Week 4: Religion in Japan April 26-May 2

Week 4 Religion in Japan

Week Four Video (Religion in Japan and Counseling Needs)
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:


  • 4

    Joze (Week 4) Reflections


    Another good reading from Lee this week.

    – Most of the social problems he cited I had either heard about or read about before (i.e. bullying, suicide, hikikomori, pachinko parlours, groping in trains, pornography). However, this time, I was stunned by the average age of the increasing homeless population. The study and explanation of the phenomenon seems reasonable, but I wondered why their extended families could not have helped. Could they not go back to their hometown because it might shame their families? Or is it the shame of their job loss and age that they wouldn’t even ask for help? I also wonder if homelessness is also under the purview of the newly appointed Minister of Loneliness as this seems to be a mental health issue as well as a socioeconomic issue?

    – “…incidents and scandals surrounding religious organizations further contribute to the unpopularity of organized religions.” This is such an intriguing statement that IMO is spot on. Especially, these past few years with the downfall of “big” names in Christianity (Hillsong, Zacharias, Willowcreek) that have stained the name of Jesus and his kingdom, it seems to me that we need to take this more seriously and teach it more in our churches because we’re not only saved from sin, but we’re also saved for something, and a big part of it is representing Jesus well to the world around us. We’ve seen this “repulsion to Christianity” in the Muslim world and it’s no surprise that many Japanese feel the same way too.

    – I’ve heard “kami” and “kamisama” used before by Japanese Christians. Since my Japanese is not yet up to snuff, is there a difference between the two terms? Also, are there no other terms for a higher (or highest) spiritual being that may have been imported from other cultures or even in fringe indigenous folklore? It seems paradoxical to me that when people were stratified with the import of Confucianism, there wasn’t also some movement to stratify the deities. That would might have helped. Similar to Hebraic and Christian conception of the spiritual realm, Shinto belief has a multiplicity of spiritual beings that includes humans, but in Hebraic thought, there’s YHWH at the top, his “elohim” or divine council with him, then archangels, then the seraphim, chrubim, angels, then humans, then the fallen spiritual beings. So close, but no cigar. IMO, that might help build a bridge in the idea of “being” (ontology) between the two religious beliefs.

    – The vibe that I got from reading p.80 on “spiritual pollution” is that it’s got lots of potential bridge-building aspects to the high value of ritual purity in Leviticus, what makes things ritually clean or unclean, and how it relates to valuing all of life on earth. However, Lee’s comment related to how blood can make things pure or clean will take a bit of work.

    – In general, it seems to me that the religious climate of Japan is more “animistic” (“obtaining divine favours in this world such as bountiful harvests and protection from famine and disease,” p.83) in it’s spiritual and other-worldly concerns through Shintoism, but wrestles with the ethical dogma of Confucianism and Buddhism. I was very much intrigued by the Buckley quote on p.87, “Critical of the failure of modernity on the one hand, but aware of the limitations of the pre-modern worldview on the other, individuals seek for alternatives to address problems of spiritual, social and emotional malaise.” That to me is a great distillation of the postmodern concern in many cultures, but it is interesting to learn about it in the Japanese context.

    • brandk09


      Great points and I appreciate your thoughts.

      I agree many prominent polarizing figures that claim the name of Christ have really stained the name of Christ. Although they look good on the outside, I wonder if they are wolves in sheep clothing? And then the media hones in and blows it up to even more so to defame the name of Christ or at least try to…In doing so that reputation is basically a blanket reputation for all Christians and in turn, turn people off and away from wanting to know more about the living God.

      Well said Joze, we are not saved only from sin but for something. That resonates with me, Its a good reminder that by God grace we get to partake in seeing the mission of Christ as the purpose of our lives for the glory of Christ.

    • WCathy

      Hi Joze. I really agree with you on the point of the fall of “big” Christian names. These are sad occurrences, but I believe that the Japanese needs to know about God’s love first. There’re some fundamental concepts that is hard for the honour/shame brought up culture to understand. For example, “how can salvation be free?” Even if they do have negative ideas of Christianity, I’d say helping them go (back) to the Bible is definitely the most helpful way, because Earthly happenings are distractions to the Truth of God’s words sometimes.

