It’s not news that the Christian church is not proliferating in Japan. It’s less than half a percent of the population. There’s an interesting phenomenon in the Japanese language that help accounts for this.
In Japanese, a religion is named with the title of that religion, followed by the suffix pictured here, pronounced “kyo” (rhymes with crow). So Christianity is “Curisoto-kyo.” Islam is “Isulamu-kyo.” Literally translated, it simply means “teaching,” but as with many words, there is a nuance not captured by the strict definition.
The nation of Japan is not religious in the Western sense. They may offer worship to idols or ancestors, loosely grouped under the title, “Shinto,” but Shinto has no clearly defined doctrines. When the Japanese talk about religions, they are generally referring to ideas from outside. And when they think of such things, they still discuss the 1995 subway gas attack that killed 13 people and poisoned thousands. The leader of that attack was executed this summer. The name of that cult was Shinri-kyo. “Kyo” has subsequently come to imply “cult.” Because Christianity falls under the same broad umbrella of religious teachings, it too now bears a suffix that implies “cult.” Everyone in Japan has heard of the gas attacks. Less than 1% of the population is Christian. But when Christianity comes up, it’s immediately branded as related to the gas attacks. No surprise that it’s not catching on.
A word to wise Christians in America: guilt by association is a real thing. If Christians generally associate with unloving power-mongers who are more interested in politics that loving the lost, don’t be surprised when no one wants to talk to Christians any more. At that point, the faith might as well be branded “The Christian Party,” because the suffix captures exactly how it’s thought of. In America, there is a real risk that people may come to think Christianity is just a political slate that claims to have fallen from heaven.
That’s simply not what Jesus came to build. He wasn’t out to create political power structures to shelter the fearful. The teachings of Jesus (Jesuskyo?) are all about surrendering in the name of love. The more his followers do so, the more likely Japan and the rest of the world are to see Christianity stand apart from cultish shadows.