After hearing a powerful gospel presentation, even being moved by God's Spirit in ways never experienced before, most Japanese will respond that they cannot become Christian simply because they are “Japanese.” What does this mean? To the Japanese person they are taught at a very young age that their primary identity is to be “Japanese” above all other things. That Japanese identity consists of elevating the group beliefs above the individual's personal desire or conscience. The personal desires or beliefs of the individual are seen as selfish if they are in opposition to the group norms. The individual has little value compared with the group, so much so that even in the Japanese language “I” or “you” are rarely used. Even if a Japanese person knows that Buddhism and Shintoism are false while Christianity is true, they still will not embrace this truth because their identity is mixed up with the false notion of what it means to be Japanese. They are captive to this domineering mindset. Japanese are taught to forcibly suppress their own desires (and conscience) in order to please the group at any cost. This is the cost of societal cohesion in their understanding. So when the eldest son of a family refuses truth not because he knows that it is true, but because he is expected to do it for the sake of his family and ancestor's dignity, he is seen as valiant by his fellow countrymen. To the Western mind, especially the American, this is a particularly hard concept to grasp or begin to even understand.
As Americans we often take for granted the fact that we can freely choose our beliefs without changing our identities as Americans. However, for most of the world the identity along with beliefs are combined together into one system. This is why when America was founded it was such a radical experiment in so many ways. We can thank the Baptists for this system of understanding that they gleaned from the Bible. Early Baptist Americans understood the necessity for separation of church and state, which allowed the individual to freely choose their beliefs without being compelled by the state as was in the case of Europe. In the European system an infant identified with a church and state combined system was baptized into a certain church thereby establish his loyalty as well as identity for life to that system. Their loyalty was said to be cemented to God and the state where they lived. The concept of freely choosing beliefs derives from the Baptist idea of individual soul liberty, or the ability for each man to choose a belief according to his conscious, which is why the ancient Anabaptist was hated so much for the crime of “re-baptism” or “believer's baptism” as we know it now. To re-baptize was seen as an act of rebellion against the state that you were committed to as an infant through baptism. In most of the world the individual is simply an arm of the state. The state dictated what the individual was to believe whether it be Islam in Saudi Arabia, Catholicism in Italy, or Anglicanism in the U.K. for example; various countries imposed belief systems upon their populace. In Europe loyalty from birth to the state was unquestionably accepted until certain peasants began to read the Bible for themselves in their own language. The rest is history.
So, back to Japan. What is the Bible's response to this mindset? Interestingly, Jesus himself confronted a similar mindset in the scriptures. Matthew 16:21-26 KJV recounts the situation. “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” In this situation Peter is trying to convince Jesus to suppress Himself in order to maintain the status quo. For the sake of maintaining life as usual in the group Peter essentially tries to get Jesus to deny what He knows to be true about Himself. Jesus response is telling. He rebukes Peter, calling him Satan. Jesus says that Peter values the things of men above the things of God. This is essentially the same temptation that Japanese are faced with in responding to the gospel, which is to value the things of men (in their case group norms) above the things of God (truth of Bible). Jesus then takes it a step further and says to his disciples that any who wish to follow Him must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. He is saying to them to deny their own comforts in this present world, to embrace the truth with all of the sufferings it will bring, and follow after Him. To follow Christ is to go against the norms of the world system no matter what country is represented. He continues by asking what profit is there from gaining the world at the cost of the soul. Anyone who rejects the truth of Christ may gain comfort or riches in this world, but will ultimately lose His own soul eternally. So, for the Japanese person the cost to be with the ancestors is great, but are they completely aware of the eternal implications? The epic struggle of truth versus harmony lives on in the Japanese soul whenever the gospel is presented.