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Containing Voices in the Wilderness: Censorship and Religious Dissent in the Japanese Countryside

  • Emily Anderson


This article considers the relationship between stringent and arbitrary censorship policies and “religious freedom,” something “guaranteed” with significant qualifications by the Meiji Constitution, in pre-World War II Japan. In particular, this article explores the role of censorship in shaping the contours of acceptable religious practice by focusing on a regional Christian news monthly, the “Gunma Christian World Monthly.” Edited by Kashiwagi Gien, a rural Congregational minister, this monthly introduced a diverse range of ideas from socialism to critiques of militarism and imperialism. Kashiwagi's espousal of these ideas also made him the focus of local censors. By focusing on two occasions when Kashiwagi's spirited critiques of the state attracted the attention of local authorities, this article examines the complex and contingent process by which the state and its regional agents used legal means to manage the contours of acceptable belief in pre-World War II Japan. The relationship between Kashiwagi and the local police and prosecutors who attempted to manage and regulate “acceptable” content and, by extension, acceptable religious opinion, offers an important and hitherto unexamined site to consider the question of how religious freedom was interpreted by the state, local officials, and religionists.



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1 On this later phase of censorship and other laws, such as the expansive Peace Preservation Law, passed to impose more rigid constraints on the range of acceptable opinion, see Max M. Ward, “The Problem of ‘Thought’: Crisis, National Essence, and the Interwar Japanese State” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 2011); Abel, John E., Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); and Mitchell, Richard H., Censorship in Imperial Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).

2 Pornographic material was not the only material considered obscene; occasionally ideas considered politically subversive were also labeled obscene by the judiciary. See Marotti, William, “The Occupation, the New Emperor System, and the Figure of Japan,” in Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).

3 Mitchell, 96–99.

4 Ibid., 245.

5 On this earlier phase of Christianity, and its subsequent abolition and persecution, see Elison, George, Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973); Hur, Nam-lin, Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the Danka System (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007); and Paramore, Kiri, Ideology and Christianity in Japan (New York: Routledge, 2009).

6 Maxey, Trent, Defining the “Greatest Problem”: Religion and State in Meiji Japan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014).

7 On the key government debates on the place of religion in the early years of the Meiji period, see Maxey, Defining the “Greatest Problem.”

8 de Bary, Wm. Theodore, Gluck, Carol, and Tiedemann, Arthur, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition, Vol. II (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 747.

9 Emily Anderson, “Christianity in the Japanese Empire: Nationalism, Conscience, and Faith in Meiji and Taisho Japan” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2010), 52–59.

10 Rubin, Jay, Injurious to Public Morals: Writers and the Meiji State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984), 16, 21.

11 Notehelfer, Fred G., American Samurai: Captain L. L. Janes and Japan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985); Scheiner, Irwin, Christian Converts and Social Protest in Meiji Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970).

12 For example, the Heiminsha, the publisher of the short-lived but important socialist weekly Heimin shinbun (Commoner News), subscribed to Rikugō zasshi, Shinjin, and denominational papers such as Kirisutokyō sekai (Christian World) and Fukuin shinpō (Gospel News), as well as Kashiwagi's Jōmō kyōkai geppō, and made each available in the non-circulating library it operated at its headquarters in Tokyo (Heimin shinbun, November 22, 1903, 7; September 22, 1904, 7).

13 March 25, 1913 in Kashiwagi Gien nikki (Diary of Kashiwagi Gien), ed. Iinuma Jirō and Katano Masako (Ōtsu: Kōrosha, 1998), 138–139.

14 June 4, 1900, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 20.

15 September 13, 1910, October 5, 1910, October 8, 1910, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 79, 82.

16 “Zatsuroku: Hisenshugisha,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (March 1904): 11; “Shakaishugi kenkyū no hitsuyō,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (September 1904): 3.

