In April this year, I went to Japan for a short-term mission trip. This was not my first time going to Japan but it was my first time on an overseas mission trip. I didn’t have a lot of expectations except for hoping to get involved in some way and learning about how the Gospel is presented to the Japanese. I went through a mission organisation and they linked me up with a church based in a city called Hirosaki in the Aomori prefecture.
Here are some of the insights I learned about Japan and Japanese people:
1. Their unique appreciation for beauty
I was so lucky to have gone to Japan during sakura season. ‘Sakura’ is the Japanese term for ‘cherry-blossoms’. They are beautiful with pink and white colours, but sadly, they have a short life cycle. I wasn’t aware that Hirosaki has a park filled with sakura trees until I heard the locals talk about it. It was sakuraseason and the topic of conversation is: ‘Have the sakuras started blooming yet?’ and ‘When will you go hanami?’ (Hanami – literally ‘flower watch’ – is a cultural activity where the Japanese spend time with family or friends to enjoy the viewing of sakuras.) It’s their highlight of the year and Hirosaki park draws in tens of thousands of tourists every year. At night they light up the sakuras, bringing more vibrancy to these trees.
These locals’ love and connection for sakuras have changed the way I’ve come to appreciate beauty and life. Spring comes after winter, and Hirosaki in winter is covered with snow and freezing temperatures. The advent of Spring is signalled by the melting away of snow and the blooming of sakuras – a magnificent visual representation of the symbolic meaning of Spring. After 3 long wintry months, the locals come out of hibernation and celebrate the new beginnings as sakura buds spring forth. Life is precious and beautiful, but also very short, just like the life of a sakura.
If only we could see that Jesus offers all people eternal life to enjoy the beauty of Him and his creation.
2. Their unique view on spirituality
Whilst over there I had an opportunity to talk to a local Japanese Christian. She said there is a saying that Japanese people are born into Shintoism, marry Christian and die Buddhist. She was talking about the fluidity of their religious views.
Shinto views and beliefs permeatemuch of Japanese culture. You’d often find temples and shrines in many places, especially in rural areas. But many Japanese like the traditional Western ‘Christian’ wedding so many would follow those traditions.
Their view on life-after-death is heavily influenced by Buddhist belief of karma and reincarnation so they are motivated by doing good and promote harmony in life and community.
Surprisingly, many of the Japanese people I talked to passively accept the inevitability of death. They don’t wish to fight against it. Like the sakuras that come and go, they see their life as a short blossoming in this place called earth. They love and care for the environment. They do their part and then quietly leave this world, perhaps returning again as a reincarnated animal.
3. Their unique fear of nonconformity
One of the hardest challenges I saw in sharing about the Gospel to the Japanese in Japan is their fear of delineating from the norm. Christians are a minority in Japan and to renounce their ‘belief’ and practice of Shintoism to adopt a new religion – not to mention, a ‘Western’ religion – would mean they would stand out and not be part of the group anymore.
How can we keep preaching the Gospel to Japan?
Going to Japan during Easter has reminded me how much I take Christianity for granted. Whilst Australia was enjoying the public holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday, it was just another normal weekend for the Japanese. After sharing this with a friend, he made a comment, saying: “Isn’t it interesting to see how, for the Japanese, the stories of Jesus are so foreign to them, but the challenge in the West is that people think they alreadyknow the story of Jesus.”
There’s so much potential to reach the unreached in Japan because people do want to hear about Jesus but they have no one to tell them!
This trip has helped me see how much I take Christianity for granted and that people in Japan also need to hear the message of the Good News, just as much as we do here.
Rachel is the children and youth pastor at Northern Life Baptist Church in Sydney. She loves volleyball, reading and a good TV drama! She has recently finished studying a Master of Divinity at Morling College and she’s continuing further studies towards another Masters. You can also find Rachel’s previous article here: https://christiantoday.com.au/news/how-i-became-the-rich-fool.html
Rachel is a pastor, preacher and writer. Based in Sydney, she’s a fan of literature, sport and the arts. Check out her website rachellhli.wordpress.com