Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Vine Media


Day 26 The Japanese people of Japan

Four years. That’s how long one church in Japan went without a pastor.

“Please send us a pastor, Lord,” a deacon and 40-year member of the church prayed. “Whomever you call to this role, we will take.”

And God answered her prayers. Kosuke Yanagibashi, then a newly minted seminary graduate in his late 20s, was sent to lead the congregation of about 20 members, of which many were over twice his age.

Today, 31-year-old Yanagibashi belongs to the 10% of Japanese pastors who are younger than 50. Many aging pastors are approaching retirement without having anyone to take over the reins. Some estimates suggest that around half of Japanese churches will be without a pastor by 2030.

Japan is also home to the world’s largest unreached people group. In a nation that values freedom of religion, fewer than 1 in 200 people are saved.

These statistics underscore a significant crisis: Despite considerable efforts by missionaries and local pastors, Christianity has long struggled to take root beyond the realms of church-style weddings and Christmas festivities. An overwhelming majority of Japanese individuals have yet to grasp the significance of Christmas or embrace the gospel.

Another noteworthy aspect is that Japan consistently ranks as one of the most secular nations. Yet anyone who visits the Land of the Rising Sun will quickly notice the abundance of shrines and temples scattered throughout the country.

For many Japanese, religion (shukyo) and religious affiliations hold more customary and practical significance rather than being driven by personal convictions. It is common for a Japanese person to casually participate in rituals and practices associated with various faiths yet remain indifferent to the underlying doctrine of each religion.

In an article published by the New Yorker, Japanese entrepreneur Hiroko Yoda wrote, “I was born and raised in Japan and feel a great affinity for my nation’s spiritual traditions. I pay my respects at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples,

dance at summer Obon festivals that welcome the spirits of the departed, and make a point of saying a prayer on the first day of the New Year, a custom known as hatsumode. Yet if someone were to ask me if I had a shukyo, if I were religious, I would instinctively answer no. This isn’t some form of subterfuge or insecurity. I suspect that most Japanese people simply don’t see themselves as yoked to any one particular faith, as so many in the West seem to be.”

Further exacerbating the spiritual challenges in Japan are tragic events associated with new religious movements, such as the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by members of the Aum Shinrikyo movement and more recently the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by an individual who believed Abe had ties to the Unification Church. These incidents have contributed to a general reluctance among the Japanese population to identify with religion in any form.

Additionally, the Japanese worldview does not include beliefs in a Creator God, heaven and hell, and there is fear of possible isolation when embracing the gospel.

However, the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake seemed to mark at least some softening of Japan’s hard soil, said Pastor Park Sang Bum, TWR Asia’s Japan Ministry Director. Many Japanese, especially the younger generation, were starting to rethink their worldview and became more open to hearing the gospel.

Though the numbers are few, young pastors like Yanagibashi represent God’s interest in the Japanese people and his continued provision for them. While the church in Japan seems to face an uncertain future, we know for certain that God hasn’t given up pursuing the Japanese people—and neither should we.


Father, I join the team praying regularly for the Japanese people listening to Christian FM radio programs. May your words of hope penetrate deep into hearts through The Word Today and Power of the Gospel programs.

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