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Japanese Culture and History

Akiyo Yonemoto, CND, and Suzy Makougoum, CND

Tuesday, July 23rd 

We went to Tokyo Oedo Museum in the afternoon. It proved to be a great opportunity to deepen our knowledge of Japanese culture, since the day before, Fr. Sekiya had talked to us about the place. Japan is rare among countries, in historically having maintained a policy of seclusion for 250 years. Having earlier heard that the Japanese national character is introverted, and that Japanese have a stronger consciousness of shame than of guilt, we took this time to deepen our knowledge of how Japanese people lived during these 250 years.

Following the warring state period, throughout the Edo era spanning 15 generations of Shoguns, from Ieyasu Tokugawa to Yoshinobu Tokugawa, we learned that life was very peaceful. On the other hand, Christianity was strictly forbidden. The Tokugawa government was particularly brutal in persecuting Christians. They kept their faith, and consequently over 20,000 of them attained the glory of martyrdom. Under the policy of seclusion, the Tokugawa government only permitted foreign trade with Holland, China, and later with England. Trading was restricted to Dejima, in Nagasaki. Japan learned medicine and astronomy from Holland, and Confucianism from China. In this era of peaceful reign, in spite of class differences, rich and poor children alike learned how to write and count. Literacy exceeded 70%. Boys and girls learned together at schools called Terakoya. In this, we saw a similarity with Marguerite Bourgeoys, who educated children and showed them how to live, regardless of their social class. The point of difference between Japanese education and that of Marguerite is that she taught the words of Jesus Christ. Japanese education has been based on Confucianism and Buddhism, and courtesy has been particularly emphasized. It is notable that under the ban on Christianity, Christians could not express their faith within Japanese society, so many of them pretended to be Buddhists in order to survive and pass on their faith. The Samurai spirit developed, and culture became differentiated according to class (Shogun, Samurai, and the general public). We also learned how people in each class lived during this era. We learned that the notion that Japanese identity can be deepened by instituting Buddhism and Shintoism as official religions, as well as the tendency to remain closed to fusion with other cultures, remain strong elements of the Japanese national character to this day. We wonder what kind of message each of us received from this learning experience. Has it given us any helpful hints towards living our interculturality?


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