Covid19 and Its Political Aspect in Europe

It is often forgotten by many political commentators that the most revolutionary modern
movements of Renaissance and Religious Reformation since the 14th century onward was
launched after the arrival of the largest and longest ever pandemic of plague in Europe
(from 1346 to 1350). Statistics were still patchy indeed, nevertheless, it was claimed that
one third of the total population of Europe had to be perished. Some say, the virus had
spread from the most-extended Eurasian Empire of Mongols, which then occupied the
eastern half of today’s European continent, and China was at the eastern fringe of the
empire. As realistically depicted in Boccaccio’s The Decameron, people were struggling to
cope with their lives, while both Copernicus and Galileo were yet to be born, safe from their
insane critics.

After experiencing such agony, however, the modern spirit was created somehow by the
efforts of city states in Italy and spread to all other places in Europe who had the serious
business relationship with them. As Yuji Aida argued in Japan, ‘Renaissance and the
Reformation emerged almost simultaneously in the same sort of formation…back to its
tradition. The former was launched by the recognition of classical art and literature, the
latter by returning to the Bible from distorted medieval-teaching of priests.’

Together with the constant scientific and technological advancements, two great human
movements were trying to consolidate a new economic expansion by the emancipation of
individualism, where rulers had to give people a minimum form of economic assurance. By
the 16th century, the efforts were fortified by establishing the practices of international
diplomacy searching for eternal peace among the states that all equipped with the modern
common sense in Europe…This was a history, of course, but we need to do it again now
globally. And perhaps, in a much quicker pace.

Among the good things happening from this pandemic, everybody would agree to its
positive impact on reducing the risk of the approaching environmental disaster, while its
required economic policies are still arguable. It was not the issue at the time luckily on earth
and we cannot learn much from this history. However, how can we tackle and resolve such a
serious global issue with the current reality of the ideologically-divided world?

The Choice: Harmonious Economy or Apocalyptic Disaster

In terms of efforts for long-awaited reform in Japan, the general view seems – the government already waisted three decades, i.e. the entire 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Although those who lived during this period are fully aware of its long-overdue necessity, quasi-unknown to the Western journalism, at least three ex-prime ministers, namely, Kiichi Miyazawa, Ryutaro Hashimoto and Junichiro Koizumi had spoken out about their serious concerns on the subject of Japan’s unavoidable administrative shake-up. In the end, it seems that they tried to do something in vain, by bluntly taking their own political risks in an increasingly ‘ancient’ environment of Japanese politics. Despite the havoc, however, all these people’s representatives must be remembered in Japan.

On this essential issue, Taichi Sakaiya, a respected writer, former politician and bureaucrat, and Ryuichiro Matsubara, a pre-eminent university researcher of Capitalism, discussed about the existence of an insurmountable barriers in Japan for the November 2005 issue of Chuo Koron, one of the most prestigious monthly magazines based in Tokyo. In the special article titled: ‘Unless We Break The Spell of Company-Man Practice, Japan Must Sink with It’, Mr Sakaiya argued about the approaching downfall of the elitist Lump Generation (coined word by him) – born from 1947 to 1949 – baby boomers who contributed most in establishing Japan’s modernised economy during 70s and 80s. And those who had studied in Japan’s post-war free educational system in full advantages, as the generation were then getting leading positions in the society. He warned them with his unusually serious tone, and perhaps, as for his last hope; ‘their fate will be completely reversed in the future, when they suffer in old age, if Japan cannot launch a prerequisite reform now.’

Professor Matsubara agreed on his point: ‘so-called lifetime employment system, which is much admired and successfully kept in Japan, in fact, is also a cruel system from different perspective. In this kind of organisation, an employee has to care bosses or colleagues inside one’s own company more than anybody or anything else, such as clients, ordinary people and different opinions, all only available outside of the company. This attitude actually means to ignore much bigger opportunities in the society, since the day of one’s graduation from university.’ And he predicted: ‘Worse, the long-term relationship constantly treasured, in a manner like this, would most-likely be shattered at the time of retirement. On the other hand, they must accept a crude reality that many other existing ordinary relationships available in society become hardly recoverable for them in this accumulated pattern of isolationism’. 

The two leading intellectuals further emphasised Japan’s urgent requirements for a modern financial-investment market and for the necessary investment products to cope with the rapidly growing demand of its pension fund sector. But nobody listened to their serious warnings and most preferred to continue the old practice. Actually, Mr Miyazawa, who also served as Japan’s most credible economist, advocated the indispensable needs of such asset management policy in the late 80s, before he was appallingly attacked by a thug in public place. Mr Hashimoto thought about a deeper political issue and fully meditated in his articulate remark: ‘Japan now must launch a more radical reform than the Meiji Restoration’. And in Japanese term, Mr Koizumi represented Satsuma clan’s tradition that successfully led the Restoration. Why then nobody in the Japanese politics took any further actions on this vital issue for their unique motherland or just to follow these inspired leaders? We must perhaps think about this answer belatedly.

