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A Special Missions Report On Japan
20 April 2008
by Joshua Ong

Christianity Is Springing Forth In Japan

Today, Japan is yet to be called a Christian country with a growing and vibrant church. She has fewer born-again believers than some Muslim countries. For many hundreds of years, Christianity has faced tremendous oppressions and discriminations in this nation dominated by two traditional strongholds of Buddhism and Shintoism.

It was said in the past that the Japanese soil was a burial ground for Christian missionaries. There and then, many Japanese Christians were persecuted and nailed to crosses or burned together with their children. The Japanese only responded favorably to the gospel in the late 1800s when Japan re-opened its doors to the West. However, this was followed by renewed suspicions and rejections of Christian teachings. Protestant church growth slowed dramatically in the early 20th century as the rule of the military government deterred growth. Very few people dared to embrace Christianity in this Land of the Rising Sun.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Shinto was made a state religion, stressing worship of the emperor as a god and the racial superiority of the Japanese. But this took a drastic change after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Surrender of Japan in 1945. After which, the emperor became a demigod or half-god.

After World War II, General Douglas MacArthur ruled Japan as a virtual dictator. He called Japan a spiritual vacuum. The essential problem of post-war Japan was a spiritual crisis. He then issued this request: "Send me 1000 missionaries, and I will give you Japan." He also contacted the Gideons, requesting for as many Bibles as they could supply. But to his amazement, the Church of Christ did not respond accordingly, and Japan went in a different direction of economic progress and self-sufficiency.

Sixty years later, Japan still remains in a state of spiritual emptiness and confusion. There is a Japanese popular belief today that says: "Japanese are born as a Shinto, marry as a Christian, and die as a Buddhist." The boundaries of these religions are blurred, and cannot be easily differentiated. Many people have looked to economic success, latest fashion designs and electronics gadgets to fill their spiritual vacuums. But this faltered recently as the nation went through a financial crunch and crisis. Many weary and jaded Japanese are beginning to lose their hope in life.

Today, most Japanese have almost everything they need or want in life, but what is lacking is their purpose in life. Who are they? Why are they here? This question cannot be answered unless they know the God Who created them, and loves them! Only then everything makes sense. This is the dark night of the soul, having every material thing and yet not being satisfied!

In association with the American Trademark Research and MJM Group in 2001, a new Gallup poll was conducted in Japan. It was the most extensive survey ever taken in the nation. It reveals some surprising findings about Japanese attitudes towards religion, morality and spirituality. The survey showed that 11 percent of the Japanese wished that they had never even been born. This clearly explains why the country has such an unusually high rate of suicides.

When asked about what their religion was, four percent of adults and seven percent of teenagers checked "Christian," out of a list of many different religions. This stunning figure made big news when it was released in 2006. This is in great contrast with the CIA World Fact Book, which previously reported that the official number of Christians in Japan was less than one percent of the whole population of 127 million people.

One pastor in Tokyo commented, "From our point of view, the sense we have that the percentage suddenly went from under one percent to maybe five times that is, uh, unimaginable -- and we don't get the feeling that that has actually happened."

While the survey number may not show truly born-again Christians, some researchers believe it could definitely mean that many Japanese are softening their hearts toward the Gospel of Christ. They may be neither church members nor church attendees, but they could identify themselves with the Christian faith. Something about the ideas and values of Christianity appeal to them.

The popularity of Western or Christian-style weddings is one of the main reasons why many Japanese like about Christianity. There is this element of joy during the Christian weddings that attracts the Japanese people. Besides this, many Japanese love all things Western. Many couples are trading their traditional wedding kimonos for the pearly white gowns and black tuxedoes.

Another incredible phenomenon is the influence of black gospel music, enlightening many Japanese to the Good News. These music are widely popular in Japan, and easily available in many CD shops. The Japanese people love the music, but they have yet to understand the words behind the music. They have not yet come to know who God really is, or why they need to receive Christ. When they listen to Christian music, especially those anointed ones, their spirits begin to be stirred up as the Spirit of God begins to touch them deep within. They love the feelings, but they just don't understand what is going on. The Spirit of God is working in their hearts, and sometimes healing takes place.

Another effective evangelistic tool is the Alpha Course. It is enjoying some success in reaching the Japanese. As people meet in small groups to hear a presentation of the Gospel, they come face to face with confronting heart issues. The Alpha Course shines some light into the dark night of the soul where a spiritual vacuum resides.

More Japanese need to know who Jesus is and what Christianity is all about. Jesus loves them, regardless of race, language, culture and religion. They are all precious in His sight because He also died for their sins. They need the Lord!

Christianity is springing forth in Japan after a very cold and harsh winter of dormant growth and spiritual barrenness. The young hearts of Japan are now opening up to the Gospel. The harvest in Japan truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, we must pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written:
"How beautiful are the feet of those
who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!" (Romans 10:14-15)

If we do our part, soon and very soon, this Land of the Rising Sun will be known as the Land of Risen Son!

From the rising of the sun to its going down
The LORD's name is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations,
His glory above the heavens. (Psalm 113:3-4)

Joshua Ong is a GMT missionary, now serving in a church in Kitami, Hokkaido. He is reaching out to children and youth in the rural city through teaching English and Mathematics. The high school and tuition centre are founded by the local church. Besides giving academic lessons, he also conducts Bible studies, leads praise and worship, and preaches the Word of God.