Japan is beginning to create its own brand of liberation theology, known as the “crown and thorn” theology, reports The Tablet (Nov. 22).
From its birthplace, liberation theology (or theologies) has been exported and adapted to Africa, India, Korea, as well as to feminist and American black contexts In the case of Japan, the liberation theme is not addressed to issues of poverty, race and gender as much as to the discrimination suffered by the Burakumin people.
The Burakumin have been discriminated against in Japan because they are the descendants of those whose occupation was the killing and skinning of animals — which was considered “unclean” in Shinto and Buddhist culture and therefore contagious and hereditary. Since the ninth century, the Burakumin, now numbering 3 million, have been segregated in much of Japanese society.
In a people’s liberation movement during the 1920s, the Burakumin took on the themes of the “Crown of Thorns” — even though they were not Christian — and that of the “chosen people” from the Old Testament. The main proponent of Japanese liberation theology is Kuribayashi Teruo, himself a Burakumin and a United Church of Christ minister.
Kuribayashi studied at Union Theological Seminary under such liberation theologians as Dorothee Sölle. In such books as “A Theology of Crown of Thorns,” Kuribayashi argues that by the Burakumin’s borrowing of biblical themes of turning lowliness and suffering into being chosen and liberated, they are recovering the “radical meaning of Jesus’ crown of thorns.”