Japan is known throughout the world as a country that blends ancient traditions together with modern life into one society. How is this even possible? This is what the Japanese call Iitoko-Dori, and it resonates strongly within Japanese culture. From ancient times Japanese culture has been known to blend elements together from differing world-views to create a unique society. At one time in ancient history Japan was at the end of the Silk Road, which made it the place where many ideas ended up. Traditionally a Shinto nation, Japan later encountered Buddhism as well as Confucianism and Christianity. The 'best' elements were taken from each world-view to combine together into a uniquely Japanese culture. The harmonizing of seemingly conflicting ideas took precedence over focusing on any one idea as the only or best truth to behold.
As Japan opened up to the world during the Meiji Era its leaders realized that they needed to modernize rapidly. During this era they gathered information from Western nations in order to carefully chose the elements of those societies that they deemed were the best and set forth to modernize Japan. Unlike other countries with ancient traditions, they were successfully able to rapidly change their nation while retaining many ancient beliefs. After World War 2 Japan was able to quickly adopt a new belief system of materialism and rapidly rebuild their nation while keeping to many of their ancient beliefs. Even today Japan is known as a country that tries to find the best ideas from other nations to either absorb or improve upon as noted in the successful automobile and electronics industries.
How can this belief impact missionary work? On the positive side there is very little religious conflict. In Japan the people often have a difficult time believing that there is only one truth. In Japanese society it is perfectly acceptable to hold to multiple religions with conflicting ideas by only holding to parts of each respective system. It is said that Japanese are born Shinto, have a 'Christian' wedding, and a Buddhist funeral. However, when rapidly adapting new ideas there has been little regard for the impacts on the people. For instance in modern Japan material success has become the main goal with the cost being a society in which competition is high from a young age, stress is high, work hours are long, and suicide rates are high. Change is slow in this area since ethics are considered to be relative due to a combination of belief systems. Japanese know that these societal conditions are not normal, but will not speak out against them until the entire group desires a change. Please pray that the Japanese will realize that Iitoko-Dori is not the ultimate truth in life!