English Articles

A Case Study of the International VIP Club : A Mission Movement Among Japanese Businessmen

Mitsuo Fukuda : Rethinking Authentic Christianity Network「RAC Network」


A. Introduction

The growth of the International VIP Club is a phenomenon of the Japanese mission field today. It is a mission movement among Japanese businessmenwho are commuting to big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. This paper presents an overview of the movement and investigates the background of its growth. Next, the characteristics of this movement are analyzed. Finally the meaning and the future of the movement are examined in terms of existing church authorities and functional mission movements.


B. Overview of the International VIP Club

The International VIP Club (VIP Club) was started by a group of Christian businessmen in Tokyo in 1993. After four years of stagnation, it began to grow rapidly. In March, 1997, some members of the VIP Club sponsored a large evangelistic meeting in Tokyo, named "B & P Winner's Festival." About 450 businessmen and professionals ( B & P ) gathered at The Westin Hotel,Tokyo. The VIP Club members encouraged the participants to launch cell-type meetings in hotel restaurants. People who caught this vision of evangelizing businessmen by businessmen themselves in their business environment, started many cell-type meetings in urban areas, using hotel restaurants, business offices, members' homes, and other places accessible from their offices. This movement has been growing rapidly since that 1997 meeting. They now hold eleven evangelistic meetings each month (nine in Tokyo, one in Osaka, and one in Nagoya) and over 100 cell-type weekly meetings, mainly in hotel restaurants. Over 500 businessmen gather for summer and Christmas festivals.


C. Background of Growth

1. Collapse of Kaisha-kyo

Kaisha-kyo is a belief in the super power of the kaisha. The kaisha is not regarded as only a business company that businessmen have contracted with, but also as a community in which they share their fate. Businessmen assume that the rise and fall of the individual's life depends on the whole course of their affiliated kaisha. From this viewpoint, the businessman's task is to maintain a harmonious relationship with his kaisha and contribute to the preservation and prosperity of the kaisha. Through this effort, businessmen gain social status and a stable income. This belief system worked in an era of the economic growth.


However, in the lasting economy depression, Japanese businessmen have reached a deadlock which has not been overcome by traditional kaisha-centered value systems and behavior patterns. In this situation, it is difficult for many to expect a better position and salary despite their hard work. The increasing rate of unemployment and bankruptcy has resulted in the collapse of kaisha-kyo. Since the kaisha can no longer guarantee the position, protection and the distribution of profits, kaisha-kyo has began to lose its centripetal force.


A survey by Sanwa Research Institute Corporation found that 28% of university graduates quit their jobs within three years. The rate of resignations among high school graduates is about 50% within three years (Sanwa Research Institute Corporation, 1998:238). This data shows that many businessmen today do not rely on the super power of the kaisha anymore and are seeking new human relationships and resources for the formation of their identity (Sakaiya, 1998 (1995):259).


2. Psychological Burdens Stem from the Collapse of Kaisha-kyo

The collapse of kaisha-kyo has at least two consequences. One is the change of view with respect to the kaisha. Before the economic depression, the kaisha was an object of worship and the focus of commitment. At that time, the kaisha functioned to enclose the individual businessman in the organization in order to seek symbiotic profit between individuals and the kaisha. But now businessmen have a chance to change their employment or to set up business on their own if they have the ability and opportunity. Businessmen don't have to suppress their individuality and personal desire in the name of the corporate purpose. Today the kaisha is acknowledged by young businessmen as a life sphere where they develop their vocational aptitude and career.


A second consequence of the collapse of kaisha-kyo is the psychological burden on businessmen. There are at least four kinds of stress from which businessmen are suffering. The background of the growth of this movement is that many overstressed businessmen are seeking a place of healing in the new Christian businessmen's communities.


The first stress is from unstable social status. It is a realistic and physical problem. Many former managers of bankrupt firms and fired businessmen have either a reduced income or no income at all. It is difficult for them to find new occupations. In addition, many more businessmen worry about losing their current jobs. They are disappointed with the kaisha which used to provide them with security and stability and are very anxious about their uncertain futures.


The second is the stress of isolation. The kaisha functioned as a family-like community where people received comfort and identity. With the collapse of kaisha-kyo, on the one hand, businessmen were given the opportunity to express their individual personalities, but, on the other hand, they lost the emotional integrity of the corporation. Unfortunately, most businessmen do not receive psychological support from their nuclear family either, because few families function as a home. The reason for this malfunction seems to originate in businessmen's neglect of their families. Formerly, businessmen concentrated excessively on the kaisha and did not give enough attention to their wives and children. Consequently, some businessmen seek a substitute community beyond the kaisha or the family. They yearn for friends who understand their emotional difficulties and who can listen to the terrible stories they have experienced in the course of the current economic depression.


The third stress is derived from self-reliance, which is the ethic of the modern era. Modern society is characterized by excessive social demands on the development of individuality. The collapse of the kaisha facilitates this individualistic inclination. People have a compulsion within themselves, which urges them to become an independent self with dignity, an individual with originality, a perfect character and a person who deserve to receive respect from others (see Nakamura, 1998:228). Businessmen today are requested to select the best from various options without mistakes, and must constantly strive to improve themselves by their own initiative. There is no help from their superior authorities, staff, or colleagues. They must undertake to deny themselves daily in order to discover and correct weak points so that they can make continuing progress, and all this has to be done in a situation of isolation. Due to these social pressures, they feel irritation, anxiety, and instability (1). They want relaxation and healing.


The fourth stress originates from a lack of communication skills. Businessmen are unprepared for the transition from a harmony-oriented society to an individualistic society. While in the West, people tend to establish cooperative relationships on the basis of mutual understandings which were formed by the free expression of differences, in Japan, people have tried to prevent social conflicts by concealing the differences between them as much as possible and regarding the receptor as another "I" (see Masamura, 1995:417-418). Japanese people tend to make the boundary between "I" and "you" fuzzy, and try to conceal the reality that all people are different from each other. This kind of communication style worked until the emergence of the "information society." Today, it seems to be a requirement for contemporary Japanese people to learn how to assert their opinions and to express their feelings in a socially appropriate manner. They are going through a process of changing their communication style from the traditional concealing type to the post-modern expressing type. The causes of many relational troubles - generational, marital, school, kaisha and international - can be traced to this lack of the communication skills.


3. Effective Usage of E-Mail Communication

The development of communication technology has assisted in the interaction among Christian businessmen. E-mail is effectively used for requesting prayer, reporting testimonies, and testifying to the power of the Gospel to their colleagues. It is not only a form of correspondence but also a tool for nurturing friendship.


Mr. Ichimura, one of the founding leaders of the VIP Club, said the following in an interview with me: "If we have personal time with other church members only on Sunday afternoon, it is too short to nurture our friendship and to express our concern for our neighbours' lives. If we spend one hour with other members per week on the average, we will spend about 50 hours a year. That time is only as long as a two-day summer retreat. We try to have much more time with our members of God's family. E-mail is one of the important vehicles with which to be in contact with other Christian businessmen in urban areas. Of course, we meet together face to face almost everyday. But e-mail is more convenient and it saves time." (2)


Another aspect of e-mail communication relates to networking. It provides for more democratic and open communication among its users. Everybody can be a sender of a message. The e-mail network is paving the way in establishing a new type of community, with a new leadership structure. I believe that this type of community attracts many businessmen who would like to escape the strong social ties of the kaisha.