History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan 1914-1938Barbara R. Sims.
The first evening after arriving in Haifa on April 20 1937, the Guardian asked me at the dinner table to write the histories of the Bahá'í Cause in Japan and the Hawaiian Islands.
When I left Haifa, May 12, 1937, at the Guardian's request I visited the Bahá'í centers in Germany, Paris, London and the United States, where he asked me to attend the Bahá'í Summer Schools and visit all the centers as far as possible.
In December, 1937, as war clouds were becoming dark in the Far East, I wrote the Guardian asking for his guidance in regard to my return to Japan. When I left there in March, I had expected to return within the year and my library and personal effects were there. He replied through his Secretary: "He hopes that in your journey to the Western States, and particularly California, you will also find it possible to extend your stay for some time and meet as many centers as you can and thus give the believers the benefit of sharing your manifold and valuable experiences in the Cause."
In fulfilling Shoghi Effendi's request I had the great bounty of visiting about fifty Bahá'í centers in Europe and America and the Summer Schools in the United States.
While in Michigan in the summer of 1939, I felt the urge to find somewhere I could begin writing the histories and wrote of my wish to the Guardian. Suddenly in Chicago in December, the guidance came to return to my sister's home in Berkeley, California. Reaching there on December 13, two days later my sister left for Honolulu. I had not thought of remaining in her home, but it seemed it was God's plan and there I was able to begin work on the histories. This was confirmed in a letter I received from the Guardian dated Haifa, December 13, 1939, the day I had reached Berkeley. He wrote through his Secretary: "Regarding your teaching plans, as your return to Japan seems far remote at present, he would advise that you remain anywhere you wish in the United States and engage in teaching work, and would also approve of your wish to undertake in the meantime writing the history of the Cause in Japan and in the Islands of Hawaii, as you are certainly best qualified to write such history, which will no doubt prove of immense interest and value to the friends."
When the Guardian's letter reached me I had already started writing the story of the Bahá'í Cause in Hawaii.
As I had no record with me of the years spent in Japan, I have collected my letters written from there. These simple letters written from the heart I have quoted, as they tell the story of the spiritual events of those days. The only record of the intervals when I was absent from Japan is a few letters from which I have quoted.
In recording the history, I have been obliged to write of my personal experiences, but without the confirmations and favors of the Center of the Covenant and the love and prayers of the beloved believers, which upheld me at all times, nothing could have been accomplished.
Now I am in my homeland, Hawaii, where the beloved Guardian has written me, ". . . he hopes you will be able in Honolulu not only to complete your history of the Cause in Japan, but lend your active assistance to the Bahá'ís there." These words are the goal toward which I strive.
Agnes Baldwin Alexander
Honolulu, Hawaii, 1942
It was there that the Western world learned for the first time of Bahá'u'lláh. A delegate from Beirut Christian College, Dr. Henry H. Jessup, who could not attend in person sent a paper in which he wrote of Bahá'u'lláh who passed away in Bahjí, just outside the fortress of ‘Akká, the year before on May 28, 1892.
In closing his paper Dr. Jessup quoted the historic words of Bahá'u'lláh to Prof. E.G. Browne, M.A., M.B. of Cambridge University, England, a scholar of the Persian language and the only Westerner who had the great honor of meeting Him. The words as recorded by Prof. Browne follow: "We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer-up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment. . . That all nations should become as one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease and differences of race be annulled — what harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away and the Most Great Peace shall come. Is not this that which Christ foretold?"
The names of the nine delegates from Japan who were present on that historic day, Sept. 21, 1893 are: Rev. Harworth, Prof. Kozaki, Rt. Rev. Rouchi Shibata, Rt. Rev. Shaku Shoen, N. Nomura, Rt. Rev. Horin Toki, Mr. Yoshio Kawai and Riza Ringe Hirai.
When Bahá'u'lláh was manifested on this earth as the Promised One of the Ages, the whole world was quickened with new life. Although unconscious of the Source from which their inspirations came, many Japanese writers have expressed the spirit of the New Day.
