Mission Spotlight: Japan

japan-flagFor the past five years, The Crossing’s college ministry, Veritas, has partnered with Mission To the World’s church planting team in Nagoya, Japan. Each summer, Project Japan takes a group of Veritas college interns to Nagoya to help run the college ministry at Nisshin Christ Church (NCC) for the months of June and July. Here’s a video overview of Project Japan 2015.

The following overview of Japan and it’s culture is contributed by Alex Gray, a Veritas staff member, former NCC full-year mission intern, and leader for Project Japan 2016. Alex’s guest post next week will tell all about Project Japan 2016, including the team’s plans, challenges and prayer requests. Please consider financially supporting Project Japan 2016 (Place donation amount under Project Japan.)

Japan Overview:


Geography, Climate and Wildlife:
Japan is a nation made up of 4 main islands and over 6,000 mostly uninhabited smaller islands. It’s located in East Asia between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, and has an area slightly smaller than California. Japan is located along the volcanic archipelago in the Pacific deeps and claims about 10% of the world’s active volcanoes. This volcanic zone causes low-intensity earthquakes and tremors daily throughout the nation, but most only cause minor shaking of structures and buildings. On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced its largest recorded earthquake, which caused devastating damage and an enormous tsunami that hit the northern parts of Tokyo. The earthquake and following tsunami killed over 15,000 people, and relief efforts are still being made 5 years later to reverse the damage done to many northern coastal towns.

image3Because of Japan’s many islands, the climate ranges from humid, warm and tropical in the south to relatively cold temperatures in the north. Japan is roughly 72% mountainous and 68% covered in forest, making it home to diverse wildlife including black and brown bears, sika deer, snow monkeys, wild boars, and red-crowned cranes. Bamboo and rice terraces cover much of the mountains and rural areas, while fresh and salt water bodies are abundant with fish like salmon, koi and tuna.

History and Government:
Before the 17th century, Japan was ruled by military overlords and functioned as a decentralized nation. The beginning of the 1600’s marked the start of the Edo Period. At this time Japan was brought into centralized leadership, a stratified class system based off of Confucian ethics and Buddhist practices, and a period of national isolation that lasted over 250 years. It wasn’t until the Meiji Period began in 1868 that Japan reopened its doors to trade and foreigners, hoping to modernize the country. The Taisho Period, starting in 1912 brought a political switch from an oligarchical system to a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. The nation’s Head of State is currently Emperor Akihito and the Prime Minister is Shinzo Abe, elected in 2012.

image4Population and Economy:
Japan has a population of over 128 million, mostly living in urban areas and large cities. Japan’s capital and largest city, Tokyo, is home to around 12 million. The population is roughly 99% ethnically Japanese, making the country highly homogenous in language (Japanese) and culture. The nation has one of the highest life expectancies and literacy rates worldwide, and ranks 3rd in largest economies. Japan has low poverty levels and crime rates, but ranks 2nd in yearly suicides.

image5Religious Demographics:
Historically, Japan as a nation has found ways to combine practices and beliefs from their main religions and ideals of Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism. This meshing of beliefs has been for the benefit of maintaining “wa” or harmony and unity among the natural and supernatural world.

The specific demographics of religion are hard to quantify because of a difference in how religion is defined vs. practiced in Japan. Most Japanese wouldn’t consider themselves to be affiliated with any religious organization, but would still participate in the rituals and practices associated with the predominant religions of Japan. For example, Shinto institutions nationwide claim to have almost 107 million followers and Buddhist organizations claim over 89 million followers, but Japan only has a population of 128 million. On the flip side, less than 10% of Japanese would say that they follow either religion. This gap shows that for many Japanese, the practices associated with Shinto and Buddhism are considered more of social tradition than religious rituals or part of a belief system.

Although Catholic missionaries have been present in Japan since the early 1600s, and Protestant missionaries since the mid-1800s, Japan currently identifies as less than 1% Christian. Many cultural and religious factors contribute to such a low percentage, including high pressure to maintain cultural harmony, a strong sense of duty and obligation toward social groups, and a non-absolute view of God/gods.


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