Few people in Europe may refute to such specific Japanese problems vis-à-vis the current smashed-status of world economy under an unprecedented pandemic by saying; every country is struggling today. Absolutely agreed. Nonetheless, the tackling problem and its acuteness are fundamentally different in Japan, compared to the West. Unknown to most people in the world, the post-war Japanese politics is still failing to establish a modern financial system, in particular, its basic legal structure. Of course, few experts may still insist somewhere in EU – we are also endeavouring to achieve it…Right.

Say, for instance, does Portugal have it? Yes, they have as a shrewd survivor but the Portuguese have to improve it all the time, like anybody else. However, Japan cannot routinely work it out with their own ambition as a modern nation, unless its essential modernisation efforts since 19th century has been duly carried out and completed. Some people may absent-mindedly believe that it was done with atom bombs long time ago. But as the Western professionals dealing with Japan on the front line of business could detect and sense it every day, the current realities are totally different from such an assertion. In this situation, we all perhaps must recollect the phrase of Yukichi Fukuzawa, a great leader for Japanese modernisation, in his master piece, The Summary of Civilised Spirit, – the society must always progress further. Indeed. But Japan is backtracking.

In looking back all the past in history since Japan’s birth as a state, the similar grave political crisis actually experienced in the 15th century. After the horrible wars and atrocities in the capital Kyoto (from 1467 to 1477), Japan was experiencing the long-term economic downturn for the first time in its history, and further declining on the way to a divided state, as the central government became quasi-nonexistence. In this critical period, thanks to the technologies and advices provided by then-rising-star Portugal, Japan was again reunited by the 16th century, and somehow saved. 

This encounter with a modern leading nation was so precious for Japan. As a proof, even the most accurate history of this revolutionary era in Japan was written by a Portuguese. He, the author of History of Japan, Luis Frois, was unknown in the world and his book was lost even in Europe. More than 400 years, his most magnificent works had been completely banished from the history. But two Japanese scholars were determined to salvage it and bring back to Japan, to complete the essential but forgotten part of Japanese history. Stunningly, the team was successful in this most challenging mission to translate the copy of his manuscripts (found by them in the Macao archives) into Japanese. And the solution for today’s crisis in Japan seems to be also written in his book as the accumulation of facts and events happened during this period. In the end, it was not a difficult issue to understand, as everybody is talking in Japan today that Japan is now going to bankrupt with this old politics. It was, and still is, simply about the matters of common sense.

A serious question must be asked also from the Asian viewpoint. In the ancient period, Japan was deemed as one of peaceful countries governed by the common religion of Buddhism spread all over China (Kara) and India (Tenjiku). Today, two counties already deserted Buddhism, while Confucianism and Hinduism are still in rife in China and in India respectively. Only Japan still uphold this so-called new India-originated religion among three nations. Despite the fact, it was all interlocked in a rather isolated religious environment in Japan, such as Shinto-Buddhist complex, which neither Indians nor Chinese can understand, or rather, are interested. Are the Japanese only the remaining extremists in today’s world? Despite no one has ever expressed such a fear, we must realise that this possibility cannot be entirely eliminated. 

Many Japanese politicians, bureaucrats and historians are still using these ancient controversial practices for the governmental function, such as the Gengo year-counting system, which was abolished in China, the original inventor, once and for all, by the early 20th century. Thinking of a possible islanders’ insularity under the misguided politics, Japan should be perhaps seriously avoiding an intellectual stalemate, and the ultimate severance from the world. For instance, can a Japanese prime minister change it to the modern calendar, just like Mao Zedong made it successfully, supported by the intellectuals such as Lu Xun, in China? Nobody ever discussed its political implications to Japan as if it was cursed even to raise a subject like this. So, we need to assume that there will be no argument even at intellectuals’ level. The politics of isolationism is almost a religion in Japan and it is all hidden impeccably far away from the modern progress.

To comprehend this fundamental theoretic issue, however, Japan fortunately have Hajime Nakamura, an incredible specialist who studied both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and India itself, its culture, art and history. The conclusion deduced from his arduous research was broadly to confirm and reiterate the ancient historical development in the world that religious organisations cannot be financed by state, no matter how powerful they are. Therefore, religion must be supported by the rational people as individual who have equipped with common sense, which can only be obtained by the combination of physics and metaphysics as once argued by Aristotle (Yes, his precious books were once lost but then recovered in Syria only by the Islamist movement.), and all the modern nations had to follow him subsequently. 

