30 April 1846 Bernard Bettelheim arrives in Okinawa, Japan #otdimjh


Bernard Jean Bettelheim (1811, Pressburg – February 9, 1870) was a Jewish believer in Yeshua who became the first Protestant missionary to Okinawa, Japan.

Pressburg, Slovakia, 1800

Pressburg, Slovakia, 1800

Bettelheim was born into a noted Jewish family in Pressburg, Slovakia, in 1811. He studied, from a very early age, towards the goal of becoming a rabbi. It is said that by the age of ten he could read and write in French, German, and Hebrew, though if his biographies are to be believed, he left home at 12 to become a teacher and continued his studies at five different schools. Bettelheim earned a degree in medicine from a school in Padua, Italy in 1836, and is said to have gone on to file no fewer than 47 “scientific dissertations” within the following three years.

Smyrna, 1840

Smyrna, 1840

He travelled much in these years, practicing medicine in a number of Italian cities, aboard an Egyptian naval vessel, and in a Turkish town called Magnesia, where, in 1840, he began studying Christianity. He became a believer in Yeshua, and was baptized a short time later, in Smyrna.

During his time in Turkey, he held theological debates with local rabbis and published pamphlets on the matter in French; after facing salary disputes in Constantinople and resigning his post, Bettelheim made his way to London, where he hoped to gain authorization from the Church of England to preach to the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean. During this time, he became associated with a number of other prominent missionaries to the Far East, including Dr. Peter Parker, Karl Gützlaff, and missionary to Africa David Livingstone.


Following several months of disputes with the Church of England, who refused to recognize his European degrees, insisted he study at Oxford or Cambridge, and were suspicious of someone who had so recently converted from Judaism, Bettelheim abandoned that particular quest, though he remained in London.

Bettelheim became a naturalized British subject sometime later, married the daughter of a prominent thread producer, and, in 1844, his first child was born; she was named Victoria Rose. Following further disputes with various Christian organizations, including the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews (a Jewish Christian missionary society now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ), he accepted an appointment as medical missionary to Naha with the Loochoo Naval Mission.


Leaving from Portsmouth on 9 September 1845, the Bettelheims arrived in Hong Kong in January the following year; their second child, Bernard James Gutzlaff Bettelheim, was born en route, at sea. After several months in Hong Kong, studying Chinese and mingling with British missionary society there, Bettelheim departed for Okinawa with his family in April 1846. At that time, Japan forbade the entrance of foreigners, and external trade was strictly forbidden.


Dr. Bettelheim arrived in Okinawa on April 30, 1846, accompanied by his

Elizabeth Bettelheim

Elizabeth Bettelheim

wife, Elizabeth, their infant daughter, Victoria Rose, their infant son, Bernard James, ‘Miss Jane’, a tutor and schoolmistress, and Liu Yu-Kan, a Cantonese translator, on board the British ship Starling. After resisting their disembarkation, the local officials offered the family shelter in the Gokoku-ji temple for the night, where they ended up staying for seven years.

Bettelheim offered to teach a variety of subjects, including English, geography, and astronomy, and to offer medical services for the locals, but was refused by the local authorities.


There was nonetheless some success at administering western medicine and also at preaching the gospel through this means, as a number of baptisms were recorded. A monument in Dr. Bettelheim’s memory was erected in May 1926 in Naha, Okinawa, and the Anglican Diocese of Okinawa recently dedicated ‘Bettelheim Hall’ in recognition for his pioneering medical work. During his time on the island, he also made the first translation of parts of the Bible into Chinese and Japanese, and compiled a Japanese grammar and dictionary.


On the other hand, his attitude and actions towards the Okinawan authorities has been described as ‘rude and extravagant’, and one foreign visitor to the island noted that the Bettelheim family were ‘living in a state of undisguised hostility’ with the indigenous authorities.

Dr. Bettelheim’s knowledge of the local dialect and culture enabled him to interpret for any Westerners who docked at Okinawa. Reportedly, he was often made to translate petitions from the Ryukyuan government asking that the newly arrived foreigners take Dr. Bettelheim with on their departure. He is said to have translated and delivered these petitions faithfully and unashamedly.

When Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan in 1854, Bettelheim served as his translator and offered a valuable service as advisor, representative and commercial agent. Commodore Perry is credited with opening up Japan to the Western world.

Much to the relief of the Okinawa government, Mrs. Bettelheim and the children departed the island in February 1854, on board the USS Supply bound for Shanghai; Bernard followed them in July 1854.

Dr. Bettelheim intended to return to England but eventually ended up in New York. After a few years he relocated his family to a farm in Illinois. In Chicago he completed his translation activity in Japanese. Because he knew the Japanese could read Chinese ideographs or ‘kanbun’, his passion to share the Gospel among the people of Japan drove him on, in spite of being unsuccessful in seeing his works published in Yokohama.

