One of the great features from The Mission of God Study Bible is titled “The Church Unleashed.” It is a series of essays written by missionary personnel from around the globe. The stories they tell are compelling are several levels. Today, I want to share the story of some of our fellow believers working in Japan. Make sure you watch the 2:30 video at the end of the post that is taken from a recent Upstream Collective trip to Tokyo. I hope you will be encouraged by their faithfulness.
– by Gary Fujino –
JAPAN AND CHRISTIANITY: Jesuit Roman Catholic priest Francis Xavier was the first missionary to enter Japan in 1549. Initially, the faith was welcomed, but in the next century the newly transplanted religion was stamped out under fierce persecution. The great Sakoku or “closing of Japan” to many foreign nations followed for almost two and a half centuries. Later, an underground church of “hidden Christians” resurfaced in the late 1800s. But it was no longer orthodox, syncretizing into an indigenous, Christo-pagan cult.
Protestantism arrived during the Meiji Restoration when Japan’s borders were reopened to the West at the end of the nineteenth century. While foreign religions were officially banned until 1873, Protestant missions began in Yokohama in 1859 after U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry’s “black ships” reopened Japan’s ports in 1853. Still today, however, the official count of Japanese Christians, including all types of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Christian-like cults, number less than 2 percent of all Japanese. Evangelical Christians are fewer still, comprising only 0.4 percent of a nation numbering 127 million souls.
WHAT JAPANESE BELIEVE: Japanese are good at taking influences from outside Japan and making them “Japanese.” Religion is no exception. Animism, Shamanism, Shintoism, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, ancestor worship, and even different forms of Christianity have all impacted Japanese religious thinking, as well as Western science, technologies, and philosophies, Chinese culture and thought, secular humanism, material wealth and prosperity, plus, a deep love for nature. Japanese believe in many different things at the same time, with no sense of contradiction. They follow horoscopes, fortune-telling, comparing blood types, using amulets, palm reading, and engage in temple or shrine rituals. Spiritually speaking, whatever directly affects daily life, and has immediate, visible results, is valued and practiced. Japanese are more “spiritual” than “religious.” In short, spiritual attitudes are based on a pluralistic, “religion-ized,” polytheistic and materialistic worldview. Christianity impacts this belief system but as one among many rather than as an exclusive faith.
THE CHURCH IN JAPAN TODAY: Japan has an interesting mix of mainline, evangelical, and charismatic denominations. In the summer of 2009, many churchs united to celebrate 150 years of Protestant missions in Japan. That event gave hope against disharmony, which has crippled the church for decades. The impact of its historic triple disaster—of a 9.0 earthquake, devastating tsunami waves, and a nuclear power plant emergency that affected more than 600 kilometers of the nation’s eastern coastline on March 11, 2011—has likely changed Japan profoundly. Great physical and spiritual needs and opportunities have been identified because of this global tragedy. How the church in Japan responds through relief efforts and gospel witness could positively influence Japan’s future.
Two facts remain clear: (1) Japan remains more than 99 percent non-Christian. The gospel is still desperately needed; (2) God’s Holy Spirit is blowing through the church in Japan, birthing new leaders as well as forms of church. The Lord is preparing Japan for a great work in this generation. Pray that winds of revival and reconstruction will continue to blow throughout Japan for its return to the Lord of the harvest before He comes again.