Bridging The Gap in Tokyo

Walking into The Bridge Live, it’s easy to think you’ve just stumbled upon a hidden gem of an underground jazz club. First the location: Shimokitazawa, an artsy suburb of Tokyo that is a destination for urban 20-somethings due to its lively nightlife, edgy shops and abundance of great restaurants. Half Moon Hall, the venue for The Bridge Live is itself an architectural masterpiece.

Next, the musicians. Four or five bands, mainly people from the neighborhood, come to play their music here. The music ranges from classic jazz to folk rock to Beatles covers, but one thing remains the same: the high quality of the musicians who play here. Only then do you realize you didn’t pay a cover charge to come in the door.

When Joey Zorina takes the stage, you realize why you are here. Joey, a talented guitarist himself, is pastor of The Bridge Fellowship, a weekly home church gathering. The Bridge Live is an event held 4 or 5 times a year as a way to present the gospel message to this crowd of young and artistic people. The message is given in a way that connects with what is typically going on in the lives of this demographic.

Finally, the night closes with a professional Christian band or musician who is able to share a testimony along with a few songs. At the end of the night, everyone chips in with help cleaning up and a few groups might go off together to enjoy a meal together in this lively neighborhood.

I first attended The Bridge Live to cover the testimony of Shinada-san, one of the ex-Yakuza men whom our film “2 Criminals” is based on. I have continued to attend because of the quality of the music and message I experienced there and as a way I could bless the musicians playing there with professional photographs of themselves in concert.

This demographic of young and artistic people is often considered a “fringe” demographic, largely because the values of modern Japan culture place so much value on material wealth, and artists typically aren’t the ones making lots of money. This holds true in the West as well, but committing to the life of an artist in Japan is a real commitment that could have a lasting effect on your relationships with your family and friends. But because of their “outlier” status, this group is also one which are more ready to hear and accept the gospel message. However, they may not feel comfortable attending a more traditional church, so having a place like The Bridge Fellowship to attend is a blessing for them.

The Bridge Fellowship will be going through a transition to a full-fledged church as part of the Redeemer City-to-City Movement. Please pray for this ministry as it serves this specific demographic of Japanese and if you feel inclined to learn more and perhaps support them financially, visit their website to learn more.

Gospel Choirs in Japan

When asked about modern Japanese music, most people think of “Jpop” a genre of music filled with the cute and kitschy, churned out by the “idol machine” making publicity companies in Japanese media marketing. It might surprise people that a very popular genre of music in Japan is Black Gospel. I won’t recant the history of how Gospel music became popular in Japan, as my friend Paul Nethercott did an excellent job in explaining this phenomenon on his blog, JapanCAN.

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to photograph a gospel concert with singers from Saddleback Church in California and Japanese gospel choir participants and directed by the incredibly talented Meg Awano who has written wonderful gospel songs in Japanese. Meg performs with the Crystal Beads gospel choir as well as holds gospel music workshops which attracts many Japanese, Christian and non-Christian alike.

There is a large network of Japanese people who are involved in Black Gospel choirs, and the majority of them are not Christians, but simply lovers of the music. However, God has used the message of the music to touch the hearts of many Japanese who had never heard the gospel before. One of the gospel singers who visited our church, Tinika Wyatt, explained to the audience that it’s not the music that attracts them, but it is God’s presence in the music. The gospel is the ultimate magnet for the desire of our hearts.

Black Gospel music represents an opportunity to thousands of Japanese with the gospel message, particularly because it breaks down the walls between the gospel message and the people meant to receive it. Many Japanese who would never enter a Christian church to hear an evangelical message will gladly come to hear a gospel concert. And the message they receive is exactly the same, the message of the love and sacrifice of Jesus for them.

One of the large Japanese networks of gospel choirs in Japan is Hallelujah Gospel Family. The choirs in this network are hosted by Christian churches, ensuring that the gospel message contained in the music can be properly explained to the participants. Please continue to pray for ministry opportunities like this where God makes the gospel available to the Japanese people in unique and powerful ways.