Is There Any Hope for Japan?
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?
- The people are amazing! My experience is that most Japanese are honest, courteous, orderly, resourceful, intelligent people who care about their work.
- 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.
- 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 is 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).
- Around 500 years ago Catholic missionaries carried a robust Christianity to Japan and it flourished. If it happened then, it can happen again.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?