A letter from Bill and Ann Moore in Japan
As a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionary working in cooperating with the Reformed Church in Japan, one of the privileges Bill has is to participate in pastors’ meetings with his Japanese colleagues. In these meetings we worship and enjoy fellowship as well as hear presentations from one another. A recent presentation dealt with the meaning of the Japanese national anthem called “Kimigayo” and whether Christians could sing it in good conscience. The national anthem is a short hymn of praise and dedication sung to the Imperial Family and may be rendered into English as this: “May your reign continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations, until the pebbles grow into boulders lush with moss.” In effect, this is a prayer for the eternal reign of the Imperial Family. For Christians, who believe that only God reigns eternally, the singing of the national anthem is problematic. Compounding this problem was the use of “Kimigayo” during the World War II era to motivate self-sacrifice for the sake of the Emperor, who was venerated as a god. Japanese Christians who love their country and respect their Emperor as a symbol of state (rather than as a god) are conflicted in situations where the national anthem is sung publicly. They desire to express their dedication to and appreciation of country, yet do not wish to sing a hymn of praise to the Emperor by praying for his eternal reign.
In the postwar years “Kimigayo” was the de facto national anthem although not officially recognized. This allowed those who had religious or political objections to refrain from singing it during ceremonies. In 1999, however, it was legally recognized as the national anthem. Now in all important public school functions such as entrance and graduation ceremonies the singing of “Kimigayo” is enforced. The result is that hundreds of teachers and administrators who refused to stand and sing it have been penalized and some have even been fired or compelled to resign. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of this harsh treatment.
Due to its content and history, Christian schools in Japan do not use the national anthem in their ceremonies. The Christian community in Japan views the compulsory singing of “Kimigayo” as a violation of conscience and has petitioned the government not to punish those who refuse to stand and sing it, but as the Christian community makes up less than 1 percent of the population of Japan these petitions have had no concrete effect.
What seems to be behind the enforcement of the singing of “Kimigayo” is a resurgence of authoritarianism in Japan, and teaching obedience to authorities even in matters of conscience is one big step in this direction. The city governments of both Tokyo and Osaka are led by politicians who are frustrated by the economic, political, and population decline of their country and want to “revive glorious Japan.” They have even suggested that what Japanese politics needs is dictatorship in order to revive the power of the nation. Also, territorial disputes with China, Russia, and Korea have emboldened politicians who desire a stronger and more assertive military. This authoritarian approach has significant public support and the fear is that Japan will eventually go down the same historical road that resulted in great suffering and destruction several generations ago.
Please pray for the Christian community in Japan as it struggles with these vital issues and seeks to bear clear witness to the Prince of Peace in complicated times. Pray that Christians will be courageous as they acknowledge that God alone is Lord of the conscience.
We continue to make progress in our church development project. An important step forward took place this summer when the members elected a management committee for the Nishitani Chapel. The committee members are enthusiastic about serving God and the chapel’s members as well as reaching out to the community.
The international music and English day camp held at the chapel in July was an opportunity for Japanese and Korean youth to play and learn together. It was a joy to see how the young people overcame barriers of language, culture, and difficult history between their nations to form friendships. The lively vocal concert of Christian and popular music that they presented to the community on the final day of camp was testimony to their enthusiasm and talent. Home stays in the community were an opportunity for the Korean students to see that Japanese families are not terribly different from their own.
Not long after the music and English day camp ended Ann headed off to Korea, taking a group of 20 high school students to a YWCA Peace Camp with Korean students. The majority of the students coming from Japan were from Fukushima, an area especially affected by the tsunami and nuclear power plant accident. Respite from the radiation threat and experiencing a new culture was just what they needed. It is hoped that this camp inspired the participants to work for peace on all levels.
Bill is now spending a day a week at our Japan Mission’s Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka helping the chaplaincy program make the transition from management by the Hospital to management directly by Japan Mission. It has been a joy to see the five chaplains and three assistants minister to the patients and staff and even reach out to the homeless in the district as well. Please pray that Bill will be given the wisdom needed to help the chaplains’ office find a home in Japan Mission.
As always, we are humbled and encouraged by your prayer and sacrificial giving that provides us with all we need to share the Good News in Japan. It is a joy to represent you in this place where there is so much opportunity for mission! We invite an even wider support of our ministry through World Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Peace and grace,
Bill and Ann
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 200