Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Clash of Religions: The Case of Tanizaki Kyūemon

This just in from part-time Japonologist and full-time dandy Leopold Adelgonde Hauspie III, of Belgium. Please forgive Leopold for any minor grammatical errors and/or infelicitous phrasing (his mother tongues are Dutch, French and German).


At the advanced age of sixty-nine, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886-1965) wrote down in detail the memoirs of his childhood in Tokyo’s shitamachi in a work called Yōshō jidai 幼少時代 (Childhood Years).[1] In one passage he describes how his maternal grandfather, Tanizaki Kyūemon (1831-1888), had converted himself to the Russian Orthodox Church late in his life, and how at the side of his deathbed both a Nichiren Buddhist priest and an Orthodox priest appeared, which lead to a heated discussion about how the man should be buried.[2] In this paper I would like to analyze this peculiar case in the light of the tense relations that existed in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) between the new, foreign religion Christianity and the traditional Buddhist religion. Especially when it comes to death rites, Buddhism then had – and still has – a near monopoly that it would not easily give up, which naturally led to frictions when other religions tried to break this monopoly.

I would like to start with a brief sketch of the Kyūemon’s life and character, after which I will take a closer look at the Russian Orthodox Church in Japan, the religion to which Tanizaki Kyūemon converted himself; I will continue with a description of his conversion, and of the conflict that arose when he died and the way he was commemorated by his family. I will then conclude with an analysis of Kyūemon’s case with reference to the background of the religious polemics that surrounded conversions, funerals and memorial services in the Meiji Period.

1) Tanizaki Kyūemon

Before we examine his conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church and the extraordinary scene at his deathbed, let us take a closer look at what sort of man Tanizaki Kyūemon was. In Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s Yōshō jidai, we find quite a lot of information about his career and his character.[3]

Kyūemon was born as Kumaemon in 1831 in Reiganjima, in the former Kyōbashi ward.[4] He was of humble birth, his ancestors being townsmen in Edo for at least four generations.[5] We learn little or nothing about his career until the end of the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867), when he found himself in the position of head clerk of a kettle maker in the Fukagawa district of Edo. When the Meiji Restoration threw the capital into turmoil, the master of the shop sought refuge with his family in the countryside, leaving Kyūemon in charge of the business until things calmed down.[6] During the “Ueno War” (1868), taking advantage of the temporary decline in the land prices, Kyūemon bought an inn at Kyōbashi. Next he built a house at Kakigara-chō in Nihonbashi, in which he set up a print shop. It was in this house that Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was born.

As early as the 1880s Kyūemon had shifted from very traditional businesses as kettle maker and innkeeper to one as modern as printing and publishing, which shows how perceptive he was to the tide of the times. Still his enterprising spirit was far from satisfied, though, as thereafter he expanded his businesses by opening a rice store, a Western liquor shop, and a branch office of the print shop. He chose to locate his printing establishments near the rice merchants’ quarter in Kakigara-chō, realizing it might be profitable to publish the latest fluctuations in the rice prices every evening. Newspapers were still rare in those days, let alone evening editions, so Kyūemon’s plan was highly successful. The last business he established was a lamp-lighting firm, employing a number of men to go about lighting the oil lamps that provided Tokyo with nighttime illumination in those days. This way, the extremely ambitious and enterprising Kyūemon single-handedly made the Tanizaki family prosperous in the course of one generation. He might well be called a prototype of the self-made Meiji man.

Another important trait of Kyūemon’s character that appears from Childhood Years is his fondness for the opposite sex. He was reputed to have been a notorious playboy until his forties, and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō believed he had inherited his “woman-worship” from his grandfather. Kyūemon is not only said to have kept a mistress without his wife’s knowing about it, but also seems to have greatly favored his daughters over his sons. He and his wife first had three daughters and then four sons in succession.[7] Kyūemon adored the girls but disliked the boys. Two of the three girls he kept at home, adopting husbands into the family for them and establishing cadet branches; of the boys, only the eldest was kept at home to become head of the main house, while the younger three were all sent away to be raised elsewhere, or to be adopted by and married into other families. The third daughter Seki was married to Kuragorō, who thus became an adopted son-in-law. Out of this marriage Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was born. The eldest daughter Hana was also provided with an adoptive husband, Kyūbei, who was in fact Kuragorō’s elder brother. Han, the second daughter, was the only one of the girls to be allowed to marry into another family in the normal way, but since she was provided with the inn of the Tanizaki family as part of her dowry, this too had something of the air of establishing yet another cadet branch about it. Years after Kyūemon’s death, when a great deal of his businesses had gone bankrupt due to the failures of his one real and two adoptive sons, his widow blamed this to the fact he had doted so on the girls and given almost all his sons away to strangers.[8]

After Kyūemon had died of stomach cancer in 1888 at the age of fifty-eight, his wife Fusa lived on for another twenty-three years until she died in 1911 at seventy-three. For many years after his death, everybody in the family talked about him as “the grand old man,” and he was regarded as a model to be emulated. In the house an enlarged picture was always prominently displayed, so Tanizaki Jun’ichirō got to know his face well and could call it to mind any time he wanted. This all gave the young Jun’ichirō the feeling that his grandfather was “living hidden away in some dark corner of the house.” Kyūemon, the family’s veritable patriarch who was the synonym of ambition and prosperity and had remained healthy and vigorous until one or two years before his death, had such a charisma about him that it was still felt after he left this world.

