It was the first hour of New Year’s Day. We had been at a gathering of missionaries playing games and bringing in the New Year with fun and prayer. We got a ride home in someone’s car. Our route took us past the local Shinto shrine.
The queue of people lining up to pray was way out of the shrine area and on to the pavement outside. This was about half past midnight! We went back later in the day, maybe about 10am, and the queue was even longer.
A little observation and research was needed to dig beneath the surface of what was going on.
A person who goes to pray will bow before going through the commonly-red torii gate which marks the entrance to the shrine. Then they rinse both their hands and mouth with water. When they get to the shrine itself, they place some money in the offering box and pull a rope attached to a bell. This is followed by the actual prayer ritual. Usually this takes the form of ‘two bows, two claps and one bow’. It is at the two claps that one states wishes or prayers silently.
When asked what they planned to pray for during their New Year’s visit to the shrine, about three-quarters of people said ‘domestic safety’, about two-thirds answered ‘good health/healing of illness’. Other common requests are ‘traffic safety’, ‘good luck’, ‘protection from bad luck’, ‘love and good relationships’ and ‘academic success/passing exams’.
Most Japanese people would not call themselves religious, yet most go to religious places at New Year to pray.
How can Christians, pastors, and missionaries reach the Japanese people? Like all unbelievers, their minds have been blinded by the god of this age, so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Let’s all pray that in this New Year, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will work in Japanese hearts and minds so that they will see the light of the gospel.
By Peter, an OMF Missionary