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Grave Responsibilities

Mr & Mrs G were an elderly couple who lived in the house next to our apartment building. We became friends, and Mrs G started coming regularly to the English conversation and Bible study gathering because she wanted to practice her English. Not long after, she bought a Bible, joined us for Sunday church services, and came to faith. Mr G declined our invitation to church but had no objections to his wife becoming a Christian. He came to witness her baptism and joined in the celebration lunch after that.

Mr & Mrs H were another elderly couple who lived in our neighborhood. Like Mrs G, Mr H came weekly for the English conversation and Bible study gathering too because he wanted opportunities to converse in English. He did not join us on Sundays but introduced his wife to us. Mrs H bought a Bible, joined us in church whenever she could, and later came to faith. Mr H, like Mr G, had no objections to his wife becoming a Christian.

Mr G and Mr H share one common trait. Both were firstborn sons in their respective families, and both had to shoulder the important task of managing and taking care of the family grave that had been passed down through generations. This heavy duty and responsibility will end only upon death, after which it will be continued by the next generation.

This practice is not unique to Mr G & Mr H, but is common throughout Japan. It is rooted in the need to maintain not just continual connection with dead ancestors, but also to ensure harmony or 和 (“wa”) — a fundamental cultural value that permeates all aspects of the Japanese society — between the living and the dead. This is also the reason why the summer obon festival to remember the dead is so widely observed and celebrated in Japan.

Family/societal expectations around caring for the grave is one of the main reasons that deters Japanese, especially the men, from turning to faith. These men are kept in bondage by the expectation to maintain the grave of dead ancestors. Let us pray for breakthrough against this stronghold so that the Japanese, especially firstborn men, will be free to turn to faith!

By Chris, an OMF missionary


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