Week 3: Rituals, Religion: Omiai, Soshiki, Kisetsu, Itoko Dori, Otogibanashi, Japanese Funerals September 27-October 3



  • Interview a Japanese person and ask them about one or two of the topics that we’ve covered so far in the book. Ask their perspective on the topics.
  • Discuss if their viewpoint/experiences align with what we’ve read in the book.

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

  • Japanese Funerals: 
    1. What do you think that our Christian perspective should be of Japanese Buddhist Funerals? 
    2. What position do believers and churches currently hold in Japanese funerals?
    3. What do you think that our position/role should be or could be? How could that be achieved? 
  • Itoko-Dori
    1. How does Itoko-Dori potentially impact people’s acceptance and expression of Christianity? How does Syncretism relate to Itoko-Dori? 
    2. How do we approach/teach Japanese believers on Itoko-Dori and syncretism?
  • How do we disciple people to fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ and the father’s heart and priorities and not just teach a religion of allowable and disallowable actions?


  • Read the discussion questions at the end of the chapter. Are there any that you think highlight a key point that merits further discussion by the class, specifically as it relates to how we think about and approach ministry to the Japanese?
  • Read as many of the other students’ writings and comment on at least two of them.


  • Pray daily for Japan and Japanese, using Operation Japan.
  • Topic related to this week’s learning:
    • Family Ministries – Prayer for Family Ministries (May 3-5)

Extra Suggestions:


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    Week 3 Comments

    Jim Woo

    The cherry blossoms remind me of the Year of Jubilee. It’d be nice if debts could be reset like that every year!

    I wonder how much of Western funerals are also non-Christian. Certainly there are elements of the Western wedding ceremony that are. My interview was actually regarding the funeral, but my friend doesn’t really know why, but just does the rituals. My friend, who’s uncle passed away a few months ago, did go through the rites as described, and the most recent was the 49-day event. At the new year, they’re not allowed to wish New Year greetings.

    My observation of omiai is only through Kekkon Dekinai Otoko. But it also showed some of the ambiguity and the honne versus tatemae.

    I think having an adoption of Christian behavior may be integratable with the Japanese. But, I suspect it will be more mechanical and not really understanding or perhaps even believing. I have noticed similar characteristics matching the fruits of the Spirit: patience, kindness, a bit of self-control, etc. However, these are external and human-powered.

    To reach the heart, God must work in His way and His timing. What I’m learning in the Genesis class is that knowledge of God (His character and His purpose), formation of love, and taking risks are necessary to grow faith. This week, we are discussing the cycle of knowing something about God, who then calls you to take a risk for which you are unprepared, and for which knowledge you have about God does not prepare you, either. It’s not up to us to put the Japanese in faith-growing circumstances, but God’s. I think we can participate with support and increasing knowledge of God and His plan.

    • Joze

      “Certainly there are elements of the Western wedding ceremony that are.” Good comment. Do you think introducing or at least explaining the Jewish wedding ceremony would be helpful in explaining Jesus’ words that he’s preparing rooms for his bride in his father’s house? At least then it’s not the groom just standing there waiting for the bride to come to him, but the more appropriate picture of the groom coming to take his bride.

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    Joze (Week 3) Reflection



    – What do you think that our Christian perspective should be of Japanese Buddhist Funerals?

    This is a great question for reflection. In our current cultural Christian context (in Canada or the USA), these practices would be a no-no. However, because we’re entering into another culture, it’s important to have a lot more cultural sensitivity and not to judge the culture right away. This is the anthropological practice of “cultural relativism” which is understanding that what a culture does and how they do them should be judged based on that people’s culture and not on our “outsider” norms, even when we insist that these are Christian norms and that Christian values are universally applicable.

    Admittedly, the Japanese Buddhist funerals seem intricate and complicated. My initial reaction would be of unfamiliarity and strangeness; however, upon further reflection thus far, it seems that Japanese people have a more intimate and closer familiarity with the dead than we might in the West. With my experience in Canada, we seem to outsource the job of getting rid of the dead to outsider specialists (ie morticians) because of our hygienic (clean/unclean) sensibilities. But in Japan, it seems that the practice is intentionally drawing people closest to the deceased to remember and honour the physical body and life of the person who is moving on. I was most astonished that the dead get a new name, and that family members pick out the cremated bones with chopsticks.

    I wonder if, instead, it would be better to compare Japanese Buddhist funeral practices with those of the Jewish cultural funeral practices. Then we might be able to better see how the dead are honoured, and how the memory of the dead are remembered, and which practices can be continued or not.

    – What position do believers and churches currently hold in Japanese funerals?

    I don’t know what Japanese believers think about this yet, but I suspect that they would hold more to a somewhat traditional “conservative Western culture” Christian approach to this, which is: because it’s Buddhist and not Christian, then it’s not good. Or worse, it’s of the devil.

    – What do you think that our position/role should be or could be? How could that be achieved?

    Perhaps it would be good to first listen, then attend a funeral, and ask question about the practices (much, much later). Then, when a Japanese Christian reflects on aspects of the cultural funeral practices that take away from honouring Jesus Christ, the Japanese Church can decide what aspects can be retained and what aspects can be re-appropriated and redeemed. This would be the practice of “self-theologizing” in the contextualization of the believing community.


    – How does Iitoko-Dori potentially impact people’s acceptance and expression of Christianity? How does Syncretism relate to Iitoko-Dori?

