Cow Protectors – Samurai

In the footsteps of the Buddha

When Buddhism began to spread eastward from India, it had a strong influence on all the countries that met on its way, including China, Korea and Japan. Buddhism came to Japan around 552 AD. In April 675 AD Japanese emperor Tenmu banned the consumption of meat from all four-legged animals, including cows, horses, dogs and monkeys, as well as meat from poultry (chickens, roosters). Each subsequent emperor periodically strengthened this prohibition, until meat-eating was completely eliminated in the 10th century.  

In mainland China and Korea, Buddhist monks adhered to the principle of “ahimsa” or non-violence in their dietary habits, but these restrictions did not apply to the general population. In Japan, however, the emperor was very strict and ruled in such a way as to bring his subjects to the Buddha’s teachings of non-violence. Killing mammals was considered the greatest sin, birds a moderate sin, and fish a minor sin. The Japanese ate whales, which we know today are mammals, but back then they were considered very large fish.

The Japanese also made a distinction between domestically raised animals and wild animals. Killing a wild animal such as a bird was considered sinful. The killing of an animal grown by a person from his very birth was considered simply disgusting – tantamount to killing one of the family members. As such, the Japanese diet consisted mainly of rice, noodles, fish, and occasionally game.

During the Heian period (794-1185 AD), the Engishiki book of laws and customs prescribed fasting for three days as a punishment for eating meat. During this period, a person, ashamed of his misconduct, should not look at the deity (image) of the Buddha.

In subsequent centuries, Ise Shrine introduced even stricter rules – those who ate meat had to starve for 100 days; the one who ate with the one who ate meat had to fast for 21 days; and the one who ate, along with the one who ate, along with the one who ate meat, had to fast for 7 days. Thus, there was a certain responsibility and penance for three levels of defilement by violence associated with meat.

For the Japanese, the cow was the most sacred animal.

The use of milk in Japan was not widespread. In the exceptional majority of cases, the peasants used the cow as a draft animal to plow the fields.

There is some evidence for the consumption of milk in aristocratic circles. There were cases where cream and butter were used to pay taxes. However, most of the cows were protected and they could roam peacefully in the royal gardens.

One of the dairy products that we know the Japanese used was daigo. The modern Japanese word “daigomi”, meaning “the best part”, comes from the name of this dairy product. It is designed to evoke a deep sense of beauty and give joy. Symbolically, “daigo” meant the final stage of purification on the path to enlightenment. The first mention of daigo is found in the Nirvana Sutra, where the following recipe was given:

“From cows to fresh milk, from fresh milk to cream, from cream to curdled milk, from curdled milk to butter, from butter to ghee (daigo). Daigo is the best.” (Nirvana Sutra).

Raku was another dairy product. It is said that it was made from milk mixed with sugar and boiled down to a solid piece. Some say it was a type of cheese, but this description sounds more like burfi. In the centuries before the existence of refrigerators, this method made it possible to transport and store milk protein. Raku shavings were sold, eaten or added to hot tea.

 Arrival of foreigners

 On August 15, 1549, Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit Catholic Order, arrived with Portuguese missionaries in Japan, on the banks of Nagasaki. They began preaching Christianity.

Japan at that time was politically fragmented. Many disparate rulers dominated various territories, all kinds of alliances and wars took place. Oda Nobunaga, a samurai, despite being born a peasant, became one of the three great personalities who united Japan. He is also known for accommodating the Jesuits so they could preach, and in 1576, in Kyoto, he supported the establishment of the first Christian church. Many believe that it was his support that shook the influence of Buddhist priests.

In the beginning, the Jesuits were just watchful observers. In Japan, they discovered a culture alien to them, refined and highly developed. They noticed that the Japanese were obsessed with cleanliness and took a bath every day. It was unusual and strange in those days. The manner of writing the Japanese was also different – from top to bottom, and not from left to right. And although the Japanese had a strong military order of the Samurai, they still used swords and arrows in battles.

The King of Portugal did not provide financial support for missionary activities in Japan. Instead, the Jesuits were allowed to take part in the trade. After the conversion of the local Daimyo (feudal lord) Omura Sumitada, the small fishing village of Nagasaki was handed over to the Jesuits. During this period, Christian missionaries ingratiated themselves throughout southern Japan and converted Kyushu and Yamaguchi (Daimyo regions) to Christianity.

All kinds of trade began to flow through Nagasaki, and the merchants grew richer. Of particular interest were the Portuguese guns. As the missionaries expanded their influence, they began to introduce the use of meat. At first, this was a “compromise” for foreign missionaries who “needed meat to keep them healthy”. But killing animals and eating meat spread wherever people were converted to the new faith. We see confirmation of this: the Japanese word derived from the Portuguese .

