Project Japan

Factors in the Japanese WorldviewWorldview.htmlWorldview.htmlWorldview.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2
Theological FactorsTheological.htmlTheological.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0shapeimage_2_link_1
Missiological Factorsshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1
Societal Factors
Political Factors
Christianity’s Contribution to Japanese Life
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Robert Lee suggests that enlightenment in the West envisioned the world as a homogeneous entity, a vision reinforced by the rise of the world market in the nineteenth century after the earlier industrial revolution (17).

In historical context, the work of Western missionaries is to a certain degree influenced by the Western colonial views of other peoples and cultures. Often, these missionaries viewed non-Western peoples as heathens and claimed that they needed to know Christ. In other words, the Western Christian missionary has in some ways operated within a colonialist and imperialist framework. Non-Western theologians consider this a form of Western Imperialism given the Western stress on the continuing validity of the terminology of the early church. That terminology was appropriated by the Greco-Roman culture and then became absolutized (18). As John Parratt states: “If economic and political disruption resulted from Western imperialism, the demonization of indigenous cultures was more likely to be the result of European Christian missions. This happened most dramatically with ‘traditional’ or folk cultures, from which the majority of Christian converts were drawn.  Popular Hindu ‘idolatry’ or African ‘fetishism’ became frequent themes, especially for Christian missionaries who were eager to gain support from their Western churches. These forms of religiosity were demonized by the use of emotive and pejorative terminology. Little attempt was made to understand the kind of spirituality, which had given  rise to these forms of religion (19).

Yoshinobu Kumazawa suggests that in the past, the Western styles of  missionary work caused the non-Western world to believe that God's action towards the world is always mediated by the Western church, that God's work in non-Christian countries is mediated only by so-called Christian countries; that Christianity is to be exported from Christian countries and implanted in non-Christian ones (20).  Kumazawa observes that this has created many problems in the history of the missions, because it has led to the mistaken thought that the so-called Christian countries are superior to non-Christian ones.  The fatal flaw here is the presumption that God could not work directly in non-Christian countries without the mediation of Christian ones, (21)  Japan being no exception. From the sixteenth century onward, missionaries from various Western Church traditions and denominations were active in Japan. And, their approach to the culture was blatantly ethnocentric and systematically destructive.

I here classify four major errors committed by Western missionaries in Japan throughout history: (1) Eurocentric approach,  (2) lack of consideration for cultural context, (3) competitiveness and (4) direct or indirect involvement with western political agendas.


(17) Robert Lee, The Clash of Civilizations: An Intrusive Gospel in Japanese Civilization (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999), 102.

(18) Martien E. Brinkman, The Non-Western Jesus: Jesus as Bodhisattva, Avatara, Guru, Prophet, Ancestor or Healer? (Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 2009), 4.

(19) John Parratt (ed), An Introduction To Third World Theologies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 5.

(20) Gerald H. Anderson (ed.) Asian Voices in Christian Theology, (New York: Orbis Books, 1976), 204.

(21) Ibid.


Missiological Factors

The answer to the question of why Christianity has not succeed in Japan yet can be found in part in the way the Christian mission has been conducted there throughout history, and even in the way in which it is conducted today! Western missionaries have had have a positive influence on the development of Christianity there.  Western Christianity in all its forms and varieties has played a dominant role in transmitting the Christian message and this was done by sending out missionaries around the globe.