In all my travels throughout Asia for the last 15 years, I have never stepped on Japanese soil. The closest I have been was Narita Airport. It is amazing to think that I have been in Narita airport well over 50 times, but never visited Japan; therefore by spending some time in Japan after all these years, it has been an incredible experience for me.
In my younger years, I was always interested in Japan due to my fascination with the Samurai warriors, the Yakuza gang (I know, I’m crazy) and my love for Japanese food. But after I realized that there were many Japanese people in Ann Arbor because of a Toyota car plant nearby, God started to place a burden on my heart for this nation.
Christina also started to develop a heart for the Japanese people because she would tutor the Japanese moms with English, as a way of building relationships and sharing the faith. Our prayers were accentuated even more when the earthquake and tsunami hit in Sendai. It was at that moment that I began to pray for an opportunity to visit Japan. Then, God opened this door.
Here are some of my limited observations that I have made in my four days in Tokyo and Nagoya. I am thankful to some of the missionaries and people that have helped me process some of my observations. It is interesting how everything is linked together.
2) EMPTINESS. As many of the Japanese people focus on the material things of the world, I began to notice a sense of emptiness on their faces. I went on some prayer walks throughout the cities of Tokyo and Nagoya; and every time, I saw the look of purposelessness and insignificance in the faces of people. As we all know, if we only live for the physical world, then we will experience the abyss of meaninglessness. It was just sad to see. I found out that Japan has one of the highest rates of suicide and depression in the whole world – now, I understand why.
3) EXPRESSIONS. I was told that Japan has some of the craziest and off-the wall things ranging from weird fetishes and pervertedness to even people dressing up in costumes and role-playing after work. Missionaries have said that since Japan is such a high conformist culture, everything is dictated for them; therefore there is no individual expression. Many Japanese are trained to follow the rules and keep the social norms. This creates a lot of frustration and unexpressed feelings. So consequently, their inhibitions are expressed through erotic things or by dressing up to be someone else. It is my prayer that the Japanese people would know that they are wonderfully and fearfully made by a Creator who loves them. If they understood this, then they can be who they are in their uniqueness, yet without feeling embarrassed or insecure.
4) EXAMPLES. I found out that one of the major weaknesses of the Japanese church is that there is a lack of men in the community of faith. This is not only in Japan, but the lack of male examples is a problem in so many other countries. But here in Japanese it is a greater problem because it is such a male dominated society. Therefore, with so many women in the church, the men are not being discipled by other men. This causes other men not to come out to the church. The need for men’s ministry is magnified in a huge way because within the social structure, if we don’t reach out to men we might lose this generation.
5) EVANGELISM. We really have to think about evangelism in a different way here in Japan. Some of the conventional ways might not work. There are many barriers and obstacles that make it hard for the process of evangelism to take place. The family structure, the cultural expectations, the busyness of work, the hectic lifestyle and other factors make evangelism very difficult. The Church will have to figure out how to go back to some of the basics of building relationships in the midst of all the barriers. But more importantly, the Church will have to come up with some of the out-of-the-box kind of thinking and strategies to reach the people of Japan, especially the young people. Sending a pastors and a church plant team to do church ministry might not be the best way. We might have to raise up people in the marketplace to get transfers from their company so that they can live and work in Japan. This is the missional model. Then they can BE THE CHURCH in the marketplace.
6) EXPENSIVE. I was shocked at how expensive things were in Japan. I don’t think anyone can fully understand the cost of things unless you live here. Rental of apartments can go as high as $3,000+/month for a small little place. This might help to put things in perspective – getting a value meal at McDonald’s can be much as $10. When a person wants to get street food, they might have to pay $8-$10 (in other cities you can pay only $2-$3). Even for transportation, a family of four who live a little away from center-city away can pay up about $60-$70 just to get to church by the train. No wonder why so many missions agencies and churches have backed away from doing ministry in Japan. In business terms, it is not have the best ROI (Return On Investment). The cost-benefit analysis can be pretty discouraging. But how much is a soul worth? How much are we willing to “invest” in a nation? These are things that we need God’s wisdom and discernment.
Overall, the needs of Japan are tremendous. In a population of close to 130 million people, when there are only 0.22 percent Christians (including all types of Christians), how can we not be concerned? The words of Jesus are true – “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Mt 9:37-38).
May our lives be transformed by the Gospel message so that we can transform the world by bringing the Gospel to the nations, especially to Japan.