Christianity Made in Japan: A Study of Indigenous Movements

Christianity Made in Japan: A Study of Indigenous Movements

Christianity Made in Japan: A Study of Indigenous Movements

Christianity Made in Japan: A Study of Indigenous Movements


For centuries, the accommodation between Japan and Christianity has been an uneasy one. Compared with other Asian countries, the churches in Japan have never counted more than a small number of believers resigned to a pattern of ritual and belief transplanted from the West.


There is in Japan another Christianity than the familiar array of churches left behind by missionaries from the West, one virtually unknown abroad and as yet largely neglected by scholars of religion. It is the Christianity of indigenous movements established in a direct act of resistance to the failure of imported varieties of Christianity to reach deeply into the Japanese soul. This is a book about those movements: where they came from and how they developed.

Contrary to what one might at first expect, resources concerning Japan's indigenous Christian movements are plentiful, but since most of these groups publish their own materials and distribute them privately for use by the faithful, the literature rarely attracts the attention of those outside their own circles. From the time I began my visits to different movements, I was amazed -- not to say in some cases dismayed by the work that lay in store -- to discover that the collected works of individual founders alone typically ran to ten or twenty volumes, in addition to which most of the movements publish their own magazines and journals. As obscure and arcane as much of the material is, in sheer volume it is an embarrassment of riches.

Extensive contact with members of these movements, their leaders, and in some cases even their founders, has provided a healthy counterbalance to the written resources. My observation and interviews were by and large concentrated in the Kantō and Kansai areas of Japan's main island, where movement headquarters or larger churches tend to be located, but my fieldwork also took me on occasion to the islands of Shikoku, Kyūshū, and Okinawa, and to as far north as Sendai. Over the years I have participated in a wide range of religious services, from subdued memorial services for the dead to emotional revival meetings and charismatic healing services. I have sat with believers to study the Confucian classics following Sunday worship services, received training in meditation in summer seminars, and even celebrated a Friday evening sabbath meal with Japanese Christian Zionists singing in Hebrew in an isolated monastic retreat in the mountains outside of Kyoto. One particular group even made it their special mission to teach me how to speak in tongues. (To their collective disappointment, I turned out to be a slow learner.)

Needless to say, a project of this kind relies from start to finish on the cooperation of many people, and I count myself fortunate to have received so much kindness from so many. Religious leaders regularly opened their archives . . .

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