Died: Reiji Oyama, Bible Translator Who Repented for Japan’s Wartime Sins

The humble pastor made the Word easy to understand for modern Japanese and sought to heal the “bitter enmity” with Korea.

Reiji Oyama, the translator of the Modern Japanese Bible and one of the founders of the Japan Evangelical Association, died on May 16 at the age of 96 in Tokyo.

He started translating the Bible in 1960, beginning with the letter to Philemon and moving on to publishing the entire New Testament in Japanese in 1978. In Japanese, it was known as Gendaijin no Seisho or “Bible for Modern Man.” But Oyama preferred using this English title: “The Understandable Bible.”

He believed most people don’t read the Bible because they think it is too difficult. The difficulty is not the Bible itself, though, but how it has been translated, Oyama said. He argued that most Japanese versions of Scripture strove for faithfulness to the biblical text but, unfortunately, disregarded cultural differences.

Oyama believed that it was important that the meaning of the biblical text, as revealed to its original audience, should be equally clear in the Japanese language. As a result, his translations were often paraphrases rather than word-for-word translations.

“My father showed me the honest, humble faith of a child every day,” his daughter Negumi Okano said at his funeral. “I can see the faith of a humble little child who accepts what is taught by the Bible and believes that it is true.”

Reiji Oyama was born in Tokyo on January 15, 1927. His father, Tōji, was a manager at the Mitzukoshi department store and later opened a used bookstore, while his mother, Ikuko, was a housewife. When World War II began, Oyama became a high school cadet in the Japanese Imperial Army Accounting Academy, which trained elite officers in college-level courses, martial arts, and horsemanship.

After the war, Oyama entered Waseda …

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