Sunday, November 22, 2020

Japan Culture Series 28: Kawaii (可愛い)

 


It may come as a surprise to those obsessed with the historical romantic view of Japan as a great warrior culture that nothing dominates the Japanese cultural mindset more than the concept of Kawaii. Kawaii simply means cute, helpless, innocent, or lovable. In Japan no matter where a person travels they will be inundated with cute things whether it be advertising, city mascots, fashion, or the Japanese mindset of what is desirable. While in America we tend to be drawn to that which is 'cool' or 'sexy', the Japanese are certainly drawn to that which is Kawaii. This concept is so deeply held that even the most manly Yakuza gangsters can be melted by that which is Kawaii.

Upon first arrival in Japan I thought nothing of it, but now after having been here awhile I admit that I now am impacted by that which is cute. Being the father of two young daughters I cannot but help to be constantly reminded, whenever we go out, of cuteness from the average Japanese person. Many Japanese people are so saturated with the concept of Kawaii that when we do go out they will stop what they are doing and go into a kind of frenzy exclaiming how cute our children are. Sometimes we will even get a “Mecha Kawaii”, which means super cute. Why is this the case?

It seems to be the case that after seeing something cute and innocent we are instantly triggered with warm feelings. These sentiments have gradually been included into Japanese culture over time to where it is now a major force. The Japanese seem to have tapped into cuteness and turned it into a powerful force of marketing that can potentially change our perception about just about anything. Almost every city has a Kawaii-type mascot to draw attention to otherwise boring governmental business as well as tourism. Even the police have a Kawaii mascot intended to promote a safe or fun type image that inspires trust of authorities. This feel-good sense has been exploited to the max here in Japan to promote just about anything under the sun that can generate cash. It would seem that this love of all things Kawaii has generated a greater love for the things of this present world in the Japanese people's hearts. Cuteness has become something that Japanese people literally idolize. It seems to energize them as sort of an escape from a seemingly mundane, mechanical life of strict schedules and repetition.

God has certainly instilled within us a love for that which is innocent, cute, and helpless. When we reflect upon these things it reminds us of our own frail beginnings of infancy and early childhood. We can realize that we are really not as great and mighty as we think we are since we all came from humble beginnings. Once we realize this we can begin to realize that we are indeed not the greatest power in the galaxy, instead rather turning our focus to God which is the true great power. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Falling Away

 

A recent study in the United States indicated that one in fiveChristian” Americans would not return back to church after Covid19 issues end. In the United States there are many reasons for this as the culture shifts causing cultural Christianity to disappear. What about in Japan where the culture is already overwhelmingly opposed to Christianity? What do Christians face here?

Unlike the United States there is great pressure here to avoid Christianity given the underlying cultural norms that assume that being Japanese consists of: 1) Japanese racial identity, 2) Japanese language ability, and 3) Japanese accepted cultural norms which are heavily intermixed with Shintoism and Buddhism. All three of these elements make up “Japanese Culture”. An underlying assumption is that if you do not have these things, then you truly are not Japanese. So strong are these sentiments, that the few who do not agree with this understanding are readily shunned. 

Japanese are typically taught that Christianity is a “White man's religion from the West” that first came to Japan with the imperialistic intentions of the Jesuits and is therefore incompatible with Japanese values. However most Japanese are shocked to find out that Christianity is actually an Asian religion originating in the Middle East with most Christians being outside of The West. They are also shocked to find out that Christianity arrived into Japan before Buddhism and even has a Trinitarian God in its most ancient foundational religion that pre-dates Shintoism.

Ironically, Darwinism and Atheism, which are truly Western concepts are not questioned even though these ideologies have displaced Japanese culture more than any other in recent history! Even though most Japanese do not believe Shintoism or Buddhism personally the cultural pressure remains strong to give all outward appearances of adherence to said concepts.

When one decides to be a Christian here they are faced with the decision to potentially alienate themselves from their family and culture, which is a huge sacrifice in a group-oriented society. This has the effect of either creating a strong believer who lives for God or a life of stress, shame, and eventual surrender to the majority culture for those who desire to try to live in both worlds. 

