Posts about Japanese culture or missions in Japan.


Here’s another installment of thoughts during my trip to Thailand and Japan. Japan has been amazing. God has opened my eyes a lot, and this entry is a big example of some of the attitude change I’ve been experiencing.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.”

Japan is an amazing place. From the musical garbage trucks to the restaurants where sushi spins around on a conveyor belt, there’s no place quite like it. It’s one of the wealthiest, safest, most developed nations in the world.

And yet, foreigners love to complain about living here.

But God’s Word commands us to do everything without complaining or arguing. So, when we indulge in complaining, we sin. That sin replaces joy with discontentment.

In the church, it’s ironically easier to talk about fornication than complaining, because just about everyone indulges in complaining, even the pastor. And when you go somewhere as a MISSIONARY (big red text with an html blink tag), those “little” sins like complaining can eventually destroy your fruitfulness.

Let’s use Japan as an example (but remember these lessons apply anywhere, even if you never leave your home country). What’s there to complain about in this amazing nation, anyways? Well, I’ll hit on a few of the favorites.

Bruce, a heroic man in his eighties who came here as a missionary after fighting in World War II, once said to me, “You need a PHD to understand the Japanese garbage system.” Garbage is sorted into categories like burnable, non-burnable, plastics (like a Ziploc), PET bottles (like bottled water), aluminum cans, and toxics (like batteries). Each of these is picked up on a different day of the week, and some are only picked up once every month or two (like toxics). On garbage morning (which is about 4 days a week), you take your bag of trash out to the designated neighborhood garbage spot before 8 AM, but you can’t put it out the night before, because animals would get into it. Oh, and every town in Japan has different categories of trash. Some areas require your name on your trash bag, so that your neighbors can come yell at you if they see a plastic bottle in your non-burnable trash.

I think you can understand why foreigners love to complain about the Japanese garbage system. However, they have a garbage system, here! We’re not scooping everything into a pit and burning it with gasoline, sending toxic plastic fumes in every direction like much of the world. Garbage men actually come at scheduled times and take it somewhere far away! A person mature in thankfulness notes that latter fact. Because while it may be fun to complain about the garbage system, if you do, then it will really bother you the next time you find yourself running through the snow in your pajamas with a bag of rotting food.

Real estate is difficult, here. Renting is almost as hard as buying a house in America. Generally, you will pay 4-5 months of rent in fees to get into a rental. And you won’t get that money back. I could go on and on about the difficulties of rentals and real estate agents, but that would be complaining, I’m trying to escape. I’ve fallen guilty to complaining about this in the past, because I lost about $2500 in a bad rental decision I made. However, God’s Spirit has brought conviction, and by His power, I’ve decided to stop. I just hate walking around sullen and angry, so I’ve decided to forgive that real estate company and move on.

There are virtually no driers, here. Some Westerners complain that in a first world nation like Japan, they have to hang their clothes outside to dry. Whoops, it rained today, didn’t it?

But hold on for a moment! At least God didn’t call you to Africa, where parasites lay eggs in your clothes as they hang to dry, eggs which then get into your pores and can get infected. I mean, come on, you can drink the tap water in Japan! And when was the last time you heard of a case of malaria in the Land of the Rising Sun?

I’ll take a moment to say that there is a place for verbal processing. Sometimes, after the nosey 45-year-old woman next door comes and yells at you for 15 minutes because you took the non-burnables out on the wrong day, you just need to talk to someone. Not all processing is complaining, though it often turns into complaining. I’m not sure where to draw the line. But when you cross into sarcasm, you’re probably complaining.

Healthy processing should also lead to thankfulness. Your friend starts with the lady and the garbage. You lead them to the deeper issue of culture shock they’re going through. You end by praying together, forgiving the lady, and thanking God for her. Healthy processing looks like that.

One final example. Some people get really mad when they’re discriminated against as foreigners. Which causes them to get really sensitive about being discriminated against. Once, a friend of mine was trying to park her car when a parking attendant aggressively shooed her away from a spot in the front row. We felt pretty insulted.

