The Words of the Willis Family
John Willis, a graduate of the Unification Theological Seminary, recently returned from a year in Japan. We asked him to report on the Japanese church's video centers.
About a year and a half ago, when I first walked into a Unification Church video center in Japan, I felt overwhelmed by three different aspects: the beauty of the place, the concept behind it and the scale of the concept put into practice. My eyes were probably bulging, because, like any member who joined the church more than two years ago, my experience was one of being introduced to the Divine Principle by a lecturer in person over a two or three day period, while sitting amid several other workshop guests. It seemed inconceivable that anyone would maintain interest in the Principle or any religious message while plugged in, alone in a booth, to a tape recording, no matter how well- presented.
In the last ten months I have had a few opportunities to take visiting foreigners to video centers in Tokyo. Since each time their reaction to seeing a Japanese video center for the first time was very similar to my own wide-eyed amazement, I began to feel that this was something that could reasonably be expected when one culture comes into contact with another of greater technological advancement. Though this may partly be the case, I have also learned that when video centers were first getting started in Japan almost two years ago, the general reaction among the membership was also one of great surprise that such a thing could ever work to bring new members.
However, since that time, it seems that the Japanese church has gotten quite used to the idea, for now practically a hundred percent of all new members in Japan are "video children." At the last count, there was a total of 116 separate places throughout the whole country that are called video centers, counting even small rooms with just three or four tape players and television sets. There are around eighteen hundred units in these centers, not taking into account the tapes and machines in members' homes and offices. The total number of television sets in Japan with videocassette players and Divine Principle tapes available is probably in the neighborhood of seven thousand.
Studies have shown that Japan leads the world in time spent by the average person in front of a television. One reason, of course, is that Japan is among the most technologically advanced countries, and provides a wide range of television programming. Another reason is that the Japanese have a great interest in staying informed, which accounts for other studies which show that the average person in Japan also leads the world in the amount of time spent reading newspapers. There must be reasons other than cultural ones, though, to explain the success and development of Unification Church video centers in Japan. In quest of those other aspects I spent a few weeks touring centers around the country.
The most well-known meeting place in all of Tokyo is the statue of Hachiko in front of Shibuya Station. Shibuya is not the commercial center of the huge metropolis of Tokyo, but it is a favorite spot among young people. It is not uncommon to see video tapes playing right out on the sidewalk in this section of the city, and I have come across a couple of coffee shops where young people sit in front of a large screen showing the latest rock'n' roll video releases. It is on a back street, a few hundred meters from Hachiko, that the church's first large-scale video center was started in June 1982.
Called the Jinsei (Life) Information Center or J.I.C., the video center is situated on the sixth floor of a fairly small office building and has two main rooms for guests. There is a video room with 22 booths, and a discussion lounge. In the latter room there are 26 seats on either side of coffee tables, where members can discuss the contents of the lectures with the guests and draw out their impressions and reflections on the videos, especially points they did or did not like and understand.
I spoke for a while with Masako Emi, who has been on the staff at J.I.C. for over a year. We were later joined by another sister who had joined the church after listening to the whole video series at this center. Emi-san told me that about two hundred people begin watching the video lectures every month in Shibuya, though not all of these complete the course. I didn't find that number difficult to believe, because every time I had been there, guests were always coming and going, showing their ID cards at the reception desk, receiving their booth allocations and entering the next room to connect themselves to the set and begin making notes in notebooks. Weekends have always proved to be the best time for bringing guests directly from witnessing on the street as well as for attendance in general. On the average it takes six to ten weeks for a person to complete the series of thirteen cassettes, but it is not unusual for the best, most serious guests to come every day for a week until they have finished the series.
The Shibuya center charges guests from the very beginning, but this is not true everywhere. Shibuya has found, though, that by paying for even the initial video, the average guest is more ready to be humbly attentive because he or she expects something in return for his or her investment. After watching an introductory lecture, there are five different continuing courses; but it is almost always suggested that they select the most expensive one for sixty-five thousand yen (about $300) because it has proven its ability to produce devoted members. In such a program, guests may go to short workshops in which live Parents and church activities are introduced, then to a ten day training course in which they go about their own normal daily schedule but spend the night in a special church center with other guests like themselves. There they begin to practice a religious life and learn more about the church, often through video presentations. After that is a forty day workshop in which they hear the Principle in greater depth, as well as VOC theory, and begin to do some witnessing and fundraising.
When I asked about the source of video center guests, I was told that about seventy percent come directly from street witnessing, and about thirty percent from a relationship that was first made through fundraising; perhaps a small number are relatives or friends of church members. Those that come from witnessing tend to be 18-23 years old, while those met initially by a fundraiser are more likely to be older -- anywhere between twenty and seventy but are generally of a higher, more dependable quality, perhaps due to their having already made a personal commitment and contribution.
Occasionally I had seen several video center witnessers working late at night in the area around Shibuya Station, sometimes several on the same corner, apparently young members. Emi-san told me that on the first ten days of each month there is a nationwide witnessing competition covering all of Japan's 65 witnessing districts. Members that have just finished workshop training are among the witnessers; and all during this period the centers stay open until after midnight to enable guests to become acquainted with the video lectures.
The questionnaires used by witnessers in Japan have evolved considerably over the last two years, as they have learned what types of questions are most effective in bringing guests to the center. The forms themselves have gotten much smaller so as not to frighten potential guests who may be concerned about time. Most centers now use compact, hand-sized pads, attractively printed on colored paper with several questions on one side: what kinds of things are you interested in? Are you presently happy? What do you do in your spare time? Do you want to become useful to society? Do you feel life and society have many contradictions? Do you think God exists? Are you seeking a truth that solves the contradictions of life? On the other side of each page are notes on different points of the Principle for the member to speak about to the better contacts and also a space at the bottom for their name, age, address, and home and work phone numbers.
