By Amber Jones
Japan is not a Christian nation. In fact, Japan has a dark history of persecuting Christians, especially in Kyushu and Nagasaki. According to the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Religious Yearbook 2019, only 1.1% of the Japanese population claims to be Christian, and that is easy to see with the abundance of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in every city and tourist destination. So, if you are a Christian, how can you find a faith-based community to meet your spiritual needs? It’s easier than you would think and takes just a little bit of research.
When I interviewed for the JET Program, one of the interviewers asked about my faith. “What will you do if you can’t find a church? What if you have to work on the weekend?” I answered that I would watch my home church online and would figure things out, but I really didn’t know. I hadn’t thought about it that much. So after I received my placement, I did some research.
Tip #1: Look to see if your denomination has a directory of churches online
I knew that my protestant denomination had churches all over the world, but I didn’t know if there was one in Kyushu, let alone Sasebo. To my surprise, I found one! I found the online directory of Adventist churches in Japan and used a form on the website to send an email to the church closest to where I would be. Just my luck, the pastor spoke English and emailed me back. I found a church near my home and my school!
By the time I arrived, the church members were ready for me. They welcomed me with open arms and were so friendly. Both the pastor and his wife spoke English, and there was a community of English speakers connected to the church that I’ve since become close friends with. I’ve been able to worship weekly and do activities with the community like smashing watermelons, catching bugs in the park, hiking nearby mountains, learning how to cook rice in freshly cut down bamboo, and singing Christmas carols for a group of elderly people and the mayor of Ureshino. If I hadn’t found this church, I think my time in Japan would have been very different.
Tip #2: Search for your denomination of choice on Google Maps
So, now that I’ve found a church family in my city, what do I do when I travel? In my time here, I’ve discovered that there is a church in or near every major city in Japan. All it takes to find them is a search on Google Maps. It’s a great way to pinpoint the location of the church and find a way to get there, especially if they don’t have an updated website or a Facebook page.
I’ve had a positive experience finding and visiting churches in different cities. I’ve always been welcomed, whether there was an English speaker there or not. When I visited the Adventist church in Kagoshima, after asking to look at my itinerary during lunch, one of the members insisted on driving me to and around Sakurajima and an hour out of the city to the Chiran Peace Museum. At the church in Miyazaki, a couple of the members took me to the station to get the tourist bus pass when they heard I didn’t have one. In Hiroshima, the members invited me in for lunch even though I got to church late and missed the service. No matter where I go, there are always people to make me feel welcome in a new city. If I didn’t have this global family of faith I would still be able to tour all these places. However, being greeted with a kind face, a delicious meal, and a helping hand always makes the experience so much better.
Tip #3: Find a church with online service
Finally, if you’re still stuck looking for a church or can’t find one in your area, you may have to stick with online. I recommend joining JET Christian Fellowship on Facebook if you are an ALT, or finding a church you can relate to online. These days, more and more things are moving online, church included, so see if your home church is streaming or holding a virtual service, or if a local church is doing the same.
When we’re not able to meet at the physical building, my church in Sasebo meets online. We have a Facebook Messenger group chat where we do a group call and study the Bible together. Even when we do meet at the church, we still hold the call for anyone who is not able to make it for whatever reason. Also, my church back home streams and archives old services, so if all else fails, I can always watch that. Although the world seems to be in chaos, the potential to meet online has skyrocketed, so now more than ever you should be able to find a community of faith online.
Japan may not be a Christian nation, but don’t be discouraged. Just take a look, have faith, and you’re sure to find what you need.