In revisiting the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (first in Japanese, then in the linked English) I came across the page “Japan Catholic News: on the web”, which appears to be the summary page of the national “Katorikku Shimbun” (“Catholic Newspaper”). As with all things related to Catholicism in Japan the English page is much less frequently updated than the Japanese. Nevertheless, there were some points of interest and relevance to my own intended projects.

First was the story about the Beatificaton of nearly 200 Japanese Martyrs on 24 November, 2008. The proclamation was conducted by Jose Cardinal Saraiva Martins in his capacity as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at a baseball stadium in Tokyo. The story here is sparse on details, but from what I can see of the caption the atmosphere was very similar to that of World Youth Day in Sydney last year, with contemporary hymns and vestments (though tastefully cut). Of great interest were the photos of congregations at prayer in various churches, notably these:

Bishop Osamu Mizobe of Takamatsu speaks to pilgrims at the Uramaki Cathedral in Nagasaki.

Bishop Osamu Mizobe of Takamatsu speaks to pilgrims at the Uramaki Cathedral in Nagasaki.

Pilgrims at a prayer service at the Shiroyama Catholic Church

Pilgrims at a prayer service at the Shiroyama Catholic Church

Pilgrims pray at the Church of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan.

Pilgrims pray at the Church of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan.

A comparison of these three images shows some interesting features I hope to explore in Japan considering the praxis of the faith, the lex orandi, the lex credendi. The first image appears to show a cathedral of mixed traditional and contemporary elements – there is a prominent upward focus in the architecture, a centrally placed crucifix and high altar (with intact central tabernacle) but a “low altar” placed in front of it. The walls appear minimally adorned, with the only apparent sacred art to be alcoved statues and small, stained glass windows. This may be a reflection of the resources of the community, or of the prevalent ecclesiology (as it is here in the Diocese of Parramatta, Australia). I’ll have to explore it when I make my intended pilgrimage.

The third image also shows a church which appears to be a modern building with traditional inspirations. It is clearly quite small, but the windows are well adorned and there is a statue overlooking the congregation. The sanctuary is blocked by a screen, but the centrally placed cross (with corpus? without?) is a sign of hope. The second image is definitely a modern built church with thoroughly modernist ecclesiological principles. The “reredos” are composed of an amorphous artpiece, the crucifix is off centre and portrays the reprobate “Risen Christ” instead of the traditional Crucified Christ, the tabernacle might be that square of dark matter placed on a background of lighter (wood?) matter to the right, between what might be the sacred ministers or acolytes. In this photo the altar would be completely invisible if not for the two diminutive candles placed upon it, disrupting its near-perfect camouflage with the “reredos”.

However, the really obvious and surprising element in all three is the ubiquity of the mantilla. This devotional of women is almost extinct amongst European (and colonial) Catholics, having become the exclusive domain of octogenarians and (so we are led to believe) twenty-something mothers-of-nine who never have nor ever will join the workforce (and assert the “equality of women”). The third photo shows only one woman clearly veiled, and the second (to my own great astonishment) shows a church filled with veiled women, despite the inescapably secular, temporal architecture.

The above observations should all prove points of thought in the direction of my research. There are few Catholic churches in Japan, and they are not close to one another. As an impoverished undergraduate on academic exchange I can’t hope to conduct some true scholarly research (neither the duration of my stay nor my finances or academic mandate could permit this) but it does not seem implausible for me to create an informed introductory picture of Japanese Catholic praxis to traditionally-minded outsiders wishing to explore the state of the Faith in mission territory – especially the unique situation of a the world’s second largest economy fuelled by a people who have abandoned as empty the animistic and nihilistic faiths of their fathers for the similarly empty assurances of Mammon.

How well catechised are Japanese Catholics? How effectively do they accept what has been passed to them, make it their own, and then pass it on to those who come? What is the state of Japanese ecclesial architecture? Japanese liturgy? Japanese sacred arts, particularly music? How well do Japanese catholics know their own heritage, particularly the lives of their own saints? How well do they know the heritage of the universal Church? I can only hope that the catholics of  Japan are better taught and formed than I was growing up in suburban Sydney, and as I am sure other westernised asian catholics are the world over.

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