THE PRE-MODERN ERA
Japan being separated by water from the Asian Continent, its civilization developed in relative seclusion in pre-modern days. Foreign cultural influence gradually reached the country mainly through the neighboring countries of China and Korea. The first Westerners to reach Japan were Portuguese traders who landed on Tanegashima, a small island in southern Japan, in 1543. Subsequently other nationals arrived. In due course the then ruling shogunate became concerned about the growing foreign influence on its people. In 1639 it virtually secluded the country from the rest of the world, which condition lasted for more than two centuries until 1854. Under these circumstances only Protestant Dutch and non-Christian Chinese were allowed to do business with Japan.
THE FIRST FREEMASON TO VISIT JAPAN
Among those Dutch traders who came to Japan during this period was Isaac Titsingh. He is believed to be the first mason to visit Japan. He was initiated in Batavia in 1772 when he was in the service of the Dutch East India Company. He came to Japan three times – 1779 to 1780, 1781 to 1783, and 1784 – and headed the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki. Bro. Titsingh made acquaintance with many Japanese in high place and Japanese scholars of western learning. His books, Cérémonies usitées au Japon pour les mariages et les funéailles (1819), Mémoires et anecdotes sur la dynastie régnante des djogouns, souverains du Japon (1820) and Illustrations of Japan (1822), are valuable sources of information on Japan and its people and customs in the latter half of the 18th century.
THE END OF ISOLATION
While Japan was in a state of isolation, foreign vessels frequented its coasts from time to time. In the first half of the 19th century, their encroachment became particularly noticeable. They urged Japan to open ports. Eventually the government opened the country and concluded treaties with foreign powers. The treaties included extra-territoriality by which foreign residents in Japan came under the legal jurisdiction of their own countries’ consuls. The abolishment of the seclusion policy threw the country into turmoil. The unequal treaties with those countries, rampant inflation largely due to the commencement of foreign trade and other unfavorable factors resulting from the opening of the country caused some Japanese, especially samurai (professional warriors), to entertain the idea of “Sonno Joi” (unifying the country under the imperial rule and repelling the incursions caused by foreigners). Dissatisfied with the government policy toward foreign countries, some samurai took advantage of the situation and assaulted foreigners in order to harass the now-weakening government. Such attacks became frequent in the late 1850s and early 1860s. As a result, foreign powers lodged strong protests. In 1863 the Japanese Government agreed to have the British and French troops stationed in Yokohama.
THE FIRST LODGE IN JAPAN
It was during this period that the first masonic lodge was introduced to Japan. A military lodge called Sphinx Lodge No. 263, Irish Constitution, came to Japan with a detachment of the British 20th Regiment which arrived in Yokohama in 1864. While in Yokohama, the lodge held meetings and admitted civilian members. Being a military lodge, however, it could not operate in Japan long. It held its last meeting in March 1866.
THE FORMATION OF LOCAL LODGES
Meanwhile, those brethren living in Yokohama felt it desirable to form a lodge of their own and they petitioned for a formation of such a lodge to the United Grand Lodge of England. Thus the first local lodge, Yokohama Lodge No. 1092, came into being, holding the first regular meeting on June 26, 1866. A total of six English and three Scottish lodges were formed in Japan before the last war. With the abolishment of the extra-territoriality in 1899, the brethren held their meetings in accordance with the gentlemen’s agreement with the Japanese Government that the government would not interfere with the fraternity’s activities as long as the membership was limited to foreign nationals and that the meetings were conducted without ostentation. The members included those who contributed to the modernization of Japan, e.g., Bro. E. Fischer, a German merchant involved in the development of Kobe; Bro. William G. Aston, a British diplomat and scholar of Japanese literature whose works introduced Japan and its civilization to the English-speaking world; Bro. A. Kirby who built the first iron-clad warship in Japan; Bro. Thomas W. Kinder, a Briton who was in charge of the Mint Bureau in Osaka; Bro. John R. Black, a British journalist who published an English-language newspaper, the Japan Gazette, and Japanese-newspapers, Nisshin Shinjishi and Bankoku Shimbun, and wrote an important book, Young Japan; Bro. William H. Stone, a British telecommunications engineer; Bro. Paul Sarda, a French architect; Bro. Edward H. Hunter, a British shipbuilding engineer; Bro. John Marshall, a British port captain; Bro. Felix Beato, a Venetian-born British photographer; and Bro. Stuart Eldridge, an American doctor. Anyway, all the members of the lodges in Japan in those days were foreigners.