2) The Orthodox Church of Japan

I mentioned in the introduction that in the autumn of his life Kyūemon converted himself to the Orthodox Church, but before I go on to describe the particulars of his conversion and the religious debate at his deathbed, I deem it opportune to take a closer look at the history and some characteristics of the not so widely known Japanese variant of the Orthodox Church, in order to be able to grasp the circumstances of Kyūemon’s case optimally.[9]

As the nickname of the Japanese Orthodox Church (Nikorai-ha) and its most important edifice, the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo (Nikorai-dō), already suggest, the first missionary, Nikolai Kasatkin (1836-1912), played an invaluable role in the foundation and establishment of the Orthodox Church. Nikolai, born as Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin, first came to Japan at the end of the Tokugawa Period in 1861, as a priest to the chapel of the Russian Consulate in Hakodate, Hokkaidō - a position he would hold for eight years. Soon he mastered the Japanese language and began to study the Chinese and Japanese classics. Although he could not openly engage in missionary activities, since Christianity was a persecuted religion at the time, he succeeded in gathering a number of followers around him, and in 1868, he baptized the first three Japanese.[10] In 1869, the second year of the new Meiji Period, he returned to Russia to ask permission to start missionary activities in Japan. He believed Japan was a land of great opportunities for a mission, as becomes apparent from a letter he wrote in July 1868, shortly before his return: “Catholics and Protestants have occupied the world. … But there is still Japan that is left. It is the last of the many newly discovered countries. Shouldn’t we at least in this country be able to rival the other sects?”[11] In a treatise about Japan that he published during his two-year return, one can see how big he saw things: “The more I get to know about this country, the stronger I believe that the day is near when the words of the Gospel will resound throughout the nation and will rapidly pervade every corner of the empire.”[12]

Eventually Nikolai got the permission he sought and embarked again for Japan. This time he was equipped with a lithograph, which enabled him to print the translations he and his Japanese assistants had made of liturgy books and parts of the Bible, along with a Russian-Japanese dictionary. After a short stay in Hakodate, he arrived in Tokyo early in 1972. There he discovered that many missionaries of other sects were already active. In the beginning, having to start from nowhere, Nikolai went from door to door by himself to preach the word. He found a suitable base for his missionary operations in Kanda Surugadai, where he built a missionary school. Gradually, things started to get of the ground. In 1874, missionary activities already extended to five different wards in Tokyo and also spread outside of the capital and Hakodate, especially in the Tōhoku region. In 1875, Sawaba Takuma, one of the first three people that were baptized, was ordained to become the first Japanese priest.

In 1878, ten years before Kyūemon died, Nikolai wrote a report to his superiors in Russia to ask for more manpower and financial support. In this report he gave a very detailed account of the state of affairs of the mission in Japan.[13] Spread over eight parishes, Nikolai counted 785 believers in Tokyo, while he reported 4115 for the whole of Japan. He also announced that in that year another five priests had been ordained in Kamchatka.[14] It becomes clear from his report that Nikolai was very concerned with the institutionalization of the Church. He established four schools in his headquarters in Surugadai, each for a different target group, and in Hakodate too, two schools existed.[15] There were eleven teachers in service; six in Tokyo and five in Hakodate. The Surugadai site contained two new, sturdy buildings and three old ones.[16] Since December 1877, a biweekly magazine was published with the latest news of the missionary activities.

By far the most important of all Nikolai’s accomplishments, though, was his power to inspire and activate the Japanese to spread the religion themselves. If you include the choirmaster, there were no more than five Russian missionaries at work at the time, which is surprisingly few compared to the Catholics, who had forty-five missionaries, and the Protestants, who counted ninety-nine.[17] In his report, Nikolai wrote: “The Orthodox Church in Japan is not operated by missionaries. Apart from Tokyo and Hakodate, the missionaries have no place to carry out their mission. It is the Japanese proselytizers that run the Church.” These at the time seventy-eight “proselytizers” (dendōsha 伝道者) were not “missionaries” (senkyōsha 宣教者) that fit in the official hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, but they played an extremely important role in the spreading of the faith. They first got a short theological education, and were then sent to one of the established parishes to work under a priest. Thanks to their efforts, Japanese believers of the Orthodox Church at least equaled, or even outnumbered, those of the other sects, in spite of the much smaller number of foreign missionaries. Paul Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), a French intellectual who resided in Tokyo during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), wrote in his diary during the war years: “The Church of Russia, the Orthodox Church, here in Tokyo, they all call it “Nikolai”. … Nikolai single-handedly converted more Japanese to Christianity than all the Catholic missionaries did together.”[18] Of course Couchoud gives Nikolai too much credit here, since it was his Japanese followers who did the most important work, as Nikolai himself readily acknowledged.

