Thursday, April 29, 2010

A History of Japanese Missions

Church History II Research Paper
by Joel Freeman


As promised, here is my paper I wrote for class. It looks a lot better stapled together, double spaced, and with the SBTS Style format attached...

Personal Prologue

Having myself sensed a calling from God to go to Japan, I felt it was necessary for me to write about the ministry toward which God is leading me. I served for a summer as an intern with the IMB-Tokyo team. There were several missionaries working throughout the metro Tokyo area, working among a demographic of some 33 million people. As evident in the paper during the 1600s, the population of the entire country was just 20 million. The entire population of Japan in the 1600s is less than what the city of Tokyo is today! I worked in Hachioji city (a ward of the city) west of the central Tokyo area, where probably close to a million people live and work. On average, my team (of six) encountered several hundred people on a daily basis that were passing through the main train station. Through the efforts of our relationship-building evangelism, we were able to see one man come to Christ. His name was Itsuro Oka, and I had the extreme privilege of being able to lead him to the Lord as well as to baptize him during the summer of 2009. It was through this very experience that I came to understand that the work that God had called me to do was something that I could not turn away from, and I have decided that my life’s purpose is to be serving Christ in Japan.

I chose to write this paper, because if one sees the changes in Japan’s population, from 20 million to now 127 million, this drastic jump causes significant impact issues. The people that are intending to reach the Japanese people, it may seem like a ripple in the ocean, but God used that in such a mighty way, and I am grateful. Before I begin this paper, I open with a quote from the late Southern Baptist missionary to Japan, Edwin Dozier (1908-1969):

Future missions work in Japan will have aspects to deal with that former missionaries have never known. But the old problem of sin and the need of a Saviour remains ever the same. I pray that your messages may be filled with the word of God – for it will prove to be the power of god to the salvation of souls. How earnestly I do pray for you that every attitude, every word may be that of a humble follower of the Saviour of the world.

I feel that writing this paper was necessary because I have an obligation to know where it is that this desire has come from, as well as where I am going with this ministry.


Missions in general began with Jesus’ charge to his disciples in Matthew 28 and Acts 1:8. They followed this commandment until it took their lives by martyrdom. Countless people throughout the Roman Empire gave their lives to Christ and thus attempted to spread the gospel to anyone who would listen, with fruitful results. Throughout history, the goal of the church as a whole was to spread the message “to the ends of the earth”. Specifically, what did that mean for people in Japan? As a present missionary-in-training, I feel it is important to learn the details of what brought the gospel to the country where I am called, and how it is working today.

It is unbelievable to think that the Gospel in Japan could be seen as a wave; but truly, that is how anything significant starts. Japan had lived in a state of darkness before any variety of “Christianity” saw entrance. During the boom of the Age of Exploration, Portuguese missionaries had made their way to Japan in 1549. Leading this movement was the Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier. He is well known in Roman Catholicism as one of the greatest missionaries that ever lived. Through a period of almost 100 years of civil wars headed by peasants, and revolts led by samurais, Japan was seeking help, and the European “gaijins” (Japanese word for foreigners) could provide them with weapons and supplies. At first, these missionaries received a warm welcome from Emperor Daimyo Nobunaga, seeing that the Western world had brought their ways to Japan, and that the change would bring out the best of the Japanese people, as their culture shines upon hospitality to gaijins.

This mindset changed quickly when a Spanish galleon came to Japan. In 1596, the San Felipe had shipwrecked off the coast, and the Emperor had ordered all of their goods be confiscated. When the Spanish sailors were questioned by the Japanese government about their activities, the captain of the ship told the officials as a means to frighten them, that the Spanish were conquering lands because of the Catholic missionaries that had reached to the far corners of the world. Word of this got to the royal palace, and the retribution was swift. Fearing that the Spanish had come to Japan as an attempt to convert the people and conquer the land, Emperor Hideyoshi ordered 26 believers to be executed. They marched to their deaths from Kyoto all the way to Nagasaki, nearly 1000 kilometers in distance.

The Shift to Evangelical Missions

Japan today is a very closed minded, tradition-oriented nation. Culture plays a significant part of who the people are as Japanese. Their pride is in who they are, and who they were. Ancestor worship is prevalent, and the Japanese are not very observant when it comes to the topic of “religion”. Christianity in today’s Japan does have the freedom to exist as a legitimate religion however, Japan has a very extensive history of dealing with “cults” (numbering more than 180,000 total, as of 2009) and because of this, Christianity can often times be confused for these cults, making evangelism a challenging endeavor.