      Also, regarding saying ‘kami’ or ‘kamisama’, it is normal for Japanese Christians to use these terms with other believers, but to unbelievers or people who’re hearing the Gospel for the first time, it is better to say イエス (i-e-su) which is Jesus instead of Kami. This is because there’re so many kamis in the native religion that when you use this term they’ll wonder which folk lord are you referring to instead of the one and only God.

    • Naoko Brown

      I agree with all of your points indeed. I was slow to find out about Zacharias scandal, and I am still very much broken hearted about it. How can it be? But it is not surprise at all. We can point our finger to some crazy cult scandals, but most importantly we need to walk with the Lord step by step. Yes, “Kami” or “Kami-sama” are very generic term. Your point of finding out God’s name and spiritual hierarchy may be very helpful. This may overlap with something you are learning from CSE.

      Your insightful comment is very helpful for us! Thank you!

    • Brandalyn

      You know that “sama” is a polite suffix?
      There are certain situations where a receptionist may call up “Suzuki-sama” instead of “Suzuki-san” to be served next. My favorite example was my friend’s daughter playing doctor and she comes into the pretend “waiting room” and calls for “Osafune (their last name) mama-sama” – it was so cute and such a neat lesson for me on “sama.”
      My understanding is that it is a more polite version. So the addition of “sama” to “kami” goes from just being some kind of spirit that is generic and known to be everywhere to somewhat of a more revered or elevated god. (Naoko, please correct me if I am wrong here). But it still doesn’t carry the meaning or depiction of an all-powerful, ultimate, creator God, King-of-kings.

  • 3

    Takako - Week 4 Reflections


    I felt sad as well as discouraging to read on sections of social issues, crimes, and gambling problems. I especially find it difficult reading about suicide, bullying, and abuse. Although this is not an isolated issues that Japan deals with, United States and other countries have similar difficulties as well. The homeless issue stuck with me the most as well. I’m certain not all of the numbers are accurate, it certainly draws a picture of the issues and shame that the country faces. It was sad to hear that the age group that struggles the most are single men over the age of 35 who’ve lost their jobs.

    “Mushukyo” is interesting in that it does not mean Japanese do not have religious sentiments. Often obon, festivals, and visiting temples in the holidays are imbedded in their culture, organized religions are frowned upon. The video interview on what the Japanese think of religion was informative as well. Even though the interviews seems limited to young adults, I would have like to hear from students of all ages as well as the senior citizens since there is a generation gap.

    • WCathy

      I have heard that middle aged people in Asia are kind of stuck in their career because 1. they can only be promoted to a certain level; 2. new fresh blood is coming into the workforce; 3. they have a family so they can’t start other new ventures (it’ll be more difficult to start from the beginning which pride also plays a part in this). They’re also the most difficult group to reach in Japan due to their busy work lives and the last thing they want to do is go to church on their rest day. Because of this Japanese churches have become very imbalanced in their gender demographics.

    • Naoko Brown

      Thank you, Takako! I remember the Pachinko parlors used to be smoky places and only sketchy people used to go. But now those parlors are dressed very attractive to younger people. It appear to be safer than before, but that is simply a disguise. It is the same old easy gambling place. Those places used to be run by Yakuza back then. I bet it is still the same….

    • Brandalyn

      I asked a Salvation Army pastor friend on one of my last trips to Japan about Japan’s homeless. I said that I have visited more than a dozen times and sometimes for a month or more. But I have almost never seen homeless people or addicts in Japan. Where are they? They must exist. Are they moved off the streets and kept somewhere?

      He told me that, in general, Japan’s homeless don’t look as dirty and disheveled as our homeless do here in North America. He said that odds are, I have walked by so many of them, but didn’t know because they didn’t “look homeless” to me. He says that if I came back to the shopping arcade near their church at night, I would see them sitting or lying there. He told me of one of the Salvation Army churches in Kyoto? Osaka? (I can’t remember) that has a huge ministry providing sandwiches and food to those in need such help on a very consistent basis. (kind of a Japanese soup kitchen, but mostly sandwiches) I was so surprised!

