Going to church in Japan

So far I’ve written a lot about non-Catholic Japanese people, but not much about the actual Church in Japan.  Yes, there is one, and of course, in all the essential points, it’s the same as the Church anywhere else in the world (it’s pretty cool that I can call my sister in America and discuss the readings we both heard at Mass!)

But there are some differences, too.  Of course I can only speak for my local church, so I don’t know if these are true everywhere, but here are some of the differences I’ve noticed between church in Japan and America:

1.  Japanese

The church is considerate and provides English notes for foreigners, but listening to the Japanese can be interesting, too.  For example, did you know that in the Japanese translation of the Bible, the apostles call Our Lord Sensei (the same title used for physicians, professors and martial-arts masters)?  Every so often there will be a passage in the Bible that just clicks in a Japanese socio-linguistic context in a way that it doesn’t in English, and I find myself thinking, “Oh, is that what that was about!”

2.  Singing

Just about any part of the Mass that can be sung or chanted, is!  We sing the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Responsorial Psalm, the Alleluia, the General Intercessions, the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Agnus Dei to the accompaniment of the organ.  Personally, I really like this–I find it easier to understand the emotion and meaning of each of these prayers than if we just spoke them.

3.  Adult baptisms

Since so few Japanese people are baptized at birth, we have 10-20 adult baptisms every Easter.  It’s always touching to witness!

4.  Chapel veils

Speaking of adult baptisms, women receive a white chapel veil when they’re baptized here, and many women wear them to Mass every week.  Feminine gracefulness and submission are still a thing in Japan, and no matter what the West thinks, I find it inspiring!

5.  Bowing

Since bowing is widely used as a sign of respect in Japanese culture anyway, it fits naturally into the Mass.  Our church actually doesn’t have kneelers–we stand and bow for the consecration (I think this may be the practice in some places in America, too).

6.  International community

Expats from dozens of countries attend our church (and we have priests from quite a few countries, too!).  Once a month there’s an English Mass in the adoration chapel.  We’re a real international patchwork, and no one can ever seem to remember the correct responses in English or the tunes to the guitar songs, but there’s a unique sense of community when about 50 people from around the world crowd into the pews and enjoy the rare treat of hearing an English homily.  Showing up early means getting asked to proclaim one of the readings, and after Mass the priest always asks anyone who’s attending for the first time to come to the front and introduce themselves.  Once he even invited us out to Starbucks!

7.  Hanging out at church

Since so many people walk to church, and there’s a courtyard in front of the church building, there’s naturally a lot of hanging out and talking after Mass.  Sometimes, when there’s a special event, the church will set up tables with sandwiches and drinks in the courtyard.  Even if you drop by the adoration chapel at night (it’s always open!) you’re likely to run into someone you know who stopped by to pray before the statue of Our Blessed Mother or is waiting to talk to a priest.  It’s really a community gathering place.

8.  A Japanese outlook

I think the Japanese naturally gravitate toward the gentler aspects of our faith.  You rarely hear talk of controversial topics here–there’s a big emphasis on peace.  (Recently I asked one of my coworkers what she thought the most important Japanese value was, and she answered “peace.”)  Every week, without fail, we pray for the victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in the General Intercessions.

That’s all I have for now, but feel free to leave a comment and tell me what church is like in your country!


2 comments on “Going to church in Japan

  1. yooinnhong says:

    Fun list!

    I think Catholic Church in Japan and Korea are not very different although I seriously lack info/experience in the one in Japan.
    Our Lord is called in the bible most of the time 主+様 or sometimes Sensei(in Korean)
    Chapel veils are really common, although Korean women are considered to be much less submissive compared to Japanese women.(I saw a person comparing Korea to Ireland and Japan to Britain. Koreans are thought to be more festive, hot-tempered, emotional, warm, not as polite, minding other people’s businesses…)
    We don’t chew our Eucharist but let it melt (it was a shock to me to see Americans chomp-chomp the Eucharist)
    No genuflecting when getting to the pew but bowing when passing the central aisle where the altar is.
    A loooooootttt of martyr-saints.
    About 10% of the population. Good reputation among secular society in comparison to unpopularity of overeager Evangelical Protestants which takes up much bigger proportion. That Catholics are not to use artificial contraception is not that well-known(hence the good rep…) even among Catholics. Many priests seem to agree with progressive agendas on political issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rose Marie says:

    I’ve never been to Korea, but I’m curious about its similarities and differences with Japan. The Ireland/Britain analogy is interesting!


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