Lucia Burchill

Since its founding in 1950, the ultimate purpose and vision of Tokyo-based Word of Life Press Ministries (WLPM) has been “the Gospel of Jesus Christ for Everyone.” In a country of 126.3 million where less than 1 percent is Christian, “this is the vision that still burns in our hearts and is our motivation in each of our various activities,” states Don Regier of WLPM.

History

WLPM began as a literature evangelism committee of missionaries. Today it has grown into Japan’s largest Christian publishing, retailing, and distributing enterprise with a staff of 120 Japanese evangelical Christians from 50 denominations.

According to Regier, in 1950, there was almost no evangelical literature, as 80 percent of Protestant churches were liberal or neo-orthodox in theology as were the publishers. Today, churches are 70-80 percent evangelical in theology. “WLPM has been an integral part of the work of God among the churches for this growth of the evangelical movement.”

WLPM is organized into six divisions that publish Bibles, books, music, CDs, DVDs, computer software, Christian education materials, church supplies, magazines, a quarterly journal for pastors, and a weekly newspaper. Over 800 titles are in print at any one time. They also have a ministry to the blind, a nationwide tract distribution ministry, and a camp and conference center. WLPM also provides self-publishing services for individuals, churches, and ministries.

“Our goal is to promote the Bible’s worldview and the Christian message in Japanese society and even beyond Japan through high-quality design and content,” says Regier.

Publishing and Distribution

WLPM works primarily with Japanese authors and artists, but they also have many well-known North American and British authors, as well as some Korean writers. “When we started, a major goal was to find and develop Japanese authors who could address the Japanese context, which we have been very successful in doing,” says Regier. “Out of nearly 400 authors and artists in our latest book catalog, only 150 are foreign.”

Japan has around 100 Christian publishers, many church related or one-person operations with some nondenominational publishers, like WLPM. Most publish one to five new titles a year. WLPM publishes 80 to 90 new titles a year. According to Regier, “one distinctive of publishing in Japan is that the profit margin for a store on a book is only 20-25 percent of the retail price. This makes it very hard for a store to survive. Retail prices are set by the publisher and books must be sold at that price until they are discounted for bargain sales.”

In the area of distribution, there are 75 Christian bookstores in the country, of which 10 are WLPM’s. Most stores are independent, while others are publisher or church related. The stores have ties with various distributors in Japan. In addition, some stores have extensive mail order ministries and others have staff that regularly visits churches to distribute product. “Virtually every Sunday of the year, WLPM staff members are in one to 10 churches sharing our message and promoting our products,” he says. In addition, The Gospel Box is a parcel delivery van that WLPM that has outfitted as a mobile store. It travels all across the country to towns without stores and works with local churches in outreach ministries.

Biggest sellers and trends

Japanese culture emphasizes the visual; therefore illustrated gift books are especially popular to give to non-Christians. Bible picture books are always in demand for children, as well as adults, and Manga sells well with all ages. In addition, electronic books are slowly increasing in Japan; over the last two years, WLPM has released 30 titles for various digital devices.


 

“An amazing development recently has been the entrance of some of the U.S. faith-based movies into theaters in Japan through Sony. They provide opportunities for Christians to take non-believing family and friends to a movie theater who would not go to a church with them,” says Repier. “WLPM works with Sony to check the subtitles for religious vocabulary and concepts, promotes them in stores and churches, provides free preview showings and discounted tickets, then distributes the DVDs when they’re available.” Risen, Miracles From Heaven, and War Room have recently begun runs in nine cities across Japan.

Challenges and initiatives

WLPM faces many challenges: churches consisting of the elderly, churches with retiring pastors and no replacements, smaller markets with fewer churches, and declining church membership. In addition, “stores are closing and publishers are failing; our business is half of what it was in the 1980s, but we’ve constantly created new ministries and products to reach people even as we retool and adapt.”

Some of those new products include a completely new revision of the Japanese Living Bible (Ribingu Baiburu) first published in 1984. The New Japanese Bible (Shinkaiyaku), released in 1970 and used in most evangelical churches and quoted in evangelical publications, was revised in 1978 and 2003. Now a new Bible is being prepared for release in 2017, called Shinkaiyaku 2017, which WLPM will publish.

Another initiative is aimed at entry-level introduction to Christianity. WLPM will produce a MOOK—a book with magazine-like layout and design and easy-to-understand vocabulary—on Christianity that they hope will develop into a print and video series as well.

Due to the recent closing of STL Distribution, as of the writing of this article WLPM is still looking for a new distribution partner in order to serve N. American retailers. Of course direct orders to WLPM in Japan are welcome. Contact Don Regier or Sachiko Niimi at gospelhq@wlpm.or.jp.

-Lucia Burchill