Honolulu’s Pacific Commercial Advertiser featured an excerpt of a letter by the Massachusetts-born noted lawyer and politician Richard H. Dana, Jr., on October 4, 1860. Dana visited Japan and other locations around the world, including the Hawaiian Islands. He was the author of the American classic ‘Two Years Before the Mast.’ The news piece is posted below:
A letter from Richard H. Dana, Jr., in Japan, gives an interesting account of the religion of that peculiar people:
“The two great religious systems of Japan are Buddhism, an East India exotic, but the most influential, and the Sin Syn, the ancient national faith. These are said to exfoliate into thirty or more sects. The number of points presented has probably dissipated the electricity of theological controversy. They do not indulge in polemics, but agree in demanding the utter exclusion of Christianity. I saw none of those signs of decay and neglect about their temples which one so often meets with in China. The buildings are in good repair, the floors well-matted, the worshippers numerous, and the worship decent and grave. Neither here nor in China have the idolatries any traces of bloody or obscene rites. There is no instruction connected with public worship. It consists in unbloody offerings, a chanting of a few words of almost unknown signification to the priests themselves, counting of beads on a rosary, accompanied by dull beating of gongs, kneelings and prostrations, and processions, and burning of tapers and incense sticks. They have fasts and festivals for all ages, classes and purposes, which, I suspect, possess a strong hold on the people.
“Missionaries, strictly speaking, there are none. Since the utter extermination of Christianity in blood and fire, in the seventeenth century, missionaries have been prohibited. By the late treaties, they allow foreigners to build churches and practice their worship within the limits assigned for their residence; but they –tolerate no preaching or teaching to the natives, nor the circulation of religious books. The people at home must not delude themselves into the belief that, any strictly missionary work is doing or can be done in Japan. No clergymen; men who can master the language and literature of Japan, get an insight into the genius of its institutions, gain personal influence, remove prejudices, and prepare the way for the future.”