Kakichi Kadowaki: The inculturation of Christianity in Japan

Tomás García-Huidobro, SJ

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The inculturation of Christianity in Japan has not been an easy process. Its history is full of encounters and contrasts, conflicts and compromises. Among the reasons for this difficult history is the complexity and uniqueness of Japanese culture. If Shintoism is Japan’s traditional religion and the one with the most adherents, Buddhism has taken root and developed in several schools that have permeated arts, architecture, literature and culture in general. One of its branches is Zen Buddhism, divided into three schools: Rinzai, Sōtō and Obaku.

This is the context the first Christian missionaries found when they arrived in Japan. Their presence provoked a twofold reaction. On the one hand, it aroused admiration due primarily to European technical progress, especially in the art of war. On the other hand, Japanese people flaunted their contempt for a culture they considered barbaric and not high enough. These two reactions explain the attitude the Japanese kept toward the West even into the 20th century.

The Jesuit priest Kakichi Kadowaki (1926-2017) demonstrated the finest traditions of the Society of Jesus in its effort to inculturate the Gospel in the complexity of Japanese culture. He was a man of exquisite sensibility, highly intelligent, and aware of the deep contradictions between Japan and Western culture. He was born in Japan in 1926. Although his family was poor his parents did their best to give a good education to their son. And this pushed Kadowaki to particularly value excellence in education.

His first contact with the Zen tradition occurred when he was attending public secondary school in Shizuoka, famous for its training methods. Many of his teachers were Zen practitioners, and some of them had a deep influence on him, guiding his life. Among them, Fr. Kadowaki remembered especially his teachers Ozaki and Mishi.

Teachers used to bring their students to Zen temples where they spent several days dedicated to educational sessions. These experiences deeply affected the young Kadowaki and were decisive for the formation of his personality. However, things began to change thanks to his older brother, whom he considered charming, smart and possessed of a great spirit of initiative and foresight.

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