Is There Any Hope for Japan?

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Many popular books portray Japan as a dark place with a bleak future. For over 25 years I have lived and worked in Japan as a missionary. I’ve spent countless hours studying the language and the culture.  Many of my best friends are Japanese. While I can see a dark side of Japan (every nation and culture has one) I choose to not focus on it. And, I see much that is very positive. There is hope for Japan! Specifically, I believe that the gospel can, and will, take root and flourish in this great nation.

Why do I believe there is hope for Japan?

  1. The people are amazing! My experience is that most Japanese are honest, courteous, orderly, resourceful, intelligent people who care about their work.
  2. While most Japanese will say “I have no religion,” interest in spiritual things is very high. One has to look no further than Japanese pop culture to find a constant stream of intensely spiritual content; a manga series about Jesus and Bhudda, the popular animated films by Miyazaki that are deeply spiritual, horror films with lots of REALLY scary spirits. I have heard reports of survivors in the disaster zone seeing visions of Jesus and hearing his voice. The reality is that Japanese are seeking meaning and are open to spiritual things.
  3. The roots of the gospel in Japan go far back in history… There are signs that during ancient times knowledge of God and Scripture entered Japan and influenced the culture. The portable shrines (omikoshi) Japanese display at festivals are remarkably similar to ancient Israel’s Ark of the Covenant. The tea ceremony is remarkably similar to the traditional Eucharist. Themes of justice, purity, sacrifice, and atonement run deep in the culture. As part of my disaster relief work for CRASH Japan I interviewed renowned artist Makoto Fujimura. In that interview Fujimura asserted “the hope that is embedded in this culture (of Japan) is undeniable, through their art, through their music, through everything they do. So it’s not trying to bring the gospel to Japan, it is about uncovering the gospel that is here already.” Daniel Kikawa’s DVD God’s Fingerprints in Japan fg-dvdcover-560is an excellent documentary on how God has been at work in Japan down through the ages. One of the best parts of this DVD is the section on the tea ceremony (full disclosure, I had a small role in producing this DVD).
  4. Around 500 years ago Catholic missionaries carried a robust Christianity to Japan and it flourished. If it happened then, it can happen again.
  5. The disaster in March of 2011 was an opportunity for the church in Japan to rise up. And it did. Thousands of Christian volunteers showed up in the disaster zone to serve in any way they could. Many young adults became disaster relief workers for an extended period of time. I personally worked alongside dozens of them and saw up close how incredibly competent and dedicated they are. These young adults got involved, they touched many lives. They worked alongside volunteers from around the world and from many other church groups. They gained invaluable leadership experience. All of these things changed them in profound and positive ways. These are the soon-to-be-leaders of the church in Japan. They are going to be a powerful force for change. Many of the “old” leaders of the church in Japan gave this effort and these young leaders their full support. This was remarkable. When Dr. Brian Stiller of the WEA visited the disaster zone he remarked, “The church in Japan is punching above its weight” and he was right. The church in Japan did far more than one would expect. Perhaps the church in Japan is stronger than we thought.
  6. Believers in Japan are deeply committed. In spite of sometimes harsh opposition from family and from society most Christians remain faithful. Thousands of small congregations meet regularly and support their pastor.
  7. The way beauty is appreciated and expressed in Japanese culture shows receptivity to the God of creation, the source of all beauty.

What are some other ways that you see God is at work in Japan today?

7 comments

  • Paul, thanks for your encouraging article. I think your statement that “Perhaps the church in Japan is stronger than we thought.” is right on. As we have worked in the disaster zone, we have also been amazed to see the flood of lay people that have come here to minister and been very effective. That is one of the reasons why we have put a lot of our ministry efforts into supporting networks like JCMN & JGCI.

    With JCMN especially, we have appreciated the focus on seeing churches where the lay people (i.e. everyday Japanese) are acting as the church rather than just showing up to be fed every Sunday. I think if we can help the average Christian to see that they have been empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry and that their role is not just to show up to and support all of the church’s programs, we will unleash a powerful force!

  • Thanks Colby for your comment. Good to be in touch with you and thanks for serving in the disaster zone. Please let me know about JCMN, this is the first time I have heard of it.

    • Japan Cell-Church Mission Network (JCMN) is a nationwide network of Japanese pastors / churches who use coaching and mutual encouragement to promote the growth of healthy churches.

      As you might guess from the name, the churches all tend to incorporate some type of cell / small group aspect, but they are quite diverse in how they do that. Their distinctive is a commitment to a group of 7 core principles they call the “essences of the church” (教会の本質). These are basic things like relationships, empowering, outreach, etc. but the real power is in the fact that they use the coaching and interaction at their gatherings to challenge each other to really put those things into practice – with an understanding that this often requires significant change in the church’s structure or practices.

      You can see our English summation of the 7 Essences here: http://www.weinhofers.com/resources/essences

      Or check out the Japanese page on the JCMN site here: http://www.jcmn.net/vision.html

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