Week 4: Religion in Japan September 28-October 4

Week 4 Religion in Japan

Reading: Understanding Japan: Part Three: Religion in Japan

  • Chapter Six: Social Concerns
  • Chapter Seven: Main Religions in Japan

Visit a Japanese Church

  • (If that is not possible, interview someone who has attended.)

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

  • Reflective Writing
  • Read as many of the other students’ writings as you have time and comment on at least two of them.


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

Extra Suggestions:


  • 1

    Week 4- Sarah

    Sarah Moore

    I was hit again this week with the immense need for hope in Jesus in Japan. In chapter 6, learning about the various social challenges, some of which are similar to the US, it is clear for the need of a Savior. The sex industry is overwhelming and there is a large amount of young people who are involved in this virtually and casually. Children experience a lot of pressure in schools which leads to bullying and many end up commiting suicide. This breaks my heart. Some of this pressure is similar to China from my experience and many end up feeling hopeless and lost. In general, it seems that a lot of the social challenges in Japan stem from hopelessness, pressure, isolation and feeling lost.
    In chapter 7, I was also struck by the differences between Christianity and Shintoism. Shintos believe in millions of different gods while we believe in one God. The book mentioned that when telling some about Jesus they may place Him among the millions of gods and not the One. I found it interesting that they don’t really have a sense of right or wrong(morality) just what is best for the community and what is considered “clean”. Shinto is not necessarily based on a particular set of beliefs or books but many different aspects that guide their lives. They do believe in ancestor worship(as well as many other gods) as they believe the spirit lives on for 33 years. I find it interesting that Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism almost went hand in hand through Japan’s history. I know the book mentioned that many Japanese don’t believe in organized religion or really practice it daily, so I wonder if trying to tell them about having a relationship(instead of religion) with Jesus would help in the connection?

    • Naoko Brown

      Hi, Sarah! Average Japanese people do not want to be deeply involved in religions. As you can see in the history, some religions were used for political power struggles, so Japanese people tend to be apathetic about faith and religion. Also there are many cults there and some of them caused problems in the society, so many people want to stay away even though they have respect and fear to spiritual beings. If they truly understand what it means by having a close relationship with the Creator God, it would be a huge shock and relief, just like anybody else. I pray Japanese people you become friends will see something different in you, be open to hear about you and your God!

  • 1

    Thoughts from the Reading Wk4 Tym

    Tym Moore

    It’s always tough reading about social problems in a nation. My impressions of chapters six have largely been that while these problems are truly awful, they seem very similar to a lot of the problems we experience in the states. Perhaps when communicating with Japanese, some common ground could be found here, and Jesus presented as the solution to both of our nations’ societal issues.
    On the flip side of that, there are huge differences between Christianity and Shinto. This was probably the most in depth look at Shinto I’ve had. I know they worshiped millions of gods and even ancestors at shrines, but I never knew some of the other details. I can now see how it would be particularly difficult to evangelize to someone who practices Shinto. Especially about the part where the shedding of blood makes the kami angry, which is in direct contradiction to Judaism and Christianity where the shedding of blood atones for sins. I’m looking forward to learning strategies in the future that address this issue.

    • Naoko Brown

      Thank you, Tym! Have you seen the movie “Spirited away” by studio Ghibli? There are so many gods and spiritual beings in the movie. Some are scary but mostly lovable even though they are imperfect. I think many people feel both comfort and fear at the same time imagining gods in big trees, sky, kitchen, bathroom, etc. I often wonder how I should explain these things to my Japanese friends. Should I say they are all imaginary or they are demons? Anyway I am glad you learned more about Shinto from this class!

  • 1

    My thoughts for week 4.


    I appreciated your and Sarah’s comments. Yes, the cultural problems are heartbreaking and similar to here in the US. I find it interesting that in Shinto the many, many gods are so similar to the gods of the OT people in that there is a god of the sun, rain, etc. And in both cases, the gods need people to do things for them and if they don’t bad things happen. I love that the one true God does not need anything from us but out of His love reaches out to us. I have started sharing this recently with a student. It’s interesting that in Shinto there is no right or wrong, good or evil and yet the god’s needs must be met. Isn’t that fulfilling some sort of right/ wrong? It’s a bit confusing understanding all the three different religions.