In concluding his book Ideals of the Far East published in 1903, Mr. Kakuzo Okakura writes: "Today the great mass of western thought perplexes us. The mirror of Yamato is clouded, as we say. With the revolution, Japan, it is true, returns upon her past, seeking there for the new vitality she needs . . . if the thought be true, if there be indeed any spring of renewal hidden in our past, we must admit at this moment some mighty reinforcement, for the scorching drought of modern vulgarity is parching the throat of life and art. We await the flashing sword of the lightning which shall cleave the darkness. For the terrible hush must be broken and the raindrops of new vigor must refresh the earth before new flowers can spring up to cover it with bloom. But it must be from Asia herself along the ancient roadways of the race that the Great Voice shall be heard."
In the spring of 1915 the first seed from the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh appeared when a Japanese student of 18 years became illumined.
The same year in Tokyo there appeared in print writings from which the following excerpts are taken.
Prof. Uchigasaki of Waseda University, when serving as pastor of the Japanese Unitarian church in Tokyo, in an article entitled "Religion in Japan," wrote: "It may appear strange to demand a creative spirit in religion, but that is what Japanese religion needs if it is to find itself in the Taisho era, not a revival of ancient ideas and forms. It is no use to trot out again our old dogmas and notions long faded. Japan today is veritably on the verge of spiritual starvation. She does not care much for foreign food and she has little of her own. Perhaps if some prophet would arise, able to transmute the truths of universal religion into a form acceptable to the Japanese mind, there would be a wonderful revival of religion . . . What Japan thinks about when she thinks at all is the science of religion itself; not of creeds, sects and prejudices. Pure religion cannot be a superstition, nor can it savor of superstition. It is inherent in human nature; it is the desire of the little ego for the great Ego, of man for his Maker: the manifestation of the final attitude of man toward the Universe . . . What should be avoided is bigotry and stubbornness. The religion that appeals to people of thought and education must be fresh and true and free, and its truth must have the convincing power that all truth has . . . I believe in a system of national education imparting all truth to the rising generation, and in international amity which is the ultimate purpose of the Creator. All religions should thus be friendly and have a common aim."
Another young writer of new Japan, Mr. M. Yanagi, in an article entitled "Our Thirsty Free Green Minds," stated: "The time in which we live is more than a mere transitory period. It is an upheaval from the very roots producing the most surprising changes our history has ever known. Now is the full contrast of old and new, now do the East and West first touch, now is the battle of spirit and matter, an awaking from placid existence to the high stress of urgent spiritual problems . . . I am the last to hate the old, but history never teaches us to go backward . . . whatever the achievements of the past, they do not compare with the possibilities of the present . . . It is unnatural, unnecessary to live after the manner of our forefathers, for we are born to be more, and how much more at this astonishing epoch in which all things are renovated by the sacrifice of the old time honored life . . . What we look to in the future is the marriage of spirit and matter, the unity of mind and body, the meeting of East and West . . . Destruction is the first step of construction and loss is the germ of gain . . . We need Christ and Buddha not as Christians or Buddhists, but as men . . . In this age of institution, our richest legacy is the fact that we have no national sect, no established religion, no definite dogmas. We are free enough to demand religion from within. All varieties of religion afford us spiritual nourishment, for we seek the vast and free one in which the essence of all forms are."
A spiritually awakened young man, Mr. H. Takayanagi, after learning of the Bahá'í Message in 1915, expressed himself thus: "The religious world of the present period is in a state of transformation. A great religious revolution has just occurred under the banner of bringing about the unification of the world's religions, thereby realization of a universal peace. These words are what you hear from the yellow lips, also the typical
Again Mr. Takayanagi wrote: "I am very glad to notice the fact that many of our countrymen are unintentionally and unconsciously reaching the goal we aim at."
From the pen of Dr. Masaharu Anesaki, professor of Comparative Religions at the Imperial University in Tokyo, are these words from his writing on "The Present Spiritual Unrest of Japan": "The big tree of Buddhism is rotten at its heart. Christianity has not rooted firmly. The question is whether the old trees of national religion may be reinvigorated, or whether a new tree may spring from the soil."
