The 1964 Olympic Games marked the climax of Japan’s efforts to reinstate herself as an influential member of the family of nations. Her astounding recovery to a level of prosperity unrivaled in the Orient, in spite of a great paucity of natural resources, is largely attributable to her people’s dexterity and keen mental ability. At the Olympics, for the first time since the war, the Rising Sun flag was flown everywhere without qualms, and the national anthem was revived as a symbol of achievement in international competition. The victorious athlete who brought glory to his nation, rather than the feudal warrior, now represented the true ideal of patriotism. Japan with its 96 million people seemed to be standing at the threshold of a new epoch in which she would assume a more definite role of leadership among the nations.

It must be recognized, however, that the dominant motivation of Japan’s recovery has been largely materialistic and secular. Nature and reason take precedence over spiritual values, and scientific progress determines the solution of all problems. Some of the “new religions” that claim to be scientific promise prosperity, good health, and happiness to their adherents and capitalize on the new nationalistic mood, which represents a revival of Japanese values. Soka Gakkai (Value-Creating Study Society), which already claims a membership of five million households, has become a religio-political party and is having great success in elections; it aspires to leadership of the government by 1970. Soka Gakkai has inherited the teaching of the great Buddhist patriot, Nichiren, which aims at the realization on earth of the oneness of the Law of Buddha and the Law of the State. It is intolerant of other faiths, including Christianity, and fanatically seeks converts through methods of intimidation when necessary. If totalitarian principles should again prevail in Japan, they would more likely be inspired by Soka Gakkai nationalism than by a revival of Shinto statism.

Rapid industrialization has drawn million of workers to the main urban areas, where adequate housing, roads, sewage systems, traffic facilities, and even water supplies are not yet available. Even more serious, the disintegration of family life, the demoralization of the young, the resort to violence and crime, and the feelings of loneliness and frustration—all common to a dislocated society—have become increasingly prevalent. It is estimated that two million abortions are induced each year. Many seek to escape from the realities of life through the mass communications media, sporting events, cheap amusements, gambling, and get-rich-quick schemes, all of which serve to strengthen the Japanese trait of detachment or non-involvement with the problems of public welfare. Hierarchical familism pervades the organization of industry, business, labor unions, and other areas of society. Thus the individual is often so enmeshed in a complex of loyalties that personal decision and initiative are difficult.

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The Japanese mind tends to be tolerant toward all religions, which are usually regarded from a functional point of view. A person can belong to several faiths at one time. If a test is applied to any religion, it is likely to be a very pragmatic one, in accordance with the Japanese empirical genius.

The Growth Of Protestantism

Except for the 1880s, when the number of churches trebled and believers increased tenfold, Protestant growth has been at a slow but steady rate, with church membership barely doubling in the postwar period. Protestants number about 675,000, Roman Catholics more than 260,000, with an additional 100,000 in quasi-Christian groups. However, a religious census revealed that more than three million Japanese prefer Christianity to other faiths. Protestant denominations have more than doubled in number in recent years, with most of the new groups the fruit of labors of evangelical missions that have undertaken work in Japan since the war. Of the ninety-two denominations, sixty-two report memberships of fewer than 1,000 each, with fifty-one of these having fewer than 500 members. Only thirty groups report a membership over 1,000; of these, seven exceed 10,000, including the United Church of Christ (Kyodan), with nearly 200,000 members. The 5,472 Protestant churches reporting in the census are served by 5,348 ministers, not to mention the thousands of missionaries, making the proportion of full-time workers to church members very great indeed. However, the proportion in the Roman Catholic Church is even greater: in its 760 parishes it has 1,772 Japanese and foreign priests, 5,172 sisters, and other workers.

The Protestant churches are usually classified as “ecumenical” or “evangelical.” The first term refers to the largest denominations, which belong to the National Christian Council (related to WCC and the East Asia Christian Council); these comprise 60 per cent of the Protestant constituency. Aside from the nine denominations of the Evangelical Fellowship (5 per cent of all Protestants), the vast majority of the second group have no church federation or council relationship. However, many of the churches of both groups have participated in the various evangelistic campaigns, such as those conducted by the Rev. Koji Honda and by Dr. E. Stanley Jones and World Vision’s Osaka and Tokyo crusades. The Japan Keswick Conventions have drawn attendants from about sixty denominations.