Discrimination because of being a foreigner? Possibly. Or maybe he was saving a spot for someone or we missed a no parking sign, somewhere. However, when you’re used to people treating you like an idiot because you’re white, it can get to you after ten years.

But if you choose to complain about the way Japanese people treat foreigners, something is really, really wrong with you. Because anyone who knows anything about the Japanese people knows that they’re hands-down the kindest and politest people in the world. Granted, sometimes they treat foreigners badly. But if you’re complaining about the nicest people in the world, the problem isn’t with them, it’s with you.

Because complaining isn’t a reaction to difficulties, it’s a state of the heart. This is so obvious where in Japan of all places, people still find things to complain about. It goes from, “Gosh, I’m sure glad God didn’t call me to Africa.” To “What, you mean I have to hang my clothes to dry?” To “And they’re so dumb, they haven’t even figured out driers.”

And that last, condescending attitude will destroy your ministry. You will not stay angry at the lack of driers. Eventually, you’ll be angry at the Japanese.

The correct attitude to start out with is, “I will deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus.” Which means, “I have no rights to anything.” Then, when God gives me an amazing blessing like a convoluted garbage service, I say, “Praise the Lord! This is more than I ever deserved.”

Thankfulness is one of those vital qualities for a missionary to have, wherever you go. The model of the Victorian Brit in the jungle with a bad case of malaria and a big frown is so 1800s. Get with the 21st century. And give thanks in all things. You’ll have enough challenges in ministry as it is.

So, I’m working on not complaining about the silly little quirks of Japan. As I do, I find myself loving this nation and these people so much more. It amazing how much better you can see when the sun burns away the fog.

By |2014-02-25T15:54:51-08:00November 1st, 2013|Japan, Missions|Comments Off on Thankfulness

Japanese personality

Since returning to Japan, I’ve been reminded how this culture can destroy your personailty. I think I see it most clearly in restaurants. It never really hit me till now just how mechanical the servers are. Almost everything they say is completely scripted. “Is that all for your order?” “Thank you very much, please come again.” Japanese equivalents of those kinds of phrases. Their faces betray no emotion.

It’s like someone has replaced all the people with robots. Very polite robots that give the best customer service you ever imagined and don’t require tips. In Japan, that’s what good and polite service looks like. To really understand this, you’d have to be here and see the young men and women working these minimum wage jobs.

But it’s a bit dehumanizing. It’s like there’s a perfect way to be a server, a perfect set of statements to say, and you’re trying to live up to that model. And that model excludes your personality. I mention this cultural tidbit because it’s far deeper that minimum wage jobs. In Japan, the culture tells you to stuff down and hide anything unpleasant about yourself. Any sin or rudeness or offence must be hidden, and your exterior must be perfect. If you secretly hate your parents because they never hugged you and showed affection after you started elementary school… well, pretend it’s different and don’t talk to anyone about that. You can see why loneliness and depression are so rampant in this great nation.

There’s nothing more wonderful than seeing a Japanese person in Japan with a heartfelt smile. When I arrived, I hit off a short converation at the airport with two middle-aged ladies, and I loved talking about silly topics like where I’d lived before in Japan, the cold weather (a welcome refresher after Bangkok), and how kind the Japanese people are. And I said to myself, “Praise Jesus, I haven’t completely forgotten Japanese!” We enjoyed our little talk.

Out in the countryside or in a mom and pop shop, you can actually see these beautiful personalities. I still remember fun conversations with old ladies in their restaurants in Kagawa, how they were surprised to see me and loved to talk. A man in his fifties who owned Shiruba Roodo (English translation: Silver Road) never realized that he was actually my Japanese teacher whenever I visited his restaurant.

Modern Japan has turned people into turtles. You must wear a shell around your true self, and you must never come out of that shell, often even to your family and closest friends. I yearn for the day when the true beauty of the people of Japan will shine out.

By |2014-03-17T18:14:34-07:00October 28th, 2013|Japan, Missions|Comments Off on Japanese personality

Writing lately about Japan

Lately, I’ve been reminiscing in writing about my time in Japan. This is mostly for my own sake, but I think that I’ll post some of it here, for those who may be interested. I’m not going to proof read or edit these pots, so it won’t be up to my usual quality of writing.

