the battle of citizenships


Where do you belong? Where is your citizenship? Would people know if they saw the way you dressed, talked, acted…?


These were some of the questions raised in a sermon on Philippians that I listened to as I was out for my jog this morning (in the snow!).

It also reminded me of an orientation session we had at JLC last week. The head of KGK (Japan’s branch of IFES, the equivalent of UK’s uccf:thechristianunions) came to speak to us about the work of KGK and the life of students in Japan.

He gave us one word to sum up his main focus in reaching students in Japan for Christ – shakaijin (社会人). If you look it up in a dictionary it says something like “full-fledged member of society”. He thought that kind of definition doesn’t give the right impression. The characters literally mean “people who gather at a shrine”, a more religious nuance. In its general usage, Japanese people don’t seem to think of this religious nuance, but he said that it gives an insight into the worldview of Japanese society. In short, using this language, to be a good Japanese person means being a good shakaijin. That means personal ambition, desires, ideas, must be laid aside if they conflict with the good of the shakai (society). The shakai comes first.

He told us that in a darker period of the history of the church of Japan, before and during WW2, Christians were forced to include a time in their church services for singing praises to the Emperor and bowing to his picture. Sadly, most of them went along with it – being a good shakaijin came first, before being a ‘good’ christian.


at job interviews students dress to be good shakaijin

Today the focus has shifted away from the emperor to the company. And still many Japanese christians put being a good employee, a good shakaijin, ahead of church. Because of this, he said, students don’t respect christians in church and have no role models of what it looks like to put Christ first, rather than the shakai. What is most needed in student ministry in Japan, he thought, is people to mentor them who have experienced the pressures of shakai and have stood firm and not given in.


Lest we (or I, at least) are tempted at this point to look down on Japanese christians, I wonder how often churches in the UK go against the flow of society and make a stand for Christ? I think the pressures in the UK are different, perhaps less intense. But we also have a christian heritage in the West which Japan does not have.

As I was listening to him saying these things, the question that came to my mind (perhaps yours too!) was, What do I have to offer then?! I have no experience of those pressures to be a good Japanese shakaijin, I don’t understand the culture like a Japanese person would, and I don’t know the nuances of what significance or symbolism different aspects of culture have and which must be resisted/corrected, and which can be affirmed or redeemed for Christ. (Hopefully, I will gradually learn some of these things as the years go by…).

Thankfully, he had an answer. *phew!* We, as outsiders can show that there is something bigger than the Japanese shakai. There are other societies with different pressures. There’s a whole world out there. And God made it and He is bigger than any one of those societies. He’s bigger than all of them put together. He made the universe! We can lift their eyes to see how great He is.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

We Christians (Japanese or not) need to see that our greatest, most significant allegiance is with Christ – our citizenship is in heaven. That is primary. We are also citizens of our society, but that is secondary.

And people should see the difference that makes as we follow Christ’s model of self-sacrificial humility, put others first (Phil 2).

  • May God give courage to our Japanese brothers and sisters particularly to stand up against shakai when necessary and be a loyal citizen of heaven before being a good shakaijin.
  • May God give us wisdom to know how to do that too, and how to help Japanese students to do that.
  • May the world look on at our ‘heavenly society’, recognise where we belong, and apply for citizenship there too.

7 thoughts on “the battle of citizenships

  1. I particular liked your last sentence
    •May the world look on at our ‘heavenly society’, recognise where we belong, and apply for citizenship there too.
    What do I say to that – Amen. Great. May it be true wherever we are. Isn’t that what we long for or should long for. Thanks for an interesting and as always stimulating comment.


  2. Hi Nat,
    Hope you and your whole family are well.
    Firstly, kudos on running in the snow! That’s quite a bit of determination.
    Secondly, interesting post. In what ways do you think that being a shakaijin to the company is effecting faithful witness? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    God bless,


    • Hi Peter, thanks for your comments. I’m by no means an expert on this, but some thoughts on how it may be effecting faithful witness…

      For example, companies often require employees to move somewhere else in the country to work in a different branch (about every 3 years is normal apparently). Families may be moved to places where there is no church and no fellowship. Or the company may expect employees to work such long hours that there is no time for church nor for family. Many fathers are pretty much absent from their children. Rather than thinking, “What would Jesus have me do? How can I put Jesus first?”, it seems that often Japanese christians just do what the company wants them to do.
      Does that make sense? Have you any thoughts?


  3. Having just read this, I totally relate to this.

    We have the ConDems speaking about the ‘Big Society’ and citizenship quite a lot here.

    Among young people, there is a lot of pressure with unemployment and cutbacks.

    In London, many students are choosing not to be part of United Kingdoms ‘shakai’ and model a different culture, there are movements entitled ‘Mutiny’ and ‘Coalition of Resistance’. Many students getting together to talk about ways of living that are different and alternative, to what they perceive to be societys expectations.

    One person I have met through these countercultural movements spent some time travelling in Japan, From what I understand from him, these movements also exist in Japan, and he spent some time among them, working on farms, etc.

    All the fashion when I read the blogs coming out of Tokyo, is often designed to shock, designed to look different and individual. In author Murakamis work, I learnt about young people who literally cut themselves off from this societys demands, shut the door, don’t come out, hikikomori. a bit like depression.

    I am sure too in Japan some students and individuals are rebelling from shakaijin and facing the isolation and stigma that brings. This will lead to distrust in people from outside their countercultural movements, perhaps bringing them the gospel or any message.
    I pray for these people that they may too come to know that Jesus was an outsider just like them and know his love for them.


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