Study Guide

Silence Visions of Japan

By Shusaku Endo

Visions of Japan

What sweat and toil it had taken to plunge the spade into this barren soil, then to fertilize it, to cultivate it until it reached this present stage. (2.25)

As you can see, Rodrigues enters Japan with a deeply paternalistic mindset. Forget that this is a technologically advanced country with ancient roots; for Rodrigues, Japan was mere "barren soil" before white Europeans like him arrived. This mentality shapes his early interactions with the Japanese.

I looked at the Japanese face in front of me. It was impassive and expressionless like a Buddha. (3.75)

Rodrigues is never able to understand the Japanese villagers' emotions. Whether this is because of his personal biases or because of the peculiarities of Japanese culture is unclear, but it's the perfect representation of the distance between the two sides.

The wisdom of peasants shows itself in their ability to pretend that they are fools. (4.3)

Well, if that's true, then maybe they're playing dumb with Rodrigues as well. After all, the priest constantly makes note of how foolish the peasants act—they're just playing him as expertly as Hendrix plays his Stratocaster.

The feudal lord has unlimited power over his people, much more than any king in a Christian country. (4.10)

And that's saying something, people. This authoritarian power structure is an important aspect of the novel, as it shows why Japanese peasants flock so readily to the Church. When you live an existence as perilous as this, you'll take all the help you can get.

"A tree which flourishes in one kind of soil may wither if the soil is changed [...] Father have you never thought of the difference in the soil, in difference in the water?" (6.49)

Actually, this has never once crossed Rodrigues's mind. The priest believes that Catholicism is a one-size-fits-allkind of deal, conveniently forgetting that the religion is steeped in European culture and tradition. Instead of learning about Japanese culture in order to better deliver his message, Rodrigues just tries to brute force it.

"In Japan our God is just like that butterfly caught in the spider's web: only the exterior form of God remains, but it has already become a skeleton." (7.237)

The Christianity that exists in Japan today is not the same as that which was brought to its shores by the missionaries. Instead, the same thing happened in Japan that has happened in countless other places touched by Christianity: Christian traditions have been blended with local belief systems to create something new.

"The Japanese imagine a beautiful, exalted man—and this they call God. They call by the name of God something which has the same kind of existence as man." (7.243)

In many ways, the Japanese take Christianity too literally. All they know is that foreign priests showed up one day, telling them that an amazing man will come rescue them and bring them all to paradise. They aren't thinking about Christianity in an intellectual or theological manner—they just want some relief.

He would stare at this scenery of Japan, drinking in every detail as though later he were to describe it all in detail to someone back at home in his own country. (9.11)

After everything is said and done, Rodrigues becomes a Japanese citizen. That's a weird turn of events, huh? While the former priest is surely bummed out about this, he doesn't seem all that upset—in fact, he shows a striking interest in Japanese society. Maybe he likes this place better than he wants to admit.

It was not against the Lord of Chikugo and the Japanese that he had fought. Gradually he had come to realize that it was against his own faith that he had fought. (10.36)

Throughout his journey, Rodrigues blamed Japan for the doubts that were growing within him. That's a swing and miss, buddy. The truth is that Rodrigues had doubts even before setting foot in Japan—all he needed was a little push for his faith to crumble. Does that seem like quality construction to you?

"The Christianity you brought to Japan has changed it forms and has become a strange thing [...]."

"Japan is that kind of country; it can't be helped." (10.55)

This sentiment embodies the relationship between Japan and the West. While Japan and Europe show a great deal of interest in the other's cultures, neither is fully able to understand the other. Instead, each side borrows aspects of the other and reforms them in its own image, creating something new in the process.