      Addicts? I still have yet to find out anything about them. But there must be more than just those with alcohol problems. Maybe more in the big cities and downtown centers where I haven’t spent much time…?

      I am guessing that one of the reasons that the Japanese homeless (and maybe addicts) don’t look as obvious to us as they do here is the great shame in Japan that would be associated with that. Odds are that people would do everything they could to hide their need from others…?

  • 2

    Peggy (Week 4) Reflections

    Peggy Burkosky

    Peggy Burkosky Chapter 4 comments

    It is interesting to me that most of the critical problems that Japanese society face such as bullying, rejection of disadvantaged students, aging workers (etc) seems so contrary to a people that esteem honouring one another, albeit hierarchal. Even though there are degrees of honouring (position, background, heritage) at least there would seem to be an ethic of respecting one another. To go from the principle of respecting to outright ostracization is conflicting.

    As confusing as the Japanese mindset regarding “religion” may be (This is better understood when
    we distinguish between religion and religious culture. Japanese can
    participate in religious culture without being a part of an organized
    revealed religion. To a certain degree, this can be true in Western
    European societies as well. For instance, one may celebrate Christmas
    in many Western countries without being religious or belonging to an
    organized church. Pentecost is a national holiday in the Netherlands;
    some people celebrate this event without being a part of a church or a
    Christian denomination. Some may not even know what the meaning
    of the day really is.) I would add that Western European societies are in even more confusion since they attend and or celebrate religious events, are not Christians yet consider themselves such.

    Regarding Shintoist beliefs (quote):
    – “Shinto lacks the concept of salvation because it has no notion of sin.”
    – “It is critical to understand that it is not moral sin that makes the kami angry but pollution.However, if you neglect them by exposing them to pollution, they will immediately blast the community with tatari or curses.”
    – “Kami dislike pollution. This pollution is not environmental pollution, but spiritual pollution caused by things that are unclean in the natural realm. Anything that is unclean may cause pollution; uncleanness is mainly related to blood, dirt, and death. These things can make objects and people unclean, generating pollution, and thus angering the kami.”

    I have a question: Why is it referred to as “spiritual pollution” through “natural causes”, yet the concept of retribution by way of curses on families and regions seems to me to be highly spiritual. Kami become angered by “natural” pollution and punish with curses? It seems contradictory to refer to natural pollution as “spiritual pollution.” Christian faith has a completely opposite view: “Spiritual pollution” causes natural pollution ie: sin = curses.

    Regarding “New religions”: Makuya caught my interest since we have read so far that there is credible evidence to support the idea that Japan is deeply influenced by “The Lost Tribes of Israel”.
    I found this summary online:
    “Makuya is a Japanese, interpretation of Christianity, which has sought both the Jewish origins of Christianity and also Japan’s own historical, cultural, and spiritual connection to both Christianity and Judaism. This movement has provided it’s practitioners with a supportive community of like-minded individuals who assist one another in coping with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in a society (postwar WWII) that has down-played the importance of religion, and stressed the importance of economic growth at the expense of physical and mental health. Makuya, like other new religions, has offered an alternative to secular society and the established religions in Japan. Moreover, it has provided a context through which to understand traditional values, morals and ‘meaning’ within the modern world.

    • Naoko Brown

      Peggy, thank you very much for your thorough comment! I agree with your points. Japanese mind toward religions is very confusing.

      Also Shinto kami and their way are another confusing thing. They are rather capricious personalities, but not logical and awesome like our God.

