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Christianity in South Korea and Japan

South Korea embraces Christianity more than Japan. When visiting South Korea today, one is bound to be struck by the many churches every where, ranging from splendid cathedrals in big cities to small and humble churches built in villages. These churches can be easily seen when traveling either by train or by bus in the country side. Christianity has a considerably long history in Asia starting from India and spreading to china and Japan in the 14nth century. Despite this early arrival, Christianity in Japan did not number more than a single digit low percentage.

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Moreover, in spite of the importance of the individual Christians in shaping modern history in Japan, Christianity has never enjoyed a truly mass appeal. Korea on the other hand despite neighboring Japan, is glowing with a landscape dominated by churches therefore portraying a totally different picture. Korean Christianity started growing in 1785. The good news was brought to Korea by the Catholic converts who learned about Christianity in China. They learned it during the tribute missions to the court in Beijing. These Christians coverts on returning home, carried with them religious texts which they used in their secrets meetings. In this paper I will focus in identifying and discussing the similarities and contrast of Christianity in Japan and South Korea.

Christianity in Japan and South Korea compares in several ways: First and foremost, Christianity in both Japan and South Korea was outlawed during the early years. Putting South Korea in focus for instance, Christianity was outlawed because of the rites controversy at the time. There existed an argument as to whether Christianity was to observe the traditional Confucian memorial ceremonies or not. The ceremonies were conducted in honor of the ancestors and the spirits. In Japan, Christianity was outlawed in 1614 because of the government’s intention to impose absolute power and control over its people. Japanese authorities would not have achieved this goal in the presence of Christianity. The authorities viewed Christianity at this time as being aggressive and intolerant and therefore posed a danger of interference. For the authorities to achieve their sinister motives they banned Christianity and forced the missionaries out of the country.

Second, in both South Korea and Japan, early missionaries, especially the catholic community suffered bitter persecutions and frequent martyrdom. In South Korea, when Roman Catholicism was introduced in 1784, it was subjected to cruel persecutions for almost a century. During this period and in the 1870s, more than eight thousand Catholics were martyred. Christian missionaries in Japan were also subjected to persecutions and martyrdom, Toyotomi in 1597, proclaimed a very serious edict and crucified twenty six Franciscan missionaries in Nagasaki. Christian persecution went on in further edict spearheaded by Tokugawa and his successors.

The third, comparison that can be drawn from Christianity in both South Korea and Japan, is the direct influence Christianity imparted on education. The early missionaries in South Korea were the very first people to establish a system of education. They crafted a system that was ranging from kindergarten to college. Furthermore, these missionaries were the first to implement modern curriculum that included modern science and medical science in schools. Following the foot steps of their predecessors, Catholics and protestant churches are fully committed to enhance the education levels of South Koreans by operating many schools at all levels and even in the universities. In Japan despite the fact that Christian missionaries were treated badly they continued to have a great influence on education.

Fourth, Christianity has been actively involved in movements in both South Korea and Japan. Looking at South Korea for instance, Christianity helped a lot in the struggle for independence from their colonial power Japan. It is the independence movement spear headed mainly by Christian figures that ultimately helped gain Korea’s independence. Japan on the other hand cannot deny the vital influence of the Christian missionaries on the trade union movements.

Fifth, in both South Korea and Japan, there were traditional religions in place prior to the introduction of Christianity. In South Korea there were religions such as Shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism. These religions focused more on sacrifices made to the spirits and the ancestors. They also embrace traditional practices. The same applied to the Japanese who had to attend the Shintiu shrines.

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Lastly, in both South Korea and Japan, the ban imposed on Christianity was lifted in subsequent years. Focusing on South Korea, the ban did not last long before it was lifted because, the people acknowledged the major role played by the church in terms of economic, social and political modernization. Furthermore, Christianity integrated the key features of indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the Koreans into the imported faith. Japan also lifted the ban on Christianity, and the occupying authorities supported the move. In addition the passing of the freedoms Act helped further.

Having compared Christianity in South Korea and Japan, I will then shift the discussion to the contrast existing between Christianity in South Korea and Japan. It is important to note that, Christianity in South Korea was embraced by the people. When Christianity was introduced it played significant roles in education, medicine, politics, and for the society in general. Because of this, together with the tools of modernization, Koreans accepted the gospel. To them acceptance of the gospel did not only mean entering into a new modern society but also as a gateway to what is believed as a more advanced civilization. Koreans viewed conversion to Christianity as a means of getting enlightened and a possible break from their superstitious and backward traditional practices. Both at the individual and national level, Christianity was seen as a gateway to modernity and success. In Japan on the other hand Christianity was shunned and its activities in most cases scuttled. This can be clearly seen when, even in the late 1930s, Christian evangelism was hampered by the increasing nationalism and the patriotic duty of the Japanese that required them to attend Shinto shrines.

Furthermore, there is a significant contrast between Christianity in South Korea and Japan in terms of the number of Christian converts. In South Korea for instance, Christianity developed rapidly and accounts for one-third of the countries population. Seoul, which is the capital city, is proud to have ten out of the eleven largest congregations in the world. Because of the large number of converts, South Korea sends more missionaries a broad to spread the gospel than any other country a part from the United States. In the late 19nth century there were only hundreds of Christians in South Korea. Currently, there are about nine million Protestants and three to four million Catholics. These figures sharply contrast the number of Christian converts in Japan as the current figure stands at between one to two million. This figure accounts only for one percent of the total population. Most of these Christian converts live in western Japan because missionary activities were greatest in this area in the 16nth century.

Lastly, all Christian festivals such as Christmas day, Easter holidays and Christian weddings are normal festivities in south Korea because the Koreans have fully incorporated Christianity and Christian values in their day to day undertakings and Christianity being considered as one of their own religion along with Buddhism and Confucianism.This is not the case in Japan because Japanese still consider Christianity as a foreigners religion. Christian weddings and festivals are however practiced by the few converts.

To sum it up, between the two Asian courtiers discussed, South Korea embraces Christianity more than Japan. The rapid growth of Christianity in South Korea is remarkable given that, Christianity is an imported faith. Moreover Christianity has taken deep roots in a country that held strong beliefs in traditional religions such as; Shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The success story of Christianity in South Korea is exceptional since Christianity, that is, both Protestants and Catholics failed to penetrate in Japan. Japan neighbors South Korea and therefore posses the same social organization and share cultural traditions with South Korea.

The comparisons drawn from Christianity in South Korea and Japan are as follows: in both the countries, Christianity was banned during the early days. However the bans imposed on Christianity were later lifted by both countries. Also, both countries had traditional religions where traditional practices and sacrifices were offered to the ancestors prior to the introduction of Christianity. Both the countries also, persecuted and martyred Christian missionaries as a way of deterring their efforts in spreading Christianity. Furthermore, missionaries in both cases gave a great contribution to education and the sprit of movements in both countries. There however existed a contrast between Christianity in South Korea and Japan in the following ways; In South Korea Christianity was embraced in large numbers and treated as one of the Koreans own religion. On the other hand Christianity in Japan was hampered, scuttled and seen as a foreign religion.

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1. StudyCorgi. "Christianity in South Korea and Japan." November 12, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Christianity in South Korea and Japan." November 12, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Christianity in South Korea and Japan." November 12, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Christianity in South Korea and Japan'. 12 November.

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