    • Jed Irwin

      And to make it more confusing, some people are going to be more Buddhist or more Shinto than others. There are subsects, I’m learning about Buddhism. It’ll be hard to find the “one right answer” and give it out to those in those places, because they seem like they purposely distance themselves from religion. And I can’t remember where I was reading this, but always in the back of their mind is a naturalistic religion, not organized or ruled by priests, but at a base level of the Japanese still worship the beauty of nature, the hills, mountain and sea.
      This leads a lot to individual relationships, seeking what they believe, being open to listen and read up and be taught about other religions so you can find common ground to ask some hard questions, challenging questions. And do so with much prayer (and maybe fasting), it seems like a lot of the lay people don’t want to think too deeply about some topics.

  • 1

    Irwin - Week 4

    Jed Irwin

    Bullying keeps coming up with my wife and in her feed. It doesn’t just stop when they get out of school. As a part of an international city, Tsukuba has several English run Facebook groups that talk about news, events, jobs, etc. and my wife read on their just this week that someone from the Middle East was denied medical treatment at one of the local hospitals because he wasn’t Japanese (so the post would lead you to believe). Being a white American with three children, we haven’t yet met this kind of attitudes, because they do enjoy Americans as far as I can tell. When we are driving about out of town, I can tell we are the very few foreigners they see because we and our blonde kids get stared at. They indeed live in a very Japanese world, where everyone looks like them, grew up like them, and anything that deviates from the norm isn’t in those smaller communities.
    We live in Ibaraki Prefecture, which apparently has the lowest percentage of people considered religious, so that term mushukyo fits. But, I was able to witness in my daughters kindergarten them making a small god seat from paper and glue for a matsuri. And on the surface level it’s just fun arts and crafts and social cooperation, but i bet it really does instill in them the Japanese idea of religion/non-religion. It is a city/government public school. If we make small god chairs and raise them up and parade them around the yard, there must be some truth to these activities…. right?
    I would like to study these activities and events more and try to reckon them with a Biblical idea, so that when they are in the public school, being forced to do what ever they are doing they can be thinking about their Sunday school message the week before the event (because most things happen here like clockwork). For the god chair, maybe do a few lessons in the ark of the covenant. I’m still mulling these things over in regard to Colossians 2:16-17 “Let no one pass judgement on you in question of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are the shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
    Be very active in teaching Christ amongst the Japanese festivals and activities for each people, young and and old, so they can find a way to see Christ and have the “substance of Christ” in the easy things we westerners can see and predict and help train them to seek the substance of Christ in the smaller things we can’t see as westerners, that they will experience in their every day life. Teach them gospel so well they can apply it to what they are going through, and really let the Holy Spirit guide them to make decisions and convictions. This is His kingdom we are working in, not on Americans, not in Westernism, we work for Christ, how can we set Him up on the throne of the Japanese.

    • Naoko Brown

      Jed, I agree that such little activities could plant seeds in kids’ heart and mind. When I was little, well, actually up to high school, I was afraid of those little fox shrines which you find in many places in Japan. I used to hurry up and ran when I passed by such shrines, because I heard fox gods were capricious, mischievous and rather mean. I am sure you are training your kids well in Christ, and you and your kids are shining light in Japan!

  • 1

    Ed - Week 4 comments

    Ed Thomas

    Unbelievable that child pornography laws were just passed in 2014 ☹. Also shocking to hear that the average age of hikikomori is now 32 (or at least as of the time of the writing of the book … wonder what the avg age is now?). The pachinko revenue is mind-boggling, as is the experience of walking through one of these pachinko parlors! Religion – I feel like I need to read this chapter once a month to remind myself of the different concept of religion between the West and Japan. I had forgotten that even humans are considered to become kami after they die – I suppose that makes ancestors easier to worship! Quite an important point that blood is viewed as spiritual pollution to the kami – definitely a point to be aware of as one speaks of the life-giving & saving power of Jesus’ blood! I wonder what the significance is of the 33 years that the deceased’s family must observe the correct rituals to appease the ‘tama.’ So interesting is the belief that many of the world’s problems are caused by ‘tama’ which are neglected or ‘tama’ of from those who die alone, in disgrace, or with anger in their hearts … possible discussion point for the need for a new heart, from God? We discussed this before, but quite interesting that Buddhism has survived, despite coming from outside Japan and being the subject of attempts to remove it or diminish it. The New Religions seem to have done great harm to the concept of organized religion and I was alarmed to read of that fact that some incorporate Christian concepts out of context and mixed with tenets of Buddhism and Shintoism. Interesting to read of the Muslim-Japan connection prior to WWII – I had forgotten all about that but it makes sense that the Muslim world would have viewed Japan as an ally to challenge Western imperialism.

