Week 3: Rituals, Religion September 21-27



  • Ch. 20, Pg 163-170 “Arranged Marriage in Japan,” Omiai お見合い
  • Ch. 25, Pg 201-216 “Japanese Funerals,” Soshiki 葬式
  • Ch. 11, Pg 153-159 “The Japanese Sense of the Seasons,” Kisetsu 季節
  • Ch. 15, Pg 127-134 “Adopting Elements of Foreign Culture,” Iitoko-Dori いいとこ取り
  • Ch. 21, Pg 171-179 “Folktales of Japan,” Otogibanashi おとぎ話



  • Interview a Japanese.
  • Discuss various topics from the book.


  • Pray daily for Japan and Japanese, using Operation Japan. Make a note in your blog concerning the information and/or your prayer.

Writing: Weekly Paper: “Impressions and Points from Your Reading”

  • 1. Interact with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
  • 2. Discuss how these cultural characteristics might affect your ministry with Japanese people.

Extra Suggestions:


  • 3

    IItoko-Dori (Borrowing Best Elements from Other Cultures)

    Steven La Voie


    Question 3: The concept of iitoko-dori is very important to understand especially in Japanese culture. Japanese-pop or J-Pop, is a musical genre that mashes up and borrows many elements from American music and uses English in their songs. I like to listen to J-Pop a lot and admire all of the different music and styles that are put into the songs and how much thought and talent was put into them as well. Of course, hearing the occasional English word or two makes it seem not so unfamiliar as a genre. There are heavy metal and pop music mixes, pop and 80’s mixes such as AKB48, rap and metal and so on. You can also hear classical Japanese music and pop music as well. As you can see, the Japanese have taken what is best from each musical genre and added their own elements which you could say is more originally creative than a borrowed mashup of different genres.

    Also, you can see that the Japanese acceptance of Buddhism and Confuscius thought into being compatible and in harmony with Shinto beliefs is very much a thing of iitoko-dori. 
A borrowing of the best of what Buddhism and Confuscius ideas have to offer are what the Japanese people seem to add to their native Shinto rituals and beliefs. Correct me if I am wrong here, but I see this as a way to keep the harmony or wa with other beliefs and cultures.

    In ministering to the Japanese people, I see a potential danger here for new Japanese Christians. It would be very important to explain to them that they cannot continue to practice their Shinto and/or Buddhist rituals and customs while being a Christian and growing in their walk with God. This would be dishonoring to God and is sinful because idols are present. This would present many other problems with family and work life when the Christian cannot do certain activities or rituals like they used. This would risk them losing face with the community and family. I know of a Japanese family who still went to the Buddhist temple while going to church.

    Also, I see a more dangerous situation where the Japanese do see Christianity as compatible with who they are and take parts of Christianity and add them to their Shinto/ Buddhist/Confuscius beliefs and rituals. This would make being a follower of Christ become syncretized or mixed in with the other religious practices already in place. Then, there would be this hybrid of Christian, Shinto and Buddhist beliefs and practices which would make evangelizing to the Japanese much more difficult.

    • Alissa Bauer

      Ahh Steven!! A fellow Moody grad!! I missed the zoom call but heard you mention Moody. I just graduated from MBI in December. I miss it already!

      I’m so glad you mentioned the J-Pop. I’m trying to find as many shows/music as I can to learn as much as I can! I was so intrigued by the iitoko-dori… it definitely makes sense that it would be away to keep the harmony with other beliefs and cultures. I wonder how you would disciple a new Japanese believer in telling them they can’t continue their Shinto and Buddhist rituals. Would they not be able to attend a funeral of their parents because of this?

    • Brandalyn

      syncretism (I think that’s the word), does seem to be a big problem in Japan. The Buddhism and shinto are not exclusive religions and the Japanese are about maintaining Wa, and so the exclusivity of the gospel and Biblical God can certainly be problematic. And if one quits doing the spiritual things of your family and culture (worshipping ancestors or taking on the family butsudan) it is a very big deal that causes great rifts in families. I see becoming a Christian in Japan somewhat akin to becoming a Christian from a muslim country – you do stand to lose a lot, or possibly everything (at this point not losing your life).

