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World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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THE JAPANESE MIND
Akira Hatori

“I will work, and who shall let it?” (Isaiah 43:13).

I should like to discuss especially one of several obstacles in presenting the Gospel in Japan, namely, the Japanese mind. Why is it so difficult to reach the Japanese people? Four things might be mentioned.

1. The Japanese self is captive.

2. Most Japanese minds are in a state of flux.

3. The Japanese mind is apart of nature but also part of the whole.

4. The Japanese mind - especially among young people - resists outside influences.

In order to preach the Gospel there must be free communication between those who preach and those who are to receive the Gospel. When we present the Gospel to the Japanese we are aware that they do not readily unveil their hearts to us. The basic problem is that the Japanese mind is shackled by one large social complex made up of the family, associates, environment, nation and tradition.

Immediately after World War II I went to preach in a remote mountain village. Many people came to the meeting and I was encouraged; in fact, 24 or 25 came forward when I gave the invitation. When I finished praying an old man got up and said, “Teacher, thank you very much. We understand your message.” But then, turning to the audience he added, “This teacher’s message was very good, but don’t forget your godshelves and butsudan!” As a result only two persons actually remained for prayer and counseling.

When missionaries with a burden for farmers go to the rural areas to preach those who attend the meetings are not farmers. Similarly when missionaries try especially to reach the fishermen, these people also do not come to the meetings. Usually those who do come are those who have gone to the city and have become salaried employees.

According to 1952 statistics – and the situation is much the same today - those who become church members are 86.7% students, factory workers, wives, school teachers, town officials, etc. Only 2.8% are farmers. Businessmen and manufacturers comprise 4.9%. Most Christians do not come from the predominant groups such as farmers and fishermen, who are strictly controlled by specific social traditions.

After World War II democracy came to Japan and brought about great changes. Careful examination reveals, however, that the changes were not as profound as it seemed, particularly in regard to the Japanese family system. At a wedding, for example, the ceremony speaks of “The marriage of this particular family and that particular family.” Marriage is not just between two persons but between two households.
Right after the war I taught at Tokyo women’s college where a specialist in homemaking was also teaching. In his widely used book appeared this statement: “The Japanese wife does not cling to her husband; she is attached to the house.” And in “Shufu no Tomo,” a famous housewife’s journal were these words that reflect the traditional relationship between a bride and her mother—in—law: “No matter how much she scolds me, nor how much she makes me cry, when it comes to training a wife, the mother—in—law is the professor.” Such ideas continue to this day.

The parent—child relationship is also unchanged. The severest accusation that can be made - this is used also in dissuading children from decisions for Christ - is to accuse children of disloyalty to their homes.

Tomeoka Koosuke, father of social welfare work in Japan, was an outstanding Christian. When he became a Christian, his father became deeply perturbed and tried repeatedly to dissuade him. Finally he asked the chief—of—police to help, but he, too, was unable to turn Tomeoka from Christianity. The police chief finally gave up and told the father, “Kinzoo, I cant do anything with your son. But since he is your san, so you can either fry him or boil and eat him.” Though this occurred in the Meiji era such deep—seated ideas continue to this day.

After the war I lived in the country. Funerals are common here, and I often had to attend them as representative of my household. What do people do at funerals? Everyone chants the Buddhist “nembutsu.” You can imagine how I felt. But if I did not go, I would not be considered a part of my group. In fact, in extreme cases, not attending such functions can mean exclusion from all village activities as an outcast. Several years ago I removed my father’s remains from the village temple to a Christian cemetery. I had to give a full explanation to the Buddhist priest and also pay him money. Then I had to give a present to all my unsaved relatives. To maintain my Christian testimony I had to do all this so they would not become angry.

We live in a democratic era but a villager still feels unusually strong ties to his village. Two or three years ago a village woman was caught in voting irregularities. The candidate had given a present to all the village women and asked for their vote. The accused woman told the policeman, “I haven’t done anything wrong in voting for him. I did exactly as I was told . . .” The village leader’s word - the candidate’s in this case - was more important to her than democracy or the law of the land.

A sense of obligation ties one person to another in all social circles, whether it be military, academic, employer—employee relationships, or whatever. Seen positively this trait makes the Japanese very loyal to their homes, community, nation, employer, etc. Seen negatively, it imprisons them.

On the front of a thousand yen bill is the face of Itoo Hakubun, a famous Japanese premier of former years. He lived by the words, “Yes, you are right. Is that so? I don’t know.” The Japanese feel that if you can say these three things, you can really live a safe life.

