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Midnight Stories of the West: Meiji-Japan’s Reimagination of the West


Midnight Stories of the West was published in Tokyo, in the fourth year of the Meiji Period (1871), and it contains a number selected western stories, with three pictures. Among them, the picture of Adam and Eve is of particular interest, especially to academics and missiologists of the Japanized Christianity, for the book was published before the prohibition against Christianity was lifted on 24 February 1873 and in a period when Christianity was merged with elements of Shintoism to make the western religion more acceptable to Japanese.


The Protruded Topographic Design of Two Characters: Tenjin, 天神


A sign of syncretistic Christianity in Japan can be found on the right page. Note the protruded topographical design on top; reading from right to left we find two characters rising atop the page border: the first character on the right is “sky”; the left, “god”, or “the god of the sky”, Tenjin (天神), the patron god of learning and academics in Shinto religion. This unusual topographic design manifests an attempt to make Christianity acceptable to Japanese by connecting the monotheism of Christianity to the deification of the Japanese Emperor, Tennō (天皇), held by the Japanese Shinto religion to be the direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu (天照大神).


Shintoistic Christianity: Japanized Adam & Eve


We see no snake, no apple—no archetype of loss and on that account no sinful, nor shameful connotations—in this picture of Adam and Eve, as Shintoists see themselves as endearing children of Kami (“god” or “spirit”). Indeed, Adam and Eve stand content and happy in the Garden of Eden, looking like the epitome of Kami’s children. This book can be read as an artifact of Shintoistic Christianity in the early Meiji era when regulations on the spread of Christianity was still in place, and such syncretistic perception has continued to exist in Modern Japan.


Historical Notes:


Christianity in Japan can be categorized into three periods. The first started in 1549 when the first Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, arrived; the second started in the Meiji era, when Protestant missionaries from the U.S. arrived in the 1850s; the last started after the Second World War, 1945.


The condition of this nineteenth-century Meiji-period book is fine, with only minor foxing on the front page; no loose pages; inside, very clean. Rare.


Midnight Stories of the West: Meiji-Japan’s Reimagination of the West, 1871

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