The seminar's members, representing the full range of academic disciplines that bear upon the study of Japan and including Japan specialists from government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, meet regularly to discuss scholarly papers on all aspects of modern Japan, from history, literature, art, and the performing arts to politics, economics, social issues, and the US-Japan bilateral relationship.

Seminar: #445

Founded: 1960

Mar 11, 2008

April 7, 2008
Kate Wildman Nakai
(Sophia University)
Coming to Terms with “Reverence at Shrines”: Sophia University, the Catholic Church, and the 1932 Yasukuni Shrine Incident

Among the most problematic aspects of Shinto for foreign missionaries and Japanese Christians in the prewar period was “offering reverence at shrines” (jinja sanpai).
Governmental and educational authorities and society at large came increasingly to hold “reverence at shrines” to be a patriotic, moral duty, and schoolchildren were often taken to shrines as part of the ordinary educational routine. The reluctance of Christians to participate in such activities on religious grounds became an ongoing source of friction and criticism.
For the Catholic Church, this issue erupted into a crisis in 1932 when several students from Sophia University, a Jesuit school founded in 1913, failed to “offer reverence” at Yasukuni shrine. The effort to resolve the consequent political and social uproar had several significant consequences. On the one hand, the government came to articulate more fully than previously the character of jinja sanpai. On the other, the Church, reversing its stance on jinja sanpai, eventually adopted the position that “reverence at shrines” could be tolerated as a patriotic duty and social obligation, an act that even if it retained a certain religious form had been emptied of religious content. The incident illuminates various dimensions of State Shinto in the prewar period and invites consideration of ramifications of church-state relations that in recent years have assumed a heightened currency in regard to Yasukuni.

Discussant: Janis Mimura (Stonybrook)