From August to December 1863, he served as a surgeon in the 106thRegiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. After the American Civil War he relocated to Odell, Illinois and operated a drugstore, occasionally giving lectures about Okinawa and Japan. Later, the Bettelheims moved to Brookfield, Missouri. Dr. Bettelheim died February 9, 1870, at age 59 and is buried with his wife in Brookfield.


Bishop Juji Nakada of Tokyo said: “As far as I am able to learn, Dr. Bettelheim was the first Protestant missionary to Japan. He was a Hungarian Jew who found the Lord at Smyrna. He spent ten years on our islands [eight, more precisely], during which time he translated the greater part of the New Testament.”


The Reverend Timothy Nakayama, a missionary to Japan from 1991 to 2000, wrote in a recent tribute to Bettelheim:

“Dr. Bettelheim and his wife Elizabeth Barwick, as medical missionaries, provided Western medicine and shared the message of faith in God and salvation through Jesus the Christ. He had discovered that giving clean drinking water was essential to save victims from cholera. In discovering this new faith he was able to offer the water of life by which one need not thirst any longer … As Dr. Bettelheim introduced people to Western medicine, he talked to them about the Christian Faith and gave talks about medical practices, hygiene, and health, with a Christian perspective.


During the year 1996, the 150th anniversary of Bettelheim’s arrival, the Japan Bible Society conducted a campaign to highlight Bettelheim’s work as a Bible translator and pioneering missionary. The medical profession in Okinawa recognizes the Bettelheim heritage and the academic community carefully preserves primary sources (diaries, translations, Hong Kong Bishop’s visitation records), and artefacts (KJV Bible, engraving) of Bettelheim in the national university and prefectural museum.

May Bettelheim’s record be lifted up and inspire us. Let us thank God for these precious beginnings and pray that all the people of Japan may come to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen!”


Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life and work of this gifted and talented 19th century Jewish believer in Yeshua, and the impact he had as a doctor, missionary, translator and pioneer. Thank you for sending him to be a light to the nations, part of your mission calling to all Israel. In Yeshua’s name, Amen.









Here is the puzzle thus far: we know that the evolution of what we now call karate is much more complicated than the simple “good peasants vs. evil samurai” myths that have previously passed for fact.  We have documents from Junsoku, Matsumura, Asato, Itosu, Kyan, Mabuni, Motobu, Miyagi, Hanashiro, Funakoshi and other major figures in the karate circles of the period from the 1850’s onward, and historical references to a few figures such as Koshankun.1 We know what some of their thoughts on the art were, but the reports from outside sources are somewhat more scant. Tantalizing notes survive in materials from Chinese and Japanese chroniclers and European explorers, but these do little to establish a background for karate as anything more than a guarded esoteric practice that purportedly confers skill in empty handed combat.

But in these sources we can trace an imprint of the social and economic conditions of the Ryukyu kingdom during specific time periods. While the information can’t give any real picture of how the various pockets of karate may have looked or what training was like and how it was incorporated into the culture, it can illuminate factors that had an influence on these areas. The first detailed Western reports of the island kingdom began to appear in the early 19th century as European powers established themselves in Pacific waters (although Portuguese explorers produced several detailed accounts in the 16thcentury of the Okinawans as traders known for their manners, well-made weapons, and reputation for using them when wronged2). From the official records, logs, and journals of these expeditions we can reconstruct an outline of what was happening inside and outside of the tiny kingdom, giving karate’s development a social context. What begins to develop is a much more complex picture than dramatized tales, and standing awkwardly just off center in that picture is Dr. Bettelheim. For clarity’s sake, “Ryukyu” will be used to refer to Okinawa prior to 1879, along with variant spellings used in source documents.

The good Doctor Bettelheim was born to a Jewish family in Pressburg, Hungary in 1811. Reports of his childhood show him as something of a child prodigy, writing in Hebrew, German and French as a boy of nine.3 In 1836 he earned an M.D. at Padua and filed 47 separate “scientific dissertations in the following three year period. This was followed by stints practicing medicine at Trieste and Naples, and then as a surgeon in the Egyptian and Turkish navies. Bettelheim converted to Christianity after being baptized by a British chaplain in Smyrna in1840. He then settled in London and married an Englishwoman, now having acquired ability in Italian, English, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Arabic and Turkish. To see how he ended up in Naha, we need to look back a few years to a British Navy expedition to “Grand Loochoo” of 1816.