In 1880, Nikolai was ordained bishop, which enabled him to ordain priests in Japan by himself.[19] In 1884, the construction of the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, generally known as the Nikorai-dō, was started.[20] The Orthodox Community was increasing with more than a thousand members each year and already ran up to more than ten thousand. The construction of the Cathedral was finished in 1891. Situated on the Surugadai Height, the exotic building could be seen from everywhere in Tokyo and became an important landmark. It was three years before this imposing edifice was finished that Tanizaki Kyūemon died.

Because what happened to the Orthodox Church in Japan after Kyūemon’s death is not of great importance to the focus of this paper, I will only very briefly relate the rest of its history till today. Although the Church went through a hard time during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), its community kept on growing in the beginning of the twentieth century. Nikolai was ordained archbishop in 1907, and at its peak around the 1910s, the Church counted more than thirty thousand members. However, after Nikolai’s death in 1912, due to several reasons, the Church never prospered as before. First of all, the Russian Revolution (1917) meant a serious blow. From then on it stopped receiving financial support from the Russian Orthodox Church, which suffered much from Stalinist policy itself, and from the Japanese side it was watched with great suspicion. In 1923, the Nikorai-dō was heavily damaged by the Great Kantō Earthquake. Due to a lack of money, it was rebuilt with a shorter bell tower and a less ornate interior. After the Second World War, the Orthodox Church in Japan found an ally in the Orthodox Church in America and got out of its isolated position. 1970 the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the Orthodox Church in Japan as an autonomous Church, and on the same day, Nikolai was canonized as “Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, Saint Nikolai”. In 2006 the Church was estimated to have about ten thousand members.[21]

3) Tanizaki Kyūemon’s conversion, funeral and commemoration

Tanizaki Kyūemon, that seemingly very worldly man with a sharp business instinct and a weakness for women, is said to have converted himself to the Orthodox Church late in his eventful life. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō describes his grandfather’s conversion and the dispute that took place at the scene of his deathbed as follows in Childhood Years:[22]

When I was a boy, [the annex behind the main house] was uninhabited and always a place of solitude and silence. I would creep in and with stealthy footsteps explore the second-floor parlor and the six-mat room below, where an icon of the Virgin Mary stood on a low cupboard.[23] I have forgotten who it was that told me about Grandfather’s conversion: how in his old age he had become a Christian, keeping it all a secret from Grandmother. (It was, I think, Mother who told me that his final illness was stomach cancer, and that the famous Dr. Baelz had come to the house to examine him.)

According to one of my uncles, and other relatives, Grandfather became a member of the Russian Church at Nikolai-do in Kanda; and a priest of that church came to visit him on his deathbed. At that point, a religious argument ensued between the Orthodox priest and a Nichiren Buddhist monk who had also been summoned.[24] After Grandfather’s death, the family debated whether the funeral should be held at Nikolai-do or at a Nichiren temple.[25] In the end, the latter won; and Grandfather was interred in the Jigen-ji cemetery as a Nichiren believer. I of course knew nothing of such complications, being just a child; indeed, I did not even know what the Nikolai-do was. Yet when I looked at the image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ, there was a solemnness different from my emotions when I stood before the family Buddhist altar, as Grandmother and the others recited the sutras morning and evening. Gazing with inexpressible reverence into the Virgin Mother’s eyes, so full of tenderness and mercy, I felt I never wanted to leave her side. I understood something of my grandfather’s feeling as he prayed before this image of the Western goddess. There was a certain strangeness about it all, yet I sensed that someday I too might well do as he had done.

In his biography of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Nomura Shōgo adds some interesting and surprising details to the account given in Childhood Years. Nomura says that the problem of the funeral was solved by attiring Kyūemon in a white Nikolai-ha habit and putting a crucifix around his neck, with above this all the common Buddhist graveclothes (kyōkatabira 経帷子).[26]
Finally, I would like to cite this noteworthy passage from Childhood Years:[27]

… I always looked forward toward the tenth of every month, the anniversary of Grandfather Kyuemon’s death. The actual anniversary was the tenth of June, but it was our custom on that day each month to set up a lacquered papier-mâché table in the storeroom parlor with a large photograph of Grandfather enshrined there and some “Occidental cuisine” set before the photograph as an offering.[28] This was chosen because Grandfather, with his fashionable tastes, had enjoyed eating it in his last years, and also probably out of kindness to me and Seiji, who were the ones designated to devour the offering eventually. At first there were sometimes several different plates of food, but in time these were reduced to one. It was always the same dish – a ham omelet with a sprig of parsley, delivered from either the Yayoiken or Homero restaurant. … After coming home from school on the big day, I would frequently go before the altar to pay my respects to Grandfather, and also to fix the ham omelet with a steady, though sidelong, gaze.

