Guest Post: Jesus and the Japanese

I am very excited to host a guest for today’s post! Lene from Song of Virginity, who also lives in Tokyo, is sharing her thoughts on Christianity and Japan. Annndd, after you read this, you should definitely head over to her blog and read her other posts! Because she’s kinda awesome! God bless!!

According to Wikipedia, there are less than 2% Japanese Christians in Japan.  

Why is it so difficult for Japanese people to believe in Jesus?

It’s a tough question and there may be more answers than I can think of.

 

The first encounter with Christianity the Japanese had were the Portuguese Catholic missionaries who arrived in Japan in 1549.

They baptized many, gave the converts “Christian names” and encouraged them to adopt western culture… the latter might have hit an emperor between his eyes as Christians faced fierce persecution in Japan from 1587 to 1632 (wikipedia).

The second encounter came in 1853 when Americans arrived.

Religious freedom was given in 1871 and since WWII Christianity has been increasing… And yet, still only about 2% of Japanese are Christians.

… It is a bit ironic that I accepted Jesus through a Japanese person in Japan!

 

Most Japanese claim they are Buddhists though some are Shinto. But in general Japanese go through life using 3 different religions:

·      A Shinto ceremony for their babies.

·      A Christian style wedding is widely popular and fashionable. Some do the Shinto ceremony.

·      A funeral here is generally Buddhist with some Shinto hints – or Shinto.

A little bit of everything and everyone should be happy.

 

Japanese are experts in imitating the good stuff they find abroad, adopt what they like, adapt what they don’t like and throw away the rest. That’s what they did with the Christian wedding ceremony… and curry!

 

This ambivalent approach to traditions of any given religion clearly shows that Japanese has very little interest in actual faith and believing in a higher being.  It’s all traditions or – for a wedding ceremony – for the most part just for show.

I believe the average Japanese persons’ religion is tradition. A rule abiding, duty bound society keeping in with traditions, can easily turn tradition itself into a religion.

 

How can a person break with traditions that are imprinted from birth?

In Buddhism everyone goes to heaven…

 

To accept Jesus into the heart is a difficult gigantic leap of faith for a Buddhist (and of course other religions, but the focus here is Japan).

Grasping the concept of “hell” and “sin”, take a step back from the traditions a family has been teaching through generations, and then likely having to deal with a family not understanding why a Christian would not mix faith with traditions founded in other religions.

Trust me – that’s not an easy thing to ask a Buddhist Japanese family to accept. After 7 years of loving Jesus, my extended Japanese family has accepted that I do not pour water on- clap and bow and thank my husband’s ancestors before the family tomb stone and I do not burn incense or bow before the family alter either.  They accept it because I’m foreign.

 

My husband has no objections to my faith or way of life or how I raise our daughter in the Christian faith. Even despite my reluctance of participating in the family Buddhist traditions. He has read the New Testament and several books about Jesus and Christianity. And yet… he remains an unbeliever. Why?

If I only knew… When I tell him that nothing would make my heart beat faster than if he would believe in Jesus, he says, “maybe I can believe” and shrug his shoulders. But he is bound by duty to his family as he is the only son and the Buddhist family alter will pass on to him after the passing of his dad…

 

If you want to know more about Christianity’s history in Japan, I recommend this YouTube video;https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KwcyRfVfuc

There’s a part 1 and 2 each lasting about half hour.

During and after the persecution period many Christians went into hiding and were often hidden in Buddhist temples! 15 minutes into part 1 it gets really interesting in terms of the “hidden Christians”. These secret believers would conceal Christian iconography in pottery and on buildings.

I’m so blessed to be the owner of a “crypto-Christian” plate made during the persecution period. It was a present from my father-in-law who collects antiques. If you look – you can find the cross

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53 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jesus and the Japanese

    1. Thanks Johanna! I’ll let Lene respond, but I just had to butt in and say, being an American Christian I never hear about what God is doing in Japan. I hear plenty about China, but never much about Japan. So it’s super cool to get her inside story of what’s happening there with the Kingdom!

