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3 August 2019

Obon: a difficult time for Christians in Japan

The August festival of Obon—when the spirits of ancestors are believed to return to their home—may be the most important festival for Japanese people.

Many people take time off work to visit family and to make offerings and worship at their family’s Buddhist altar. But this custom is not just a religious ritual, it shows love and respect for their family.

For Japanese Christians this season is especially difficult. Of course, they do not want to worship anyone but the One True God, but they also want to show love and respect to their families.

Some find their relatives are understanding. These Japanese Christians can bring gifts, visit family, enjoy tea together and not worship their ancestors. But for others, not worshipping at the family altar means being rejected by their family. Some Christians struggle to stay firm to their beliefs and end up kneeling before the altar alongside their relatives.

For many Japanese people, giving up these and other similar Buddhist customs is a big obstacle to deciding to follow Christ. They feel bound by these customs, by pressure from their family, and by fear.

But God’s Word and truth can set people free from these bonds. I have seen God’s power to change people’s lives, from the young to the elderly. When people start to walk with Jesus, their values are changed and they “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10 NIV).

By Emily, an OMF missionary

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Wisdom for Japanese Christians during this important time of Obon.
  • For those who experience rejection by their families because of their love for God.
  • For wisdom for those who are teachers and mentors in the Japanese church, to give good advice regarding this issue.

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Learn more about OMF Japan.

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More from the Japan Blog

My experience of ancestor veneration

Some of our missionaries come from Chinese backgrounds, which gives them a unique insight into the Japanese Buddhist mindset. Here's one missionary's story of her experience.

Obon: a difficult time for Christians in Japan

Many Japanese take time off at Obon to visit family and worship at the family altar. This shows respect and love for their family and some Christians face rejection when they try to stay firm in their faith.