The Depiction Of Christianity In Japanese Popular Culture

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Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Reverse symbolism and association
  3. Conclusion
  4. References


Japan is one of the few countries in Asia that is entirely a set of islands with no connection to the mainland. This natural and physical barrier, as well as the strict policies regarding isolation during the Tokugawa regime have provided the perfect environment to develop and forge a unique culture with little influence from the West. Therefore, it is no surprise that the development of any arts and popular culture has had a strong foundations to praise and protect the autochthonous traditions as well as remain protective and suspicious about any kind of foreign assimilation. This paper tries to support the idea that, for the most part, in Japanese popular culture Christianity is portrayed as a negative issue. Although, sometimes it may not be purposely done it, the general views portrayed in the media tend to relegate the Catholic faith into a frame of rejection or negative connotation.

The geographical situation of Japan has guaranteed that for the most part of its history, the country has been difficult to access or colonize. This has undoubtedly contributed to the creation and development of a distinctive culture that the Japanese have guarded with extreme cautious. Some experts say that the origins of manga can be found back into the tenth century, with the creation of storytelling scrolls known as ​Emaki​ (​Cohn, N.,2010, p. 200). Later during the sixteenth century, Japan has the first encounter with Christianity by the hand of the Portugese (, ​2019). Japanese spirituality revolves around two major faiths, Shinto and Buddhism, setting its foundations in the firm belief of polytheism as an antagonist to the Christian belief of an omnipotent and undeniable God (​Jun, H. J., 1998, p. 47)​. This presented the opposite vision about the meaning of Chrisianity in Japan, perceiving the Christian doctrine as something alienating and heretical ​ (​Barkman, A., 2010, p.31)​. It is not difficult to imagine that the clash between Christian and Japanese beliefs was something that sooner or later had to occur.

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The institution of the Catholic Church has utilized missionaries and the faith as a tool to try to convert and colonise countries during the Colonial Era, making no exception with Japan (​Greene, B., 2019). Missionaries, tried to Japanese society by delivering the message of possessing the ultimate truth under the name of God, creating a direct conflict between the figure of the Emperor and God (​Barkman, A., 2010, p.30) ​. It is important to acknowledge that during this time, the Tokugawa had established a new educational system that revolved around the principal of praising and devoting themselves to the Emperor, and that this was intrinsically taught through the concept of the ​Kokutai​ and the Shinto State ​(​Greene, B., 2019).

This perception of christianity as a tool for domination and a direct attack towards the Emperor, led the Japanese government to adopt serious measures to vanish Christianity from Japan during the Sakoku period to avoid colonialism and social disruption among society (Nelson, J., 2002, p. 94). As an example of these measures, the Tokugawa administration illegalize Christianity in 1606 and also created the institution named “Office of Inquisition for Christian Affairs” giving full authority to Buddhist authorities to prosecute and eradicate any sign of Christianity in Japan ​(​Barkman, A., 2010, p.30). Taking into consideration the fact that an office to fight against Christianism was established, it is not wrong to imagine that many of the media used at that time would attach bad connotations to Christian beliefs as well as their followers. Moreover, it would be logical to consider the idea that through the veneration of Shintoism and Buddhism, the bases for a negative perception and a rejection of Christianity were imprinted in the arts and the media of that time. The anime ​Evangelion​ is a clear example of the extension of these perceptions when it presents the idea of Tokyo being attacked by giant and destructive creatures called Angels, that surprisingly have biblical names ​(​Barkman, A., 2010, p.32; Wikipedia, 2019).

Another important factor to take into consideration about the negative perception of Christianity in Japan is, the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Christianity is sustained under a strong sense of orthodoxy and blind faith towards the word of God, whereas Shinto and Buddhism lean closer to the concept of orthopraxy, offering a more flexible interpretation of the faith, as long as one follows the correct steps and rituals (Shields, J. M., 2010, p.9). Therefore, under the concept that most Japanese society behaves under this notion of pluralism towards spirituality, many artists have depicted Christianity by enhancing the figures and the roles of demons and practices that the Bible condemns ​(​Barkman, A., 2010, p.27). Moreover, rigid beliefs and lack of flexibility are seen in a negative way by manga and anime artists in Japan, labeling those practices and promoters as indoctrinating and dangerous (​Barkman, A., 2010, p.28). Although the depiction and criticism of Christianism might be enhanced out of curiosity and fascination for an alien faith, using Satan, demons or sinful behaviours in a positive way, they surely position the Catholic dogma under a negative light.

