During a break from ministry in Japan I recently took a trip with Sachi,* a non-Christian Japanese friend. During our journey we visited a shrine. My friend put her hands together in prayer and bowed, as I have seen many Japanese people do at shrines.
Curious, I asked her, “What do you pray about at shrines?”
She said, ”I thank the gods and ask for protection. Often I start by telling them my name and address.”
I couldn’t get this conversation out of my head: her idea of god was so contrary to the God of the Bible. She’s not alone, though—the gods of Japan are distant beings for most Japanese people, and irrelevant to their day-to-day life.
Shintoism is considered Japan’s indigenous religion. It’s written神道, meaning literally “the way of the gods.” According to Japanese mythology, there are eight million gods—countless gods for various needs and occasions.
But Japanese people also see no problem blending different religions. They often visit a shrine on New Year’s Day, conduct weddings in a “Christian” style, and call upon a Buddhist priest to do a family funeral. Most Japanese people don’t see these as contradictions because religion, for them, is more to do with the form and rituals than with the heart and inner-transformation.
Sachi forwarded an article to me that explained that this blending of religions is seen as a virtue rather than a contradiction. The article argued that the acceptance of all religions is an expression of tolerance pertaining to peace.
Two years ago, I did a seeker’s Bible study with Mai*, a high school student.
“When I was in preschool, I was taught, at meal times, that seven gods reside in one grain of rice,” she recounted. “I couldn’t reconcile this teaching with what I understood of the world.”
When she met God of the Bible, she thought, This feels right. This is the God I have been seeking.
The idea of one true God—a personal God who loves them, the one who made the universe and who surpasses all things—may be contradictory to what the Japanese people have been taught and believe. Yet, I am convinced that this truly good news.
The message of Christ crucified is transformational truth. It may seem like foolishness to some, but to those “being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18 NIV). The gospel may divide and disturb peace, but it is the only way to true peace with God and with one another.
*Names changed for privacy
By an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray that the idea of one true God would lodge in Japanese people’s hearts.
- Pray that Japanese people would know that the God who made the universe loves them.
- Pray for true peace between people, based on the grace given by Christ.