Our God, Eager to Save

Posted January 10, 2010

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded... [Read More]

The Humbled Tsunami

Posted December 2, 2011

When the warning sirens went off, residents in a south Sendai neighborhood fled to the local school. Together with panicked children still in class they climbed to the rooftop. Some 600 altogether... [Read More]

Japanese Get "Bach" Hope

Posted September 21, 2011

Who would have thought Bach would be involved in 21st century mission work in Japan? I have frequently read with interest of the strong connection between classical music (particularly J.S. Bach) and Japanese interest... [Read More]

Tsunami Ground Zero

Posted April 7, 2011

I still haven't returned from tsunami ground zero. That is to say, although I've been back several days already, the reality of the scene is still with me. The incredible amounts of mud in once beautiful homes... [Read More]

"Nice Try, Kevin" File

Posted February 9, 2011

This one goes into the "Nice try, Kevin" file. I just thought it was a nice-looking bunch of flowers in the storefront and, on the spur of the moment, decided Kaori deserved to enjoy them. Chrysanthemums, however, are... [Read More]

The Gulliver Complex

Posted November 9, 2007

I'm a giant again. Well, not really. But it sure feels like it again since returning from the States. The first sign was bumping my head in the shuttle bus from the airport. By habit, I normally duck my head through any... [Read More]

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

Posted January 31, 2010

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a... [Read More]

More Powerful than Bombs

Posted July 5, 2008

Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan's... [Read More]

Ready?

Posted September 14, 2010

I'd been putting it off. Although I knew it was important, taking inventory of our earthquake and disaster gear just wasn't getting done. Japan rests along the "ring of fire" in the Pacific ocean, a stretch of area that is... [Read More]

150 Years Later

Posted March 17, 2009

This spring marks the 150th anniversary of Protestant Christianity in Japan. The first protestant missionaries set foot in the port of Yokohama back in 1859. Now they were real church planters -- overcoming all... [Read More]

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I for Japan. Japan for the World. The World for Christ. And All for the Glory of God.

— Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Evangelist

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Rambling Notes from Japan

Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.

Superstition & Mission (Part 2)

It turns out dad got it wrong. Money does "grow on trees." Just look at the photo at left as proof! Recently while hiking down a mountain past a buddhist temple, I stumbled across several of these trees with trunks stuck full of coins. I had seen this elsewhere, but not to this degree. It is the Asian equivalent, I suppose, of the "wishing well" or fountain of pennies one might come across in a Stateside mall. No harm done by these innocent superstitions, right?

For Japanese, however, such superstitions have permeated (and control) daily life. Japanese readily admit their Shinto polytheistic belief in "millions of gods" (yaoyorozu no kami) present in creation. Buddhist and Taoist gods were even brought over and absorbed into their belief structure. These gods are given to whimsy and must be sought out for blessing and good luck. Punishment and bad luck are just as likely. A whole ecosystem of superstitions are formed to guide one in how to receive or avoid such.


The people of many gods. I was surprised when I first learned that Japanese even have a god of the toilet (see Wikipedia here). Keeping a clean toilet ensures a pregnant woman of a good-looking child. "G(g)od of the Toilet" even became a hit song here in Japan a couple years back. Apparently the toilet god has been a common belief in eastern cultures for centuries. Suddenly one has new insight on Elijah's teasing of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (see a paraphrase of 1 Kings 1:18, like this version) when he suggested one possible reason why Baal did not show up. Did belief in a toilet god exist even then?

I certainly do not mean to make fun of my dear host culture. But it grieves me deeply as a missionary (as it does the heart of God) that Japanese have this twisted understanding of their Creator. For missionaries in Japan, this distorted worldview poses a great challenge to our gospel message.

As I wrote in my previous post, I take some clues from a fellow missionary, the apostle Paul. Paul also faced the challenge of addressing a culture (the people of Ephesus) filled to overflowing with superstitious belief. They were keepers of the temple of Artemis. Their city was flooded with images, idols and occult activity. Paul spent three years in this pagan environment.

