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.
Pen 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?’”