July 9-12

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Area 377,801 sq.km. A 3,000 km arc of four large islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu) and 3,000 small islands in NW Pacific. Mountainous; only 13% can be cultivated.

Population Ann.Gr. Density
2000 126,714,220 +0.20% 335 per sq. km.
2010 127,315,474 -0.02% 337 per sq. km.
2025 121,150,001 -0.45% 321 per sq. km.

Capital Tokyo 34,500,000. There are plans to move the capital to a less earthquake-prone site. Other major cities: Osaka 17.75m; Nagoya 5.1m; Sapporo 2.2m; Fukuoka 1.95m; Hiroshima 1.7m; Kitakyushu 1.53m; Sendai 1.3m; Okayama 1.1m. Urbanites 78%.


Indigenous 98.8%.

Japanese 98.6%. Sub-groups: Okinawan 802,000; South American Japanese returnees 233,000; Ryukyuan 148,000.

Ainu 0.2%. The aboriginal inhabitants who have largely lost their original languages.

Foreign 1.2%. Korean 675,000; Chinese 252,000; Filipino 75,000.

Illegal immigrants Possibly 500,000 Pakistani, Iranian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Thai, Malaysian and others.

Literacy 100%. Official language Japanese. All languages 15 (including 11 Okinawan-Ryukyuan dialects). Languages with Scriptures 2Bi 1por.


The world’s most powerful export-oriented economy despite lack of natural resources and oil. High savings and low interest rates stimulated a massive global capital investment boom based on high property values. The 1989 property crash pushed the world into recession and forced changes on Japan’s protectionist policy towards industry, the financial world and trading patterns. Unemployment and instability have increased, but Japan still has an enormous trade surplus with the world. The low birthrate and rapidly ageing population are beginning to put a brake on future growth. By 2001 the economy was in recession and unemployment rising. HDI 0.924; 4th/174. Public debt 50% of GNP. Income/person $38,160 (121% of USA).


Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. The 45 years of stability and economic expansion since WWII have turned Japan into an economic superpower. Rising nationalism and willingness to exert political power in the Pacific causes unease among neighbours. Numerous scandals, corruption and shoddy factional politics discredit the present political system and delay the implementation of essential reforms.


Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all by the constitution, but the rising power of nationalistic Shintoism partly associated with the new emperor is tarnishing that freedom. Over 80% of Japanese claim no personal religion, but most follow the demands of idolatrous and ancestor-venerating Buddhism, and rituals of polytheistic Shintoism. Many also follow some of the hundreds of newer religious movements that are off-shoots of these. The main ones: Soka Gakkai 17m, Risshokosekai 5.5m, Seicho no le 3.7m. So figures below cannot adequately show the multiple religious loyalties of the Japanese, which could be Buddhist 85%, Shinto 90%!

Religions Population % Adherents Ann.Gr.
Buddhist/Shinto 69.61 88,206,000 +0.2%
New Religions 24.43 30,956,284 +0.4%
non-Religious/other 4.27 5,410,697 -1.1%
Christian 1.56 1,976,742 +0.1%
Muslim 0.12 152,057 +6.1%
Baha'i 0.01 15,000 -10.8%

Christians Denom. Affil.% ,000 Ann.Gr.
Protestant 146 0.42 538 +0.8%
Independent 36 0.22 281 +0.9%
Anglican 1 0.05 62 +1.6%
Catholic 1 0.36 457 +0.5%
Orthodox 2 0.02 26 -0.2%
Marginal 9 0.61 776 +0.1%
Disaffiliated   -0.12 -152 n.a.

Churches MegaBloc Cong. Members Affiliates
Catholic C 977 319,720 457,200
Jehovah's Witnesses M 4,489 282,803 350,000
Unification (Moonies) M   240,000 300,000
United Ch of Christ P 1,694 138,058 205,244
Spirit of Jesus I 614 73,653 123,000
Latter-daySaints (Morm) M 349 96,000 120,000
Holy Catholic (Angl) A 309 36,679 62,000
OrigGos Tabernacle Mvt I 865 22,500 45,000
Independent I 739 32,435 43,000
Baptist Convention P 333 15,957 33,191
Evang Lutheran P 154 10,649 32,267
Seventh-day Adventist P 114 14,314 20,000
Assemblies of God P 215 13,688 19,234
Japan Holiness P 179 13,046 16,000
J. Gospel Ch of Christ P 183 9,387 13,000
ImmanuelGeneral Miss P 198 7,401 12,952
Christian Brethren P 161 7,261 10,000
J Christian Alliance P 198 7,304 9,860
Ch of the Nazarene P 75 5,835 8,500
Korean speaking [15] P 110 5,500 8,250
Reformed Ch in Japan P 144 3,900 7,215
Holy Ecclesia of Jesus I 104 5,893 7,190
English speaking [10] P 164 4,667 7,000
Japanese Alliance Ch P 42 3,286 6,200
Baptist Union P 80 4,791 6,000
Other denoms [154]   3,104 138,000 217,000
Doubly affiliated     -100,000 -162,000
Total Christians [202]   15,594 1,413,000 2,977,000

Trans-bloc Groupings pop.% ,000 Ann.Gr.


