Silence, a short but powerfully realistic fictionalized history, reflects Japanese interest in the contacts between East and West and in the alien nature of Western religion. Just as James Clavell’s Shgun (1975) interprets the Japanese mind for Westerners, so Shsaku End’s Silence, set some forty years later, interprets the Western Christian mind for the Japanese. Through his Portuguese protagonist, Rodrigues, End captures the Western image of life and culture in order to help Japanese better understand Western attitudes.
In part, End’s goal is to make Japanese rethink unexamined cultural perspectives and attitudes through a dramatized clash of worldviews. As Japan’s most admired and widely read Christian writer, End is in a unique position to do so. His exploration of God’s silence (the origin of the title) as proof of God’s existence, with its paradoxical Zen implications, is meant to puzzle and intrigue Japanese, but his portrait of Japanese cruelties, the historically accurate, hideous tortures used to force captives to recant their faith, is intended to shock and disturb. End’s description in his novel Umi to dokuyaku (1957; The Sea and Poison, 1972) of Japanese doctors vivisecting a captured American pilot during World War II criticized the Japanese for a lack of moral conscience; in Silence the criticism continues, as End contrasts the image of a compassionate Christ with the bland indifference and sadism of Japanese inquisitors. A Catholic educated in France, and the first Japanese to study abroad after World War II, End provides insights into another worldview and another mind-set. End is similar, in this respect, to Lafcadio Hearn, who introduced the culture and literature of Japan to the West.
The period in which Silence is set is highly significant for Japanese: It is the period following the Shimabara Rebellion. The Tokugawa Edicts expelling European Christians from Japan resulted in five thousand to six thousand Christians (both Japanese and Western) being martyred in Japan between 1614 and 1640. Shimabara, a longtime Christian stronghold dominated by Christian ronin (lordless samurai), was the center of a spontaneous, Japanese-inspired rebellion against oppression and persecution. This rebellion was a major historical event in which thirty-five thousand Japanese Christians were killed. In Silence, Rodrigues and Garrpe arrive in Japan shortly after this rebellion has been quelled, and this...
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