Mary Deyo arrived in Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Considered the beginning of “Modern Japan,” this era saw many cultural changes in the country.  

Prior to the Meiji Period, the rulers of Japan were the Shogun, hereditary military dictators who had led the nation since 1192. From 1638 to 1854, the Shogun closed the nation to the outside world with the exception of designated trading ports. The only Westerners allowed in were the Dutch, but with many restrictions.  

The two main religious faiths in Japan were Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is a localized faith indigenous to Japan. The word Shinto means “the way of the kami.” Kami generally means sacred or divine power. The word kami was used to differentiate Shintoism from Buddhism in the 6th century. 

The Shogun saw Christianity and the missions as a political threat and a threat to the country’s unity, leading them to ban Christianity in 1638. This ban forced Japanese Christians to practice in secret. The ban was relaxed in 1720, allowing some scholarly study of the religion with Western books. However, practicing the faith was still hidden, and the ban on Christianity was only lifted in 1873.

By then, centuries of Shogun rule had come to an end. An important step down that road came in 1854, when diplomatic relations began between Japan and the United States began and Americans were allowed to reside in Nagasaki and Kanagawa. In 1859, Americans founded the first mission and Protestant Missionaries, including those from the Dutch Reformed Church, began to arrive, although their enterprise was still restricted by the government. Shinto continued to be the main religion in Japan and was made the state religion during the Meiji period.  

Feelings toward the missionaries varied among the people of Japan, but grew more negative with rising Nationalist feelings, which may have caused enrollment to decrease in the mission-led schools in the 1890s. This is around the time when Mary left teaching to evangelize in Ueda, a city in Nagano Prefecture of Japan. A letter to Mary from her colleague, Shigu Nakumara, indicates a criticism of missionaries in Japan in 1895. 

Letter to Mary Deyo from Shigu Nakumara, 1895

Correspondence to Mary Deyo from Shigu Nakumara, 1895. Mary Deyo Papers.

Letter to Mary Deyo from Shigu Nakumara, 1895

Ferris Seminary 
Feb. 15, 1895. 

My dear Miss Deyo;  

After you
have gone home, many a time
I wanted to write to you, but as 
you know, I can not wrtie in  
English myself, as I could not 
do so till now. But I will 
not forget your kindness toward
us while you were in Japan. 

I have been so glad to receive 
your photo, that I should have 
given you mine, but I did 
not have any good one just then. 

A few days ago I have 
taken one, so I am going to send
it ^to you by this mail. 

I hear that you expect to  
return to Japan very soon and 
you are going to work for our  
country. Although there are 
some of our people who appose to 
foreign missionaries, not all of them
are such. 

It was last Nov. That my daughter’s 
husband wrote on the article called 
“Missionaries” in the Christian paper, 
“Yokio.” I have given it to Mr.  
Booth so I think perhaps you  
have seen the translation of it. 

Some of our Christians speak very  
hard on some (underlined) of the foreign 
Missionaries, but they will welcome 
those, who will work with real 
sympathy for our people 

You will not find very hard 
to work among our people when 
you become acquainted with our 
people. As you know our 
government allowed to teach Xly
to the soldiers, so there is an 
abundant opportunity for ^to evangelistic
work to be done. 

I am anxiously looking for your 
return. I wish I could do 
some evangelistic work too. 

Sincerely Yours,  

Shigu Nakamura 
(The Matrone of F.S.)