It has long been a cry of Japanese Christians (particularly Hideo Ōki and Seiichi Yagi, as noted inPhillips 1981, p228 andFuruya 1997) that Japanese theology has been in a state of ‘German captivity’, particularly to the theologies of Barth and Brunner; so much so that indigenous Japanese theologies have been actively ignored by the church and the academy alike, with the eﬀect that, as the introduction to the current volume points out, “theology in Japan has developed almost in parallel not only to the Christian church but to Japanese society, seldom intersecting with either of them signiﬁcantly.” Instead, the ‘vitality’ in Japanese theology has traditionally been a competition not so much to ‘root the gospel in Japanese soil’ but to provide the most faithful commentaries on German theologians. Doctoral students at some Japanese seminaries today1 are still required to sit entrance examinations in German, while Japanese theologians such asKitamori (2005) and Koyama are far better known outside Japan than inside—according toFuruya (1997, p146), although
Koyama has been regarded as a representative Japanese theologian… his contribution to theology in Japan is almost nil. is may be due to the fact that he has been working outside Japan for so long… On the other hand, it may also be due to the fact that until recently Japanese theologians have not been interested in the theology of Japan.
thereaer, some of the problems and views that seemed unique to America–‘death of God’ theology, black theol- ogy, liberation theology, political theology–were all alike read in Japan but with questions about their relevance to the Japanese scene. (Phillips,1981, p268)
e current volume is a collection of musings and dialogues on these themes, and in particular, the majority of the chapters appear to be a hunt for a particularly Japanese expression of liberation andminjung theology. Japanese society, as every human society, has its particular categories of marginalized and oppressed peoples, and so the book contains chapters attempting to apply liberation theology to theburakumin2, to resident Koreans in Japan who are denied the privileges of citizenship even aer many generations, to women who are still regarded as second-class citizens in a generally paternalist society, and to Okinawans3. ere are two further chapters, one rather esoteric paper concerning the ‘image of the soul,’ and a chapter by a Korean ‘re-examining the theology ofminjung.’ We will not consider these two latter chapters in this review, concentrating on the principal theme of the book, which is the attempt to develop a Japanese liberation theology.
Unfortunately, in part due to the diversity of situations represented in the various chapters, there is little sense of a result being achieved; the authors highlight diﬀerent situations and either theologize upon those situations, or, in the cases of the chapters by Kuribayashi, Suh and Yamano, skip over theologizing and go straight to demanding liberation for Koreans and
by Japan in the 15th century but was ran as a puppet state; it was then annexed as part of Japan proper in 1879, given to the Americans as a military base in 1945 and returned to Japanese rule in 1972. It is still a major US military base and there is oen tension between the Americans and the local community. e islanders are still struggling with national and cultural identity.
women on unspoken social and ethical grounds, but there is no development of a framework by which orfor which such liberation ought to take place. erefore in reading these attempts, it is diﬃcult to escape the feeling that the authors are seeking to ally themselves with whatever is fashionable with the rest of the theological world, forty years too late. With an astonishing amount of self-awareness, Teruo Kuribayashi declares that “changing hats one aer another to the tune of the times is a deep-rooted habit among Japanese intellectuals,” (p.29) yet despite his protests to the contrary, this is precisely what is going on in his theologising, both here and in his “eology of the Crown of orns”—seeing the global interest in liberation theology, the writers in this collection wish to ﬁnd applications in their own contexts. However, to do so is to miss the key motivation of that same liberation theology: Liberation theology must be born out of a theological reﬂection upon ones’own experience of oppression4.
Indeed,Kuribayashi’s (1986) “Crown of orns”, which locates the best expression of the liberative message of the Chris- tian Gospel not in the Japanese church but in the secularBurakumin Liberation Association, therefore contains the tacit ad- mission that theological writers do not have the experience of oppression and liberation and must ﬁnd it in external sources. Lacking this personal experience, the authors are reduced to either inventing their own oppressive experiences or making condescending and ingratiating inferences about the experiences of others. Both of these methods are, following Gutiérrez, unacceptable.
As an example of the former, see Watanabe’s bickering with Kuribayashi over the TUTS incident on p. 59; Kuribayashi’s work, which Watanabe critiques, is an honest attempt to identify liberationist elements in Japanese society, locating them in the BLA as mentioned above, but Watanabe berates him for not taking up the cause of desperately oppressed academic theologians in their brave struggle against the heartless faculty! For the latter, see Honda’s paper in chapter six, arguing that social care in the name of Jesus breeds discrimination and evenpride amongst its recipients. (p. 152)
is is an example of whatHayashi and Baldwin (1988) identify as a particularly Japanese trait: the surface-level copying of the form of an idea without necessarily having the underlying experiences and cultural history to fully appreciate its content. e overall impression given, then, is one of pastiche more than authentic theology: a manufactured attempt to reproduce the works of others, backed by a tendency to argue and debate purely for academic merit and point-scoring, rather than occasioned by a genuine concern for the church, the Gospel or Japanese society.
Honda’s paper, however, is unique amongst the others in that it does attempt to bring Biblical exegesis to bear upon a social issue. While his exegesis is oen questionable5, at least he is engaging in critical and Biblical reﬂection based on his experiences of the world, something one might imagine was a prerequisite for a work to be considered ‘theology.’ Contrast this with Kuribayashi’s initial paper which introduces and compares the life stories of Malcolm X, the Islamic black liberationist, and Saiko Mankichi, a Buddhistburaku liberationist. Just when one expects the author to bring a theological reﬂection to these two stories, the article ends. In his comment aer the presentation and reﬂection, the author notes that discussing these two ﬁgures in a study group about “the issues and direction for mission in East Asia” “might have been a total mismatch” (p. 27) but bizarrely justiﬁes this decision in terms of a need to reject Barthian thought in Japanese theology.
As we mentioned in our introduction, Barth’s thought has exerted a strong inﬂuence over the development of Japanese the- ology until the 1960s, and it is encouraging to see theologians attempting to break free from ‘German captivity’, but the poor quality of theological investigation in this volume means the worrying questions do remain over the present state of Japanese theological education, particularly amongst the social/liberal tradition. ere is not even the excuse that Japanese theology is exploring uncharted territory:Odagaki (1997) cites four key themes of investigation (meontology, theology of religions, “be- tweenness and duality” and indigenization) since the 1970s, andMiyahara (2008) traces other indigenous Christian thought, such as Satō’s work on a theology of leisure.
Indeed, in assessing the impact of a work of theology, we can posit two possible areas of impact: either the work may have an impact upon the praxis of Christians, or it can form the basis for further theology which does so. We take this position on the basis ofBevans’s (2009) deﬁnition of theology:
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