japan who ever organized a society against Christianity—no, not against real Christianity, but to protect ourselves from false Christianity and the injustice which we received from the people of Christendom.

Do not think that I took such a stand on account of my being a Buddhist, for this was my position many years before I entered the Buddhist TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref.... But at the same time I will proudly state that if any one discussed the affinity of all religions before the public under the title of Synthetic Religion, it was I. I say this to you because I do not wish to be understood as a bigoted Buddhist sectarian. Really there is no sectarian in my country. Our people well know what abstract truth is in Christianity, and we, or at least I, do not care about the names if I speak from the point of teaching. Whether Buddhism is called Christianity or Christianity is named Buddhism, whether we are called Confucianists or Shintoists, we are not particular; but we are very particular about the truth taught and its consistent application. Whether Christ saves us or drives us into hell, or whether GautamaSiddhartha Gautama, a prince of India in the 6th century BCE, came to be called the Buddha, the “awakened one,” after his enlightenment at the age of thirty-six. He spent the remainder of his life giving spiritual guidance to an ever-growing body of d... BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... was a real person or there was never such a man, is not a matter of consideration to us; but the consistency of doctrine and conduct is the point on which we put the greatest importance.

Therefore, unless the inconsistency which we observe is removed, and especially the unjust treaty by which we are curtailed is revised upon an equitable basis, our people will never cast away their prejudice about Christianity in spite of the eloquent orator who speaks its truth from the pulpit. We are very often called barbarians, and I have heard and read that the Japanese are stubborn and cannot understand the truth of the BibleThe Greek term biblia means the “books.” Bible is used in both the Jewish and Christian traditions to refer to the book which gathers together their sacred writings. The Hebrew Bible includes the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—a collection re.... I will admit that this is true in some sense, for though they admire the eloquence of the orator and wonder at his courage, though they approve his logical argument, yet they are very stubborn, and will not join Christianity as long as they think that it is Western morality to preach one thing and practice another.

But I know this is not the morality of the civilized West, and I have the firm belief in the highest humanity and noblest generosity of the Occidental nations toward us. Especially as to the American nation, I know their sympathy and integrity. I know their sympathy by their emancipationEmancipation refers to the new legal equality, granted to Jewish communities by the modern nation-state following the French Revolution. of the colored people from slavery. I know their integrity by the patriotic spirit which established the independence of the United States of America. And I feel sure that the circumstances which made the American people declare independence are in some sense comparable to the present state of my country. I cannot restrain my thrilling emotion and sympathetic tears whenever I read in the Declaration of Independence the passages: “We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…

If any religion urges the injustice of humanity, I will oppose it, as I ever have opposed it, with my blood and soulThe soul is the inner spirit, the life-essence of a person, regarded in many religious traditions as Divine. In the Hindu tradition, the atman or pure consciousness within is understood to be one with Brahman, the ultimate reality that pervades the entire.... I will be the bitterest dissenter from Christianity or I will be the warmest admirer of its GospelsGospel means “Good News” and refers to the central message of the Christian tradition: the good news of Christ’s life and message of redemption. Gospel refers more specifically to the four books that tell the story of the Christ event and became par.... To the promoters of this Parliament and the ladies and gentlemen of the world who are assembled here, I pronounce that your aim is the realization of the religious union not nominally, but practically. We, the forty million soulsThe soul is the inner spirit, the life-essence of a person, regarded in many religious traditions as Divine. In the Hindu tradition, the atman or pure consciousness within is understood to be one with Brahman, the ultimate reality that pervades the entire... of Japan, standing firmly and persistently upon the basis of international justice, await still further manifestations as to the morality of Christianity.

[From Rev. John Henry Barrows, ed., The World’s Parliament of Religions, vol. 1 (Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893), 444-50.]