Literary Witness In Japan


1923 was the year Endo Shusaku's story begins in Sugamo Tokyo, Japan --a tale not unlike the masterpieces this writer penned for twenty five years. When the boy was ten, his parents divorced and his mother left Manchuria where they had taken the infant, and she returned to her mother's family location in Kobe. They were the remnant of a once thriving Christian Roman Catholic community that the shoguns almost wiped out two centuries earlier. The mother also embraced the comforting faith that assuaged the agony from humiliation and rejection from conservative Japanese society after her marriage's dissolution. With help from her sisters, the twelve year old lad, who had been attending politely with his mother, was baptized in 1935 and renamed Paul.

Tormented Schooldays

Japan's Christian population only numbers in the one percentile, and the ensuing culture clash when Endo attended school only intensified with the war years' building patriotic megalomania. Like many of the faith whose testing reveals real gold beneath the stubble, Susaku's love of God and of man, especially the ethnically different only strengthened. .

Paul's Travels

The desire to emulate Catholic novelists, especially the French writers, Francois Mauriac and Georges Bernanos] prompted Endo to go abroad to France after the War to study. He learned racism the hard way as the only Japanese exchange student in Lyons, where his like faith did not spare him the hate built up from the previous war years' anti-Axis Powers diatribes. The three years in Europe a Moreover there was another battle going on inside of Endo, that of feeling like he, in his Christianity, only had gone through the motions likening it to one who had been put into an arranged marriage. Ironically, though he was "adulterous" flirting with communism and agnosticism, he found the "faithful" wife always waiting, always loving, and he developed through time his reciprocal love. He had misgivings, too, after the westerners, whose faith he had adopted, and whose ancient conquests he had studied, annihilated his homeland's cities. Increasingly, he yearned all the more to put a Japanese face on his Christianity; he hoped to live in a country where one could not lose face being a Christian. But one more trip was to help him, rather than hurt him.

In His Footsteps

On his way home from France to Japan, Endo stopped at the Middle East Holy Lands where he identified with his Lord Jesus' isolation and disenfranchisement from society, family and friends. The "Man of Sorrows" (Isaiah 53) became an essential part of his Christology which will emerge in his life's work later. After three years in Europe and then Palestine, he returned to Japan with his tested faith re-energized and re-focused on taking off the "European suit of Christian clothes", and "re-dress the Way in Japanese garment"; and more importantly he made a crucial life and career decision: to definitely become an author and reach out to a predominantly Buddhist culture with literature.

The Write Stuff

In Mita Bungakue, Endo, who looked the part of the reclusive writer -- thick glasses on a gaunt frame, got his first story, "As Far as Aden" published in 1954 . He followed that a year later in Kindai Bungaku with "A White Man" which won the Akutagawa Award. In 1958 his novel, "The Sea and Poison" a story based on GI POW's showing insensitivity to sin, was made into a movie version that won the Berlin's Silver Bear Award twenty eight years later. His books began to get attention, sometimes negative from those who one would think would be allies, but Christian critics, especially in this patriarchal society, thought he painted too feminine attributes on Jesus. Another early book was Yellow Man about a finally suicidal French missionary leaving his orders to try to marry a Japanese woman. His other novel, Volcano dealt with a priest trying to seduce others into falling away.

Xavier to Kicked-out Savior

During the 1950's Endo had a habit of visiting the Museum in Nagasaki for Japanese Christian martyrs. The Catholic Church thrived, growing to more than quarter of a million communicants, in the century following the year 1549 where Francis Xavier (one of the first seven Jesuits) established his mission. The infighting by the Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese members turned the warrior leaders, the shoguns, totally off, so much that they did not just expel the Jesuits, they forced Christians to renounce their faith by stepping on the Marian Icon, the Fumie, or die. The martyrdom was almost total searching and destroying by such means as drowning in the sea, or even hung by their feet over rotting human carcasses. The story does not have a happy ending until 240 years later when the first Catholic Church was built at the end of the 19th century in Nagasaki (most sadly vaporized in 1945) and the house church underground believers, the Kakure, (crypto-Christians) came out of hiding.

The Kakure

Their worship, in closets camouflaged behind Buddhist Shrines, with cloth covered Catholic images, had been kept up without Scriptures, or even a liturgical book. They would not re-assimilate into the Church, even after an invite from Pope John Paul II. They have no sense of the Trinity, and they have a mixture of animism and Shintoism as well as Buddhism amongst their pidgin rituals. There are still 30,000 of these who consider themselves the true Christians in Japan.

Apologetic for the Apostates

Endo was fascinated with those who did step on the fumie. He wondered if he was just the opposite of the Kakure, out in the open, but really a pretender. Moreover, he wanted to write the story of those who were "twice damned."

The Message Left Behind

To look at Endo's literary Christian one can examine the book, The Girl I Left Behind published in 1960. In it he reveals the Jesus everyone left behind with a man, Yoshioka Tsutomu recounting his experience with a girl, Morito Mitsu, which he first met in college. He took advantage of her natural inclination for complete sympathy for anyone in anguish with his lure of a troubled gait, and then dumps her. Indirectly though, her presence persists throughout his life, (he finds her lost cross; he dates one of Mitsu's old co-workers) and then finally he crosses paths in a time that she is undergoing extreme stress.

Silence Is Golden

In 1966 Endo writes his great story Tinmoku (Silence)of Father Ferreira's apostasy and his mentor, Father Rodrigues grueling journey back to Japan to disprove it. Now, Rodrigues is arrested too, warned by Ferreira about what extremes the shoguns will go to force the recantation, he remains silent while the Christian hostages are killed in front of him. Finally after continued urging to just do the outward "trample" he breaks down. Needless to say this book, like the similar Samurai had made some Catholics upset at the "romanticizing" of the apostates, and the similarity to Jodokyo Buddhism, but he is trying to reach a people who do not understand western concepts of a Supreme Being, guilt, and sin. His emphasis is on the rejected Jesus, not the resurrected One. The book won the Tanizaki Award and is in the works to be put on the big screen by Martin Scorsese.

Wonderful Fool

This Story about a French missionary, Gaston Bonaparte (yes, a relation) who is the "ugly" European unintentionally clashing with everyone of other cultures, but showing grace in his actions even to a killer named Endo.

La Mer (Morte)

His book from 1973, Upon the Dead Sea brings out his mothering aspects of God, which can also be divined out of his Biography of Jesus. This was the year he wrote his last novel, The Deep River delving into life after death, maybe even on an occult level. He wrote Korian essays, "Neighbor of Old Fox" and "Raccoon Dog" which are humorous.

His dozens of books which have been translated into twenty five tongues has his name brought up in the Literature Nobel Prize circles. He hosted a talk show, and his name is often in Japan's journals, all from someone out of a one percentile faith group, now one of their cultural heroes. He is considered the greatest Japanese Christian writer, and is compared to John Updike and Dostoevsky by others, and as more of his works are translated more will know of his greatness.

Endo Shusaku finally succumbed to his reoccurring kidney problems on September 29, 1996.

Kato Koiti, Horagai; 2002
Gabriel Meyer, Crisis Magazine; 1996
Philip Yancey, Christianity Today; 1995

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