Bishop Eveland’s impressions of Japan and its Christian ministers

Bishop William P. Eveland, who superintended the Malaysia area from 1914 to1916, visited Japan for a short vacation in the summer of 1915. His appreciation of the serenity and beauty of the scenery is palpable. But his reactions to the school chapels and church services, and the interesting comparisons between the indigenous church leadership in Japan and this part of the world, are worth noting.

‘… in Karuizawa I had two weeks of perfect rest. All round about us were the everlasting hills, and from them shot up symmetrical mountain peaks among them Asayama, a still active volcano.

I had many pleasant walks and did nothing that might be called work. Just a very few letters, one sermon, and a bit of reading filled up the time. But I ought not to include the sermon with the work. That was a privilege and a delight. An auditorium packed with the chosen of the Lord, hungry for a message from Him. The atmosphere of prayer and perfect sympathy lifts a speaker until he feels as though he were speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives him utterance.

Leaving Karuizawa reluctantly, we spent the next two weeks in sight-seeing and for sight-seeing there can be no other country to equal Japan. It looks like a picture land, a play-country. Its railroads wind through valleys, climb the hillsides, shoot through tunnelled mountains, and train themselves over plains in such rapid succession that not even for a moment is one’s interest allowed to flag.

It is a land groaning with plenty. Its terraced rice fields were heavy with the ripening grain, seemed every one to have brought forth the last stalk and produced the very maximum yield of grain that could be obtained from any land. At one place these rice terraces would climb step by step up to the very top of some overshadowing mountain, while at another place up through the narrowing cleft in the mountain side, cut by a descending stream, the rice fields would stand out fresh and green, looking like some great wedge driven by Titans’ hands into the heart of the hills …

But what makes Japan so interesting is not only its natural beauty, but the background of romance and history that lies behind it all. Upon almost every hillside there is a temple, and in every clump of trees nestles a shrine.

Many of these are of immense size and surpassing beauty. All are built of wood and in the Shinto shrines while the wood is carved it is left without colour decorations. In some of the other temples and mausoleums the great buildings are so artistically painted and so beautifully lacquered that they look like rich jewel boxes.

I regretted that during the time I spent in Japan most of the mission work was suspended. It was vacation, the schools were closed and most of the workers were in the hills … The only schools of ours that I saw in session were those at Nagasaki – a fine boys’ school and also a girls’ school standing side by side on the high bluff that overlooks the harbour. It seemed strange after my experience with our schools in Malaysia to attend a school chapel in which the entire service was in another tongue and the address made by me had to be translated.

I was in a number of Japanese Christian churches, none of which was among the large or important congregations. As all of the services were in Japanese I could not get much idea of what they were doing.

I met some of the leading native ministers in our own and other denominations, and found them men of better training and larger experience than any we have in either the Philippines or Malaysia. Many of them have been to America and are graduates of American colleges. But despite this I am not certain that they are more successful in the leadership of their people than our men are.

We have no men who could take the headship of a large school, as some of them are doing, but then we have no large school that they could take charge of if they had the training. Conditions are different, but for clean straight evangelistic work I believe that we have a larger proportion of our men who are capable of getting results … ’ – MM, Oct. 1915, p. 3-4, edited.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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