Japan: Six Months After 3/11
My family and I recently traveled to Japan to visit relatives. My wife’s mother and step-father live in Osaka, the second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. On the trip I had a chance to get a pulse of the country post 3/11. The treble disasters of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that hit the northeastern part of the country earlier this year on March 11, 2011, continue to bring pain and discomfort to many in the region.
Many people are still without a permanent dwelling place. Others are displaced from the houses in which they have lived most of their lives. I spoke with a couple of people who volunteered in the aftermath of the disaster. One woman I spoke with says that some people don’t even have enough pots for cooking.
Mr. Akihiro Shouno, a Christian living in Osaka, has made eight trips to the region since April and gave me a sense of the spiritual conditions in the region. He says that although at first many were receptive to the gospel, after things settled down the people seem to have reverted back to trusting in idols. The Fukushima and Miyagi areas are filled with idols and in a country where less than one percent of the population is Christian, the areas most affected by the quake are some of the most pagan.
Japan has been called the “graveyard of missionaries” due to the low conversion rate to Christianity and high burnout rate of Christian missionaries. The older generations of Japanese tend to be Buddhists or Shinto, while most of the rest of society prefers to have no religion at all. People in Japan work very hard and men in particular have little free time for things like Bible studies and worship services. Further complicating things is the fact that in Japan “the nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” In their shame-based culture, Japanese experience enormous pressure to conform. Consequently, many who do have an interest in Christianity are afraid to get baptized or make a full commitment. It is not uncommon for those who do become Christians to suffer persecution from family members. Some Japanese parents are ashamed when their children are converted to a “western religion” (as Christianity is often described.)
The church in Japan is also undergoing hardship. Many churches have been influenced by destructive teachings like the word faith movement and the prosperity gospel. The Reformed church is practically non-existent in Osaka, the fourth largest economy in the world (by city).
So what will change the hearts of the Japanese, if not experiencing epic scale disasters? The same power that changes the hearts of people everywhere else – the gospel working itself out through the self-sacrificing love of the church. Paul writes in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
We should never think that any country or heart is too difficult for the gospel to penetrate. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the power of the gospel to all who believe – including the Japanese. We should continue to pray for the unreached peoples of the world and strive for the gospel in lands near and far, despite the odds. May Japan one day be known as the land of the risen Son.
Chip Crissey is Production Coordinator for the Creative department at Ligonier Ministries. He previously taught English in Japan for seven years, where he met and married his wife, Chie.