I recently had the privilege to interview Let’s Love Japan, who created the Christmas app Sugoku Fushigi. It’s an app that aims to bring the gospel of Christ to the Japanese through the story of Christmas, which is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s in an anime style so the Japanese can relate and it’s pretty innovative! I hope you enjoy this interview and check out the app.
GamingAndGod: Hi Tim Ingle, thank you very much for the opportunity to interview you about your Christmas app, Sugoku Fushigi. I love the anime concept, and the fact that it’s centered around Christ.
Tim: Thank you for the opportunity to share it with a new audience.
GG: So please tell us more about yourself Tim. What’s your background, and a brief story of how you came to faith in Christ?
Tim: When I was really young I fell in love with animation, all kinds. I liked the idea of creating the illusion of life. I was a Christmas & Easter type of Christian. It was a part of my family culture, but I didn’t personally know Christ. My grandmother and my best friends’ mother were praying for me for years, and telling me about Jesus as often as possible. I ended up taking the “works” path and trying really hard to be a good person so I could go to Heaven one day. I even read the Bible every day for 12 years straight, but there was no change in me. When I was about 21 I realized that no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t make me righteous enough to stand before God. That’s when I finally understood that my only hope was Christ’s righteousness. I realized that up to that point in my life, I wasn’t really alive. I had the illusion of life, like an animated character, but I needed Christ to make me real.
Tim: When we started scripting the project, it was going to be an animated short, but our organization didn’t have the funds to support the costs associated with it. All of our staff, who were volunteering and are still volunteers, helped bring the project about. It was around 2010 when I was playing The World Ends With You and it was such a great game. What I noticed about it was that the story was great, even without full animation or voice actors, just dialog boxes. We ended up taking our script and turning it into 3 limited animation videos with game-style dialog boxes instead of voices. The videos were available on YouTube, mobile phone video downloads and were also broadcast in Japan on CGNTV. But our primary target was mobile phones. In 2010, 80% of all Japanese net access was done with mobile phones, not computers. But almost no one had an iPhone in Japan, it was considered too simple compared to J-Phones which could buy sodas, receive TV signals, warm your hands and a whole bunch of other stuff. That is why we went with YouTube and mobile video downloads. However, in 2011, the iPhone began to take a hold in Japan. When we saw this, we decided to turn the videos into a game-style story app. I actually was pretty good with Adobe Flash and Adobe had just released a developer tool for Flash where you can develop something once and release it as a native app for both IOS and Android. It came along at just the right time for this project to branch out.
GG: Why a Japanese app? Why not just release it state side instead, knowing that there are so few Christians in Japan anyways?
Tim: I mentioned that as a kid I really loved animation. Anime was no exception. At that time we could only get it by sharing VHS tapes or the occasional Sci Fi channel broadcast. What a different world that was. The thing about anime was it wasn’t made for kids, and in Japan, anime is still seen as a universally enjoyable medium. When I became a Christian I realized that my love of animation, and of Japan needed to be meshed with my love of Christ. I partnered with some like-minded friends to start our non-profit organization, Let’s Love Japan. The goal of LLJ is to share the Gospel of Christ with Japan through high-quality media productions.
Many people do not know that Christianity was once a large religion in Japan. Francis Xavier came to Japan in 1549 and over the subsequent decades, hundreds of thousands of Japanese came to Christ. It spread rapidly through the country and many shogun and feudal lords became followers of Jesus. It wasn’t until the 1600’s when being a Japanese Christian became a crime punishable by death. Most Christians were killed or went underground. The reason I bring up this history is that the tool Xavier and his students used to reach the Japanese was street corner preaching. At that time in Japan, street performance was the primary form of free entertainment. Xavier used media as a conduit for the Gospel and it was received with joy by the Japanese audience.
Most missionaries in Japan have told me that it takes decades to reach a Japanese person’s heart through personal sharing. But we were seeing public sentiment in Japan sway quickly because of TV dramas and anime. Winter Sonata was a Korean drama that made many Japanese interested in Korea. Densha Otoko was a J-Drama that made being an Otaku kinda cool… for a while. It is said that to become a Japanese Christian, one must give up being Japanese. We wanted to use media to change that sentiment with 3 key points focused on in our stories:
1. The Gospel is good news for all nations, including Japan.
2. Being a Japanese Christian is ok, there’s historic precedence for it.
3. There are Japanese Christians today that are all around Japan. They are good citizens, they love their country and its people, and they follow Jesus.
