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28 March 2024

Acknowledging Jesus at Easter in Kyoto 


CMS missionary Elle Bryce serves in Japan, where she is engaging in full-time language learning in preparation for ministry with the national student fellowship, KGK. Here, she reflects on the ‘spiritual climate’ in Kyoto, and shares her desire to see people know the living God. 

This article is part three of our Easter series. Part one is here. Part two is here. Part four will be posted on 30 March. 

 

Traditional ways of thinking 

I recently celebrated one year living in Kyoto–a city that is proudly and beautifully historical. Its rich history can be seen in the imperial buildings and shrines in my neighborhood, and how local people think about life and relate to the world. 

Though I am still deep in the process of learning Japanese, I had the recent joy of sharing a gospel conversation over dinner with a friend from church (‘H’) and her non-believing friend from university (‘M’). They are both studying science, which sparked a conversation about how religion and science are related. We discussed how, from a Christian point of view, science uncovers and discovers the amazing details of God’s created and orderly universe. M found this to be an interesting concept. She said Japanese people see the possibility of the presence of gods/spirits (kami) in everything–in the bowl of food in front of her, or the wood of the table. She said, just in case there are gods or spirits present, everything is treated with respect. The idea of just one big God was intriguing. 

Later in the week, I asked another friend at church about what the general population in Kyoto think of Easter. She replied that it’s treated similarly to Halloween, and remains widely unacknowledged by many. There may be some images of rabbits and eggs around the place, but the public’s understanding of Easter doesn’t go much deeper than that. She said this regretfully, as she loves Easter and finds it to be a joyful occasion as a Christian. 

 

Understanding the ‘spiritual climate’ in Kyoto 

These two conversations helped me understand the ‘spiritual climate’ of Kyoto. It can be difficult to understand spiritual life in Japan, as many don’t seem overly devout or sincere in their spiritual practices, yet complete them diligently according to old traditions. It reminded me of the spiritual climate that the Apostle Paul encountered in Athens. The words that Paul spoke to the Athenian scholars and philosophers in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31) could be directly quoted in the context of present-day Kyoto, and be equally as relevant: 

 

“For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

Acts 17:23-25 

 

Making God known in Kyoto 

As Christians in Kyoto celebrate their reconciliation to the living God this Easter, the rest of the population continues with their daily lives–making offerings to unknown gods and spirits. Please pray that God will enable the churches of Kyoto to boldly proclaim Christ, so that many may join us in giving him thanks this Easter. 

 

GO 

Has God placed on your heart a desire to make Christ known to the people of Japan? We would love to hear from you. Contact your local branch to start a conversation today.