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Japan and web evangelism
A missed mission opportunity
One of the ‘major modern mission misses’ (shall we call these ‘4Ms’?) of our time is the huge disparity between the highly-wired, tech-loving 127-million Japanese population, and the searing lack of online evangelism in the Japanese language. Many aspects of the Web are hugely popular in Japan, because in a highly-regimented and formal society, it provides a creative outlet for expression. (See this detailed article from Wired Magazine.) However, since most Japanese are non-seekers, they are most unlikely to be searching for Christian material online. There are, we believe, three keys to online evangelism: building incarnational relationships, addressing felt needs, and using Japanese culture. All three approaches are beautifully illustrated in this account from a missionary in Japan.
Learn more about ministering to Japanese: distance learning, books and conferences by RJC.
Video clips and comicsYouTube popularity is exploding in Japan points out a Christian commentator:
“YouTube’s user base is growing more quickly in Japan than any of the other major websites, including Yahoo Japan, Amazon.co.jp or Wikipedia.org, according to Internet research firm NetRatings Japan. Even though it does not have a separate Japanese-language version, YouTube achieved its 10 millionth Japanese visitor after just 14 months.This film-making initiative by Christian group Studio Re: is strategic.
Implication: If more and more Japanese are going to YouTube and viewing videos, how could we use this low cost medium to reach Japanese?”
Also very important in Japan is the Manga-style comic and Anime films. You may not be familiar with the anime cartoon art-form, but these films have become increasingly popular in the West, through the work of film-makers such as award-winning Studio Ghibli which makes films with an English soundtrack. Check, for instance, Castle in the Sky or Spirited Away. In anime, there is touching combination of thousands of years of Japanese story-telling tradition and worldview, with the familiar universal themes of story-telling. Redemptive themes abound, along with the frequent assumption of a spiritual realm, giving us ideal starting points to use for evangelism based on existing secular anime films, as well as the opportunity to make evangelistic films using the genre, as Let’s Love Japan are doing.
Watch a Studio Ghibli trailer of films ranging from 1984 to 2005 (Nausicaa to Howls). These films are widely available on DVD:
Manga cartoons are also strategic. There are many Manga comics online in English and Japanese as well as many Manga video clips. Rox35Media run an animation competition for mobile devices, and also training around the world in Christian comic production, cartooning and now also animation.
A Manga Bible has been published by New Life League Japan.
Blogging and social networking in JapanThree new blogs start somewhere in the world, every second! Of course, similar numbers probably fade away too. The remarkable thing is that of the total of 70 million blogs, the largest language grouping is Japanese, with 37%. English is in second place, with Chinese third. The ‘micro-blog’ service Twitter is also very popular in Japan.
Mixi is a very popular social networking site for young people, offering many ways to informally share faith. It’s a by-invitation network – how to use. [More] A member of Jesus LifeHouse Church (an international church in Tokyo) is connecting with a mainstream audience through Mixi.
Learning EnglishBecause Japanese are very keen to learn English, it may be possible offer one-to-one language help through secular mentoring systems such as MyLanguageExchange, Lingualearn. World Friend. or Epals. (Read how this has worked in Taiwan using StudioClassroom.com.) There are also many online international penpal linkup schemes (either completely international, or Japan related). Be aware that these are often primarily dating schemes, and that people’s profiles or intent may not be as stated. However, if you take into account these strong caveats, you may be able to find someone (we highly recommend, only of your gender) who is purely looking for international friendship, and build a fruitful relationship. Such relational evangelism is bearing fruit.
International Chapel is a lively international church which offers English lessons before the morning services.
The mobile revolution in JapanJapan has one of the most sophisticated mobile phone systems in the world, and a majority of Japanese web users access the Internet using mobile devices rather than fixed PCs. There are many opportunities for using mobile devices in outreach.
The challengeThese examples highlight the strategic significance of the Web for the gospel in Japan. It’s a computer-literate and prosperous country. Many Japanese cannot read English sufficiently well to use English-medium websites. And church growth has been depressingly minimal. Most Japanese have a benign indifference to the Christian message (although they just love church weddings), and statistically are unlikely to know a Christian personally, or see Christianity modelled within the community of a local fellowship. This lack of physical incarnational witness means that web outreach is especially vital because it is almost the only way that non-inquirers may ever build relationships with believers. Long-term relationship-building is almost essential in the Japanese context as this example of engaging people through art demonstrates.
