Christian magazine open to comics and games to attract young people to the faith

The publication includes a comic strip whose main character is a schoolgirl called Pyuri-tan. The goal is to explain religion in a fun way. For publisher, change and openness are needed to save Japan’s Christian communities.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Kyodo) – Popular culture and Japanese comics known as manga are the new frontier to attract young people to the faith, a step taken by Kirisuto Shimbun, a Christian magazine led by Shinji Matsutani, 40. In addition to its weekly paper, the publication now offers its readers a tabloid version with more photos and illustrations as well as an online edition.

The 71-year-old paper, which was founded by the late Christian social reformer Toyohiko Kagawa, covers all Christian denominations. It also carries a serial comic strip whose main character is a schoolgirl named Pyuri-tan, Japanese wordplay for the term Puritans.

The manga features personifications of different Christian groups, including Catholics and Anglicans, allowing readers to learn about them whilst having fun. It has even been adapted to a smartphone game app.

Back in 2014, the publisher launched a card game with biblical figures. He has also sponsored comics and writing competitions with a Christian theme. The card game has been translated into Chinese for sale in Taiwan.

Since 2011, Matsutani has been sponsoring the Pray Festival, an annual event resembling a comic market held across Japan, where Christian-themed manga, books and goods are put on sale.

He is now planning to launch by year’s end a free smartphone map app called Jun + Rei (Pilgrimage) that will help users locate nearby churches to facilitate access to the places of worship.

For him, the purpose of this new approach is to bring young people closer to Christians, who are only 1 per cent of Japan’s population.

“With the aging of members, churches will die out if they do business as usual. We’d like to counter that trend,” said Matsutani. Raised in a Christian family, he became the company’s president in May.

Some Christians have criticised the paper’s approach, saying using manga and other pop culture ploys could be considered “blasphemy”. The have also reacted negatively to collaborating with people from other religions. Conversely, for Matsutani, “As a way of survival, churches should be open to others in (different) communities.”

He even suggested religious institutions welcome players of the popular mobile game “Pokemon Go,” who might come across them in their search for imaginary creatures.