Wartime Persecution in Japan

A report from Japan.

By EIKICHI SEINO, Superintendent of the Kyushu Mission, Japan

The work of our Seventh-day Adventist church began in 1896. I was baptized in 1907 and immediately entered the colporteur work. In the year 1908 I was drafted into the army, but, because I refused to work on the Sab­bath, was imprisoned for three months. Upon my release from imprisonment I again returned to my colporteur work. I was ordained to the ministry in 1927 and thereafter carried various responsibilities. As director of the Kyushu Mis­sion, I spent a large portion of my time in church visitation and in evangelistic work.

In 1941 the Japanese Government promulgated the Peace Preservation Law, the seventh article of which contains the following stipulation: "Or­ganizers of associations which aim at undermining the national polity or impairing the prestige of the shrines of the Imperial House shall be sentenced to imprisonments of one year or more." Be­cause of the charge that our church was violating this law, wholesale arrests of our church leaders at headquarters and throughout the country oc­curred suddenly on the morning of September 20, 1943. Those arrested included ministers, teachers, editors, church officers, and some laymen. I was placed under arrest in the city jail in Kurume on the island of Kyushu. In the preliminary question­ing the following conversation took place:

PROSECUTOR: "Are you a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
"SEINO "Yes."
PROSECUTOR: "In that case it will be necessary for you to spend some time in jail, inasmuch as we have found it necessary to investigate your church."

The prison jail in which they placed me that day was familiarly known as the "pigsty." It was unspeakably filthy. Fleas, lice, and bedbugs ran riot, and the odors were terrible. There were so many prisoners in my cell that we were not able even to stretch our legs. Among my cell-mates were burglars, swindlers, gamblers, mur­derers, etc. Suspects of all kinds were all thus thrown indiscriminately into this same dirty cell.

I spent 121 days in this place, and during this time I was subjected to severe and most unreason­able interrogation fifty-three times. On every one of these occasions the thought-control police officer would yell at the top of his voice: "In the name of the emperor I now interrogate you. All we want is a simple confession. If this is not forthcoming, you will be cut off from all outside contact, and no one will be permitted to bring you food." [Trans­lator's note: Prison food is always insufficient. Prisoners are only kept alive by food brought in daily by members of their families or friends.]

The gist of the interrogation was invariably as follows: "What kind of orders did you receive from America and at what times did you receive them? Come out with a straightforward con­fession."

On the occasion of my fifty-third interrogation I was informed that my guilt was clear, and I was accordingly let out of the "pigsty" and imprisoned in the Fukuoka Detention Prison. On this oc­casion I had my first bath in 121 days. After my bath I was ushered into a room that was com­fortable, but here I was destined to spend 226 very lonely days. Because of the shortage of food and the lack of exercise, my health gradually deteriorated. Eventually I developed a kidney disease. My fellow prisoner, Shoichi Imamura, another Seventh-day Adventist minister, was in­carcerated in the same prison, and after a lingering illness died of kidney trouble on August 2, 1944. This brave man stood firm for the faith to the very end, not yielding one iota.

In another prison two more later met their death. One of these was Seibei Yokoe, a layman, and Yasunosuke Watanabe, an ordained minister. Brother Yokoe laid down his life in February, 1944, in the Otsu Penitentiary, as a representative of the laity. Elder Watanabe died on September 20, 1944, in the Kobe Penitentiary. Both of these men held firmly to their faith to the very end. In addition to Brethren Imamura, Yokoe, and Watanabe, one of our Korean ministers, Keishu Hoshiyama (Kyung Su Hai) died shortly after being released from prison. Hai), also held firmly to his faith.

Here is an example of the inexcusably cruel treatment meted out to prisoners, especially those in the police jails. Whenever any one prisoner broke any regulation, every one of his cellmates had to bear joint responsibility and receive a beat­ing. I myself was frequently struck with heavy wooden name plates, although I was never guilty of breaking any of the rules.