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Missionaries working among the older Japanese denominations usually join the Fellowship of Christian Missionaries (FCM). The missionaries of societies that are likely to be affiliated with the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association or the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association find their fellowship in the Evangelical Missionary Association (EMAJ). In the interest of a broad ecumenicity, some missionaries belong to both missionary associations.

The Protestant movement in Japan is so complex that it is difficult to evaluate. However, certain trends should be mentioned because of their significance for the future. Though the Church is but a little flock, its influence is proportionately great as it steadily penetrates deeper into the life of the nation.

The spread of the Gospel must be largely accomplished by lay Christians. It is encouraging to hear of the many laymen’s prayer groups that are evangelistic and the increasing number of churches that have teams of visitation evangelists. Another notable development is the growth of on-the-job evangelism. The basic principle here is that the Christian is an evangelist at work, as well as in the residence community. The Japan Christian Medical Association (JCMA), with 800 members, renders a unique service in medical evangelism. It publishes the magazine Medicine and the Gospel and sends medical teams to remote areas where they provide free medical service.

The Overseas Medical Cooperative Service of JCMA has already sent ten medical missionaries to Southeast Asia. The indigenous Japan Leprosy Mission, now the Association for Relief of Leprosy in Asia, is erecting a hospital in North India and plans to extend similar aid to other Asian countries. The East Asia Christian Council has sent missionaries from Japan in response to requests from sister churches. Eleven Japanese churches have at least fifty-seven missionaries working overseas: twenty-three in Asia, two in Africa, two in Europe, twenty-one in South America, and nine in North America.

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About 60 per cent of the 1.5 per cent of total radio time for religious broadcasts is being utilized by Protestants. Where effective follow-up is faithfully carried out, the response is very good. Since practically all Japanese homes have radios and 88 per cent have television sets, evangelism using these media works. However, time must be purchased at high rates, and present sponsorship is inadequate.

Literacy And Education

Japan boasts one of the highest rates of literacy in the world and produces more printed matter than any other nation. Christian literature competes with high-grade material published by secular, leftist, and other religious groups. Christian publishers seek to use more and more of the 10,000 secular bookstores as outlets. The distribution of Scriptures since the war exceeds 35 million Bibles and portions. The Japan Bible Society utilizes colporteurs, churches, schools, and bookstores as channels of circulation. Tract-distribution efforts have been extended to all homes.

Protestants support some 226 schools at the university, secondary, and elementary levels, with a total enrollment of 186,329 and 6,136 teachers. These schools are fully accredited and belong to the National Christian Council-related Education Association of Christian Schools. In addition, there are 1,100 Christian kindergartens, 450 of them affiliated with local churches. Most of these institutions are largely self-supporting and are under Christian control; they strive for a Christian faculty, require Bible study, and have regular worship services and occasional evangelistic meetings. However, secular influences have tended to dampen their Christian influence.

The National Christian Council denominations have a dozen fully accredited theological schools, half of which are affiliated with the United Church of Christ (Kyodan), with a total enrollment of about 500 students. There are also forty-four evangelical schools, most of them of the Bible institute type, with an average attendance of about 21.5 per school. Most of them are handicapped by poor enrollment, inadequate facilities, low academic standards, lack of accreditation.

As Japan stands at the threshold of a new epoch, it is with a sense that she has a special role to play among the nations. She has the capacity to be the mentor of undeveloped nations. It has been said that as goes Japan, so goes all of Asia. As the keystone to the solution of the Asian problem, she is in a mediatorial position between East and West. God has ordered a vast sowing of his Word in this land during the last two decades. When he thus sows, it is because he is preparing a great harvest in his own good time. The people of God ought to focus their prayers on behalf of Japan before it is too Late.

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