I Love Japan. I've spent a fair amount of time there over the years, and am impressed by its natural beauty, cleanliness, modernity, and culture.
And the Japanese people, well, I love them, too. They are very clever and industrious, sometimes in peculiar ways, and for my money, they come up with some of the weirdest, funniest humor I've come across in my years (think of me as an Anthony Bourdain connoiseur of humor). If you don't believe me, check this out. There's quite a bit more where that came from.
The problem with Japan, though, is that it is a thoroughly secular country and God has virtually no place there. Sure, there are some, mostly cultural, Shinto and Buddhist religious overtones in Japanese society, but those have always struck me as primarily ornamental and ceremonial in their value to the Japanese people, in particular regarding how they cherish and honor the memories of their anscestors, no matter how recently deceased.
But Japan's intense secularism and seeming imperviousness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not an inevitability. Catholic missionaries were thrivingly active across Japan in the 16th century and, had the Shoguns not panicked at the swift spread of Catholicisim among their people and, therefore, unleashed a fierce persecution against the Church there, Japan very likely would be a thoroghly Catholic country today, much like the Philippines.
So, how, you ask, can we break through Japan's hard shell of disinterest in the message of Jesus? One group of creative Christians says the answer is: Manga. And they've recently produced Manga Messiah which is . . .
“a 300-page comic book that depicts Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection. Unlike their Western counterparts, young and old Japanese alike love comics, and it’s not unusual to observe a train full of commuters in the Tokyo rush-hour with their heads buried in the latest manga. ‘For reaching Japanese, this book is far more effective than showing The Jesus Film,’ stated one long-term missionary based in the country.
“Once details of a website for readers to request more information was stamped inside, OM Japan partnered with The Evangelical Alliance Mission to distribute the Manga Messiah far and wide. Over 80 short-term volunteers from a dozen countries spent two weeks in festive costumes handing out the comic to shoppers in the town of Karuizawa. The idea of dressing up as an elf or Santa Claus might seem a strange way to communicate the real meaning of Christmas, but Joel Kaufman, an OM worker from the US, immediately saw the benefit. ‘When a child receives a copy of Manga Messiah from Santa, that is something they are going to cherish and keep,’he noted. With adaptations of the books of Genesis and Acts now published, the comics are certain to travel further than Japan’s shores. English-language translations are also available, and interest in these international versions is expected to be huge. For now though, the Manga Messiah is one Christmas present that every Japanese person who received it is unlikely to forget.” (read more)
Also: The New Life League Japan website and also see their presentation on how to use Manga to evangelize Japanese.