Mission in Secularized Japan

Shun'ichi Takayanagi, SJ

Paid Article

Analyzing the Japanese words used to indicate the concept of “mission” may help to better facilitate understanding of what mission should be, the perception of which has become even more acute over the last 50 years. In fact, every definition entails a model or a paradigm of how to carry out a missionary activity. Vatican Council II introduced a change in the paradigm of mission and how to carry it out. Our aim here is to offer a contribution on the topic of “mission” by presenting several innovative considerations.

A change in the paradigm, beyond terminology

Nowadays, the word “mission” is often used for any sort of pioneer project or new activity opening up a new historical era for humanity, such as sending a man to the moon, or to other destinations in the universe. In his sense, modern Japanese renders the word “mission” in katakana – the syllabic Japanese phonetic writing – as “mission,” that is, the same English word. Modern Japanese offers three possibilities for translating the word “mission” in the Christian sense: “dendo” (teaching the way), “fukyo” (spreading the truth) and “senkyo” (announcing the truth).

These three terms are used in different ways, especially in Christian Churches. “Dendo” is taken from the Buddhist vocabulary and was mainly used by Protestant missionaries. The word is not so different from the second one, but the older generation of Evangelical Christians prefers the former. At first, Catholics spoke rather of “senkyo.” This is the reason why the proclaimers of the Word, the missionaries, were called “senkyoshi” for a long time. Later on, after the Second World War, and up until the end of the twentieth century, the term “fukyo” was used more. However, since “kyo” means the doctrine and its truth, the difference between “senkyo” and “fukyo” is not as significant as it may seem at first glance. In both cases, they mean “spreading the doctrine.

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