4) Analyzing Kyūemon’s case

In the foregoing chapter, I gave an account of more or less all the obtainable data about Kyūemon’s conversion, funeral and commemoration. Of course, it is not possible to verify their accuracy anymore now, almost a hundred and thirty years later. They are in many respects indistinct – we are in the dark about the exact time and circumstances of Kyūemon’s conversion, for example, or who might have summoned the Orthodox priest to visit the dying man. They are for a great deal colored too, as they stem from the memories of a person with peculiar tastes himself about things that happened at least sixty years earlier, or maybe even worse, are hearsay information – and I think there is no need here to say again how greatly the truth about facts is altered when they are conveyed orally by human beings. Even the particulars of Kyūemon’s funeral that Tanizaki’s biographer, Nomura Shōgo, mentions have something shady about them, as we do not know were he got his information from.

Nevertheless, I think there are a few things we can accept as “true”. His conversion, whatever the particulars, can be assumed to have taken place at some time; the appearance of two different priests and the ensuing dispute at his deathbed, however intense the confrontation was, most likely did really happen; and the monthly commemoration of Kyūemon, in however unusual a way it was done, is something that one probably would not make up. Despite the scarcity of the available date and the flaws that their reliability undeniably has, I think that Kyūemon’s case is interesting enough to be worthy of a closer examination. First I will take a look at his conversion, and then I will examine his dying moments, his funeral and the way he was remembered by his family.

His conversion
The first question that comes to mind is: when did Kyūemon convert himself to what the Japanese call the Nikolai Church? In Childhood Years no more is said than that it was in the autumn of his life (bannen晩年), so for a man who lived eighty-five years, it would probable not have been before his fifties. It is also said that he was healthy and energetic until one or two years before he died of stomach cancer, so we can probably eliminate the last year of his life as a possibility. This would situate his conversion between 1880 and 1887. At this time, Orthodox believers were still rather rare in Tokyo. It is estimated that in 1880 Tokyo had a population of about one million,[29] while the number of Orthodox believers in 1878 as reported by Nikolai amounted to no more than seven hundred eighty-five, which is about 0.07 percent of the population. Although the Orthodox Church’s mission might have been thriving at the time when compared to other forms of Christianity, this is an extremely small figure when compared to the adherents of Buddhism, of which nearly everyone was a member due to the danka-system (danka seido 檀家制度) that had existed in the Edo Period.

We can of course only speculate about how Kyūemon got into contact with the Orthodox Church, but it might be worth to remark that he lived in Nihonbashi and often visited Kanda,[30] which were the two wards where the missionary activities had started and that counted the largest number of members then. We will never know, though, if it was one of Nikolai’s Japanese proselytizers that had persuaded him to convert himself, or if it perhaps was Nikolai in person, as he went from door to door preaching the word. In any case, Nikolai, with his gigantic posture and solemn expression, who was reputed to speak fluent Japanese and to know all about the Chinese classics, must have been a real phenomenon and must have exercised a great fascination over the Tokyo townsmen.[31]

As was the case with Protestantism, in early Meiji a lot of converts to the Orthodox Church were former samurais who had fallen out of grace with the new system.[32] Few Christians came out of the lower classes, but it appears that it was for that sort of people that Nikolai had the most sympathy. In August, 1889, he wrote in his diary:[33]

In this country, the upper classes, who are lost in the fog of earthly pleasures, don’t feel the need for any religion at all. The situation is slightly better with the middle classes, as they at least think they need religion as a means to preserve the national order. But the lower classes, the common people, frankly and sincerely acknowledge that religion fulfills a need that cannot be neglected or done without.

Yet it was mostly the people of the upper and middle classes that became Christians.[34] As Nikolai realized, these people were often interested in Christianity primarily to learn Western languages and gain knowledge. Maybe this was also the reason why Kyūemon turned to the Orthodox Church. We have seen how from a very early stage he engaged in up-to-date businesses like selling Western liquor and printing, and how he had “fashionable tastes” and liked Western food. It might well have been this same inclination that attracted him to Christianity. The fact that he kept his conversion secret to his wife, and left symbols of other religions like the Buddhist altar (butsudan仏壇) untouched also suggests that he was not such an ardent defender of the faith as many early Christians were.[35] The following excerpt of Childhood Years about Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s wet nurse suggests that Kyūemon still visited the family grave at the Jingenji Temple even after he had converted himself (provided that his conversion did not take place in the last two years of his life, after Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was born):[36]

My nurse, whom I always called “Granny,” was born in the Tempo era (1830-44), and was named Miyo. She had worked as a flower and incense seller in front of the Jingen-ji Nichiren temple when it was still in Sarue, Fukagawa, before it moved to its present location in Somei. (This was the parish temple[37] and interment place of the Tanizaki family, and today guards the graves of Shiba Kokan and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke.) Only short after my birth [July 24, 1886] Grandfather saw her there and asked her to become my nurse.

Maybe the fact that the icon he kept in his house was one of the Virgin Mary, and not of Jesus Christ (or Charistos as the Russian Orthodox say), is also significant if we remember his fondness for women and his averse for man. All these things suggest that Kyūemon was not really a fervent believer, and that his conversion was more likely inspired by his fascination for the modern, the new and the exotic.

