Shintoism & Buddhism
Sharing the Good News in Japan
The first Free Will Baptist missionaries arrived in the land of the rising sun in 1954. They worked in Tokyo for two years, then they moved to the northern island of Hokkaido. With the help of a national worker, congregations were started in Abashiri, Koshimizu, Tsubetsu, and Bihoro.
Missionaries started a work in 1961 in a suburb of Tokyo. About the same time, another work was started in a different area of Tokyo.
Free Will Baptists claimed six organized churches and four mission works in 1996. Today, ten organized churches, as well as nine mission works and preaching points, are actively proclaiming the gospel. Nine missionary couples and one single missionary currently share the good news with the people of Japan.
However, in the more rural areas of Hokkaido alone, more than 70 towns with between 3,000 to 50,000 people and another 27 communities with less than 3,000 individuals have no evangelical church. Multiplied thousands of people have no gospel witness available.
Geography and Climate
Japan’s four largest islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu) cover 142,726 square miles. Only 13 percent of Japan’s total land area is suitable for farming.
The nation is noted for its mountains and volcanoes, several of which are still active. Earthquakes occur every day, though many are too weak to be noticed.
Due to its location on the edge of the Asian monsoon belt, Japan’s average rainfall ranges from 40 to 100 inches.
Seventy-eight percent of Japan’s 127 million people live in urban areas. Tokyo, the capital, has a population of over 13 million.
Japan is a unique blend of east and west. Dressy kimonos are seen only on special occasions due to the cost. Western-style clothing makes up the basic wardrobe of today’s style-conscious Japanese. At the end of the workday, businessmen leave offices that appear Western and head for homes that are decidedly Japanese. Metropolitan areas are dense and congested, but benefit from excellent public transportation systems.
Early Japanese history is vague and poorly recorded. Reliable records begin around A.D. 500 with the introduction of Chinese trade, writing, and religion (Buddhism). Even early on, the head of state was the emperor, though administrative power was held by others, and sometimes scattered over a separated country. The lack of national unification persisted for centuries, and well into the medieval feudal years. After great conflict, warlords called shogun rose to claim administrative rights, while the emperor’s role declined in its potency. Nevertheless, the imperial house persisted.
In 1543 Portuguese sailors became the first Europeans to visit Japan. Later, Japanese rulers shut out foreigners for more than 200 years because they feared being conquered by the Europeans. Eventually, in 1853, Commodore Perry opened Japan to the West.
Although Japan saw only limited action in World War I, it was one of the chief participants in World War II. The war took a terrible toll on the island nation. But since its unconditional surrender in 1945, Japan has become an industrial power and has one of the world’s strongest economies.
Japan continues to recover from the triple disasters of March 11, 2011. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, devastating tsunami, and nuclear power plant meltdown left almost 30,000 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Humanitarian groups from around the globe have sent aid and volunteers to assist in recovery and reconstruction of the Eastern coast of Japan. While most have completed their work, several Christian organizations continue to focus on rebuilding and emotional care for survivors.
The aftermath of 3/11 has left the populace with a sense of disillusionment and vulnerability. Many evangelical groups report a new openness among people to discuss their concerns about the future. According to the government officials, Japan has not faced a crisis of this magnitude since the end of World War II.
Japan’s government faces constant pressure from leftist groups. Numerous high-ranking officials have resigned in disgrace during recent years.
Approximately 83 percent of the population follows Japan’s two main religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. The Shinto faith is greatly polytheistic. Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect, continues to seek political power. Its adherents (about 15 percent of the population) are actively anti-Christian.
The literacy rate in this highly educated society approaches 100 percent. Most members of the large student population are agnostics or atheists. Only about 20 percent of the entire population actually believes in God.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed in Japan. However, social and family pressures curtail this freedom dramatically.
Free Will Baptist Ministries
Our missionaries are actively engaged in church planting. They also spend time counseling national pastors, overseas ministers/missionaries, and church leaders.
Special interest classes (English, cooking, Western customs) have been effective in opening doors for evangelism. Missionaries have also used children’s Bible classes profitably.
More national pastors are needed. Unfortunately, Free Will Baptists have not had a program for training leaders. They are in the process of developing such a program in northern Japan.
Last update: March 28, 2016