      For Alissa’s question – I think that really getting people into the Bible to understand and build their relationship with the Lord is critical. If all we teach is rules and dos and don’ts, it could be a really tough pill to swallow that suddenly they can’t do this or that or participate in these family rites. But if they fall in love with Jesus and understand his heart and the heart of the father God and why they wouldn’t want to do things that worship ancestors , then it would stick. (same for all of us with giving up whatever various sins we hold dear).

      I think that most believing Japanese still go to funerals of parents and loved ones, but they often do feel limitations in what they can do/perform that is expected – e.g. burning incense and offering prayers etc. I had some of this same experience during the funeral and OBon activities with my friend and her family. The family can be insulted and greatly hurt when the individual no longer performs the actions as everyone else does during these times – I think that some of these can be deal breakers for family relations. But we do know that the Bible says that in some situations we are called to leave our fathers and mothers and families for the sake of Christ. Japanese probably experience this more than most.

    • Riz Crescini

      You wrote:
      “I think that really getting people into the Bible to understand and build their relationship with the Lord is critical…But if they fall in love with Jesus and understand his heart and the heart of the father God and why they wouldn’t want to do things that worship ancestors , then it would stick.”

      I love how you put it. These are wise words. Let their hearts be ruled by God, not by a sense of obligation to man.This is why discipleship is key, whether with another believer or a group of believers. Due to opposition that many young believers face, it is important that they have a support group at church.

  • 3

    Week 3

    Alissa Bauer

    Within Shintoism, the value of purity/impurity is really fascinating to me… As I read, it made me wonder what Japanese believers think of the holiness of God. It made me wonder about how deep they might see their sin when they come to know Christ, and how much more beautiful the gospel would be knowing that Jesus came and made us, the most impure of all, pure – holy and blameless in his sight.

    “Japan has a long established tradition of adopting elements of ‘foreign culture’ and adaption them to Japanese use.” This makes me so so hopeful that the Japanese would listen to a foreigner who shares the gospel and realize that Christianity in Japan can and should look “Japanese”, not Western and not foreign.

    The concept of iitoko-dori makes so much sense in why a Japanese person would not have a problem with contradiction. “Shinto is the trunk, Buddhism is the branches, and Confucianism is the leaves”. When sharing Christ with someone who may have this mindset, it would be so easy to think they truly decided to follow Christ, when in reality they may also accept other gods – meaning they don’t follow Christ at all. This is such a fascinating way of thinking that is so different from my western mindset!

    • Steven La Voie


      You make a good point on how the Japanese view both impurity and purity and how that worldview can be a bridge to knowing and understanding the Gospel. Since the Japanese already have an understanding of what is seemingly “pure” and “impure” (uchi and soto), they already have somewhat of a foundation to understand who Jesus is. Maybe you can find certain practices such as the taking off of shoes in the genkan area or maybe in some of their Shinto/Buddhist practices. Then, the Gospel and what Jesus did would make more sense when you relate to their understanding of purity and impurity.

      I too wonder how a Japanese person would understand their own sin in light of once being impure but now made pure by Christ Himself. I pray that I can I have a conversation about this one day with my Japanese friends who do not know Christ.

      Yes, I agree with you that the concept of iitoko-dori could be a major stumbling block in accepting Christ fully and not following the other gods (kami) as well. I know of a Christian family in Japanese who both went to church and also to the Buddhist temple too. They said they were Christian but it seems they are not aware of the iitoko-dori concept in their lives.

      This is something that we can be praying for new Japanese and non-Japanese to understand that they cannot “serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (mammon) (Matthew 6:24 ESV).

    • Brandalyn

      I was discussing with my Japanese friend last year (as I was studying Japanese religious practices) that it seems that most all cultures (and the Japanese especially) have an acute, innate awareness of our dirtiness or unworthiness and all our different cultures have practices to try to achieve cleansing or worthiness. Generally as a culture, we don’t need to convince the people that we are bad or dirty or wrong, everyone has these systems to try to address it. If only we are able to share how Christ is the fulfillment of what we are all trying to do to get ourselves into the right standing to be clean and acceptable.