    This practice of iitoko-dori is great news to me! If indeed the definition is true – taking the best and useful aspects of imported things and making them truly Japanese – then this is exactly what contextualization is meant to be. If Japanese Christians merely adopted American or Canadian Christianity, they would be adopting both the “following Jesus” aspect along with the American or Canadian cultural practices. But if Japanese Christians adopt the “seed” of the Gospel and plant it in their culture, the practices and values and other things could result in a truly Christian Japanese Church.

    Now, about syncretism. I’ve come to believe that syncretism is inevitable in any and every culture. Even in Western Evangelical circles, we are not immune to syncretistic practices. In our theology, we have adopted the platonic way of looking at metaphysical things. In our worship songs, we have adopted the individualistic, feel-good, concert-like experience. Therefore, it’s hardly our prerogative to judge another culture of the practices that we think are syncretistic when we are also blinded by the log of syncretism within our cultures.

    – How do we approach/teach Japanese believers on Iitoko-Dori and syncretism?

    I think I responded somewhat to this above, but to reiterate: do their iitoko-dori thing, ask questions that might allow them to reflect on cultural practices, and explain as much as possible the Jewish cultural practices that Jesus encourages his followers to continue (e.g. baptism, communion, prayer, discipleship).

    It might also be good to give examples of Western syncretistic practices so that Japanese believers can have an idea what to watch out for. For example, when Canadian Evangelical Christians pray, we tend to end with “in Jesus’s name” without knowing why we do this. Some might take this as an incantation or invocation of power. Some might think it can be proof-texted in the Bible. However, it would be good show that when the disciples used it when casting out demons and using the phrase to mean something like, “under the authority and power of the king (Jesus), we command you to…” but not something they used when talking to God. And furthermore, the pleas in our prayers we are asking to be accomplished because we represent the name of King Jesus and his kingdom. And the answering of prayer can lead to bringing honour and glory to Jesus and his kingdom in the eyes of his people and others who have never heard of him. And this makes Jesus different from the other yokai or kami in Japanese spiritual being worldview, and hopefully, this might prompt questions in their minds.

    – How do we disciple people to fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ and the father’s heart and priorities and not just teach a religion of allowable and disallowable actions?

    On the one hand, it’s important not to teach just the do’s-and-don’ts of Christianity (because we could be importing our cultural prescriptions and prohibitions). On the other hand, it’s also important not to teach just the personal aspect of the Gospel (that Jesus died for our sins in order to give us access to God).

    It’s important to teach the story of the Bible: that God is on a mission to reclaim the peoples of this world back to himself, that God wants to do this through a righteous intercessor (like Moses or David), that because humans cannot become these kingdom of priests God has to be this person himself, and that God wants to form a people who will represent him in this world (and bear his name) to do righteousness and restorative justice in the world (in caring for the vulnerable in society) so that the world might see the character of this God who is good, gracious, compassionate, just, etc. And that this whole storyline culminates in Jesus who not only takes away the shortcomings of this world, but who has defeated death and faced the worst that Evil can do, and that Jesus is now King and alive and reigning.

    And it’s important to teach that, like in Exodus, salvation came first, then we are formed and gathered to be his people who will represent him in this world. Thus, both relationship and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Relationship with God and with other spiritual siblings. Responsibility to do right by God and by other people, especially the most vulnerable in any given society.

    This takes a lot more time than just following the Romans road, or a pamphlet, or you name it.

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    Lani (Japan 102 - Week3)


    Japanese Funerals – Before becoming a “born again” Christian, I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic. I didn’t really understand or bother to understand why we do what we do back then. But surprisingly, Japanese funerals have a few similarities with “Catholic” funerals such as praying for the souls of deceased loved ones, having a belief that our deceased loved ones are watching over us (the living), and holding a special service after 40 days (instead of 49). I was already “born again” when both of my grandfathers died and it was quite challenging because I no longer wish to participate in some activities such as praying for the soul of the deceased but I also didn’t want to disrespect my parents and relatives. I’ve never been invited to a Japanese funeral and honestly I don’t know if Christians should even consider attending or not. I’m actually torn between attending the funeral service just to show my sympathy and love to the family, by my mere presence. But I’m also thinking that maybe it’s also possible to show my sympathy and love to the family by simply visiting them at a different time, not necessarily during funeral services.

    Itoko-Dori – I joined a 2-week Prayer Journey Trip to Japan some 3 years ago and we were able to ask one university student who attends the English Café and church service. During our conversation, we asked him what his religious belief is and he told us that he believes in Jesus and also in Shinto but not in Buddhism because he thinks Buddhism also extorts money from people. Also, in another church, a pastor told us that there’s one lady who attends their church and asked for prayers for the healing of her sick child. Then a few days/weeks later, the pastor found out that the same lady also went to a Shinto priest and a Buddhist monk to also ask for healing for his child. During this trip, I realized that it is easy for the Japanese to “add-on” to their beliefs but difficult to “let go” of their former beliefs. It really needs the work of the Holy Spirit for a Japanese (or any person) to genuinely come to faith in Christ.

    Disciple People – Definitely telling people about Jesus and teaching them the Bible is important. Also, personally speaking, people’s witness also had a great impact on why I chose to be “born again.” When I was in college, I would see the difference between my “born again” friends (mostly from Cru) and Catholic friends. My Cru friends would always talk as if they literally talk with God physically and there’s this “intimacy” that I also long to have with God. I guess I was jealous of what they have with the Lord (LOL). So my prayer back then would be a simple “Lord, can we also be intimate like how intimate my friends are with you? Is it really possible?”