English Articles

Witnessing approaches adapted to the needs of the Japanese people

Mitsuo Fukuda : Rethinking Authentic Christianity Network「RAC Network」

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  1. The three needs of Japanese people
  2. Approaches that respond to these needs
  3. Making use of the three approaches


"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15)


These words are not to be practiced only by so-called “clergy.” The key to the opening of this country for the Gospel will be when every part of Christ's body begins to boldly and joyfully share their faith “for the hope that you have.” We need to have approaches that meet the varied needs of those who hear the Good News from us. As an example, Paul became aware of a graven altar “to an unknown God” in Athens. He was able to discern the needs of the people there who feared retribution if they omitted a god from their “worship list.” Paul proclaimed that this “unknown God” was the Creator God Himself, who wouldn't drop them from His “list.” Instead, He made them His own ancestors.


In this article, I would like to propose a framework for witnessing that can be done by “ordinary people,” through analyzing the types of needs Japanese people have. Then I would like to show how to meet those needs with various approaches. In other words, my goal is give “hints” on what is common to these persons so that when we explain the Gospel to them they will think, “if that's Jesus then I want to follow Him.”


The three needs of Japanese people

I believe the Japanese people have three needs, spiritually speaking. Two of them are comparatively superficial while one is a fairly deep need.


The need to be filled with spiritual power

The most representative example of this among 70-80% of modern day Japanese people is the assumption that a “curse” will follow certain actions. This can be seen in the use of amulets for prayers to ward off evil, or the “mizuko kuyo” which is widely practiced to show penitence and to remove a mother's guilt when there has been an abortion. This same theme of “warding off evil” can be seen in director Hayato Miyazaki's animated film, “The Princess Mononoke,” which swept the world in its popularity.


As can be seen in the expression, “watching over me from the grave,” the traditional Japanese view of life and death has no clear boundary between this world and the next. It is believed that the spirits of the dead have influence over the living. It is for this reason that so many Shinto purification rituals, such as “harai” and “misogi,” are deeply rooted in people's lives - they help to guard these “borders.” People feel a need to acquire spiritual life forces that can guard against such “curses.”


In the Japanese mind, a prerequisite for being filled with spiritual power is to become pure. This cannot occur except through unmarried women who function as mediums (“yuta” or “itako”) since sexual intercourse is considered unclean. In fortune-telling or in animated films where characters act by calling upon “good luck/goodfortune” or where someone is wrapped up in “ki” (“energy”), one can observe the reciprocal nature of the relationship between purity (or, cleansing) and spiritual power.


The need for warm fellowship

Another need is the longing for a welcoming (or, warm) community. During the rapid growth era of Japan, the Japanese businessman became “married to the company.” Because of this, their wives became overly attached to their children. And the children of these absentee, overworked fathers and lonely, meddling mothers began to have questions about their value of their own existence, unable to have any hope for their futures. They drifted about searching for “a place to belong” to be accepted just as they were.


Many of those who are drifting now have confined themselves to “fortresses” inside of themselves. A “shower” of negative criticism came upon them under the perfectionism of their parents who said, “do everything to your utmost.” But this is the cause behind what stole away their confidence and their desire to try. As a result, quite of few of these persons are now inhibited in expressing themselves and do not seek to have deep relationships with other people. They have a tendency to stay inside their own self-erected “fortresses” where they cannot get hurt.


One line from the hit song, “Sekai ni hitosu dake no hana” (“You're my only flower in this world”), by the popular singing group, SMAP, struck a chord with a wide audience because it said, “even if you don't become No. 1, you were always my special Only One.” One could interpret this as a cry from the Japanese who want to be able to act freely in a non-judgmental community. For the person who is barricaded in the fortress of themselves these words say, “talk to me nicely and tell me that I have value, too.”


The need to be true to oneself

I believe that the reason why baseball is a national sport in Japan lies in the framework of a game that focuses on a “moment of glory” after a long period of preparation. I'm talking about the glory of the home run. It is a momentary event in the game. Yet everything else is the set-up, like just before a charge is set off by a spark. In the same way, spiritually speaking, the impetus or “spark” behind shaking up the hearts of normally well mannered Japanese citizens lies dormant and ready within their souls, waiting to be set off (like the excitement of a home run).


In the midst of a day-to-day life which follows the crowd and fears rejection or ostracization from others, the impetus for the explosive deliverance of someone's innermost feelings (their heart of hearts) comes in that moment when they can affirm who they really are. It is in that moment where a person can “be true to oneself” even when they are in a conforming society that says, “the nail that sticks out gets pounded back in.” These kinds of moments for continuing reflection in one's day-to-day life can be seen as where people “live life as it really is.”


People who seek to “really live life” often get the reputation with other people that they are “truly honorable” because they always “gambaru” (exert themselves). But they cannot carry that original “spark” back into their day-to-day lives so it is easy for them to feel guilty for not being able to still have that original “spark” experience. Moreover, they easily get caught up in seeking for a universal “something” by which they can relax and to which to open up themselves.