mapJapan is the world’s most export-oriented economy despite a lack of natural resources and oil. It is an ancient civilization, influenced by China and Korea, but with its own highly refined and detailed culture.

Population: 127.5 million; Density: 340 per square km; 99% Japanese [the other 1% are mostly Korean]; Nearly 80 percent of people live in cities, so real density is much greater. About 30 million people live in and around Tokyo.

Religions: Buddhist/Shinto 69.9%; New religions 24.4%; Non-religious/other 4.3%; Christian 1.6%; Muslim 0.1%; Bahai 0.01%

Operation Japan quotes the number of believers as:
¨ Shinto: 109 million
¨ Buddhist: 96 million
¨ Christian: 1.5 million
¨ Other: 10.5 million

The total of 217 million is greater than the population of Japan. This is because most Japanese people follow a combination of religions.

Shinto is an indigenous religion based on ancestor and nature worship, with about 200 sects. Many families have either Buddhist family altars or Shinto god shelves at which they make offerings and pray for the spirits of their ancestors. Some families have both. But many Japanese in their day-to-day life have little to do with these religions, visiting Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines for special occasions such as funerals, blessings for babies and children, weddings and New Year festivities.

In the late 1800s Shinto was made a state religion, stressing worship of the emperor as a divinity and the racial superiority of the Japanese. This was suppressed after the Second World War.


Japanese is used throughout the country, although in some areas there is such a strong dialect that Japanese themselves have difficulty understanding it.


Japan consists of four main islands and many smaller ones lying in a crescent to the east of China and Korea.
Earthquakes are frequent in Japan. Most are minor, but large ones can cause devastation, such as the Kobe disaster of 1995, when more than 5,000 people died. There are also tsunamis, some 100 active volcanoes and around 1,500 seismic occurrences per year. In 2004 a series of typhoons and earthquakes caused flooding, destroyed buildings and claimed lives.


Japan’s climate varies widely because the country covers 15° of latitude. Temperatures range from minus 30-35°C [86-95°F] in the north to about 0-39°C [32-102°F] in the south. There are short summers and severe long winters in Hokkaido and the northern part of Honshu. In Tokyo and further south there are hot and humid summers and mild winters with little snow.


From the late 1800s to the end of the Second World War, Japan sought expansion, initially into China, Taiwan, Russia and Korea. Japan joined the First World War on the side of the Allies, and the post-war Treaty of Versailles, granted Japan some territory in the Pacific.

In 1937 Japan went to war with China and in 1940 occupied Indochina. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. and its allies declared war on Japan in 1941. By 1944 Japan had occupied several other countries in Southeast Asia, and U.S. forces began bombing Japanese cities, including the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945).

Japan joined the United Nations in 1956. Occupied by the UN [chiefly the U.S.] after the war, the country inherited many Western qualities. It experienced astonishing economic growth and is among the world’s leading producers in some industries. Japan is now the world’s second largest economy. Growth slowed during the 1990s, with a severe recession in 1997.


Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. The shoguns [leaders] became convinced that this was to soften them up for European conquest. In 1612 the 300,000 Japanese Christians were persecuted and many were martyred. The country was closed to all foreigners for 250 years.

There was a positive response to the gospel in the late 1800s when Japan re-opened its doors to the West. But this was followed by renewed suspicion and rejection. Church growth slowed dramatically in the early 20th century under pressure from within [rationalistic higher criticism] and without [military government].

The post-war years have seen increased evangelical activity, initially from America, and more recently from Korea. Japan is largely unresponsive to the gospel. Cultural pressures to conform and the intense work ethos squeeze out Christianity. Churches often have only a handful of members, mostly women. About 70 percent of all churches have an average attendance of less than 30, though membership is double that. This is because many Christians have to work on Sundays and are therefore unable to attend church every week. But many of those who cannot attend on Sundays are active in church during the week. Sometimes there is an uneven distribution of tasks, with pastors responsible for almost everything.

The economic slow-down of the late 1990s and recurrent political scandals have shattered many dreams and revealed the emptiness of materialism. There has been a renewal of interest in spiritual matters, seen in the fast growth of sects and new religions.

There are no restrictions to witnessing or preaching the gospel, yet many small towns, eight cities and numerous country areas are without churches.