One of the older ladies that my wife led to the Lord was faithful for years, traveling about two hours for church each Sunday, and even getting Baptized. However, when faced with continual family pressure as well as the realization that she would have to get rid of her family idols, it proved to be too much to handle, leading to her abandoning of the church. This is the sad reality for many Japanese Christians who have indeed learned the truth, received Christ as Savior truly, yet have returned back to their former lives preferring to live painfully as secret believers. It should be a reminder for Christians to determine which shame is greater; that of society, or that of our conscience and God. Please pray for Japanese Christians who have to make hard decisions in a world that is highly opposed to them living out their faith.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Tsuyu: The Japanese Rainy Season




In Japan during the month of June and July it is considered rain season or Tsuyu (梅雨). In the West we think of the word monsoon when we think of Asia's rainy season. For Americans thinking of places like Seattle and Portland's constant rain help to understand what it is like here during this time. Most of Japan is greatly impacted by these extended rains with the exception being Hokkaido to the far north. Often times people choose to stay indoors leading to economic activity as well as travel being limited. Some weeks can include constant rain while others are generally humid with constant drizzles. On the negative side many hazards such as flooding and landslides often occur in various areas. This year alone millions of yens worth of damage as well as many deaths have already occurred. Here is an article summarizing what has happened this year so far. The government has increasingly become more involved in organizing help to ravaged areas in the form of manpower and financial assistance. Also, it cannot be forgotten, that these damp conditions lead to rapid growth of mold as well as many varying sicknesses from barometric pressure changes. It can be said that these conditions have impacted Japanese culture as a whole.

For one these conditions allow for Japan's rice crops to flourish. Rice is well known for its need to have an abundance of water as well as humid type conditions to thrive. Rice has been the bedrock of Japanese civilization for generations. Historically, depending on the crops each year the nation would succeed or fail. Much of the country appears to be a jungle-like climate complete with lush vegetation, rivers, ponds, lakes, and all of the wild-life associated therein. These dense jungle-like conditions combined with Japanese folklore about spirits may be a reason as to why Japanese people do not seem to be too adventurous as a whole when it comes to exploring nature. The rain season has also led to Japanese being a more reflective people leading to great interest in poetry in times past. It could also be that these long rain season contributes to depression and mental issues that have often characterized the Japanese experience in recent times.

Though in modern times it does not seem that the average Japanese person has as much time to themselves as in times past, the rain season does thankfully allow for time to read and contemplate ideas. More open-minded Japanese people can use this time to read and watch videos about spiritual matters in particular. In recent times following a long Covid19 season beginning last January, the rain season has appeared to be particularly long. It seems that this season as well as growth of Covid19 this month has started to weigh down heavily on people looking for some kind of end in sight. Japanese people are really looking for answers, purpose for life, and reasoning about God. When finances, travel, friends, and peace have been taken away, what remains? Please pray for them to seek the truth during this rare time in life when the “normal routine” has ended.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Japan Culture Series 27: Jishuku Keisatsu


What happens when the law has limitations? In Japan the culture of shame often picks up where the law leaves off in solving issues. If something goes against societal norms in Japan, it is often seen as an open door for the strong 'culture of shame' to employ public shaming as a way to ensure compliance. In a group culture people tend to fear what others think rather than being independent. A recent case in point relates to the recent Covid19 pandemic. Fear arises when people think other people are not following the standards of social distancing, so they take it upon themselves to shame others into compliance.

These people have been called Jishuku Keisatsu ( 自粛警察 ) or self-appointed pandemic police. You can read more about them here in a recent news article. As Japan has decided to slowly re-open 39 of the 47 prefectures (mostly areas without mega cities) people have become cautious about those deciding to travel from infected areas to non-infected areas. As the article points out, it is a common practice in Japan for people to shame certain individuals who they deem as not complying to whatever social norm is in question. For this reason Japan also continually experiences bullying in schools, workplaces, and elsewhere at increasingly startling levels. Among other factors, these shaming practices are said to also contribute to high stress and suicide rates throughout Japan.