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Thank you Johanna. I hope you’ll enjoy the videos. A pastor from my former church helped make it. Please do come check out Song of Virginity or Wrestling with faith – dancing with Jesus. Lord Bless you.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. The church denomination I grew up in, had sent missionaries to Japan. Through them, I learned quite some but that was very long ago. I think that WWII played a role as, for instance, the Nagasaki bomb wiped out the entire Christian community there. No yeast left.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There are an abundance of missionaries here in Japan from a vast variety of organizations, so I can’t imagine it’s because not enough efforts are made. The Japanese are simply very strong in their culture and very very polite… They listen, nod and show interest – but rarely return to learn more about Jesus. Possibly I could be so bold and say that the only way for Jesus to make a way here is through international marriage, but not enough Christian foreigners marry Japanese because (drumroll please) they would marry outside the faith. Japan will be a miracle from the Lord.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. From a different angle: how many Christians are true disciples? Estimates have it at no more than 37% being reborn, with as little as a few percent in some churches, some even zero. Globally, perhaps 1% of nominal Christianity are obedient disciples, beyond being believers. Interesting to see that this relates to Gideon’s ratio of 300/32000. I just saw on a mission ship how much dogma there was, alarmingly little knowledge of Jesus. Are we, in a global perspective, really improving upon Nippon?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is a pretty good conversation…ps do you two know what time it is local for me? Lol 5am and I’ve been up several hours with Miss Sophie, and the other kids. It is almost time for a french press, right? 😉

        Liked by 3 people

      3. French press…am getting my coffee tomorrow. For the past few days, only horrid Tetley’s Tea. Well, it was discounted and the boxes looked nice! A baby brings light into the house, it burns all night 😁

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I french pressed this morning some Kenya. Oh I needed it too!! Probably going to do a second press this afternoon!

        A baby does do that amen!! Even more so than coffee! Haha!

        What kind of coffee are you getting tomorrow?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Japan would be a really cool miracle from Jesus. Hey Lene, I’m curious, what’s it like there? Is Tokyo beautiful? What about the countryside?

        Lene, that’s really interesting on the culture part of politness. That sounds totally different from America lol. It sounds like what we need are for believers to move in, set up shop, get married and have families there. It kinda reminds me of Malachi 2:15.

        Pete, the Gideon ratio is super interesting!! The math works out there. Crazy, I never thought of that. I’ll have to let Lene respond on Japan’s ratio…I live in a saturated state with Christianity and I would say the ratio is maybe a little higher, but only because the bucket of younger believers is widened. Mature believers are scattered widely.

        Also, I think it’s cool were all three on the same thread!! I’m in the US, Pete is in South Africa and Lene is it Japan. Isn’t it cool how spread out we are but can still fellowship in the Spirit on a blog? God can do anything! (Ps sorry Lene I hijacked your comment thread on your blog!!)

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Truth be told? I have no idea. I can tell you however, that most foreigners could improve by learning some manners from the Japanese…
        Without turning this into a debate – a true disciple is defined how? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pass through that needle, but I’m also absolutely certain that my heart belongs to Jesus.
        Unfortunately I have to agree with you on the dogma part which really saddens my heart, but at the same time, many friends of mine are hardworking missionaries fighting for His kingdom here in Japan.
        There is no way I can even try to answer your question.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. I just posted this……
        Demons believe and shudder at hearing the name of Jesus.

        Nominal Christians believe yet are not reborn.

        Fundamentalist Christians usually are very dogmatic and legalistic.

        Doing what is good.

        Commendable.

        Or the Perfect will of God.

        So many Christians do not even consult God in decision-making but depend upon their own wisdom, sometimes requesting God to bless their pursuits. Through not always being guided by His Spirit, not only do they miss their life purpose but also affect others.

        A disciple is someone who only moves upon the instruction of God. it requires a whole different mindset, also different rules apply. This Christian usually goes where he never wanted to. Gideon could use 300 out of 32,000 soldiers and we find the same in missionary science, that the true disciples are few and far in between. It does not make you or the next Christian bad, but it is just different.

        For example: my wife and I married upon the direct instruction of God, not because we were in love. In fact, falling in love only really came well after we were married 29 years ago. We do not buy stuff, I do not even go into the city before checking with God first.

        The world would have functioned better of more tried to seek and do His perfect will, which is an exact science. Most won’t agree now, maybe in thirty years, life would have taught them that this is true.

        Disciple. Discipline. The same root.