One of the sailors from the 1816 expedition, a Lieutenant Herbert J. Clifford, began a program in 1843 to raise money for establishing a mission at “Luchu”, where he had visited some 27 years earlier. Clifford was trying to assuage his conscience for a comment that he had made as some Ryukyuan officials were leaving one of the expedition’s ships, the Lyra. The day in question was a Sunday, and Clifford had explained their dismissal with “…they (the crew) are chin-chinning Joss (God) – just as you do.” Still haunted by this missed opportunity to proselytize to the officials, Clifford began an effort to sponsor a Christian mission to the island kingdom. Thus, the Loochoo Naval Mission was created. Clifford gathered a group consisting of officers who had visited Ryukyu at some point in their voyages, asserting that “I am not aware that any return has ever been made to the Loochoo people for all their hospitality and kindness to two of her Majesty’s ships…we should repay them in spiritual things…” 4

After being turned down by various missionary societies, Clifford and company came upon their answer in the person of Dr. Bettelheim.  Despite Bettelheim ‘s reputation as something of a source of trouble to the Church of England, the combination of missionary and medical doctor was exactly what the Mission needed. Along with his wife, infant daughter, and a nanny, he sailed for China on September 9, 1845. A son was born to them while en route. The Doctor and Mrs. Bettelheim studied Chinese while awaiting passage to Naha and engaged the services of a Chinese teacher to accompany them there. On May 1, 1846 the entire assembly arrived in the port outside of Naha on the British vessel Starling.

It’s important to note a few things about Ryukyuan customs regarding visitors and the hospitality that Bettelheim was about to bend to his advantage. The Ryukyuan people had made an art of balancing several sets of conflicting rules and needs to ensure that the outside world had no cause for conflict with them. Visiting ships were given water and supplies without expectation for remuneration, and generally hurried on their way. Shipwrecked sailors were given residence in dormitories and often returned to their home countries at the earliest convenience. Records from multiple nations and time periods expressly state that the Ryukyuan government went out of its way to accommodate travelers within (and around) several boundaries placed upon them: the Tokugawa-imposed seclusion edicts, the Shimazu clan’s exploitation of the kingdom as trading proxy with China after 1609, and limited resource availability.5 The Shimazu clan had its spies among the population, as did Shuri- the arrival of a Western missionary would surely be noticed. So when Bettelheim arrived and began to abuse this hospitality the local authorities were less than thrilled.

And abuse he did, with zeal. As the Starling came into the harbor at Naha an official rowed out to meet them. The ship’s captain was reluctant to send Bettelheim and family ashore, but the Doctor had other means at his disposal. Several native craft had come out to the foreign ship, and some of the islanders came aboard the Starling to offload supplies. The ship’s crew, bribed by the Doctor, took the Ryukyuans below decks and introduced them to generous amounts of English spirits. Meanwhile, Bettelheim engaged other members of the crew to load his family and their considerable luggage into the drunken men’s boats. When the inebriated boatmen returned to shore, the missionary family went along with them. By this point it was after dark, and the Naha officials offered the family an evening’s stay in the Gokoku-ji Buddhist temple. The priests moved out for the night, and thus the family began what would turn out to be seven years of residency in the temple.

The next morning the Bettelheims refused all requests to leave the temple and during the dispute the Starling departed. Meanwhile, the French warship Sabine arrived to deposit a French priest named Leturdu. Leturdu was the second French priest to arrive, joining the one already stationed in Tomari since 1844. In just a night’s time, the European Christian presence on Okinawa proper had been increased three fold. And in stark contrast to Bettelheim, the Frenchmen made no efforts at winning converts, and seem to have restricted themselves (or been restricted) to linguistic pursuits. Bettelheim, on the other hand, wasted no time in establishing himself as more than a mild curiosity or nuisance. He accused the deposed Gokoku-ji priests of trying to catch an indecent glimpse of his wife, boarded up the temple and disposed of what he called the “heathen furniture of idolatry” with relish. According to his journals, denying the population access to the temple was one of Bettelheim’s early “successes” in his mission.6

The Bettelheim family immediately became a draw upon government resources in several ways.A rotating detail of guards was stationed near the temple and kept watch on Bettelheim as he moved between Naha and Shuri. A Chinese language tutor was provided, although this service was frequently revoked as the Doctor attempted to put him to work for the purpose of translating the Gospels. An October 1850 visit from Captain Cracroft of the HMS Reynard, also carrying Bishop Smith of Victoria (sent to demonstrate England’s support of Bettelheim), produced a letter that details some of the Doctor’s accommodations alongside the population:

“A cordon of native police was drawn around his dwelling. His domestic servants were appointed by the government and changed every ten days. Fixed rations of food were served to him and his family…His bodily safety was insured, but all intercourse with the people was effectually stopped….The principal island is supposed to contain 50,000 people, 20,000 belong to Napa (Naha) and the same number to Shudi (Shuri)…The people are sunk in the greatest poverty, and appear to have nothing beyond the simplest necessities of life.”