One of the social classes was “Eta” (literary translation – “an abundance of dirt”), whose representatives were considered unclean, since their profession was to clean up dead carcasses. Today they are known as Burakumin. Cows have never been killed. However, this class was allowed to make and sell goods from the skin of cows that died of natural causes. Engaged in unclean activities, they were at the bottom of the social ladder, many of them converted to Christianity and were involved in the growing meat industry.

But the spread of meat consumption was only the beginning. At that time, Portugal was one of the main slave trading countries. The Jesuits aided the slave trade through their port city of Nagasaki. It became known as the “Nanban” or “southern barbarian” trade. Thousands of Japanese women were brutally sold into slavery around the world. Correspondence between the king of Portugal, Joao III and the Pope, which indicated the price for such an exotic passenger – 50 Japanese girls for 1 barrel of Jesuit saltpeter (cannon powder).

As local rulers were converted to Christianity, many of them forced their subjects to also convert to Christianity. The Jesuits, on the other hand, saw the arms trade as one of the ways to change the balance of political power between the various belligerents. They supplied weapons to the Christian daimyo and used their own military forces to increase their influence. Many rulers were willing to convert to Christianity knowing that they would gain an advantage over their rivals.

It is estimated that there were about 300,000 converts within a few decades. Caution has now been replaced by self-confidence. Ancient Buddhist temples and shrines were now subjected to insults and were called “pagan” and “impious”.

All this was observed by the samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Like his teacher, Oda Nobunaga, he was born into a peasant family and grew up to be a powerful general. The motives of the Jesuits became suspicious to him when he saw that the Spaniards had enslaved the Philippines. What happened in Japan disgusted him.

In 1587, General Hideyoshi forced the Jesuit priest Gaspar Coelho to meet and handed him the “Redemptive Directive of the Jesuit Order”. This document contained 11 items, including:

1) Stop all Japanese slave trade and return all Japanese women from all over the world.

2) Stop meat-eating – there should be no killing of either cows or horses.

3) Stop insulting Buddhist temples.

4) Stop forced conversion to Christianity.

With this directive, he expelled the Jesuits from Japan. It has only been 38 years since their arrival. Then he led his armies through the southern barbarian lands. While conquering these lands, he saw with disgust the many slaughtered animals dumped near street shops. Throughout the area, he began to install Kosatsu – warning signs informing people about the laws of the Samurai. And among these laws is “Don’t Eat Meat”.

Meat was not just “sinful” or “unclean.” Meat was now associated with the immorality of foreign barbarians—sexual slavery, religious abuse, and political overthrow.

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, the Samurai Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power. He also considered Christian missionary activity to be something like an “expeditionary force” to conquer Japan. By 1614, he banned Christianity entirely, noting that it “corrupts virtue” and creates political division. It is estimated that during the ensuing decades some 3 Christians were probably killed, and most renounced or hid their faith.

Finally, in 1635, the Decree of Sakoku (“Closed Country”) sealed off Japan from foreign influence. None of the Japanese were allowed to leave Japan, as well as return to it if one of them was abroad. Japanese merchant ships were set on fire and sunk off the coast. Foreigners were expelled and very limited trade was only allowed through the tiny Dejima Peninsula in Nagasaki Bay. This island was 120 meters by 75 meters and allowed no more than 19 foreigners at a time.

For the next 218 years, Japan remained isolated but politically stable. Without wars, the Samurai slowly grew lazy and became interested only in the latest political gossip. Society was under control. Some might say that it was repressed, but these restrictions allowed Japan to maintain its traditional culture.

 The barbarians are back

On July 8, 1853, Commodore Perry entered the bay of the capital city of Edo with four American warships breathing black smoke. They blocked the bay and cut off the country’s food supply. The Japanese, isolated for 218 years, were technologically far behind and could not match modern American warships. This event was called “Black Sails”.

The Japanese were scared, this created a serious political crisis. Commodore Perry, on behalf of the United States, demanded that Japan sign an agreement opening up free trade. He opened fire with his guns in a show of force and threatened total destruction if they did not obey. The Japanese-American Peace Treaty (Treaty of Kanagawa) was signed on March 31, 1854. Shortly thereafter, the British, Dutch, and Russians followed suit, using similar tactics to force their military might into free trade with Japan.

The Japanese realized their vulnerability and concluded that they needed to modernize.

