Western eyes blind to spirituality in Japan

Ancient Traditions: Historic shifts have left population practicing elements of many different faiths

The Japan Times/January 1, 2002
By Hiroshi Matsubara

Mitsuru Ichinohe, a 53-year-old minister at Aisen Church in Tokyo, felt deep sadness when he saw the reaction of the Japanese public to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

While he felt that many people across the world offered prayers for the victims, it appeared as though the Japanese knew neither how to pray or whether they should pray for the victims or for world peace.

"The idea that they could offer help to the victims through praying never seemed to have come up in the mind of the Japanese," said the Presbyterian minister, whose church is in Chiyoda Ward.

To his Christian eyes, people in Japan seem to have forgotten how to pray for the general good, including for world peace. Possibly, he said, this is because they have long avoided closely examining their own religious beliefs.

Ichinohe, a former cram and prep school teacher, converted to Christianity in 1998 after a series of hardships, including his father's death and losing his jobs.

The forms of assistance discussed in Japan for survivors of the terrorist attacks were basically materialistic, he said, which helped the country unconditionally support the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

"It seems Japanese have associated themselves with traditional religions without understanding the definition of God, the relationship between God and people and specific disciplines and moral standards accompanied by religious faiths," he said.

"Without having such systematic thoughts in connection with one's religion, what they call 'religious faith' is only expressed by superficial practices, and people only make a wish when they are in trouble."

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