Dae Ryeong Kim's articles

What a Korean’s Righteous Death Implies for Christian Mission in Japan

What It Implies when Japan and Korea Share the Same Tears

Japanese people are genius of communicating knowledge. Indeed, any knowledge and ideas are communicated fast in Japan. With high standard of education, with huge volumes of publication, and with their fastest ability to translate any foreign books, Japan has become a knowledge center of the world. Yet, the country is not known for its fast church growth. Christianity was first introduced to Japan In the year 1542, when the first Europeans from Portugal landed on Kyushu in Western Japan. Yet, today, still about one to two million Japanese are Christians (about 1% of Japan's population).

Known for its advanced civilization, the mystery of Japan is the mix of ancient superstitious practice and modern scientific rationalism. Amidst of this land of modern science, many home have Shinto godshelf and a Buddhist family altar. Shintoism is a superstitious folk religion, which still forms the root of Japanese culture in this age of science. Shintoism mostly take care of ceremonies such as wedding while Buddhism takes care of 90% of funeral carried out in Japan. Shintoism still serves as a group identity in modern Japan. No wonder that Pokemon, the strange mixture of superstition and science is the product of Japanese pop culture.

There are at least three factors that have deterred the expansion of Christian faith in Japanese land. The historical factor is that Japan since Meiji era had been under strong influence of Western modernism, which sets scientific rationalism prior to faith. They demand rational evidence of Christian truth-claim. The sociological factor is that Japan is a group-oriented society. They exist as a group, and allegiance to a group one belongs to is a value in Japanese society. It is the kind of society where one risks losing one’s group identity by being a Christian. The other factor is associated with economic achievement. Thanks to the success of their national economy, the Japanese people have made self-reliance the virtue of their society. While they do not openly oppose Christian faith, they still tend to think that religion is for weaker people.

Japanese people are not known for their sympathetic heart for a religious cause until recently when Japan and Korea Shared the Same Tears. A Korean who died trying to save a Japanese man has become hero to both Korea and Japan. Lee Soo-hyun, a 26-year-old Korean student was hit by the train on January 26, 2001, while trying to save a Japanese.

On Monday (January 28) a host of dignitaries lined up in Tokyo to pay their respects to Lee at a memorial set up at the Japanese language school where he excelled. About one thousand mourners gathered at Lee's funeral, including Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono. Prime Minister Mori held the hands of Lee's parents, expressing his wish that Lee will be a model of a heroic life to Japanese youth. The Shinjuku District Police Chief Hideyoshi Kagawa passed on a medal and thank you letter from the Commissioner General of Tokyo City Police, and the Japanese association of good deeds also delivered a thank you note to the mourning parents.

Because of the memory of Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, most Koreans would not know Japanese as hearty people. Then, it must be a new revelation of who Japanese people are as the whole Japanese nation weeps over a Korean young man’s premature death.  A foreign student died. Yes, men die. He died at a railway station. Yes, it happens time after time. Between April and September of last year, 22 people lost their lives after falling on tracks. But they did not made headline news until the 26-year old Korean student died. The Japanese media reported news related to Lee's story as their top national news. Monday’s Asahi evening newspaper splashed the headline, “Japan and Korea Share the Same Tears.” Numerous Japanese people keep sending condolence money for his family for weeks. They are erecting a monument and statue in memory of him. They are opening sports games in memory of him, and so on. There was something reminiscent of the British people paid their tributes after Princess Diana’s tragic accident. Then, what is so unique with this incident that it has created a national sensation in Japanese Islands?

First of all, it was a righteous death. Here was a foreigner who would risk his life to help a Japanese he’d never met. Adoring it, the Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori says, “This is a good lesson—that young people have the courage to help others.” Paying tribute to Lee, many Japanese express how much they appreciate the lesson he left to them. “I’m just really impressed that this society had this type of courageous guy,” one elderly man told television cameras.

The tragedy out of the ill-fated rescue unfolded shortly after 7. p.m. Friday at the Shin-Okubo station near Tokyo’s Shinjuku area on the Yamamoto line. Trains whoosh into the station every few minutes. Lee had just gotten off work at his part-time job at an Internet café. He told friends only moments before on his cell phone that he was on his way back to the dormitory. When a drunken man by name Sakamoto fell about four feet from the platform onto the tracks, Lee immediately jumped down to help him up. He did it although the man fell on the far opposite side. A Japanese photographer Shiro Sekine on the spot also joined for this rescue effort. But as they tried to lift him, an oncoming train hit them all.

If the news that one person risked his life to save other person’s life could reach the whole Japanese society within one day, touching their hearts to incite so overwhelming responses so quickly, why is it that so many Japanese people still did not hear the story of Jesus’ atoning death after more than four hundred years of Christian mission in the land? If they made the story of Lee’s righteous death theirs, they can also make the story of Jesus’ atoning death theirs too. The gospel is not a difficult doctrine of foreign religion. When one knows that Jesus died to save him or her, this cannot be a foreign story or a difficult doctrine. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The good news is that our Savior died for us not for a failed rescue, but for the redemption that brings us to eternal life. Yes, when Japan and Korea Share the Same Tears, we also know that it is the gospel for both nations.

  © This article was first published in February 2001..

Research Notes | Missiology Bookstore | Favorite Links | Resources