It is obvious that in spite of the massive cost to the kingdom, and a serious shortage of food among the population, Bettelheim and family were fed, served and protected daily by guards. The presence of the guards was not for the safety of the public, but more for the safety of Dr. Bettelheim and family. The kingdom’s officials were fully aware that any harm that came to a Western missionary would bring repercussions to the kingdom from all sides. These guards are particularly interesting for karate related purposes, as we shall see.

The guard hut, or Stchibang as he refers to it in his letters, was to become one of Bettelheim’s daily stops for preaching the Gospel. Efforts at preaching anywhere were closely watched by spies known as metsuke. These informers were distributed among the population, keeping an eye on strangers and reporting information back to Shuri, and ultimately the Tokugawa shogunate. Merchants were under orders not to deal with foreigners; so when the Bettelheims went shopping in the Naha markets they took what they wanted from empty stalls and left whatever money they thought to be equitable as payment. Interestingly enough, this money was to be returned in full at the end of their stay in Ryukyu, along with the religious tracts that Bettelheim distributed in the streets. Bettelheim frequently mentions in his reports the success of the metsuke in discouraging the populace from dealing with him. Those who did speak with him were extremely secretive, often inventing plainly false reasons for sudden departure, inattentiveness, or claiming no knowledge of a prior encounter. Any gifts that they accepted (in the form of money and cakes that the Doctor took on his missionary rounds) were immediately hidden. Many simply pretended to be deaf, unable to understand Chinese or Japanese script, and in one case, dead.8

At times the missionary’s behavior was inexplicable. In 1846, four months after Bettelheim’s arrival, British Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane visited the family at Naha and was moved to recommend cancellation of the Doctor’s British naturalization papers, as well as to advise the Ryukyuan officials that Bettelheim was not a British subject. By 1849 Bettelheim was international news and the H.M.S. Mariner visited Naha (in the course of retrieving some shipwrecked sailors) and looked in on him on behalf of the Crown. Naha’s chief magistrate, an individual named Ma-Siang-Tsae, Puching Tafu/Vice-Governor General of Ryukyu (Puching possibly being a rendering of the title Pechin; tefu/Te-fu is used for taifu, a term which refers to ranking officials) arranged for Captain Matheson of the Mariner to discuss official matters over a meal at the official reception hall. These plans were waylaid by Bettelheim, who convinced the ship’s officers, and resultantly the magistrate, to move the feast to his own residence at the temple, causing the whole affair to have to be transported there by servants.

When the Mariner made ready to depart Naha several days later, the regent (acting for the king, as Sho Tai was only a boy), with Bettelheim unashamedly translating, presented a petition asking Matheson to remove the missionary. The request was ultimately refused on the grounds that Bettelheim had not committed anything definable as illegal. Through the course of his stay the Ryukyuans continued to ask practically every ship that appeared in their ports to remove the troublesome missionary, to no avail. No one wanted to deal with him; China did not feel any responsibility to assist its small tributary state, Japan did not want to appear to China as if they had any claims to Ryukyu, and European powers wanted a firm foothold in their plans to open Japan.

Meanwhile Bettelheim preached on. One of his practices was to knock loads from people’s backs on Sundays to keep them from violating the strictures of the “Lord’s day.” This was especially out of place amongst a people known for not having much interest in religious speculation, whether Buddhist, Shinto or Christian. By all standards he was an aberration to them. Due to his glasses (then a very strange sight to Asians) and two large dogs he apparently kept, locals began derisively calling him “In Gan-Cho,” or Bespectaled Dog-Doctor.  And for all of his efforts, Bettelheim succeeded in winning exactly one convert during his time in Ryukyu. This person was confined and eventually moved away from Naha and the Doctor’s influences. The convert apparently became sick and later died, an occurrence that Bettelheim reported as a case of martyrdom. Anyone who opposed his missionary duties was declared by Bettelheim to be under the influence of the devil, or themselves deceitful tricksters. Occasionally he shouted his sermons from outside the palace gates at Shuri, hoping to catch a sympathetic ear.9 Public meetings were also a target although they dissipated under the missionary’s shouted efforts at spreading the Gospel. Although Bettelheim records his success in translating the Gospels into katakana and the native Hogen, we can only speculate upon what he was actually able to get across in these attempts.

