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Japanese ‘rock star’ pastor, Marre Ishii, describes what it was like to live through the 9.0 earthquake

Former nightclub musician, Marre Ishii, who is now possibly Japan’s most unusual pastor, has described that it was like to live through last week’s massive 9.0 earthquake in his country.

Dan Wooding with Marre Ishii after the interview at KWVE

The singer, who looks more like a sultry rock star than a minister, told me during an interview yesterday (March 15, 2011) for my “Front Page Radio,” program in the studios of KWVE 107.9 FM in Santa Ana, California, “It was quite terrible; the most frightening experience of my life.”

Ishii went on to say, “I was in my home in Tokyo on Friday (March 11, 2011) with my wife Kumiko when suddenly, in the early afternoon, the room began swaying and then there was a huge thud and after that the swaying got worse and worse and lasted for about two minutes.

“I have been through many earthquakes, but this was absolutely terrifying. We already had the television set on and so we began to watch the shocking scenes on the screen and then, to make matters worse, the earthquake was followed by the tsunami.

“Please pray for the people of Japan as they try to recover from this devastating event and also pray for the many Christians who are involved in bringing aid and comfort, in the name of Jesus Christ, to my country.”

Shortly after the earthquake, Ishii was able to board a flight to Los Angeles, where he has been working on a new album called “Heavenese” with the Andraé Crouch family, his singers, and Sheila E.

Strangely enough, he has been staying in Northridge where an earthquake occurred on January 17, 1994, at 04:31 Pacific Standard Time lasting for about 10-20 seconds. The earthquake had a “strong” moment magnitude of 6.7, but the ground acceleration was one of the highest ever instrumentally recorded in an urban area in North America. At least 33 deaths were attributed to the earthquake, with some estimates ranging much higher, and there were over 8,700 injured. In addition, the earthquake caused an estimated $20 billion in damage, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Still he didn’t seem to be afraid of living through another earthquake this time in Southern California, and enthused about his new work.

“We have already completed a sample CD called “Heavenese” with two tracks,” he said. “One is called ‘Life,’ with music and lyrics by myself, and also ‘Tell Everybody,’ with music and lyrics by myself and Andraé Crouch,” he told me.

“I will be returning soon to Tokyo to rejoin my church which is called the ‘Kick Back Café’ and see how my congregation is doing after this terrible situation that has caused such devastation in my country.”

I first met Marre Ishii some eighteen months ago when I was in Japan to launch a new book I had written called “God’s Ambassadors in Japan,” which is the inspiring story of veteran American missionaries, Kenny and Lila Joseph, who have been in the country for more than 50 years.

Their son, Mark Joseph, had told me about this extraordinary church of all ages that meets in Ishii’s nightclub/restaurant called the “Kick Back Café.” Each Sunday morning in Tokyo, Ishii serves up 90 minutes of Christian rock with his band and then preaches for an hour.

At the time I attended, I joined the standing-room only service and enjoyed the sheer exuberance of the worship led by Marre Ishii on the keyboards, and then listened, via a translator, to his excellent sermon on the Day of Pentecost described in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2.

“For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described as ‘the Church’s birthday,’” he said.

And this service was just like a birthday party with food served up by the café’s chefs to the hundreds in attendance after the service was over.

While chatting with the rock and roll pastor, I learned that in 1991, he made his recording debut on the Polydor label with a self-titled album called “Marre.”

In 1994, he traveled to Calvary Chapel, La Habra, California, to learn about the Bible, general counseling, and pre-marital counseling. After his internship at this Calvary Chapel, he was ordained as a pastor.

Then, n 1995, he returned to Japan and did a charity concert, “Gospel Fest 1995,” for the people that suffered from the Hanshin earthquake with his then fiancée, now his wife, Kumiko.

From then on he has been performing live Gospel concerts all over Japan while teaching the Bible as a pastor. In the year 2000, he published a book called “Superman vs. Cinderella” and through this he has been dealing with marital and relationship issues. He now helps couples before marriage with pre-marital counseling, conducts the ceremony as a pastor, and also deals with post-marriage issues, marital problems and parenting.

Before the service began, I was able to interview Ishii and I commented on his dress style and he laughed and said, “It’s just how I dress; how I carry myself.”

I then asked him how this most unusual church service began.

“Well, here in Japan, we only have a small percentage of Christians, so rather than having a church setting with a big cross on the building, I decided to start the church in this nightclub-restaurant setting which I felt was much more effective,” he explained.

“People can come in not knowing what to expect, and not feel threatened,” he said. “Then they can ‘kick back’ and have a good meal so that we can be friends with them and eventually they will be drawn to the Lord.”

During the week, the “Kick Back Café” is a nightclub/restaurant that he and his wife owns, but it is also becoming a place where many Japanese — mainly young people — come and learn about Jesus.

And besides the service, Marre Ishii puts on concerts for visiting Christian artists from the United States.

“We have been fortunate to have a lot of great Christian artists coming here from America like Andraé Crouch, Sheila E and Kirk Whalum, all of whom really like to play here,” he said.

“This ministry started almost twelve years ago, but we began in this particular one some five years ago. Many of our church members also work at the café.”

I told the pastor that I didn’t know of any other nightclub/café where all the staff are also church members.

“Well, to me, it is more natural for us to have the services here rather than being in a sanctuary,” he explained. “People in Japan don’t have a concept of going to church, but they love café’s and nightclubs and they love music. My staff bring along their friends to the services and our concerts and they are finding Jesus Christ as their savior in this way.”

So how did his musical style evolve?

“Well I was raised on KISS,” he laughed. “I was a big fan of KISS music when I was younger and was a typical ‘wanna be’ rock and roll musician who was also influenced by David Bowie and U2 as well as all different kinds of American and British rock music.

“When I got the age of 20, I became Christian and I began to merge my style with Gospel music. Now we do a whole new gospel sound, but with Japanese soul to it.”

I then asked him about the state of Christianity in Japan at this time.

“Christian churches here do not have much power in our society and are only a small percentage of the population,” he said. “I would say that many Japanese people think Christianity is a part of American culture. So our goal is to show them that it is a worldwide faith. We want people to know that we can be Christian as well being Japanese.”

I concluded by asking how people could pray for him and his church?

Marre said, “We know that prayer works so please pray that the Lord will bring so many in this new generation who have no concept of a church or God, to our church and get saved.”

For more information, go to www.kickbackcafe.jp and for more information on his new CD, go to www.tengokumin.com

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