We pick up a few weeks into my time in Kagawa, where I was staying in Tadotsu, far away from everyone. I was recently writing about the arrival of Kevin, a short-termer who was with me for 3 weeks.

Finally, a friend

With Kevin, finally I had a friend. Finally I had someone to experience all this new stuff with. Finally, I had someone to talk to when I got home at night. I don’t remember those days super-clearly, but I don’t remember having any attacks of loneliness during that time, and I remember them being brighter days overall, though still tough.

Kevin was a guy born in Taiwan who came to America when he was 12. His English was totally flawless, and we both were big fans of John Piper (at that point in my life, I was coming down from the pinnacle of my Piper-love). Theologically and in life-stage, we hit it off pretty well, and we both would pray together at night whenever we could.

Praying together at night had been something I started in Sapporo after seeing my sophomore roommates Chris and Rich do it. On that project, the guys prayed together every night of the project except for a couple nights. I continued that in the AGO house with some brothers, with my roommate at MTI, and then in my two months in SLO with Stephane. It was a way to debrief the day with a roommate, and then to pray for one another. It has been one of the most powerful habits I’ve developed, but it’s only doable with a roommate. I pray by myself before bed when I’m alone, but it’s just not the same. Lacking that roommate to daily pray with was killing me, both when I was with my parents and then when I was in Japan.

But Kevin and I prayed, and we were encouraged by one another. I don’t remember him being an obnoxious snorer, but I did have to leave my room through a separate door, since he slept in the other half of the Tatami room. Ah yes, the room in Tadotsu. It was something like this:

4-mat room 6-mat room
|DDD      +                       |
|DDD Chair+                       |
|DDD      +                       |
|DDD FFFF + KKKKK                 W
W    FFFF + KKKKK                 W
W    FFFF + KKKKK                 W
W    FFFF + KKKKK                 W
W    FFFF +                       |
|    FFFF +                       |
|         +                       |
Little hallway

Note: There were also some overhead shelves going around most of the cicumferance of the 4-mat room. Kevin slept in the 6-mat room, and I slept in the 4-mat room.

K = Kotatsu
= = Swinging door (swung inwards)
W = Window
D = Desk
F = Where I lay my Futon
S = Super-steep Killer stairs
. = Wooden floor
= Tatami flooring
> = Little step going down
C = Closet
+ = Sliding door

There we go. Ahh, remembering that room. The windows to the four winds, the heat in the summer (prompting all the screened windows to be permanently open and the fan permenently on), the sliding doors in the middle, etc. One window faced the temple and graveyard, one faced the tall kindergartin, one the neighbors, and on out towards the river. Or something like that. You could see all the ornate roof tiles from that view. My room was a window to the world, a place of refuge when things were so hard. I generally was more at ease in that room than anywhere in the rest of the house. It was a good place for all the hardship of Tadotsu. Even when the heat hit, I kept sleeping in that room without air conditioning. One, I didn’t want to spend the money. Two, I didn’t want to have to rearrange things and set up a bed downstairs. But maybe psycologically, I just felt more at ease up in that room than anywhere else in the house, so I stayed up there, sweating it out. Probably foolish: I should have just forked out the cash.
I have fondness as I remember my little loft, up the neck-break-staircase that I eventually learned to climb quickly. I am probably innacurate in remembering it this fondly, for I spent hours and hours in lonely despair up there, as well, but there was a certain charm to it, at least until I had to bug bomb it (which was later).

Anyways, Kevin was a good companion. He was not much of a snorer, but I rememeber one night when a mosquito (or some other small mosquito-looking fly) got into the the room. I’d had it happen to me: you’re asleep, then you hear a sudden, loud buzzing in your ear: a mosquito is here, and you’re awake, just wanting to kill it. It’s so annoying. Well, at one point, Kevin had had enough, and he turned on the lights and starting banging around his room, trying to kill the bug. I forget if that night he was shouting, “it’s a black one, a blood-sucking black one,” but it woke me up, just the same. Funny, looking back.

