The Christian Habitus of Japan’s Interwar Diplomacy



Robert Cornell Armstrong’s 1921 assessment of the impact of the First World War on Japan is significant in several respects. First, it is a contemporary account of the comprehensive impact of the aftermath of the war on Japanese culture, society, and politics. Second, it records how Japan’s awakening to ‘world consciousness’ came, not at the expense of nationalism, but was in fact grounded in ‘national life’. Third, and perhaps most significantly, there is the reference to prime minister Hara Kei (Takashi). Often associated with these globalist, liberal trends of the post-war years, Hara is best known for being the first commoner to become prime minister in Japan — and for his assassination in 1921. What is less well-known is that ‘David’ Hara Kei was a Catholic.2 Sonoda Yoshiaki has even suggested that Hara’s support for fellow members of a ‘Christian network’ close to the Emperor may have been the reason for his assassination.3 The degree of Hara’s own piety or personal practice of Catholicism is disputed, but such questions concerning the state of his soul are beside the point. What is important in terms of grasping the influence of world trends in Japan during the post-Versailles world is that Hara was a key member of a Christian network across Japanese political, diplomatic, and military circles that had tremendous influence. While not all of those in the Christian network were baptized or professed Christians, they were part of a circle of influential Japanese for whom Christianity was a habitus for the global cultural forms that were distinctive to Japan’s engagement with the world during the 1920s.


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© Kevin M. Doak 2015

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