17 Itani Ryūichi, Hisen no shisō: Dochaku Kirisutosha Kashiwagi Gien (Anti-war thought: Indigenous Christian Kashiwagi Gien) (Tokyo: Kinokuniya shinsho, 1967), 108. In a letter to Kashiwagi, Matsui Shichirō, a former church member who was living in San Francisco at the time, confided to Kashiwagi that he was dissatisfied with the churches in America and relied for his spiritual growth on the geppō. Matsui Shichirō to Kashiwagi Gien, January 15, 1913, C-2-449, Kashiwagi Gien Papers, Institute for the Study of Humanities and Social Sciences, Doshisha University, Kyoto.

18 “Gunma yori,” Heimin shinbun (October 9, 1904): 5.

19 March 31, 1919, July 21, 1919 in Kashiwagi Gien nikki hoi (Supplement to Diary of Kashiwagi Gien), ed. Katano Masako (Ōtsu: Kōrosha, 2001), 111, 143.

20 “Annaka chō daijiken: Seiyūha gawa no senkyo ihan, kōuinsha no sōsū sanju-hachi mei,” Jōmō shinbun (July 19, 1909): 3.

21 Ibid.

22 “Annaka jiken tsuku yūzai,” Jōmō shinbun (July 27, 1909): 2.

23 “Annaka jiken,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (August 1909): 4–5.

24 Mitchell, 49–50.

25 “Honsha hikoku jiken to keika,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (October 1909): 5.

26 Ibid.

27 “Annaka jiken,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (August 1909): 4–5.

28 Ibid., 5.

29 “Honsha hikoku jiken to keika,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (October 1909): 5.

30 Ibid. Many periodicals that tended to publish opinions that could potentially be found to violate the ambiguous and extensive censorship laws listed a “prison editor” in the place of the regular editor. See Mitchell, 55.

31 “Honsha hikoku jiken to keika,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (October 1909): 5.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., 6.

35 Ibid., 7.

36 See for example Gordon, Andrew, Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Han, Jung-Sun N., Imperial Path to Democracy: Yoshino Sakuzo and a New Liberal Order in East Asia, 1905–1937 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013).

37 Mitchell, 181–186.

38 Ibid., 191–192.

39 September 3, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 305.

40 September 6, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 305. Rumors of rioting by Koreans as well as the poisoning of wells and arson, began circulating almost immediately after the earthquake. Vigilante mobs began organizing almost immediately as well. For more on the massacre of Koreans following the earthquake, see Weiner, Michael, “Myth and Reality: The Great Kanto Earthquake,” in The Origins of the Korean Community in Japan 1910–1923 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1989), 164200.

41 September 6, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 305.

42 September 7, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 306.

43 Weiner, Origins of the Korean Community, 172–176.

44 Officially the Home Ministry issued an order warning newspapers and periodicals against spreading rumors of Korean mobs rioting. This order was contradicted by the government itself issuing reports of Koreans rioting in the absence of law following the earthquake. See Mitchell, 193-194.

45 September 26, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 307.

46 October 28, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 309.

47 December 19 and December 21, 1923, Kashiwagi Gien nikki, 313.

48 The estimate of the actual number of victims of the post-earthquake violence remains controversial and varies drastically depending on the tabulator. Official state estimates claimed only 231 Koreans were killed. Other sources estimated that the number of Korean victims was as high as 6,000. Yoshino Sakuzō conducted his own investigation and came up with a number of 2,600 Koreans dead in the Kantō region. More recently one scholar has argued that the total was 20 times as many. Michael Weiner, The Origins of the Korean Community in Japan, 181–182.

49 Kashiwagi Gien, “Korosu nakare,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (December 1923): 2.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Kashiwagi Gien, “Gūzō hakai: Amakasu Masahiko ron,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (November 1923): 2.

53 Ibid., 3.

54 Kashiwagi Gien, “Korosu nakare,” Jōmō kyōkai geppō (December 1923): 2.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid., 4.

57 Kasza, Gregory J., The State and the Mass Media in Japan, 1918–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 34.

I would like to thank Akutsu Satoru of the Gunma Prefectural Archives, Trent Maxey and Jesse Spohnholz, Todd Butler, Lawrence Hatter, and Joel Tishken of Washington State University, as well as the editors of Church History and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions and comments.

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Containing Voices in the Wilderness: Censorship and Religious Dissent in the Japanese Countryside

  • Emily Anderson


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