Kevin loved milk tea. Most days, he made a big teapot of it and filled a 1 liter bottle with ice milk tea to take everywhere with him. And he actually drank that much every day, too. I don’t remember how he did at cooking, but it was good to have someone to do meals with.

One day, we went out shopping at the local market. This was the awesome market, the discount one. Kevin felt weird walking around, I think. I know that it was easy to think he was Japanese because of how he looked. Until he opened his mouth, at least. Anyways, at that market (ah yes, and it always was playing American music), he heard a bunch of people around him speaking Chinese, and he found out that there were actually a lot of Chinese in Tadotsu working at the docks. I’d seen four of those girls and even taken the same train with them from Zentsuji one. I could tell they weren’t Japanese from their behavior and language. Well, Kevin could communicate with these people. Though, it never went anywhere.

I felt less at ease praying out loud in the morning. That was one thing that was bad about it. My personal prayer life suffered a little because there was only a sliding door separating me and Kevin.

Oh yes, and it was so nice to have someone to walk by the barking dogs with me.

By |2013-12-03T23:15:46-08:00March 23rd, 2010|Japan, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Writing lately about Japan



Gintama 銀魂

So, I’ve been watching a rather strange anime called Gintama. It’s like… the opening of closed-state Japan 1853, only instead of America sailing in with battleships, it was aliens that sailed in with spaceships. But the rest is basically the same: unfair treaties, Japan being ashamed, samurai losing their privilages, sword ban, etc.

It’s funny, because you have all kinds of modern technology (TVs, etc) and space age technology, all set in a bizzarre 1870s Japan, complete with disgraced samurai.

Filial Piety
Anyways, there’s some interesting cultural stuff that’s a part of it. In the third episide (you can watch these legally and free, right here), a brother and sister continue trying to run a beat-up dojo that no one goes to, even though it’s ruining them financially. Why? Because their dead father wanted it. Did I mention that he died 15 years ago?

In Japan, something you promise a dead relative or something a dead relative wants is just as binding as if they were still alive. So, if you promised your mother that you’d be a good Buddhist for the rest of your life, then suddenly you realize that Christianity is true and good…. what do you do? Well, respect your dead mother, of course, and keep your promise to her, and never become a Christian. Even going to hell would be the right decision to make, because that’s where your mother is. This is actually a true story that a missionary friend told me.

Truth? Righteousness? No, filial piety is higher value to many Japanese.

I’m so over living.
I also sense a certain level of despair in this anime. It was made in the disillusioned 2000s, after all, even if it is set in the 1870s. When you have disgraced samurai who have lost everything because the government has changed, I think it reflects the attitudes of young people today. Life seems meaningless, and Nihilism is strong in Japan.

In response to these changes, the main character’s idea is this: “Well, I’ll make my own code of honor and protect those around me” (this is very anime-main-characterish). But that is not a strong enough philosophy to combat the seeming pointlessness of life, in my opinion.

No, only Christianity can take disgraced samurai, high-school dropouts, neeters, freeters, parasite singles, and all the other despairing young people of Japan, and give them something meaningful to live for. Perhaps this is why in the real 1870s, a lot of samurai became Christians! In addition to Christians starting educational facilities where many of them got saved, perhaps their wounded honor at their lost social position brought them to the foot of the cross.

There is no hope in living to please your deceased parents. Our true Father is in Heaven, and we must live to please Him. He’s the one we can’t afford to be unfaithful to. And He will give us hope and honor and purpose. Only He can truly restore such things to our lives.

Today’s Vocabulary
Finally, here’s  today’s vocabulary list:

爆音 – Bakuon – An explosion (specifically, the sound of one)
時限 – Jigen – Time limit/period of time
時限爆弾 – Jigen bakudan – TIME BOMB
再放送 – Saihousou -Reruns

Anime is great for learning Japanese, ne?

By |2013-12-03T23:15:46-08:00January 25th, 2010|Japan, Uncategorized|1 Comment
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