People intuitively understood this problem in the West, as all of their ancient powerful empires had disappeared, with unstoppable corruptions, lawlessness and shameful behaviours, in the fierce competitions at early days in their own history. The West simply could not hide their inefficiency to survive. What’s the point for hiding it before the total disappearance? Almost unnoticed in the West, this inefficiency syndrome is what exactly happening in the East today. What we should be cautious about the East is, however, there is still living ‘ancient’ empire of China in full swing., which was regarded as a communist dictatorship even by the leading Western intellectuals. 

One more critical situation to be realised in the West would be, in fact, Confucius had completely disregarded Metaphysics, and so did the Chinese Buddhism and Taoism. So how could we explain even the existence of problems to people without common sense? We can only show an example for their visible impact, in believing that as a human, they will also understand it. Although you may agree or disagree, to perform this mission better, the world economy should be also reinvigorated from the current rock-bottom. How can we do that? Well, that is the question.

However, it is still important to realise that such modern principles could be possibly established in Japan. To break this enigma code, or rather, to crack this no-need-to-argue mentality hidden deep inside Japan, we need a miracle. And this revolutionary measure could be launched, only if, the Japanese are willing to act for a real change abandoning the old practices and its existing way of thinking in business, as Messrs Sakaiya and Matsubara made their profound statements 15 years ago. 

Only such revolutionary shift can save all Japanese, including every sector of business and every sect of religion, under Japan’s precious freedom of speech and religion, of course. Do nothing and simply relying on a sinking traditional politics or ancient magical power, certainly cannot be a solution for ending the current politico-economic crisis evolving from Japan to all over the world, or rather, curing from ‘Japan disease’ as World’s major financial institutions have now started calling this global phenomenon.

Luis Frois

15 August 2020

(1532 – 1597)

The Area of Expertise: Christianity/Japanese Politics and Buddhism
The Book Selected: History of Japan, Chuo Koron, 2000
Professionalism: The Jesuit Missionary in Japan (from 1563 to 1597)
Translated by the extraordinary efforts of:
Kiichi Matsuda (1921 – 1997) – Professor of Kyoto University of Foreign Studies and
Momota Kawasaki (1915 – 2019) – Professor of Kyoto University of Foreign Studies

Achievements: His book is regarded by all credible authors as the indispensable materials to write about history of this most precious and inspired time in the Japanese politics. No records surpassed his detailed accounts in a rebellious, turbulent, but confident period in Japan. Especially, Luis Frois then followed up directly with two superb rulers in this so-called – the Age of Warring Countries/the basic unit equivalent to the current Prefecture in Japan. First, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru who was highly respected by his warlords and once indispensable for the Catholic Churches’ expansion in Japan. Secondly, Oda Nobunaga, the ultimate ruler of the time for Japanese reunification, by whom Frois was invited 18 times for the meeting in various different occasions. 

In 1543, a wrecked Portuguese ship arrived in Tanegashima island where they taught the technology of new matchlock-gun to native blacksmith. The Portuguese also informed them of the gunpowder and its manufacturing method. With this new weapon technology, Japan was gradually breaking the internal military deadlock among regional warlords. The encounter marked also Japan’s first direct diplomatic negotiation with the modern West. Since then, the scope of Japanese politics was also rapidly changing, where a new idea had to be injected. 

Oda Nobunaga fully took his advantages in this suddenly-emerged situation in Japan. No other warlords were so keen and interested in such matters. He was a most-rarely talented master. Without another genius, Frois, however, we wouldn’t know the life and death of these extraordinary leaders and what they were trying to accomplish in the islands state of Japan/Iapam or Nippon. 

The modern social science had finally arrived to the Japanese public arena. A degree of the depth in his analysis to understand the vital issue for Japan was perfectly unleashed in order to get accurate conclusions. Frois also tried to exercise his fair judgements, in writing with his own criticism, on all the facts over the important political events and movements that he witnessed and identified during this most significant period in the Japanese history, in a way no Japanese contemporaries could match. In this sense, his book is so remarkable and valuable to all the Japanese who are anxious to learn the nature of the Japanese politics today.

A quick review on Japanese history up to that point to better clarify his arguments for the Western readers. The state of Japan was formed by a very similar manner to what was experienced in the British and Irish Isles. 1) The various Altaic invaders entered from the Korean peninsula to the Japanese Islands as the Anglo-Saxons and other tribes did so from the European continent (from 5th to 8th century in Japan). 2) The state of Japan was firmly established in 645 and it gave Japan a similar political effect to the Norman conquest. The name of Japan became the Empire (although China preferred to call it as a ‘Country’) of Rising Sun. 3) Then, similar to the Viking (as the second wave of Germanic) invasions, many other Altaic (possibly included some Aryans too) tribes entered from the north by ships and via land, Sakhalin and Hokkaido, (from 8th to 11th century in Japan) and settled mainly in the Tohoku regions. 