As of 2010, Japan’s religious break down would look something like this: “Less than 1% of 127 million people would call themselves ‘Evangelical Christians’ (meaning you would have to find 200 people to find 1 person that was a believer in Jesus)” , the rest of the breakdown would be divided between Buddhism and Shintoism, which share very similar characteristics. Both see the worship of nature, and of ancestors, placing the title of “deity” on just about anything. Modern temples will show things such as trees or rocks with ropes around them, signifying the presence of a spirit. The Jesuit movement may have started the moving of the Holy Spirit in Japan, but later on, in the 19th and 20th centuries, do things get serious as the Southern Baptist Convention begins to move in.

Today’s Southern Baptist Convention has become increasingly diligent in the spread of global and domestic missions. This move proved to be monumental because the task of evangelizing such a country as Japan (still today) has proven to be a colossal challenge. This came as a result of a report made during the biannual meeting of the SBC in 1855, in which, “enquiries were made about entering Japan”, and led to the eventual idea that missions were needed and the Foreign Mission Board made the decision to enter the country in 1859, as the Foreign Mission Board’s fifth nation as a mission field (Parker 10).

Origins of the Baptist Tradition in Japan

It would take more than 300 years before Japan would see a form of Christianity that included Christ and his sufficient grace in its center, rather than works. Because of the massive persecution the “church” faced from the emperor, Christianity was not what it was meant to be. The 19th Century Southern Baptist Convention brought great change to the nation of Japan. Considering (as seen) that the majority of the “Christian” experience that Japan had seen was coming from Roman Catholic and Jesuit influences as a somewhat “dead” form of Christianity, the change was a vital part of what Japanese Evangelical Christianity would become as it is now in 2010, and it had started some 120 years prior.

Two missionary families appointed by the Foreign Mission Board; the Gobles and the Browns started the first known Baptist church in Japan in Yokohama on March 2, 1873. Jonathan Goble withdrew from the church due to issues of violence against one of his Japanese assistants and against his wife. He remained in Japan as a freelance until the death of his wife in 1882.

Following the presence of the Jesuits (some 300 plus years ago), the emperors had placed bans on the spread of “westernized” religion, forcing the missionaries to remain in foreign settlements in Nagasaki, Kanagawa, and Yokohama. These early missionaries focused heavily on language study, scripture translation, English teaching, medical work, and discreet evangelism among the educated samurai with the aid of Chinese Bibles and tracts.

The Dozier Family

The Dozier family represents well the subject of Japanese missions, the point of this paper. Their work for the gospel holds part of the most changing events in Japan during the 20th century, and how it would affect the ministry of the Foreign Mission Board into the 21st century.

Following World War II, the Doziers had to leave Japan for their safety, but eventually chose to return there. On October 29, 1946, five and a half years after their departure, Edwin Dozier wrote this in his diary:

As we set foot on Japanese soil tomorrow the sense of utter inadequacy overwhelms me. Still we hear him say, “Go – and I will go with you.” This consciousness of his presence and leadership is the only power that does fortify me and give me determination to do my best, praying God that I may ever be within his will.

The Dozier family had been in Japan since their Foreign Mission Board appointment
in September 1906. Edwin’s parents Maude and Charles Kelsey Dozier were entering Japan during the end of the Emperor Meiji’s Reign of Enlightenment (which instituted both political and social reforms between 1868 and 1912). Their home served as an office, school, and church as Maude and Kelsey gathered friends and neighbors for cooking classes, English conversation, Bible classes, prayer meetings, and worship services. Kelsey also was responsible for helping to see the start of Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan, which saw its first class in 1916. This was done under extreme pressure as Christian schools in Japan were forced to meet very high standards by the government. Originally this school was a junior high school for boys, and became a university in 1949 after the establishment of the separate junior and senior high school system in Japan.

