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11 July 2019

Buddhism in Japan: a complex topic

Sometime in 2013, I found a document in Japanese in my pigeon-hole at church. A glance at it told me that it was about how to evangelise Buddhist believers in Japan, the title: “The main points for the Strategic Evangelisation of Buddhism.”

A couple of years later, I decided to translate this paper because I thought it would be useful to me and other OMF missionaries in Japan. It was written by the pastor of Nara Gospel Church—Nara was the old capital of Japan from which the power of Buddhism increased in the 700s AD.

It was 12 pages of dense, sometimes very technical Japanese. It covered the types of Buddhism that are common in Japan, the main festivals, home Buddhist altars (butsudan), the basic teachings of Japanese Buddhism, and some of its history.

Long and complex sentences made my brain hurt. Trying to unpack specialist terms into simpler language stretched me. Creating an easily read document for non-native speakers of English added to the challenge.

Several years later I’ve just finished translating and formatting it as a bilingual document and producing a vocabulary list. It’s become a sizeable 50-page document in the process. I asked many people about concepts and words that I was not sure about. I’ve learned much that will help me and others reach out to people here in Japan.

The deep and lasting impression I have out of undertaking this task is how utterly different Japanese Buddhism is to Christianity. The concepts are so strange to me. The stories it tells are confusing. Its festivals and ceremonies are completely foreign to Christianity. Many of the people involved are unheard of outside of Japan.

This tells me the following truth (which I knew already, but it was good to be reminded of again): If I want to preach the gospel of Christ to Japanese people who have been brought up in this Buddhism-soaked atmosphere for centuries, then I need to explain the gospel repeatedly, clearly, and simply. I also need the Holy Spirit to take my words and make them live! May it happen Lord!

 

By Peter, an OMF missionary

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray for wisdom for missionaries trying to understand Buddhism in Japan so that they can communicate the gospel effectively.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit will take efforts at evangelism and use them to speak to Japanese hearts.
  • Pray that more Japanese Christian leaders will teach those in their churches how to best to communicate the gospel to their fellow countrymen.

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Learn more about OMF Japan.

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More from the Japan Blog

Japanese Buddhism is hard to define

Active involvement in Buddhism has fluctuated over the centuries, but there is still a sense that to be Japanese is to participate in Buddhist traditions.

Buddhism in Japan: a complex topic

Japan has been soaked in Buddhism for nearly 2,000 years. Communicating the gospel requires repeated, clear explanation and the Holy Spirit's intervention.

Religious confusion in Japan

Margaret, a missionary in Japan, found that many Japanese people she spoke to about their beliefs didn't consider themselves religious. Rather, they usually followed the traditions of their family.