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v2.1 Reference

A Christian Samurai

The Trials of Baba Bunko

Although Japanese scholars have acclaimed Baba Bunko (1718-1759) as the most outstanding essayist and public speaker of the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Western historians of Japan have long ignored him. This is because Bunko's very existence contradicts the historical narrative that they have constructed. According to that narrative, Christianity in Japan ceased to exist by 1640, except in small, scattered communities, centered mainly on the Nagasaki area.

Through a close critical analysis of Baba Bunko's often humorous, but always biting, satirical essays a new picture of the hidden world of Christianity in eighteenth-century Japan emerges - a picture that contradicts the generally-held belief among Western historians that the Catholic mission in Japan ended in failure. A Christian Samurai will surprise many readers when they discover that Christian moral teachings not only survived the long period of persecution but influenced Japanese society throughout the Tokugawa period.

Bunko's bold assertion that a representation of the Eucharist would be more appropriate as a symbol for Japan than the coat of arms of the emporer or the insignia of the shogun would eventually lead to his arrest, trial, and execution. The legal proceedings against him reveal the government's embarrassment at the failure of its attempts to eliminate Christianity.

This historical and literary study focuses on the personal as well as the public lives of many of the historical figures who were prominent in politics, philosophy, religion, and culture in the eighteenth century. The decadent state of Buddhism, the decline of Confucianism, and the popularity of the Yoshiwara "pleasure" quarters are some of the topics that illuminate this new history of early modern Japan and of the survival of Christianity.

The first complete English translation of Baba Bunko's Contemporary Edo: An Album of One Hundred Monsters is included as an appendix.

About the Author

William J. Farge, SJ is associate professor of languages at Loyola University, New Orleans.


"This is a major contribution to our understanding of the Tokugawa Period. Farge has crafted an insightful and meticulously researched study of Baba Bunkō, an individual largely ignored by English-language scholarship on Japanese history. More than a mere biography, Farge contextualizes Bunkō's life and writings within the politics and culture of eighteenth-century Japan, convincingly arguing that Bunkō was an adherent of Catholicism and offering a fascinating picture of the state of Christianity. Farge's most striking assertion is that Christianity did not die in Japan as a result of bans instituted in the sixteenth century, but continued to have real spiritual, cultural, and intellectual influence. This is a must-read for historians of early modern Japan and Asia! -"—Terrence Jackson, author of Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution

"A Christian Samurai is a well-researched, well-crafted exploration of an area that has been largely neglected—the existence of Christians in the Tokugawa period when they were assumed to have virtually disappeared from Japan. Farge's discoveries about the samurai, Baba Bunkō, and his interpretations of Bunkō's writings pose a real challenge to the existing scholarship on the period and open the door to a reinterpretation of our historical understanding. This book is an excellent resource and fascinating read for anyone interested in Japanese history, Asian studies, or the history of Christianity. –"—J. Colleen Berry, University of Colorado, Boulder

9780813228518 : a-christian-samurai-farge
Paperback / softback
336 Pages
$34.95 USD

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