Bach's Legacy in Japan


Monists believe that all is one. So they look for truth within themselves, since they believe they are a central part of a universal whole. Dualists look for truth outside of themselves—for example, to a sacred book, to a specific church, or by direct appeal to a personal God far superior to themselves.

The life and worship of a dualist is rich and varied because it involves the interaction of a human soul with something other than itself. In the case of Christianity, this interaction is with a personal God who loves every human being and desires to be actively involved in each person's life. To the extent that any individual is willing to invite God into his or her life, that individual will experience an intimate relationship with him. If someone who is not a dualist believes in God, that God is impersonal. Hence the degree of richness of religion as an exercise of man relating to God is much greater for the dualist than for the monist, much as life in a world with both men and women is much richer than one in a society consisting only of men or only of women. The apostle Paul referred to the church as the bride of Christ.[1]

Buddhism has not inspired great works of music, such as Handel's Messiah or Bach's B Minor Mass, or the large body of hymns and songs of worship present within Christianity. Such works are expressions of individual people with their own personalities who were inspired by their interaction with a personal God. The chants and meditations of a Buddhist, in contrast, are designed to help the seeker to transcend self and to minimize or eliminate personal identity.[2]

In Japan, Bach's music has been growing in popularity, with remarkable results. Former Buddhist Yuko Maruyama says she is a Christian thanks to Bach's music. "Bach introduced me to God, Jesus and Christianity. . . . When I play a fugue, I can feel Bach talking to God." Masashi Masuda, now a Jesuit priest, says, "Listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations first aroused my interest in Christianity."[3]

Why would listening to Bach's music from the 18th century trigger a religious response in modern day Japanese people? A St. Louis mathematics professor, Charles Ford, has a theory. He believes that Bach's music is composed in the "perfect beauty of order" to which the Japanese mind is receptive. "Bach has had the same effect on me, a Western scientist."[4]

As the founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki's performances are always sold out, even with ticket prices of more than $600. Suzuki said, "Bach works as a missionary among our people. . . . After each concert people crowd the podium wishing to talk to me about topics that are normally taboo in our society—death, for example. They inevitably ask me what 'hope' means to Christians. . . . I believe that Bach has already converted tens of thousands of Japanese to the Christian faith."[5] Susuki says, "I am spreading Bach's message, which is a biblical one."[6] Bach's cantatas have even been referred to as "the fifth gospel,"[7] and a Lutheran theologian, Yoshikazu Tokuzen calls Bach's music, "a vehicle of the Holy Spirit."[8]

As a result of Bach concerts, many young Japanese are making pilgrimages to Leipzig, Germany, where Bach worked for the last 27 years of his life. He died in 1750. There they visit the church where Bach was a cantor and listen to Lutheran liturgy.[9]

According to Uwe Siemon-Netto, a foreign correspondent based in New York City, "Two-thirds of all Japanese profess no religion. However, of this vast majority 70 percent deem religion important for society."[10] As musical director of Concordia's Bach at the Sem concert series, Rev. Robert Bergt has personal experience with the effect of Bach on the Japanese. "Some of these people would then in private declare themselves as 'closet Christians. . . . This happened to me at least 15 times. And one of them I eventually baptized myself." Siemon-Netto concludes that, "While only one percent of Japan's population of 128 million is officially Christian, Bergt estimated that the real figure could be three times as high if one includes secret believers."[11]




[1] Ephesians 5:23–32.

[2] R. E. Sherman, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link? (Charleston: CreateSpace, 2011) 222-223.

[3] Uwe Siemon-Netto, "Bach in Japan," ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 267.

[6] Uwe Siemon-Netto, "Bach in Japan," ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

[7] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 268.

[8] Uwe Siemon-Netto , "Bach in Japan," ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

[9] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 267-268.

[10] Uwe Siemon-Netto, "J. S. Bach in Japan," FirstThings.com, retrieved October 5, 2015.

[11] Uwe Siemon-Netto, "Bach in Japan," ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.
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