495 +0.7%


331 +1.0%


54 +3.4%

Missionaries from Japan
P,I,A 397 in 52 agencies of which 218 are overseas in 45 countries: Philippines 23, Brazil 16.

Missionaries to Japan
P,I,A 3,500 in 245 agencies from 33 countries: USA 1,477, Korea 546, Norway 87, Germany 87, Finland 80, UK 76, Canada 74, Australia 50. [Other sources give 2,362 foreign missionaries serving in Japan.]

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Answers to Prayer

1 A new openness after very little real church growth for over a century — provoked by Japan’s series of disasters in the 1990s. The Kobe earthquake, and the threat of others in the Tokyo area, the failure of the ruling class, economic meltdown, increasing rebelliousness of young people and the rise of anti-social and violent cults have all provoked soul-searching and even a questioning of Japanese value systems.

2 A rising prayer burden for revival coupled with some efforts to bring reconciliation in the deep divide between Pentecostals/charismatics and other Evangelicals. There has been a gradual increase in the growth of churches and conversions during the 1990s. The Church Information Service in Japan counted 7,814 churches with 270,000 worshippers in their 2000 survey.

Challenges for Prayer

1 Japan is in crisis economically and politically because of a failure of the leadership. The nation drifts like a rudderless ship. Massive economic reforms, a shaking up of society’s structures which favour self-seeking interest groups (political parties, yakuza mafia gangs, bankers, etc.) and a new opening up to the world will need leaders with courage to tackle these in the 21st Century. Pray for such.

2 Japan is a mixture of openness and unresponsiveness. The powers associated with idolatry in temples and ancestor worship in homes have never been decisively challenged. More specifically:

a) Resurgence of a nationalistic Shintoism that is hostile to anything un-Japanese. Pray for Christians to stand firm in Jesus and not compromise their faith under pressure as did many Christians during World War II. There are subtle attempts to reinstate past evils such as emperor worship and militarism.

b) Social life. The sincere, polite, hard-working Japanese are too busy to give heed to the gospel and understand little of what is right or wrong or of the meaning of sin because they do not know the Creator God. Most see the value of religion, 20% have a definite religion, but only 10% believe in the existence of a personal God. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring revelation of God and then a conviction of sin to the nation.

c) New religions. The growth of Soka Gakkai and other religions in the 1950s and ‘60s. Fear to witness and compromise are major issues for believers. An average of 100 new religions are started each year — based on the occult, worship of extra-terrestrial aliens and so on. Pray for the removal of a spirit of delusion.

d) The youth are turning away from the values and work ethic of their parents, and turning to materialistic pleasures, drugs and possessions rather than to the living God. Pray that present economic shocks, instability and fears for the future may shake many out of complacency.

e) The minimal impact made by the average Japanese Christian on the centres of power in the land. The lack of radiant witnesses for Jesus in the industrial, commercial and political realms is cause for concern. Nevertheless, Christianity exerts a moral and social influence and attraction far beyond its relatively small presence.

3 The Church in Japan experienced good growth between 1945 and 1960, but both Catholic and Protestant percentages have only marginally increased since then, with conversions only just exceeding backslidings. The decisive breakthrough has yet to come, so pray for:

a) The United Church — the name given to the union of all Protestant churches formed under duress during World War II. Almost all churches in the union compromised with Shinto and emperor worship, resulting in total loss of spiritual life. After the war, many denominational groups pulled out to form their own denominations. Many see the key to future blessing and growth is repentance by the whole Christian Church in Japan for this black period in its history.

b) The growing evangelical witness. In 1950 Evangelicals were 40% of Protestants and Independents, but by 2000 they were over 60%. Yet the denominational fragmentation, theological divides and lack of nation-wide cooperation have hampered progress and increased attrition rates. The Japan Evangelical Association is one major coordinating body for many denominations and has sponsored 4 national congresses on Evangelism (1974, 1982, 1991, 2000) and other large evangelistic efforts.

c) Quasi-Christian groups such as the Moonies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have grown far faster than Evangelicals or Catholics and become the largest and most visible ‘Christian’ presence in many areas. Yet they remain ensnared in the enemy’s power and still need spiritual release and freedom. Nearly one million Japanese are linked to these deviant groups. Little literature or specific ministry is directed to bringing the gospel to them. There are three agencies committed to helping JWs to faith in Christ.