Parents must realize that their influences on their children could be used for God’s glory; and in this case, it made a deep impact on the life of Edwin Dozier, as countless people became believers under him. Edwin Dozier and his wife Mary Ellen spread their ministry throughout Japan, and even further than that, spent several years in Hawaii during World War II. Whaley’s book makes mention of him hearing gunfire and seeing the fighting during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not knowing what to do about their situation of being forced to evacuate Japan, the Doziers put their faith into action and prayed that God would help them get back to Japan somehow. In 1945, the Foreign Mission Board held a conference in New York after the war had ended to assess the immediate needs that Japan had; considering it was the recipient of two nuclear blasts. 6 people were sent to the country for this task (185). None of these people were Baptists, and it would be another year before the Doziers would return. However, good news was to follow. Chaplain Henry E. Austin of the U.S. Navy, returned the United States and reported to the Doziers that there were 21 churches that made contact; 11 of them had the buildings destroyed by bombs and fire during the war; but no one died! God spared people’s lives so that the Gospel thrived.

Modern Missions

Although the Dozier family was among several families that had been in the southern portion of Japan serving with the Foreign Mission Board, the country saw ministry developing in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Because of the affects of the nuclear bombs and the severe damage inflicted by other aerial raids, post World War II Japan did not industrialize until after 1956. This included the spread of the railway system, and the eventual development of the Shinkansen (Japanese word for “bullet train”), that made travel easier, during the 1960s.

Edwin Dozier and his family saw the start of a major Baptist church in Japan; Izumi Baptist Church in Setagaya (Tokyo ward) on November 29, 1959. Originally this church was known as Keisen Baptist Church after it had been meeting in the Dozier’s home since 1949, and had a kindergarten ministry. This church played a principal part in the ministry that is done in Japan to this day, because Dozier had the vision that Japanese believers would be the ones leading their own people to Christ, and that is what happened after this church began. All of the pastors of this church that Dozier family helped start are Japanese believers. Today, Rev. Niichirou Tanaka assumes the role of the church’s seventh pastor, fulfilling Dozier’s dream to see Japanese nationals running churches.

Japan had begun to develop trends in entertainment, technology, and eventually became the economic superpower that it is today. Its boom in the technological industry immerged in the 1970s, following alliances made between the Soviet Union and China. Technology has served a great tool in Tokyo as it is a way for people to meet, through text messaging, cell phones, and Internet communication. Tokyo today has 33 million people, and through the efforts of these past missionaries as well as the ones that currently serve on the field, Japan is being reached for the Gospel. During the summer of 2009, (in which I served) there were more than 400 volunteers that served with IMB-Free Greater Tokyo program. In years past, they have seen these results:

· 2006 – around 220 volunteers; 8 initial decisions for Christ
· 2007 – around 179 volunteers; 20 initial decisions for Christ
· 2008 – around 400 volunteers; near 70 initial decisions for Christ.


Japan still needs workers to come and serve the very lost people. The task is a great one, and modern ministry has to be done with a sense of contextualization. Japan has changed dramatically since the age of the Jesuits, and today; Japan’s religious freedom has made it easy for people to enter the country as workers for the Gospel. People are going along through millennia of instilled traditions that have blinded them from understanding the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Japan is littered with cults, idols, and false religions that cannot save people from the grips of Satan, and save them from hell. It is my earnest prayer that if someone is to read this paper, they see that there still is great need, and will come to the throne in prayer and ask that God reveal to them what they should do. I pray that they will go to Japan and make a difference for the Kingdom.

Works Mentioned in the Paper:


Parker, F. Calvin. Southern Baptist Missions in Japan: A Centennial History: Published by author, 1989.

Whaley, Lois. Edwin Dozier of Japan: Man of the Way. Birmingham: Woman’s Missionary Union, 1983.

Internet Articles

Kilkenny, Niall. “The Jesuits in Japan,” accessed 26 March 2010; available from; Internet.

Seinan Gakuin University. “About SGU”, accessed 15 April 2010; available from; Internet.

Japan-Guide “Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train)”, accessed 15 April 2010; available from; Internet.

“Izumi Baptist Church Homepage”, accessed 15 April 2010; available from; Internet.

“FGT2” The International Mission Board, Tokyo, accessed 26 March 2010; available from; Internet.

The University of Michigan Japanese Animation Group. “Anime Project History and Culture”, accessed 15 April 2010; available from; Internet.

Multimedia Resources

Brents, Buddy quoted in IMB Tokyo 2008 prod. The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 90 min., 2008, DVD.

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