It is no secret that Japan’s population has begun to decline. While the government makes serious efforts to encourage childbirth, the reality of a declining population continues to set in. I saw a map on Twitter today laying out this point in full color:
#Japan population change map 2015-2018
Blue = decline
Red = growth
Growth hot spots in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka pic.twitter.com/0Ei32aW11l
— shootjapan (@ShootOsaka) April 13, 2019
As I reflected on this map, it got me to thinking about the percentage of Christians in Japan. The Christian population could technically rise in the coming years: assuming stable numbers among Christianity, a declining population would mean a higher percentage of Christians. This is not actual growth, obviously, but the percentage could increase nevertheless. However, if I had to guess, the percentage of Christians will actually decrease along with the declining population. If I’m correct about that, it is all the more concerning for Christianity in Japan.
I don’t know the actual statistics, but anecdotal evidence tells me there is a high percentage of Christians in Japan who are over 50 years old. At almost every Church of Christ with which I am acquainted, this is the case. Excluding my family, there was only one Christian under 50 at Matsudo when we left. There may be slightly better numbers at a few other congregations, but in general it looks much the same: a lot of older people, and few young people. Even if we include other churches outside of the Churches of Christ, I would be surprised if the numbers are much better. Don’t misunderstand – I am thankful for every single one of these older Christians – but the fact remains that without younger Christians, the church in Japan is going to rapidly shrink in the near future. Considering that Christianity only makes up around 1% of the population as it is, that is a serious concern.
I do think this trend can be reversed. There is a door for the gospel among young people. In 2018, the youth suicide rates were the highest in 30 years. Meanwhile, there are are over half a million hikikomori (social recluses) among youth in Japan, and that number may actually be as much as double. Add in bullying and other serious factors facing young people in the country, and the need for hope and loving community is palpable. The gospel can uniquely offer both. But how do you expose the youth of Japan to that hope?
There are a number of ideas that should be discussed, but personally, I’d love to see more well-designed online Christian content, especially that challenges youth to think about topics related to God and the gospel. While that cannot offer them the community that they need, it can point them in the right direction and plant seeds of hope in their hearts that may lead to them to Jesus. Especially if there are ministers and missionaries in the country already hosting group discussions and various programs aimed at these youth, having online content that points them to real people in real places could be a great tool for making disciples. This is the kind of thing I want my family to be involved in when our family returns to Japan. With the connection to design and creating online content that I have through photography, I believe I can be an asset to such a pursuit.
There are surely others things to focus on beyond this. That is why, more than anything else, we need prayers for God to help us see where he is moving and to help us respond accordingly. I am certain God is moving in Japan already, setting things up in various places to draw people to himself. It is my hope that my family will be blessed to participate in that work again in the near future.