In a society in which grace as well as forgiveness are foreign concepts we can readily see the implications of a strict system of law keeping followed by shame for non-compliance. For this reason many people desirous of having a relationship with Christ are afraid to go against cultural norms for fear of being isolated from others and shunned from their families for life with many families even holding funerals for their newly converted relatives! In a shaming society that relies up the group in almost every faucet of life, going against the norm to follow Christ is seen as suicidal or highly hazardous to daily living. For this reason Japanese strongly believe that anything that goes against the cultural norms is not even to be considered even if it is true. Japanese would in many cases rather hold on to their ancient traditions (that they for the most part do not even believe are true) rather than face an angry mob accusing them of abandoning that 'which makes them Japanese'. For this reason those that become Christians in Japan, although few, are often highly dedicated and courageous people who desire to be both free inwardly and outwardly whatever the cost may be. It is also for this reason that some people can take many years to decide whether to become a Christian or to even openly live as a Christian outwardly in society. In the West even as times change we still often take for granted that we can live freely both inwardly and outwardly as a Christian in a grace-based society. Remember to pray for Japan!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Japan Culture Series 26: Syakaidekiyori




In recent days with constant talk of the virus spreading worldwide the term Syakaidekiyori 社会的距離 (social distancing), or practice of keeping a safe distance in order to prevent the spread of disease, has been circulating in the public forum as a new idea. However, in Japan this social distancing has been the way of life for a very long time. How is it that Japan being so close to China has experienced a relatively slow spread of the virus in comparison with other countries? ( https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries )

In most areas of Japan people live in very close proximity to one another due to living on a densely populated island. Japanese culture, although highly respectful, does not generally include touching. In fact, Japanese people generally keep their distance from one another in daily interactions. They rarely speak with strangers either. (A stranger being considered one outside of their immediate group.) This does not mean that they are cold or uncaring. On the contrary they are taught from a young age to be aware of each other at all times. This skill is known as 'reading the air'. So, during flu season it is typical for Japanese people to wear masks to prevent spread of sicknesses, though in America we would consider this weird. If they have serious symptoms they will generally stay home from school or work rather than spread it. Also most public stores have hand-sanitizers located at entries and restrooms. Japanese are also taught at a young age to wash their hands and gargle when coming in from outside. Some public drinking fountains here in buildings have signs saying “No Gargling” as it is an instilled habit of many to do so when walking in from outside to clear possible throat germs. There is generally a strong sense of shame in spreading sickness to others. Each year in Japan various schools will shut down if they suspect that a certain percentage of students have the flu. All of these factors are likely reasons as to why the virus is spreading slowly here in Japan.

When I first came to Japan I thought that wearing masks was silly as well, so I did not do it. I rode the train into Tokyo each day for language school through flu season with no mask and a normal hand-washing routine. That winter I was sick for three weeks altogether. The factor of adjusting to a new country's diseases as well as being in close proximity to others daily on the train led to my sicknesses increasing. However, the very next year I practiced social distancing habits by wearing a mask, avoiding sick looking people, and washing my hands after every train trip in and out of Tokyo. The results? I was only sick for one week that winter! Personally, I do think that social distancing has its merits especially in a time of worldwide virus spreading. The downsides are that people are very cautious when talking to others about religious matters. Please pray for openings to share the gospel with these people!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

2019: Year in Review



Happy New Years everyone! It is time once more to look back on the past year, recall what has happened, and see how best to thank God for all of the great blessings. Sometimes we think that not much has happened in the past year. However when we actually sit down to try to recall past events, we can realize just how much God has blessed and protected through all the uncertainties. Fortunately, as a missionaries we keep written records of the past year via email updates, so it is easier to reflect back on the past. This April 2020 will end our third year here this term. For 2019 our verse seemed to be Psalm 27:14 as follows:

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

Looking back on the past year it has really been a year of waiting. Japan is a patient work much like a very slow and careful game of chess: it takes time as well as careful consideration to do well. To understand these people, their language, and customs really takes much duration. Much of what we do in America is the direct opposite of the Japanese way of thinking. With each soul learning new spiritual concepts, with each of the thousands of Kanji to learn, with understanding how to communicate well, and with adjusting here a great amount of patience is required. A veteran missionary here half-jokingly, half-seriously stated that it takes five years to speak, five years to hear, and ten years to understand Japanese! Japanese people greatly value patience, silence, and time. Sometimes as Americans this can be frustrating since we want immediate results, high efficiency, and success! (And we want it now!) Nothing can demonstrate this more clearly than trying to learn how to read Kanji in Japanese. Imagine learning a new alphabet each week for a year and a half, then trying to apply it immediately! That is the equivalent to learning the Japanese Kanji! Nothing forces patience on an unwieldy American like this experience!

Looking back over the past year continuing to go to Japanese language school from January of last year until June when our new baby daughter was born was a lot of necessary work. Since June it has been interesting to switch over to going to community classes, self-study, and language partners each week. Keeping up a daily disciplined study has helped to increase communication, reading, writing, and listening skills, however there is still a lot of work to do. From a health prospective, this last year has only had about two weeks of being sick, so that was a great blessing. Also we praise God that the baby birth went extremely well. In the realm of evangelism we have ordered 75,000 gospel tracts and put out about 62,000 this last year. We continue to daily meet people from all around the world when we go into public. We also made a new international website for evangelism purposes here: http://AfterDeathTruth.weebly.com/ Each day it continues to get views from all around the world as the internet appears to be the main place people congregate now. Please pray for these outreach efforts. Taking part in leading a man to the Lord and slowly discipling him this year has been a great blessing and encouragement. Also our first Japanese friend continues to grow spiritually, has completed many 'Source of Light Japan' Bible courses, and has finished translating 'One Heartbeat Away' into Japanese, as well as a few gospel tracts. He continues to desire serving God. His entire family is now born-again, with his mother recently being baptized. The church we are working with has seen some salvations and baptisms over the past year as well.

My wife has done a great job taking care of us and the new baby. She has also made a lot of great relationships with neighbors here and is commonly invited into their houses which is a rare privilege in Japan. One neighbor has really taking a liking to her and has taught her how to make as well as bind books! Katie hopes to use this skill to make evangelistic children's books in the future. God is really using her in a lot of local relationships. Our previous friendships have also been maintained which have opened the door to many a spiritual conversation. We know that seeds are being planted and watered slowly. We are really grateful for new friendships this year. Please remember to continue to pray for these people. My wife was also able to plan and host a missionary woman's retreat with the help of a few ladies, which was a much needed blessing. Our older daughter has been enjoying her time with the children here as well as learning new Japanese words. Someday she will be our teacher! Our adult English class has also been a blessing. We have been able to do two separate classes in the last year: one with a 8 session course doing the gospel message, and one on-going class to go through Genesis 1 through 11. Each class is free and has been well-liked by the students.

The ups come with downs as well when we can become frustrated with the slow pace of spiritual successes, the battles of learning the language, and difficulties of living in a new culture. As we reflect back on the year we realize that there have been a lot of blessings, struggles, and surprises. Learning this mission field will be a life-long pursuit with it's own unique advantages and disadvantages. Please pray for this next year as the Olympics will be coming to Tokyo along with all of the opportunities that will come with it. Thank you for your prayers and support.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Japanese Culture Series 25: Daijosai




Recently in Japan a new emperor succeeded the throne after the previous one abdicated. (Read about it here. ) To the Japanese, as well as other countries throughout the world, the royal family is an important part of their heritage. A lengthy process is involved for a heir to become the actual emperor of Japan which culminates after a series of ceremonies into the final event called 'Daijosai'. In this lengthy ceremony, which lasts for a whole night, the new emperor performs rituals, prayers, and offerings to the sun god. A simple description can be found here and a more complex explanation can be found here.