      Yes, I am also curious about Makuya. One of our pastors here said his friend got into Makuya, and this man does not work with the pastor any more. The pastor clearly called Makuya “cult”. I will look into it and see what I find out…

    • Brandalyn

      I agree so much in the social issues seeming contradictory to the society and values. I was SO SHOCKED to learn about the prevalence (still) of a thriving pornography and prosecution industry in Japan and to see signs for brothels (I’m still not sure if I have a complete understanding of what those are compared to what I think they are). I can’t align these social ills with a society that in so many ways otherwise seems to be so much more honorable and concerned about “right.” They do seem to be polar opposites. But as time goes on I am wondering if it is an example of the reality that “even a society that has so much of a focus on doing things right gets overwhelmed with the wrongs of sin in man”? (i.e. we can’t be good enough to escape our evil on our own and in our own strength)

  • 3

    Cathy week 4 reflection


    In this week, it became apparent to me that Japanese people have very little idea on what religion really is. As it was shown in the video “What Japanese Think of Religions” interview, the interviewees seems to think that having a small temple at home = Buddhism. I think it’s common in Japan for people to not think much about religion when they’re buried in the rush of everyday life. The social concerns that were presented in this week’s reading like porn & bullying are so obvious too, yet it seems that people are fine to just live with it. Not much education is done regarding the issues, but avoiding seems to be the best solution. As I learn about the honour/shame culture of the East I find that it is especially bad (for lack of better term) in Japan. Japanese people don’t have a firm moral, they mostly care about how people view them so even if they did something bad but no one points it out they don’t feel guilt like we do in a guilt/innocence based society. This might be because their natural Shinto belief is not about having good morals but about not angering the kamis. I think that it’s hard for the society to understand the concept of ‘free’ grace & mercy as the society is so much based on merits and materialistic things.

    There are some deep rooted problems in the Japanese society, and even though Japan is known as an innovative technology country, they are very traditional with their beliefs. It’ll be some time before systems and issues can be improved but God is in control. I pray for God’s will in a spiritual breakthrough for Japan.

    • Naoko Brown

      I think in general it is hard for Japanese to understand God’s unconditional love and grace. When a friend of mine went to Tohoku area after the big Tsunami, she brought food and other things to the people in the area. But some old people rejected the gifts, saying “I cannot receive those, because I cannot give anything back to you.” It is hard for them to receive without returning. They feel like they are under obligation, which is a shame. Jesus died for us and all we have to do is receive His salvation with empty hands. It is a too-good-to-believe but such a wonderful fact. Let’s continue to pray the Japanese people’s heart will be set free. The wall of resistance, blindness and apathy will be broken down by the power of Lord!!

    • Joze

      Thank you Cathy-san and Naoko-san for your comments! I was drawn to the idea of “receiving without returning.” I think, though, that it might be possible to reframe the idea of reciprocal action. Since God in Jesus gave us the ultimate free gift of salvation and reconciliation back into the family of God, there is an obligation/duty for followers of Jesus to live a transformed life empowered by the Spirit and living a highly ethical lifestyle (as in the Sermon on the Mount). The Bible never says that we don’t have to do anything after we’re saved – in fact, Paul and James and Peter encourage the Church to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do as people in Messiah Jesus because we now represent this New Creation family and we have been restored to the position as co-regents and as the royal priesthood. So the obligation is an act of gratitude because we have already received salvation and welcome. Would that work?

    • Brandalyn

      I have to put a plug in here for the Japan 102 class. There were so many things that I learned about the gift giving, obligations and reciprocity from that class. Some of the things we are digging into here like the “receiving without returning” are topics that we end up having to grasp with in that class. They are eye opening to me after 18 yrs of close friendships with Japanese and time in Japan. Many things I said “oh wow. I had no idea that was what was going on under the surface”! Naoko’s Tohoku gift refused story makes sense to me now in that light!

  • 2

    Reflection Week 4 - Kyle


    After the reading the chapters and watching the youtube video. It is apparent that the Japanese as a totality do not devote themselves to any religion. Even though religion is all around them (shrines, temples, statues, festivals, etc.) to the younger population it seems that religion is something their grandparents did and it was once apart of their culture. Now it really has no meaning and the young generation seems very apathetic to religion in general. It seems that “Mushukyo” is very common among the younger generation. Based off what I have read and have seen in the video the Japanese see no need for organized religion. With little gospel witness in Japan and roughly 99% of Japanese having still not heard the gospel. It may be they are turned off and see no need because they have not heard the love and hope that is found in Jesus.

