Japan is a nation of 6,852 islands. Only 430 islands are inhabited, though the population of 127 million (the 10th most populous in the world) is concentrated on five main islands with 80% living on the island of Honshu. Together, the islands are roughly the size of California mountainous, largely unsuitable for farming or habitation, and thick with dense forests. Temperatures are generally mild, though they are more tropical in the south and colder in the north. Being located on the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean means Japan has numerous earthquakes each year and withstands its fair share of typhoons, monsoons, and tsunamis.

Japan is a highly developed nation. Its people place a high value on education and have one of the world’s lowest illiteracy rates. Japan also boasts the second-highest rate of life expectancy in the world (85.5 years average) which means it has one of the highest percentages of elderly population (28% is 65 years+) in the world. The entire nation has access to clean water, adequate sanitation, and electricity.


Life for most Japanese is fast-paced and unrelenting. From an early age, children are under pressure to get into the “right schools” to secure a bright future. Most students attend “juku,” extracurricular schools available to those as young as preschool. Getting and holding a good job is an honor for the whole family. Japanese companies, however, push employees hard. People can be required to work as much as 80 extra hours per month. It is a struggle to find time for relationships. When people do marry, it is around the age of 25 to people of their own choosing, though using a matchmaker is not uncommon. Many live in a multi-generational home, though it is acceptable to live separately, especially in cities where living quarters are cramped. Fathers typically work six days a week, leaving mothers to the care and education of the children. Many women choose to or need to work outside of the home too. This, and an unstable economy, are some of the possible reasons for Japan’s shrinking birth rate. 

The Greater Tokyo Area, at 38 million inhabitants, is the world’s most populous urban area. In fact, 90% of Japanese people live and work in cities. Only 5% work in agriculture. Japan is a homogeneous nation. 98% speak the same language and share the same culture and ethnicity. Approximately 35 smaller populations of native people groups and immigrants also live in Japan. 


 When discussing the religious leanings of Japan it is easy to cite the statistics. Shintoism, the belief native to Japan, claims 70-90% of the population; Buddhism: 70%; non-religious: 5%; Christianity: 1.5% (less than half of one percent is Evangelical); and a smattering belonging to “other” categories. (Most claim both Shintoism and Buddhism as they are not exclusive religions; thus the percentages total more than 100%.) The reality of the matter is more complicated, however. Most Japanese are indifferent to all religion. They rarely ever speak of it. Practice of Shintoism and Buddhism is more rote tradition than fervent belief. “We just don’t care,” is the way one Japanese man summed up his countrymen’s attitudes toward religion. 


Outsiders of any stripe, however, find it difficult to be accepted in Japan. Japanese people reportedly look down on other people groups in Japan as being “second-class citizens.” Smaller, indigenous people groups are and have been systematically integrated by the Japanese government; their indigenous languages and cultures are on the verge of extinction. 

There exists another type of prejudice, a remnant of the caste thinking of Japan’s feudal days. The Burakumin are a people who, though genetically identical to the Japanese, are still discriminated against today. Historically the Burakumin worked in jobs associated with death (undertakers, butchers, tanners, etc.). According to Buddhism, these professions make them permanently unclean. This uncleanness is passed on to offspring regardless of whether they work in those professions or not. An even lower class, the hinan, were (are) considered non-human: ex-convicts, beggars, prostitutes, etc. Today there are laws to protect these people, but the reality is that the prejudice is still strongly felt especially regarding housing, employment, and marriage prospects. 


Though Japan enjoys religious freedom, moving to belief in Christ is difficult when a society’s highest goal is conformity. Indeed, the phrase “coming out” is used when describing a Japanese person who becomes openly Christian. Christianity is seen as a “Western” religion, distinctly un-Japanese. In recent years, however, many have sensed an openness by the Japanese to the Gospel. Many feel Japan is poised for a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit. One important way to affect the whole nation is through meeting and sharing Christ with Japanese who live and work outside of Japan. Gary Fujino, in a Missions Frontier article (“With Emphasis on the Japanese Worldwide”), claims, “the return rate of Japanese nationals living overseas is very high – over 90% – and the length of stay outside of the country is normally no longer than five years.”  As the second-largest unreached people group in the world, what changes would we see if the Japanese embraced the Gospel and became true disciples of Jesus, obeying His command to make more disciples? 

There are, of course, many beautiful and well-known aspects of Japanese culture. Their distinctive traditional dress, architecture, artwork, writing, and gardens have brought much beauty to the world for centuries. Popular cultural and artistic pursuits include the highly intricate tea ceremony, martial arts, calligraphy, ikebana (flower arranging), poetry, papermaking, and silk weaving. Additionally, the Japanese contribute to world culture through outstanding technology, automobiles, popular music and movies, anime, and video gaming.


  • That indifference toward spiritual beliefs would be removed from the Japanese people and new importance placed on solid spiritual understanding.
  • For the idolatry of wealth and position, and the fear of man’s opinion to crumble and be replaced with fulfilling relationships with the Most High through His Son, Jesus.
  • For whole families to come to Christ together, reducing the stress of going against societal and familial norms
  • For more Japanese to meet Jesus and choose to become His followers while they are outside of their country, then passionately bring that good news back to their families and friends
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