Week 6: Japanese Culture and Christian Faith May 10-16

Week 6 Japanese Culture and Christian Faith

Reading:

  • Chapter Eleven: Christianity’s Contribution to Japanese Life
  • Chapter Twelve: Elements of Japanese Culture
  • Chapter Thirteen: Spiritual Culture in Japan
  • How to Share the Good News With Your Japanese Friend by Mark Reasoner Page 1-15
  • This text can be purchased here.

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

  • Continue to adhere to the 100 word minimum for this assignment. Use this as an opportunity to reflect and apply what you have read. This is to be written in your comment section of Japan 101.
  • Read as many of the other students’ writings as you have time and comment on at least two of them.
  • Japanese Pre-Contextualization Assignment:
  • List out the basic elements of the Good News of Jesus Christ that is preached in Acts 10:34-48 and Acts 17:22-34, and the manner in which their messages were delivered. These separate lists serve as summary descriptions of the Gospel. Then list out any cultural, theological, or communication barriers Japanese people might have related to each basic element in your lists. Use any information you have encountered from the course so far. (Things to pay attention to are what Japanese people would generally reject theologically, methodologically, or culturally.) The purpose of this assignment is to help you begin to theorize how to share each point of the Gospel in a meaningful way with a Japanese person.

Pray:

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

Extra Suggestions:

Questions

  • 4

    Reflections (Week 6) - Jocelyn

    Jocelyn

    For this week’s readings, it was good to learn about the different worldviews that the Japanese have. However, I think what got to me was that the worldviews they hold are seen in a negative light. I think that if we really want to reach the Japanese, we need to see how these cultural aspects of their lives can be redeeming factors instead of ones that are hindering them from being a part of God’s family. It was frustrating for me to read that these cultural values they hold, are being negatively perceived, but then not giving a suggestion in how we can reach out to them in a way that makes sense to them or that they can relate to. It almost seemed to me as I was reading that the only way to get them to “break free” from their cultural strongholds was to conform to the way of “Christian values”, but the way it was talked about, seemed to be more of Western values than of Gospel values. For example, when he was writing about indirect communication and cited Matthew 5:37, he said that Christian values are to be direct and clear. I don’t agree with this statement as Jesus used parables to communicate and those were not direct. I believe that indirectness also has its strengths and that one can still communicate the Gospel to another if they truly understand the culture. It is almost an art form to be able to communicate effectively in indirectness.

    In conclusion, I believe there are better ways to understand a culture and to see the good in it, rather than all the negativity. I was disappointed in Chapter 12 when it was just perceiving the majority of the culture as negative strongholds that were hindering the Japanese to knowing Christ instead of truly understanding how those cultural aspects could be used to understand Christ more and how to be a community of believers.

    • tuchidalee

      Hi Jocelyn! I agree that there is not one way to communicate the gospel. There are no gold standards. I think it is important to be creative and personal to each person we talk to, not treat others like a number or a “project”. Since Japan is a “group think” mentality and society, the negative cultural views and standards hold high value. I appreciate your insight.

    • Naoko Brown

      Jocelyn,

      I totally understand what you are saying. Have you taken CSE 101 yet? I bet you will enjoy it very much. There is definitely some beauty in Japanese cultural elements, but these can be confusing and frustrating for non-Japanese people. I became a Christian in US, and I have freedom in Christ, but I am still very Japanese and demonstrate these cultural elements often especially when I want to do my best to be sincere to others. These elements are not evil for sure, but actually they have many biblical values of humbleness, treat others as if they are greater than you, etc. I would like to talk a little bit more about it in my next video, which probably will not come out until sometime next month. We will email the link to you.

    • Brandalyn

      Yes! I think that looking for the openings, opportunities, and bridges are important. We don’t get very far starting out with bad attitudes and looking down on people! I don’t like it when people do it to me. Why would I think that others of another culture would take it any more kindly! I agree with Naoko. Do check out the Cultural Specific Evangelism courses. They are so good and focus a lot on this!

    • Jocelyn

      Naoko san, that would be great if you could email the link when you’re done doing that video! I would love to hear what you have to say about this!

  • 2

    Joze (Week 6) Reflections

    Joze

    Chapter 11:
    While I think it is worthwhile to note some of the contributions of
    Christianity within a culture, I always wonder what the motivation and mindset is behind it. If it is to say that doing good in a culture should be a normal default setting for followers of Jesus as people belonging to the larger group called humanity, then it is good. However, if it is tooting our own horn over and against other people groups or other faiths, then it is probably not so good. What about the contributions of other organizations and faith groups? How is Christianity continuing to be a positive influence in contemporary Japanese society?

