Posts about Japanese culture or missions in Japan.

Beautiful Japan

I still have a few more thoughts from my trip to share. Mostly over jet lag and getting adjusted to America, again. Here’s some more about Japan from a couple weeks ago:

Japan is a nation of beauty. In food, art, pottery, music, traditional architecture, and nature, everything is supposed to be beautiful. Anyone who wants to come here and serve God must love that beauty. Loving that beauty will get you close to the people you come to serve.

A couple days ago, I spent the night at a nice hotel (called a ryokan in Japanese). While there, I realized the beauty of this society.

Every part of the stay at the Ryokan was beautiful. In my room, little red teapot awaited me with green tea bags, a cup, and a dish for putting the used bags on. It all was arranged nicely on a tray. The room was arranged in classic Japanese style, with straw mats for the flooring material and a low table surrounded by legless chairs:

Hotels in Japan give you free yukatas (robes) to use for the duration of your stay. They’re thin, comfortable, and look pretty nice. You also get a complementary pair of slippers to wear around for the duration of your stay. Yes, I have pictures:

After arriving, I made myself some of that tea and watched the wind blow the leaves down from the autumn-faded hillsides. The tea didn’t taste that great, but if I was going to stay a night in a ryokan, you can be darn well sure I was going to bleed them for every penny. I had three cups.

View from my window
They even has a notice out front I was staying there. Well, they tried.

Japanese people know how to relax, at least the 1-2 days a year they decide to. I could go on and on. The public bath downstairs was just… rejuvenating. And I don’t know why, because you’re stark naked in a room full of people your same gender. I took two baths, which for a hotspring town was pitiful by Japanese standards. Most Japanese will jump in before dinner, after dinner, and in the morning. And if they have the time, they’ll run around town with a robe and a towel and find some serious natural hotsprings. I think they have my same mentality: every penny.

My breakfast contained no fewer than 14 different foods and/or drinks served using no fewer than 15 different plates and/or cups, each with a unique design. Food in Japan does more than taste good, it looks good. It must have taken at least 10 minutes just to set the thing up for me. These meals look something like this:

Japanese are unbelievable musicians. In America, everyone says what a great piano player I am. In Japan, I’m positively second-rate.

At the same time, there’s a tragedy to this beauty, because inside, people are really, really hurting. And their exterior has to remain beautiful. No matter how depressed, lonely, and anxious you are, on the outside, you have to maintain a beautiful exterior, because everything in Japan is beautiful. So as much as any servant of God in Japan must love the beauty of this nation, you also much be able to see beyond the beauty to the hurting insides and the incredible spiritual needs of this people.

By |2014-02-18T20:41:35-08:00November 22nd, 2013|Japan|Comments Off on Beautiful Japan

Three Pictures of Japan

Just one more day in Japan. Here’s some thoughts from earlier in the trip.

I present to you three pictures that represent Japan. They were taken near Matsumoto Castle, a truly amazing building. In one, you see a little piece of rope or something amidst the beams supporting the roof at the very top of the castle. According to a description in the same room (which makes up the entire sixth floor):

“Lowered from the ceiling, the goddess of nijiroku-yashin is enshrined. There is a legend connected to the goddess. On the night of January 26, 1618, in a vision, one of the young vassals on duty saw a women dressed in beautiful clothes. Handing him a brocade bag, she said, ‘If the lord of the castle enshrines me with 500 kg of rice on the 26th night of every month, I will protect the castle from fire and enemy.’ It is believed that because the bag was deified, the castle was preserved and has survived to be the oldest castle in its original form.”

That little thing is a shrine to the goddess. It was a bit hard to see, because it was so high in the rafters. Houses in Japan have some kind of charm in the rafters that’s supposed to protect the house, and generally a Shinto priest will bless the house when it is built. I don’t know what percentage of houses have these charms, but usually they’re hidden (often above the indoor ceiling but beneath the outdoor roof).

The spiritual strongholds in Japan work something like this. They’re hidden and hard to see, but the Enemy’s power is right there, hovering at the top. You may suddenly find your church divided and wonder how this happened. That’s because in Japan (similar to America), demons are really good at being sneaky. This isn’t Africa, where witch doctors hold animistic societies in a state of terror.

I spent a little while sitting at the top of the castle and praying for Japan. Most people passed through quickly, but I sat and enjoyed the view and the refreshing breeze. As Matsumoto castle is so well preserved, my back rested against a (potentially) 400-year-old beam of wood. The cool breeze felt spectacular. The windows opened to north, south, east, and west, so I prayed a blessing in each direction over Japan.

From there, I took a picture of Japan through the windows of the castle. At the very bottom, you can see the roof of another tower of the castle, rising as a representation of the old feudal system, which still drastically affects this culture and particularly its attitudes towards Christianity. Beyond that, the stunning fall colors of trees intermix with modern Japan’s houses and buildings. This captures both the beauty and the mass-produced visage of this nation. Far away, the forested mountains rise over everything as a reminder that God has a purpose and plan for Japan, and that purpose and plan is good, and it has not changed.

Yet, despite all this beauty, a spiritual bondage holds this nation captive.

