Japan is about the size of the state of California. There are four main islands and then the string of Rukyu Islands that reach from the tip of Kyushu Island down almost to Taiwan. Japan is very near China and Korea, and today it is particularly concerned about North Korea and possible threats from that area. More than 127 million people live on the islands that are approximately 70% mountains. About 33 million people live in the greater Tokyo area, the world’s largest metropolis. Nagoya and Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe are two other major metropolitan areas. Japan is very densely populated, one of the highest population densities in the world with 536 people per square mile.
Japan is known for being the home of one of the most homogenous people groups in the world. Over 99 percent of the people are Japanese. More than half of the non Japanese population is Korean. In 2005, for the first time, Japan had a negative birth rate and it is rapidly becoming an aging society. Approximately 20 percent of the population is over sixty five years old. This is the only age group that is increasing in Japan.
Japan is an unreached people group. One of the least evangelized countries in the world even though missionaries entered the country several hundred years ago. Japanese, in general, are indifferent and skeptical toward organized religion. Japanese don’t think it odd to have more than one religion. Eighty four percent of Japanese claim to adhere to both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. Some 36 percent believe there is life after death, and about the same number believe that death is the end.
Shinto is the native religion of Japan. The Emperor is thought to have descended from the sun and he is thought to be the high priest. Until the end of WWII he was worshipped as a god. Shinto is rooted in animism and its many millions of gods or spirits are known as kami. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the sixth century and is influential because of its emphasis on ancestor worship. Modern day Japanese tend to think that Buddhism is a native Japanese religion and have forgotten where it originated. Less than one half of one percent of the Japanese are evangelical Christians, which means that less than 1 in every 200 people is a Christian.
Japan has been in recession since the bubble burst in the 90’s and is only now beginning to recover. There is dissatisfaction with the present and despair about the future. Although they seem to have few needs, they are often obsessed with pleasure, money and peer group opinion. Bullying at school, entrance exams, and peer pressure lead to fear among children and youth. Many children drop out of school because of stress and pressure.
Family life is in a period of unprecedented crisis. Divorce and suicide rates are escalating at an alarming pace. About a third of married women confess to having at least one abortion. The prolonged recession has caused major fear in adult males. Approximately six hundred Japanese kill themselves each week. In the last decade, the suicide rate among men has increased nearly eighty percent. Most of these are among men in their forty’s and fifty’s. Japan has the highest suicide rate in the developed world. The number of homeless men increases as companies restructure and “retire” those who are not productive.
Japan is in what missiologists call the 10/40 Window. Although many countries in this area are not free to evangelize, we are totally free in Japan to share the gospel. Many Japanese have little concept of sin except as it relates to a man centered view of right and wrong. However, there are those who are seeking to have their hearts cleansed and their needs met. Evangelism is more effective when it is done through relationship networks.