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Japan has changed: it’s more international and it’s been shaken

We caught up with one of our missionaries who has been in Japan for more than 31 years and asked him what changes he’s seen in Japan during that time:   There are two moments that come to mind for me. They reveal a couple of the significant changes that have happened in Japan over the Heisei period.

Japan has become more international

The first moment occurred went we were home in the US a few years ago. We went to a baseball game where two Japanese players, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui were playing on opposite teams.

Last month Ichiro retired, but the Heisei period has seen the rise of Japanese sports figures on the world stage. Because Japanese players were on teams in different parts of the world, Japanese interest in teams in other countries increased significantly. It was not only baseball; Hidetoshi Nakata played soccer at the highest levels in Italy and the UK, and there are others.

Japanese sports have also had an increase in competitors from other countries. Thirty years ago, only Hawaiian-born Japanese were at the top level of sumo wrestling. Now Russians, Brazilians, and Mongolians have pushed themselves into the ring and are winning.

It is not just in sports—Japan has become more international in many areas of life from the number of foreigners living in Japan to the food that you find in the average supermarket; that’s a change that has progressed over the Heisei era.

Japanese feel less safe

The second moment was about 20 years ago, we were talking to our next door neighbour when we lived in Sendai in northern Japan. This was after the Kobe earthquake of January 1995 and the Sarin gas poison attack on the Tokyo subway by the cult Aum Shinrikyo in March the same year. After these previously unimaginable events, our neighbour said, “I used to think Japan was a really expensive country but safe, now it’s just expensive.”

These two events so close to each other changed Japan.

After the earthquake, they found out that construction contractors had cut corners. One of the overpasses that collapsed was not built to the correct standards. This was unthinkable in Japan; confidence was shaken.

After the gas attack, concern for privacy increased. People began to worry about the negative effects religion could have and so the perception of religion changed.

But the change has not all been negative. The natural disasters of recent years developed a sense of volunteerism and giving in Japan, which had not been there before.

My neighbour’s comment made me realize that this was an era of change. Japanese society hasn’t remained the same. People are less trusting than at the start of the Heisei era, they feel less secure. But there’s also been growth in volunteerism.

Just two moments out of 31 years, but two moments that in some way sum up the last 31 years of change in Japan.

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Praise God for a rise in volunteerism in Japan.
  • Pray that people will discover that the God of the Bible is trustworthy.
  • Pray that OMF will know how to reach out to this changing nation.


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