Rambling Notes from Japan
Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.
"Think Destination" Corner
10 Punctual Public transportation
We set our watch to trains that take us comfortably (well, mostly) and quickly anywhere in Tokyo.
9 Amusing etiquette signs in English
Sometimes translation goes a little wrong, strangely, or brashly...and makes me smile.
8 Japanese worship music
Take a listen to a recent contemporary favorite of mine. We also enjoy many western hymns in Japan.
7 Onsen (Hot Springs)
They're all around. If you're not overly shy, onsen can be a great place to relax in God's creation.
I've learned a lot about my neighborhood and people. And gotten hopelessly lost despite GPS.
5 Mountain climbing
We're surrounded by beautiful mountains. Another father-son climb is in the works for summer.
4 Our neighborhood Denny's
Owned by 7-11. With the call buttons on the table.
3 Gas stations (most are full service)
2~3 attendants hop about checking, washing, filling, stopping traffic for our exit and bowing as we leave. Buying gas never felt so special.
2 Cherry blossoms
They'll be blooming near us shortly after we arrive.
1 No snow to clear, grass to mow, or leaves to rake.
Usually. Truthfully, we miss it...sometimes...not lately.
Who is That Masked Person?
That brings me to something our friends in back in the States often ask: "Why is that person in your Japan video wearing a mask?" No, they are not likely to have some highly contagious disease. And they are not fixing to rob a bank! They are simply acting out a cultural norm. It's true: Japanese are perhaps among the heaviest face mask users in the world. The recent flu outbreak has resulted in an actual scarcity (a local drug store is rationing them out!) as commuters and students have donned the mask like never before. Even before the flu, however, Japanese can frequently be seen wearing face masks. Some suffer from hayfever, others are being polite about not spreading their colds, many simply find it a sanitary way of living in an compressed space with multitudes of people.
That is probably the point that is best drawn out here. Americans live, for the most part, with great amounts of personal space. Urban Japanese, however, have no such privilege. Tight. Cramped. Layered. Packed. This is urban life Asian style like you have never seen it. The social dynamics that result from such a close-quartered lifestyle shape Japanese character, and are important to know when involved in mission work. It seems that masks are more than just masks...they're social dividing mechanisms. I feel like launching into a great sermon illustration related to masks, but will leave it there for now. Gotta go get in the line at the drug store for a face mask.
The New Year's Flight
In another time-honored tradition, a minority will celebrate the year’s end in quite a different fashion; they will vanish into thin air. New Year’s eve, when people generally clear their debts, has become the most popular night for yonige, (the midnight flight). People who have fallen into debt, simply disappear in the night to start a fresh life in an anonymous city or country.
So common is the practice that it has spurned an industry of removal companies specializing in midnight dashes, even avoiding burly men with baseball bats, called variously benriyasan, (‘Mr. Convenient for Anything’) or yonigeya (‘Midnight Flight Shop’). These companies are good at disappearing acts. Once a family has dashed, the yonigeya will clear out the contents of the house in 15-30 minutes, storing them in a secret warehouse until they can be reunited with their fleeing clients. Full-service companies offer leased property and untraceable phone lines in a new city and can, for a hefty fee, provide a new identity, which is no mean feat in tightly documented Japan.
Source: Tokyo Financial Times (2006/01/03) & missionary Neil Verwey
For believers we usually advise, not to flee but to face the music. Jesus says to us, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Don't run away from Jesus, run to Him! He will shoulder your burdens and give you rest!
Snowfall or Dollar Fall?
Family Issues in Japan
In the corner of a small Japanese restaurant, a dozen dark-suited businessmen gathered at a large table. Smoke hovered over the dinner and beer disappeared as quickly as it was poured. At first glance, it looked like a typical Friday night post-work scene played out all over Tokyo’s taverns. But then your eye stops on a poster-sized sign propped up next to one of the middle-aged men. It reads:
Three Golden Rules of Love:
* Thank you (say it without hesitation)
* I am sorry (say it without fear)
* I love you (say it without embarrassment)
All the men at the table stood up. Equally spaced out and still wearing their stiff black suits, they chanted in unison: "I can’t win! I won’t win! I don’t want to win!" The chant was followed by a deep bow, a straightening of the backs, big smiles and a burst of applause. The meeting of the "National Chauvinistic Husbands Association" was under way.