His dying moments, funeral and commemoration

Let us first of all have a look at some characteristics of Buddhist and Orthodox death rites. In the Buddhist as well as in the Orthodox tradition, the rituals that David Reid (after Arnold van Gennep) calls ‘rites of separation’ can be chiefly divided in two stages: the dying moments and the wake, and the funeral.[38]

In the Buddhist tradition, when a person is on the verge of dying, a few drops of water (shinimizu死に水) are sprinkled at his lips. When the soul has departed, the body is washed, the orifices are plugged and the eyes are closed. Then the face is covered and the body is dressed in white as if for a pilgrimage, with the head facing north. A bladed weapon and food and drink are provided. Since Shintō gods (kami神) dread the pollution of death, the Shintō altar (kamidana神棚) is closed. A date for the funeral is decided upon and relatives and friends are contacted. A black-banded photograph is arranged for, as well as flowers, fruit and other paraphernalia to be used at the wake and the funeral. A Buddhist priest is summoned to recite the “pillow sutra,” to provide a Buddhist name (kaimyō戒名) on a provisional memorial tablet (ihai位牌). The rituals at the dying moments in the Orthodox tradition are not as elaborate as those in Buddhism, but they nevertheless show some similarities. Here as well, a priest is summoned straightaway when a person is dying. Sometimes a chanter is also called upon. The priest sprinkles incense dust upon the body of the dying and on those present, and sings set prayers together with the attendants. Originally, those present had to stay up all night during the wake, and family members and monks took turns reading prayers over the body. Today this is but rarely the case anymore.

In a Buddhist funeral rite, which usually takes place at a private home, sutras are chanted by a priest and the deceased is eulogized by relatives and acquaintances. The body may be viewed through a window in the coffin that exposes the face, but this is not always the case. Before being carried to the crematorium in a hearse, the coffin is nailed shut with a stone by close family members. At the crematorium, while the body is consumed by the flames, the priest again chants a sutra. After the urn is carried home and is placed inside the butsudan. It stays there for forty-nine days, upon which it is installed in the grave. In the Orthodox tradition, funerals are generally held three days after somebody dies. In contrast with the Buddhist funeral, the Orthodox funeral must be held in a church. The coffin is positioned in the middle of the church, a hand-cross is placed near the head of the departed and an icon is placed in his hands. The attendants may kiss the hand-cross or the icon. The closest relatives should be given a few minutes to spend with the departed alone. Again unlike the Buddhist burial, cremation is not allowed. After the funeral, the cortege proceeds to the cemetery, where a short service is held by the priest while the coffin is let down in the grave.

Let us now turn again to the most unusual case that Kyūemon’s is. It almost literally meant a “clash of religions.” As has been said a couple of times before, both a Nichiren priest and an Orthodox priest appeared at his deathbed. In Childhood Years, it is implied that it was the Nichiren priest who had arrived first at the scene, but the question that immediately rises is: who had summoned the Orthodox priest? Can it be assumed that family members other than his wife knew about Kyūemon’s conversion and had called this priest? Or might there have been any friends of Kyūemon present, who were perhaps even Orthodox converts themselves? Unfortunately, we will never know the exact answer to these questions, but it seems hard to think of any other plausible answer than that is was a family member or a friend who was also there that summoned the priest.

According to Childhood Years, a dispute ensued to the involuntary confrontation between these two clergymen with their very different background. We can only imagine how passionate each defended his view or what the details of their arguments were – maybe the rightfulness of cremation yet interment was one thing they talked about. All we know is that Kyūemon eventually was buried “as a follower of Nichiren.” If we can trust what Nomura Shōgo writes, though, under the visible Buddhist grave-clothes, Kyūemon wore a white Orthodox habit and had a crucifix around his neck. This mixture of Orthodox Christian and Buddhist requisites and dress can at least be called unusual.[39] His outward appearance was Buddhist, but his heart was Christian, it almost seems to symbolize. Dressed and adorned like this, Kyūemon was undoubtedly cremated, his ashes being kept for forty-nine days in the butsudan before they went into the family grave in the cemetery of the Jigenji Temple. Although Buddhism eventually “won,” this case has also something about it of that typical Japanese practice: the compromise. There is probably no other people that has such an abhorrence for direct confrontations, and does everything to make interactions between people as smooth as possible, as the Japanese. The peaceful coexistence, and even mixture, between Shintō and Buddhism that had existed for centuries reflects this characteristic as well.

One big exception to this general religious tolerance was the attitude of Buddhist priests toward Christianity, especially when Christianity tried to interfere with its monopoly on death rites.[40] In the Tokugawa Period, Buddhism was the state religion and Christians were persecuted heavily. The shift to the Meiji Period did not mean a great change at first. Although the public notes that prohibited Christianity were removed in 1873, Christians still suffered oppression for a long time thereafter. Buddhism tried to protect the monopoly on death rites it had since the Tokugawa Period, and it was being backed in this from 1872 till 1884 by a law that prohibited funerals that were not officiated by either Buddhist or Shintō priests. Shintō funerals were more or less invented at the beginning of Meiji, and played only a minor role, so de facto the law still largely guaranteed the Buddhist monopoly. In his 1878 report, Nikolai mentioned several examples of Orthodox Christians who were refused to hold a funeral and sometimes or sometimes even attacked by Buddhist priests. For example:[41]

…In the city of Kōfu a large group of Bonzes gathered knocked assistant proselytizer Pavel half dead.” Or: “This year in Ishimaki, proselytizer Peter Kutsuki was imprisoned and sentenced to a hundred days of hard labor. Kutsuki had petitioned the Buddhist priests to provide a cemetery plot to bury a Christian, but however much he pleaded, they wouldn’t permit it. What Kutsuki was charged of was to have held a burial there without the warrant of a Buddhist priest.