How about the books on History of Japan before Frois? The people were more interested in communicating with own Japanese-syllables (devised as the first one in East Asia). The notable progress was made on prose, proverb and short poem. Among those, the world’s oldest novel, The Tales of Genji, was beautifully written by Murasaki Shikibu, a court lady. This cultural progress was also the political strength of Japan. For instance, the people of Okinawa, above all, preferred Japanese simpler writing to the Chinese. 

But there were also a few written histories made by the state. Three important books are: A) The Ancient Affairs, B) The History of Japan and C) The Later History of Japan. B) was written by authentic Chinese manner for diplomatic purpose about myths of human gods and the origin of the Japanese state. (NB – Independent Japan soon became a source of hopes among the Korean states because they all knew that the territory of Japanese archipelago was much larger and safer from China than the peninsula – despite the fact that its entire areas were yet to be measured.) A) was written in more Japanised manner, sometimes using the basic form of Japanese syllable. And, C) was later added for the backgrounds of the restructuring by Buddhism in contacts with continental powers. 

It was a credible and rather creative efforts of politics how the Japanese founders set up its own political core for the State of Japan in its geopolitical situation. Since then, the Japanese economy took a solid long-term trend upward. With a solid economic expansion up to the 13th century, a prosperity in the Tohoku countries emerged as a renowned region for its supreme products of horse, sharp sword and gold, manufactured by technologies and species brought from the continent. After having been informed by the Chinese/Altaic Yuen Dynasty, Marco Polo reported about Japan for the first time to Europe by the 14th century – as the country with a plenty of gold. 

Then, Cristopher Columbus supported by his only fund-raiser, the Queen Isabella of Spain, set sail in both believing to reach Japan or Cippangu/India, to accidentally find the American continent in 1492. The voyage also proved the globe geographical latitude of Toscanelli was right in principle but wrong in details. Following this success, the Portuguese/Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, India in 1498. Bearing in mind such history and the reality of Japan at the time, the policy of Portugal, and later Spain, was not to conquer this islands state but to establish a solid diplomatic relationship. 

After the arrival of Francisco Xavier in 1549, the local warlords were the most important contact to establish a church. Many people and warlords in Kyushu and the southern end of Honshu welcomed him and accepted Christianity. Since Frois’s arrival, however, the powers of the Imperial court and that of the Shogunate were gradually increasing. From the beginning, therefore, Frois had to take a political role to negotiate all the religious matters with various power-holders as an essential part of his job. Meanwhile, as a tradition, the Emperor himself (or Empress herself) was tightly guarded by his court nobles not to see ‘foreign evils’ – included the Chinese Emperor in definition. Until the Meiji Restoration, this ancient practice of diplomacy had to be remained in Japan.

The Japanese Buddhism as state religion was strengthened by Emperor Kanmu from 8th century onward. He gave his sanction to establish the Enryaku Temple on Mount Hiei to protect the new imperial capital Kyoto. Since then, to study at this religious complex was regarded as a prerequisite step to a most authentic career in Japanese Buddhism, except the older temples and their sects in Nara. 

The founders of newly-created Japanese Buddhist sects, who became influential all over Japan, were also all come out from Enryaku Temple. From a strategic viewpoint, the temples on Mount Hiei were constructed in a vital location between the capital and the road to Lake Biwa and further roads down to all Northern and Eastern regions. The drawback was, however, this castle-like place had relatively small flatland area. The Imperial court were fully aware of this potential weakness and danger; therefore, they also built much larger and extended (in terms of manpower) temples on Mount Koya – means highland – in the further south of the capital. 

The founders of these principal temple-complexes were Monk Saicho and Monk Kukai respectively, both studied Chinese Buddhism by state fund in a Eurasian/Global Empire of Tang/Altaic China. Saicho was a sincere local monk. Kukai initiated his career as an academic in Chinese studies, and his knowledge about China was much wider and accurate, so as his Chinese writing. 

To expand Christianity in competitions with such a gigantic religious reality in Japan, Frois had no other choice but to get involved in the activities of Japanese Buddhists. Due to the new spirit of Renaissance and the Reformation born in Europe, it only became possible to launch a formidable mission of religious endeavours in such extraordinary scale for the remote islands in Asia-Pacific. On the contrary, Japan was unprecedentedly corrupted in money makings in deceit, criminal activities, no modern legal system but only law of the jungle, and losing the direction in its religious faith without credible philosophy under the control of its superior politics. The grave economic uncertainty with all its perils was perhaps the main reason why so many Japanese were attracted to Christianity at the time.

According to Frois, Francisco Xavier instructed the missionary the way to preach the basics of Christianity in Japan, knowing the situation of influential Japanese Buddhism, which cannot be united into single religious concept by innated sectarianism, as follows:

  1. To verify the existence of the God Almighty.
  2. To explain that there was the beginning of the world/universe, but the world will not last forever as Japanese Buddhists insisted.
  3. To teach why sun or moon cannot be a god.
  4. To discuss about the difference between human being and human spirit.
  5. Then, to dispute against the specific assertions of each Japanese Buddhist sect.

