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Japanese Women & Christianity

Deze column is ook verschenen in Nederlands in De Nieuwe Koers zomereditie 2021 zie link voor Nederlands

The Tokyo Olympic Games have begun, and the whole world is watching. As each country's Olympic stars fight for the gold medal, worldwide media attention is focused on Japan's culture, politics, and society.

One of the things that captured the world's attention earlier this year was the statement made by Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, and a former Japanese prime minister. He was kind of opposing the idea to increase the number of female committee board members. "If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying," Mr Mori was quoted as saying by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. "We have about seven women at the organising committee but everyone understands their place," he said. Later he apologized for his remarks. (1)

As a Christian, you might wonder, "What is the role of women in the Japanese church?" I'm now finishing my book on Japanese women and Christianity, which I expect to publish by the end of the year. Women have played an essential role in the development of Christianity since the 16th century, when Christianity was established in Japan. Even when Christianity was forbidden and Christians were persecuted, women played an important part in spreading the Christian message.

During the 16th through 19th centuries in Japan, women played a variety of positions within Christianity, including translators, writers, teachers (catechists and apologists), debaters, lecturers, evangelists, charity workers, and social advocates. These were already in an era when women in Japan, as well as around the world, did not have many rights. Julia Nait and Gracia Tama Hosogawa, for example, were well-known Japanese Christian women at the time.

Japan began modernization in 1868 known as Meiji Restoration. Christian women gradually became involved in the domains of evangelism, social work, human rights advocacy for women, and women's right to education.

Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929) is an excellent example of this. Tsuda believed that all Japanese women should have equal access to higher education. She thought only education could help improve women's position in Japan. She established an institute for women to study English, many years later after the World war II, her institute became Tsuda University, which is one of the most prestigious women's colleges in Japan. Tsuda became the first president of the Japanese branch of World Young Women's Christian Association in 1905.

Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929

Hatsune Hasegawa (1890-1979) and Tamaki Kawado Uemura (1890-1982) were among the first female pastors in Japan at the time. Ogino Ginko (1851-1913) is the first woman doctor in Japan to receive a degree in Western medicine. Ogino married Yukiyoshi Shikata, a Protestant minister, in 1890, and in 1894, she relocated to Hokkaido with him to run a medical practice. In 1908, she returned to Tokyo after her husband's death and began running a hospital. She was a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union as well (WCTU).

Women have played an essential role in the development of Christianity since the 16th century, when Christianity was established in Japan.

After the World War II, Inspired by their faith, Japanese Christian women contributed to many forms of arts, such as literature, cinema, Japanese manga (Japanese Cartoons), and music. Machiko Hasegawa (1920-1992), is one of them. Hasegawa was one of Japan’s first female manga artists. Kelly Kozumi Shinozawa, one of my friends, is a contemporary Japanese female Christian manga (cartoon) artist. Shinozawa is known for her best-known works the Manga Messiah and Manga Bible Series, which have been translated into twenty-one languages worldwide including Dutch. She receieved Albums Primes Manga Grand Award in France in 2010. Satoko Yamaguchi, Haruko Nawata Ward, Rita Nakashima Brock, and more renowned female theologians can be found in Japan.

Satoko Yamaguchi is a well-known feminist theologian who works both in Japan and worldwide. Haruko Nawata Ward is well-known for her work Women Religious Leaders in Japan's Christian Century, 1549–1650, and Rita Nakashima Brock is the first Asian-American woman to receive a doctorate in theology (1988).

Machiko Hasegawa (1920-1992)

As briefly described above, historically women have carried out many of the day-to-day activities and social roles within the church. While they represent most churchgoers today, women have remained in the minority when it comes to decision-making positions, such as heads of committees and boards, in the church. This is of course a reflection of the wider society as well, since Japan ranks 120th in 2021 Gender Gap Report.

As the Olympic games continue in Japan, let us pray for the church in Japan, particularly for our sisters in Christ who are doing tremendous work but are not widely recognized and acknowledged in one of the countries where Christianity accounts for less than 1% of the population.

In Solidarity with women worldwide,

Samuel Lee


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