Even after the law was abolished in 1884 Christian funerals were still frequently hampered, because temples still refused to let Christians have a funeral in their own way. On a big informal gathering of Buddhists priests from the different sects, for example, it was decided that cemeteries on temple grounds should never be accommodated to people of other creeds, and temples in every region signed an agreement to deny grave plots to non-Buddhists. They had no legal grounds to do this, though. Because of all this, the Orthodox Christians began to strive to posses their own cemeteries. Whether the Orthodox Church already had its own cemeteries or not in 1888 when Kyūemon died, it probably was still a very troublesome thing to hold a Christian funeral at the time, being only four years after the law that forbade Christian funerals was abolished, what with the likely disapproving reactions of the community. Kyūemon had been a tradesman, so the loss of clientele because of it was not at all inconceivable. All these factors will undoubtedly have played a role in the decision of the family to bury him in a Buddhist way, or to at least hide the Orthodox paraphernalia.

But it was not only Kyūemon’s funeral that was atypical; his commemoration was too. Until a considerable time after his death, he was remembered every month with a so-called meinichi-rite (命日).[42] The usual Buddhist memorial rites are like this: after a period of forty-nine days of mourning, the deceased is believed to be integrated into the realm of departed spirits; a hōji-memorial service is held in a temple on the first anniversary and on the years containing the numbers three and seven; the meinichi-rites are only held on the intervening years.[43] These rites continue to be held until the thirty-third year after a person’s death. Then the ihai, which was all the time kept in the butsudan is turned over to the temple or burned, and the deceased is believed to be included to the “body of ancestors.” Maybe the memorial services of the Orthodox tradition are of lesser importance to Kyūemon’s case, since he had probably been the only believer in the family, but because of the similarities with the Buddhist rites, I will relate their main characteristics very briefly. Russian Orthodox memorial services may be offered in the church on the third, the ninth and the fortieth day after death. On the ninth day, the soul is believed to leave the body, and on the fortieth day, the soul is said to depart for the other world. After each service a dinner party is held, at which a glass of vodka covered by a piece of black bread is left for the deceased. The parallels between the Buddhist and Orthodox rites are remarkable. Only the exact time differs, but the various stages of death; the soul leaving the body/the deceased being integrated into the realm of departed spirits; the soul’s departure to the other world/the deceased going up in the body of ancestors; are very resembling. There is very little chance that conflicting situations would arise around these rites as was the case with Protestantism, that originally had no memorial services at all, and Buddhism. Kyūemon’s descendents evidently had no qualms about it at all, as they always devoured the offerings with great pleasure.


Almost from the moment he set foot on Japanese soil, Nikolai felt convinced of the possible success of a mission in Japan. In 1868, when he had yet to baptize his first follower, he made his plans for the future and drafted a set of “missionary rules,” in which he talks about the training of believers to spread the faith. “When I have are baptized five hundred men,” he wrote, “I will choose one and send him to Russia to be ordained priest.”[44] In order to make the Japanese independent as soon as possible, he educated proselytizers and priests, so they could spread the faith themselves. The Word did not immediately “resound throughout the nation” and “rapidly pervade every corner of the empire” as he believed it would, but it did reach the ears of a man who lived in Kakigarachō in Nihonbashi, a very enterprising man with a taste for modernity, Tanizaki Kyūemon.

Although Nikolai’s mission seemed to go well in the beginning, for a host of reasons, it did not work out as he expected. One of those reasons was the rivalry of Buddhism, that creed that had just lost many of the privileges it had enjoyed under the Tokugawa regime, and therefore held all the more tenaciously to its monopoly on mortuary rites. This clash of religions, that took place countless times all over the country, also disturbed the last moments on this world of that same man, Kyūemon.

