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Review: Aikawa and Leavenworth, The Mind of Japan

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There are many good books which scarcely show their age; this is not one
of those good books. This is a good book which virtually shouts: "The
year is nineteen-sixty-seven!" (The foreword, for example, is by
U. S. Ambassador Douglas MacArthur II.) However, just as it is necessary
to understand the Sixties to understand the present American pathology, so
too Japan's past self-understanding should be understood. In eight
chapters, Aikawa and Leavenworth discuss the encounter between Japanese
ways of thinking and Christianity. Before addressing specific areas in
which there has been encounter, the authors take three chapters to address
background matters, beginning with Japan's situation in the mid-1960's,
and encompassing broad outlines of Japanese cultural history and

Both the background accounts and the analysis benefit from the internal
point of view; both the affirmative and critical perspectives ring with
authenticity and sincerity. The plea for a more informed and involved
American public, however, has like the book gone unheeded, however.
Although the background targets the geopolitical confrontation of the Cold
War era, it is valuable both in itself for the learner, and as an example
of Japanese self-reflection during this important period -- the
perspectives expressed are likely to be shared by many Japanese of the same
generation, or educated in this time. The final chapter, "Encounter with
Leftist Ideology", falls into the category of historically interesting,
but no longer timely.

The meat of the book (the rice of the book?) consists of the
chapters on encounter "with Indigenous Beliefs", "with Nationalism", "in
Education", and "through Literature". Each begins by touching on the
pre-Christian situation in Japan, briefly (ch. 5) or extensively (synopsis
of Japan's religious history in ch. 4!), and describes how Christians
adapted to, reacted to, acquiesced in, or countered the relevant subject.
The nationalistic period of Japan falling hard on the re-introduction of
Christianity, Leavenworth and Aikawa cover in some detail two important
incidents, the latter being somewhat glossed over in the histories: Kanzo
Uchimura and the Imperial Rescript incident, and "the Japanese Bride event"
involving Naoomi Tamura (chap. 5). Uchimura's refusal to 'worship' the
framed Imperial Rescript on Education (although the bow as gesture of
respect was acceptable to him) was a major controversy which left Uchimura
widely regarded as a traitor. The firestorm over Tamura's book about
Japanese women and their place in marriage and society degenerated as he
was eventually denounced even by many Christian ministers. The discussion in
The Mind of Japan critiques the reaction, as one would expect, but also
discusses the factors contributing to the failure of Christian resistance to
an idolatrous nationalism. The authors are refreshingly frank in laying blame
where they feel it is merited.

Overall, I would give The Mind of Japan a qualified recommendation.
For readers seeking a genuinely in-depth knowledge of the Japanese church and
its contemporary situation, it is useful both as an analysis of its
development and history, and as a primary source for that history. General
readers will probably be put off by its dated concerns, and unless they have a
grounding in basic studies of Japanese history and culture, will not receive
the kind of overview and assessment they might have hoped from the title.
Though well-written and persuasive at many points, Aikawa and Leavenworth have
not here given us the final word on a Christian perspective on the mind of

Takaaki Aikawa and Lynn Leavenworth, The Mind of Japan: A Christian Perspective. The Judson Press, 1967.

LOC Catalog Card Number 67-17169

update: added missing paragraph tags...

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