Japan: Thick and Thorny – Page 1

Japan: Thick and Thorny

Akira Hirose

More than 100 years have past since the Gospel was brought to Japan. Ever since churches and Christians have worked very hard to spread the Gospel throughout Japan. But still Christians remain less than one percent of the total population.

The church of Christ is not exception. The number of churches and Christians in our group has been decreasing. What is the reason for this?

The Japanese are not necessarily against Christianity. Rather, Japanese warmly accept Christianity as a culture. Most of the Japanese are friendly toward Christianity and Christians. Why is it so difficult for the Japanese to believe in the Gospel and become Christians? This is a crucial question when we think of evangelism in Japan. Why?

I think there are three main reasons. First, the Japanese used to be a religious people, but they lost their religious mind and became indifferent to spiritual things as the Japanese economy began to pick up and gain success. When the second world war came to an end, Japan was in state of bankruptcy. We were extremely poor. I was twelve years old when the war ended. We were as poor as a church mouse, but we had generous ears to listen to the message from the church.

In this time of poverty, churches of Christ grew rapidly. In the decade of 1945-55 more than 70 churches were founded and nearly 5000 people were baptized. But in the course of economic growth Japan became rich and lost their interest in spiritual things. In other words, the Japanese became idol worshipers of materialism. This is not a social phenomena exclusive to Japan, but may occur in any affluent society in the world. The problem of Japan was that the changes were so big and took place so fast that we failed to adjust ourselves properly. In other words, the worship of material things took the place of religious sentiments in the minds of the Japanese. And this worship of material things choked out their need for spiritual things. People are apathetic toward Christianity and they do not turn their faces toward the church. They just worry about what they shall eat or drink or wear.

Secondly, polytheism is another obstacle to evangelism in Japan. The Japanese have lived with Shintoism for thousands of years. Shintoism is a typical polytheism religion which says there are 8 million gods in the world. When Buddhism came to Japan via Korea in the sixth century, they accepted it without any hesitation because they thought it was another god to add to their long list of gods. Shintoism and Buddhism coexist in the minds of the Japanese, they take their new born baby to the Shinto shrine to pray for good fortune and they bury their parents with a Buddhist funeral. There are so generous to different religions. Now in our prefecture 75% of new couples celebrate their marriage in a chapel with a Christian ritual. Why does such a strange thing happen in Japan? It happens because Japanese gods are relative beings and the relationship between god and man is also relative.

A man can easily become a god. There is a god named Hirose and a shrine named Hirose. The Japanese believe gods can live among us. This image of god makes it difficult for Japanese to understand the true God. It has been hard for Japanese to know and recognize the God who is absolute, all mighty, and the only God we should worship. It also means that it is difficult to know God as the Creator and man as the creature. The Japanese have difficulty knowing the true meaning of sin. This means that it is difficult for Japanese to understand the core message of the Gospel. This is the main reason the Japanese stubbornly shut their heart to the Gospel. Polytheism is another strong thorn in the field of evangelism.

Thirdly, community consciousness is a thorn. The Japanese are not individualistic people. They belong to various communities such as family, work, neighborhood, friends, etc. They are strongly bound by the ties of communities. This core personality of the Japanese has been fostered in the course of thousands of years of history. This community consciousness is a very strong power to pull people back from Christianity. There are so many people who have studied the Bible with enthusiasm for a long time and even understand the meaning of the Gospel and still cannot become a Christian because they fear being different among the members of their community. This community consciousness is another strong thorn that chokes the plants of the gospel.

So Japan is a difficult place to preach the gospel. It is the land of thorn bushes. Even though churches and Christians work hard for the Gospel, few people are saved. It can be said that evangelism in Japan is not efficient, is not productive. The output is too small compared to the input. Shall we abandon Japan and let the people surrender to the wild thorns and perish? No, never. As prime minister Churchill said, “We only have six words for that. Never, never, never, never, give up.”

Japan: Thick and Thorny – Page 2

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