I am writing an essay of Christianity in Japan for my degree, and I'm having difficulty thinking of any differences today, had Christianity not been outlawed in the late 1500s.
One of the points I was thinking of making was the difference between Christianity and Shintoism, in the sense that one is monotheist and the other is polytheist, and also that the Emperor was (and still is I think) regarded as a demi-god of sorts. In Christianity, this would be regarded as blasphemy, would it not? Therefore, the government would have been very different under Christianity, with far less emphasis on the Emperor.
My experience in Japan, and in talking with people from Japan, and with people I know that have spent time there, I have come under the impression that Japan is, in many ways, a post-religious society. I don't know that legal Christianity or a more intensive missionary presence there would have made much difference at all. Japanese culture is also very resistant to outside influences and changes, at least historically, so it's hard for me to imagine Christianity making serious inroads there.
That's a really good question.
I would say first of all that the whole Emperor is a demi-god thing is no longer in effect. It was officially jettisoned by the government after WWII and none of my Japanese friends have any sort of thought that the emperor is divine. Shintoism itself is in real decline in Japan -- the country is becoming very irreligious.
As far as how Christianity would have changed things, I think it would not likely have changed things much. Here are my reasons:
- Even countries with a Christian background were able to find excuses for militarism and dictatorship. After all, Germany and the Soviet Union were places that had been Christian for a long time and they put up with Hitler and Stalin. So I don't think that, for example, WWII would have been avoided if Christianity had flourished.
- Second, I think that a lot of what makes Japanese culture is the physical characteristics of the country. I think that the lack of land and space is largely responsible for them developing the culture that they have.
- Third, the government was way less emperor-oriented than you might think, even in WWII. It was only after the Meiji Era that it was even officially headed by the Emperor. Even then, the prime minister and cabinet had huge amounts of power.
The one thing you might think about is that they might have ended up with a more individualistic culture sooner than they did. You might argue that Christianity would have given them a culture that had more respect for individual rights and such.