Dr. Inazo Nitobe, a Quaker who was assisted by his American wife in his endeavor to interpret the East to the West, wrote in 1936 under the title of, "Timely Revelation." "To each person and to each circumstance there is a special revelation. What was hidden from the healthy and the strong is made clear to the sick and the weak. The poor catch a glimpse of the truth that is denied to the rich. The latter shall hear a message that is inaudible to the former. Only the proud and the malicious have no revelation of a great truth. Pride is blind and malice is deaf. In their chambers there is neither music nor light. In the cold darkness they sit, still saying to themselves, 'All that we see are subject to us,' and all they see are only phantoms. Nations that bear malice toward others or harbor pride in their bosoms shall not prosper or be happy. In the crisis through which we are passing there must be a light shining or a voice speaking, but who is seeing or who is hearing?"
1. BEGINNING OF THE BAHÁ'Í FAITH AMONG JAPANESE
First Japanese Bahá'ís
The story of the first Japanese who accepted the Bahá'í Faith begins in Honolulu, Hawaii. Mr. Kanichi Yamamoto, a young man, came from the province of Yamaguchi in Japan to Honolulu. There in the home where he was serving in 1902 was a Bahá'í, Miss Elizabeth Muther, who told him of the Master, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. Although his English was limited, he accepted the Bahá'í Message in his heart and soon after wrote in Japanese his heartfelt gratitude to the Master Who answered his supplication in a beautiful Tablet. His radiant face proclaimed the Light of the Kingdom which was ignited in his heart. In March, 1903, he went to Oakland, California, where for years he served in the home of the Bahá'í sister, Mrs. Helen S. Goodall. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá favored him with four beautiful Tablets, in one of which He addressed him, "O thou who art the single one of Japan and the unique one of the extreme Orient!" (See Tablets of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá Vol. III, pages 559-564).
The second Japanese to accept the Bahá'í Message was Mr. Saichiro Fujita, who also came from Yamaguchi province. While attending school in Oakland, California, Mrs. Kathryn Frankland became his spiritual mother. Later he had the unique distinction of faithfully serving for almost twenty years, first in the Beloved Master's home in Haifa, and after His passing, the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. During all those years he was the one who met and assisted the Western Bahá'í pilgrims in Haifa. He also was the recipient of Tablets from the Master, two of which are published in Tablets of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá Vol. III, page 565.
The third Japanese who accepted the Bahá'í Cause while living in America, was Mr. Kenzo Torikai, of Seattle, Washington. He also received a Tablet from ‘Abdu'l-Bahá.
‘Abdu'l-Bahá's Meeting With Japanese
In His westward journey the Beloved Master bestowed His blessing on Japanese people whom He met. Lady Blomfield relates in her book, The Chosen Highway, the following story of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's visit in Paris in 1911. "The Japanese Ambassador to a European capital (Viscount Arakawa — Madrid) was staying at the Hotel d'Jéna. This gentleman and his wife had been told of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's presence in Paris, and the latter was anxious to have the pleasure of meeting Him. 'I am very sad,' said her Excellency, 'I must not go out this evening as my cold is severe, and I leave early in the morning for Spain. If only there were a possibility of meeting Him.' This was told to the Master, Who had just returned after long tiring day. 'Tell the lady and her husband that, as she is unable to come to me, I will call upon her.' Accordingly, though the hour was late, through the cold and the rain He came, with His smiling courtesy, bringing joy to us all as we awaited Him in the Tapestry Room of the Hotel d'Jéna. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá talked with the Ambassador and his wife of conditions in Japan, of the great international importance of that country, of the vast service to mankind, of the work for the abolition of war, of the need for improving conditions of life for the worker, of the necessity of educating girls and boys equally."
"The religious ideal is the soul of all plans for the good of mankind. Religion must never be used as a tool by party politicians. God's politics are mighty, man's politics are feeble."
Speaking of religion and science, the two great wings with which the bird of humankind is able to soar, He said: "Scientific discoveries have increased material civilization. There is in existence a stupendous force, as yet, happily undiscovered by man. Let us supplicate God, the Beloved, that this force be not discovered by science until spiritual civilization shall dominate the human mind. In the hands of men of lower nature, this power would be able to destroy the whole earth."