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎, 幼少時代 [Childhood Years]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998.
That they both share the family name Tanizaki is due to the fact that Tanizaki Kyūemon adopted Jun’ ichirō’s father, Tanizaki Kuragorō (born as Ezawa Wasuke) into the family to marry one of his daughters, Seki.
Unless mentioned otherwise, the content of this chapter is based on Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎, 幼少時代 [Childhood Years], 17-62. For an English version, see Paul McCarthy’s translation: Childhood Years, 3-27.
I found information about his former name, his birthday and birthplace in: Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. 伝記 谷崎潤一郎 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: a biography]. Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1972, p.12, 35. Kumaemon changed his name to Kyūemon in 1883. Reiganjima now falls under the Chūō ward. It is located just to the east of Kayaba-chō and south of the Nihonbashi River.
Nomura Shōgo, p.14.
According to Tanizaki Seiji, Jun’ichirō’s younger brother, his master was banned from Edo because of subversive activities. In: Nomura Shōgo, p.13.
Actually, he had four daughters too, but one died soon after birth, as is mentioned in Nomura Shōgo’s biography, p.22. On page 265 of 幼少時代 [Childhood Years] we learn that his eldest daughter, Hana, was born in 1858. Kyūemon was then twenty-two.
Kotaki Yōko小滝瓔子, in her study 作家以前の谷崎潤一郎 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō before he became a writer], questions Tanizaki’s portrayal of Kyūemon as a ladies’ man. She points out that for the wealthy merchant class in those days it was common practice to adopt husbands for their daughters and establish cadet branches, and that Kyūemon’s sending away of his own sons could well have been to let them evade military conscription, since he sent them all to families where there was no heir. Nomura counters Kotaki’s arguments by mentioning the complaints Kyūemon’s sons always maid about their unequal treatment. See: Nomura Shōgo, pp.24-25.
The information for this chapter, unless mentioned otherwise, comes from the official website of the Orthodox Church in Japan: The Orthodox Church in Japan. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from: <>.
Strictly speaking, they were not the first Japanese converts to the Orthodox Church. In 1710, more than a century and a half earlier, Denbei, a merchant from Osaka who was shipwrecked and drifted off to Sachalin, was baptized in Saint Petersburg. In: Naganawa Mitsuo 長縄光男. ニコライ堂の人びと:日本近代史のなかのロシア正教会[The people of the Nikolai Cathedral: The Russian Orthodox Church in Modern Japanese History], p.20.
Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan], p.67. My translation.
Kasatkin, Nikolai. ニコライの見た幕末日本 [Japan in the end of the Tokugawa Period as seen by Nikolai], p.9. My translation.
Of this report a Japanese translation exists: Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report]. Translated by Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介. Unless mentioned otherwise, the information for this and the next paragraph is based on this publication.
Since Nikolai was not a bishop yet at the time, he could not ordain priests himself, and since priest were needed to baptize new believers, he felt that the mission was slowed down by this fact.
In Tokyo, there was one for adult males, to educate them as “proselytizers” (I will touch on the meaning of this word later); one to educate young boys to become future priest; a girls’ school; and a school for lower clergymen. In Hakodate, there was a boys’ school and a girls’ school.
In the new buildings a chapel, classrooms and male sleeping accommodation were located; two of the old, Japanese-style buildings were used for the girls’ school. Of the latter, rather dilapidated ones Nikolai wrote: “Because in winter it is terribly cold in there, the students constantly catch colds and are always coughing; there faces are pale and there hands are nearly frozen.” From: Kasatkin, Nikolai. 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.45. My translation. That Nikolai gave such a lively depiction may of course have something to do with the fact that the report was written with the purpose of increasing financial support.
This theme is further expanded in, Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan], p.86-96. We learn that while the number of missionaries of the other groups increased steadily, that of the Orthodox Church remained the same.
Kasatkin, Nikolai. 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.136-137. My translation.
He certainly did not abuse this authority. In 1910, he wrote in his diary: “In thirty years I have ordained thirty priests. I suppose there’s not much reason to congratulate me for that.” In: Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan], p.89. My translation.
From here on, the contents are based again on the information on the website of the Orthodox Church in Japan: <>.
I got this last figure from Wikipedia: 日本ハリスト正教会 [The Orthodox Church in Japan], Wikipeda. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from: <>.
This quote is drawn from Paul McCarthy’s translation: Childhood Years, pp.19-20. For the original version, see: 幼少時代 [Childhood Years], pp.48-49.
Called zō像in the original. Since Kyūemon was a believer of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is probable that this zō像is an icon, but not sure, since the word can also mean “sculpture”.
The original says:「最近になって清三郎叔父や従姉から聞いたところに依ると、祖父の信仰はニコライ教会派に属するもので、臨終の時は牧師が枕頭に見え、日蓮宗の僧侶と口論になったりした。」 This literally means something like: “According to what I recently heard from my uncle Seisaburō and my niece, since my grandfather by faith belonged to the Nikolai Church, an Orthodox priest appeared at his deathbed and got involved in a dispute with a Nichiren priest”. Since the Nikorai-dō was not yet finished when Kyūemon died, I think McCarthy’s translation is a little bit ill-chosen here.
That the debate should have taken place after Kyūemon’s death is not written in the original. I think it is more likely, since nothing that would point toward the other direction is mentioned explicitly, that this debate still took place before Kyūemon drew his last breath.
Nomura Shōgo, p.20. Unfortunately, Nomura does not make clear where he got this information from. He says that Tanizaki heard everything concerning his grandfather’s conversion and funeral from his mother, uncle and cousins, as Tanizaki wrote himself too, but these last particulars do not appear in Childhood Years.
Drawn from Childhood Years, p.128; pp.238-239 in the original.
For “enshrined”, the more plain word kazari飾りis used in the original.
This information comes from: 東京統計協会 [The Tokyo Association for Statistics]. Retrieved on July 21, 2007, from: <>. Although I simply say “Tokyo”, the figure concerns Tōkyō-fu 東京府, which was somewhat smaller than today’s Tōkyō-to 東京都.
Nomura Shōgo mentions two friends that lived in Kanda: a certain Teruyo, a female kyōgen performer, and Ezawa Fujiemon, the father of Kyūbei and Kuragorō, the boys he would adopt after their parents had died young. The kettle shop where he had started his career had a branch in Kanda too, so that is probably where his ties with Kanda originated. See: Nomura Shōgo, pp.15-16, 26.
To get an idea of the rumors that went about Nikolai, almost making him superhuman, see Naganawa Mitsuo 長縄光男, pp.53-54.
See: Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美. 日本の近代社会とキリスト教 [Japanese Modern Society and Christianity], pp.32-34. Nikolai himself mentioned in his report that almost all of his followers were: “samurai with a clear head and a great spirit.” In: Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.66. My translation. The rest of the information of this paragraph is mainly derived from: Nakamura Kennosuke, pp.228-244.
Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介, p.241. My translation.
See also: Suzuki Norihisa. “Christianity”, pp.65-67.
Like, for example, Niijima Jō, who set the kamidana of his parents to fire when they prayed before it out of happiness for their son’s safe return from America. See: Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美, pp.106-107. See also Reid, pp.109-111 on the subject.
Quoted from McCarthy’s translation: Childhood Years, pp.13-14. For the original, see: 幼少時代 [Childhood Years], p.37.
Called the bodaisho菩提所in the original.
Reid, David. New Wine: The Cultural Shaping of Japanese Christianity, p.100. My information on Buddhist death rites is based on the Japanese dictionary Kōjien広辞苑and on Reid: pp.103-107. My information on the death rites of the Orthodox Church comes from the following internet sources: “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” Religions in Canada. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; Sokolov, Victor. “Death, Funeral, Requiem -- Orthodox Christian Traditions, Customs and Practice.” Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; “Russia: Bells and Black Bread.” On our own terms: moyers on dying. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; and: Maximovitch, John. “Life After Death.” Orthodox Advices. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.
This specific mixture is probably unique, but from relatively early on, Japanese Christians had adopted Buddhist religious elements. Protestantism, for example, originally does not hold rites on death anniversities, but Japanese Protestants nevertheless soon began to engage in such rites. See: Reid, p.111 and Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美, pp.142-143.
The information of the following paragraph is based on: Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美, pp.295-206, and on a comment Nakamura Kennosuke made to Nikolai’s report: Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], pp.127-130.
Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.67.
Tanizaki Seiji (1890-1971) was born two years after Kyūemon’s death, and as the child should at least have been old enough to swallow “Occidental food”, Kyūemon’s meinichi probably at least continued for four years, and maybe many more.
For the information on Buddhist memorial rites, I again turned to David Reids’s New Wine: Reid, pp.105-107. For the Orthodox rites I again turned to: “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” Religions in Canada. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; Sokolov, Victor. “Death, Funeral, Requiem -- Orthodox Christian Traditions, Customs and Practice.” Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; “Russia: Bells and Black Bread.” On our own terms: moyers on dying. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; and: Maximovitch, John. “Life After Death.” Orthodox Advices. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介, p.88. My translation.