      Personally, I find this fascinating to come across in so many cultures.

    • Alissa Bauer

      Brandalyn, I heard Paul Washer say something in regards to sharing the gospel. He said that we tend to first want to convince people of their sin, that they would say “I am a sinner”. But he says that instead of doing this, we should be asking them not just are you a sinner but “Do you hate the sin?” (to your point that people have an awareness of our dirtiness). And instead of asking, “Do you believe in God?”, we should be asking “Do you want God?”. Just thought those were interesting distinctions that your comment reminded me of!

  • 1

    Brandalyn - Ch20 questions


    1. Wow, it could really go both ways! I see a desire in people (particularly women) for the love and romance they see in western culture, but I can see the efficiency and practicality of the omiai. Probably more likelihood of love marriages as people (I think) are being more drawn to self-interest rather than just doing things for the good of society/community. In the age of socially-acceptable divorce, people are also less keen to want to stay in marriages where they are not happy. As cultures move away from family-based (as many have been in the past), we lose some of the relationship introductions that came with closer-knit families and relatives looking out for and guiding you. I think that omiai provides some of that. It can provide some of that background or “security” that people might not otherwise feel if they are on their own to find compatible mates. I can see disadvantages of approaching marriage as a business transaction where you are looking for the best deal instead of commitment and desire to be with one another through whatever life brings.

    2. It sounds “Asian” to me. This seems pretty common in so many Asian cultures.

    3. Much the same as online dating sites in the west I would expect.

    4. I do think, as the chapter said, it takes some of the stress and fear out.

    5. Neither! I don’t know that I know enough to decide. Gambling isn’t very promising, but marrying someone you aren’t interested in doesn’t sound great either, unless he really is interested in me.

    1-can’t speak to much but canada/USA where those aren’t nearly as big a considerations. But I believe that they are in many other nations.

    2-yes. My friend in China. Many places in the middle east. India. That is the cultural way to do it.

    3- it depends on the culture. Too often, I think it is about what the family can get out of it, or what the husband can get out of it.

    4-yes, as mentioned before, I think if we had more of the old closer-knit community and families we might see better choices in marriages, support in marriages and less divorce.

    5-don’t know. But it seems a bit lesser than non-omiai marriages. Less than choice love marriages in other nations, but more than in most arranged marriage cultures where love isn’t a considered factor.

    • Steven La Voie


      I like your thoughts on whether omiai or love marriages have a better chance of enduring. It seems that traditionally in Japan, marriages were arranged to gain more power and status in society. I think that many couples were not particularly interested in each other but probably stayed together for the community and to please parents. In this kind of marriage, the couple is probably not very intimate unless they end up falling in love with each other over time.

      I definitely see that love marriages are getting more popular in Japan and that is based more on compatibility than community. Those are more likely last longer than arranged ones if the couple is not too interested in each other. Still, I see the value in having the community involved which is a good value for us in the Western can learn to adopt more.

      Personally, I wonder how many Japanese couples married more out of omiai or through love then.

  • 0

    Tokushima Prayers

    Steven La Voie

    I prayed that many of the followers of Soka Gakkai and sectarian Shintoism, that they would turn away from materialism and false teachings on being inherently good and know who Jesus is as their Savior.

  • 1

    Brandalyn - Ch 2 Questions - funerals


    1 – It seems to come down to the happier things in life being related to shinto and the darker to buddhism.

    2- I think that is likely. It has happened in most religions in most places around the world. Also, since the shrines became privatized and shrines had to raise their own finances, and many of then therefore became “specialized” in offering prayers or good will for specific things (e.g. this shrine for good academic luck, this one for good health, this one for good job prospects). This sure strikes one as less “spiritual/religious” and more economic).