        Romans 12:2

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey I’m just telling the truth! 😉 and you’re very welcome! And thank you for inviting me first, it was really fun to get to guess write on your blog! It adds some variety to blogging, plus it’s fun!

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    1. Goodness Lene! You’re gonna french press before sleep?! Haha! That is AWESOME! 😉 I used to do that, before I tried to get my blood pressure under control and was in grad school haha! No sleep back then!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I may be wrong, but the doctrine of “hell” you mentioned would certainly not make me want to believe in the Christian God. None of us would torture a dog every day for a year, never mind for an eternity.

    The church I grew up in taught hell has an end. The word “forever” in the Bible can mean, “until it ends.” God says, “All the wicked I will destroy.” He says, “They shall be ashes under your feet.” “For the dead know not anything” “They shall be as if they had not been.” Obadiah 1:16

    Study death in the Bible and see what you find. Write down every verse on the judgement. You will find God is just and doesn’t torture people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Belle, thank you for your comment! I’ll give Lene a chance to respond, but I’d like to ask a follow up on the word for ‘forever’ you mentioned: What word exactly in Hebrew or Koine Greek are you referring to exacrly? I am Jewish (Messianic) and know Hebrew and I also am a student of Koine Greek.

      Thanks and God bless!

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      1. That’s not exactly true about αἰών, “aeon.” You really have to look at the context of its usage, which is fundamental to exegesis. You are partly correct in that αἰών does sometimes mean a long time, however there are many examples in scripture of αἰών and it’s Hebrew analog, עוֹלָם, “olam” as being an infinite state (eg psalm 136 where God’s faithfulness if forever, Luke 1:33 speaking of Jesus’ kingdom never ending).

        I do have a lot of concern over your blanket usage of αἰών because when αἰών is used in an infinite context it is used with the word εἰς, which means among, into, unto. The word pair εἰς αἰών typically denotes an eternal age, ‘unto the ages’ or just eternity might be an English gloss for this word pair. This word pair is used to describe things like Jesus’ eternal reign, like Luke 1:33, believers living for ever in John 6:51 (ie eternal life), Jude 1:13 for unbelievers being in eternal darkness reserved for them, and also in Revelation 14:11 referring to the eternal torment of those during the tribulation who worship the beast, as well as Rev 20:10 which the article you cited as not meaning an eternal state. I also find it odd someone would use that verse as argumentation against an eternal torture state for the damned because Rev 20:11 is specifically referring to Satan, not humans.

        I am not absolutely opposed to the idea of unbelievers just being destroyed instead of an eternal punishment state, however I would need to see argumentation to overcome these hurdles in the Koine Greek and Hebrew, especially as the word pair εἰς αἰών which is used to describe the duration of eternal punishment is also used to describe the eternal reign of Jesus. The days and nights argument I don’t believe is strong enough to overcome this, especially since the before mentioned Jude 1:13 lists the damned as being in eternal darkness, which makes it more believable days and nights here is is a gloss to emphasize the unending nature of the punishment. I could be wrong, but again, i would need to see these questions answered to change my interpretation.

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      2. I’m not sure if I should look up tons of verses on death and hell and write them here. I don’t think so, because it would be too long a comment. I remember a verse about the lake of fire in Revelation. It says death and he’ll were thrown into the lake of fire. I just looked it up, it is in Rev. 20:14,15. “Death and hell were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”

        It goes on to say whoever is not in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. To me, this verse means there will be an end to death and hell. I see hell as a short time of punishment. Jesus told us some of the wicked will be punished more severely than others. (Luke 12:48)

        I don’t usually comment on my doctrinal beliefs on blogs, but hell was mentioned and I am passionate about this subject because I believe it turns thousands of people away from God and misrepresents who he is. I know I could never love a God who would torture people forever and never let them die.

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      3. Hi Belle, before I get to my response, I just want to say I definitely respect your opinion, and you might be correct. Obviously this, whether punishment is eternal or finite, is probably a secondary issue doctrinally. With Jesus being the central doctrine. I also have listened to pastors that I respect preach on this subject, so I just want to say as a brother in Christ, I definitely value and respect your opinion and thoughts!

