Week 5: Christianity and Japan October 5-11

Week 5 Christianity and Japan


  • Chapter Eight: A Brief History of Christianity in Japan
  • Chapter Nine: Christianity in Contemporary Japan
  • Chapter Ten: Japanese Theology


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:


  • 2

    Esha: Japan 101: Week 5


    A] I enjoyed reading about Father Xavier’s work in Japan, although it is clear that his work in India had much more lasting impact. Part of the reason lies in the fact that India has never experienced a nationwide persecution of a religion. So, people who chose to become Catholics remained Catholics and their children were raised Catholic, and so on, creating generations of Christians.

    B] Reading of the kakure Kirisitans or “Hidden Christians” was fascinating. The video “God’s fingerprints on Japan” covers some part of this. It is captivating to read that “being hidden” became so much part of their identity that many remained hidden, even after the persecution ceased. They developed their own ways, manner, ceremonies and spiritual practices. In order to be hidden, they used Christian objects (e.g. a cross) but hid it with Buddhist symbol as an outward appearance. As time passed, their worship and idea of God also became mixed and some of them combined Buddhist ideas with Christian practices (Syncretism?).

    C] It is almost hard to believe that Samurai class was the most open to Christianity. Since their influence was at the peak during the Tokugawa period, a time marked by the slaughter of many Christians, I would have thought that they would be less open to Christianity. As for example, Brahmins are considered the most influential and highest in the caste ladder in India; they ae also the least likely to follow Christianity. Thoughts on this?

    D] As I research more about Japan and interview people, this is the most fascinating thing I have found. In one of my interviews with a Japanese campus workr, I was told that Japanese feel weary of religions – they say “Kimochiwaru ii (feels sick)” towards religions (any religion for that matter). It is so different from India. In India, you cannot be faithless. You must believe something – anything! How can we present a Gospel that can be digested without feeling sick. One idea that comes to my mind is “Not presenting Christianity as a religion, but rather as a relationship with Jesus who is our friend, guide and savior”

    E] In chapter 10, I read that “some predict that in 20 years time, 50% of Japan’s churches will be vacant, because the older generation would have passed away and no young people to replenish that”. Wow! Here is a country that is broken, hurting and standing in deep need for her savior.

    F] Takeaway points from the video (Gordon Kaneda): Ignorance about Christianity is a major barrier. Language is another huge barrier. Terms like forgiveness and sin and truth might not fully make sense, especially shared in English. Another obstacle is Japanese people always want to say “yes”. Let them “read” Christ in you. Sharing the Gospel in their “heart” language is important. Also seeing other Japanese Christians in Church setting or outside is helpful in understanding how to be Japanese and Christian at the same time (cultural context). Being a follower of Jesus is a journey. Let others be part of the process. Returnee ministry : How do we “return” new believers well back to Japan. Sharing your testimony and how God moved in your life is always a great way to share Gospel.

    G] Takeaway points from the video (Naoko):
    8 million gods, not perfect gods (unlike Biblical God), no concept of sin or salvation, no absolute right or wrong, putting trust in wrong person/things, Barriers: exclusivity of Christ, empathy towards Christianity, people don’t prefer being very involved in organized religion (prefer more superficial spirituality), Distrust of religion itself due to past events related to cults, Being Christian is compared to denying your Japanese identity (Japanese people don’t see Japan and Christianity go hand in hand), word sin=crime; the word sin can mean criminal, saving face in Japan is very important, bridge of cleaning hand and mouth before going to shrine and what Gospel says about clean/holiness, learning about receiving God’s grace, Japanese are good at performance based religion and do not understand grace, “Christ in you” reflect God’s goodness – how can we reflect God’s unconditional love through our lives, honne and tateme makes it harder to create authentic relationship or know one’s true feeling, saying “no” is hard in Japanese so we can misunderstand their enthusiasm, “Japan is country of spiritual stronghold and Satan has taken them captive” – Japan’s spiritual darkness. Prayer is very very important!

    • Naoko Brown

      THANK YOU very much for your great summary and thoughts! “Kimochiwarui” toward religions is a common feeling. Many of them enjoy visiting temples, shrines and watching Ghibli movies, which present many spiritual beings, but they view truly religious people as brain washed.

