Defenders of the Faith? Britain and the Persecution of Christianity in Japan, 1867–1873

Jamieson, Keith

Between 1867 and 1873, the government of Japan conducted a severe persecution of native ‘hidden Christians’ that resulted in the deportation of thousands from their homes in Kyushu to the far-off northern provinces of Japan. Nearly a fifth died. This persecution occurred despite the presence of Western, Christian consuls and reporters in Nagasaki and Yokohama and the relative weakness of the contemporary Japanese government. My paper works to place the incident within its context of late 19th-century cultural and political relations between Japan and the West. It ultimately concludes that most Westerners, particularly the British (then the most powerful foreigners in Japan), were unwilling to jeopardize trade relations with the Japanese government by forcibly stopping the persecution, an instance of trade trumping concerns for human rights or religious freedom that will be familiar to followers of today’s international politics. It also argues that the new Meiji government deliberately used this unwillingness to fulfill its goal of implementing a new Shinto religious policy for the Japanese nation.

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The Journal of Politics and Society

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Helvidius Group
Helvidius Group of Columbia University
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February 10, 2014