The emperor basically becomes the spiritual leader of the country by communing with the sun god. In one document he is said to be given a god spirit complete with special abilities. In the past before World War 2 the Japanese believed that their emperor was a god, although today the belief is marked with controversy. Whether or not the people believe him to be a god, the fact remains that the event is a highly spiritual Shinto ceremony in which the emperor is being given some kind of spirit along with authority over the country. In plain speech, the spiritual leader of this country is being led by the spirit of this world. In Japan each of the provinces contain many temples and shrines through which continual offerings and requests are made to various deities. Generally, most children are continually dedicated throughout their childhood to various deities in order to gain health and prosperity. It is then no wonder as to why this nation remains firm in its opposition to salvation through Christ. Please pray for this nation's half of a percent Christian population and those here seeking truth in this modern day Pergamos!


Friday, September 20, 2019

10 Year Anniversary in Japan

On top of  Mt. Fuji


Normally my husband is the writer of this blog, however he asked me if I would do a special post to commemorate my 10 year anniversary as a missionary in Japan. Much thanks to all those who have helped me make it! When I first came over as a single lady I went to language school while assisting churches for the first 5 years. This post is about some of the things I learned, but mainly I wish to write this to benefit people who are considering service as a missionary or in some other ministry capacity. Amazingly the points I wanted to write about came to me in alliterated form so...

DEAR FUTURE MISSIONARY, This is for you...

CALLING

Confirmation: I always advise new missionaries not only to ask God for a clear calling and confirmation for going into ministry, but also for choosing a certain field. Because tough times on the field are inevitable, knowing that you are called from God will help give real determination for your mission. I also strongly advise asking God to give a special confirmation verse that confirms His leading in your life.
Christ: Make sure your calling is from Christ and not just your own sense of adventure,
obligation, pride, emotion, or some other thing that you think is calling you to the field. Only Christ provides the power and long term incentive for keeping to your calling!
Count the Cost: Just as the passage in Luke 14 speaks of counting the cost before you begin
something, you must also do this with your life on the mission field before you go. Be aware that you are going to miss out on special family gatherings, weddings, funerals, friendships, and seeing family growing up. Sure, there will be short furloughs, but you can't go back home for everything. You have to be okay with this.