    • Naoko Brown

      Hi, Kyle! It is true for majority of the people, but there are people who are devoted to different religions. Everybody has a God-shaped empty spot in their heart. I know people are searching, but they really are not looking to the right direction. Some of them may be embarrassed to say that he or she is looking for true God. Someone like you can show the Light and be able to introduce them to the One who created us all. Thank you very much for loving Japanese people!

    • Brandalyn

      I have found it fascinating (and heartbreaking) that although the Japanese (for the most part) aren’t religious or interested in devoting themselves to a religion, their religious practices have become so deeply rooted as foundational elements of their society and their day to day lives, that they have lost the awareness of what is actually “religious” or “spiritual” and what is not. (Maybe we have too in some ways). But there are so many actions that people just “do” because it is tradition or “what Japanese people do” that they don’t question the spiritual implications of it. Lots of examples: Matsuri, going to shrines for different days like new years, when kid are 3, 5, 7, Obon traditions each summer for the days of the ancestors, folk lore of good luck acts.

      I have spent a lot of time thinking (and sometimes stressing) about: I believe that even if a person does not recognize the spiritual element or significance of your actions, that doesn’t minimize the actual spiritual significance or power of those actions. E.g. having your car “blessed” by the shinto priest, dedicating your children to the shinto Gods (even if you think it is just about good luck and taking nice photos), dedicating your nation to Gods over and over, having your butsudan “activated” by the priest. And so if in your words and actions you are going through the motions of giving spirits authority or rights to place in your home and your family… you probably are giving the spirits the same rights and authority and welcome as if you were doing those actions in a devoted, whole-hearted belief in your religion….??? It feels to me like really sneaky tactics of the devil. Serious “spiritual blindness” of the most intense kind.

  • 0

    Japanese church - Brandalyn


    Over the years I have attended a few different churches in Japan:
    -Fukuoka Salvation Army
    -Kyoto Salvation Army
    -Okayama Salvation Army
    -Okayama Cross Road Church
    In general, I have found the church experience to be very similar to what I am familiar with at home in Canada. We now attend a Salvation Army church in Canada. The Salvation Army, in particular, is quite uniform cross the world: similar uniform clothes, brass bands, styles of altar table coverings, styles of services, same songs sung. So the Salvation Army church experiences haven’t been all too different. Most of the churches were, like ours at home, very small (20 people or less) and mostly retired folks over the age of 60. Very few kids or young people. Most songs we recognize as being Salvation Army songs, some are new to us and seem to be uniquely Japanese.

    The Cross Road Church also wasn’t a lot different. It is more similar to the other churches we have attended or that I grew up in. It was more or less your usual contemporary Christian church service. We recognized most songs, some were new. This church had someone interpreting the message into English for the row of foreigners who were attending.
    Both types of churches had a small nursery or Sunday school for the kids during the message.

    Some things that I noticed that were different:
    -it was quite common to have a lunch after church where everyone stayed, ate together and visited. This was lovely! Especially as a new visitor! What a way to make connection and get to know people! It was always a pretty traditional Japanese lunch – bento or soup or donburi rice bowl. It reminds me of growing up in the little non-denominational country church in Alberta where we shared more meals as a congregation than most churches seem to do now.
    -The Salvation Army churches that I attended gave us a Japanese -English Gideon bible as we were leaving. What a great thing! We should learn to do that here!

    I suppose that I have been a little disappointed in my Japanese church experience that it is so familiar and comfortable for me – that it isn’t more “Japanese” in style, sound or feel. It feels like they are doing western church (which they basically are).

    I have been so surprised in spending time talking to some of the Salvation Army church pastors that the challenges they face there are almost identical to the challenges we have here. I really expected more differences! The similarities – lack of youth, hard to engage youth. So few people entering the ministry to become pastors. Hard to engage church members to be more active in the church and in community ministry. More reliance than desired on retired pastors and ministry people. A few people doing most of the church work. Social issues of homelessness/poverty and strained/broken families. How can we be more relevant, engaged, applicable to meeting the needs of the people around us.