Christianity in Japan

francisXavierSource, OMF: Unknown to even many Japanese, Japan has a long history of Christianity. The usual dating of Japan’s first contact with Christianity is 1549. However, some feel that there is sufficient evidence to claim that Nestorian missionaries arrived in Japan via India, China and Korea in 199 AD and by 400 AD had planted the first churches in Japan.

In 1549, Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest, arrived in Japan. His stamina, zeal and willingness to suffer resulted in thousands of conversions in just two short years. Unfortunately, the Church soon adopted some extreme methods to advance itself, including the introduction of Buddhist and Shinto religious elements into Christian worship and using feudal lords to coerce their subjects to convert. The shoguns were also eventually persuaded that Christianity was an attempt to soften them up for European conquest. Added to that, quarrels among rival missionary groups aggravated the situations and as a result, as many as 280,000 Japanese Christians were persecuted and thousands were martyred. In 1626, Christianity was banned in Japan. For the next 250 years, Japan closed its door to the rest of the world.

It was only in the 1800s, when Commodore Perry of the US Navy forced Japan into signing an agreement that Japan’s isolation came to an end. And in 1859 the first 7 Protestant missionaries arrived in Japan.

In 1868, Emperor Meiji worked hard to modernise Japan, importing the latest technological know-how and foreign talents from the West. Japan also sought expansion throughout most of Asia. The defeat of Japan in World War II marks the first time in history when Japan suffered defeat and occupation by a foreign power. Japan was compelled to adopt a democratic constitution (thus ensuring religious freedom), renounce war and ban State Shinto (Emperor worship).

Throughout her history, Japan has repeatedly rejected Christianity because of her suspicion of this Western influence. While the Christian doctrine cannot be adjusted to suit the Japanese temperament much more can be done to help Japanese own the Christian faith for themselves, incorporating more of their traditions and festivities into their faith and to worship God in their own distinctively Japanese ways.

Today churches in Japan remain extremely small, with an average attendance of 20 to 30 people on Sunday and most of those who go are women. Christians are a tiny minority in a society where consensus is important and because few families come to faith, individuals feel exposed. Even Christian families face pressures from their communities. Cultural pressures to conform can come in the form of an obligation to participate in religious festivals and rituals, ancestral worship and in helping to take care of the local shrine.

The Japanese economic boom came to an end in the 1990s. At the same time, the Kobe Earthquake and the sarin gas attack by the Aum Shinrykyo sect shook Japanese confidence. There is also an increase in worrying crimes such as teen murders, child abduction and high school prostitution. These are signs that cracks are beginning to show in this well established, well run society and many people are turning to religions  any religion to find hope. New religions and cult groups such as Jehovah witnesses are very active in Japan.

Nihon Planet: There is Hope, and His name is Jesus. Truly Japan is, in the most natural of observations, a difficult country to reach. However, with the eyes of faith which see those things that are not seen with natural eyes, we believe God can and will do anything necessary to reach the Japanese. If the responsibility of the salvation of the Japanese rested with men, then God would provide more men and women to be that shoulder. But if that should not happen, we believe God Himself will open hearts and minds to the truth found only in Jesus Christ. We believe our prayers and efforts are in line with His will, which is to do whatever and all that we can in the name of Jesus. Every community of believers has a responsibility to affect the world around them. If all churches took such action, made disciples and kept reaching out, the gospel would spread.

In our belief, the most common element of seeing Japan come to the saving knowledge of Christ is to teach converts the importance of having an impactful relationship with God. From this overflow and personal experience, it is only natural the the love of God and knowledge of atonement through the blood of Jesus would be shared. By faith we can move mountains, and Japan is not one that is too big for God!