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New Year in Japan reveals Japan’s true love

It was our very first New Year’s Day in Japan. We’d arrived nine months earlier and thought we had learned quite a bit about Japanese culture. But that day we discovered we still had much more to learn.

The night before, my wife and I had celebrated New Year’s Eve by ourselves on our balcony, with our little daughter sleeping nearby. Our small, seventh-floor apartment faced the city, offering a great view all the way across the city to the mountains beyond. We’d been told that Japanese New Year’s Eve parties were rare, so had decided to celebrate New Year on our balcony, enjoying the fireworks, as we would do at home. However, our late night toast was pretty lonely and there were no fireworks illuminations. The city was dead quiet and it seemed like we were the only ones trying to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The one good thing was that it helped us to go to bed on time for the New Year’s church service early the next morning.

And here we were, early morning of January 1st, heading downtown on the subway to get the connecting train which would take us to church. As we got out at the main city station and walked through the underground shopping passage, we suddenly realized why it had been so quiet the night before: it seems like everybody was now assembled here at the shops, queueing. 

One particular shop for female underwear had a line around the shop—twice. In addition, new people were added by the minute. What was happening? On the first few days of the new year shops sell “lucky bags”. They cost between US$20 and 30. In them, there might be articles worth a lot more—or not; truly a “lucky dip”. I still do not know the appeal of getting random female underwear, but now know that Japanese people are willing to queue for it at 8 o’clock in the morning.

That morning was also the morning I realized that Japan has moved on from being a religious country. People still go to the shrines on January 1st, as I had learned from my books, but the real driving force of society is now materialism. Making a good deal and getting one’s material desires fulfilled has replaced the gods of their traditional religions. 

It makes me wonder how can we as Christians appeal to such a society? What can the church offer them? 

Part of the answer lies in the fact that material gains cannot offer us love. Many Japanese people seek love and acceptance by people around them. The church can offer such fellowship and Jesus provides us with everlasting and unrestricted love, independent of what and who we are. 

Will you pray with us that many more will hear that gospel of love, particularly during these early days of the New Year?

By Samuel, an OMF missionary

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray that the Church in Japan will become known as a group of people holding out the offer of love and acceptance.
  • Pray that people will realise that the gods of materialism cannot deliver what their hearts truly desire.
  • Pray for the millions who will be queueing up at shrines or shops this new year season to hear the gospel of love and start queueing up to get into church.


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