Unique Qualities of Major People Groups: Japanese

Most Japanese are curious about Christianity. They admire Western culture, and Christianity is viewed as a key aspect of that culture. When asked if they could pick a new religion to start over in life, 30% of Japanese say they would choose Christianity. Still, this curiosity does not directly lead to receptivity.

Many major challenges must be overcome for a typical Japanese to be open to the gospel:

–   Lack of understanding, due to a lack of exposure. Such words as “God,” “sin,” and “salvation” have no meaning to the average Japanese.

   For Japanese, group identity tends to be more important than individual identity.

  • They often think about how their actions will affect others and what others will think of them.
  • A commitment to Christ may mean conflict with other Japanese, even alienation-a condition that is especially hard for someone raised in such a group-oriented culture.
  • One Japanese pastor summarized the issue by quoting Proverbs 29:25-“The fear of man will prove to be a snare.”

    Materialism and secularism are powerful distractions against belief for the average Japanese.

Fortunately, these barriers are somewhat minimized for Japanese who come to America’s university campuses.  Because of the following factors, it is especially strategic to reach Japanese international students:

+   Being in the U.S. removes Japanese students from many cultural pressures to conform.

+   Japanese students in America generally have a strong desire to build friendships with Americans and practice conversational English.

+   They have a greater opportunity to meet vibrant Christians and visit loving churches in America than they would in their homeland.

+   Because many Japanese are searching for meaning in life, they may be quite responsive to Christian activities in America – including events that would not be attractive to most American non-Christians.

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The strong group-oriented mindset of Japanese students should guide your evangelistic approach in the following ways:

  • Go beyond one-to-one conversations.  Japanese non-Christian may be impressed by the love and biblical insights of one American Christian, but the gospel is more likely to make an impact when that Japanese visits a church or another fellowship.
  • Involve a Japanese seeker in regular connection with a group of spiritually enthusiastic Americans.  Your friend’s receptivity to the gospel will be greatly increased in a group context.  Since most Japanese students in America are undergraduates, they will quickly feel comfortable in campus fellowship meetings or student retreats.
  • Keep in mind that this group orientation cuts both ways. Just as a Japanese person can be positively influenced by a Christian peer group in America, so he or she can be negatively influenced by secular group pressures upon returning to Japan. The spiritual failure rate for returning Japanese Christians is very high. In order to prepare your friends to maintain their Christian faith after returning to Japan, seek to introduce them to other Japanese Christians while they are still in America.  In many cases, these connections can be made at special Christian conferences for international students.

Of course, in-depth spiritual involvement while in America will also help to prepare your friend for his or her eventual return to Japan.  Here are five suggestions for mobilizing believers from Japan to serve as leaders in a spiritual movement:

  1. Point out the high spiritual “dropout” rate for those returning to Japan, but use it positively to motivate your friend to put deep roots into the soil of God’s Word.  Disciple him or her personally or ask someone else to do so.
  2. Be sure he or she is active in a good church.
  3. Challenge your friend to become a leader who can help change the spiritual environment of a campus or community, rather than simply reflecting its strengths or weaknesses.
  4. If you meet a spiritually mature Japanese, assist this believer to reach his or her own people – don’t just step out of the picture.  Remember the importance of group dynamics in touching a Japanese heart.  Your Japanese friend will want to introduce non-believing countrymen to other Christians, and you may be the key liaison to an American church or fellowship.
  5. Utilize conferences to promote the growth of Japanese believers, whether young in faith or relatively mature. Mention that the training which is provided at such a conference will help prepare them to return to Japan with the ability to share the gospel clearly.