    3 – that seems to be the case. I attended both a funeral, Obon, and visiting the Haka of family in Japan last year and to most all my questions about the purpose and meaning of actions, the answers were “I don’t know”. It seemed to be a case of following suite and not asking. They also told me that (unlike Christian pastors), the Buddhist priests don’t teach the people about the buddhist faith and practices – the family is responsible for that. So if you are part of a family line that isn’t particularly religious, you don’t know much about what you are doing or why.

    4 – I can see it being of practical importance in centuries past – dead bodies, contagious diseases – it could be very good to have people steer clear and treat them as unclean.

    5 – There is a lot more definition to a grieving period – everything around funerals and grieving seems to be more defined and specified than we are used to in the west. In many ways it seems more in tune with people’s hearts and sorrow to expect a year of grieving and avoiding extra luxury/leisure, but I can also see it being restrictive if people don’t feel that they need that (or didn’t have a particularly close relationship with the deceased)

    cross cultural
    1. – I don’t really know. But yes, there do tend to be set customs and requirements

    2 – I’m not entirely sure, but I think many of the rules pertain to clothing/adornment, attitude/expressions, expected gifts, appropriate and inappropriate flower types.

    3 – Day of the Dead (quite big in hispanic countries), I don’t know a lot about any of these

    4- I varies greatly from sombre to celebration, hopeless to hopeful, meaning to emptiness, the body being sacred to disposed of – and funerals vary accordingly

    5 – I don’t know.

    • Riz Crescini

      Hi Brandalyn,
      You wrote:
      “…to most all my questions about the purpose and meaning of actions, the answers were ‘I don’t know.’ It seemed to be a case of following suit and not asking.”

      This is one of the bigger challenges I have when sharing God with my Japanese families. Several of them have told me, “That’s good you have assurance of eternal life with God, but I don’t have that assurance or certainty but I’m okay with that. It’s not problem with me.” Ambiguity is so pervasive in the culture that it seeps even into one’s view of the afterlife.

  • 0

    Brandalyn - ch11 questions - seasons


    1 – I see this very cutely coming from Canada. They change wall hangings and decorations by seasons, the food, drink and items available in stores change with the seasons much more dramatically than I find at home. People in Japan take strong advantage of seasonal activities like enjoying sakura cherry blossoms or picking and eating seasonal fruits or visiting vineyards.

    2 – sakura blossom season is big, fall harvest festivals, new years. I don’t think I’ll reiterate what the chapter said about them.

    3 – mochi and dango have seasonal significance – dango around Obon, noodles at New Year’s. I’ve only found ume juice during spring/summer seasons.

    4- raised floors, sliding doors, few dividing walls. These seem good for summer, but not so ideal in cold winter! I don’t know much about the different designs

    5- I would imagine that it is, but I haven’t seen it obviously myself as, on the whole, the Japanese are so much more engaged in seasonal activities than we are in the west.

    1- new years, Christmas, harvests seems big for many, spring and the melting of snow and ice, planting season.

    2. I don’t know. It seems so odd to me, but I have come across it in The Salvation Army (started in England) where there is a set time to begin and end wearing the jackets with the uniforms).

    3- I’m not sure

    4-decorations, songs, foods, likely literature as well, but I don’t know.

    5-it depends on who you ‘re and what you value most. As my mom’s health declines, she feels much better in hot weather, so now, she would prefer a more consistently hot climate. For those who enjoy snow sports in the winter, Hawaii wouldn’t be so good. I have another friend who does not do well with the heat and feels I’ll, she much prefers the west coast of Canada with cool winters and shoulder seasons.

  • 1

    Brandalyn Ch15 - iitoko dori


    I, personally think that the Japanese have been more successful in modernizing and becoming an economic power because they excel at working together (way beyond most other cultures). I think that where other nations like China or India could be exposed to the same knowledge/ideas, the Japanese can pull together more effectively to make things happen. I see it everywhere where Japanese efficiency is unparalleled. Even in little things like moving people through ticketing systems and train stations! What they can do in 20mins, I’ve seen take hours (to move the same number of people) in the west.

    find it fascinating that this chapter opens talking about Shinto having no absolute sense of values and yet, as a culture, Japan seems to have so man more fixed “rules” of conduct than we have in many other nations. The “freedom” to diverge from the culture is not there, yet Shinto is so “free.” Kind of an interesting and unexpected.

