Jan 4, 2016

Japan and the Christian mind

It intrigues me that less than 1% of Japan's population identify as Christian. According to Wikipedia, this still equates to over 1 million people if you lump Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox together. A respectable number even if a tiny, tiny proportion of the nation. When I began studying Bahasa Indonesian some six months ago, I learned that around 10% of the population identify as Christian, but this number is closer to 23 million people.

I began studying further, utilising search engines, blogs, ebooks and even talking to Actual People and the prevailing thought seems to be that Christianity is disruptive; it spoils the harmony of the community and provokes a selfish, individualist attitude.

What kind of “Christians” have these people been talking to? The question stopped me in my tracks. In my own experience, Christianity seems quite in tune with the culture – it is focused on community, assisting those around us who cannot assist themselves and reaching out to those around us, lifting one another up and teaching one another. The question really should be “How have we Christians been conducting ourselves?”

I started thinking about my own experiences with so called Christians before I found my faith again and I began to understand the negative viewpoint. I encountered a great of hypocrisy, bigotry disguised as doctrine and wild eyed, mindless fanaticism. People confronting me in the street, grabbing my arm and shouting how I was doomed if I didn't accept Christ as my Saviour, buskers committing crimes against music to the point that even the church they were performing in front of ordered them to move on. And then you have the prosperity focused churches who are all about the money. Certainly one can understand how these false teachers are seen as disruptive and objectionable.

As I began to write this entry on New Years Day, I received multiple interruptions that disrupted my train of thought – these proved to be beneficial however, as they gave me time to further my research and realise that my original idea was incomplete. Whilst I had briefly glanced at the history of Christianity in Japan, I discovered that there was a great deal more than I first thought and my original understanding was flawed.

I came to discover that part of the problem was they way we approached the subject – Christianity explained from a Western perspective can be construed as sometimes meaningless, sometimes objectionable and offensive. Expressions and similes that we use in English (or even the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic texts) don't translate well into either the Japanese language or the culture. In addition to translating the language, we must also seek out a cultural equivalent to explain.

So as I renew my studies of Japanese, reviewing my textbooks and notes from my night classes dating back from 1997, I realise that I need to approach my learning from the other direction – I need to study not just more about the culture but also the religion of Japan to find parallels, to find the parallels that make the gospel more comprehensible but more accessible. We will never inspire people to look further into the gospel if we start off offending them.



Endeavouring to find a way to combine my fascination with Japan with my Christian faith and my multi-media artistic pursuits.


  • Tomuu

    on Jan 4

    There's a writer from back home called AA Gill. He writes very aggressively and makes sweeping generalizations but he's an entertaining read. You either love him or hate him (or his writing, I should say), kind of thing. He approaches his subjects the same way, love or hate, no middle ground. Anyway, in a collection of his travel articles one piece is written from Japan - which he hated. I mean, he really lays into the country. If I remember correctly, he declares that the country lacks 'love'. One of the reason's he sites for his opinion of Japan is religion; he's very critical of religious practice over here; Shintoism, Confucious, Taoism .. he ends up saying something along the lines of people here believing everything and nothing, and that people end up having no concept of individuality. Anyway, I'm losing where I'm going with this, but maybe there's something in there to explain some of the reactions you talk about in this post, or maybe not. Maybe he's just trying to get a reaction to sell some books. Either way, it might be of interested. The book is called AA Gill Is Away.

  • Erky

    on Jan 5

    @Tomuu Thank you for that. Though it may be painful to read, sometimes we need to try and review all opinions and find their inspiration or justification, good or bad. As I have started to research further in Shinto, some of the texts have been rather unflattering, but often of the "this isn't what I believe so therefore it is wrong" variety. We have to wade through a great deal of waffle and nonsense in order to get to the truth.

  • DaveJpn

    on Jan 5

    It's an interesting idea to explore these religious themes from the perspective of culture. Without having thought about it a great deal, should religion not be beyond culture, or transcend culture? Does bending/shaping a religion to fit into the cultural 'architecture' undermine the core principals of the religion itself? Or, I suppose, is it actually possible to think of/interpret a religion without the influence of our own culture? Again, without the time to think on this a great deal (as I write), I would say it's not possible.

  • Erky

    on Jan 5

    @DaveJpn In theory, faith should transcend culture and Christianity is open to all comers. There is however an aspect that can make it too foreign and unpalatable if people have already closed their minds to the idea, or simply dismiss it as irrelevant - having been on the receiving end of bible-thumping, fire and brimstone fanatics, I can appreciate what it is like to be turned away from idea that otherwise caught my interest. If an idea is presented in a way that inspired one to look further, it can gain a great deal of momentum - particularly if one can investigate of their own free will. It is too easy to consider the idea from the Western perspective since Christianity has been part of our culture for two millennia - it is part of our heritage even when we are not conscious of it. In the 16th century, indeed long before that, Christianity was introduced to Japan but as it gained popularity, it was outlawed and its followers were tortured and put to death. How much of that stigma remains ingrained in today's culture?