In the Spring of 1912, in Tokyo, three Japanese of distinction formed the nucleus of a Movement called "Concordia," Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa, a banker and honored financier whose life was guided by the moral teachings of Confucius, President Jinzo Naruse, a Christian and founder of the first Women's College in Japan and Dr. Masaharu Anesaki, a Buddhist and Professor at the Tokyo University. The object of the movement was to try and find a common ground on which all nations could harmonize. President Naruse then undertook a journey around the world in the interest of the movement. He carried with him an autograph book in which he collected the expressions of goodwill from prominent people in the different countries he visited. On his return to Japan these were translated into Japanese and published. Mr. K. Obata in his life of Viscount Shibusawa wrote of "Concordia" that it might "in some distant future reach its goal." In London in 1912, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's Secretary recorded the following: "A distinguished Japanese, the President of the Women's University in Tokyo, who had been in the United States for many months, came to ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and showed Him an article on the Concordia Movement in Japan which appeared in the Oriental Review of November, 1912. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá spoke to him about the principles of the Bahá'í Cause and how we are in need of Divine power to put these principles into practice. He said, 'Just as the sun is the source of all lights in the solar system, so today Bahá'u'lláh is the Center of unity of the human race and of the peace of the world.' ‘Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a beautiful prayer in his autograph book and earnestly pleaded with him to go back to Japan and spread these lofty ideals." The prayer follows: "O God! The darkness of struggle, competition and war among various religions, nations and races has covered the horizon of Reality and hidden the heaven of Truth. The world needs the light of guidance, therefore, O God, bless us with Thy grace, so that the Sun of Reality may illumine the East and the West."
On September 12, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá reached Chicago and went to the home of Mrs. Corinne True where Mr. Saichiro Fujita was waiting to meet him. In the Diary of Mirza Mahmood Eben Ismail of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's travels in America* is the following: "A Japanese friend was also there, Mr. Fujita by name, about whom ‘Abdu'l-Bahá made inquiries and told him that the ruler in Japan had been changed and that Emperor . . . was no more and so was his empire no more. Since Mr. Fujita had become a believer he had attained immortality thereby. 'Look at Napoleon,' said ‘Abdu'l-Bahá to him. 'He conquered the whole of Europe; became the Emperor of France and in the end he was taken prisoner and sent to St. Helena. On the other hand Christ established by the aid of the Holy Spirit an everlasting empire on this earth. The kingdoms of thousands like Napoleon would disappear while the Kingdom of Christ would last till eternity, such is the Kingdom of God.'" The Diary continues: "Chicago 14th September, 1912. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá went out for a walk on the riverside. The talk turned on a Japanese Admiral who had sacrificed his life for the sake of the Emperor of Japan. Perhaps he would have been more useful for his country and for his nation had he not committed suicide. As a matter of fact the Emperor of Japan had not done for the Admiral a thousandth part of what Bahá'u'lláh had done for us."
Fujita, as he was lovingly called by the Bahá'ís, accompanied the Master to Kenosha, and on September 17, when He left Chicago for California, Fujita came with others from Malden, Massachusetts, to join Him. On October 22, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá reached San Francisco where Mr. Yamamoto, the first Japanese Bahá'í, met Him. On one occasion ‘Abdu'l-Bahá gave Persian names to his three little boys. To Hirose, the eldest, he gave the name of Hassan; to Hinju, Hossein, and to Masao, Farouk.
In the Diary of Mirza Mahmood is the following: "San Francisco, October 5. Two Japanese friends came to see ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. He expressed great happiness in seeing their faith and sincerity. He said, 'These are events which will bedeck the pages of history. This is in reality a miracle that Japanese gentlemen meet with Persians in San Francisco with such love and amity. This is through the power of Bahá'u'lláh and must constitute a cause of Our thankfulness and happiness. If it had been said that His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh brought a man from heaven and another from the earth and caused them to meet midway between the earth and heaven you would have considered it rare, but the power of Bahá'u'lláh unravels all difficulties. I am very much pleased with the Japanese because they have courage and intelligence. When they put their hands on a work they carry it to a finish.' The Japanese friends repeatedly requested Him to visit Japan. They submitted to Him the capacity of the Japanese. They also asked His mission to contribute articles to the Japanese newspapers to which He consented with great pleasure."
On October 7, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá addressed a Japanese audience at the Japanese YMCA in Oakland. Mr. Kano, a Japanese poet who was present, read a poem he had composed in eulogy of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. The address was translated by two interpreters; first into English, and then into Japanese. (See The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pages 337-342).