4 Specific weaknesses in the churches:

a) Lack of biblical teaching. Christians need complete renewal of their minds. The pervasive influence of the demonic world, philosophies and superstitions must be replaced by a vibrant theology and a head and heart knowledge of God’s greatness and holiness. Pray for new leaders, writers and evangelists to communicate God’s Truth in the 21st Century.

b) The minority complex. Christians are a tiny minority in a society where consensus is important. Too few families come to faith, and individuals feel exposed.

c) Non-active membership and backsliding. Church attendance is low, having decreased since 1995; only 33% of Protestants attend services weekly. Often Christians are influenced by the Buddhist/Shinto religions which have no regular attendance requirements, and this thinking is carried over into Christian activities.

d) The lack of breadwinning men in the churches. The drive for success and desire to satisfy the demands of employers make it hard for men to openly identify with and become active in a church. Women are in the great majority in most congregations.

e) Too few viable, active congregations. At least 70% of all churches have an average attendance of less than 30. Too much is expected of the pastor. Pray for pastors willing to activate lay people to engage in persistent, innovative outreach to non-Christians.

f) Lack of understanding about evil spirits in spite of their heavy presence through idolatry, fortune telling and occultic new religions. Many evangelical pastors and theologians deny their existence in Japan.

5 Bible training for Christian workers is provided by nearly 100 denominational and interdenominational seminaries and Bible Schools in which around 3,000 are in full-time training. The great hope for the future of the Church is the high quality of many of Japan’s pastors and church leaders. May their numbers be mightily increased! Pray for more men and couples to be called into pastoral and missionary work and to come for training. About 70% of pastors are over 50 years of age. Fewer and fewer young men feel the call into pastoral ministry.

6 The missions vision of Japanese Christians is noteworthy. Nearly 500 missionaries have been or are serving overseas. There are now 47 agencies with over 210 serving in 48 lands around the world. However, churches generally have little vision for missions or understanding of the problems of cross-cultural missions and missionaries. There are two small Missionary Training Centres backed by some Japanese churches and missions. The launching of the Tokyo Christian University is beginning to play a major role in training future missionaries to serve around the world. The Japanese Overseas Missions Association has a membership of 16 Japanese agencies. One of the big hindrances for long-term Japanese missionary service is the difficulty of re-integrating children of missionaries into Japan when they return.

7 Missions.

a) First-term missionaries. Japan is easy for missionaries to enter, but then the difficulties begin! The difficulty of the language and script, the complexities of the culture, the bewildering strands of a web society, and the pervading influence of the demonic world are all barriers to adaptation and communication. Acculturation takes years, and many missionaries are still in that tearful stage. The high cost of living is a challenge for foreign missionaries. Pray for them.

b) Missionary agencies are often small and cooperation between them is too limited. JEMA is a coordinating body for 43 mission organizations representing over 1,200 missionaries. Most are involved in church planting and evangelism, but few have found the key to growth. Pray for leaders, for the right strategies, and for Spirit-anointed ministries. The profusion of agencies and nationalities defies listing here. Largest missions: IMB-SBC (166), Korean Missionary Fellowship (135), TEAM (117), OMF (112), YWAM (105), SEND (57), AoG (46), JCCC/CCCI (43), BIM (40), MTW (40), LCMS (31), SdA (31), BBF (26), Life Ministries (25), WEC (19), CMA (16) and OMS (15). The growing contribution of Korean missionaries is remarkable in the light of historic animosities — they need special prayer cover that they might adapt well and have effective ministries.

c) Opportunities for missionary service. These are many, the most needful being evangelism, church planting and teaching. Long-term missionaries are the greater need because of the years needed to acquire the language and understand the culture. The Japanese Education Ministry hires 2,000 English teachers annually for assisting in high schools; this and private tuition give good contacts for tentmaking missionaries. Conducting weddings for the one-third of Japanese couples desiring a ‘Christian’ wedding gives missionaries and pastors unique evangelistic opportunities at unconverted gatherings.

