Experience 87 days in Japan and You May Never Want to Go Home
Around the time I left Japan I was asked to write something providing an overview of my time and thoughts. I titled it "87 days in Japan" and have added it below for whoever would like to read a summarized version of my perceptions. For a focus on learning about how Japanese culture affects church ministry, check out our Japanese Culture Series.
87 days in Japan
(April 19, 2012-July 17, 2012)
During the 87 days I visited Japan, I had the opportunity to participate in quite a variety of atmospheres. These included learning Japanese at a local language school, supporting the Apostolic Christian churches in Shioda and Tokyo, practicing independent living, touring the nation’s cultural landmarks (1, 2, 3, 4), babysitting for a traditional Japanese family, teaching English, visiting the tsunami area and the hearing the needs of the people, listening to the lives and stories of evangelistic Christians, and joining a community of believers where I felt inspired to give of myself.
Experiencing 87 days in Japan, I spent my time in language school and learned the basics of the language, culture, and how to live. Little details such as recycling and transportation took time to grasp. However, having a support system of like-minded friends in the faith was indispensable in giving me much encouragement and advice when needed.
As I became more comfortable with the basics of the Japanese culture, I began to travel around more. Once I finished language school, I had more time to visit some evangelistic Christians, friends of the Apostolic church. Since Christianity is scarce in Japan, I found learning the various Christian perspectives very interesting and helpful in identifying ways of connecting the local people. I found I was and continue to be constantly learning about unique aspects of the Japanese culture that influence the methods of ministry and communication. As most people here tell me, time and language are the two biggest methods as well as challenges here.
The Japanese people, being well tempered and reserved, require long-term relationships before they are ready to learn about their deep needs and connect at a heart level. Language is also a key factor for identifying with them. Because of their reserved tendencies, as well as their lack of verbal interest in spiritual topics, using their language to listen to them sincerely is crucial for understanding even a part of who they are and why they act the way they do. However, once these two methods are used, they seem eager to get to know people and establish a community. I appreciated how willing many of them were to listen to my fumbling of the language and invite me to various events. Experience 87 days in Japan and you might think that language flows like green tea. In actuality, the language I believe to be a lifelong endeavour.
A few of my weeks were spent with family members who came to visit. Interestingly, at most of the tourist spots a majority of the visitors were Japanese. This lends itself to the familiar concept that most Japanese people work very long hours and when they travel, they usually do not leave the county. Instead, their time is spent enjoying the unique aspects of their own culture. Evidently, they value their country and hold their heritage in high regard. They do appreciate western thinking, however, and young kids often get excited when attempting to speak English to the tourists.
Traveling to Fukushima, Minamisoma, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Miyajima, Karuizawa, Shiotsu, and throughout Tokyo I was blessed to see the many different types of people in Japan. Although there were differences, some similarities were evident. For the most part, they appreciate order and respect. They encourage an order in life and how it’s lived as well as a respect for others and the world around them.
Understanding the way of thinking of the Japanese people is crucial in speaking to them in a manner that makes sense to them and connects to their heart. Haphazard groups of people who come over from American churches for a couple days to say “Hi” and walk through some temples will not touch their hearts as much as a few people who devote a couple years of their life to know people individually. Even so, the Japanese church people are very open and lovingly provide a sincere welcome, despite many foreigners who aren’t always interested in seeing the real needs of the people.
In the tsunami area, a lack of hope is the main concern. The generations have put so much trust in the success and young people in the area. Now that many of the young families have moved to areas farther from radiation the older men and women are losing the one purpose they thought they had. Without Christ introduced to them, the purpose of their lives is entirely wrapped up into their legacy in future generations and success. I was encouraged to visit many of them in the temporary housing, see their living conditions, and communicate in small ways.
Despite the challenges, getting the American churches involved is vital not as much for any form of financial support as much as it is for the power of prayer. Prayers of remembrance from those in America have the amazing opportunity to unify the hearts of the people and churches while fundamentally speaking to the heart of God who knows all people and can inspire anyone anywhere. Prayer is mighty, and oftentimes advanced countries such as Japan are overlooked as people discuss mission opportunities and needs. True, Japan is not in financial poverty. They do well providing for themselves by their strong work ethic. But who’s to say that financial poverty trumps spiritual poverty, the poverty of community, and the poverty of self. This triad is what most contributes to the ever-increasing suicide rate in young people. Now the suicide rate is increasing among the elderly in the tsunami district as well. By only speaking to the poor, beliefs could be born that Christ is only for the poor. And we all know that is not the case. Therefore, my hope and prayer is that somehow the news of the need for Christ in Japan will be shared among our churches. There are many needs in Japan and I hope I can be privileged enough to have the opportunity to organize the needs and the gifts of the Japanese people and churches in the hopes of coming together to strengthen the American churches as well as the Japanese community at large.
I often ache in my heart when I think of the many people that travel with mission teams and end up feeling good about themselves instead of feeling good about God’s name that was shared. Do we from America go to places economically below us just so we can feel better about ourselves? Does knowing that we can do things for them give us a sense of power? Being in Japan, I have felt more at peace knowing that despite my skills or financial state (for I know God is in control) these people need to know Christ. The main question that continues to humble me is, “Am I willing to go somewhere where they don’t need me? Where I have nothing to give except Christ’s name? Is that enough?” I’m not the main character in Christ’s big story. And this gives me the confidence that even though I don’t have much else to give, Christ is enough.
Author: Javon Steffen