FAITH

While walking by faith is essential for any successful Christian life, there are 10 areas of faith that I believe are particularly important to have as you start your ministry journey and to develop as you serve.
Field: This goes back to the confirmation point as mentioned before. Having faith that the field you are going to or working on is correct is important. Can your field change? Sure it can. But make sure it is a step of faith and not based on feelings that you are in the right place.
Finances: If you can learn to trust God early with your finances the better off you will be for the
field. My best advice is DO NOT take out loans or go into debt for anything. Trust God to provide
for your needs and be patient for Him to do so. This may sound crazy by today's thinking, but that's
exactly what I did for all 4 years of college when neither I nor my parents could afford it. I was on
my knees every weekend begging God to provide for my next bill and He used it to teach me to trust
Him. Miraculously, He provided everything with no debt involved! That was just the preparation I needed for the field.
Family: You must trust God to take care of the family you are leaving, and the one you are taking
with you. Pray for their protection , needs, etc. I was single when I first came to Japan, so I
had to have faith God would send me a man also called to serve God in Japan, and He did!
Future: We have no idea what our future on the field will look like, or how long He will allow us
to be here. Many times missionaries can get discouraged because when their "future" arrives it
looks much different than they had envisioned it. But we shouldn't be discouraged—only trust God
and keep serving Him!
Friendships: Faith in friendships can be applied here in a couple of different ways. First it is
important to have faith that God is bringing friendships into your life for His purposes. There are
people He wants you to witness to as well as minister to that need you—and ultimately need Him. Also, you must use faith and seek God as to who you are to be partners to minister with. Do not just
assume you will fit with someone because it seems right. It is important to really seek God on these matters.
Fights: Yes, there will be fights on the field! Fights with Satanic forces, fights with those who
you are trying to minister to, and yes, fights or disagreements with co-ministers. The
number one reason missionaries leave the field is over disagreements with co-workers. During these
times it is important to seek God and make sure you are clear in your own conscience, gracious
and forgiving towards the other party, and in the end that you put your faith in God to keep going
even when things are looking down.
Feelings: We must realize we cannot rely on our feelings as a missionary. There will be good
times and bad times. It's important to keep our eyes on God during both times and seek Him for constant leading and direction rather than what we are feeling like doing. Be not weary in well doing!
Failures: There will be times when we fail. Our ministry isn't going to be perfect, but we must trust that God can still work in failures and have faith that He doesn't give up on us when we mess up!
Fruit: We must have faith that God brings the fruit! Some places like those in many Latin
American countries have fields that are ripe for harvest with many getting saved rather quickly. Others like Japan need a lot of watering or weeding before even one little plant sprouts up. Either way the fruit is from God in His timing. This doesn't negate our need for laboring for souls, nor does it mean we should be proud, thinking Salvation of a soul is all our doing. We labor, then trust
God for the increase.
 Fitness: One of the most common ways a missionary is tested on the field is through health concerns. Be it yourself, family back home, or your children—and believe me, nothing tests a missionary like having a child with health concerns on the field. Medical practices will be different and often the language is too. But again, each one must be given to the Lord as they come up—and often repeatedly. The other aspect of faith in fitness is taking care of our body as the Bible says to prevent health issues. Not being gluttonous, getting exercise, and taking care of our body as it is the temple of God. Even so there WILL be things that arise—accidents, sudden sickness, dental issues etc., but we must look at these things as a way to grow our trust and love for the Lord.

FLEXIBILITY

I could have put this point and the next under the Faith bullets and kept up with the alliteration, but I felt they were important enough to deserve their own sections. My college missions teacher used to say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be easily bent out of shape.” This is a great point for missionaries to remember because there are many different kinds of demands on the field, and often when ministry opportunities arise it will be in an unexpected way. One veteran missionary told me to learn every skill I possibly could before coming to the field because God would use them all. I've found this to be true. Also, having enough time management skills in one's life to be able to minister to someone when the opportunity arises is a challenge for the busy missionary, but something to strive for!

FAITHFULNESS

One of the key characteristics of a successful missionary is faithfulness. Faithfulness is most often found in the private life where no one but God sees. Faithfulness in reading your Bible, faithfulness in prayer, faithfulness in witnessing, and since I became a wife I have added family and home duties to things to be faithful in. As I am naturally a more sporadic-type person, this has been an area that I've had to do some growing in—and I still have plenty of growing room! I must say I'm thankful for my husband's example in this way as he is a faithful, steady man if I ever met one! Even though I have been on the field 10 years now, there is still much for me to learn, from my husband who has been here less time than I, from others, and from God. Which brings me to one of my most important tips for missionaries: Never stop learning, but be faithful to always allow God to use your experiences, relationships, failures, and especially His Word and the Holy spirit to keep teaching you no matter how long you serve Him!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Japanese Cultural Series 24: Oyakōkō



In your mind, what is the most important thing in your life? In Western individualistic culture we are typically free to answer that question in any number of ways. However for many Asian group cultures that are based in Confucianism often the family takes precedent over everything else. This focus is known in Japan as oyakōkō, (filial piety) or the virtue of respect for parents, elders, and ancestors. A child is essentially obligated to obey their parents in all matters including who to marry, what career to get, and how to live life. This obligation often exists as long as parents are alive. Even after death many Asian cultures extend this obligation into the next life through ancestor worship and the consulting of their spirits. Even today a great majority of Japanese are expected to obey their parents in all matters. However, some modern trends are moving more toward loosening these obligations as long as no shame is not brought to the family. Why do many Asian cultures still strictly adhere to these principles? It appears that strict adherence to traditions, strong desire to avoid shame, strong desire for favor in the sight of others, and elevation of adhering to the past are among factors that these cultures hold in the highest regard. Some of the benefits of oyakōkō include high respect levels in society in daily interactions, low crime rates, preservation of traditions, and care for the elderly. To the western mind where our world is increasingly lacking any decency this kind of respect sounds refreshing, but it often comes at a cost.

