The Grisly Reason Only 1% of Japan Is Christian
Countries surround Japan with millions of Christian adherents. The Philippines is the world’s fifth-largest Christian nation, with 93% of the population identifying with the faith. Korea’s population is 29% Christian. Even China, where Christianity is banned, has a 2.5% representation, with over 44 million suspected Christians practicing their faith illegally. By comparison, Japan is less than 1% Christian, with just 1.9 million people identifying with the faith.
As Christianity continues to become more entrenched in Japan’s neighboring countries, it flounders in Japan. But why? Why has Christianity struggled in Japan when it has succeeded in nearby places?
Christianity in Japan has a long and fraught history. The religion was banned for over 250 years, with Christians being prosecuted, deported, and even killed in large numbers under the Shogunate. The ripples extending outward from these events that took place hundreds of years ago continues to affect the culture in Japan today.
Christianity’s Arrival and Early Success
Christianity arrived in Japan in the belly of Portuguese ships. Revered missionary Francis Xavier (Xavier University’s namesake) entered Japan with the goal of starting a church in which to convert the local population. Christianity began to spread beginning in 1549, and it at first enjoyed protection and was the subject of curiosity in Japan. Xavier began his work of teaching the Japanese about Jesus Christ, and the ground seemed fertile for religious conversion.
In just 30 years, Christianity started spreading through the general population. By 1580, there were roughly 100,000 Christians in Japan, including some powerful local lords. One such figure was the famous Japanese traveler Hasekura Tsunenaga. Tsunenaga was converted to Christianity and made a point of visiting Rome in 1615. But the winds of change were starting to blow.
By the time Hasekura Tsunenaga returned home to Japan, his faith was no longer accepted. Conservative Japanese rulers started to see Christianity as a colonizing force being forced on them by European powers. There were whispers in…