By Devin Watkins – Tokyo, Japan
“What they want is to have peace of heart, an aim, a meaning in life.”
Fr. Javier Garralda, SJ, gave that assessment of the relationship that the people of Japan have with religion.
The Spanish Jesuit missionary has spent 37 years in Japan, teaching “Christian humanism” at Tokyo’s Sophia University.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Fr. Garralda noted that historical factors have had an influence on how Japanese people view religion.
“They are not keen on religion,” he alleged.
He referenced a Sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system that killed 13 people. Members of a cult movement carried out the act of domestic terrorism on March 20, 1995.
Fr. Garralda said the attack led some people to view religion with greater suspicion.
“After that they were very much against religion, but nowadays they are coming back, I think,” he said.
Religious in spirit
The Jesuit priest said people in Japan “have the spirit of religion”.
Buddhism and Shintoism are the main religions in the country. 86 million Japanese claim to belong to Shinto groups, while 85 million are part of Buddhist sects. But the combined figure vastly outnumbers Japan’s population of 126 million. Many are apparently doubling up.
As Fr. Garralda said, Japanese have an ardent desire to find peace of heart.
“But,” he said, “I tell them, ‘What you are looking for is just for yourself: your peace of mind and your aim in life.’”
Love others and find peace
What would really help them find peace, according to Fr. Garralda, “is to think of others, to love others, and to help others, especially the poor people.”
He has spent his 37-year career trying to teach people that lesson.
“We apply that to the problems they face – friendship, love, war: concrete things they deal with every day – because we want them to feel the values of Christianity, of Christ,” he said.
By loving others and worrying less about themselves, Fr Garralda said, the people of Japan – just like the rest of us – can find peace of heart and meaning in life.