Christian-Curious Japanese Fueling Book Trend


Jacopo Bassano's Last Supper painted in 1542

TOKYO (majirox news) – Christian books and magazines are flying off the shelves in Japan. Some of the largest publishing companies and best-known magazines for the literati have jumped in. The Convenience stores are selling magazines and books on Christianity, too.

What makes this interest in Christianity even more amazing is that less than 2% of Japan’s population is Christian, and even after the opening of Japan in 1854, Christianity was still officially banned until 1873.

magazine, a thinking person’s guide to current trends, included the insert What is Christianity last spring.

‘Within two weeks we sold more than 110,000 copies, which was amazing,” said Arata Saito of Hankyu Communications, which publishes Pen. “The Japanese feel they can develop a deeper appreciation of art if they understand more about Christianity.”

They want to gain a better understanding of well-known works of Western art and literature, which requires some knowledge of the stories, historical figures, images and symbols that appear in the bible and Christian history.

In one issue, Kangaeru Hito, a seasonal magazine published by Shinchosha, inserted passages of the bible for its readers. Its editors did not expect it to sell well as it is not easy to read. It sold out immediately and turned out to be its biggest selling issue.

“Readers want to increase their knowledge, including (their knowledge of) the bible,” Saito told Majirox News. “They want to know about a religion that continues to attract the faith and commitment of people around the world – plus Japanese love mysteries. These readers are interested in …. the places Jesus Christ preached such as Jerusalem – they want to learn about Jerusalem and other holy places.”

Additionally, with the sagging economy and the lack of strong political leaders people are looking for insight from the wise men of the past, according to Saito. “The bible gives them direction.”

Tomonori Saito, a religious scholar at Temple University in Tokyo, agrees. “There is an underlying social anxiety that calls for a spiritual center,” he said. “These days, some Japanese people are interested in finding their ‘spiritual power spot,’ which in Christianity is the church with its beautiful art.”

They also admire foreign cultures and wish to be empowered by the recent trend toward spirituality. Saito believes Christianity has been in fashion in Japan for some time. Japanese visit temples and shrines to find their “center.”

“They say that one of the reasons Christianity did not grow in Japan is that most of the churches and Christians were not serious enough to reach people,” he said. “Taken another way, they were not working hard enough. Christians and pastors burned themselves out taking care of internal problems rather than focusing outward.”

He believes young Japanese are open to Christianity if it is presented in a cool, stylish and friendly way.

According to Mark Mullins, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo and author of a number of works, including Religion and Society in Modern Japan, Christianity Made in Japan and Religion and Social Crisis in Japan, a significant number of Japanese are seriously exploring Christianity as a personal faith. If this is the case, there is little evidence to indicate that this leads many of them to affiliate with a Christian community or church.

“My own hunch is that there are a number of Japanese who may have embraced Christianity (or some teachings and practices that they understand to be the core of this religion) and seek to live according to these ideals without becoming a member of an organized form of this religion,” he said. “I refer to these Japanese as the ‘anonymous’ or ‘hidden Christians’ (Kakure Kirishitan) of contemporary Japan. This is, of course, just a hypothesis that needs empirical research.”

It is worth noting that in 2008–a couple of years before the current boom – the Japan Bible Society announced that some 10 million copies of the Interconfessional Bible had been sold or distributed (this is a newer translation first published in 1987 and based on collaboration between Protestant and Roman Catholic biblical scholars).

This number is just for one version of the bible. Given that the official Christian population in Japan is around 1.5 million church members (all denominations combined), many non-Christian Japanese must be keeping this sacred book nearby, according to Mullins.

“Given this reality,” he said, “ the more interesting question might be: ‘what keeps so many away from the organized forms of Christianity?’”

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4 Responses to Christian-Curious Japanese Fueling Book Trend

  1. Eli on 02/22/2011 at 10:52 pm

    “Given this reality,” he said, “ the more interesting question might be: ‘what keeps so many away from the organized forms of Christianity?’”

    The Japanese have seen first hand the dangers of the zealotry that can arise from religion. Everything from the use of Shinto to convince people to fly the kamikaze planes to that terrorist gas attack back in ’95. I’m sure they also pay attention to world news where organizations like the catholic church are unable or unwilling to reign in their priests’ pedophilia and preach that condoms are a sin. It’s more difficult to go to a religion if it’s not something that you’ve grown up with and that is something completely foreign to your country.

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  3. Casper on 02/23/2011 at 12:59 am

    In the Edo Period, Japanese Christians were tortured and killed for their beliefs. But in today’s Japanese society it seems that they prefer not to be affiliated with a Christian group or church because they are afraid of what OTHER Japanese would think of them!). And, I am sure that the Japanese government would put a halt to Christianity if they became a larger entity here (The Japanese government want to always have majority control of all Japanese and their beliefs, in my opinion). I do not agree that it was a lack of hard work by Christians and their Pastors as Saito implies.

    It seems that they have sold a lot of copies due to the fact that the Japanese people are finally realizing that there is something “missing” in their lives. Especially in this economy, when people are losing their jobs and not knowing how to cope with this downturn. They are looking for guidance and direction on how to live a full and rewarding life (“spiritually” not “monetarily”). Hopefully, with this many copies sold, there will be less suicides in Japan this year (we should all hope and pray).

  4. mr bond on 05/29/2011 at 4:05 pm

    I have friends in Japanese magazine and book publishing and of late they have been racking their brains as to how to survive. Sales have been steady, but advertizing has plunged to about 60 percent of last year levels, so I was told. Against this background, the surge in sales of works on Christianity, and magazines, is really striking. To complete the article, however, we need to know whether sales of works in other cultures and religions have jumped. What about the other great religions, meaning Buddhism, the Hindu faith, and, to be sure, the Shinto faith. To my knowledge people from Tokyo are, these days, making pilgrimages to some of the great centers of Shinto observances, and they are doing so to seek solace in hard times, when many of us are confused about the purpose of life, if any. I would assume that the 8 trillion deities of Shintoism are all up there, watching over us! This, too, is Japan.
    sgd. Mr. Bond.

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