Japan is arguably as unreached as many Middle Eastern countries. Yet in the Middle East, there are many effective online outreach sites in English, French and Arabic (as well as satellite and radio broadcasting). Although Arab ministries do not like to disp;ay a high profile on this, be assured that incredible things are happening in this part of the world through the Web. But by contrast, there is not yet much web outreach in Japan. There are probably several reasons:
- a very small Christian population from whom web evangelists can be drawn. Japanese is a hard language for a non-Japanese missionary to learn to speak well. It is vastly harder to learn to write well, and few cross-cultural mission workers achieve this. So hands-on web evangelism and mentoring in Japanese must be done in large part by Japanese national evangelists (though cross-cultural mission groups can play a big part in catalyzing, encouraging and resourcing web ministry). There is a big need for more workers in Japan. (See Ethnic Harvest resource page – sources of Bibles, background to Japan, and recommended books and links about Japan.) Read these missionary blogs and consider taking a short-term missions trip to Japan.
- perhaps the national Japanese church perceives itself as small and may lack confidence for innnovative outreach strategies.
- a lack of understanding of the Web as a medium, and how to apply and develop approaches including the bridge strategy, may inhibit web ministry startups.
CultureThere are many aspects of Japanese culture  to understand (and use) in online evangelism. Japanese are much more reluctant than westerners to complete a web form, or otherwise make email contact with an unknown, un-named person via an outreach website. It is, perhaps, an issue of trust and good manners. They are more disposed to make contact with named individuals that they can identify with, on blogs or social networking sites. The design, structure, and follow-up protocol of any online outreach must be structured to take this into account.
It is important that we do not merely replicate western-style evangelism for Japan, or rely on much material which is a literal translation from English. Appropriate and effective evangelism is always contextualized. See God’s Fingerprints in Japan and Create International’s podcast discussion of this DVD. Nor can we necessarily transfer Western ‘alter-call’ evangelism to the Japanese culture: discussion.
Worship and the Arts is a blog about using the Japanese culture, the arts, and digital media, to reach Japan.
YouthYoung people      in Japan are highly interested in Western popular culture (music, films, fashion etc.) yet often do not have sufficiently good English to access such information. A Japanese-language bridge site (or page within an existing site) taking music or film as a start point, could be very strategic. Mobile usage among Japanese youth is very high and all-embracing.
The Web could be uniquely strategic in starting millions of Japanese on a spiritual journey, using social networking, video clips, bridge strategy topics within websites and blogs, and much more. There is huge potential, as this encouraging story demonstrates.
Some evangelistic sitesWe rejoice that there are Japanese outreach sites available, yet they are so few compared with the need and potential, and some are translated western material:
- TruthMedia.com’s highly effective PowertoChange site is available in Japanese: Jinseiokaeruhiketsu.com
- Narnia – using the Narnia story as a starting point
- Knowing God Personally – Four Spiritual Laws one-page presentation
- IBS offer PDF downloads of the Living Bible in Japanese [Japanese interface]
- Japanese/English online Bible NIV and Shinkaiyaku translations
- The JESUS Film is available to watch as a streamed video
- The Hope video also available to watch streamed
- Who is Jesus, Really? – Japanese version of CCCI site
- EveryStudent – Japanese version of EveryStudent.com.
- Broadcast ministries have websites: FEBC Radio | Harvest Time TV – the Web and broadcast ministry can enhance each other’s effectiveness. Email, chat and text messaging can all be used for building relationships with inquirers. Many listeners to the FEBC Japanese service actually use the Web rather than radio.
- Online trailer for new Japanese film addressing the felt needs of suicide and depression: Mujo No Kaze.
- Christian Answers – apologetics answers for inquirers, Japanese version of an English language ministry.
- Jesus Lifehouse is an International Church in Tokyo.
Networking together for JapanThere is a Japanese-language web evangelism guide similar to this site.
We also offer an informal network of people interested in reaching Japan using any form of digital outreach. Digital Japan encourages such ministry as:
- develop partnerships among ministries (each of whom may have insufficient resources to do online ministry on their own). to create outreach websites, and build appropriate follow-up and mentoring networks for inquirers.
- recruit individual Japanese Christians for email mentoring of inquirers from ministry sites.
- encourage Japanese Christians to create their own seeker-friendly websites and blogs or social-networking pages, with a particular emphasis on reaching non-inquirers, using the bridge strategy.
- also help Japanese Christians to be involved in social networking on Mixi, or sharing faith in chat rooms.
- demonstrate the potential of video clips, particularly on secular video-sharing sites.
- highlight the potential for all aspects of mobile outreach.
- encourage churches to build seeker-friendly websites that can act as a shop window to those in their communities. There is probably a need for a CMS template church-site builder (similar to for example Church123.com) which would enable churches to easily build an attractive church site, and also guide them how to make it seeker-friendly rather than being ‘churchy’ and merely an insider resource for members.
- enable English-learning opportunities – teaching English has been the biggest factor in Japanese coming to faith.
- reaching Japenese studying or living abroad is also a key ministry undertaken by groups such as RJC.
- maybe Christian Japanese living in USA and elsewhere can be recruited for different web evangelism initiatives.
related pages within the Mission opportunities menu links
recommended books on reaching outsiders, including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry