Uchimura Kanzō

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UCHIMURA KANZŌ (18611930), Japanese essayist, scholar of the Bible, and Christian leader. Uchimura's unique place in modern Japanese thought results from his insistence on human independence before the biblical Christian God. Four prophetic acts by Uchimura dramatize and represent themes in his writing. In two of these acts Uchimura questioned the growing authoritarianism of the government. His scrupulous hesitation in 1891 to bow before the signature of the emperor and his outspoken avowal of pacifism in 1903, immediately before the onset of the Russo-Japanese War, raised the issue of Christian loyalty to the state. He also proclaimed the imminent return of Christ in 1918 and appeared to renounce in a posthumously published document the Christian movement associated with his name.

These acts resulted from a heightened sense of individual worth and responsibility apparent in Uchimura's personal history. His father, a capable samurai civil servant, lost his status, position, and self-respect with the political changes that followed the revolution of 18671868. He turned the leadership of the family over to his sixteen-year-old son after the boy received a government scholarship large enough to support the whole family. Uchimura studied at a government agricultural college, where, under the influence of evangelical American Calvinist teachers, he became a Christian.

After graduation in 1881, dissatisfaction with government service as a fisheries scientist and a disastrous marriage drove him to the United States. There he found sympathetic mentors at Amherst College and obtained a second bachelor's degree in 1887. Back in Japan, Uchimura administered a school manned largely by American missionaries. Disagreement over evangelical methodshe wanted to cite Japanese examples of the upright life before he taught Christianityled Uchimura to resign and forsake cooperation with missionaries. His hesitation before the imperial signature while a teacher in a government school cost him the possibility of further official employment. As a result, he determined to live by writing. After several lean years, he became the editor of a newspaper that he was to make into Japan's largest daily, but his declaration of pacifism cost him that position. He had already started in 1900 a monthly called Seisho no kenkyū (Biblical Studies). This publication fulfilled a long-standing ambition to write popular Bible commentaries and provided him with a livelihood until his death. Through his magazine, numerous individuals came to look upon Uchimura as their spiritual mentor. His many large lecture meetings after he joined the Second-Coming Movement in 1917 returned him to the center of national attention. The meetings developed into two-hour commentaries on the Bible for weekly audiences of five to seven hundred. He continued his magazine and lectures until death stilled his voice.

All of Uchimura's writings reflect a concern for a Japan suddenly introduced into the modern world. At the time, "the modern world" signified the European and North American nations, whose people believed in a hierarchy of states with those of the Christian culture ranked highest. Uchimura, through his English-language works, interpreted Japanese concerns to Westerners, emphasizing the rectitude of traditional Japanese virtues. His early Japanese-language works commented on contemporary Japanese society. His later writings introduced the Bible and the fruits of Christian culture to Japan. These essays were frequently based upon the notes he had written for his weekly lectures. The commentaries on the Bible form a major part of these writings and constitute the largest corpus of biblical studies by one author in the Japanese language.

The concept associated with Uchimura's name is mukyōkai or mukyōkai shugi, usually translated as "no church," "nonchurch," or, in Uchimura's translation, "Christianity of no-church principle." It proclaims a faith linking humans to God through prayerful use of the Bible alone. The church as it existed in the Christian nations seemed to Uchimura so burdened with the associations of Western history and tradition as to lack meaning for Japanese. On the other hand, Japanese, through faithful reading of the Bible, could develop a Christianity true to their needs and consistent with their traditions. Uchimura's denial in an article published after his death of "what is today commonly called mukyōkai " did not reflect any change in his belief. Instead, it expressed his dismay at the incipient development among his followers of a church based on their interpretation of mukyōkai shugi.

Uchimura's followers, most concerned that they must not start a church, continue in small Bible-study groups known collectively as mukyōkai. They have no other organizational ties than their respect for the Bible and the works of Uchimura. Adherents include a number of figures important in the shaping of Japanese institutions after 1945: Tanaka Kōtarō, Yanaihara Tadao, Nambara Shigeru, Takagi Yasaka, and Matsumoto Shigeharu.


The definitive Uchimura Kanzō zenshū, 20 vols. (19321933; reprint, Tokyo, 19611966) has been replaced by another work of the same name in 38 vols. (Tokyo, 19811984). The latter version will include some more articles and many more letters. The best biography is by Masaike Megumu, Uchimura Kanzō den (1950; Tokyo, 1977). In English, Culture and Religion in Japanese-American Relations: Essays on Uchimura Kanzō, 18611930, edited by Raymond A. Moore, Michigan Papers in Japanese Studies, no. 5 (Ann Arbor, 1981); and my article "Uchimura Kanzō," in Pacifism in Japan: The Christian and Socialist Tradition, edited by Nobuya Bamba and me (Kyoto, 1978), discuss aspects of Uchimura's legacy. I have written a complete critical biography, which is ready for publication.

John F. Howes (1987)

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