    And for all of the “positive” examples, could some of them not also be seen as “negative” from another point of view? For example, as the author notes how Christians were influential in promoting education for girls, were there no other forces that influenced this movement? Could it not also be inferred that the education of women led to the unintended consequence of the deterioration of the established roles of the “uchi” that led to bruised egos for the males and to the low view of marriage among women because it is more constraining rather than liberating?

    Chapter 12:
    Concurrent with this course, I wanted to take the Japanese 102 but it was not offered this semester. So I decided to read the book “The Japanese Mind” that this chapter bases its categories from. I commend that book to those reading this post because it delves into the Japanese worldview (the deeper part of culture) and poses questions to consider.

    I think it is vital to know these worldview categories and to continue trying to understand them even though they may not be our default setting, so to speak. And in doing so, we might be able to retrieve the redemptive parts and discern the parts that make us uneasy. One of the foundational principles of the field of anthropology is cultural relativism, it’s the mindset to not judge a culture based on one’s own cultural norms, but to understand it based on the other culture’s traditions, history and values. I think it’s important to keep that in mind in this chapter especially because the author, though well meaning, reveals his cultural bias (e.g. individualism, direct communication and personal choice) that could create more of a barrier to intercultural communication. I write this because after reading this chapter and disagreeing with some of his assessments, I googled the author to discover more about him and to humanize my textual interlocutor. He does seem to want to build bridges of cultural and religious understanding, and he is a proponent of many similar values, such as, inclusivity in the church and practical manifestations of the Christian faith in acts of justice and compassion. Even though I disagree with some of the things he writes about, I do respect him as a person, as a scholar and as a brother in Christ.

    So, when the author assesses how “honne/tatemae” is a cultural stronghold of Japan, he seems to be judging the culture’s indirect way of communicating with the lens of his own direct way of communicating (as a Dutch person). And when he says that “uchi/soto” is associated with “clean/unclean,” it seems he is more critical of its implication of creating hierarchies within society rather than seeing (a) that it reveals that there is a behavioural norm for how people treat other people within the group and there is another behavioural norm for how to treat people outside the group, and (b) that he might be seeing the hierarchical structure of society through his Western, individualistic and “flattened” social structure.

    If I were to offer a contrapuntal reading of Scripture for the former, it would go something like this. The Israelites (and Christians) are to keep themselves accountable to the commandments because they as a group understand the requirements for covenant faithfulness (what it means to be God’s people); however, they/we are to welcome the outsider/stranger/foreigner/refugee among them and to “love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev.19:34). This is to show that they had one set of behavioural norms within the group, and another set of norms for outsiders.

    Also, I would suggest looking for the redemptive aspects of each of the categories in this chapter because each cultural value has both good and bad implications. One example of this search for the redemptive value could be in the category of “giri.” I’m currently watching the Netflix series called “Giri/Haji” (Duty/Shame) about a detective from Tokyo who goes to London to look for his missing brother. As I watch it, I see how “giri” was functioning within the Japanese detective and the constant tension he has to navigate his duty as a police officer, as a father, as a husband, as a son of an ailing father, as a brother, and as a stranger in a foreign land. I can see how, in some of these obligations, he does them even though he doesn’t want to but has to for the good of the circumstance or relationship or situation. And as I watch this character navigate life, I see how this sense of duty, though difficult, is reciprocated in the complementary value of “amae” (dependence on the benevolence of others) where he not only helps others, but others help him too. And the redemptive value that I see here is that of creating interdependence among the group rather than independence in one’s self. This sense of duty can actually be a powerful motivator for followers of Jesus to “love one another” and to do good to one another even though it’s difficult and costly. Furthermore, “duty” can be seen as a positive value, among Arab Christians for example, because this responsibility is understood not as a means of salvation, but an outworking of salvation (as their motivation and vocation).

    • Brandalyn

      Yes, yes yes. I agree with you: “I would suggest looking for the redemptive aspects of each of the categories in this chapter because each cultural value has both good and bad implications”. I really appreciated Mariana Nesbitt’s book “Jesus for Japan” because she looks at different elements of Japanese culture and suggests how believers could try and see what gap the people are trying to fill and offer a Christ-centered alternative or draw a parallel that points to Christ.

      It would be interesting to have some Japanese evaluate Canadian and American culture and identify the “bad stuff” that they see ruining our societies that needs to be eliminated! We might find it shocking (as can be our judgements of their cultural things like giri or honne/tatemae)

    • Naoko Brown

      Joze, thank you for your opinion! I agree with you!
      Probably Samuel Lee as well as myself have experienced some frustrations when dealing with Japanese cultural elements, and many people got confused and possibly got into troubles because of that. I believe his intention was “informing” and “warning” to those who do not know the culture. In any case, looking for redemptive aspects is very very important! Thank you!