    • Naoko Brown

      Ed, thank you for your good summary and comment! Before I came to know the Lord, I was always afraid of spiritual stuff even ancestors spirits. This fear caused lots of nightmares and sleepless nights. Becoming free from the fear was one of the greatest experience I had when I became Christian. “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.” Psalm 118:6

      I think Buddhism adjusted themselves in order to be accepted and survive in Japan. So the their way have been modified in Japan in contract to Christianity that demand us to change our lives according to the Truth .

  • 1

    Esha: Japan 101: Week 4


    A] I was intrigued to read that in Shintoism, the kami are not offended by a moral decay but rather by blood or death pollution. [It is very similar to Hinduism].
    In that case, telling people that
    1) Jesus died (death pollution is considered to bring calamities)
    2) for your sin (no concept of sin or amoral behavior)
    3) and His blood (blood is considered to bring pollution and considered unclean)
    4) brings you to everlasting life (again, no concept of heaven or hell or everlasting life)
    will not fit within their religious framework.
    How do we Japanize the Gospel?
    Can we tell people “Jesus is our Harikari (sacrifice)?” – that He died to take our shame away. And He died so we won’t have to die.

    B] Another thing that can work against someone becoming Christian is the concept of tama. Tama are spirits of the dead that requires that the living people in the family follow a set of rituals for 33 years for the salvation of tama. I have read in another book that if an individual becomes Christian, their family members will come crying to the pastor. They want their son to take care of their family grave and perform rituals for them and they are afraid that the individual will not perform them after becoming a Christian. So the question is – “is it wrong for an individual to perform the required rituals (e.g. visiting the grave) once s/he becomes Christian?”

    C] As an Asian myself, I understand how much we respect our older family members and our ancestors. I read in one of the books that “a Japan woman refused to accept Christianity because she would rather go to hell with her ancestors than to heaven with Jesus”. I understand her dilemma. How do we answer them? A major question they are asking is “what happened to our ancestors who died without hearing about Jesus? Did they go to hell”?

    D] Another major hindrance for following Jesus in Japan is “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. It is considered to negatively affect the group/family/society when someone does something out of ordinary (and seeing that Japan has about 2% Christianity, it definitely falls under the umbrella of sticking nail). Let us pray that God changes this statistics and that being a Christian isn’t considered so out-of-an-ordinary thing in Japan in the coming future. India has about 4% Christianity. Did you know that there is a state (prefecture) in India named Nagaland with 90% Christianity? The same God that is God over Nagaland is also God over Hokkaido and Miyazaki.

    • Naoko Brown

      Great insights and ideas!!! We may be able to discuss some of these things at Zoom call.

  • 0

    Week 4 - Molly

    Molly Mortimer

    I only had a vague understanding of Shintoism and Buddhism going into chapter seven and thought it was super helpful and interesting to learn about their history– how they are able to coexist and what the basic structures and beliefs are. I think it helped me understand the difference between revealed and natural religions to see how Japanese people can still consider themselves non-religious while still being pretty heavily influenced by the cultural aspects of a folk religion that’s about as old as Japan itself. Also found it interesting to see how confusing Christianity could sound to someone coming from that background. For example the concepts of God and kami are completely different, and the perception of blood as being something that offers cleansing or something that defiles.

    Shinto definitely seems to fit into the category of being a fear/power based religion, (which Jason Georges talks about in his book ‘The 3D Gospel’ – I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already) The gospel in the west often relies on concepts of guilt and innocence and I’ve rarely heard the gospel presented in a way that speaks to things like spiritual powers, Christ’s victory over death, fear and evil spirits. I don’t particularly know how to talk about Jesus in a way that addresses those things but it’s something I want to grow in as it seems to be more and more relevant as our campus becomes more diverse.