In Japan high emphasis in daily life is traditionally placed upon the virtue of modesty. This concept is known as Kenkyo. Because Japan is a 'vertical society' it is important to know what your role is and how it works out in society. An important way to demonstrate an understanding of society is by being careful in the use of communication with others. Hence, the importance of modesty! In the Japanese language a whole subset of special words as well as grammatical forms are employed for use when speaking with superiors to demonstrate modesty. This subset is known as Keigo and is used extensively in the business world as well as when speaking with one's elders! Knowing how to use the correct expressions in Japanese society becomes very important. To demonstrate ones modesty by downplaying compliments or deflecting conversations away from oneself becomes a carefully orchestrated “dance” here. In the West this may seem silly or really overdoing the formalities, but here in Japan it is seen as necessary to show humility. Interestingly enough, in Japan this kind of passive or overly polite behavior is seen as a great virtue. Those who are humble, quiet, obedient, unquestioning to authority, and compliant are greatly valued here. (Although that is changing somewhat with new generations.) Whereas in America the opposite is true! Can you see how politics or businesses would clash when East meets West?
How does this value impact ministry? Since Japanese people value great modesty they can appreciate that the same virtues are taught by Christianity in the Bible. For this reason many Japanese respect Christians even if they do not want to become a Christian. The great truth of Christianity is that God can transform the inner man through salvation, which leads to true humility. Inward humility from a sincere motive truly comes from God. Often times Japanese are taught to be humble outwardly because it is required of society lest they be shamed, however it does not necessarily mean that they are humble people in reality. Often times visitors become disappointed to find out that the humility here is just an act. As Christians we know that only the inward heart change can truly change a person. Once a Japanese person realizes that, they are free to 'be themselves'. In the West we have no idea how much pressure can be exerted on a person to act a certain way because society demands it since we are so used to freely being able to express ourselves. Unfortunately, in the West our freedom often leads to various sins and crimes. Although modesty is a great virtue practiced here in Japan, it comes at the cost of sincerity often times as it is the product of forced compliance from fear of shame or dishonor. Please pray that true freedom in Christ can be found by these people!