    I think that a key element of iitoko dori to understand for evangelism is “accepting the convenient parts of different systems.” – it is very “self-focused.” It emphasizes the belief that I, myself, am the ultimate authority on what is good and right and therefore I am the one to choose. What is best for me? What fits my world view? What is most convenient for me and minimizes what I must sacrifice? – pretty wordly and fits the first lie Satan used in the garden with Adam and Eve. (Not that our cultures are better, but it is a glaringly obvious prideful, human stand).

    1- choosing the one you like best, that fits your view of the occasion, whether it makes big picture sense for overall beliefs or not. (Have your cake and eat it too)

    2- not a lot different in the west – people accept the fun parts that can benefit them and exclude the parts that require something uncomfortable of them. I don’t think God likes it much when we do it. With Christmas, it does provide a little opening to discuss and introduce the historical, biblical Christmas narrative and introduction of God/Jesus.

    3- it’s all one in the same

    4- I would expect that it would be. Also western style toilets, maybe even air conditioning? Many homes getting mattresses or bed frames on which they place their futons. Forks and knives as well as chopsticks.

    5- I expect it only to grow as long as there are foreign elements that are seen in a positive light by the culture.

    1- Canada is full of it – a big reason likely being that we are a nation founded om immigration of various cultures. North Americans are getting into bento boxes for lunch kits, foreign holidays like Halloween/ day of the dead have been brought in. Most nations do it in some ways.

    2- the government and social powers seem to have worked to merge these harmoniously. This isn’t so much the case in other nations (that I am aware of). More often it is a push to establish one to the exclusion of others.

    3-it’s become cultural rather than religious. Most Japanese can’t tell me why they do what they do or the meaning behind actions and traditions. I think that man more people do it around the world than one expects – go to church on Sunday, read and follow newspaper horoscopes during the week, follow some superstitious practices or beliefs like black cats crossing their paths mean bad luck. I think that the “little” religious activities are easy to include and assimilate when they lack big spiritual meanings or implications (good luck or future fortunes or karma vs. God’s mandates, heaven and hell, eternal judgements etc).

    4- I do see what they mean, but I can’t say that I think it is bad/negative. It fits the Japanese – EFFICIENT. And efficiency seems to be of greater value to Japanese than originality.

    I have discussed this with friends and looked at it in relation to child rearing and school. Creativity and uniqueness is not emphasized as much as conformity. I’ve asked if they thought that perhaps it stifles creative potential and original thinking in favour of just being a cog in the machine. I do see that as a possible negative. But overall, the Japanese ways of incorporating and building on the existing seem smart and efficient.

    • Riz Crescini

      Hi Brandalyn,
      You wrote: “What they can do in 20mins, I’ve seen take hours (to move the same number of people) in the west.” I want to share with you an observation made by pastor from Haiti who was flown in as a plenary speaker for a Japanese pastors’ retreat in the Tohoku area, the place devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The retreat took place six months after the disaster and the pastor was driven all over Tohoku so that he could take in the situation. He was shocked to see how quickly the Japanese got rid of the debris and garbage. He said that it’s been over a year and a half since an earthquake devastated Haiti and Haiti is nowhere near the recovery stage of Japan.

  • 0

    Brandalyn Ch21 - folk tales


    This chapter answers a question that I have been asking and chasing for years- are the Japanese truly happy being compliant, submissive and towing the societal party line? Or underneath is there a greater desire for individuality and individual expression? As per usual, I think that even my closer Japanese friends are too polite to share real thoughts on this. The chapter mentions a few times about the Japanese ideal of a hero being strong and independent. That says a lot! Given what we see in the culture, I’d have expected the ideal hero’s to be quiet and more submissive (with strength).

    1- yes, I would expect so – reinforcing that even when grievous wrong is done, we don’t take it out on the perpetrator – it just seems in line with the people/culture

    2- the elements of tragedy and bearing grief seem to be aligned with accepted or expected realities for women and doing it with grace and poise.

