Geography & Population
Japan is island nation off the eastern coast of China and the Korean peninsula. It is about the size of California with a population of 128 million (compared to 304 million in the US). Japan is made up of four main islands (starting from the north, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, & Kyushu) and many more (6848) smaller islands that extend as far south as Okinawa. Japan’s name is pronounced Nihon or Nippon and means sun-origin, which is why it is often called the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Most Japanese live in large cities, the biggest being Tokyo with a population of 12 million (10% of Japan’s total population).
When asked, most Japanese claim to be Buddhists (perhaps 90%), but most Japanese also worship at Shinto Shrines and participate in Shinto Festivals. Shintoism is an animistic religion (where people worship the spirits of nature and people) and was the original religion of Japan. Shintoism has no written teaching, but was passed down trough oral traditions. Shintoism stresses the importance of purification and is still a part of daily life for many Japanese.
In the 6th century, Buddhism came to Japan through China a Korea and incorporated many Japanese Shinto traditions after arriving in Japan. If you were to generalize the way Japanese use Buddhism and Shintoism, you might say that Shintoism primarily has to do with this life, while Buddhism has to do with life after death. Most matters having to do with this life are performed with Shinto rituals: traditional Japanese weddings, purification for building construction, baby dedications, blessings on company work, and so forth. While a few people have Shinto funerals, the vast majority of funerals are Buddhist. Even after the funeral, departed loved ones are worshiped at a Buddhist altar in the home and at the grave site. So Buddhism and Shintoism are a real part Japanese daily life. In the metropolitan areas, people tend to be less tied to their family traditions and so they might not be as active in Shintoism or Buddhism, but in the more rural areas, Shintoism and Buddhism is still a very real part of their daily lives.
Though Christian missionaries have been in Japan for 150 years (Catholic came much earlier), sadly less than 1% of the Japanese profess to be Christians. No doubt one of the reasons for this small number goes back to a time period of over 200 years when Japan was closed to the outside world (from 1635 to 1858). During this time period, there was no religious freedom and Japanese families were organized into groups associated with a particular Buddhist Temple. This was done so as to keep a constant check on the presence of any Christians. During this time, anyone thought to be a Christian would be severely persecuted. To this day, Christianity is instinctively shunned by many Japanese as a foreign and undesirable religion.
Sadly most Japanese have not seriously considered the Bible or its message of salvation through Christ. This wonderful message of salvation through Jesus Christ is what we and other missionaries have given our lives to proclaim to the Japanese. While the percent of believers remain low, we praise the Lord for those who have believed and live for the Lord. We pray that God will send more missionaries to this needy country. We thank you for your prayers and concern for us and for Japan.