Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
A Japanese Filmmaker’s Perspective on Filming a Quaker Blessing for the Urakami Cathedral Cross
On July 26, 2019, I met with filmmaker Koji Hayasaki after he filmed the blessing of the Urakami cross during Wilmington Yearly Meeting at Wilmington College. Here is that interview.
Pictured: the wooden cross from Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki.
AH: Tell me about how you got involved with this project.
My company is based in New York City and we get jobs from Japanese television. Whenever they find interesting news stories, especially about the United States they contact me. A producer at NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai), which is the Japanese public TV network, contacted me. She found this story, I’m not sure how, and I did some research about it. It happens that not only NHK but other media outlets in Japan are covering this story. All of a sudden, this story has become famous in Japan. And the producer wanted to create a news story about the cross.
Dr. Tanya Maus, the director of the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College, is going to go to Nagasaki for the memorial of the atomic bombings and to return the cross to Urakami Cathedral. The cross was brought to the USA after the bombing and was kept at the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College. The producer was in touch with Tanya, who is going to return the cross to Japan, and she is going to go to Nagasaki for the memorials. So basically, the producer wanted to make a story about how the cross was sent to the US in 1945, how it was donated to the Peace Center at Wilmington College, and why Tanya decided to return it to Japan at this time. Therefore, we will see how the story goes over and the producer is thinking about making a feature-length documentary but first, we have to broadcast it as a short news piece.
Pictured: Koji Hayasaki, Masahiro Kashiwabara (cameraman), J.P. Lund, Jeannette Hamby, Donne Hayden, Gene Snyder
Walter G. Hooke, the American marine who decided to send the cross to the US and there is also a story about the friendship between Hooke and Bishop Yamaguchi. Hooke did a lot of peace and anti-nuclear activism after the war, as did his niece, Megan Rice, a Catholic nun, who is still active. In fact, we are going to interview her on Monday. She lives in Washington D.C. and is 89 years old. She broke into a nuclear facility, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at the age of 82, with two fellow activists of the Transform Now Plowshares group. The whole piece has taken over. We are really interested in doing this story not only because of the relationship between Japan and the US but because of the fact that many other countries have problems. This story should tell us that there are ways to fix issues between countries, the way that the US and Japan used to be in conflict but are now allies.
AH: There aren’t a lot of Christians in Japan, are there, for historical reasons?
Not many, no. There are some Christians, but lots of Japanese have no religion in fact. They celebrate Christmas and Buddhist holidays also. Most of them don’t have any faith in religion. But there are some Christians. It’s unlike South Korea, where there are lots of Christians.
AH: The reason I ask that question is given that there isn’t a big Christian presence, or perhaps even a big faith presence in Japan, what is, or what will the perception of the return of the cross be among Japanese?
Probably because most of them are not Christian, I am sure that they will really appreciate that the United States has taken care of this cross—it’s an artifact--and also after it was sent to the US in 1945 and after 74 years it is being sent back to Japan, where it belongs. I’m Japanese, and as a Japanese, we simply appreciate that the US has taken care of something that was found in the ruins of wartime Japan, because if it stayed in Japan right after the atomic bombing, it might be gone. Because of that, I think many Japanese people will appreciate it.
AH: What do you think might have happened to it if it had been left there in the rubble?
Because there were many people killed by the atomic bomb, the city was ruined. I have seen pictures of Nagasaki after the bombing; it was completely destroyed. It was also during the time of the US occupation and there was a lot of confusion. It would have been difficult to take care of something like this. The cross is still in good condition, as you see, because it was very well taken care of by the Peace Center.
AH: Would you say that the fact that some Americans made extraordinary efforts to take care of this cross has some kind of symbolic value in terms of healing relationships between the two countries? Obviously, the US perpetrated some unbelievable things against your country which are hard to even think about.
Yes. Everyone has different opinions about it. Some people can justify it, saying that the bomb ended the war. I thought most Americans believed that, but when I came to this country and met with people, I was surprised when people came up to me and said: “I’m sorry.” I was not directly impacted by this, but because I am Japanese so I actually appreciate people like you and people here saying they are sorry about what happened. But it is history, and we cannot delete history. We just have to learn something from what happened, and we should try not to let this kind of thing happen again.
I’m very interested in this story that has suddenly emerged. I don’t think anybody in Japan knew about this story. This cross had been in the US for a long time. This story has been kind of a sensation. Tanya and the administration of Wilmington College decided to return it to Japan. This kind of thing is not cultural exchange, but it is something that private citizens can do, not governments. That way we can keep good relations between the two countries. Of course, some people in Japan are against Trump, and there are always political conflicts between countries. But underneath, there is friendship, so this really represents that kind of effort.
AH: Did you know anything about Quakers before you got involved in this film project?
Yes, absolutely. I did a story about Japan opening up the country in the 19th century. Of course, Japan was closed for many centuries before that, observing isolationist foreign policies and limiting relations and trade with other countries. We did a documentary series about famous people in Japan at that time. And we did a story about a Japanese person named Inazo Nitobe, to the extent that his image was on the Japanese 5000 Yen banknote between 1984 and 2004. He came to the US, studied about Quakers, became a Quaker and married a Quaker woman in the US. He was an educator, an author, a diplomat, a statesman, and an economist. At that time, I learned a little bit about Quakers.
AH: Do you think most Japanese know about Quakers?
I don’t think so, because most of them don’t know the difference between Catholics and Protestants. In my case, my wife is Christian, and for that reason, I go to church sometimes, so I have an idea about Christianity.
AH: What was it like for you when you were filming and observing Quaker prayer today? Was that your first time observing Quaker worship, what we call open worship?
Yes. Sometimes I go to a Christian church. Because of that, when Tanya told me that this ceremony would take place, that people would be getting together and praying, I thought there would be a priest or a pastor leading worship. But it was not like that. So that was different from what I expected.
AH: Did that affect how you had to handle the camera positioning and moving around the room and so on?
Yes, I was waiting for when the pastor was going to come and talk. But actually, Nancy (Nancy McCormick, Wilmington College’s campus minister) started giving a message from within the circle.
AH: But then other people around the room gave messages also.
Right, right. Actually, I was surprised, and I didn’t know what was happening, but gradually I understand what was going on, and it was quite interesting.
AH: Was there anything else about the worship that struck you?
The way people stood up and said things and prayed was actually very touching. And also, it seemed more casual than what I am used to. Even though someone like the cameraman, for example, is not a religious person, I even perceived that non-religious people were touched by it. I felt that lots of Japanese people have a resistance to religion, that they don’t want to go into churches, because there is a lot of ritual and ceremony involved, but it didn’t look that way here, and people were very friendly and open, and I found that unusual.
Text and photos copyrighted Anne M. Hutchinson, 2019
For further reading:
“A cross taken from a Nagasaki cathedral after the atomic bombing gets returned 74 years later.” Matt Field, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 7, 2019. https://thebulletin.org/2019/08/a-cross-taken-from-a-nagasaki-cathe...
“The Life of Japanese Quaker Inazo Nitobe,” Samuel M. Snipes, August 1, 2011, Friends Journal. https://www.friendsjournal.org/life-japanese-quaker-inazo-nitobe-18...
Walter Hooke. Film by National Association of Atomic Veterans. Held at New York State Military Museum. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHeFAPUamdA
“Wilmington College returning atomic-bombed cross to Nagasaki cathedral,” Wilmington News-Journal, June 24, 2019 https://www.wnewsj.com/top-stories/108761/wilmington-college-return...