8 The less-evangelized areas and peoples of Japan:

a) Of the 672 cities, there are still 9 without a church, unchanged in 10 years. A further 77 have but one.

b) Of the 2,568 towns of 15,000-30,000 people, 1,733 are without churches.

c) Numerous rural areas are scarcely touched with the gospel. The Japanese Church has little vision for reaching out to the many towns with minimal or no Christian presence.

d) The ruling elite have been little influenced. Pray for the Emperor cocooned in tradition and committed, by his position, to Shintoism. Pray for politicians, bankers and industrialists who have such global impact through their leadership — or lack of it.

e) Koreans, descendants of those forcibly brought to Japan between 1903 and 1945, are usually denied full citizenship rights, and are still classed as resident aliens even into their third and fourth generations. They are despised and poorly paid. The Korean community is sharply divided in their allegiance to either North or South Korea. Korean missionaries have planted over 300 churches in this community, but the percentage of Christians among them is lower than that of South Korea.

f) Chinese, 60,000 residents, are largely involved in business in larger cities. The great majority are non-religious or follow the Chinese traditional religions. There are 14 churches among them with 1,100 Christians. There may be over 70,000 illegals living as a hidden underclass. There are 90,000 Chinese students in Japan, 50,000 from Mainland China — a fruitful field for ministry and the AoG saw 1,500 conversions among them in the 1990s.

g) The Ainu, ethnically unrelated to the Japanese, first settled in north Japan. They have been partly assimilated into Japanese culture, but a resurgence of Ainu culture may require a specific Christian outreach to them.

h) Extremist groups. Cults such as Aum Shinrikyo and their attempts at mass murder, and leftist groups such as the Japanese Red Army have become infamous globally. There are possibly 1,000 right wing extremist groups with 120,000 members. All these point to a deep unmet spiritual need.

i) Exploited women. The yakuza criminal network has an active role in importing 200,000 foreign women who become sex-slaves. There are an estimated 100,000 Thai and also many Filipina women involved. Pray both for this evil system to be halted and these tragically exploited women liberated at every level.

j) Muslims have increased through legal and illegal immigration of Bangladeshis, Iranians, Pakistanis and others. Some Japanese have also become Muslims — largely through marriage. Little is being done to reach them.

9 Young people are becoming a ‘rare’ breed due to the low birth rate. They are more materialistic, individualistic and often more violent — to the distress of the older generation. The 18-23 year-olds are the most responsive to the gospel. Student witness is one of the most strategic for the future of the Church. There are 1,243 universities and colleges with 3,080,000 students, but in only 183 of the colleges are there KGK(IFES) groups with a total of 1,300 students involved; 60% of these are seekers. Japan CCCI (68 workers), YWAM and Navigators (65) also minister on these campuses. Apathy towards religion and scepticism of established religion are widespread, and few make a commitment to Christ, despite the respect for the teachings of Christianity.

10 Christian literature — in no other country of the world is literature more appropriate for evangelism. A highly literate, reading, commuting society offers an excellent market for publishing and distributing high-quality Christian literature. Pray for:

a) More Christian writers of evangelistic and apologetic literature who can communicate with non-Christian enquirers.

b) Understanding of the Scriptures. Over 5 million Bibles are sold annually, and 43% of the under-30s possess a copy, due largely to the efforts of the Gideons, but few read them, or understand them if they do read.

c) Christian bookstores which number over 1110, with several large networks including Word of Life (TEAM 150 workers, 20 stores) and CLC with 12 stores and a bookmobile ministry.

d) Evangelistic literature. New Life League is the largest producer of literature in Asia. Excellent tracts are printed in large quantities and distributed widely. EHC distributed 180 million pieces in four national house-to-house distributions between 1953-2000.

11 Christian radio and TV are useful tools for reaching the electronically-minded Japanese. Pray for:

a) Christian TV programmes on VHF channels. Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho, Pacific Broadcasting Association Lifeline and Harvest Time are notable examples of ministries with an extensive audience. Satellite and cable TV and radio broadcasting present new challenges for Christian broadcasters. Pray that these may be used widely.

b) The many Christian radio programmes aired in Japan (Pacific Broadcasting Association, TEAM, FEBC, Japan Mission, Lutheran Hour and others).

c) Foreign short-wave Christian radio stations. FEBC-Korea, TWR-Guam, HCJB-Ecuador and others broadcast a total of 60 hours/week in Japanese. Millions of young people belong to short-wave listeners’ clubs and listen to these broadcasts.

d) The JESUS film on video — a new version has received high acclaim. Over 70% of homes have a VCR. Pray for an effective video distribution plan and for Christians to be trained in the effective use of the JESUS video. Video evangelism is proving a key method of outreach — a wider range of videos needs to be produced.

e) The growing use of the Internet presents exciting new possibilities for outreach, but few have yet exploited its potential.

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