Christianity in Japan
A brief overview of Christianity in Japan
- Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. The shoguns [leaders] became convinced that this was to soften them up for European conquest. In 1612 the 300,000 Japanese Christians were persecuted and many were martyred. The country was closed to all foreigners for 250 years.
- There was a positive response to the gospel in the late 1800s when Japan reopened its doors to the West. But this was followed by renewed suspicion and rejection. Church growth slowed dramatically in the early 20th century under pressure from within [rationalistic higher criticism] and without [military government].
- The post-war years have seen increased evangelical activity, initially from America and more recently from Korea. In the last 15 years a number of larger churches of over 100 people have been established in Japan. Two of these are OMF related.
- Despite encouraging growth, the general population remains absorbed in materialistic attitudes and Japan is largely unresponsive to the gospel. A breakthrough has yet to come. Cultural pressures to conform and the intense work ethos squeeze out Christianity. Churches often have only a handful of members, mostly women. About 70 per cent of all churches have an average attendance of less than 30, though membership could be double that. This is because many Christians have to work on Sundays and are therefore unable to attend church every week. Sometimes there is an uneven distribution of tasks, with pastors responsible for almost everything. There are many small towns, eight cities and numerous country areas without churches.
- It is said that 80% - 90% of Japanese Christians are not in active fellowship anymore. This is a large group that is ripe for revival!
- The economic slow-down of the late 1990s and recurrent political scandals have shattered many dreams and revealed the emptiness of materialism. There has been a renewal of interest in spiritual matters, seen in the fast growth of sects and new religions. However, over the past years, there has also been an increase in Shinto related Nationalism (seen in the veneration of the Emperor and “worship” of the Japanese flag).
- The reaction of most Japanese to the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster was one of relative calm and self-sacrifice. There was little looting. A number of Japanese saw this disaster as “nature’s punishment” which could lead to an upsurge of Shintoism (where nature is deified and honoured).
- It is estimated that only 0.3% of Japanese are evangelical Christians who attend a worship service on Sundays.
- There are no restrictions to witnessing or preaching the gospel (just apathy).
- Student witness is strategic, but only a quarter of campuses have KGK [similar to InterVarsity] groups. The estimated number of all Christian students is 0.1 per cent. There are also 70,000 Chinese students in Japan, most from Mainland China.
- Christian radio and TV are effective in reaching people.
- A highly literate, reading, commuting society offers excellent publishing and distributing structures for high-quality Christian literature. Japanese writers are needed, especially now after the death of well-known author Mrs. Ayako Miura.
- The sincere, polite, hard-working Japanese are often too busy to give heed to the gospel and have little concept of personal sin. Pray that economic shocks, political instability and fears for the future may shake many out of complacency.
The Church in Japan
- About 70% of all churches have an average attendance of less than 30.This sometimes means that there are not enough people to do the various duties at church so at times pastors take on some of these tasks.
- There are few men in the churches. The drive for success and demands of employers make it hard for men to break free.
- Pressures ~ by non-Christian spouses not to attend church, by families to worship at the Buddhist or Shinto family altar, by fellow business workers to socialise after work ~ turn many (however reluctantly) away from church, Christian fellowship and time with the Lord.
- Christians are a tiny minority in a society where consensus is important. Few families come to faith; individuals feel exposed.
- Japanese Christians have made little impact on the centers of power [industrial, commercial and political] in the land.
- Bible training for Christian workers is provided by nearly 100 seminaries and Bible schools. OMF is involved in teaching at Hokkaido Bible Institute in Sapporo. The great hope for the church’s future is the high quality of many of Japan’s pastors and church leaders. However Christian workers in training are at an all-time low and many post-war pastors are retiring with no one to replace them.
- During the past five years there has been an increasing awareness of God’s presence and purpose in Japan, with a new sense of expectancy and faith that God is working in a new way. Several prayer teams have come specifically to Hokkaido to pray for revival. While the large numbers are still not there, Japanese seem to be believing in Jesus more quickly than before!
"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."
To walk with the Living God,
glorifying Him each day as we reveal
His love and grace.