There may not be many Christians in Japan, but thankfully they’re making music:
Japan is one of the most secularised nations on Earth – only 30% of the population professes to have a religion. Estimates vary on the number of Christians in the country, but it’s somewhere between 1% and 6% of the population. Of course, in heavily populated Japan, that’s still quite a few people! Christianity first arrived on the islands in 1549 when Portuguese Catholics came in the roles of traders and missionaries. Christianity is thus closely tied to ‘the West’ for Japanese, and to the struggle against possible colonial domination. Japanese Christians were thus persecuted under the Tokugawa Shogunate of the 17th Century, but since the 19th Century we have seen the number of Japanese Christians slowly and steadily increasing. There are organisations that are now openly trying to expand Christianity’s influence and base in the country.
In addition to its political connotations, Christianity may also seem intrinsically foreign to a Japanese audience due to its fundamental tenets. In Buddhism, the dominant religious tradition in Japan, the ‘self’ is a burden, something which must be minimised and ultimately thrown away in order to achieve nirvana, or a kind of absorption in the divine. This clashes significantly with the Christian perspective, in which the individual soul is discrete and preserved, indeed perfected, in order to reach Heaven. These notions spill out beyond the religions themselves however, and become diffuse understandings in whole societies. This could partially explain the lack of headway Christianity has made in Japan.
Having said all of the above however, there is also a sense in which Western things and Christianity hold a kind of exotic appeal for some Japanese. One of the clearest manifestations of this is the phenomenon of the ‘Christian’ or Western-style wedding, which has become incredibly popular in Japan. Brides don huge white dresses, wedding chapels have popped up everywhere that mimic church architecture, and employees officiate over the ceremonies dressed like priests.
Pop music is another Western cultural product that has been picked up by the Japanese, who have succeeded in truly making it their own. Japanese pop, or J-Pop, has developed its own distinct character. And considering that Christians are most common among younger age groups, it is perhaps not surprising that Christian J-Pop would appear. For many it is explicitly evangelistic. One website asks, “Please pray for non-Christians who are attracted to their music to know Christ, the source of the message of love and hope in these songs.” Night de Light are one such band who are trying to be a “ray of hope” in a dark world, spreading the word of Jesus.
Some other artists that I found include: Hide-c (these songs actually sound great, but they don’t distribute in Australia!); the Imari Tones (who play Christian metal in English); Kokia (a classical singer whose answer to ‘Why do I Sing?‘ evokes Christianity); and Yesung (who tells the ‘Greatest Story of the World‘).
If you know of other Christian J-Pop artists, make a comment and help anyone else who might be searching!