Historical Background of Freemasonry in Japan

Tamotsu Murayama

[The following paper was presented in 1955 at a convocation of the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands and was included as an appendix to the author's Freemasonry in Japan, published in 1969. The author recognized several factual errors in his paper but included it for its historical value.]

The history of Freemasonry in Japan is considered to be one of the most interesting with various persecutions and prejudices for many years.

The first Masonic meeting in Japan was held among American Masons, who came to Japan with the American Expeditionary Forces led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry as early as 1853. However, there were no authentic historical documents to prove such a fascinating historical event. Nevertheless, Japanese history indicates that there were some meetings among Americans with Masonic symbols and implements. Incidentally, Commodore Perry was not a Mason, although his brother, Oliver Hazard Perry was a very devoted Mason.

Freemasonry was interpreted as a "secret and subversive" organization in Japan—naturally the Japanese Government feared any such organization in Japan. Japanese were forbidden to organize or enter any "secret or subversive" society, fraternity or institution, without knowing the real significance of Freemasonry.

Meanwhile, Masons of foreign nationals in Japan organized their lodges and carried on their Masonic activities. Their Masonic courage is something we should be proud of in the name of Freemasonry.

The termination of World War II brought to Japan various social reforms, revolutions and democratization, along with the New Constitution, which aimed to raise Japan's international level among the family of nations—equality and freedom.

Strange as it seems—Freemasonry came to Japan with Scouting. As you know well, this international youth movement is to build character and future citizenship, which is a Masonic interest.

Immediately after the war, we endeavored to reactivate the Boy Scouts of Japan in December, 1945, and we petitioned Gen. MacArthur for his authorization the following year. We were able to obtain his authorization in 1947, in which year the Boy Scouts of Japan demonstrated Scout activities with model troops. About this time I became acquainted with many American Masons, who were former Scouts in America. They supported Scouting and at the same time the Masonic significance of humanity and fraternity widely introduced to me.

Thus, I became an interpreter of Freemasonry and a go-between, so to speak, between Japanese leaders and American Masons in the introduction of Freemasonry to Japan on wider basis.

Japanese leaders were informed of the fundamental principles of Freemasonry—that is to build character and future citizenship, therefore, Masons would get behind the project to realize "Building For a Better Tomorrow."

It would be necessary to refer to a certain incident—I should say an incident, although it was a sad experience.

It was early on the morning of December 8, 1941—Pearl Harbor Day—that police came to arrest me. One of the first questions they asked after grilling me was whether I was acquainted with activities of secret subversive bodies, which attempted to overthrow the Japanese Government, such as they said, Freemasonry. Of course, others were an espionage suspect inasmuch as I was working for the Associated Press Office in Tokyo—and my Boy Scout activities.

Since those harrowing days, my interest has been aroused in Freemasonry and so it was with a feeling which I can only describe as rejoicing that I became acquainted with some American Masonic leaders. I explained to them the manner in which our militarists and ultranationalists systematically conspired to plant the seeds of suspicion and hatred against Freemasonry in the minds of our people.

I approached the Imperial Household Agency and other top leaders of Japan in presenting the true picture of Freemasonry. American Masons promised Japanese leaders and officials to support and aid Scouting-which was considered to be a very important post-war project to reconstruct Japan with the spirit of humanity and democracy in the minds of our young people.

Prince Higashikuni—uncle of the Emperor and post-war Prime Minister—signified his intention to be a humble servant of Freemasonry in order to learn the real significance of brotherhood-fraternity. He became the first Japanese to present the application for initiation with a few other Japanese candidates.

Prince Eun Lee—whose wife is a cousin of the Empress—now a Worshipful Master of the Kanto Masonic Lodge U.D., joined hands with us Masonicly. It was really fortunate to convince many Japanese leaders, including Naotake Sato, then the president of the House of Councillors; Ryutaro Takahashi, the Minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry; Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama; Yahachi Kawai, president of the House of Councillors; Michiharu Mishima, Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of Japan, and many other leaders of Japan.

Meanwhile, we started to negotiate to acquire the present Masonic Building, formerly the Navy Club—almost daily we negotiated with various offices of the Japanese Government for many months. In this connection, I wish to mention here that Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Mike Goldenberg was instrumental in aiding us to get the building from outside and he encouraged a handful of Japanese to take more active interests in the Fraternity. The Japanese Masons are really grateful for what he has done at the early stage.

Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Mauro Baradi took an initial step to permit us to translate the rituals into the Japanese language-and Most Worshipful Grand Master Werner P. Shetlig gave the dispensations for the first and second degree rituals already. Their splendid leadership should be deeply appreciated here Masonicly.

Of course, you do all remember the most historic moment in the Grand Lodge of the Philippines since Japanese were permitted to be accepted by your Fraternal brethren.

In April 1950, many of your Grand Lodge officers came to Tokyo to raise me to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason as the first Japanese in the history of Freemasonry. I am really grateful for such distinguished honor.

Prior to this historic event, General MacArthur's aide, Col. Huff, and other distingushed Masons assisted me in making an extensive approach with Japanese leaders regarding the possible opening of Freemasonry to Japanese. Fortunately, I met with an unexpected reception and understanding.