Reverse symbolism and association

For the purpose of the following discussion, it is important to understand that the bad connotations derived from practitioners of magic have not always been perceived as negative. In Europe, it was not until the rise of Christianity within the Roman Empire,that society started to become suspicious about magic users, and it was not until the beginning of the thirteenth century that characters such as priestesses or sorcerers are portrayed as sinful, establishing connections between them and Satan and giving birth to the word “Witchcraft” (​Bailey, M. D., 2001, p. 963). Nevertheless, shamanistic practices have always been a strong ascet in Japanese religion, having a clear example in the historical character of queen Himiko, who was associated strongly with the mystical world of the spirits and viewed as a revered and positive leader (Wikipedia, 2019). Moreover, as mentioned before, thanks to the ​Sakoku​ policy during the Tokugawa regime, the concepts of magic or shamanism did not carry the negative trades imposed by Christianity, and also connected the figure of the Emperor to a female divinity (​Amaterasu-Omikami​), enhancing both pluralism and femininity within popular culture up until today.

Japanese ​otaku, ​as a social minority, seem to be closer to the idea of mysticism since it offers an escape to reality providing refuge and the possibility to create a world and environment that fits their needs and aspirations, rejecting any ideas of a unique a unilateral narrative of the world and its explanations (Greene, B., 2019;​Todd, R. M., 2018, p.23​). Therefore, it is possible to state that the majority of the ​Otaku​ community, as well as some anime and manga creators, will be repelled by religious orthodoxy and provide a platform to reject the tightness and radical views of the world and the moral codes provided by Christianity, positioning them in an antagonist position towards the message of absolute beliefs.

It is also curious to compare that in a lot of anime and manga series in Japan the characters of magic users are used as heroes and heroines (​Slayers, Junketsu no Maria, Overlord, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen…​), particularly enhancing the figures of women, which clearly opposes the vision of Christianity, where magic is condemned and the figures of women are relegated to a marginal sphere or sinful connotations, such as the vessels of evil. Japanese popular culture is also known for their fluidity among gender and sexuality, having characters being portrayed as androgyn, engaing in homosexual behaviour or having the homogenic roles of male and female swapped in many of their series (​Ling-Qi, Kirei Papa​,​ Boku no Sexual Harassment)​ (​King, D., King, D., Léa, Andrew, King, D., Zeze, … Kuma., 2019).

Some other authors have This idea of homosexual behaviour and highly sexual interaction goes against the core pillars of Christianity where, homosexuality is condemned and intercourse is reserved for marriage and viewd as a sacred interaction that gets corrupted when it steps out the boundaries of heteronormativity. As Barkman. A. (2010, p.39) mentioned in his research Christianity strongly embraces the idea of a masculine superiority viewing the figure of God as a man disregarding any femenine connotations conflicting with the plurality of the Japanese pantheon and the gender fluidity of some ​Kami ​like​ Inari-Kamisama ​that has gender fluid connotations (Schumacher, M.,n.d.). There is a clear rejection towards the Christian teachings and morals from most of manga and anime artists, especially with styles like Boys Love, creating a platform where the normalization of homsexuality stains negativity Christian morality.


Japanese popular culture has been forged and influenced by pluralism throughout history, viewing Christianity as an alienating, threatening and sometimes dangerous dogma. This has lead to set the foundations of negative connotations through the media spread. Therefore, a large number of anime and manga portray Christianity and its characters as oppressors and a harm to Japanese society by using methods such as the utilization of the antagonist figures to God such as demons and witches or depicting the figures of God as tyrant being and its messengers as destructive monsters. Japanese popular culture is a bastion for gender fluidity, women empowerment and pluralism of thought. Therefore, most of the representations conflict and clash directly with Christian values and beliefs positioning the reader against the idea of absolute faiths and, eventually, Although these may not be done in purpose, this paper does not focus on the idea of authors using popular culture to intentionally depict and shame Christianity but to offer a vision about the situation and the general views of it.


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  18. Wikipedia.(2019, November 4) ​List of Angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion​. . Retrieved from​.
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