Paul's letter to the Ephesian Christians saved out of their superstitious beliefs rings with joyous praise for God's eternal purpose. Ultimately a good dose of theology proper is what the Ephesian church needed. Ephesians 1 sets the tone. "Purpose" "Plan" "Promised" "Power" "Will" "Authority" "Creation" are some words Paul uses  frequently in the letter. Ephesians needed to know that there is one authoritative God, Creator of all things, who wills and acts according to his eternal plans.

One wonders, then, why God permitted pagan superstitions and beliefs to exist so long before revealing the gospel to the Ephesians. Did God ignore the sad state of affairs in Ephesus? No. This was all a part of His eternal plan for bringing salvation to man and glory to His Son. Everything is "...according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we [the Ephesian church]...might be for the praise of his glory" (1:11~12).

And so, even in superstitious Japan, God is working out his purposes to bring glory to himself and salvation to the Japanese. Each Japanese soul saved out of this culture of superstition is a foretaste of that day His plan for this nation will culminate in "joyous praise." We keep praying and working toward that day.


Superstition & Mission (Part 1)

Put a broiled fishhead in your entryway. Pile salt just outside your front door. Avoid cutting your fingernails after dark. Paint your house neon yellow. Do not whistle at night. What do all these odd actions/non-actions have in common? They are ways to ward off bad luck in Japan.

Japan is filled with such superstitions. While some are modern urban legends, many come from the animistic roots of Japan's religious beliefs. The many (millions of) gods and evil spirits in nature are capricious and mischievous. They must be appeased or driven away lest they bring death or misfortune to oneself.

Many superstitions surround the fear of death and suffering. The numbers four and nine are unlucky because they are pronounced in the same way as death (shi) and suffering (ku). Hospitals avoid the use of these numbers for rooms and floors. You'll also never find a set of four dishes in Japan. Plateware comes in sets of three or five.



Japanese are careful to hide their thumbs when they see a funeral hearse. Not doing so will mean an early death for your parents. In Japanese, a thumb is called your parent finger (oyayubi). Protect your parents by protecting your parent finger.

Other actions that invite death include bringing potted flowers on a hospital visit (a play on the word for "root" in Japanese suggests the patient may not recover). Sticking chopsticks in your rice (this is only for funerals). Using a single chopstick in both hands (only done to pick up bones after cremation). Sleeping with your head toward the north (dead bodies are laid out in this direction). Being in the middle of a group of three when your picture is taken (you are in the best focus and the pull of the camera upon your spirit is the strongest).

I know you're asking by this point, "Do Japanese REALLY believe that?" Unfortunately the answer is yes. The culture is saturated with it. The selling of fortunes (uranai) in Japan is a major business. Horoscopes and numerology play a big part in the psyche of the Japanese people. The availability of such with the explosion of smart phones has greatly exacerbated the problem.

And so one of the challenges in our mission work in Japan is speaking to a culture that is filled with superstitious beliefs. How do we respond from the Bible?

The spiritual scene in Japan is not unlike the superstitious city of Ephesus. The people of Ephesus lived in the shadow of the great temple of Artemis (Diana). Priests and "miracle workers" abounded. Occult worship was everywhere. The city was preoccupied with the black arts. The worship of Artemis included prostitution and mutilation rituals. Into this city of magic and witchcraft comes Paul with a message of the true and living God. It is helpful to read the way that Paul speaks to the Ephesian church in this culture of superstition in his letter to them. Recently I read Ephesians afresh with this "addressing-a-culture-of-superstition" lens. Stop and take a few minutes to do the same. I'll share a few insights in a future post.

(TO BE CONTINUED)


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We serve with WorldVenture, an evangelical faith mission. Our sending/home church is Cornerstone Church of Lansing, Illinois.
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