At present there are four other video centers in the metropolitan Tokyo area with over twenty booths, and one center each in the cities of Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Sendai and Sapporo. There are scores of intermediate-sized video centers spread throughout all 47 prefectures of the country, and various church departments operate small independent video centers. In Tokyo, where much of the church's membership of over ten thousand is concentrated, about forty individual departments have such centers.
In accounting for the success of the video centers, it would be impossible to omit the name of one person in particular, that of Katsunao
Kurahara, who can rightly be called the pioneer of the video teaching strategy. Back in September 1976, Kurahara-san was the leader of a fundraising center in the northern city of Sapporo, and had already used video there to teach fundraising techniques to members. Because there was not enough manpower or time to teach our spiritual message to the increasing number of interested customers, Kurahara-san began thinking about using the same method for teaching the Principle. It took him three months to make a video series covering the entire Principle. When he brought it to headquarters in Tokyo for demonstration and approval, even though Father had begun talking about that approach at the same time (just after the Washington Monument Rally), there was considerable doubt about the general idea as well as the quality of the production.
Two years later, when Kurahara-san was working in Tokyo, he tried again, taping a new version with an improved format. This time the videos were admired and appreciated by the central figures of his fundraising mission. I here was still some uncertainty as to whether it was a good idea to use standard church lectures with fundraising customers. However, this skepticism decreased after a guest who watched the lectures on video bought thousands of dollars of additional products. In Kurahara-san's own center a separate room was set up for guests to learn the Principle by video, but for another two years the rest of the church still did not believe that it could be an effective tool for spreading our teaching. In 1981 Kurahara-san and another member designed a special center in Tokyo just for teaching the Principle on video, and in a year's time 120 people joined through that center, When this was reported to the church leadership and the implications were understood, the nationwide changeover to video centers for general witnessing began.
As for the current spread of the video center method from Japan to other countries, it was Father himself who told members of the success the Japanese were having, and who provided the inspiration that is changing concepts about teaching the Principle. Several Korean leaders and a few Western leaders have visited the larger video centers in Japan and made notes to take back to their own countries. Kiyoshi Seino, who has been working in the U.S. for many years, returned briefly to Japan in 1983 to study the Japanese system in detail and export it across the Pacific.
It is now the handsome, sincere face of Kurahara-san that most Japanese video center guests watch as he clearly and expressively explains each chapter of the Divine Principle. There are also a few other lecturers who have taped the same material with special audiences in mind, for example, the lectures by Misao Moriyama for housewives, and Soichiro Nakamura for intellectuals.
In my interview with Kurahara-san, referring to the contents of the Principle itself, he said that lectures must be dynamic because numerous studies have shown that the average Japanese can only be expected to maintain interest in a television program for twenty minutes without interruption. Our video tapes, however, are each about two hours in length and completely lacking in fast action, flashing lights and other distractions that characterize much of Japanese television. It seemed to me, though, that Kurahara-san was especially adept at peering earnestly through the camera and into the soul of each individual in his audience to such a degree that he or she would feel God's words and heart pulling at him or her directly.
When I asked Kurahara-san if he had any doubts whether a video presentation could make up for the personal contact of an initial workshop atmosphere, he replied that after being asked for his autograph on the street all over Japan, and being asked recently to give special lectures at Christmastime by groups associated with the church throughout the country, he no longer thought so.
Shortly after the interview I saw for myself his effect on people who have never even seen him in person. I was speaking in English to a Japanese family member about my interview with him, when a young lady standing nearby, who had recently been watching the video series, immediately wanted to know why I was mentioning Kurahara-san's name. Upon learning that I had just been speaking with him, she expressed great disappointment at having missed "my teacher" in the flesh.
When the first small video center in Japan opened three years ago, guests were not charged anything for attendance at any time. Kurahara-san thought that this was necessary to build witnessers' confidence. It was only after several months that fees were charged. He was hesitant to recommend the same pattern for other countries beginning the use of video teaching because of the possibility of cultural differences from Japan. As for his own vision of the progress of the video providence in Japan, he thinks in terms of coffee shops where young people in particular would come to eat, sip and watch Principle videos together. This was his original idea back in 1981, but his central figure and Father preferred the present system that focuses on study. However, his hope and eagerness to see or help start a nationwide chain of such video coffee shops was very evident.
The Japanese membership's dedication to success in witnessing and the uncomplaining seriousness with which it is devoted to its responsibilities as the major Eve nation of the world providence are the main non-cultural reasons that Japanese video centers have developed so rapidly and sensationally. The several years of efforts by Kurahara-san and others must be considered and appreciated, too. The distance that Japanese video witnessing has come since those early days became apparent during a recent church holiday celebration. During the evening entertainment at head- quarters the best church band in Japan, White Cross, played a song that had originated at a workshop for guests who had just completed the video series. It was a very simple song entitled, "Suteki na video, as a made video," but had a strong, exciting rock'n' roll beat. The band taught those of us in the audience that night the easy chorus of typically quaint Japanese English:
Let's watch suteki na (wonderful)
Let's learn as a made (all-night-long) video, Let's take happy chance.
We also learned the hand gestures for "watch," "learn" and "happy chance," so that we could completely join in the chorus. It was undoubtedly the hit of the evening.
About a week later, I was able to watch, unnoticed, some preteen Blessed children who were watching a video of the same holiday entertainment. As the band launched into the "Suteki na video" number on the television set, the young girls thoroughly enjoyed them- selves in imitating the singers and making all the correct gestures in tempo. For me, it was a preview of the heavenly television of the near future.