Catholicism in Japan (Today)

Greetings all,

Can anyone share their experience of Catholicism in Japan where most folk are non-religious, Shinto, or Buddhist? I know there are larger pockets of Catholicism in the West in Nagasaki. What kind of dialog is ever possible in such a country?

God bless,
Ut

Just a quick google search shows a lot of catholic churches in Tokyo. (カトリック means Catholic)

google.ca/maps/place/%E3%82%AB%E3%83%88%E3%83%AA%E3%83%83%E3%82%AF%E6%B5%A6%E5%92%8C%E6%95%99%E4%BC%9A/@35.7617666,139.6421944,10z/data=!4m5!1m2!2m1!1z44Kr44OI44Oq44OD44Kv!3m1!1s0x0000000000000000:0x80c6ff94a3add302?hl=en

But I suppose you would expect that from a city with a population larger than my entire home country of Canada.

God bless,
Ut

Since we have at least a couple of Japanese residents, you should get more local detail on this, but I have discussed religion with quite a few Japanese and so I can mention some things.

In general, Japanese people identify as “non-religious”, and tend to associate “religion” with cult groups like Aum Shinri Kyo, the ones who launched the poison gas attack on the subway. While certain activities (including weddings, funerals, and giving thanks before eating) do appear rather religious, there is generally no theological framework behind them, and so they can be reasonably described as cultural but not religious.

There are many things which Japanese generally do not discuss, and religion is one of those. You have to become very close to Japanese people before they will talk about such things (although there are some noticeable regional variations on this).

There are actually about 60 000 Japanese Anglicans, and they have in the past sent missionaries to the USA.

Thanks. I suppose on this forum, that is probably the most I can expect.

In general, Japanese people identify as “non-religious”, and tend to associate “religion” with cult groups like Aum Shinri Kyo, the ones who launched the poison gas attack on the subway. While certain activities (including weddings, funerals, and giving thanks before eating) do appear rather religious, there is generally no theological framework behind them, and so they can be reasonably described as cultural but not religious.

Right. It seems that Buddhism and Folk Shinto seem to equate quite closely to cultural Catholicism or just plain secularism.

There are many things which Japanese generally do not discuss, and religion is one of those. You have to become very close to Japanese people before they will talk about such things (although there are some noticeable regional variations on this).

My impression is that you have to get pretty close to anyone in Japan to get their view on pretty much anything other than the weather. (I know this is a gross over-generalization.:slight_smile: ) What an interesting society though. It would be really interesting to hear about Catholicism from native born Catholics, or from other native born Christian groups.

There are actually about 60 000 Japanese Anglicans, and they have in the past sent missionaries to the USA.

Interesting. I know there are pockets of Christianity. Mostly Catholics (509,000 as per Wikipedia), but more protestant groups since WWII.

Thanks again for your input.

God bless,
Ut

The Japanese Catholic Community is small (1%). Still, it is there. Japan recently had a Catholic Prime Minister. Our Lady has even appeared in Akita, Japan.

I went to mass a few times in Tokyo, while there for work.

The most memorable was a Palm Sunday. I kept the palm because it wasn’t the long stalk ( leaf?) that we typically see.

It was a short branch with many small firm leaves, for lack of a better term.

I remember the church was packed.

It was a great representation of universality. I could understand little of the spoken word, but I knew what was happening, thus - what and when to respond.

I went to my wife’s Baptist Church this morning, and there was a missionary who spoke for a few minutes. He and his wife have been missionaries in Japan for 30 years, which is rare. Their home church is the Baptist Church which my wife attends.

According to him, only one percent of the Japanese are Christians. I assume that would include Catholics, as well as Protestants. Japanese mission is tough and slow going.

He said that for a Japanese to be baptised Christian takes quite a lot of courage. They’re a consensus driven culture, and it takes a lot to step outside the boundaries, including becoming Christian. As he put it … “We’re Japanese. We’re Shinto. We’re not Christian.”

I think the way to convert the Japanese would be for one or more of their leaders to become Christian, and say so publicly. Because of the way they think, this would have an enormous effect.

Eh, I doubt that. Japan has had eight Christian Prime Ministers, yet only 2% of Japan is Christian.

Roman Catholic:
Hara Takashi
Shigeru Yoshida
Taro Aso

Protestant:
Viscount Takahashi Korekiyo
Tetsu Katayama
Masayoshi Ōhira
Ichirō Hatoyama
Yukio Hatoyama

In fact, Japan’s 59th and 60th Prime Ministers, Taro Aso and Yukio Hatoyama were Christian. From 2008-2010, Japan had a Christian head of state. Aso is currently the Deputy Prime Minister. I don’t think it is helping.

There are pockets of Catholicism; suggest you try areas near the former trading ports like Osaka and Tokyo Bay. Track where the Europeans landed, set up shops, and you’re more likely to find Catholic churches. Also, look for US military bases as the Japanese workers who live in the surrounding areas are more influenced by the base chapel and church goers. I lived there for a handful of years and was only approached by a Seventh Day Adventist Japanese National. Pretty interesting to try to understand how they view Christianity.