The third picture is much like the second, but the prison of the old feudal system has vanished, leaving the beauty of God’s purposes for this nation.Again, I ask: will you pray the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into the field?
By |2014-02-18T20:42:08-08:00November 12th, 2013|Japan|2 Comments

Takyubin adventures

So, I had to send a suitcase ahead using Japan’s incredible takyubin service. This is basically like mailing a package through the USPS, but immensely cheaper (it cost me about $20 to mail a huge suitcase across Japan), faster, and you can mail your stuff from various locations. The biggest takyubin company is Kuroneko, which shows a picture of a black mother cat carrying her baby cat by the scruff of its neck in her mouth. You can’t spend a day in Japan without coming across one of these signs. They mean something like, “Mail your suitcase from here so you don’t have to drag it around the Tokyo train system.”

Anyways, I found an old hardware store with the cute little black cat out front and went in with my bulky baggage. The place was empty, and an old man sat lazily behind the register. He handed me a takyubin slip, and I began filling it out. That’s when the problems started.

I started by writing the street number, forgetting that in Japan, you start with the prefecture and then get more and more specific (city, neighborhood, street address). Whoops! He pointed this out, and I decided to play the “confused foreigner” card. Kindly, he offered to fill out the form for me.

However, I didn’t know my return address, because I was only staying there for a few days. Not quite sure what to do, I said, “could you wait a minute? I can go check it at home.” So, I left my suitcase with him, ran home with the slip and his pen, and checked the address on my laptop. In America? Probably not. But this is Japan. I love the fact that I could leave my suitcase with some random hardware shop owner as I ran home.

Riding my bike back to the store, I got the slip completed and mailed my package. Whew! Thanks, old man.

Unfortunately, I walked out with his pen in my pocket.

By |2014-02-18T20:43:18-08:00November 8th, 2013|Japan|Comments Off on Takyubin adventures

Heart for Japan

Some thoughts from last week in Tokyo.

Today, I met with an old friend named Bun who got saved during my summer project in Tokyo in 2006. We’ve kept in touch over the years, and whenever I visit Tokyo, we meet up and usually laugh a lot.

Today, we met up in Shinjuku, which houses the busiest train station in all of Asia. Something like a million people pass through Shinjuku station every day. At one point out on the street, Bun told me, “We’re walking to the white sign.” Well, with eight story buildings lining both sides of the street, I spotted about 10 signs that matched that description. “This is Shinjuku!” I said. It became our joke of the day whether seeing strange people walking around, massive crowds in the station, or a 3 story anime/manga shop: “This is Shinjuku.”

Bun and I talked a lot about something I posted a few days ago describing how the Japanese society turns the Japanese people into robots. He completely agreed with me. But Bun will never turn into a robot. God has created him uniquely, and stands in that identity, whatever the society says.

During my year and a half in southern Japan working as a missionary, I experienced a lot of brokenness. It was a hard, lonely time, and once you’ve experienced that kind of difficulty in a place, it’s easy to grow bitter towards a culture.

“Why do they have to do it this way in Japan?”

“Japanese people are all robots.”

“Japanese people may be nice on the outside, but inside, they don’t care about you at all. It’s just to save face that they’re so nice.”

This trip, perhaps my biggest prayer was that God would restore my heart and love for the Japanese people. And He has allowed me to see the difference between the Japanese people and society. The people really are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Full of more problems and inner turmoil than you could ever imagine, but selfless. If anything, the problem with Japan is that people are too selfless, which causes them to lose their identity in the group, which leads to bitterness and depression. And this is the society: it puts you into a box and removes your individuality. More and more, I see these amazing people as caught in a whirlpool they can’t escape, the whirlpool called Japan.

Really, we’re talking about spiritual principalities enslaving this incredible nation. We’re talking about a whole demonic chain of command which the Prince of Darkness has assigned to prevent the Japanese from experiencing the Father’s love and stepping into who He intends them to be. In a place with so many deep problems, it’s easy to look at the people and grow bitter. Eventually, despite working here as a missionary, you really don’t like your neighbor very much, even if you in some abstract way “love” him.

However, the Bible says that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. All your frustration ought to be aimed toward the demons which exercise power over Japan, not towards the people they are enslaving. Of course, we can never fully excuse people for the choices they make, but they are not the objects of our anger. Ultimately, it’s not even Japanese society that we aim our grumpiness at, it’s the strongholds behind it.

Gaining this perspective has freed me to love, again. To laugh at the silliness of Japan. To see the little smiles here and there, even on my robotic server at Otoya, one of my favorite chain restaurants. I saw the edge of a genuine smile on her face when she gave me change. The powers couldn’t suppress it completely.

After I said goodbye to Bun, praying over him that he would never lose his individuality, I walked into Shinjuku station, the carotid artery of Tokyo. I laughed a little in the joy of the Lord to find myself again in the largest city in the world. I found myself walking down a barren hallway lined with staircases to various trains against a crowd of hundreds. Kids in their middle school uniforms, adults in suits and ties, couples holding hands, rebels with light brown hair, and the occasional foreigner. You could stop in that scene, but it would continue all around you like autumn leaves blowing in the wind.

As I walked opposite the crowd, I saw their emotionless faces. I actually saw them. And for a moment, I felt something of God’s heart for them, His deep, deep love for the droves of people gliding through this tunnel at a breakneck pace, never imagining where they’re heading. It was nearly more than I could bear without crying. His love overwhelmed me as I felt it over them. I wish I could accurately find words to describe the power and intensity and compassion of that love.

Will you remember Japan in your prayers? The millions in this nation who understand nothing of Him? Will you pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the harvest field?

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By |2014-02-18T20:42:54-08:00November 5th, 2013|Japan|Comments Off on Heart for Japan
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