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Roadblocks to the Gospel and Some Ways to Overcome Them

Barriers to the gospel in Japan 

The plethora of religious rituals and events listed in the Japanese calendar shows the complex worldview of the Japanese. In legal terms, there is a separation of state and religions, but in reality, religious rituals and events are integrated into Japanese people’s everyday lives. For example, seeking divine blessing by visiting a shrine. Japanese people do this to seek good results for university entrance, ask for protection from sickness and the evil ones, or to get a good job.

What do the Japanese believe in? Spirits? God? Buddha? Rituals? They are versatile; they can integrate different religions into their lives. David Lewis, an anthropologist who has lived in Japan, discovered many Japanese couldn’t distinguish whether a place of worship is a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple.

Lewis classified these two religions by their “division of labor.” Shinto rituals are concerned with things that are living, such as birth and marriage; while the Buddhist rites are mainly concerned with death, the next life-cycle, such as funeral rites and memorial services for the dead. And the Japanese have added another integration to their beliefs by assimilating Christian wedding solemnized by a Christian priest or pastor.

Besides Japanese being steeped in many centuries of religious rituals, the overarching worldview of most Japanese is wa (harmony)—to do things together, whether cultural or religious, this marks them as Japanese. If they do otherwise, they tend to be considered as a “cross-over” to the other side and classified as soto (outside) instead of being uchi (inside).

From childhood, Japanese people have been taught to see the importance of group identity, and they see people primarily as a group. This group-harmony worldview is how Japanese operate throughout their life time. In this context, most Japanese might feel they will relinquish some of their “Japanese-ness” if they become a Christian.


Possible ways to overcome these roadblocks 

Sociological effectiveness 
Recognize that the Japanese worldview is based on keeping the wa (harmony).

  1. Don’t rush into getting a commitment in winning a soul by isolating that person from his friends. If someone is not ready, due to having to keep the wa, let them to take their time.

  2. If someone is interested in Christianity, help them see we are concerned with their family, friends, community, and workplace as people who need the gospel too. If that person is a “man of peace” (Luke 10:6), most likely he/she will have good friendships with people whom he/she can influence.

  3. Build relationships with that person’s natural circles of friendships.

  4. Talk naturally about God in our everyday lives, giving testimonies along the way.

Missiological effectiveness
Be guests in Japan and work alongside the Japanese, as “servants” (Eph. 3:7) and partners. Help locals to see the various dimensions of the rituals biblically.

  1. Teach Christians about critical contextualization so they can deal with aspects of their culture like spirits, deliverance, divination, materialism, and secularism.

  2. Engage Japanese to look at the rituals in view of biblical injunctions and making them culturally acceptable and biblical. Don’t condemn attempts at contextualization by Japanese, unless they veer toward syncretism.

  3. Asian missionaries, including ethnic Asians from the West, with experience in Asian group orientation and with an understanding of ancestor worship and divination, can play a part in critical contextualization.

  4. Churches and Christians should help form community groups, e.g., dance groups, karaoke, surfers, business men. Even a gathering of people buying their own dinner box and studying the Bible and sharing their lives.

  5. Capture the essence of the church life in the spirit of the early church. The Japanese church has to be more family-like, holistic, and bringing warmth with genuine care within their fellowship and outreaches. Creativity and genuineness will attract many Japanese who are tired of tatemae (outward facade).


By Louis, an OMF missionary

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