One small Buddhist temple, Gokusen-ji, has been converted to accommodate foreign visitors. By 1856, the temple had become the first US embassy to Japan, headed by Consul General Townsend Harris.

In 1 years, not a single cow has been killed in Japan.

In 1856 Consul General Townsend Harris brought a cow to the consulate and slaughtered it on the grounds of the temple. Then he, along with his translator Hendrik Heusken, fried her meat and consumed it with wine.

This incident caused great unrest in society. Farmers in fear began to hide their cows. Heusken was eventually killed by a ronin (masterless samurai) leading a campaign against foreigners.

But the action was completed – they killed the most sacred animal for the Japanese. It is said that this was the act that started modern Japan. Suddenly the “old traditions” went out of fashion and the Japanese were able to get rid of their “primitive” and “backward” methods. To commemorate this incident, in 1931 the consulate building was renamed the “Temple of the Slaughtered Cow”. A statue of Buddha, on top of a pedestal decorated with images of cows, looks after the building.

From then on, slaughterhouses began to appear, and wherever they opened, there was panic. The Japanese felt that this polluted their areas of residence, making them unclean and unfavorable.

By 1869, the Japanese Ministry of Finance established guiba kaisha, a company dedicated to selling beef to foreign traders. Then, in 1872, Emperor Meiji passed the Nikujiki Saitai Law, which forcibly abolished two major restrictions on Buddhist monks: it allowed them to marry and eat beef. Later, in the same year, the Emperor publicly announced that he himself liked to eat beef and lamb.

On February 18, 1872, ten Buddhist monks stormed the Imperial Palace in order to kill the Emperor. Five monks were shot dead. They declared that meat-eating was “destroying the souls” of the Japanese people and should be stopped. This news was hidden in Japan, but the message about it appeared in the British newspaper The Times.

The Emperor then disbanded the samurai military class, replacing them with a Western-style draft army, and began purchasing modern weapons from the United States and Europe. Many samurai lost their status in just one night. Now their position was below that of the merchants who made their living from the new trade.

 Meat marketing in Japan

With the Emperor’s public declaration of love for meat, meat was accepted by the intelligentsia, politicians and merchant class. For the intelligentsia, meat was positioned as a sign of civilization and modernity. Politically, meat was seen as a way to create a strong army – to create a strong soldier. Economically, the meat trade was associated with wealth and prosperity for the merchant class.

But the main population still treated meat as an unclean and sinful product. But the process of promoting meat to the masses has begun. One of the techniques – changing the name of the meat – made it possible to avoid understanding what it really is. For example, boar meat was called “botan” (peony flower), venison meat was called “momiji” (maple), and horse meat was called “sakura” (cherry blossom). Today we see a similar marketing ploy – Happy Mills, McNuggets and Woopers – unusual names that hide violence.

One meat trading company ran an advertising campaign in 1871:

“First of all, the common explanation for the dislike of meat is that cows and pigs are so large that they are incredibly labor intensive to slaughter. And who is bigger, a cow or a whale? Nobody is against eating whale meat. Is it cruel to kill a living being? And cut open the spine of a live eel or cut off the head of a live turtle? Are cow meat and milk really dirty? Cows and sheep only eat grains and grass, while the boiled fish paste found at Nihonbashi is made from sharks that have feasted on drowning people. And while the soup made from black porgies [sea fish common in Asia] is delicious, it is made from fish that eats human excrement dropped by ships into the water. While the spring greens are no doubt fragrant and very tasty, I assume that the urine with which they were fertilized the day before yesterday was completely absorbed into the leaves. Do beef and milk smell bad? Don’t marinated fish entrails also smell unpleasant? Fermented and dried pike meat undoubtedly smells much worse. What about pickled eggplant and daikon radish? For their pickling, the “old-fashioned” method is used, according to which insect larvae are mixed with rice miso, which is then used as a marinade. Isn’t the problem that we start from what we are used to and what we are not? Beef and milk are very nutritious and extremely good for the body. These are staple foods for Westerners. We Japanese need to open our eyes and start enjoying the goodness of beef and milk.”

Gradually, people began to accept the new concept.

 The cycle of destruction

The following decades saw Japan build up both military power and dreams of expansion. Meat became a staple in the diet of Japanese soldiers. Although the scale of subsequent wars is too large for this article, we can say that Japan is responsible for many atrocities throughout Southeast Asia. As the war drew to a close, the United States, once Japan’s arms supplier, put the finishing touches on the world’s most destructive weapons.