What if a child does not want to be a doctor when they grow up? What if they do not want to follow their parent in continuing an ancient tradition, custom, or trade? What if someone wants to follow Jesus Christ instead of worshiping their ancestors? To the Japanese mind the individual is not important and must give up their personal desires for the sake of the group. This is learned from a very early age beginning in pre-school. This form of harmony for the sake of pleasing others comes at the cost of the individual's choice. For a Japanese Christian immersed in this world is it more important to be obedient to one's parents (Colossians 3:20) or forsake family for Christ? (Matthew 19:29) These are some of the dilemmas that people in Japan often face. So, a commitment to follow Christ or to get baptized often takes a long time as many factors are carefully considered. To go against the societal structure in this way is viewed as the worst of sins by society. So when a person does become a Christian they truly know what it is like to follow the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23-25:

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?


In Western culture the closest example would be that of the Jehovah's Witnesses. If one within their ranks decides to become a Christian they will be disowned by their entire family, therefore the cost to them is greater. Please pray for the Japanese people and Japanese Christians!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Japan: Land of Contrasts



Recently, a visitor to Japan asked me why it is that Japanese people frequent temples and shrines, yet claim that they do not have any religious beliefs. In the west we consider this to be contradictory or hypocritical, however to Japanese people this is normal. In the Japanese way of thinking going to a temple is not necessarily a matter of belief or unbelief, but more of a sense of honoring the past, honoring ancient traditions, and being respectful to ancestors as well as Japan itself. Imagine a typical American atheist coming into a church and having his children partake in Sunday school out of respect for America's culture, traditions, and history while at the same time refusing to believe in God! Imagine if he asked the pastor to pray for him, while not believing in God at all! This is just one of many examples of how Japanese people live.

To the Japanese person it is important to focus on, uphold, and show respect for the past. Traditionally, to them the past is held in reverence and should be considered most important when considering future decision making. So, even though the average modern Japanese person does not claim to have any religious beliefs, they will take their child to a religious dedication ceremony because that is what the culture and tradition demands. They will perform prayers and ceremonies (or pay others to) for their dead ancestors at grave sites because that is what culture and tradition demands, not because that is what they actually believe in. In this way Japan is a land of contrasts. In the west we often boldly believe that we should move into the future with little if any regard for the past. This occurs to such an extent that increasingly few people know about history or care to know about history. Of course, there should be a balance.

In Japan this balance is increasingly difficult to find as there is a rapid push for globalization, a large number of Japanese people who have traveled and lived abroad, and a new generation that desires to leave behind the heavy burdens of the past. So, as long as these concepts remain in a flux, Japan remains a land of contradictions. Japanese people increasingly have to decide whether they will modernize while abandoning the past versus trying to modernize while preserving the past. I personally believe that a major part of the spiritual powers controlling Japanese thinking come from the power exerted over the Japanese people from the worship of the past. Any visitor will recognize that Japanese people go to great extends to preserve the past. Japanese people take great pride in their past. (As opposed to recent American thinking which takes pride in hating its past.)

Concerning the ministry here it would appear important to show respect for the past within reason while balancing a healthy outlook on the future with God's help. Once a person becomes a born-again believer in Christ there is a definite pattern to personal growth with having all things become new and moving in a future direction toward becoming more holy like God. This is in stark contrast to focusing on the past to the point of being the most important thing to revere. A real challenge is finding the balance between past, present, and future with God as our emphasis. Our American churches are currently dealing with this as well. Completely focusing on the past or completely rejecting the past are both negative extremes with their own consequences. Part of our faith is a healthy focus on the past while moving into the future knowing the hope that God is in control with a future plan for humanity.