The explanation on the Holy Trinity should be given afterwards. Furthermore, before the baptism, to emphasise the importance of ten commandments and the need of abandoning the rituals of superstitious practices. 

As a religious professional, some Buddhists understood these principles and believed in Christianity. Gradually, Japanese Christian-converted priests (i.e. ex-Japanese Buddhist monks) contributed and made a great impact on the increasing Christian population in Japan. As the number of Christians constantly grew, however, the imperial courts started to worry about the consequence. The monks of Enryaku temple were sympathetic to the visiting priests from Europe. (The Jesuits mission once believed the temple as the sole university of Japan.) But the Japanese monks categorically could not have accepted the Jesuits’ proposal to open dialogues between each other. 

The court nobles had to suppress the new Western religious movement as much as they could, to protect Japan’s traditional political system. The situation became tense all the time. As an extraordinary event, Shogun Yoshiteru was attacked in his own palace, and himself, his mother, and some of his family were killed with the injection of a massive force of 12,000 men by Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, the warlord of Kawachi/Osaka, and Matsunaga Hisahide, the warlord of Yamato/Nara in 1565. 

However, the power of the Imperial court and their warlord-sympathisers or Buddhist paramilitaries were still too weak in front of the rising military genius, Oda Nobunaga. In the midst of fierce battles for the Japanese reunification, the Mount Hiei suddenly confronted against Nobunaga by taking the side of his strong opponents in 1570. He had no other choice but to negotiate with the Imperial court and the Shogunate to save his skin. But he didn’t compromise with his determined antagonist, in particular, its military role that could paralyse him anytime. His strong army of 30,000 men led by Akechi Mitsuhide burned down all the temples on the Mount Hiei and killed many of the monks and nuns in 1571. It was an atrocious war but the repercussion to Japanese politics was far greater. 

Most Buddhists had huge manors, fields and faming lands. In terms of their armed forces, it was never straightforward issue to differentiate Buddhists from samurais, many belong to both, but it was more so because the Japanese Buddhists in principle did not forsake their military function. Some of them had own arsenals under their secretive controls including the best matchlock-guns and ninja secret services, which existed as a common practice amongst warlords at the time. For instance, Enryaku temples could assemble the army of 3,000 men. The Mount Koya was far stronger. In its history, two traditional temples in Nara were also set on fire by another ruler, Taira-no-Kiyomori, when they confronted him in 1180. 

Some of newly created Buddhist-sects also followed this military tradition. Under a hopeless economic downturn, peasants revolted the authority. Only the organised Buddhists were there to help and mediate. For instance, a powerful Honganji’s Real-Jyodo-sect, or also known as Ikko-sect, owned the hub Osaka port and castle, and they even had their own navy. From there, their huge assets and properties spread all over Japan to the extent that even the country of Kaga/Ishikawa was once deemed as their territory.

Nobunaga was a keen learner and he hated something unreasonable. He modernised his army with the help of Portuguese but even they were astonished by his navy armoured with iron-cladded ships and large cannons that forced his strongest enemy including the Honganji forces to surrender. He saw some Buddhists as the most dangerous enemy. But he also encouraged some peaceful Buddhist sects, such as Jyodo-sect. In contrast, Nobunaga was willing to support the activities of the Christian mission. 

Nobunaga invited the Jesuits to found the Cathedral (1579) and Seminary (1580) in his own capital city, Azuchi. He continued to rely on his capable Christian warlords and samurais by accepting the freedom of religion in practice. (We must admit that this attitude was quite an advanced way of thinking at the time, even in Europe.) Also a few of his family members were converted or willing to be Christian, according to Frois. The mission was getting its highly successful operations, thanks to Nobunaga. During the year of 1581 alone, more than 4,000 people became Christians in various countries around Kyoto only, the crucial areas that once regarded impossible to reach. 

Facing this new alarming situation, the Imperial court tried to negotiate with him by proposing the highest court ranks for his own choice to be the ruler of Japan. As the first individual doing so in Japanese history, Nobunaga somehow did not take their ‘final’ offer. What’s in his mind? –  confusions gradually intensified in many nobles’ mind but nobody knew the answer to that question in the ancient Japanese militarism. When Nobunaga assembled a formidable invasion force against his solely remaining adversary in the island of Shikoku, he was assassinated while staying in the capital in 1582, the year – the current Gregorian calendar was duly approved in Rome. Again, Frois was staying very close to his place and left a trustworthy description about what happened in that night and beyond.

As a most unusual event, in which Luis Frois attended, the religious-debate contest arranged by Nobunaga took place between learned monks of the largest Hokke-sect and Jyodo-sect. In the end, a decisive question was unleashed from the Jyodo-sect about the meaning of Chinese character: Myo, which had been claimed by Hokke-sect as Buddha adamantly preached it for forty-four years. But the Hokke-sect could not provide an answer to this question and they were declared as the defeated, and punished by Nobunaga. Ordinary Japanese know this popular prayer. But to understand the entire meaning of the argument in view of the Japanese Buddhism with its backgrounds, we have to further refer to the attached Herodotus’s eye of Hajime Nakamura.