        With that said I’d like to respond…I think you might have missed the point I was getting at. What I was saying is the Koine Greek term used for the duration of the torment is one that is frequently used Biblically to describe an eternal duration. I think the NIV correctly interprets the Koine Greek as, “And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, ” in Rev 14:11. Let’s take a step back…smoke is by product of an exothermic process. In this case we are told what that process is, torment by burning. Smoke cannot perpetually rise if the process is not on going, that is, the torment must be on going. Plus I think the context and the meaning is clear.

        My question is do you have have a different interpretation of the Greek word pair εἰς αἰών, which is used consistently for eternity in other Biblical passages, used for eternity in Rev 14:11?

        I think you have an interesting thought on Rev 20:14,15, but this makes more sense to me that Jesus is simply removing death from anywhere outside of the lake of fire, death is now constrained solely to the second death, the lake of fire itself, since there is no death in the new earth. And this would would be more consistent with Rev 14:11.

        I agree with you on Luke 12:48. I think you make a good point there.

        On the last sentence, as a fellow child of God, I would really caution against making statements like that. Or more generally, I wouldn’t make statements of the form, “I could never love God if he did ______.” We are little children compared to him, growing up in him, and he does a lot of things that are very difficult for us process. I would highly recommend reading, if you haven’t lately, Romans 9 and Ezekiel 9 to get a little more expanded flavor on God’s nature and purpose. God bless!!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I realize the same Greek word is used for Jesus’ eternal reign. However, I can say to my husband, “I will love you eternally.” Unless he goes to heaven, that just means until he dies. Jesus is God and will never die. However, God says he will destroy the wicked. Destroy cannot be used to say, “I’ll keep you alive forever and punish you.” When I read through the Old Testament, I am always surprised how many times God explains what will become of the wicked. Yes, there are a few confusing verses in the Bible that can be interpreted to say something else. But if there are 500 verses saying the wicked will die and 5 verses saying they will be alive forever being punished by God, I’ll take the 500 verses.

        I don’t even know if the “fire” of hell is a real fire, or is it symbolic of the mental pain people will go through when they are judged and punished? God says in the Old Testament many times that what we have done to others, will be done to us when we are judged. It is possible we will go through the pain we have given to others in our lifetime on earth. The Bible seems to me poetic and symbols are everywhere.

        I don’t mind saying, “I could never love a God who does this and that,” because God has said to us, “Let us reason together.” He has given us the freedom to decide whether to worship him or not. I do worship him because, “God is love.”

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      5. I see what you are getting at and I’ve heard that argument before, but I think we’ll probably have to agree to disagree. I agree that this could be an open item for research, but as of right now I personally have not seen strong enough evidence with either the Greek nor the Hebrew, NT or OT, to conclusively verify what you are positing. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I can’t verify it either.

        I definitely do agree with you that God is love. That might be the perfect verse to wrap this discussion up on.

        God bless you!!

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    2. Thank you for your thoughts.

      The concept of “hell” as well as “sin” are tricky concepts to explain to Japanese.
      A Japanese woman once told a missionary who was trying to evangelize her, that she would rather spend eternity in hell with her ancestors than in the paradise preached by Christians.
      For Japanese, ancestors are to be respected, worshipped, honored, e.g. venerated. In Christian doctrine salvation is by choice and if this choice disturbs the harmony with the family’s ancestors, then it is hard for a Japanese to openly become a Christian. In this aspect it matters very little if hell is a short time or forever for a Japanese person. Family, dead or alive, comes first.

      As for “sin” then the word the Japanese use for “sin” is tsumi which is the same word used for “crime”.
      So when a missionary says, “we all have sinned” the average Japanese will possibly even find it rude as they do not consider themselves “criminals”… The Japanese worldview considers human beings and the world of nature itself to be basically good, and there is no need for universal redemption.

      I know heaven is forever.
      Christians take hell very seriously because it’s the opposite of eternal life in the presence of the Lord. For Japanese hell is something abstract and they would rather pay for their sins in hell to be with their dearly departed ancestors than… making the choice of Jesus.
      As baffled as it makes me feel, being a wittness to the Japanese isn’t straight forward at all and a lot of polite understanding has to be taken into account to reach Japanese for Christ.

