Japan goes big on new year, especially as far as post cards are concerned. Last year 3.41 billion post cards were exchanged to introduce 2014 with good wishes. This year we also dispatched our quota again. Most of the cards we received this year had a picture of a sheep, as seen above (sheep in Japanese = hitsuji 羊).
The reason: 2015 is the year of the Sheep. It is also the eighth sign of the 12 year cycle of the animals, according to the Chinese “zodiac” calendar, which is also used to in Japan. For millions of Japanese who were born in this eighth year it seems to mean that great happiness (read: wealth) will come their way. For millions others it forms part of the endless tapestry of the "Land of a thousand gods", in which sheep are revered as divine beings. And for others: a religious opportunity to make money, because sheep symbols are now visible at clothing and coffee shops and at countless homes’ front door decorations. And under the current economic pressure this is not to be scoffed at, because the "Abenomics" philosophy is waning! Therefore there are indeed many who grope at and search for new and visible "securities".
Japanese people are well-known for mixing religious ideas, as I learned again earlier this week with a new acquaintance at the tennis club. After I had introduced myself, and we had shared what we do for a living, my fellow-player suddenly asked me what I thought of the pope (Francis). Later he also mentioned that he was very interested in religious matters. He regularly visits temples and wondered especially about angels. "Do you think Protestants and Catholics have the same opinion of the Angels Gabriel and Raphael?" he wanted to know ... and later before we took our leave he commented, "I believe that all religions should be integrated to ensure world peace."
The conversation reminded me of the typical Japanese basic principle of harmony (wa = 和), which allows for no absolute convictions, but wishes everything to blend into a hazy entity, in order to satisfy everyone in the group. It is amongst others one of the main reasons why the Christian faith (which believes in One Redeemer) does not easily take root in Japan.
Why am I sharing this? Only to ask: When you as a supporter think of and pray for us in 2015, remember with us Jesus’ words in John 10 (v. 7 en 9) “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep ... whoever enters through Me will be saved."
Pray anew with us for our testimony - as a part of the 1% Christians in Japan - about the Good Shepherd who sacrifices his life for his sheep.