American Evangelists and Tuberculosis in Modern Japan

American Evangelists and Tuberculosis in Modern Japan

Elisheva A. Perelman

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9789888528141

Publisher: Hong Kong University Press


The tuberculosis epidemic of Meiji and Taishō helped to define the relationship between Japan’s government and the foreign, Protestant nondenominational evangelist organizations and individuals who had recently arrived on the archipelago. For those willing to undertake medical missionary work, particularly concerning public health issues that the government chose to ignore, tuberculosis could have provided an arena in which to prove both utility to the nation and enthusiasm for Japan’s industrial modernization, a moral enterprise. Yet theirs was also a utilitarian mission—more converts would mean more funds for the mission, either from the pockets of the recently converted or from foreign supporters who were bolstered by promising statistics. The victims of the tuberculosis epidemic were pawns in the interactions between the Japanese government and foreign evangelists, as their existence (physical and spiritual) was often used to mediate the relationship between their government and their caretakers. These potential caretakers included the Y.M.C.A., The Salvation Army, and individuals who formerly fell under the auspices of each. These organizations, and the Japanese government, at whose behest they often worked, parsed and differentiate the value of human life medically, politically, culturally, and in terms of gender, labor, and utility.