If you're confused at this point, don't fret. The group is called the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association because it's a club for bossy husbands who need help (a little lost in translation effect here.)
So the title is appropriate for this group of men. In an abrupt about face from traditional Japanese relationships, the men are learning how to give their wives more respect.
More poster signs surrounded the men at this meeting:
Three Golden Rules of Renewing Family:
* Let's Listen
* Let's Write
* Let's Talk
And there's even a system of ranking your husbandry in the club:
Rank 1: Love your wife after three years of marriage
Rank 2: Help with the household work
Rank 3: No extramarital affairs or at least she doesn't know about it
Rank 4: Ladies first
Rank 5: Hold hands with your wife in public
Rank 6: Listen to what your wife has to say carefully and seriously
Rank 7: Solve issues between your wife and your mother
Rank 8: Say thank you without hesitation
Rank 9: Say I'm sorry without fear
Rank 10: Say I love you without embarrassment
After the meeting, we followed a young man named Yohei Takayama home. He'd just been promoted to "Rank 4." He admitted that "Rank 5," holding hands with his wife in public, was not going to be natural or easy. He and his wife have been married for two years. His wife said he’s been a member of the club for a year and a half and it has changed their relationship dramatically.
Namely, she said, he helps more around the house, listens to her more, and understands she also has a career that exhausts her. What they’re growing into, she said, is a partnership. They went grocery shopping, and I noticed he carried the bags and helped her decide what to buy. As they left the store to go home, he took her hand in his. It didn't look like the most natural thing in the world for him, but he was trying. His wife smiled as they walked home.
Lost Japanese Parrot Knew His Address
After spending a night at the station, he was transferred to a nearby veterinary clinic, while police searched for clues. “I tried to be friendly and talked to him, but he completely ignored me,” policeman Mr. Uemura said. The parrot kept mum with the cops, but began chatting with the veterinarian. “I'm Mr. Yosuke Nakamura,” the bird told the vet. He also provided his full home address, down to the street number, and even entertained the clinic staff by singing songs. “We checked the address, and what do you know, the Nakamura family really lived there. When we told them we had found Yosuke, they were elated,” Mr. Uemura said.
The Nakamura family had been teaching the bird its name and address for about two years, and they were very happy that it finally paid off!
Source: Internet News, 2008-05-26
Just like that parrot, and just like sheep we have all gone our own way and completely went off course! All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6). To us who are more intelligent than parrots and sheep, God has explained how we can find our way back to Him! You will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 4:29).
Bathing Your Way to Purity
One can see here how the Bible speaks to this matter of cleanliness before the God who has made us and loves us. The cleansing God offers has nothing to do with a physical bath. In fact, it is quite useless for a right relationship with our Lord. "Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me" (Jer 2:22). God is into the deep cleansing that man needs, begins at the heart polluted with sin, and uses the agent of the Holy Spirit. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."
Having said that, our family does enjoy a good hot spring bath from time to time for the simple recreation of it. Here's a photo of us last week going to the famous Mt. Zao hot spring. It's an outdoor sulphur spring that leaves one with an unmistakeable smell. Rather ironic that bathing leaves one smelling.
Still, I must admit that several days in the "REAL" Japan (Tokyo is not "really" Japan), I discover parts of me that still stick out in this culture. After a few hours of sitting on the floor, my legs, bottom, and back begin to beg for a comfortable chair. And it's still a challenge to muster up the willpower to eat raw fish and salad for breakfast. Lunch or dinner, okay. But breakfast is still a sacred meal that I try to do more Western style when home. And my Yamagata accent listening skills are also in poor shape. It seems I've been spoiled by the "mainstream" Japanese in the Kanto area.
Well, those and many more things are still areas of growth for me in cultural adaptation. Thankfully I've still some years to work on it.
Putting a dollar to good use?
First the technical definition: it means that the purchasing power of a currency is falling so that a given unit will buy less of a product or service in the future than it does today.
Now for the modern definition: it means that artists in Tokyo are feeling much better about using the dollar for origami paper these days!
While out the other day, I was surprised to see a street vendor with his creative collection of origami art out of dollar bills. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. After all, good washi (Japanese decorative paper) can cost quite a bit, but the dollar bill as a artistic medium...well these days the price is pretty good, and getting better. Right now his cost is only 99yen each for each creation, to be exact.
It was humorous to me that many of his creations were winged beasts. It reminded me of Proverbs: "Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky." 23:5
Oh for the good 'ol days when the dollar in Japan could really buy something...like a complete McDonald's hamburger set. These days I'm a yen short of the price of even the hamburger. I suppose, though, my waistline is glad for the change.
How's it Growing?
But other than being an interesting piece of cultural trivia, of what practical use is this square melon? As it turns out, it is a perfect solution for the space-conscious urban Japanese. A round melon requires a lot of room in one's refrigerator. But these square melons are grown to the exact size of typical shelving in a Japanese refrigerators. Talk about "cornering" the market!
We're reminded in Scripture of something else that grows to the shape of its surroundings unless we're careful: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Rom. 12:2 Our minds, like melons, need to break out of the conforming pattern of this world. How? "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Phil 4:8. That's how we grow the way we were designed to be! So how's it growing with you?
Vending Machines in Japan
Are you in a rush to get to work or school? How about having some soup from a Cup-a-Noodle machine on the way? In less than three minutes you get piping hot soup. What about a bag of fresh hot popcorn from a machine using a microwave oven to pop the corn in seconds? If you like rice like the Japanese do, you might visit the rice dispensing machines. You can purchase ten kilo bags of rice in eight different varieties! An egg machine features farm fresh eggs. The umbrella vending machines are popular when it rains.
We often use automated waitresses in Japan. Just make your meal selection from the machine at the restaurant. Feed your money into the machine then you'll get a ticket which you hand to the cook behind the counter inside.
In some places the entire building is a parking machine. Just drive your car into the bay. Each bay rotates through the building to maximize usage of space. Your parking ticket will retrieve your car back to the bottom bay. You back out your car onto the rotating circle. It will also turn your car so you can drive out straight!
God is the source of everything we need...and you won't need a coin. Just ask!
THEREFORE I SAY TO YOU, WHATEVER THINGS YOU ASK WHEN YOU PRAY, BELIEVE THAT YOU RECEIVE THEM, AND YOU WILL HAVE THEM (Mark 11:24).
Go to God for absolutely everything – small or large!
Bowling Japan Style
We discovered that none of us has much of a latent talent in this sport. Breaking 100 was a big deal. But it is refreshing when Japanese get together like this and clap and cheer each other on even when the person has thrown a dozen straight gutters. There is something that Japanese do better in the area of togetherness and community that I have learned much from. The competitiveness is still a part of things, but the emphasis on teamwork is so much greater in just about any Japanese sport.
When asked what fun sport we can do as a church next, someone in our group suggested a marathon run. Hmmm. Not quite sure on that, but I am sure it would be done in a group-oriented Japanese way.
But sometimes because of the tiny space, one wonders what to do with all one's stuff. The tiny closets certainly don't fit very much. One solution: make a hole in the ceiling and create some tiny attic space. So, hammer and saw in hand, last week Kevin did just that in our home. We created enough new tiny space above our 3rd floor (yes, we have 3 floors, but don't get me started in telling you how tiny each level is) to accommodate about a dozen boxes including Christmas trees and things irregular size for Japan. What a relief to our closets to reclaim this space! (PHOTO: It's just big enough for Justen to squat down in and move around. How will we get stuff down as he grows up?)
Of course, another solution might be throw out and get rid of unneeded things. Our neighbor has been aggressively discarding things to move to smaller housing (PHOTO: the bags of trash she recently placed out on the street). Watching our neighbor getting rid of all these things (everything including, yes, a kitchen sink!), has sobered us to the life cycle of possessions. We really accumulate a lot more than is practical, needful, or healthy for a Kingdom-focused lifestyle. The admonition of Christ rings true:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21
Jesus Buried in Japan?!
After escaping the Romans, so the legend goes, He fled across Siberia to Japan. He settled near the northern end of Honshu, married a local woman and fathered three daughters before dying peacefully at the age of 106!
“I don’t exactly think it’s true,” Mr. Sawaguchi, a farmer in the area said. “But I don’t exactly think it’s false either.” His old house has a symbol resembling the Star of David carved into its wooden rain shutters!
A peculiar local belief is that making a sign of the cross on a baby’s forehead will prevent illness.
Source: Yomiuri Newspaper, 1999-07-05
We know that there are many counterfeit Christs in the world! How fantastic it is to be liberated to know the real Christ.
For we did not follow
cunningly devised fables
when we made known to you the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
(2 Peter 1:16).
The Gulliver Complex
The first sign was bumping my head in the shuttle bus from the airport. By habit, I normally duck my head through any doorway in Japan. Three weeks in the States eased the need for ducking, but now it looks like it is time to restart.
The second doubletake was the size of the streets. I found myself holding my breath as the shuttle bus wove WITHIN INCHES through pedestrians, motorcycles, and oncoming traffic. A few days later I'd no doubt find myself thinking nothing of if -- doing it myself, in fact, down our tiny-street neighborhood -- but right now it still shocks me.
The third reminder was at the hotel. The room was, well, large enough to turn around in. The bathroom shower required me to slouch in order to wash my hair. And the bathroom mirror gave me a great reflection...of my upper chest and neck. Gulliver complex.
But the final bit of convincing came the next morning. At the Denny's near the airport hotel we ordered breakfast. Pancakes served were each the size of a silver dollar, cutely piled on top of each other. The coffee was poured into mugs the size of an expresso cups. And the table came all the way up to just slightly above my knee level. Yes, I'm a giant again. But the great thing about eating in Lilliputan restaurant is that the giants don't need to leave tips -- actually even "average" size people don't need to leave tips in Japan!
So as I walked out of the restaurant smiling to myself about the money saved (spent many times over on the price of food), I forgot where I was, and bumped my head again. Good show, Gulliver!
How Not to Iron Your Clothes
We're sometimes asked by you, "Are the Tokyo trains as bad as we hear?" If you have a Japanese definition of personal space, then no they are not so bad. But for most Americans who are used to a wider circle of empty space about them, it is pretty hard to adjust to this part of the Japanese culture. What you do not see in the photo is what no doubt happened about 10 seconds prior to this: the white-gloved station platform attendant literally pushing, squeezing, and otherwise using force to get this man, and others into the train car.
Our train line (and neighborhood in general) is changing. They are lying new track to expand the capacity from 2 tracks to 4 tracks. In the process a lot of housing and businesses along the existing line have needed to be demolished. It looks like a war zone in our neighborhood on most days. But when it is finished it is supposed to alleviate some transit capacity problems like this. They promise that trains will only need to be packed to 150% capacity. Yikes!
Only in Japan
Bicycles: the Family Car
I was reminded of how big a role the bicycle plays in Japan's "mass transit" system. In urban Japan where having a place to park a real car would be a luxury for most, the bicycle is not unlike the family car. It hauls groceries, little kids, pets, you name it! I have grown accustomed to seeing the mother taking her kids to school or preschool by bicycle with the baby seated strapped in front of her behind the handlebars, and an older child strapped in back of her in a child seat. This "bicycle-for-three" is a common sight.
What happens when it rains? The mother shelters the baby and herself with an unbrella in one hand, while steering with the other. The child in back holds his own umbrella. Add a few sacks of groceries to this situation--one in the basket in front of the baby, the other in the lap of the child behind--and the bicycle begins to look like part of a travelling caravan. Still, this is not an uncommon sight. But the other day I saw one that surprised even me: on a rainy day a mother and two children each with their own umbrella were mounted on a bicycle with groceries in their laps. Okay so far. But wait! With one hand steering the bike and the other holding an umbrella, the mother was talking on a cell phone cradled under her chin! Remember this is drippy, wet pavement weather! And there are pedestrians, cars, and scooters to contend with as well! Don't believe me? Oh how I wish I had my camera with to show you what it looked like!
You Give me a Bat; I Give you a Drink
On the way back home, I decided that the "missionary thing to do" (the Christlike thing, more like), would be to show him a little grace. It was a hot day, so I bought a nice cold drink from the vending machine and, being careful to park a distance away, walked it up to his office. He froze when he saw me come in. I think he actually wondered if I came back with my own bat. It felt great to graciously apologize for using his parking lot, and place the drink on the counter in front of him. Christ's words in Romans 12:20 are always good advice.