The Diary of Mirza Mahmood records the following: "San Francisco, October 14. A Japanese friend with others came to see Him. The Master said, 'I wish you would become heavenly and not Japanese, or Arab, English, Persian, Turk or American. You should become divine and act according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Observe! I am one of the servants of Bahá'u'lláh, helpless and weak, but as I am under the shadow of His teachings, you see what confirmations attend me.'"
On October 25, when ‘Abdu'l-Bahá left San Francisco, Fujita accompanied Him as far as Chicago. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá then instructed him to study gardening and electricity and told him that He would sometime send for him to come to Haifa. For seven years Fujita waited until the end of the great war when ‘Abdu'l-Bahá cabled for him to come. In Haifa until 1938, he faithfully served, first the Master, and after Him, the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. He was the one who met and assisted all the Western Bahá'í pilgrims. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá said of him he was "all love and service." In a letter from Shoghi Effendi, dated January 27, 1924, he wrote, "Fujita is with us, happy, active and extremely helpful. His presence is such a help and support to me in my work."
Bahá'í Travelers Pass through Japan
The Bahá'í Message of the coming of Bahá'u'lláh and the dawn of a New Day was first heralded in Japan by Bahá'í travelers who passed through the country. Mr. Charles M. Remey of Washington, D.C. and Howard C. Struven of Baltimore, Maryland, the first Bahá'ís to make the complete circuit of the world, sojourned on their way in Japan. In a Tablet to Mr. Remey, dated May 9, 1909 ‘Abdu'l-Bahá wrote:
Rest thou assured that the confirmations of the Blessed Perfection shall encircle thee from all sides. Travel thou with Mr. Howard Struven to Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands, and from there depart toward Japan and meet Prof. Barakatullah. Convey to him my yearning greeting and say:
On December 27, 1909, the Bahá'í brothers reached Tokyo where they remained for six days sowing pure seeds of the Bahá'í Message. Through the help of Prof. Barakatullah of India, who had been associated with the Bahá'ís in the United States, a public lecture was arranged for Mr. Remey to speak that afternoon at the YMCA. Notices inviting the public to the meeting had
* Later published as Mahmoud's Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's Journey to America. Translated by Mohi Sobhani, with the assistance of Shirley Macias. (Oxford: George Ronald, 1998). [-J.W.]
In a letter to the Honolulu Bahá'ís Mr. Remey wrote: "The Holy Cause in Japan is starting well. The enclosed notice will give you an idea of our meetings, the first one, which was about as large as the one we held at the [Alexander] Young Hotel (in Honolulu). After that Mr. and Mrs. Dodge asked fourteen people to their little home where the Message was also given. Various smaller interviews were held for Truth Seekers, so the six days spent in Tokyo passed very quickly . . . I should strongly advise that the line across the Pacific be strengthened with as many threads of correspondence as possible." In another letter to the Spiritual Assembly of Chicago Mr. Remey wrote: "In Japan the spiritual field of work is ready for the laborers. The Japanese need religion, and, unlike most people, they realize this need and are searching. In Japan there is no antagonism — none whatever. Even the Buddhist priests hail with joy the coming of another Messenger of Peace . . ."
Prof. Barakatullah did not heed the Master's loving counsels to him through Mr. Remey. In the Diary kept by Mirza Mahmood of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's travels in America, he records the following words of the Master speaking of Prof. Barakatullah. "This man culls the teachings of the Blessed Cause and publishes them in the name of Islam in the illusive hope of building an imaginary castle and deriving profit by deceiving Muhammadans, but in the long run he will find nothing but manifest loss." Prof. Barakatullah had left Japan before the arrival of the Bahá'í pioneers sent there by the Master in 1914.
The next Bahá'í traveler to pass through Japan was Mme Aurelia Bethlen, who reached there the end of May, 1911. Among the Japanese people whom she met, she sowed seeds of the love of God in this New Day.
In the spring of 1914, Mons. and Mme Dreyfus-Barney spent a week in Tokyo. The dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. P. H. Dodge, entertained them at tea and then invited friends to hear them speak. Although the Dodges did not become believers, they showed a helpful, open-minded spirit towards the Faith and many times assisted the friends.