Norwegian Lutheran Mission first began working in Japan in 1949. In 1962, West Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church (WJELC) was founded. Today, our missionaries mainly focus on relational work, as well as activities for children and youth.
Japan, the "Land of the Rising Sun", is an east asian country with nearly 126 million people. The archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean, east of the Korean peninsula.
Today, Japan is a highly industrialised and modern society, known for technological advancement, but the country also has a long and rich history, and a strong cultural identity.
Despite several "waves" of mission activity over the course of several centuries, Japan has not seen any great movements of Christian awakening or revival, and the country as a whole, as well as the Japanese as a people group, are still considered to be unreached. Only between 1-2 % of the population is believed to be Christian, and of those, only around 0.5 % are evangelical Christians. This makes the Japanese the second largest unreached people group in the world.
The two main religions in Japan are shintoism and buddhism, which are both, to varying degrees, practiced by the vast majority of the population. To most, shintoism and buddhism are seen as part of japanese culture and identity. At the same time, surveys show that relatively few consider themselves religious – possibly in part because to most Japanese, this would denote a formal devotion to religions and sects with established doctrines and membership.
Japanese society is also very hectic, while building meaningful relationships in japanese culture takes a long time. It can be difficult for many Japanese to find time for church, especially for those in school or full-time work.
– In our congregation, we are now in regular contact with 50 people who are not baptised, one of our missionaries commented a few years ago. He is not alone. Missionaries are often a first point of contact between japanese people and the church, and as such, they get to take part in reaching more of the Japanese with the gospel.
This is why Norwegian Lutheran Mission is still working in Japan, more than 70 years after the arrival of our first missionaries to the country.
Many churches in Japan primarily consist of older adult members. Many congregations are small, and the local church culture can also make it difficult to experience church growth. These are challenges we see in most Japanese churches.
– So far, no one seems to have found the key to reach Japanese youth with the gospel, one of our missionaries explains.
Alongside our partner church, WJELC, Norwegian Lutheran Mission wishes to work strategically to reach the younger generations in Japan with the gospel in the coming years.