The Doctor also made efforts at practicing medicine among the population. For example, he tells of performing a cataract surgery upon one man, only to find that he had been sent to another village by disapproving authorities. He records in his mission correspondence that the local residents would gather at night in the bushes near his home and call out to him for treatment under the cover of darkness. Even the guards are mentioned as asking for his medical expertise, although we are again presented with only Bettelheim’s version of these accounts. Bettelheim offered his services as a teacher of Western medicine to the court at Shuri, amongst other things, which was succinctly refused in favor of the Chinese medicine that was already in use.10

Some of the letters that he regularly sent back to the Mission Society detailed his practice of forcing his way into people’s homes to preach. Seeing one household barred from his approach, Bettelheim battered down the gate and literally ripped his way through the home’s mat walls.11 His journal records that “I was little moved with the cries of the women or the frightened screams of the children, but seated myself in the first room I could get access to and began to preach.” Again, no mention is made of a violent response or any attempt to curb the Doctor’s activities. The residents presumably left for the duration. Whether by order of Shuri, fear of Tokugawa spies or due to native disposition, the Ryuyukans were more comfortable avoiding Bettelheim than confronting him. The Doctor records in his mission reports that the residents of various neighborhoods seemed to have the same excuses as to why he could not enter or remain in a home to preach, often times being that the women were frightened of him. He also notes that doors would shut in succession upon orders issued from the residentmetsuke.12

As noted by Captain Cracroft in 1850, the population was in a state of grinding poverty. A heartbreaking succession of typhoons, famine and epidemic disease had swept over the tiny kingdom with alarming regularity for decades prior. Under the Tokugawa economic controls and China’s indifference, Ryukyu had withered into a shadow of the once prosperous trading nation of centuries past. The entire population was under the added burden of hiding anything Japanese from the Chinese, and anything from anywhere else from the Japanese. In short, things weren’t good, and a family of unwelcome missionaries presented yet more mouths to feed. So it’s safe to say that no one was amused when the Doctor attempted to abscond with a load of sweet potatoes, a vital staple crop. An agitated crowd forced him away from the food and no harm came to him. A foreign missionary attempting to steal survival food from a population on the brink of starvation generally does not meet with such restraint.

Bettelheim pushed his luck a bit too far however on January 6, 1850. According to Kerr, the Doctor found himself roughly ejected from a private house that he had entered, presumably uninvited. Six to eight guards (referred to as “policemen” in one of Bettelheim’s missionary reports) manhandled him into the street and Bettelheim claimed that they also stoned him (although this claim is not corroborated by other reports). The missionary suffered no major injuries but there is no other information about the incident. Bettelheim records the incident in his correspondence to the Loochoo Naval Mission in these words:

January 6th.– While preaching the Gospel to a quiet hearer, an assault was made on me by six or eight policemen. Perhaps not so much from the bodily violence done me, as from fright and excitement, I swooned; was left for two hours on the ground in a thoroughfare next the big market. My wife being at last sent for, I was laid on a stretcher, and more dragged than carried home.13

Brief as it is, this reference throws a tantalizing light onto the cultural climate. Consider for a moment the treatment that unwanted missionaries generally have received throughout history. Torture, stoning, hanging, drowning, beheading and worse were their lot for pushing the faith where it wasn’t wanted. So what saved the good Doctor from meeting his end like most of the other missionaries (including women and children) who had forced their way into Japanese and Chinese territory? The Japanese crucified many missionaries; the Chinese disposed of them in mob violence; the Ryukyuans fed one of the most obnoxious ones and gave him shelter at major expense to themselves, resorting to violence only once in his seven year stay.

How was Bettelheim able to avoid serious injury or death on this occasion? Generally, a mob of angry people build a certain momentum when dealing with a source (perceived or actual) of ongoing frustration and hardship. One could rightfully expect that Bettelheim was facing the wrath that he had inspired in the preceding four years. There are several possibilities to explain his luck. If a crowd was involved, it may have stopped due to the disposition towards restraint and comportment that Ryukyu was known for. Given the Doctor’s transgressions, this by itself would be extraordinary, but not beyond the realm of possibility- Ryukyu was engaged in a delicate balancing act of upholding forced subservience to Japan while disguising this relationship to outside visitors. Resources were perpetually scarce and armed conflict was out of the question. Any action that would bring unwanted attention from foreign powers, such as murdering a missionary, was to be avoided at all costs.

Another possibility is that civil authorities were involved as both the source of his rough treatment and protection from more of the same. And if this is the case, it means that Bettelheim did indeed face several karate exponents, although not as we might expect. Instead of being sent to handle him with impunity, these officers may have had to protect Bettelheim from the crowd. If the guards were sent to protect Bettelheim, his ejection from the house may have served as a way of A) placating the occupants by showing that Bettelheim was being given rough treatment, and discouragement from further home invasions; or B) giving Bettelheim a calculated message that these actions would no longer be tolerated, a scare tactic for a man who did not realize that he was being ‘roughed up’ in a controlled manner. Unfortunately for us, the Doctor does not record anything about how this was done or by whom specifically, if weapons were used or what particular methods they employed to restrain him with.

