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Atsuyoshi Fujiwara has been a pastor and scholar in Japan since 1999. Immediately after the March 2011 disaster, he joined volunteers in relief work and believes the Japanese church's rapid response is a key reason why some Japanese are giving Christianity a fresh look.
A professor of theology at Seigakuin University and founding pastor at Covenant of Grace Church in Tokyo, Fujiwara recently published Theology of Culture in a Japanese Context: A Believers' Church Perspective (Wipf and Stock). He is helping to plan the third theological conference at Fuller Seminary to examine the Christian response to Japan's triple disaster. Christianity Today senior editor of global journalism, Timothy C. Morgan, interviewed Fujiwara by e-mail.
You say that Japan has had three separate encounters with Christianity. What went wrong with each of them?
Each period was different. Yet there was a pattern: Christianity came in chaotic periods when Japan lost peace and order.
Sixteenth-century warfare preceded the arrival of Jesuits and the Roman Catholic mission. Then, after 250 years of the Shogunate era, Japan's isolation ended in 1844, and Western missions groups arrived. After World War II, Christian missions increased.
Initially Japan accepted Christianity, yet gradually rejected it when the nation recovered peace, order, and confidence. The Roman Catholic mission was remarkable. We had numerous Christian martyrs. In the latter two periods, Christianity became more success-oriented around the idea that "Japan needs democracy and Christianity to be successful." When Japan became successful without Christianity, it abandoned it.
What occurred after the 2011 disasters that triggered what you call Japan's fourth encounter with Christianity?
After the disaster, churches and organizations naturally worked together beyond denominational walls to deliver foods and supplies. We realized that we were "Christians" to 99 percent of the Japanese ...