Hirai Ryuge Kinzo was a Buddhist from Japan who spoke of “The Real Position of Japan toward Christianity.” 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, pagan, 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 temples built in the name of truth with a mixed appellation of Buddhism and Shintoism; as is seen by the affinity among the teachers of Confucianism and Taoism or other isms and the Buddhist and Shinto priests; 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 temple and the other for a small Shinto shrine, before which the family study the respective Scriptures; as is seen by the popular ode:
Fumoto no michi wa
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 Temple. 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 Gautama Buddha 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 Bible. 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 emancipation 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 soul. I will be the bitterest dissenter from Christianity or I will be the warmest admirer of its Gospels. 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 souls 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.]