Hajime Nakamura

   15 August 2020

  Hajime Nakamura

 (1912 – 1999)

Area of Expertise: Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and History of India

The Book Selected: Sutta-nipata, Iwanami Shoten, 1984, and

Hannya-Shin-Sutra, Kongo-Hannya-Sutra, Iwanami Shoten, 1960

The Ancient India, Kodan-sha, 2004

Alma Mater: Tokyo University


Achievements: He translated Mahayana Muryojyu-Sutra and Amida-Sutra to Japanese from the original Chinese and Sanskrit texts following the progress of translations from the Sanskrit texts in Europe, which were named Sukhavativyuho nama mahayanasutram and Smaller Sukhavativyuha respectively. His translation works spread to other Sutras. In addition, he was most keen to learn the History of India as the background of his study by travelling the historical sites of Buddhism-related area of Ganges river basin and to Nepal, then, very thoroughly, to many parts of the Indian sub-continent. With his constant inquiries and extraordinary linguistic capability, he was also interested in the original texts of the most traditional Theravada Buddhism Sutras or Sutta-nipata and translated it directly from Pali. Professor Nakamura deemed it as the most important documents for understanding the Buddhism in general, despite the fact that most of these Sutras were never introduced to China.

What does this all mean? It means, this exceptional researcher concentrated on the critical religious subject with many years of his time and investment by putting them all in India, finally produced the series of books that demonstrated the essence of all about Indian Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism. And the implication of his findings is not only increasingly important for the religious aspects of many intellectual Buddhists in Japan, but also its political implications of Japan and the world today.

For your own perusals in mind, our principal findings in brief are as follows:

For Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism already had existed as the most influential religion in India including Indo-European-style supreme god Dyaus, which was the equivalent of Zeus in Greece and Ahura Mazda in Persia. Together with Vedas and Upanishads, there were other religious, scientific and philosophical traditions in India. For the cultural aspect, he agrees with the Western scholars’ views on Caste that it coincided with the Indo-Aryan immigration to the Ganges river basin and the increase of mixed marriages with the natives. Importantly, while King Ashoka promoted Buddhism, he also addressed the freedom of religion. 

For instance, in reading, Sutta-nipata, the readers could immediately capture that this Sutra was written in the greater framework of Hindu religious arguments. In Indian term, Buddha was born in a rich family of Kshatriya in Nepal but he left them to be a Brahman in India. All these original details were ignored and forgotten, rather Buddha became a sort of human god in the Chinese/Japanese Buddhism. As for the decline of Buddhism in India, Nakamura found a tragic fact that once flourished activities of Buddhists in India were ended by Its own Mahayana sect who was depraved by tantrism.

On the contrary, the Sutras of Chinese Buddhism were rather detached from Hinduism. Regarding the principles of Mahayana/Chinese Buddhism, he warned us that the original Indian Buddhism texts had to be modified during the process of translation into the Chinese texts. A lot of technical terms of Chinese Buddhism could be misunderstood from the more-accurate Japanese translations, he provided. He also raised a doubt on the authenticity of the famous historical translators such as Kumarajiva and its provided meanings, which were already disputed in the academic society. Simply, it was not thoroughly scrutinised by the people. Furthermore, Mahayana means Great-Vehicle and there was little communication with Small-Vehicle of Theravada Buddhism.

Then, a sort of stunned admiration was immense and overwhelming among the aristocracy in Japan (and also in Korean states) toward the global empire of Tang China and its technologies, international culture and politics. And the new religion placed in the centre of its unprecedented power was absolutely irresistible for them to import. As a jumbled political reality, however, Tang China was getting the upper hand over India only up to 751. The decline of Tang began afterwards until its eventual fall in 907. Since then, the Japanese Buddhism was further expanded without this continental links but with its own self-generating functions. During this period, the Japanese Buddhism played a positive political role to expand the Japanese territory solidly to the Tohoku region by the 12th century.

In the process of translation, at least one or two Indian or Persian experts, many Chinese had to be involved, where the original text was bound to be sinocised. New Sutras or ideas had to be also created from the viewpoint of Chinese politics, as he noticed. For instance, the famous praying phrase of Jyodo-sect – ‘Namu-Amidabutsu’ in Japanese, which might have been discussed, in front of Frois and Nobunaga, was originally a Chinese invention by Monk Shandao. He simply preferred to put Taoist’s magical meaning to ‘Namu’ – invoking or calling – and no Chinese could have blamed him.