It would be extremely interesting and important to recall some comments made by our leaders in connection with Freemasonry in Japan.

Count Tsuneo Matsudaira, the late president of the House of Councillors and father of Princess Chichibu, commented as follows:

"I know Freemasonry very well. I admired the principle of the fraternity that advocates and practices universal brotherhood. I am sure that Freemasonry alone can save this world from destruction, I am sorry to say that I was never able to be raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. Japanese misunderstanding and prejudice toward Freemasonry was one of the main causes of the last war. I am grateful for General MacArthur's special consideration to open the door of Freemasonry to Japanese. It will undoubtedly be a social revolution in Japan. It is wonderful to welcome liberty, equality and fraternity."

Baron Kijuro Shidehara, the late speaker of the House of Representatives and Prime Minister-Foreign Minister said as follows:

"I became acquainted with Freemasonry many decades ago in London. Then the Japanese Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Count Tadasu Hayashi, attired proudly in Masonic costume, told me that he found friends in true spirit everywhere he traveled—because he was a Mason. I even studied Masonic principles through him. I had an opportunity of getting acquainted with Freemasonry. I desired to be initiated, but I was transferred to other posts from London before my desire was accomplished. There was an unwritten agreement that no Japanese was taken into Freemasonry in Japan due to some misunderstanding since Freemasonry was considered as a subversive organization. I am very happy to know that Gen. MacArthur is helping us to be raised socially equal with the spirit of fraternity by removing all social barriers and discrimination. This step is certainly a great social revolution in Japan. I welcome this opportunity to liberate Japanese. As the former Prime Minister to be responsible for the new Constitution of Japan, I welcome Gen. MacArthur's gesture more than anything else."

Gen. MacArthur was very pleased to hear the statements made by the Japanese leaders regarding the possible opening of the door of Freemasonry to Japanese nationals. However, some American Masons strongly opposed it on the ground of religious issues. The arguments were that Japanese candidates must be Christians. Of course, there are many good leaders in Japan who are not Christians.

I filed various views on Japanese religion including Buddhism and others. Some American opposition seemed to be fateful in some respect, nevertheless, I learned that Mr. John Cole in Washington drew the final conclusion that the Holy Bible should be used in the place of all other sacred scriptures in taking the obligation on inasmuch as the Holy Bible is the great light of F.M. and a guiding light for all human creatures. This decision settled various minor arguments and oppositions. The Japanese petitions were thus formally accepted by Tokyo Lodge 125.

The initiation fee of ¥30,000 was considered to be very high for Japanese in view of their incomes. At the beginning it was set at ¥5,000. We were told that some American Masons would become sponsors for Japanese candidates-after having many stormy discussions, the fee was finally set for the Japanese candidates at the usual regular amount of almost ¥30,000.

Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Counter Intelligence Corps checked and rechecked us in order to make sure that Japanese Masonic candidates were those who could live up to the high principles and ideals of Freemasonry in order to join hands with many fraternal brethren of the world.

On April 5, 1950 some 20 members of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines arrived in Tokyo in order to conduct the solemn Masonic ceremonies, during which time I was raised. It was surely an epochmaking page in Freemasonry.

Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Baradi, silver-tongue orator of the Philippines, deeply impressed the Japanese brethren with his most eloquent oration. For the first time, we were told how the Filipino Masons came to the decision to open the door of Freemasonry to Japanese and to hold us as your fraternal brothers in spite of your past bitter sentiments.

You have certainly demonstrated the supreme teaching of "Love Thy Neighbors as Thyself."

The visitation of the Grand Lodge officers to Japan was more than symbolic and significant.

I am personally grateful to Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Goldenberg, who inspired me to take an initiative to translate the Masonic rituals into the Japanese language. It seemed impossible to have it done. Most Worshipful Past Grand Master Baradi, Worshipful Masters Ray Bedillion and George Morgulis were continuous in their encouragement and inspiration to produce the skeleton of the Japanese rituals. Japanese brethren then took up the task in improving what I have produced.

Worshipful Master Prince Lee of the Kanto Lodge U.D. has instructed me to present the third degree translation at this Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. It is not perfect in any sense. We have to do our best to improve and perfect what we have produced so far.

We are expecting to have the visitation of the Most Worshipful Grand Master in Tokyo for the demonstration of the third degree ritual, so that we can conduct the entire Masonic activities in our own language.

The Japanese Masons will get together for an improvement and codification of the Japanese language rituals for the preservation of Ancient Mystic Spirit among our fraternal brethren.

Now, to get back to the subject of the anti-Freemason movement in Japan, which I think can properly be called Masonophobia, Freemasonry and Freemasons were placed under a cloud of suspicion from the very outset, and the only condition on which this body was legally recognized and permitted to establish a lodge in Japan was after it had agreed not to consider petitions from Japanese for membership nor to permit lodge attendance by Japanese Masons outside of Japan.

During the war public exhibitions were held in a department store in Tokyo, where the "fearful secret" of Freemasonry was disclosed to the Japanese people. Equipment and Masonic Regalia, seized by the police soon after the war started, were put on display in the most shameful manner.