On July 16, 1945, the first atomic weapon, codenamed Trinity, was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The “Father of the Atomic Bomb” Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer at that moment remembered the words from Bhagavad Gita text 11.32: “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Below you can see how he comments on this verse:

The US military then set their sights on Japan. During the war years, most cities in Japan had already been destroyed. President Truman chose two targets, Hiroshima and Kokura. These were cities still untouched by the war. By dropping bombs on these two targets, the US could gain valuable “tests” of their effects on buildings and people, and break the will of the Japanese people.

Three weeks later, on August 6, 1945, an Enola Gay bomber dropped a uranium bomb called “Baby” on southern Hiroshima. The explosion killed 80,000 people, and another 70,000 died in the following weeks from their injuries.

The next target was the city of Kokura, but the typhoon that came delayed the flight. When the weather improved, on August 9, 1945, with the blessing of two priests, the Fat Man, a plutonium atomic weapon, was loaded onto the plane. The plane took off from the island of Tinian (codename “Pontificate”) with orders to bomb the city of Kokura only under visual control.

The pilot, Major Charles Sweeney, flew over Kokura, but the city was not visible because of the clouds. He went one more round, again he couldn’t see the city. Fuel was running out, he was in enemy territory. He made his last third attempt. Again the cloud cover prevented him from seeing the target.

He prepared to return to base. Then the clouds parted and Major Sweeney saw the city of Nagasaki. The target was in line of sight, he gave the order to drop the bomb. She fell into the Urakami Valley of Nagasaki City. More than 40,000 people were instantly killed by a flame like the sun. There could have been many more dead, but the hills surrounding the valley protected much of the city beyond.

This was how two of the greatest war crimes in history were committed. Old and young, women and children, healthy and infirm, all were killed. No one was spared.

In Japanese, the expression “lucky as Kokura” appeared, meaning an unexpected salvation from total annihilation.

When the news of the destruction of Nagasaki broke, the two priests who blessed the plane were shocked. Both Father George Zabelka (Catholic) and William Downey (Lutheran) later rejected all forms of violence.

Nagasaki was the center of Christianity in Japan and the Urakami Valley was the center of Christianity in Nagasaki. Nearly 396 years after Francis Xavier first arrived in Nagasaki, the Christians killed more of their followers than any samurai in over 200 years of their persecution.

Later, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander of the Occupation Japan, persuaded two American Catholic bishops, John O’Hare and Michael Ready, to send “thousands of Catholic missionaries” at once to “fill the spiritual vacuum created by such a defeat” within one year.

 Aftermath & Modern Japan

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese officially surrendered. During the years of the US occupation (1945-1952), the supreme commander of the occupying forces launched a school lunch program administered by the USDA to “improve the health” of Japanese schoolchildren and instill in them a taste for meat. By the end of the occupation, the number of children participating in the program had grown from 250 to 8 million.

But the schoolchildren began to be overcome by a mysterious illness. Some feared that it was the result of residual radiation from atomic explosions. A profuse rash began to appear on the bodies of schoolchildren. However, the Americans realized in time that the Japanese were allergic to meat, and hives were the result of it.

Over the past decades, Japan’s meat imports have grown as much as the local slaughterhouse industry.

In 1976, the American Meat Exporters Federation began a marketing campaign to promote American meat in Japan, which continued until 1985, when the Targeted Export Promotion Program was launched (TEA). In 2002, the Meat Exporters’ Federation launched the “Welcome Beef” campaign, followed in 2006 by the “We Care” campaign. The private-public relationship between the USDA and the American Meat Exporters Federation has played a significant role in promoting meat eating in Japan, thus generating billions of dollars for the US slaughterhouse industry.

The current situation is reflected in a recent headline in McClatchy DC on December 8, 2014: “Strong Japanese Demand for Cow Tongue Stimulates US Exports.”


Historical evidence shows us what techniques were used to promote meat eating:

1) Appeal to the status of a religious/foreign minority

2) Targeted involvement of the upper classes

3) Targeted involvement of the lower classes

4) Marketing Meat Using Unusual Names

5) Creating the image of meat as a product that symbolizes modernity, health and wealth

6) Selling weapons to create political instability

7) Threats and acts of war to create free trade

8) Complete destruction & creation of a new culture that supports eating meat

9) Creating a School Lunch Program to Teach Kids to Eat Meat

10) Use of trading communities and economic incentives

The ancient sages understood the subtle laws that govern the universe. The violence inherent in meat sows the seeds of future conflicts. When you see these techniques being used, know that (destruction) is just around the corner.

And once Japan was ruled by the greatest protectors of cows – Samurai …



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