Japan National Tourist Organization
I hereby grant the National Etiquette Award to Japan, as it is cutomary in that country to remove shoes when entering homes.
Come on, everybody knows that. This is probably the most obvious of these awards. Many people are quite ignorant of the fact that shoes are removed in Swedish and Polish homes, but are well aware that you need to take your shoes off when entering a Japanese home. And it is not just homes. For some reason, the Japanese are more inistent upon this custom than any other nation. In Japan you often have to take your shoes off in hotels, some restaurants, offices, schools, universities and even some shops.
When visiting a Japanese home, you will probably be give a pair of slippers to wear. If you sit down on a tatami mat, you need to take these slippers off first. When entering the bathroom, you need to exchange your normal slippers for a set of slippers worn only in the bathroom.
My choice was inspired by my attendance of the Japan Christian Link conference this weekend. The Japan Christian Link is affiliated with the Japan Evangelistic Band, an historic mission organisation working in Japan. Japan Christian Link is commtted to sharing the Gospel with Japanese people both in Japan and elsewhere.
Japan has freedom of religion and freedom to evangelize. Missionaries can easily obtain visas to enter the country. However, Christians remain a tiny minority within the Japan. It is deeply sad that so few Japanese people respond to the Gospel. Churches are few and they tend to made up of the elderly and have many internal difficulties.
Japan has a dual-religion of Buddhism and Shintoism, but for the vast majority of people this is a religion of rituals, not beliefs. There are also many cultish new religions and of course those familiar jokers, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Unification Church.
In recent years, Shintoism has been returning to its nationalistic and imperialistic roots. Very public manifestations of this is the visits of the Japanese prime minister to shrines honoring war dead of the Second World War and the use of a revisionist textbook in schools. It is feared by some that the resurgence of nationalistic religion could eventually lead to curbs on freedom of religion.
The obstacles to becoming Christians for Japanese people include the alienness of Christianity and its concepts, the importance of traditional rituals in family life (which may lead to conflict with the family of a convert) and the centrality of the group mentality to Japanese psychology. Nevertheless, a young missionary I met at the conference said:
Everybody says that Japan is a really hard place to evangelize, but maybe rather than blame the Japanese, we ought to blame the way we do evangelism there.
Two major mission agencies which are active in Japan include: