The ‘rock star’ pastor who gives spiritual food to his congregation at his ‘Kick Back Café” in Tokyo
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries, June 07, 2009

TOKYO, JAPAN (ANS) -- Former nightclub musician, Marre Ishii, looks like a sultry rock star but, in fact, he is the pastor of what must be Japan’s most unusual church.

Marre Ishii during a service

His congregation of all ages meets in his nightclub/restaurant called the “Kick Back Café” each Sunday morning in Tokyo, where he serves up 90 minutes of Christian rock with his band and then preaches for an hour.

I joined the standing-room only service recently during my trip to Tokyo and enjoyed the sheer exuberance of the worship led by Marre on the keyboards, and then listened, via a translator, 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.”

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 record debut on the Polydor label with a self-titled album called “Marre.”

In 1994, he went abroad to America to learn about the Bible, general counseling, pre-marital counseling at Calvary Chapel, La Habra, California. After internship at Calvary Chapel, he was ordained as pastor. In 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 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 Marre 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 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.

“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 own, but it is also becoming a place where many Japanese mainly young people come and learn about Jesus.

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

Andrae Crouch at the “Kick Back Café”

“We have been fortunate to have a lot of great Christian artists coming here from America like Andrae 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 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 their friends along 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.”

He then revealed that he is now working on a new album with Andrae Crouch.

“It's been in the process for four years now because I have so many other things to do,” said Marre. “It's a slow process but it'll be released very soon, I hope.”

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

People lining up in the rain to enter the “Kick Back Café” in Tokyo

“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 that have no concept of a church or God, to our church and get saved.”

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I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

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