Most of Masonophobia documents exhibited were translations from Hitler's propaganda materials which were prepared by antiMasonry groups headed by former Lt. Gen. Nobutaka Shioten. He is now back again to his old trade-fanning a little fire of Masonophobia and anti-Semitism.

It is evident that many Japanese cannot yet erase fear deeply impressed upon their minds through many years of malicious propaganda advanced by these anti-Masonic groups.

It is recalled that the first voice of warning against Freemasonry was raised by Jiro Imai, Assistant Professor of the Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University, at the meeting of "Senryukai"; for the nationalistic members of the Sociological professors of the same university on June 28, 1921. Prof. Imai made public his own writing, "On the World Wide Secret Society," in which he pointed out Freemasonry as the most dangerous and subversive secret society. This is very important, because it is the known historical date upon which the first attack of the Twentieth century on Freemasonry was voiced in Japan.

Militarism was becoming powerful in Japan by this time, and it was necessary to create some kind of "fear" among the Japanese in order to prepare for the Washington Conference coming the following year. Premier Hara, who was known as the "most democratic" statesman of this time, was assassinated in 1921.

Prof. Tsuyanosuke Higuchi, professor of the Russian language of the Army Staff College, published a booklet on "The Siberian Situation Observed from the Backdoor," and Masonophobia now actually started at the Army Staff College as well as among high ranking Army Officers.

Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, Lt. Gen. Shioten and many high-ranking army officers became the champions of Masonophobia and anti-Semitic movement as well. It was a crime to be a Mason as far as these army officers were concerned, and ridiculous propaganda continued along the line for a quarter of a century.

However, the Japanese people generally could not understand in spite of their Masonophobia, why Freemasonry is an organization of dangerous nature when Presidents of the United States, Kings of Great Britain and many other outstanding statesmen were being members of the great fraternity.

Dr. Sakuzo Yoshino, well-learned scholar in Japan, about this time was accused as a Mason. He was courageous enough to publish a booklet on "The Study of Freemasonry" in defense of the Brotherly Fraternity.

"Freemasonry is the foundation for world peace and brotherhood. It is a matter of congratulation that the League of Nations was created with the genuine spirit of Freemasonry. The contention of this great fraternity is not only the basic idea of world peace but to awaken the international conscience of mankind. However, the peace of mankind has a long way to go to achieve the real purpose."

"No one could desire the suppression of Freemasonry when he realizes that the Fraternity is based upon the most noble and glorious ideals of our human world. The Spirit of Freemasonry is the subject of culture since the earnest zeal to seek truth, goodness and beauty in this fraternity contributes much toward the cultural cause of the world. The desire to demolish Freemasonry is equal to unwillingness to wish for the development of humanity. This is why I wish all the more the growth of the bud of Freemasonry," wrote Dr. Yoshino as he challenged the fanatics.

Japan's hysteria became worse as Hitler gained power. Tokyo obeyed the order from Berlin.

The International Rotary Club was ordered to be dissolved as an outer organ of Freemasonry. Army officers charged that the Rotarians had received secret orders for the destruction of the country and were secretly transferring information to enemy countries.

"The Japanese Rotarians are conspiring with Freemasonry against Japan's national policies," was the accusation and what all Japanese were made to believe. So strong was the prejudice entrenched that Tokutaro Ogawa, member of the House of Peers, was charged as a traitor when he opposed the banishment of the Rotary Club.

The Boy Scouts of Japan was also ordered to be dissolved with the same accusation: Freemasonry. The pledge of brotherhood of the Boy Scouts was the origin of Freemasonry. That was what was believed by army officers.

It may be difficult to convey the real spirit of Freemasonry to the Japanese people for the time being in view of the continuous anti-Freemasonry propaganda carried out by the former leaders. Having been given the Truth of Freemasonry, however, and realizing their value to mankind I am sure that the Fraternity will see its integrity of purpose eventually become a force for strength and harmony in Japan and will accomplish this by the work, industry, and efforts of all Masons, including the Japanese.

Furthermore, I wish to mention here that in spite of the Masonophobia, the Japanese people did not know that the symbolic bird of the Japanese Imperial Household—PHOENIX—is very Masonic!

Mackey's Encyclopedia says:

"The old mythological legend of the phoenix is a familiar one. The bird was described as of the size of an eagle, with a head finely crested, a body covered with beautiful plumage, and eyes sparkling like stars. She was said to live 600 years in the wilderness, when she built for herself a funeral pile of aromatic woods, which she ignited with the fanning of her wings, and emerged from the flames universally as a symbol of immortality."

The first Grand Master of the Templars after the Martyrdom of DeMoley, called "the Restorer of the Order," took for his seal a Phoenix brooding on the flames, with the motto, Ardet Ut Vivat — "She burns that she may live."

Freemasonry is making steady progress in Japan—though it seems to be very slow. We are sincere in our devotion for the cause of Freemasonry.

Freemasonry is on the march in Japan.

Murayama, Tamotsu. Freemasonry in Japan. Tokyo: Tokyo News Service, 1969.