Indeed, not only Hokke sects but also Shinto sects used this word for their own religious inventions, suitable to the further political use in Japan. Some Japanese intellectuals were put off by the superstitious magic power of Taoism but many of them believed, Buddhism was different. The different misleading technics had been used in this process. According to Nakamura, no Chinese/Japanese can understand the ending phrase (written in many complicated but meaningless Chinese characters) of the most popular Sutra in Japan, Hannya-Shin-Sutra, which he himself was the translator. Of course, there were the meanings in the original Sanskrit texts.

Yet, the Buddhist texts were still important for the ancient Japanese to learn Chinese language for the diplomatic communications. It was not only for the sake of Japanese language itself due to its original link, but also practically Chinese remained as the most important foreign language until Japanese modernisation in the 19th century. However, we must also recognize on this specific front that the changes experienced both in China and Japan since then, have been absolutely enormous. 

Meanwhile, such ancient politico-economic requirements have been completely vanished from Japan and China today, due to their irreversible economic Westernisation and the growing international trade-obligations in both countries. From the ancient ideological viewpoint, both the suzerainty of China and quasi-suzerainty of Japan have been lost by globalisation and its newly-established business networks.

In the ancient period, China took the leadership for East Asia by providing economic model of Chinese-originated system and its advanced technologies. In the time of modernisation, however, Japan had to take the lead with its own export economy and the Japan model was duly accepted/exported to Korea and China. However, after the three decades of downward trend in Japan, it is obvious that this model had a serious defect in its management theory. It comes all from the ancient political core.

In this strictly-controlled political environment, all the Japanese critics, including all foreign correspondents and dignitaries (inclusive of the ‘mightiest’ US president), had to start the argument from this ‘defined’ starting point that Japan was already a modern country. In another words, everybody had to accept the status quo of on-going global catastrophe. From this moment of compromise onward, all the serious problems in Japan were actually hidden and the important subjects were decided for the benefits of the old divided power for further inactions. Under the circumstance, it is rather doubtful that such ‘ancient’ Japan can ever have an access to the capitalist economy itself, even on the theoretical basis.

Directly contradicting to this ‘ancient’ reality, however, no one could deny the Japanese constitution that states the adaptation of the modern principle in Japan. The principles were also accepted on behalf of the Japanese nation by Emperor Hirohito at the time of the Japanese surrender to the Allied Powers in 1945 – precisely speaking, 75 years ago. In the following year 1946, he duly declared; ‘I am not a god.’ – by breaking all the harmful ancient traditions and its malfunctions in modern times. Upon which, an unperturbed historian, Kiyoshi Inoue commented; ‘Somewhat funny but pathetic.’ Then, who wants more clarifications from the Emperor? Disregarding his decision, however, the ancient unreasonable politics had to go on and continued unstoppably. 

On the other hand, can their politicians/senior bureaucrats without power/authority be really serious to take on such profound commitments and responsibility? They need to recall with pity and sorrow all the pre-war Japanese leaders including experienced diplomats who had to take such a disastrous role. As appeared almost every day in the Japanese press, there have been no political leadership in Japan, and every sensible Japanese knew it for long time. The elected prime minister must be given the power in the parliamentary democracy. But no Japanese prime minster ever had power. From where has this kind of irresponsible mechanism arrived with a sort of ‘legitimacy’? What was the logic behind this existing political inertia? – Japanese cannot be indifferent on these questions any longer, as their society is now falling apart. 

But Japan need not to be panicking as the answer for this question is simple, and even familiar to its own history. In fact, most surprisingly, the solution was and still is in Japanese history itself – All the Japanese politicians in the post-war period actually had been acting exactly like ‘court nobles’ due to its ‘tradition’. Under the circumstance, the Japanese politicians had to ask Shogunate, or in today’s term, state bureaucracy, or further down to warlords (regional politics without a proper devolution strategy) or even the armed Buddhists (so many gigantic developments in a short-sighted plan but no people’s castles or town planning for long-term strategy) to act for them, despite the new political role defined by their new modern democracy. In other words, this invisible split of ancient power is still absolute reality in the 21st century Japan.

Indeed, the lack of understandings of this fundamental historical attempt, and the diversified misinterpretations of this ‘failure’ of Nobunaga in the Japanese society afterward, were the main cause for the absence of its functioning modern politics. We must be also aware of the fact that the Japanese modernisation was made, after a large gap of 260 years of its closed state system afterwards. Despite the modernisation efforts for 160 years, since the time of the second encounter with modern nations and the following political adjustment by the Meiji Restoration, Japan could not fill in this gap to catch up with further advanced world. 

Even disregarding the horrific failure of anachronic militarism in the pre-war Japan, the Japanese must realise that the current inexplicable stagnation also comes from the continuation of this inevitable reality. To offset seemingly impossible another 100 years, only way to match this gap is to go straight to the theoretical issue of modernisation. In order to accomplish this, therefore, Japan need to concentrate on its fundamental social infrastructure, above all, establishing a solid legal system and practice in order to strengthen its own democracy to a global standard level.