      Regarding the Samurai who read the Bible; It was the beginning of new era after the long Tokugawa period, and many felt lost and many saw new hope. Those smart and strong Samurai’s seriously thought about the future of the country and sought out the truth/way with open mind and heart. I imagine though there were many Samurai’s who rejected anything new and foreign.

      Thank you for summarizing my video!

    • Jed Irwin

      I think I also read the Samurai were chosen by missionaries to attempt a top down approach. Teach and educate the upper classes in western education and Christianity and let it trickle down. It probably seemed easier because the samurai class had more free time, and had easier lives than the farmers.
      This would seem in contrast to a lot of the ways we understand the sharing of Christ, through the poor, the weak, the weary, the tired. Although if the dignitaries and politicians seem interested in learning about Christ of course I’m going to tell them about Christ, but Christ really came to turn the worlds ways upside down, making the last first, and the meek the inheritors of the earth.

  • 2

    Thoughts from the Reading Wk5 Tym

    Tym Moore

    I really enjoyed these chapters. It was interesting to learn about Japan’s history and how Christianity played its part in that. It was also exciting to hear about some more modern views of Christianity, and also Japanese theology.
    Starting with the first chapter, one thing that stuck out to me was the theory that Christianity was introduced to Japan much earlier than when Xavier came. It raises some interesting questions, like what happened between that time that made Christianity non-existent in Japan by the time Xavier showed up? If this theory is true, I could see it once again being valuable when sharing the gospel with Japanese, showing that it has been part of their history from the beginning. It was also interesting reading that the reasons for persecuting Christians weren’t initially religious ones, but rather social and political ones.
    The chapter on Japanese theology was interesting. Many of the changes made to Christianity there in attempts to make it more palatable for Japanese were parts of my theology that I’ve never thought about much. It raises some interesting questions, such as, how far is too far when applying the Japanization process to Christianity. Based on what the author wrote, it seems like this process is still ongoing, and there is yet to be a definitive Japanese Christianity. Further developing this could be essential in bringing the gospel to Japan.

    • Naoko Brown

      Thank you, Tym! Yes, it is a great question – what happened Christianity between the time when it first came to Japan to the time of Xavier? I am not sure and need to do some reading! In any case, Christianity did not take a deep root in Japanese soil.

      Yes, indeed we need to know how far is too far when applying the Japanization process to Christianity. There is not clear cut answer. I think you would enjoy taking our CSE 101 class.

    • Jed Irwin

      I am curious if the “definitively Japanese Christianity” is hard to see, because it happens in Japanese people groups, and not in church buildings. Because I pray it’s somewhere, spreading slowly, deepening, developing already, and we need to come along side the Japanese brothers and sisters and help enable them and encourage them when we do encounter them.
      For those that we are able to minister to from lost to believer, how can we train them to develop their own faith, in light of their Japanese culture. To keep the gospel primary, to keep the substance for God, and let the Holy Spirit actively guide and direct them toward perfection.

  • 1

    Week 5 Sarah

    Sarah Moore

    These three chapters were very interesting for me to read. Before reading, I assumed that Christianity hadn’t been introduced to Japan until the 16th century by Xavier. But chapter 8 suggested another theory that Christianity might have even arrived in China, Japan and Korea much earlier around AD 86, possibly even through the influence of the disciple, Thomas. More Christian influence came later (about 550 years later) by the silk road from Europe and Iran. It is interesting to me to think that maybe Japan (and Iran too) used to be a strong Christian country. It makes me wonder what happened in history to change that?
    I also knew that the persecution was intense, but was again shocked at the methods they used to find out the secret Christians. They used the reward method, forcing registration at a Buddhist temple, or the picture trampling (this one really got me…). I also was both saddened and inspired by the 12 year old who was martyred for his faith. I wonder what the executioner thought of this young boy’s faith.
    I was also saddened by the percentage that Christianity is actually declining In Japan right now. It seems that it is very hard to accept Christianity especially as it is associated with western culture. I wonder how we can bridge this gap better? From the last chapter, it seems that there are several Japanese theologians who have tried and are trying to Japanize Christianity- some positive and some negative. It can be concerning to think that some are trying to combine Shinto, Christian and Buddhist beliefs together. I do believe that it is possible for Japanese to understand Christianity from their cultural perspective and not a Western perspective. Jesus came to save all and desires for all to have a relationship with Him! I’m praying that my eyes would be opened to seeing how He is working and how He wants to use us!

