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Japan, "The Nation of the Cross"

By The 700 Club

Ken Joseph, founder of the Keikyo Institute, discusses the little known history of ancient Christian community in Japan and implications for evangelism.

Second Generation Missionary To Japan

In 1951 Joseph's parents were some of the thousands who answered Gen. Douglas MacArthur's call for missionaries to go to Japan to help it recover from World War II.

Traveling with them on the same ship to Japan was a Japanese newspaper editor. When he learned the Josephs' ancestors were from Assyria (Syria, Iran and Iraq) said people from that land had come to Japan more than 1,400 years ago, bringing medicine, freedom and democracy. These were Nestorian Christians who had settled in Japan by the 5th century.

Joseph was once highly skeptical of his father's story, but after years of research he has found it to be true. Just months ago Joseph published "Jijika no Kuni, Nihon" (Japan: The Nation of the Cross), which is selling well in Japanese secular bookstores. He hopes to publish it soon in English.

Christian History Of Japan

While Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest, is credited with introducing Christianity to Japan in the 16th century, Joseph asserts that Jesus Christ ordered his disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. By 52 AD it had reached India thru the Apostle Thomas, and Joseph says 12 years later it reached China.

Japan was at the end of the Silk Road. From Jerusalem pilgrims could walk to Japan in eight years; by horse they could make it in 4 years. Over the centuries many people fleeing persecution in other lands came to Japan. By the 6th century Japan was knows as an island of freedom with an advanced culture and a constitution (centuries before the Magna Carta in England) established by Shotoku Taishi, the father of Japanese Buddhism. Shotoku Taishi is known to have accepted the Nestorians.

Joseph's research has shown:
1. The tea ceremony (chado) is derived from Christianity's communion service, and the master of the Ura senke School of Teas, Sen no Rikyo, was a Christian.

2. An Assyrian helmet with a cross is at the Gojikai Temple Museum in Fukuoka.

3. A Nestorian monument stands in the old cemetery on Mount Koya which was once the site of the Eastern Church. Monks continue to make the sign of the cross at the beginning of their early morning ceremonies.

4. Remnants of the New Testament, brought back from China in the 8th century can be seen in a temple in Kyoto.

5. A large 8th century statue in Gunma is marked with the letters I.N.R.I (King of the Jews).

Joseph has found a map of Japan in the 1600s that shows that large portions of the country were Christian. It is estimated that 3 million of the 15 million Japanese were Christians. Joseph says that in 1597 a terrible earthquake destroyed the city of Kyoto (the city center was known as "City of Angels"). The Buddhist priests demanded payment to bury the dead, but the Christians did it for free.

Joseph says this blew away the myth that they had to pay to please God. So overnight the power of the temples collapsed and the Buddhist priests panicked. Because the emperor needed the support of the priests to pay for his war with Korea, he agreed to ban Christianity.

The persecution began as 26 Christians were crucified including a 15-year old boy, Ibaragi. One of the emperor's men didn't want a teenager to die, so he tried to talk Ibaragi into repudiating his faith by stomping on a picture of Christ. He refused, saying if he did so he could not go to heaven and asked which cross was his. Ibaragi ran to the cross, knelt and hugged it as if it were precious. He was crucified.

There are historical records that in 1637 over 37,000 Christians were killed in one day. The persecution continued over 250 years with more than a million believers dying for their faith. Any man from a Christian family had to have a note put by his family name in the national register for seven generations. And Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world until American Commodore Perry arrived in 1859.

Implications For Evangelism

Joseph says traditionally, Asians have rejected Christianity because they see it as the religion of white, Western men and not theirs. The Japanese have been raised to believe that they are racially pure and a homogeneous nation, which is not true because aspects of their history have been erased.

Joseph says there is a whole class of Japanese well known because of their family names - who have been discriminated against for years. When Joseph talks to them, they acknowledge that their ancestors were criminals. But Joseph's research shows that generations ago these were Christian families who died for their faith. (The ones who had notations made in the national register.)

So they were really heroes and martyrs instead of criminals. When Joseph presents the gospel message, it is logical for them to accept Christ as they realize it was the religion of their ancestors. They are the answers to the martyrs' prayers for the generations to come as they died for their faith.

It is a message of forgiveness for the descendants of those who did the persecuting. Young Japanese have wept; telling Joseph they now have Christian heroes who looked as they do.

Joseph indicates Japan is at a spiritual crossroads. Politically, if it continues to the right, he says it could become as closed as Iran to the West. These leaders want the white, American troops (who they view as occupiers since World War II) to leave. We need to pray for Japan.

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