Hiding in a Corner Trying not to be Swept: The Japanese of Japan

The nation of Japan is often overlooked by those of us who view the peoples of the globe from a Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) perspective. Perhaps this is due to their economic prosperity, adaptation of Western business practices, or simply that their geographic land mass is about the size of California—although with about 90 million more people.

This great nation was brought to mind again as I read Jeff Kingston’s recent review of Tokyo Vernacular: Common Spaces, Local Histories, Found Objects by Jordan Sand. Kingston, himself a 25 year resident of Tokyo, gives a snapshot of a nation in flux, constantly navigating their ties to their tumultuous past and desires to persevere and succeed in the present. The selection of Tokyo as the site for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, has given the nation a new focus. Kingston explains:

Tokyo’s Olympic slogan is ‘Discover Tomorrow,’ a motto meant to convey an upbeat message about recovery from the 3/11 disasters and signaling that the story of Japan’s decline has been exaggerated, given bright prospects for its cutting-edge technologies and industries.

Following the catastrophic March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, the Japanese truly are an admirable people and a testimony to what can be accomplished through the collective tenacity of a society. Yet, this tenacity seems to be the very thing that prevents the long term spread and growth of the Gospel on those islands. Within a population of nearly 130,000,000, only .5% are Evangelicals.

While many unreached peoples on the planet are without the Gospel, in part, due to remote location or intentional cultural retreat, this is not so with Japan. The Japanese are spiritually lost even though geographically and economically very accessible. They are much like the woman’s lost silver coin in the parable told by Jesus. Many have come ‘seeking diligently’ for the lost of Japan since the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1850s. Yet, the Japanese remain a very homogeneous society that has long been “indifferent and skeptical toward organized religion.” They are like the lost coin, but due to the hardness of heart that so easily affects all of us in materially successful cultures, they have done a masterful job as coins hiding in a corner trying not to be swept.

Consider these prayer points from Operation World:

  • A lack of moral centre. Japan’s own leaders called it ‘a superpower without a moral compass.’
  • The Bible is alien to the worldview of the Japanese.
  • There are 24 cities in Japan with no church at all. Of the 1,020 towns and villages, 595 have no church.
  • Young people are becoming a ‘rare’ breed due to Japan’s low birth rate.
  • The greying of Japan is a serious demographic challenge, but it also makes for a greater opportunity to share Jesus, as many search for spiritual peace.

May God encourage the many laborers now serving in Japan, may he raise up and send many more, and may he give grace to see a nationwide Gospel movement that, like the woman when she found her lost coin, calls together friends and neighbors saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” For as our Lord Jesus said, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10, ESV)

For more information on Japan see:
The Joshua Project
The International Mission Board: East Asia Peoples

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Dr. Jason Duesing’s blog.