Ever wondered why more Japanese don’t come to Christ? Ever wondered how it’s possible that so few come to Christ when there are so many missionaries over here? Here are a few of the reasons why Japanese people continue to resist the Word.
Being Japanese Is a Religion unto Itself
It’s difficult to break the cords of deep-rooted Shinto beliefs in this country. While many Japanese claim to be atheist, there is a sense of pride that being Japanese makes one unique and different from the rest of the world. This kind of attitude breeds arrogance and creates a hostile attitude toward scripture, because Japanese people are unable to think of the Bible as being their “real roots.” The whole point of the Bible is that God created us and loves us, but many Japanese see the Bible as some nice story about people completely unrelated to themselves; even Bible translations filled with words relating to Shintoism doesn’t change their minds!
Cults Are Actively Recruiting
I remember one Sunday, a super nice lady came to the church we were attending and started handing out complements like there was no tomorrow. She looked normal in every regard and seemed like a genuine person. Before she left, she handed us a tract from her church: a cult. Frighteningly, many cults over here also use the word “church” to refer to themselves. It’s not pleasant to think about, but I would argue that many of these Christian churches over here are cults in the making: they have their own way of doing things, they don’t communicate with outsiders, and the pastor is glorified above all.
I remember in college, there was a professor who justified this by calling it “ancestor veneration.” While this is a fancier title, it is ultimately the same thing. Many Japanese believe that you need to take care of the souls of your ancestors and have a giant Buddhist Family Altar in your home enshrined with the souls of your ancestors. As a Christian, you’d be pretty coldhearted to throw out the soul of grandma and grandpa, wouldn’t you? This creates massive conflict within families as to what to do with it once the parents pass on. These massive altars cost thousands of dollars and are one of the focal points of the Japanese home.
The Bible Is Expensive
It seems like you can get a Bible for free or at least dirt cheap everywhere in the States. Gideons International is also active over here handing out Bibles periodically, but apart from them, I haven’t seen any mass handing out of Bibles anywhere. The cheapest New Japanese Bible I could find on Amazon Japan was $30 for paperback! Compare that to $5-10 for the NIV on Amazon in the States and you’ve got a major price difference that can be absolutely devastating to evangelism.
Propaganda against Christianity
When the temple and shrine leaders realized that they were losing revenue to the Christians, they got together to campaign against Christianity and take back their precious source of income. I remember watching this be openly admitted to on mainstream Japanese TV. That propaganda continues to this day. It always makes me laugh when these people say that Christianity is not compatible in Japan, because it’s a foreign religion, when hello: so is Buddhism. Never underestimate the other side to come up with reasons to reject their creator.
I find it sad that many Japanese people are unable to talk to God plainly. In German, you are able to use the familiar forms of “you” to address God, but in Japanese even small children speak to God using the polite forms of the verb. As a result, some children don’t have the motivation to pray. I remember one Japanese child who was confidently blabbing away in Japanese until it came time to pray and then he was almost like a completely different person, stammering over his words. Why would you want children to talk to God like a stranger? How is God supposed to be our father, if we talk to him like we talk to somebody we don’t know? I truly think this should change. Prayer is not a big show for other people. It is our precious connection to the heavenly father that should be as open and free as possible. This barrier between Japanese people and God needs to come down. How are we supposed to win souls for Christ, when many Japanese do not see Him as even able to speak Japanese? It would serve us all well to stop praying using polite speech.
Unlike in the States, Japanese people view relationships in terms of status. Right from childhood, you refer to your siblings in terms of the birth order. The Japanese words for father and mother even receive the respectful title “-san.” When you go to school, your whole world is governed by the Sempai System–addressing fellow older students with a special title. Can you imagine American kids in high school calling seniors “Sempai” instead of addressing them by name? This creates a dilemma: how are we supposed to be friends with God when he is the ultimate superior?
Western Approach to Evangelism
I know this might offend some people, but the western approach to evangelism is definitely not working! Japanese people have heard the gospel. They hear and they choose a resounding, “No thanks.” In my opinion many of the missionaries here are wasting time and money. Building bigger, better churches will not make more sincere Japanese converts.
For one, the shrines and temples are way more beautiful than anything I’ve seen in most churches over here. There’s a reason why over a million people flock to Kyoto every year to see the gorgeous architecture. How are you going to make people want to tear down their temples, when the buildings to take their place are so drab? If you must have a building for your church (which I don’t believe is necessary), at least in Europe, you’ve got super-gorgeous buildings dedicated to God. Here, it looks like leftovers or worse. Building your western style houses and churches is not going to make Japanese people more moral. If anything, it’s just going to solidify in Japanese people’s minds that Christianity is “western” and doesn’t belong in the east.
I am not a fan of watered-down gospel. I am not a fan of “seeker friendly” churches. I have seen first-hand here how this creates halfway converts, especially in Japan. The true message of the gospel has never, ever changed! REPENT! Many leaders here don’t want to preach this real message of the gospel because if they did they would lose practically the whole church, then lose funding, and then lose their job. Lamentably, people are not kind to a missionary who has no converts. I think rather than receiving praise for amassing a huge church full of halfway converts, it would serve missionaries and pastors better to stick to the original message.
Many Churches Are Downright Boring
I cannot emphasize this enough. Especially, in the rural areas of Japan, many churches are filled with the older generation that is insistent upon the old way of doing things. Of course, this happens in the States too, but it has an even more devastating effect in Japan where the population rate is so low that there is absolutely no one to replace the older generation. All the children have left. If churches want to keep young people around they are going to have to listen to their voice a whole lot more. The churches that are an exception to this rule have a tendency to be ones that adopted the “seeker friendly” style directly from the States. While this certainly will make your church bigger and bigger, it will not ultimately help people maintain a close relationship with God.
Lack of Homegrown Praise Music
One thing that is not often mentioned about Christianity in Japan is the lack of praise music by Japanese artists. Yeah, there are a few songs here and there, but overall, most songs sung in church are still imported. I truly look forward to the day when Japanese create their own praise music, which is a critical part of any revival.
I hope this list helps you get a better idea on the state of Christianity here in Japan. Please pray for Japan and pray for all the hard workers over here, domestic and foreign, that God would give them renewed strength and vision to accomplish His plans in this beautiful Land of the Rising Sun.