Identifying Questions of a Social Minority in Japan

by the Rev. Dr. Lee In-ha


"For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14 [NRSV]).


Koreans in Japan (KIJs) are born into a context in which their lives are forced to begin with a negative image of their ethnicity and humanity. The Christian Conference of Asia-Urban Rural Mission (CCA-URM) report No Place in the Inn: Voices of Minority People in Asia described this state as having three aspects: (1) . . . in our own land; (2) . . . in an alien land; (3) Why such discrimination? What is common to each of these is that they arise from a historical experience of conquest and rule. In Japan, what fosters such negative imagery and promotes Japanese prejudice and systemic discrimination against Koreans is the distorted way of teaching history which justifies conquest and rule.

In such circumstances, many Koreans try to escape into a pseudoself using a Japanese alias. The result is that they face double and triple pressures causing an identity crisis.

KCCJ's Concept of Education

In 1973, the Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ) adopted the Basis of Mission Policy Statement at its General Assembly. That statement sets out the mission of our church in three areas - evangelism, education and service - and integrates them. In the chapter on education, the initial paragraph spells out clearly the educational calling of our church.

This concept is one of actualizing a person's human potential that is given to each by God, thus, enabling an awareness of life under God's grace. According to God's act of liberation, themes are set for struggle against any form of oppression or restrictive condition which interferes with the humanizing process. In the case of KIJs, these concepts are the restoration of autonomy and our Korean identity which has been lost in Japanese society and its style of education. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power which enables such a "renewal of selfhood."

A Paradigm of Bible Study

The traditional style of Biblical interpretation has been that the Bible as God's Word is read from the perspective of salvation history. Coupled with the Biblical understanding of an eschatological view of history, this has shaped the faith confessions of Christians. In addition, the status of the people of God is clarified in the concept of the old Israel as the covenant people and the Church as the new Israel. From these ideas, recent church formation and church growth missiology has been defined.

Although this view of salvation history still is quite acceptable, recent advances in Biblical study and interpretation have fostered a more sociological understanding of the Bible. This has dealt with the specific "life setting" of each Biblical book, helping us understand the history of God's salvation more clearly by seeing it not just as something from above but as that which comes from the life experience of people. For example, the traditional interpretation understood Israel, the covenant people of God, as a unified ethnic nation. Now another understanding is coming to the fore. This sees Israel, from the Exodus to the settlement in Canaan, as being formed by a variety of social minority groups. In the New Testament, the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is seen as God's new rule promised to the poor (people of the land or am ha'aretz). This also includes "sinners," "tax collectors," "Gentiles," "the sick" and social minorities who were outcasts according to the Jewish purity code which operated in the social system of that day.

Now let us take an example from the famous parable of the prodigal son in Chapter 15 of Luke. This story illustrates the universal love of God who rejoices at the return of one who was lost. This idea of the recovery of the lost is a familiar one in the Gospel according to Luke. We can get a strong message about social minorities from this text which contrasts the "life setting" in that day and that of today. The son's identity crisis which developed when he left his roots is also the experience of KIJs. Yet we read of the son's restoration which began when "he came to himself." Some KIJs have a parallel experience when they are released from their "pseudoselves"; but if the only thing KIJs learn from this parable is the need to restore our identity as an ethnic people, it is just a cultural study. The main factor in this story is the love of the father who accepts his son as he is. This father's love is "the ground of his being" (Paul Tillich), and his unconditional, universal love becomes the power for recovery of one's lost self. In this love, we KIJs are able to realize our mature selfhood, overcoming the alienation from ourselves and our neighbors.

Reading of the Text (Gal. 5:14)

Because of the technical difficulty of interpretation, every English translation and the new Japanese ecumenical translation, as well as the Korean translation, have put the accent on the love of neighbor. Only the Japanese colloquial version published by the Bible Society is faithful to the original meaning.

The entire Law means the Old Testament. Both Mark 12:29 and Luke 10:27 quote Lev. 19:18. The text connects two teachings, that is, love of self and love of neighbor, using as for the connective. We are likely to think that love of self is not acceptable, but this text presents it in a positive way. Here the word used for love is agape. In 12:25, love of self is cast negatively. "Those who love their life, lose it." Here the Greek word phileo is used, which means love linked to conditional human egoism.


Love of self based on agape is to accept oneself unconditionally. Whoever one is, whatever kind of individual, love is the attitude toward oneself. The power which enables us to love in this totally acceptable way is the agape of God. In the life of Jesus - His work, His Crucifixion and His Resurrection - we can see the revelation of God's love which is also God's mercy, that which becomes one with the pain, agony and suffering of KIJs. With this kind of love, we KIJs can overcome the complex burden of an identity which has been shaped by Japanese social rejection and oppression, leading to a sense of inferiority and humiliation. In love, however, we Koreans can even enter into equal relationships with the Japanese people. Soren Kierkegaard writes that to love oneself rightly and to love others are truly one and the same.

(This Bible study was presented at the second International Consultation on Minority Issues and Mission Strategies, October 1994, Kyoto, Japan.)