    • Naoko Brown

      Amen, Sarah! Indeed we are here on the earth so that we can bring people to Christ!
      I mentioned this on someone’s post before, but have you seen the movie “Silence” directed by Martin Scorsese? It was based on a famous Japanese novel and is about persecution of Christians in Japan. It is a very hard to watch movie, but you might want to check it out.

      Yes, combining Buddhism, Shinto, Christianity and other “good religions” sounds like a creation of cult and deceiving.

  • 1

    Week 5 Irwin

    Jed Irwin

    I loved what Gordon Kaneda said in his recording. “Jesus called us to make disciples, not Christians”.
    It’s such a misunderstanding the way that some churches focus on attendance and buildings which is in contrast to the way Jesus called all believers to be priests of His Kingdom, and that gets lost in the mix of Sunday morning messages. We are to train and equip each other for the work. We are not to invite people to come be intertwined and feel good about attendance to a service that tickles our ears.
    It’s a key message that will help the kingdom grow, aiming at reproducing and multiplying believers, not making converts.
    (I enjoyed going through Kyle Idleman’s book a few years ago called “Not a Fan”, that draws a similar parallel.)
    After being here in Japan for only 9 months, encountering a lot of Japanese And trying to engage them in a conversation about Christ, I have noticed a very high wall that has been put up, spiritually, that makes them resistant to reading the Bible, and even entering a church building.
    I’m not sure what the plan is to get around those walls except for living a life intentionally, being friends, making deeper and deeper relationships if you can, and prayer.
    The word “fusion” sticks out to me on the second to last page of chapter 10, but I’m not sure what to do with that. “…burying itself in and becoming fused with the Japanese soil…”. I think this is simple, profound, and very difficult to definitely define. Which may be important to the process, in graining Christ in the very nature of people’s lives that they can not separate where the original tree stops, and the grafted branch starts.
    My mind goes back to a artistic atheistic called “steampunk”, a very modern but turn of the century idea of making things that last, with quality than the ikea/throw away culture. (Google ‘steampunk keyboard’ to see and get a feel for what I’m talking about.). There are some very shallow attempts to essentially glue gears onto things and call it steampunk, but it’s so surface level, you can see beneath them and simply peel of the gears and revert it to the original form. But to turkey make and mesh the intent and atheistic into items almost starts from the ground and is build around it and into it. I think this is a similar idea of Japanese Christianity, that the groundwork needs to be laid with Christ and the gospel, but it’s structure will be built up with Japaneseness, so they are through and through one solid piece. (Possibly the other way around, start with Japaneseness and build it up on Christ… I’m not really sure). I’m coming to realize that it is not going to look like western Christianity at all, and may seem so deviated that western missionaries and classically trained people might have a huge problem with how things turn out.
    I was reading in my other class (church planting) that one thing the local church did was have a room where they put pictures of their dead loved ones, very similarly to how they would have their pictures in their home butsudans, but it was more a room/wall to remember those brothers and sisters that preceded other members to heaven. From the outside it may appear as ancestor worship or venerating the dead, but the substance and heart of it is to bridge the gap between tradition/culture and Christ.
    There is a lot we can learn from those that came before us, because they toiled and started preparing the soil for those to come after. They have made a lot of the hard choices on how to carry things out and we should keep a keen eye out to learn from them. We are not alone here doing my ministry. We are united in Christ, doing His work, we just need to be faithful to Him.

    • Naoko Brown

      It is very true that we should pay attention to what our forefathers in Christ went through. This motivates me to read books written by early Christians in Japan.

      You made a lot of great points and I appreciate them all. Indeed we have to lay a solid trustworthy personal relationship with the people so that they know that it is DAIJOBU to trust Christ and actually that is the best decision ever. As Daniel Kikawa always says, coming to Christ must be coming home to Japanese and all other nations.