Japanese have hitherto always been taught that to die for the emperor represents the acme of the "Japan Spirit" (Yamato Damashi). Many thou­sands, yes, ten of thousands of soldiers have died for their emperor as embodiments of the "Japan Spirit." At the same time civilian rights have been trampled underfoot, and many innocent people have been tortured to death in police in­terrogations in conformity with the peace-preser­vation law which was promulgated by the same emperor. The vicious practices of the foolish and benighted former Japanese police force, and the cruel and oppressive actions of the military police, were all carried out in the name of the same em­peror. All these facts proclaim in clarion tones that militarism, a dictatorship, and an absolute monarchy are all productive of religious perse­cution and rob people of their rights.

Japan's national polity is based on mythology. The Shinto cult and the extreme rightists had been propagandizing the people to the effect that the emperor was destined to rule the world, and that the land of the gods was bound to come out victorious in this war because of their support. Because of this, Christianity was mercilessly op­pressed as a foreign religion emanating from our enemy, America. During the Greater East Asia war the gods of the simple Shinto shrines were appealed to for victory. All Christians who re­fused to engage in shrine worship were the sub­ject of constant ridicule, and were ostracized from society.

When I was thrown into prison I was charged with being a leader of those who sought to destroy Japan, and treated as a common criminal. The jailer told me that even after I had served my sentence I would be kept in jail the rest of my life unless I promised to serve the gods of Japan.

While I was in prison I received absolutely no news from the outside world. I saw no news­papers and knew nothing about the progress of the war. On only a few occasions when victories were announced did I hear anything about the war. I knew nothing about the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini, but was informed of the death of Roosevelt in no uncertain terms. On August 15, 1945, we received the happy news of the defeat of Japan in the form of the Imperial Declaration. This brought to a sudden end the bad dream that the Japanese people had been having for so long.

I felt assured that the time of my liberation was drawing on apace, and spent my time in prayer. During the last days of August the American Army set foot on the shores of Japan, and on October 9, 1945, I was released from prison. Eight days later the general amnesty for political prisoners was proclaimed, as well as the abrogation of the hated peace-preservation law. This ushered in a period of religious liberty for Japan. On November 8, 1945, the Education Ministry for­mally issued a declaration permitting freedom of religious assembly, and our church emerged from its dark experience into the bright light of the better day.

In connection with the arrival of the American Army, A. N. Nelson, our former superintendent, F. R. Millard, former principal of the Japan Junior College, and Captain E. J. Kraft, our former publishing secretary, arrived in Japan as inter­preters. Captain Kraft arrived first and had much to do with securing our release from prison. We believe that with the dawning of this bright era of religious liberty our church will go forward with rapid strides to do its appointed work under the leadership of F. R. Millard, the new superin­tendent.

The signs of the second coming of Christ are multiplying on every hand, and we as Adventist ministers bear a heavy responsibility for finishing the proclamation of the message in all the world. I particularly ask that all God's people throughout the world pray for the speedy evangelization of Japan, where until now the work has gone so slowly because of governmental oppression. For the first time we have full freedom to proclaim the message by voice and pen, and the future is bright with promise.

* Translated by A. N. Nelson. In his accompanying letter Elder Nelson sends this note of encouragement by way of a recent report on the outlook in Japan:

"The process of democratization is well under way, and Japan is going to be a different country from now on. It is a privilege to preach in a land where we no longer have to worry about the visitations of the police. The headquarters church is nicely organized again in an informal way, and we are having truly wonderful meetings.

We are witnessing the beginnings of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and there is a most earnest interest in the study of the Word, both on the part of our own members and also on the part of new people. We have baptized ten already, and hope to have another baptism before we leave. You would be surprised to see the wonderful prayer meetings that we are enjoying. About seventy attend each Wednesday night, and after that from twenty to thirty remain for the Bible class that I am holding. I also have another hour with this same group after the M.V. meeting Sabbath afternoon. That meeting is well attended, as is also the M.V. meeting. Sabbath morning all the seats are taken in the headquarters church.

"About forty of our soldier boys are still attending. These boys worked hard to get these meetings under way before we got here. We have taken over the church services, but a GI is still leading out in the Sabbath school, and in the M.V. meeting.


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By EIKICHI SEINO, Superintendent of the Kyushu Mission, Japan

June 1946

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