    3- I don’t know besides the 2 listed. The peach is prominent in one story…..

    4- I don’t know these either, although I have been exposed to a few

    5- I think this is the case and also the same for us in the west. I think that as we move away from these traditional tales we will likely also move away from the morals or directives that they ‘re intended to instill in us as a society. We’ll get our values from the famous personalities we follow, the show’s we watch, the songs we listen to.

    1- I don’t know many of these either

    2- also not sure

    3- again, not sure

    4- yes, I am sure they do. But I don’t have specific examples

    5- also don’t know.

  • 1

    Brandalyn - ideal human


    I wonder if the ideal of a person with “a strong will and decisive judgement” is a real driving actor for the Japanese attraction to America and the West? It sure seems that it would be – a kind of fulfillment for what they long for/idolize.

    • Steven La Voie

      Brandalyn, you make a good point here. I have heard before that Japanese people do desire a strong will and decisive traits in a person. I have heard that some Japanese women prefer to marry men who have determination and are decisive over the many indecisive and fairly passive Japanese men. I can see these elements play out in Japanese media in their struggle for attaining these hidden desires. Perhaps the Japanese will change their thinking on decisiveness and being more stronger willed as a society as a whole.

  • 1

    Japanese Gift Giving 贈答 Zoto

    Steven La Voie

    Question 1: After reading this question, I see just how much of a problem the Japanese have with their giri 義理 or social obligations in their giving of gifts. Apparently, the Japanese themselves see an issue with just how ritualized the giving of New Years cards have become. The sending of the same messages in the cards and lack of handwritten notes suggests how the Japanese people do things more out of social obligation for the sake of social obligation.

    Since I am Western person with some Middle-eastern background, I can kind of understand the social obligations that Japanese people have to contend with since I was raised that if someone gave you a gift or something unexpectedly then I would feel obligated to give them something back which takes away from the heart and personal attachment to the gift giving. While I learned to change my thinking on giving gifts socially and under obligation, I can empathize a little with how much pressure the Japanese people feel under giving gifts. In essence, it has become a social norm for them to engage in this kind of giri.

    In a more personal setting, I have given Japanese students lots of rides and helping them understand American culture and learn English. Before they return to Japan, I usually receive a small gift such as a handwritten note or a small souvenir from Japan (I received a sushi keychain last time in the spring). I wonder whether the gifts that I got were actually personal and from their heart rather than out of a pressure to repay me for what I helped them with. At this point, there gift becomes just a gift given out of obligation rather than from a sense of friendship or thankfulness (though this is probably not the case with all gifts).

    On a more theological level, I am thinking that the Japanese may receive the Gospel in a sense that they owe Jesus something for paying for their sins when they do understand the concept of sin and shame. This in turn may turn into excessive guilt over not confessing all sins or feel they feel unable to “pay” Jesus back for what He has done for them (which He does not nor can we).

    • Riz Crescini

      Hi Steven,
      Although gift-giving has become to many Japanese a cultural burden, I would hazard a guess that the students, with whom you have interacted, were truly thankful. You have given them an experience that they are likely not to forget.

      Though there is this obligation to gift giving and the tendency for it becoming legalistic, I am glad to see this aspect of Japanese culture. As a unique people created in God’s image, this aspect of their culture challenges me to always be thankful as it is written in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

  • 1

    Pray for the Tokushima Prefecture

    Steven La Voie

    I prayed for the Tokushima prefecture in that the followers of the Soka Gakkai sect and Buddhist adherents of Nichiren may come to know Christ. I also pray that the teachers in public schools may be a good representation of Christ and that Christian schools maybe built soon in the area.

    • Riz Crescini

      Hi Steven,
      Although gift-giving has become to many Japanese a cultural burden, I would hazard a guess that the students, with whom you have interacted, were truly thankful. You have given them an experience that they are likely not to forget.

      Though there is this obligation to gift giving and the tendency for it becoming legalistic, I am glad to see this aspect of Japanese culture. As a unique people created in God’s image, this aspect of their culture challenges me to always be thankful as it is written in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”