I find it so interesting that a well respected Marian apparition would appear in a country with such a small Catholic population. I find it amazing how apostolic/missionary these apparitions have tended to be throughout the ages. For example, Guadalupe. Our Lady is a fierce warrior for the faith through her love for those who are outside of the faith.

God bless,
Ut

I had the same experience when I went to Greece (gasp…) 22 years ago. I attended mass and although I could not understand a word of it, I knew what was going on. It was moving in a way to find the liturgy in such unfamiliar surrounding. A little peace of home that I can find anywhere on the planet if I look hard enough.

God bless,
Ut

This thread has some information in it:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=901220&highlight=japan+exiled+child

30 years! Wow. That is impressive.

According to him, only one percent of the Japanese are Christians. I assume that would include Catholics, as well as Protestants. Japanese mission is tough and slow going.

That seems to match up with what Wikipedia says: “There are approximately 509,000 Catholics in Japan—just under 0.5% of the total population.” I suppose the Protestant groups make up the other .5.

He said that for a Japanese to be baptised Christian takes quite a lot of courage. They’re a consensus driven culture, and it takes a lot to step outside the boundaries, including becoming Christian. As he put it … “We’re Japanese. We’re Shinto. We’re not Christian.”

Based on my brief encounter with the language, it seems that respect for the social order is built into their very vocabulary. One cannot speak to an elder without using polite language. One calls ones older brothers and sisters different things than one’s younger brothers and sisters. Contrast that with Jesus’ saying “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…”

I wonder sometimes if this subversive element in Christianity can also contain the seeds of Christian self destruction sometimes? Could it be that the Protestant reforms latched on to saying like this to rebel against the Catholic Church?

I think the way to convert the Japanese would be for one or more of their leaders to become Christian, and say so publicly. Because of the way they think, this would have an enormous effect.

This was done by the Portuguese in the 1500s. This top down approach, although it initially generated a lot of converts, did not end well. I think there are some fairly significant drawbacks when Christianity of any sort becomes too wed with the political order. The temptation becomes for the politicians to use the church as a political tool for ends other than those the church should endorse.

God bless,
Ut

Aso is Catholic, but he wasn’t really the best or the most well-loved prime minister. And it’s not like he’s public about his religion or acting in a Christian way or anything.

Correct. You also have to remember that the Japanese concept of what ‘religion’ or ‘faith’ is - though they may not use that word often - is quite different from the Western idea of ‘religion’. When the Japanese say they are ‘non-religious’, they tend to mean more that they are not ‘religious’ in the Western sense of the word. This is what Westerners first need to learn.

Basically, the Japanese thinking still retains vestiges of ancient animism. ‘Religion’ is not so much about ‘things to believe in’ (orthodoxy) but ‘things to do’ (orthopraxy). It’s not so much about defining what is correct belief or not but doing the correct actions. That’s why pure Shinto (traditional animism) isn’t a religion in the Western sense: there are rituals and a few concepts (such as the stress in ritual cleanliness and impurity), yes, but there’s really no fixed doctrine or theology. Only the modern, sectarian versions of Shinto have anything in the way of doctrine.

You might say that this is why the religion of the Hidden Christians (the Christians who fled into hiding during the persecutions of the 17th-19th century and their descendants) transformed into an ancestor cult (the ‘ancestors’ in this case being the martyrs) where rituals take precedence over belief, where the act of reciting prayers like the Hail Mary in garbled Latin correctly became more important than learning the meanings behind those prayers. In a way, they’ve turned it into something Japanese.

You’re right. Many of the warlords who converted back then mainly did so for political and economic ends: the Portuguese brought with them precious cargoes and the technology of firearms, which back then in a period marked with constant warfare was seen as a precious commodity. The (in)famous Oda Nobunaga for example supported the missionaries simply because he saw Christianity and Western culture as a useful tool against Buddhist sects, which he hated. (For the record, it’s not like Christianity was preaching anything distinctly new from the Japanese POV at this point: the most successful Buddhist movements in Japan like the Pure Land, Zen, or the Nichiren sects were already promising an easy way to salvation to the masses. Christianity, in fact, was at first mistaken for a foreign version of Buddhism.) Of course, when a lord converted, his whole domain usually did so as well - sometimes forced to convert even.

So what you had in Japan back then was quantity over quality: there were a lot of people converting, but so few priests or religious available to service the flock or give them solid instruction, that very often many converts really only know a few of the basics of Christianity. (The difficulties the missionaries faced was lack of adequate manpower and meager finances.)

Japan used to have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. I don’t know if it still does, but it does seem like a country that needs evangelizing. With its history and culture, it would have its challenges.

I realize this is a bit of an old thread, but I’ve lived in Japan for six years and attend a Catholic church here. The connection between Japan and the Church is a personal fascination of mine so I’d be happy to answer any questions that people have.

I even have a blog called Japan and the Church where I write about just that!

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