When I was little my great-grandmother passed away.
Before her funeral, I would go to some of my relative’s funerals, but what was very new to me was that my parents took me to church.
My great-grandmother was Catholic.
In front of a church father I saw for the first time, I asked “Why doesn’t my great-grandmother go to the Buddhist temple for her funeral?”, Well he replied “Because your great-grandmother is Catholic and has to go to another heaven.”
It was a first encounter with Catholicism, and first opportunity to think about my family’s religion.
Christianity is very famous in Japan, but very few people believe in it. The number of believers is about 1% of the population. It is about the same percentage as Jews living in the United States. So it was very rare to be born into a Catholic family, but even rarer to be born into a Catholic and Buddhist family.
My grandmother, her parents and my uncle were baptized Catholic. Conversely my father, my grandfather and my mother’s family were Buddhist and Shinto. So it’s like a Yugoslavian family, sometimes there is a religious problem. I myself was not baptized. If you ask me if I am a person who has no relationship with Christianity, I am not. In fact, I used to go to church as a child. But by mistake I used to go to a Protestant church.
I ended up going to church for about 2-3 years when I was a kid. It all started when my mother, frustrated that she couldn’t clean the house because I ran around on Sundays, ordered me to go to a Christian Sunday school. My mother liked Christianity because she had studied in Spain, but she didn’t understand the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism because she thought it was just cool. So, thanks to her, I became a complicated person with a Protestant view of Christianity, even though my family was Catholic.
So here’s the thing. I learned to be diligent from Protestantism. But the church I go to when a family member dies is Catholic, and when I’m stressed I go to the temple to meditate. When there is an earthquake, I pray to the Shinto gods out of fear. My mind is now a soup of religions. Religions are mixed as ingredients, and do not remain in their original form. But now I have come to the conclusion that this is the culture and form of religion of the Japanese people.
I change the subject, but do you know a movie called “Silence” by Martin Scorsese? It is about two missionaries who arrive in Japan and reflect on the Christian faith in the country. In the story, a Portuguese man says about Japan: “This country is a swamp.
This country is a swamp. In time you will understand. This country is a swamp more terrible than I had thought. When you plant any seedling in that swamp, its roots begin to rot. The leaves turn yellow and wither. We have planted the seed of Christianity in this swamp.
This impressed me very much. I myself had fused Protestantism, Catholicism and Buddhism into a soup of Shintoism.
And I am sure it is the same with Japan. Japan will never accept foreign cultures. Because it melts the foreign culture. In other words, Buddhism and Christianity are accepted in the part that interests the Japanese, but other than that, they all rot and are forgotten. I guess Japanese people do not have the desire to properly understand all cultures coming from abroad. But on the contrary, that’s why we don’t become Chinese. If we were all very open-minded and wanted to learn new things, Japan would already be part of China. But the Japanese are stubborn in a sense and only absorb what they want to know, so they have maintained a different culture, Japanese. This is exactly the same reason why I never became a Christian even though I was exposed to Christianity.
Today, my grandmother is lighting incense sticks for my grandfather who has died. This is a Buddhist act, but my grandmother does it for my grandfather. If she really believed in Christianity, she would see no point in doing it. But she is also Japanese. I think even though she is baptized, she also believes in “melted and remodeled Japanese Catholicism.”