      Brandalyn,

      I can tell you one of the big surprises about American culture when I came to this country was that customers always complain about food or make the chef cook the way they want it at restaurants. I have a friend who complained over and over until her bean burrito at Taco Bell looked big enough. Another friend returned her skirt to Lands End after more than 10 years of purchase. Things are changing in Japan, and I heard returning of purchased items became more common. But usually food you ordered is the final deal – they cook for you and you eat without complain. These are just a few things I can think of immediately….

  • 2

    Mark Reasoner resource???

    Joze

    How might we access the Mark Reasoner resource? Or do we have to?

  • 1

    Christian schools etc

    Brandalyn

    I really had no idea the broader cultural implications of what Christian groups contributed to Japan such as schools, colleges, social welfare, relief work etc. I find it interesting how this seems to be a common trait in so many countries and cultures where Christians have gone!

    Before I knew much about the social issues and prostitution in Japan, I heard a presentation (very dramatic and exciting) that told the story of early Salvation Army believers in Japan who took on the prostitution and brothels that held women captive in Tokyo. I wish I could find the detailed account in the talk that I had heard in 2015. What a courageous bunch of people who were willing to tackle a larger than reasonably fixable problem! For a short version, you can read this article if you are interested.
    https://www.newfrontierchronicle.org/rescue-the-perishing/

    • Naoko Brown

      Thank you for sharing, Brandalyn.

      I heard a missionary saying that often the common denominator of those who come to Christ is that they learned something about God and Bible in Kindergarten up to college. I know it is not true for every Christians in Japan, but it is encouraging to know. I went to a Catholic school, and none of my classmates came to know the Lord YET, but they talk very favorably about Christianity because they find peace and purity in it.

  • 1

    Peggy Week 6 Reflections On Barriers

    Peggy Burkosky

    This week we were asked to list out any cultural, theological or communication barriers with regards to the basic elements of the Gospel. The word gospel means “good news,” which is the message of forgiveness for sin through the atoning work of Jesus Christ – God’s rescue plan of redemption for those who will trust in His divine Son in order to be reconciled to a just and holy God. For the Japanese, since there is no proper concept of sin, it is difficult to understand God’s forgiveness in the Christian faith. For the most part in Japanese culture if a wrong has been committed, there must be some way to make it good. It follows that since there is no proper concept of sin, there is no need for a “judge” of sin. It was helpful in our reading this week in “Understanding Japan” to learn that most Japanese have a polytheistic world view of the worship of or belief in multiple deities, and that the “Western” world view of Christianity is child-like and arrogant.

    In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he lays out the content of the gospel message, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4). First, the phrase “died for our sins” is very important. The reality of sin needs to be acknowledged by all who approach the throne of God for salvation. A sinner must acknowledge the hopelessness of his guilt before God in order for forgiveness to take place, and he must understand that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Without this foundational truth, no gospel presentation is complete.

    • Naoko Brown

      Thank you, Peggy! I agree, it is a big barrier. Still we know that everybody in the world has God shaped vacuum in our heart. Even when they realize their heart condition and empty spot in their heart, different religions, worldview and materials become excuses not to see their own heart condition. I was like that before. May the Lord use you and all of us to be His messenger to help them to have courage to face their sin and open up to the Lord.

  • 2

    Cathy week 5 reflection

    WCathy

    I really liked the chapter where the author talked about how Christianity has positively impacted the Japanese society, specifically in the area of education, social justice, and intellectual life. I do often hear people say that doing missions in japan requires a functional and purposeful platform that’ll attract people to come so that we can share the gospel with them.

    Although some elements of Japanese culture is very strange to westerns and even people from its neighbouring countries because of how extreme the Japanese have made these customs become (e.g., tatemae/honne and giri), I think that these phenomenons have been improving however they’re still a big burden for some Japanese people and undermines the original well intentions of using these social customs.

    Most of the “spiritual events” in Japan are very materialistic, and indeed they are used to worshipping pagan gods. I was surprised to learn how much attention were given to the sculpture set used during the hina matsuri.

    • WCathy

      correction: week 6 reflection

    • Naoko Brown

      Cathy, thank you very much!

      Unique and good cultural elements have two sides – original good intention and obligatory burden. I myself have love and hate relationship with Japanese cultural elements, so I tend to be negative sometime, but there are some very kind and gentle intentions below the surface.