Religious liberty in Japan
Religion & Liberty Online

Religious liberty in Japan

For the past several decades in the United States many parents have gravitated toward one extreme or the other in terms of allowing religion in public schools. It is generally understood these days that our public school system is not a religious organization, and should not promote one religion as a state religion, over others. Of course, this does not mean that morality or other ideas that call on the revelation of religion cannot be taught, but we try to keep things as secular as possible. Yet, many would call down a secular version of fire and brimstone on the teacher or administrator who brought students to pray at the local cathedral on a field trip.

For those of you who do not keep up with Japanese politics (I grew up there and so keep one eye on current happenings) the current government recently issued a bill proposing an amendment to the basic laws of education. This is the first revision of this sort that has been put forth since the Allied Forces, occupying Japan following World War II, drafted the Japanese constitution and laws. The current law requires the education system to “respect individual dignity, aim at raising people who will aspire for truth and peace, and seek universal and characteristic culture.” The changes to the law propose “the teaching of values such as patriotism and respect for Japanese culture and tradition.”

While the changes may sound innocent enough, especially to Western ears, this is a very loaded phrase. Many of you might be aware of the yearly controversies surrounding Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine to worship the war dead of the Emporer. It usually enters the news because of demonstrations, especially in China and Korea. The problem with the shrine visit is that it is a state event, not merely personal, and that among the war dead are many convicted war criminals from World War II. This “cultural” event is in fact state-sponsored Shintoism. Other “cultural events” include the worship of ancestors and idols at various shrines and temples; “cultural events” that even President Bush (gasp) has participated in by clapping his hands and bowing in prayer. While this is not a massive problem for those Japanese who are Shinto (it should be a problem, even to them), imagine the message that this sends to Japanese, and other, Christians around the world.

Now imagine that your child is enrolled in a public school and that the education system now requires teachers to teach “Japanese culture” and patriotism to your children. Well, Japanese culture and patriotism both require participation in the “cultural” activities that take place in Shinto shrines. So, your child is ushered to the local shrine where he is taught how to pray to ancestors, pray to the Shinto high priest (who also happens to be the Emperor), and engage in the other traditional Shinto practices understood not necessarily as religion, but as traditional Japanese culture. It will be acceptable for the Japanese tax yen to be spent teaching all Japanese children the traditional prayers of Shinto funerals and enthronement ceremonies for the Emperor (ahem, high priest), among other things.

Of course there is also the lingering fear among many Japanese of a new generation of nationalist citizens of the variety found during and before Japan’s involvement in the Sino-Japanese Wars and World War II.

Let me end with some words from Rev. Shigeru Takiura, a Japanese minister from the Japanese (Reformed) Presbytery in Kobe.

Japanese former Minister of Education and Science, Mr. Nobutaka Machimura
said in TV show, “The Fundamental Law of Japanese Education should be amended to make the primary school children’s worship-visit to Ise Shrine (Shrine for the ancestors of the Emperor) possible.” Prof. Tetsuya Takahashi of Tokyo Univ. said, “This comment means the real revival of the National Shintoism.” The cabinet of Japanese Government might decide the proposal of the legislation of this amendment even tomorrow. Already Tokyo’s public school teachers had been severely forced with punishment to sing Kimigayo, the praise to the emperor. Japanese Government has been trying to bring National Shintoism gradually into the educational system of Japan. The right wing “Japan Congress” has been supporting this trend strongly.

Please pray that our Christian primary school kids would not be forced to go to Ise Shrine as worship-visit in near future.

Please pray that Yasukuni Shrine’s (Shrine of war dead for the Emperor) historically and religiously dangerous character will be well understood by the Japanese [and other] public.

Please pray that the freedom of living according to Christian faith may be established firmly in Japan.

Please pray that the recent move of reviving the National Shintoism maybe prevented and gone.

Please pray for Japanese Christian citizen to raise the voice against such trend.

Please pray for the Japanese Church to speak clearly about the sin of such idol worship both in the past and present according to the scripture, and lead the prayer for the repentance of the nation to walk the righteous path before the Lord.

Please pray for our witness for the King Jesus Christ who is the mediatorial King over Japan.

Please pray for Japan’s repentance and salvation from its destruction as the punishment of the Lord.

Please appeal to your government officers to take effort against recent Japanese trend to prevent Japanese revival of National Shintoistic regime. Let them know that Japanese Christians are really desiring their support against the trend of such revival.

Freedom Prayer Chain, West Japan
Shigeru Takiura, Pastor of RPCNA Japan Presbytery in Kobe city