If the guards were from the detachment assigned by Shuri they would have likely had contact with Sokon Matsumura, then the chief martial arts instructor and royal bodyguard in the kingdom. Though this is only an assumption, it would provide an insight into the skills that these men were trained in, in this case including restraint methods and crowd management- a far cry indeed from the tales of crafty farmers besting trained, sword-wielding Samurai. If it was the case that the guards were manhandling Bettelheim to give him a scare, we can see that they were capable of controlling an individual without causing serious harm. Although no firm details can be derived here, the possibilities are distinct and add depth to what we know about the role of karate in the kingdom and for figures like Matsumura.

To further support this correlation, an observation from one of Bettelheim’s journal entries informs us that his guards were men of educated stock, most probably of the Kume-mura (Chinese village). “Dec. 19th, Lord’s Day…Enjoyed my Stchibang (guard hut) meeting extremely…the Samures (Samurai), three in number, making effort to show their knowledge of the Chinese character while I went on reading.” Only the upper levels of society had access to such education. Being educated men, it’s almost certain that they were the guards provided by Shuri, and thus probably had some contact with Matsumura. Although the details gleaned here are interesting, they do not answer the unspoken question of why the guards would have been permitted/inspired to attack him after four years of protecting him from such harm.

The Mission report also makes mention that two of the family’s native servants were “severely beaten” on June 8th while helping Mrs. Bettelheim attempt to buy food at the market, the food being taken from her by the police. Whereas Dr. Bettelheim escaped his encounter with “fright and excitement” the native servants received a harsh beating. Perhaps they were subject to stiffer treatment because their abuse, being local citizens, would not bring the attention of outside forces. It’s also likely that they were expected to “know better” than to help the family obtain more food when they already received a modest ration from the government during a time of extremely limited resources. What the Doctor meant by “severe” is unknowable, but it does show that the same police who handled him with restraint were capable of overt violence.

When the Reynard left in 1850, yet another request for the removal of the missionary was ignored, and Bettelheim would remain for four more years. As insignificant as his activities in spreading the Gospel may have been, Bettelheim was to become a major source of information for American Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet when it arrived in 1853. The Commodore’s mission at Ryukyu was simple: establish a base from which to move into Japan. Western observers had long been aware of the true relationship between Ryukyu and Japan, and viewed attempts by the Ryukyuans to disguise this relationship as a calculated means to stifle Western efforts at securing trade rights. Perry’s central informant, translator and supply procurement contractor in this venture became Bettelheim, whose journals on these matters show him as preternaturally eager to assist the Commodore.

The picture that the missionary painted of the Ryukyuans in his correspondence and personal conversations would go on to inspire Commodore Perry’s policy of “reprimanding” the Ryukyuans for their “duplicitous” ways. When Perry arrived in a show of force at the Shuri gates (complete with palanquin) he did so with the intent of intimidating the kingdom into cooperation with his aims. Since Japan would not act to defend Ryukyu (and thus openly claim it against China) the island was an invaluable stepping-stone for Perry’s mission, a somewhat neutral foothold for gaining access to Japan. Perry demanded supplies for his fleet and onshore lodging for his men and eventually left a coal depot and garrison behind, as well as a treaty allowing for the unimpeded access of Americans to the entire kingdom. Ryukyu, soon to become Okinawa, had become an important strategic point on the map to modern powers and the standard set by Bettelheim would become a template for the West. The balancing act that had kept them from such attention for so long was about to collapse and the modern age of Okinawa and of karate was about to begin.

The influence that Bettelheim had upon the United States early relationship with Ryukyu would be magnified to horrific proportions in the unprecedented destruction that later swept Okinawa during World War II. The closing words of the petition delivered to Captain Cracroft from the Ryukyu government in 1850 serve as a haunting counterpoint to the surge of Western interest in the island kingdom: 14

“Look down in pity, and cease sending people to stop here, and desist in wishing to trade with us, and to teach us Christianity; and the whole country, Mandarins as well as people, will be thankful for ever.”15


  1. Cook, Harry. Shotokan Karate: A Precise History (1st Edition), England: Cook, 2001.
  2. These are:
  3. Barros, Joao de. Decadas De Asia. 1552
  4. Dalboquerque, Alfonso. Commentaries of the Great Alfonso Dalboquerque, 1518.
  5. Pire, Thomas. Suma Oriental, ca 1515

The Ryukyuan traders are mentioned in these documents as having a reputation for honesty in all of their dealings, backed by a willingness to use arms when crossed. They are described as carrying well made weapons, including curved scimitars (katana) and daggers “of two palms in length.” The reference to these daggers is intriguing, as the size given is in keeping with that of the average sai. The sai was common in both China and Indonesia at this point in time, so it is not unlikely that these are the weapons in question. Additionally, the Ryukyuans were also known to kidnap and ransom those who had cheated them in return for fair payment, as well as employing any means necessary to rescue one of their own.

  1. For a detailed discussion of Dr. Bettelheim and excerpts from his own journals, see:

“Commodore Perry at Okinawa: From the Unpublished Diary of a British Missionary” by William Leonard Schwartz, The American Historical Review, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jan., 1946), pp. 262-276

  1. Kerr, pp. 279
  2. For more on Ryukyu’s relationship to the Shimazu clan and Tokugawa Japan, see:

The Satsuma-Ryukyu Trade and the Tokugawa Seclusion Policy, Robert K. Sakai

The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3. (May, 1964), pp. 391-403.

  1. InThe Seventh Report of the Loochoo Mission Society for 1851-2, Bettelheim elaborates on this theme in telling of services performed in Gokoku-ji while they lived there:

“The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been administered in a Budhistic temple. The spot is hallowed to the Lord. Let Christendom care for it and see to it, that nothing that defileth or maketh a lie enter henceforward within the precincts of our present residence. Should they omit sending out missionaries to replace us, the house where Christian sacraments were administered would again become what it was– a Heathen temple.”

  1. The reality of the food shortage in Ryukyu is laid out in clear terms in a petition (included in The Seventh Report of the Loochoo Mission Society for 1851-2)to Captain Cracroft by an individual named Ma-Siang-Tsae, Puching Tafu/Vice-Governor General of Ryukyu:
    “Our land is poor; the few sorts of grain we grow are scanty. Since Peteling (Bettelheim) stays here, beginning from the Mandarins down to the people, all are night day full of business with him, so that they cannot attend to their avocations, which exposes our country to bitter want. Should now still more persons stop, our troubles would be greatly increased, so that the nation most assuredly could not right itself again…From scarcity of grains in our poor country, our daily diet consists of mere potatoes, of which we have not a catty to spare.”

Given the above, the actual amount of food that the Bettelheim family was provided with is considerable. According to Bettelheim, they received:

“…1 lb (live) fowl daily, or, in lieu of this, half a pound of fish or meat; vegetables 3 lbs; potatoes, 18 lbs; flour (weekly), 10lbs: Rice, about 3 lbs; sugar, 2 lbs (all serving at the same time for the servants who have besides an allowance of vegetables daily, and some meal every Lord’day). Food is brought us often quite unfit to eat. Our servants are called off usually after ten days’ service, but very often- we have them changed, on the ninth day, and are often left without a single man to cook our victuals.”

  1. See the 7thReport entry for October 20th, 1850.

In the entry for November 10th, Bettelheim tells of meeting an old man who was apparently able to repeat several articles of the Creed, but who was obviously frightened to be talking with him. “On urging him to tell me why he would not speak loud, he once more plainly told me, the people have to suffer for every word they speak to me (to Bettelheim).”

  1. Bettelheim includes this rousing account of he and the Bishop’s nighttime visit to Shuri:

“…We arrived at Shuy (Shuri) when it was quite night…We proceeded to the door of the palace…and an extraordinary crowd soon encompassed us. I begged the Bishop to

address them, and…they heard again the atonement preached unto them. Then cam an universal rush, which carried off almost the whole congregation at once. I felt exceedingly grateful to God for this opportunity setting forth the saving doctrines of Christianity before a Shuy audience. I have not preached in Shuy for a year, and perhaps longer back than this…”

Given the Ryukyuan people’s noted disinterest in theological speculation and Christianity in particular, one can only wonder at what Bettelheim is referring to in this passage. Was the crowd actually enraptured, or agitated? Also noteworthy is his mention that he had not preached at Shuri for a year- was this by his own choice, or official discouragement?

  1. Kerr, pp. 284
  2. Kerr, pp. 286
  3. The Seventh Report of the Loochoo Mission Society for 1851-2, entry for December 1st, 1850.
  4. In his journal entry for Sunday, November 3rd, 1850 Bettelheim provides another possible reference to this incident. While making his rounds, he mentions that he “Entered the house where, a few weeks ago, I had my body squeezed between a door and the door-post.” A few weeks seems to be more recent than January, so it is also possible that he is referring to a separate home entry that did not go as well as planned.
  5. Delivered at a meeting with Captain Cracroft, the Bishop of Victoria and Ma-Siang-Tsae, Puching Tafu/Vice-Governor General of Ryukyu, October 5th,1850. Included in and Appendix of The Seventh Report of the Loochoo Mission Society for 1851-2
  6. Captain Cracroft’s response to the petition not only mirrored that of other ships who had been asked to remove the Bettelheims, but went a step further in establishing official British support for Bettelheim:

“I cannot comply with your wish that I should remove Dr. Bettelheim and his family from this island. On the contrary, I am instructed by the British Government to inform you, that they regard Dr. Bettelheim with interest, and will view with great displeasure any attempt on the part of the Loochoo authorities to compel Dr. Bettelheim, by a system of annoyance and persecution, to quit the island on which he is residing.”


