This week, Kei Hiramatsu shares about Christmas in Japan as a special season when churches proclaim the dawning of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, who shines in the darkness.
Also known as the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan is a global giant in technological innovation, and has one of the world’s largest economies and most educated populaces. Despite the country’s high living standards, Japan faces troubling suicide rates and a declining workforce, as many young people choose to remain single or childless. Nearly 80% of Japan’s 126 million people practice some form of folk Shinto, which features prominently in traditional Japanese culture and festivals. Another 35% practice Buddhism, and although Jesuit missionaries introduced Christianity to the island nation in the mid-1500s, only 1-2% of Japanese are Christians today.
Kei is pursuing a PhD in New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. His research on “Christian Suffering in Conformity to Christ in 2 Corinthians 11-12” will guide and encourage Japanese believers who often face intense social pressures and ostracism for Jesus’ sake. When Kei graduates, he will become the first Japanese faculty member with a PhD in Biblical Studies at Central Bible College in Tokyo. Following the release of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Kei reflected on faith and suffering in his poignant 2017 InSights Essay, The Silence of God: Beyond Triumphalism. Kei and his wife Saki have three young daughters: Hanaka (4), Kaho (2), and Rin (infant).
Kei shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
The Light that Shines in the Darkness
In Japan, where only 1-2% of the population is Christian, people do not celebrate Christmas in the way Christians around the world do. Our culture generally associates Christmas with romance; thus, young people feel urged to find someone with whom to spend this “romantic holiday.” Alternatively, many families perceive Christmas as the day when they eat Kentucky Fried Chicken together (it is funny but true!). For many Japanese, Christmas is not the day for celebrating our Savior’s birth. A friend of mine even asked me once, knowing that I am a Christian, if my church celebrates Christmas. Many of our people do not know the meaning of Christmas.
People from different cultures keep and practice various Christmas traditions. For instance, in America, where I currently study, Christmas is often the day for a family reunion, as people celebrate the beauty of the family God has given to them. Indeed, the story of the Nativity tells us about a faithful family (e.g., Matt 1:18–25). For churches in Japan, Christmas is the day when we share the Gospel with our people. We proclaim the Light of the world, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of the Gospel of John, it says, “The Light continues to shine in the darkness (John 1:5).” Though John’s language of the light and darkness reminds us of creation (i.e., God created light while darkness was over the surface of deep in Gen 1:2–3), his language of the Light also refers to Jesus, the incarnate Word (John 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46).
For churches in Japan, Christmas is the day when we proclaim the Light of the world! Christmas is the season for sharing the Gospel with 99% of the population, including our family members and close friends, who walk in darkness (John 8:12) and do not know our Savior (e.g., my home church usually has 4-5 evangelistic services during the Christmas season). Christmas is the busiest season of the year for the churches in Japan because we spend hour after hour planning and preparing for services in order to proclaim the Light that still shines today.
For some people, the good news of the Light shining in the darkness in Japan may not sound like a powerful message. After over 450 years of the faithful and sacrificial ministry of Christian workers and missionaries, the Japanese remain as one of the largest unreached groups in the world. People may think that the Light in Japan is not as bright as the Light we see in other countries. However, the Light of the world has not been quenched in our country. Even though “the darkness does not understand it” (John 1:5), the Light continues to shine. Although many people have not responded to the Light or are afraid to be exposed by the Light (John 3:19–20), we continue to proclaim the Light, because our Savior, Jesus Christ was born!
As we celebrate the season of Christmas, do you know anyone who walks in the darkness (John 8:12)? If so, let us proclaim today, “We know the Light that continues to shine in darkness!”
Please pray that I will successfully finish and defend my dissertation next year.
Please pray for the transition of our family of five as we return to Japan next year. I will train and prepare Christian workers for God’s mission through theological education at a seminary called Central Bible College (Tokyo). I will also write and translate theological resources for churches in Japan. My wife Saki and I will also serve as pastors at a local church to reach out to 99% of non-Christian Japanese and bring encouragement to Japanese Christians.
Please pray for God’s provision for our ministry. Because of the financial challenges of our school and community, we are in the process of raising funds in preparation for returning home to serve our people in Japan.
キリストに在って (In Christ),