Held on July 15, the Tokyo March for Life is a beautiful celebration of the gift of life and also of the panoply of Asian and Pacific peoples and cultures. As Asians awaken from a nightmare of slaughter, people from around the world gather here to remember the darkness of the past, but also to look forward to societies grounded in a culture of life.
We have all probably heard, somewhere from someone, that life is cheap in Asia. Tragically, it is not difficult to understand why Americans would think this way. My uncles and grandfathers, and probably yours, too, saw firsthand how cavalierly life was thrown away on Asian battlefields.
Take Korea, for example. With the conniving of Stalin, in June of 1950 North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung invaded South Korea, and his fellow communist Mao Zedong later sent some three million Chinese “volunteers” to help him. More than one million men died in just three years on the Korean peninsula, a figure exceeded only by the nearly two million Korean civilians who died in the same period.
Before Korea, of course, there had been the Pacific War, wherein American soldiers had witnessed banzai charges by Japanese troops determined to die fighting rather than be taken prisoner. Wave after wave of young Japanese men crested hillocks and poured out of trenches and caves, only to be mowed down by machinegun fire or roasted alive by flamethrowers. On Okinawa, women and children committed mass suicide. At sea, mere boys piloted bomb-tipped airplanes into American ships.
A generation later, Americans waded through rice paddies and macheted into jungles in Southeast Asia, driving deeper and deeper into a war that swallowed fifty thousand Americans and more than one million Vietnamese—as well as Laotians and Cambodians—whole. But still the killing didn’t stop. Pol Pot, Tiananmen, the horrors of Kim Jong-il’s and Kim Jong Un’s concentration camps, the communist-run genocides in Mongolia and Tibet, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the ethnic massacres in Malaysia and Indonesia, the pitiless Muslim terrorism in Bali and the Philippines, the campaigns of terror in Burma, the fifteen-year insurgency in southern Thailand—truly it might be claimed, with good reason, that, in Asia, human life is sold on the cheap.
Perhaps it is because of this long century of killing that Asia is undergoing a pro-life renaissance. Over just the past few years, for instance, I have taken part in the Tokyo March for Life, and have watched the event grow from just a few dozen people to several hundred marchers in the summer of 2019. Held on July 15 (“Ocean Day” in Japan, but also a play on words, because in Japanese “ocean” and “birth” are homonyms), the Tokyo March for Life is a beautiful celebration of the gift of life and also of the panoply of Asian and Pacific peoples and cultures. Marchers hail from across the Japanese archipelago, and also from Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, Samoa, Korea, Southeast Asia, and beyond—Ireland, Scotland, France, Argentina, Peru, England, and Brazil. As Asians awaken from a nightmare of slaughter, people from around the world gather here to remember the darkness of the past, but also to look forward to societies grounded in a culture of life. The stone that the builders of the new world order refused has become the head cornerstone.
Indeed, the pro-life movement in Asia is a deeply Christian awakening. While there was significant pro-life support in the early postwar era in Japan by Buddhist organizations such as Seichō-no-Ie (“House of Growth”), for example, the sustained opposition to the culture of death was, and remains, rooted in the Gospels. Dr. Kikuta Noboru is a good example. An OB/GYN, Dr. Kikuta experienced a religious conversion after performing many abortions and from the early 1970s began challenging the adoption laws in Japan, which prevented many couples from adopting and inevitably led to unwed mothers aborting their children in despair. It was as a Christian that Dr. Kikuta, supported by evangelical pastor Tsujioka Kenzō, took his fight for life all the way to the Japanese legislature, eventually succeeding in having the Civil Code rewritten and making it easier for couples to adopt. And it was Pastor Tsujioka who started the Tokyo March for Life as a way to make the pro-life movement in Japan more visible, giving hope to people in the frenetic megalopolis who may be considering getting rid of their child.
Thanks to the work of these and other Christians, the pro-life movement in Asia is on the ascendant. For instance, today more and more doctors and hospitals in Japan and Korea have installed all-hours incubators with one-time doors to the outside, where mothers who cannot care for their children may place their infant in a safe, warm place to await the attention of medical staff who are immediately alerted whenever a child arrives in the incubator.
And the Tokyo March for Life is now organized by lay Catholic Ikeda Masaaki, who was inspired by his participation in the Washington, DC, March for Life to make the Tokyo March a world-class witness to the sanctity of all human life. The Tokyo March for Life begins with a Mass for Life at Tsukiji Catholic Church, and this year was joined by two Japanese bishops, as well as many priests from Japan and around the world. The Archbishop of Tokyo gave the Marchers his blessing, and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, bedecked with flowers, was carried through the streets of Tokyo while being fêted with songs of devotion. The road to life, today as ever, leads through Cavalry—the pitch-black years of wholesale murder in the Orient—in the loving company of the Mother of God.
The pro-life movement in Asia is also a time for Asians and everyone else to reflect on what happened here. If human life was considered cheap, it was not the consensus of those who died and who lost their loved ones. Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng—who fled his homeland after he was persecuted for exposing the brutalities of the forced abortions and sterilizations that allowed the “People’s” Republic of China to meet its one-child-per-woman quota—is living testimony to the fact that Asians don’t value their lives any less than the rest of us. Militantly secularist governments reckon human life at discounted rates. Ideologies weight human beings at zero against the column of the party line. The lesson of Asia is that anything other than Christ is death. May we in the West take heed and learn to build a culture of life from our brothers and sisters in Asia—both the living and the dead.
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The featured image is “Our Lady of Good Counsel” by Pasquale Sarullo (1828-1893), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.