Kasatkin, Nikolai. ニコライの見た幕末日本 [Japan in the end of the Tokugawa Period as seen by Nikolai]. Translated by Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1979.

_____. 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report]. Translated by Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介. Tokyo: Kyōbunkan, 1993.

Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美. 日本の近代社会とキリスト教 [Japanese Modern Society and Christianity]. Tokyo: Hyōronsha, 1970.

Naganawa Mitsuo 長縄光男. ニコライ堂の人びと:日本近代史のなかのロシア正教会 [The people of the Nikolai Cathedral: The Russian Orthodox Church in Modern Japanese History]. Tokyo: Gendaikikakushitsu, 1989.

Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1996.

Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. 伝記 谷崎潤一郎 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: a biography]. Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1972.

Suzuki Norihisa. “Christianity.” Religion in Japanese Culture: Where Living Traditions Meet a Changing World. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1996.

Reid, David. New Wine: The Cultural Shaping of Japanese Christianity. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1991. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. 幼少時代 [Childhood years]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998.

_____. Childhood Years. Translation of 幼少時代 by Paul McCarthy. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1988. Internet Sources “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” Religions in Canada. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Maximovitch, John. “Life After Death.” Orthodox Advices. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

“Nihon harisuto seikyōkai” 日本ハリスト正教会 [The Orthodox Church in Japan], Wikipeda. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from: <>.

The Orthodox Church in Japan. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from:<>.

“Russia: Bells and Black Bread.” On our own terms: moyers on dying. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Sokolov, Victor. “Death, Funeral, Requiem -- Orthodox Christian Traditions, Customs and Practice.” Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Tōkyō tōkei kyōkai東京統計協会 [The Tokyo Association for Statistics]. Retrieved on July 21, 2007, from: <>.

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