      I’m sure we could open a discussion on how missionaries should approach the Japanese and be witnesses to them etc, but there are many missionaries here from many denominations and they each have a different approach. I believe the Lord places the people who are right for us in our paths… and that goes for missionaries in Japan as well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you for your reply. I found it very interesting. I can see why the Japanese people would have trouble accepting Christianity. I will pray for them and their country and the missionaries that are there.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I respect the Japanese culture and how gentle and harmoniously they live their lives. If all things were right with the world then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come amongst us and suffer. Jesus came because the people were too evil and selfish, japanese included. Jesus died for all our sins. He knew what the future held, we haven’t changed. He came into this world to set all of us free. Jesus came so that He could reveal the heart of our Father God.Reveal what a faithful and just life lived in Christ would hold. How many religious leaders/gods have died so that we may have eternal life?????? Not Confucius, not Buddha, not Mohammed not any other God, all their tombs are occupied but Jesus’s tomb is empty. He rose to new life to show us what we will inherit. Our ancestors won’t be looking after us, they have themselves to take care of, they owe us nothing!. JESUS IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE READ JOHN 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

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      3. Believing and following Jesus is a personal choice made by each individual regardless of nationality and culture. As believers we must respect a personal choice, even if it means tears on our part and whatever our personal opinion of their religion or culture may be. No amount of shouting John 14:6 will help a Japanese love Jesus.

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  3. Wow. I truly love hearing how about how Christ makes His way across the world to sit on the thrown of peoples hearts. It bring a very settling feeling to my heart knowing that God finds way to get His word to people no matter where they are.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your great post. My understanding of faith in the christian sense, is that it’s a gift from God. In God’s realm there is no time. God can foresee how that person will accept faith in his heart. Of course, if it’s not going to grow, prosper and bring honour to God then that person may not be worthy. God honours even a mustard seed of faith a person has. Matthew 17:20 sais……”You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” I acknowledge that all religions have some truth in them but …………..
    Salvation can only come through Jesus Christ. Some people are gambling much for the sake of tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Thanks for you comment. It isn’t God’s will that anyone should be lost… but we are all missionaries in some way and we must trust that the Lord places the right people in our path of life. In Japan, most people gamble with their soul and it’s heartbreaking.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I enjoyed reading your guest post Lene. The Japanese are not the only people on this earth who may be more focused on tradition rather than on truth. In fact, in my search for God’s truth, I have found that many “Christian” denominations are much more interested in following church tradition/doctrine/dogma than in following the “rightly divided” word of God. I think that another issue for the Japanese is that they are a very technologically advanced and materialistic society. Who needs a God when you have science and money? North America and parts of Western Europe are like that too. From watching documentaries on life in urban Japan, it also seems that their culture is very performance oriented – they always need to be achieving something. Being a Christian involves giving up ourselves and depending on Jesus and God. Salvation is not something we can work to earn. I also had to chuckle at your comment that most foreigners could improve by learning some manners from the Japanese. Both my husband and I have been in public service since we were young and we heartily agree with that statement! And we come from the supposedly “polite” country of Canada! LOL I pray God will open up the minds and hearts of Japan. God bless 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this information. Interesting. I smiled when I read that the religion of Japan is tradition. In America, my home, “tradition” can also be a religion. Effort is required to base religion on God, rather than tradition.

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  7. What a very interesting and nicely written post, I’m going to have to read it again because you have some good observations. I grew up Buddhist, but it’s more of a cultural thing of staying connected with the Japanese-American community. As for Japan, I think the Shinto belief is probably at the core of most Japanese, and my wild guess would be that most are agnostic or atheists like myself. I think this because of what you had said about Christian weddings (yea weird, the one I went to had a giant chandelier directly behind them, and they kept saying “congratulations”), Buddhist and Shinto beliefs all blended together. To me, that embodies Japan and how it adheres to its strong cultural roots but isn’t closed off by a set belief structure to exclude new traditions. That’s my off the cuff opinion on this, and in my head, I often use Korea to illustrate the contrasts. In Korea where a lot of Koreans are converting, so a lot of the traditional customs of Korea are slowly disappearing because it doesn’t mesh with Christianity (this is what I consider the polar opposite of Japan in regards to belief structure/culture).

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  8. That plate is awesome! I only became a believer after I parted ways with the Japanese culture. There is a definite hedonistic/naturalistic bend in Japan; an omote and ura that many do not understand. Everyone believes the Japanese to be so polite and gentle which is true, but there is another side behind paper doors so to speak.

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