1.Cook, Harry. Shotokan Karate: A Precise History (1st Edition), England: Cook, 2001.

  1. Notes on Shipping and Trade in Japan and the Ryukyus. Sydney Crawcour.The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3, (May, 1964), pp. 377-381 Published by: Association for Asian Studies
  2. Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People, Revised Edition, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co. Inc., 2000.
  3. The Ryukyuan Government Scholarship Students to China 1392-1868. Mitsugu Matsuda
    Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 21, No. 3/4. (1966), pp. 273-304.
  4. Commodore Perry at Okinawa, From an Unpublished Diary of a British Missionary. Schwartz, William Leonard (editor). Richmond, MacMillan Co.The American Historical Review, Vol 51, No 2, January, 1946, pages 262-76 (15 pp).
  5. The Seventh Report of the Loochoo Mission Society for 1851-2. Published by the Loochoo Mission Society. Macintosh Printer,Great New Street, London, 1853. Extract retrieved 8/1/08 from http://www.baxleystamps.com


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3 thoughts on “Dr. Bernard J. Bettelheim: The Misadventures of A European Missionary in 19th century Naha”

  1. P. JenkinsNovember 2, 2008 at 6:08 am

I am always delighted that people are interested in Bettelheim, and I think your title catches things well ‘Misadventures…’. But it seems to me that you are not aware of my edition of Bettelheim’s original journal published in the Okinawa Ken-shi series in 2005, though only up to the end of 1851. It is available from the prefectural archives and was reviewed at length in the most recent issue of ‘The Ryukyuanist’. That issue is not yet online but in time will be athttp://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/ryukyuanist.htm
My edition runs to about 670pp in all and gives you Bettelheim’s own words, not as edited and selected by the Loochoo Naval Mission. Part II (1852-54) is almost complete but there is presently no funding for its publication. You state that there is no further evidence to the manhandling incident in which he was also stoned. There is a g reat deal of information in the British National Archives at Kew. Those papers are in the Foreign Office files and it turns out that B was thrown out of the building but was not stoned on that occasion. I transcribed the data but have not yet found an outlet for its publication. Here are the availability details of the volume from that review: “The Journal and Official Correspondence of Bernard Jean Bettelheim, 1845-54, Part I (1845-51) edited by A.P. Jenkins, Okinawa-ken shi, Shiryou-hen 21, kinsei 2 (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, 2005) xxx + 640pp. Price 4000 + postage to Europe & US: surface mail 1080, SAL 1880, airmail 2760. Available from Okinawa Prefectural Archives, 148-3 Arakawa, Haebaru, Okinawa 901-1105, Japan. Tel: ?(0)98 888 3875, fax. 3879)” the reverse slashes are for the yen sign. If you give me your email address, I’ll send the whole issue of the Ryukyuanist by attachment. Tony Jenkins, Professor of History, Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts

  1. RandyNovember 4, 2008 at 9:37 am

Mr. Jenkins,

Thank you very much for the informative feedback. I have replied to you via my email address, and I look forward to more correspondence.
Thank you,

  1. Simpson
  2. P. JenkinsMay 1, 2012 at 1:11 am

Part II of the Bettelheim journal (1852-54) has now come from the printers, and will be released in mid-May. Apparently decisions on its sale and price have yet to be taken. Part II is important because it is an almost unknown and therefore new source on Commodore Perry who used Naha as his forward base for the opening of Japan. Tony Jenkins 1 May 2012

Bibliography of Published Editions of Bettelheim’s New Testament

Bibliography for Further Reading

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
This entry was posted in otdimjh and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 30 April 1846 Bernard Bettelheim arrives in Okinawa, Japan #otdimjh

  1. Michael P. Williams says:

    Thanks for reposting my bibliographies and images of the “Japanese” Gospels! The University of Pennsylvania owns all five volumes of Bettelheim’s Hong Kong editions. They’re really quite lovely items.

    Liked by 1 person

    • richardsh says:

      Thanks Michael and all others whose material is in this post – I am trying to track the influence of Jewish believers in Yeshua and the contexts in which their faith and ministry was lived out – Bettelheim is a great example. Best regards, Richard Harvey


  2. SLIMJIM says:

    What a life! Thanks for sharing this.


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