Page 11, 8th October 1937

8th October 1937
Page 11
Page 11, 8th October 1937 — IS JAPAN LOST TO CIVILISATION?

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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: Tokyo


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A Plea For Understanding Her People

[Father Leo Ward. a son of the late Wilfrid Ward, has been working for some years as a missionary in Tokyo whither he is returning after a holiday in

England. While whole-heartedly associating ourselves with the words of the ,4rchbishop of Westminster: "Vigorously do I endorse the protests against atrocities by bombing by whomsoever and wheresoever perpetrated." it still remains of the first importance not to allow our horror to cloud our judgment. The Japanese people, about whom Fr. Ward writes, are not the same as her present dominating military party. Moreover, even the leaders of Japan and China are to sonie extent the victims of those Europeans who have insisted on trying to exploit the two countries for their own personal profit. Thus British money, British machinery and British technicians have developed the Japanese textile market while unemployment increased at home, while international bankers have likewise exploited China. 11 is not altogether surprising that the Western spirit of commercial jealousy should have passed to the exploited East and expressed itself in time in the form of war, rendered more cruel by the products of the modern engineering and chemical technique, itself steadily deve loped for financial reasons. See E.ditorial p. 8.]

By Father Leo Ward.


No country, except perhaps Italy, has had such a bad press as Japan during the last five or six years. The reasons for this are many, and from a purely British point of view they are perfectly understandable; but the " point of view," or angle of vision, is of itself exclusive and suggests, or rather should suggest, that there are othcr points of view.

For myself 1 see Japan as one of the great factors of the modern world whose emergence will probably change the structure of our civilisation.

For the civilisation of the world is now inevitably one however many may be its contributory elements. In the balance of power, to use that phrase in its widest significance, Japan counted for nothing even half a century ago. How many Englishmen have even heard of the Emperor Meiji? Yet newspapers are an eloquent testimony to the magnitude of his achievement in the creation of modern Japan.

" I Can't Undertake China"

As Catholics we arc often inclined to boast of a longer view in our judgment of historical developments. To understand the case of Japan does not demand a long view but a wide imagination such as faith ought surely to generate. However much we may disagree in regard to the praise or blame to be attached to Japan's action in China there is at least this advantage in the present situation that it compels us to look at certain facts which have an extraordinary capacity for escaping our normal vision.

"I can't undertake China," said an intelligent young lady to me a few years ago. At any rate today there is a general agreement that somebody must undertake China, and a general realisation that, at least for the present, Japan is prepared to do se.

The Japanese Argument

A Japanese would argue thus: the present state of China is chaotic and suicidal, yet it is one of the principle future sources of wealth and power; it needs a stabilising factor if that wealth and power are to be of use to the world. By themselves the Chinese have so far proved unable to provide that factor; they have proved their incapacity again and again. They arc in absolute need of unification and stabilisation from without.

England may or may not be willing to undertake this task (with its immense economic compensations); but she is too distant to be strong enough to carry it through. Sooner or later her influence would be swept away by the pressure of rival Chinese factions, or by the more radical and abiding influence of the Soviet. The present bad situation will thus be recurrent, unless a sufficiently great power, advantageously situated and thoroughly Asiatic in its knowledge and experience can take the situation in hand.

Soviet Influence

The Japanese, like many others, are convinced that Soviet influence, whether destructive or constructive, will penetrate all China, and even Japan herself, if left unchecked. For the moment Russia appears to be prevented by internal circumstances from taking the initiative; therefore Japan has the right, and even the duty, to do so and to do so thoroughly. That is the Japanese point of view, and whether we like it or not it is one which she is at the moment expressing very forcibly.

Will she succeed in her undertaking? Is it in itself too vast for her resources? Will England intervene economically and even militarily? Is she in a position to do so? Her military dominance in Tibet as well as the proximity of her own Asiatic possessions and dependencies makes the last question a very serious one. Will Russia move? Will America remain neutral? These are the questions which everyone is asking today.

My own impression is that sooner or later Japan's thesis will be accepted and her practical control of China realised.

In that case there will no longer be any possibility of doubt as to the importance of Japan as a factor in the modern civilisation. Whether we like it or not she will be one of the main influences in the formation of a new world.

Can we regard her influence as benefi cent? Or does she represent the dreaded barbarian hordes which wrecked our civilisation once and might easily wreck it again? This doubt may linger in the minds even of those who admire Japan. We may recognise a refinement of culture and a noble idealism in many of her traditions; we may respect the beautiful manners and the intense care for bodily cleanliness, as well as the modern efficiency in medicine, surgery, etc.. of this proud people: but do we not share the fears expressed by G. K. Chesterton in one of his early books that the triumph of Japan means the triumph of paganism?

This depends on our reading of the modern Japanese mind and character.

Not Anti-Religious

The few years I have spent in Japan have convinced me that only a complete revolution such as would destroy all that Japan now stands for could bring the nation into the anti-religious camp. The modem Japanese man is often, perhaps usually. treading an uneasy path between agnosticism and religion, but he has none of the contempt for religion as such which is so common in Russia and among the educated Chinese youth. He believes that certain standards and ideals are immutably right and that religion in its most general sense lends them sanction and confirmation. His conscious religious ideas are indeed inextricably bound up with his family, his nation, and the Emperor; also usually with a belief in the world mission of Japan.

He may belong to one of a hundred Buddhist sects; he may be a practising and even a believing Shintoist or, what is far commoner, he may look on Shintoism as the symbolic expression of the national ideals while remaining a Buddhist at the same time or even a Christian; but he will show immediate and deeply felt reverence for any religious acts, however new and unfamiliar to him. He is much more certain to show profound respect at Mass than

even a devout Protestant would be. There is something in the breeding of a Japanese which makes this attitude natural to him; there is not a trace of superficiality about it.

A Pagan?

It is not in the anti-religious camp that we are likely to find the future Japanese; but are they not likely to be in the pagan camp?

Is not the Japanese outlook fundamentally irreconcilable with Christianity and Catholicism? Personally I do not think so. The late Charles Stanton Dcvas divided the non-Christian world into " pre Christian " and " after-Christian." The pre-Christian is clinging to inherited halftruths because he has never caught sight of the whole truth revealed in Christianity. The Japanese are among such pre-Christians, and for various reasons they are in a peculiarly favourable position to look at the truth with freshness and sympathy. They have not lost the sense of the importance of religion, yet they have rejected almost completely the particular cults which satisfied their ancestors. Will they examine Catholicism as a possible solution of their problems?

A World to Itself

There is one obvious difficulty. Japan is a world to itself in a sense in which probably no other country is a world to itself. She is far enough from the mainland of Asia to have been denied normal intercourse even with Asiatic peoples throughout her history.

She is therefore almost in the position of a separate planet.

I can think of no other analogy which brings out adequately the peculiar nature of her isolation.

The second part of Fr. Ward's article, " Japan and the Catholic Church " will be printed in our issue of October 22, for " Missionary Sunday."

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