If so, there is only one solution for this mishap. To repair this malfunction or to stop this chronicle ‘modern’ disaster, Japan needs a belated religious reform, pending since the 16th century. Luckily, there is neither court nobles nor armed Buddhists today to confront this national move by force. Furthermore, all the politicians in Japan perhaps must face up to such damaging reality of the post-war Japanese politics, as testified by their most capable and conscientious leaders, instead of dodging the column for ever in pretence. 

To break this stalemate, Japan need to consider appointing a fully-modernised prime minister for the first time in their history, who could make decision with his capable advisers and own serious and rational determination, somebody like Nobunaga. But of course, Japan need a drastic reform on its workable practical structure for its real politics to function before doing so, as Mr Hashimoto had once proposed. Then, in the modern parliamentary democracy; even if he fails, or whenever he becomes inefficient, the voters can switch to appoint another capable leader.

Finally, the fundamental question still remains for our explanation. Why then Nobunaga had to rely on Christianity? Did he make any mistake here, as many had believed so then in Japan? No. He was absolutely right. Nobunaga simply had no other choice in terms of modern politics. You cannot have Chinese Buddhism/Shintoism that were subordinated by the ancient power politics without any credible philosophy in place, but existing and cuddled only in a militaristic determination. Can you explain something to someone, if he or she only believes on magical power and superstitions in this digital on-line age? But of course, many could still do it in the 16th century Japan, and we cannot blame them for that mistake.

The issue was all about the principle of human progress. It was unreasonable to refuse this reality and the hero simply couldn’t do it. If Nobunaga did, he would have killed this most brilliant part of Japanese history by himself, in changing his tale to another activities of money making first and shameful corruptions, existed then, and still happening excessively in Japan. As Nobunaga would have then thought, the religious philosophy must rule over the real politics but not vice versa. Why did he know it? Excellent question but difficult to answer. He was perhaps the one who experienced most about ephemeral nature of military successes. Or do you have any other idea?

In any case, all these issues in consideration, Japan now must take its own political initiatives for the first time in modern politics, to rectify the historical decision made by the old concept in its own history. If they could achieve it, the country definitely deserves a better status in the world, in particular, for the future of Asia-Pacific. On behalf of the entire ancient East Asia, Japan could perhaps provide a new economic model based on democracy to reform its own disastrous economy and the rest, and also in order to save Global Capitalism itself, which exists only as a fake-mode as of today. 

Yuji Aida

           Yuji Aida

                                              (1916 – 1997)

       Area of expertise: Academic Research/Renaissance and Reformation

       The Book selected: Renaissance, Kodan-sha, 1973

       Alma Mater: Kyoto University


It is our opinion that he analysed these two historical events most accurately as he firmly captured the existence and importance of precursory developments for both Renaissance and Reformation. It was all about the modern concept and its venture spirit, which led the world ever since.

The salient points of his findings are as follows:

1) Renaissance, or by Aida’s expression – ‘Centuries of Genius’, started in Milan first. When the power of the principal city opened for trade with all richest regions beyond its Northern Alps was taken over by, a parvenu, Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351 – 1402), despite papal opposition. He was a tough and shrewd politician and the man who promoted new trend in art and literature, and built the city’s stunning Cathedral. Galeazzo insisted that government must be a rational enterprise that had to achieve a certain economic development for every participant in politics.

 2) For the Reformation, Aida insisted that John Wycliffe (1324 – 1384) started this movement initially in England, criticizing superstitious beliefs advocated by many priests such as selling remission of a sin. Despite the threatening pressures directed to him, the conscientious arguments put forward by Wycliffe had eventually influenced even a most prominent figure of the Reformation, such as Jan Hus who was pivotal to all German/French speaking regions and its dignitaries including Martin Luther and Jean Calvin.

So, what was Aida’s personal-geopolitical advantage? For instance, what would have happened, If Yukichi Fukuzawa wasn’t born in Nakatsu city in Kyushu as Samurai-class child in his time…instead, if he was living as a Marchant-class kid somewhere in Honshu? Then, Fukuzawa couldn’t have learned Dutch properly in Nagasaki, so most likely-scenario would have been, he had to abandon his brilliant career as the fatal detriment to the Japanese modernisation.

For Aida’s case, his most extraordinary experience occurred when he was contemplating his career as university lecturer. Then, he was suddenly enlisted to join the Japanese army as a soldier in Burma (…not in China, Indonesia, nor anywhere else but), and subsequently detained in a Rangoon’s British prison camp. During this period, he vividly saw the commanding system of two (one ancient and one modern) nations in the close vicinity. In that particular time, he had convincingly learned something about modern European organisation, its philosophy and culture, which was definitely positive for writing his own version of European history with such forceful observations.

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