If we can convince the general populace of these facts, then becoming a Christian in Japan will not be a taboo idea.
The title “Sugoku Fushigi na Kurisumasu” means “Totally Mysterious Christmas”. Once when sharing the Gospel with a Japanese person, she responded that it was “Sugoku Fushigi”. It reminded me of the Bible verse: Colossians 1:26 “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.”
Tim: For the script, we worked with Japanese Christians that had drama experience to make a story that was truly Japanese. As for the artwork, our primary artist was bbqbert an American who studied in Japan. She is super talented. Our goal was to develop a story and visual style that was received as a native production. Most of the time when westerners make stuff it “reeks of butter”. That is a Japanese way of saying, “This doesn’t seem like a Japanese thing, it is too foreign”. We didn’t want the story to feel like it wasn’t relevant to the Japanese audience.
We did 3 episodes to let each focus on one of the 3 key points mentioned earlier. There’s a progression from ancient history (The Birth of Christ) to Japanese history (a 16th century Japanese Christmas Festival) to today (a contemporary Japanese church’s Christmas party). We lay the foundation in episode 1, we bring it home to Japan in episode 2 and we make it personal in episode 3.
GG: What about the feedback? How have the Japanese, or anyone else, reacted to the app?
Tim: Most of the feedback we received was from missionaries in Japan that used the production in outreach activities, or as a tool to bring people into their church. Christmas is totally part of Japanese culture, just not for the purposes of Incarnation Celebration. It’s typically a date night. The familiarity is why we picked Christmas as the setting.
In terms of reception, we’ve reached around 100k people so far. But our goal is 1 million. We’ve had a few negative comments, one saying it is “too evangelistic”. But that’s to be expected. It is evangelistic by design so we expected that.
In addition to the 3 stories, we started a map tool using Google maps. The viewer’s mobile phone GPS can be used to find a church close to them. Since that kind of tool is beyond our organization’s mission, we handed it off to a church in Japan to keep updated, but it’s very useful and can be found here.
We recently received this feedback from a missionary:
“I’ve used the Totally Mysterious Christmas video for a couple of years at the Christmas party for my children’s classes. The adventure of the three young ladies in Tokyo really helps my students see how Christmas relates to them in Japan. We’re planning to use it again this year at our Christmas program for the community.”
– Rhonda Juve, Missionary in Miyazaki
GG: Are there any plans on seeing an English translation?
Tim: We’d be open to releasing it with an English option, but it would take a lot to make that happen, but it’s not out of the question. Japan is our focus though.
GG: Ok, now that the serious questions are out of the way, I can ask some geek questions! Hope your ready…Favorite video game and why!
Tim: Super Mario World on the SNES. I’ve 100% cleared that game too many times to count, and it’s still enjoyable. I love the precision of the gameplay, the art style and the challenge. It never gets old.
GG: I noticed that you really enjoy cartoons, so I have to ask this question two-fold. Favorite cartoon and favorite anime!
Tim: I probably should say my favorite cartoon is Phineas & Ferb, since I was an artist on it, but my current favorite cartoon is Regular Show. My favorite cartoon of all time is Ducktales, because it’s a masterpiece. My favorite anime film is probably Akira and TV series is probably Samurai Champloo, again, because they are masterpieces. I also like Samurai Champloo because it is concise. 26 episodes and the story is complete. Recently I enjoyed Attack on Titan, but I wish the story had wrapped up. I hate waiting for new episodes and I hate filler…
GG: Favorite animated movie, and why?
Tim: Sleeping Beauty. The art in it is stunning. The story is pretty concise as well, and it’s such a simple shadow of the Gospel. That is, we were cursed from birth with sin, and our only hope is the prince who defeats the dragon and brings us back from the sleep of death to live in his castle forever.
GG: Hey Tim, thank you so much for your time and for making Sugoku Fushigi. Where can people find you, and download the app?
Tim: My pleasure! Our non-profit organization is
Get the app here
And I also do Gospel explorations of animated films here which includes a few anime films as well.
GG: God bless you, and in Jesus name that God would bless your future endeavors with much success. Take care!