In The Lonely Crowd David Riesman divides contemporary Americans into three groups: inner—directed, tradition—directed and other-directed. In America these variations are possible, but in Japan to be ruled by something or someone is the long standing way of life. About seven years ago a government institute studied a Japanese proverb that says, “Don’t resist what is long and don’t buck what is thick.” Many were asked, “Do you think this is an adequate proverb for our age?” About 50% of those over thirty years of age said “Yes.” Ambassador Reischauer, well acquainted with the facts, says that Japanese ethics are situational.

When visiting a Japanese home, one finds the people polite and well mannered. But the sane people are quite different when they leave the rules and regulations of home and community. For a Japanese to be humiliated before the community is worse than death. When the same Japanese leaves his society, family, or neighborhood, however, he becomes an entirely different person. That is why Ruth Benedict has said that while Western culture is one of guilt, Japanese culture is one of shame. Japanese ethics come from without rather than within.

Secondly, the Japanese mind is in a state of flux. Some of the people have escaped the bonds of tradition and society but only superficially. These are students, salaried men, factory workers, who have left the farms and fishing villages for the city. Having left their country home and environment they feel a sense of freedom in the city, but they are not truly free. They come to our evangelistic meetings, and think of Christianity as a new garment. Just as they took off the country kimono and put on a suit, so now they seek to separate from their old religion and accept Christianity. This was true in the past and is still true.

The 100—year history of Christianity in Japan has known three flourishing periods: Meiji’s ten—year period, the Taisho era and finally the years following World War II. Especially in the Taisho era Christianity was accepted as something cultural, refined and worthy of acceptance. In today’s Showa era Christianity is accepted as humanism in the disguise of democracy. The city people who have cone from the country hope to find something refined and high class in Christianity.

Six years ago I went to Fukushim Ken for evangelistic meetings. When I invited an old man to come to the meetings, he answered, “I can’t because I don’t have any Western clothes.” A student in the same town replied, “I don’t speak English, so I can’t come.”

Sometimes in my radio work I invite people to write an item. What most people want and write for is a hymn book. They don’t want Christ; they want those wonderful foreign hymns. In other words, the Japanese have taken Christ for the culture and humanistic ideas which they observe, but they have not experienced the changed life. This has not penetrated.

I am sure missionaries are saddened when many Japanese come to Bible classes, but few really believe and are saved. They come to get the missionaries’ culture, English, etc.

Thirdly, the Japanese are part of the nature around them and part of the whole. Imprisoned by old traditions they have a desire for self—expression, Thinking themselves apart of this great world and universe comforts and encourages them; this is clearly seen in Japanese religion, culture and literature, especially in haiku poetry.

To foreigners the famous haiku, “The old pond, a frog, a splash,” would not mean much. Actually the writer was thinking, “I, the frog and the pond are all part of this great world.” Another haiku which appeals to many older Japanese says, “A crow stands on a dead branch in the fall.” In this picture the Japanese see the transitoriness of life and find a way of escape in thoughts of nature. A popular song of the Taisho era went like this: “You and I are withering willows blowing on a dry river bed. But as withering weeds no longer are, so we too will never blow again in this world.” Another chorus goes: “If you want a house, go to your friend’s house. If you want a garden, go for a hike ... One tatami for sleep is enough .... If you think of the whole world, it is lots of fun.”

In broadcasting we find two kinds of reaction, either that Christianity has a repulsive Western odor, or a quiet response like “What you say is very good - exactly what I’ve been thinking.”

The Christian message emphasizes self—denial, loyalty to the Lord and surrender. Many Japanese, regarding themselves as part of the whole world, gladly agree and receive this, and become “Christians” who have not repented. They have only put on the cloak of Christianity.

Pourthly, the Japanese have an innate sense of resistance to outside influences, great opposition to anything outside their own group. Many reject Christianity as an outside influence. When I became a Christian I was told Christianity is for women, not men, that it is nothing desirable, only a tool by which Americans will conquer Japan.

But the Japanese also oppose other Japanese. The Zengakuren strongly oppose outside influence while they are in their student environment. After graduation, however, most of these students will become quite different persons when they enter the work-a-day world.

Thus we conclude that the Japanese mind is indeed imprisoned and bound. Japanese personality is either trying to escape from various shackles or trying to become part of something. When related to Christianity, this approach can only produce very superficial results. When some Japanese Jr. high school students were asked “What do you think of Christianity?” Some of the replies were: “From Christianity we must learn life’s culture and refinement.” “Shall we not accept contemporary Christianity, sing their happy songs and, be cheerful everyday?” “I regard Christianity as the best Bukkyo of all Bukkyos.” All obviously reveal a superficial understanding.

How can we overcome these many obstacles?

Love in our hearts is the greatest factor for overcoming them. Love will melt Japanese hearts for our Lord.



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Last Revised: 10/25/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006