Thank you to Dr. Joseph Kim for allowing the re-posting of this article.
Originally posted August 12, 2013. Source article is here.
I often get asked: Why Japan?
Japan doesn’t seem to fit the model of a mission field. Japan is home to some of the most respected corporations in the world including Toyota, Sony, Nintendo, Panasonic, Nissan, and Honda. The Japanese are polite, orderly, and have a reputation for hard work and honor. Japan is one of the richest nations on earth/has the 3rd largest economy in the world after the USA and China. Japan is a peaceful and thoroughly 1st world nation. It is a beautiful nation of many islands and also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.There is a dark side however…
1. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Except for 2012 when the rate was slightly under 30,000 people, every year for the last 14 years Japan’s annual suicide rate topped 30,000 people. 18,000+ Japanese people died in the earthquake/tsunami in 2011 in Japan, and more than 35,000 people committed suicide that year. Japan has a tsunami of deaths every year…
2. Hikikomori (def=pulling inward/being confined) is a type of extreme depression that seems to exist only in Japan. Although official numbers are around 700,000, since a lot of cases do not get reported some estimate that more than 1.5 million young people (mostly men) are in hikikomori and have completely withdrawn from society. Some have just locked themselves in a room and barely come out once a day to eat. Some have not spoken to or seen anyone for more than 2 years and have completely withdrawn from human contact. Some say it’s internal suicide or living like a corpse. See here, here, here, and here.
3. “Japan’s sex industry is worth an estimated ¥2.5 trillion (US$30 billion), second only to the country’s automobile industry. ” (via CNN.) Japan has the largest sex industry in the world by financial value and red light districts are ubiquitous in Japan. [Patricia Green, the former director of Rahab Ministries in Bangkok, Thailand, once said that 90% of Bangkok’s sex industry is financed by Japanese businessmen. Not that Japanese men are involved in 90% of all the activities, but rather finance it due to their large bank accounts, spending on activities related to it, large numbers of sex tourists to Thailand, etc.] It is also not uncommon for middle aged Japanese men to pay for high school or junior high girls to act as companions in an act known as Enjo Kosai, which means “compensated dating” but often leads to paid sexual favors/teenage prostitution. The young Japanese girls do not need the money, but often have been gripped by the need to buy the latest electronics and fashion. Click here for a graphic but informative BBC short documentary on Enjo Kosai/teenage prostitution.
4. Many young people in Japan live with no hope and no desire to make any change. Most young people could care less about the country’s politics or economic policies. Voter turnout is extremely low for a first world democracy. There is apathy all around. Only 36% of Japanese high school students feel they have worth as a person in a recent survey vs. 75% for South Korea, 88% for China, and 89% for the USA. See here, here, and here.
Japan is a changing nation:
5. Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, along with the longest lived people on earth which means there are lots of elderly people with very few young people. There are more cats/dogs in Japan than children under the age of 16. See here and here.
6. Japan is one of the most expensive nations in the world for expats. In 2012, Tokyo was the most expensive city in the world for expats and Osaka was #3. The Japanese government, via Prime Minister Abe’s economic policies known as Abenomics, has deflated the yen and so the costs have decreased roughly 20% in the last year for those who utilize the American dollar. Japan is still one of the most expensive nations on earth.
7. Japan has two of the largest metro areas in the world. Tokyo is the world’s largest metro area, with more than 35 million who live in its metro area. Tokyo’s metro area population is roughly equivalent to Canada’s population/50% greater than the entire continent of Australia. If Tokyo were a nation, by population, it would be the 35th largest nation in the world. Osaka is the world’s 9th largest metro area with more than 17.5 million in its metro area. If Osaka were a nation, it would be larger than 134 nations in the world including Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Cambodia, Guatemala, and Niger. Japan in 2011 was the only nation in the world with more than one city/metro area amongst the world’s 10 largest. (Tokyo, Osaka). Nagoya is the 3rd largest metro area in Japan, with more than 6 million. Japan is a densely populated nation, with nearly half of its 125 million inhabitants living in just three metro areas: Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya.
Japan is a nation with very few Christians:
8. Japan’s Protestant church attendance rate is 0.22%. (Stats are from 2009, see here in Japanese.) The total Christian percentage, including Catholics, is less than 1%. Out of the 0.22% Protestant church attendance rate, some missionaries have said roughly 75% are confessing Christians. Roughly 75-80% of that number are evangelical Christians, and roughly 10% of that number are Christians under the age of 30. While this stat cannot be confirmed, if true, this means that less than 1 in 4000-5000 people under the age of 30 are evangelical Christians. (Almost all of the young Japanese Christians that I have been in contact with did not know a single Christian their entire lives – not a single cousin, uncle, aunt or family member, not a single co-worker or fellow student or neighbor, and the majority just assumed that Christianity = something American, etc. until they met a missionary or fellow Japanese Christian.)
*To compare the Christian rate of Japan with some neighboring nations, South Korea’s Christian percentage is 25% or greater. China has roughly a 9% Christian rate, with more than 100 million Christians in both the state church and the underground church. Even North Korea is known to have a Christian population between 1 to 2%, even though missionaries are not allowed in North Korea. There has been, however, much Christian growth on the NK/China border due to the efforts of South Korean missionaries in that area.
9. The Joshua Project defines an unreached people group as having a Christian percentage less than 2%. This is roughly the percentage where a people group is unable/or finds it very difficult to reproduce/evangelize on their own without missionary help. Japan is the 2nd largest unreached people group in the world. Amongst the top 10unreached people groups, the Japanese are not only the wealthiest but the only people group that has 100% freedom of religion – even issuing missionary visas.
10. The largest churches in Japan are predominately Korean. The largest church in Japan has roughly 2000 people, Yohan Christ Church in Tokyo, with the majority of worshippers who are Korean. The single largest Japanese church in Japan is roughly half that size,Yamato Calvary Chapel. Both of these churches are in the Tokyo metro area. In my city, Osaka, the largest Japanese church has 400 Japanese people who worship there every Sunday. The 2nd largest church is a Korean church, with roughly 40 Japanese people amongst its 380+ worshippers every Sunday. (The rest are Korean, etc.) In Nagoya, the 3rd largest metro area, the largest church is a Korean church with more than 350 people worshippers attending every Sunday. The largest Japanese church has roughly 250 people. All of these numbers include children. The average size of a Japanese church is roughly 15-20 Japanese people, with the majority of people over the age of 50.
11. There is one Christian worker per 150,000 Japanese people. This is the 2nd lowest rate in the world next to closed Islamic nations which has one Christian worker per 500,000 people. (Data from Michael Oh, Director of the Lausanne Movement.)
Simply put, there are so few Christians (both Japanese Christians and missionary workers) in Japan – even with 100% freedom of religion – that the church cannot reproduce on her own. Christians in the USA often ask me: Why is Japan’s Christian percentage so low? My simple answer is that: Japan needs more Christian workers. We urge you to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” as it says in Matthew 9:38.
In my own context with Genesis International College, we currently have 14 missionaries who have committed a minimum of 10 years to serve in Japan but have not raised the financial support to be able to serve with us yet. Our prayer is that the Lord would provide more workers for His great harvest here in Japan not only for our ministry but for all of Japan.