JAPANESE MASONS BEFORE THE WAR
However, some Japanese joined the Craft abroad prior to the last war. Among them were two Japanese scholars -Amane Nishi (1829-1897) and Mamichi Tsuda (1829-1903) – who studied at the University of Leyden in Holland from 1862 to 1865 under Prof. Simon Vissering who was a Freemason. Nishi was initiated in La Vertu Lodge No. 7 in Leyden in October 1864 and Tsuda in November 1864. Count Tadasu Hayashi (1850-1913), a career diplomat and later a statesman, was stationed in England from 1900 to 1906 and became a member of the Craft, while in England. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was concluded in 1902 and he signed this treaty on behalf of Japan. He was initiated in Empire Lodge No. 2108 in February 1903, passed to the Second Degree in March and raised to the Third Degree in May. Bro. Hayashi became the Master of the lodge in January 1904. His rapid progress to that office was due to the lodge members’ wishes to acknowledge his high official position and his possible departure from England in the near future for appointment to some other post. As the Japanese mission in London was promoted from a legation to an embassy, he became the first Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain. Japanese nationals were initiated in some other countries as well, e.g., the United States and the Philippines.
THE OUTBREAK OF WAR
The situation began to deteriorate for Freemasons in Japan in the late 1930s when the government authorities began to crack down on the fraternity, especially after the outbreak of war with China in 1937. In the early 1940s the anti-masonic movements intensified and all the lodges had to cease their operation.
AFTER THE WAR
After the war, masonic activities were resumed. One English and two Scottish lodges survived. The Grand Lodge of the Philippines began to found lodges in Japan. During a 10-year period from 1947 to 1956, 16 lodges were founded. Gen. Douglas McArthur, who was the Supreme Commander of the Allies which occupied Japan after the war and himself a mason, was very supportive of masonic activities in Japan. Eventually masonic membership became available to Japanese nationals. Seven Japanese men including five Diet members were initiated in 1950 for the first time in Japan. In March 1956, 15 Philippine lodges operating in Japan formed the Grand Lodge of Japan. The membership on its roll steadily increased, reaching 4,786 in 1972. Since then, however, the membership has been on the decrease and it now stands at just over 2,000. The current list of lodges and their locations are found in an attached sheet. Today the Grand Lodge of Japan is in amity with more than 150 Grand Lodges around the world.
In addition to those lodges operating under the Grand Lodge of Japan, there are several other lodges in Japan which were in existence at the time of its formation in 1957 – one English lodge, two Scottish lodges, two Philippine lodges and one American lodge (Massachusetts) which, originally founded in Shanghai, China, was reactivated in Tokyo in 1952. There are several more lodges which meet in Japan under the charter of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, with which the Grand Lodge of Japan established fraternal relationship in 1998.
GRAND LODGE OF JAPAN
On January 16, 1957, Moriahyama Lodge No. 134 passed a resolution calling for a convention to consider the formation of a Grand Lodge of Japan. A meeting of the District Grand Lodge was held on January 26, 1957. Because of the resolution passed by Moriahyama Lodge, and the convention call issued by the Master of that Lodge, this was the principal subject of discussion. The convention was called for February 16, 1957, to be held at the Tokyo Masonic Building. Each Lodge was asked to send four delegates, with authority to act for their Lodges. Further, each Lodge was to discuss the resolution at its next Stated Meeting and act favorably or unfavorably as the case may be.
The Grand Lodge of the Philippines was notified immediately on each event as it look place and was informed that a convention was to be held February 16, 1957 in Tokyo. At the Convention sixteen lodges were represented of which eleven lodges reported that their lodges had unanimously endorsed the resolution. At the convention held on March 16th four additional lodges unanimously endorsed the resolution, thus fifteen lodges out of sixteen were in favor of the formation of the Grand Lodge of Japan immediately. The Grand Lodge of the Philippines was currently informed on all transactions in writing, to preclude their receiving any inaccurate data thru unofficial channels.
At the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines in April 1957, a motion was presented to the Grand Secretary, that (1) the Grand Lodge of the Philippines extend recognition to the Grand Lodge of Japan, (2) the Grand Lodge of the Philippines assist the Grand Lodge of Japan to obtain recognition from the Grand Lodges with which it was in Fraternal Communication, and (3) the Grand Master of the Philippines with such Grand Officers as he might deem necessary, come to Japan to install the Officers of the Grand Lodge of Japan.
The delegation from Japan was received and recognized as delegates from the subordinate lodges at the Convention, however when it came to voting on the Grand Lodge Officers for the ensuing year, it was determined by the Grand Lodge, that as they were members of the Grand Lodge of Japan, they could not qualify to vote. This in their opinion was tantamount to informal recognition of the Grand Lodge of Japan.
The Grand Lodge of Japan was instituted on May 1, 1957. By the end of that year seven Grand Lodges had recognized the Grand Lodge of Japan and at least ten other Grand Lodges were in fraternal communication with the Grand Lodge of Japan. The Scottish Rite and York Rite Bodies were accepting Master Masons from the subordinate lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Japan. Since the Grand Lodge of Japan was soon to be instituted, on March 16, 1957, Far East Lodge No. 124 surrendered its charter to the MW Grand Lodge of the Philippines and received its new charter on that date.