Friday, May 25, 2018

Japan Culture Series 18: Ikuji




    After reading these Japan Culture Series blogs for quite awhile now you may have come to the realization that in almost every way Japanese culture appears to be the opposite of Western culture. Perhaps one of the areas in which a stark contrast exists the most is in child rearing practices otherwise known as Ikuji. Raising our child here in Japan has certainly been a learning experience in that as an American we tend to focus on individual values (independent decision making, creativity, etc.) and discipline (direct communication, yes/no), whereas the Japanese way focuses primarily on the feelings of the immediate group and larger society. As Americans we tend to place a lot of emphasis on direct verbal communication for instruction (do what I say), while Japanese tend to follow by example and the actions of non-verbal communication (do what I do). In this way Japanese children gradually learn to be aware of what others are feeling or thinking, and to adjust their behavior accordingly.

    Japanese children are given a great amount of freedom to behave as they like until they gradually realize through observation of others that their behavior is not accepted and eventually need to conform to the group standard, whereas American children are typically told verbally by their parents that their behavior is wrong and that they need to stop immediately. An ideal child in Japan is one who is well-mannered in group relations as well as obedient to the group expectations, whereas an idea child in America is seen as one that can think for themselves and communicate directly. In this way Japanese people tend to see what the group thinks or does and listen rather than give their own opinions, which may disrupt the group harmony. Here in Japan it is clear that other people and society come before the individual opinion.

    Each way of raising a child has its benefits and detriments. Some difficulties for American parents occur when their children become too demanding, assertive, and self-centered. Some of the difficulties for Japanese children are that they have a difficult time thinking outside of the group or giving their own opinion of anything. Certainly a balanced approach is ideal in which truth in open communication as well as harmony with others is emphasized. As Christians when raising children we emphasize not necessarily what others think as the most important thing in life (or even our own will), but what God thinks. Our behavior is to be governed by God-centered principles as opposed to man-centered individualistic or group-oriented thinking. Rather than teaching a child that something is wrong because the group does not like it, or only because “I said so”, we operate on the premise that it is because it is wrong in the sight of God. As Japanese become more influenced by Western thought, and as Americans become more influenced by post-modern group thinking we need to remember that Godly biblical principles ought to govern our approach to life no matter where we are from!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Japan Culture Series 17: Ninjō




    In the social composition of the Japanese being exists the very real conflict between social obligation and personal feelings. These personal feelings are known as Ninjō. In an earlier blog here I spoke of social obligation, otherwise known as giri. This social obligation plays such a strong role in Japanese culture that it is often expected that one yield personal desires and feelings to it unquestioningly. However, this does not mean that personal feelings are absent. For example Japanese employees are expected to provide excellent service to customers even when treated very poorly. The honor of the company as well as the duty of the individual are at stake, so the insults must be taken. Whereas in the Western world a insult by a customer may or may not be taken so kindly; company or not! We may now understand how pressure could easily build up within each person as they continually deny themselves in order to fulfill social obligations. Perhaps this is one reason why Japanese life can be stressful.

    To an extent no matter where we are at in our lives we all deal with certain social obligations. However in Japan social obligation has been taken to a high degree as they have been integrated into every aspect of life. This especially becomes painfully obvious to the newly born-again Christian when trying to live every day life here. There are great expectations to conform to religious ceremonies, work obligations, and other various activities – which can bring great conflicts within the Christian conscience. What happens when in order to keep your job it is expected to drink after work every night? What happens when the school requires your child to do something against their beliefs? What do you do when your family pressures you into breaking your convictions? These are all real pressures that Japanese Christians face in a strong group oriented society. By default these brave men and women have to 'Dare to be a Daniel'. Perhaps this is why few here choose to become Christians, or are very quiet about telling anyone that they are a Christian. In reality no matter where we live in the world we have to make a decision to either go along with the world or to oppose it. We must ask ourselves if we are going to be of the world or in the world witnessing to it of Christ. May God grant us the resolve to live a Christ-honoring life!

Friday, March 23, 2018

But a Faithful man, who can find?

   


  In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus in a highly memorable moment for all future Christians, said: “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.” From these verses we can see that from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry the problem has not so much been with people ready to receive the gospel, but has been with finding laborers for the long-term work. To any missionary on the field the goal should be to help raise up mature Christians who are able to depend on God rather than us. How then can we find laborers? The answer to this question I am still learning here in the Japanese setting as I have been closely vested in a few men, however there are broad principles that can be applied anywhere. Namely, as given in the classic book MasterPlan of Evangelism, three important attributes are needed for a good disciple: faithfulness, availability, and teach-ability.

    Clearly, after someone has become a born-again Christian through whatever way we reach them we want to try to help them along in their walk by investing in them as opposed to just letting them go free to fend for themselves. ( Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be invested into, nor will they want to learn more. ) Even Jesus was very careful about who he spent most of his time. So with a discerning eye, He carefully spent His time on a select few to really disciple in the short period of time that he would be on earth. As a missionary we do not know how long we will be allowed into a country or how long we will be alive, so it is equally important to invest carefully into lives. What was a dividing attribute that these men had? One was certainly Faithfulness. Later in 1 Corinthians 4:2 Paul clearly states, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” In any ministry setting we do not want to just choose any random person to invest our time in, but we must be careful to seek God's leading on the matter. If a person demonstrates faithfulness in their daily life, chances are they will be faithful with the things of God that they learn. However, faithfulness is not the only needed element for a good disciple.

    One of the challenges in the modern world is that of availability. In this fast-paced world with everything vying for our time from the technology world, to the entertainment world, to the work world -- modern man has to carefully prioritize his life. Unfortunately, few even prioritize their spiritual growth as anything of significance in their lives. Here in Japan life is prioritized with everything revolving around work. With the expectation of late hours being the norm it is not uncommon for people to come home after ten at night each night! This really makes availability to do the things of God increasingly difficult for the average person. Yet, if a man is faithful He will find a way to trust God and make the time to invest in spiritual growth. Throughout the scriptures men of God from Abraham to Moses to Isaiah (here I am Lord) and beyond have made themselves available to God's leading. Therefore, availability is crucial. Availability and faithfulness are key components in a disciple, however without teach-ability they become meaningless.

    Think about the type of men that Christ chose to disciple: every day men without high pedigree. These men may have been difficult at times to teach, but they were teachable nonetheless. They were willing to learn from their mistakes and take correction from the master. Peter was even called Satan, yet he continued on! Teach-ability is therefore important, for without it the first two components are useless. Jesus with his inner three disciples, twelve total close disciples, and 70 other disciples essentially transformed the world by entrusting his time with a few trustworthy men. This was certainly the opposite of the church growth models today for it was built on time and faith rather than statistics and popular understanding. Fortunately, here in Japan by nature of the culture the people place teachers in high regard and in general tend to be highly dedicated though they be few in number as Christians. A slow steady work with few, while planting many seeds to many seems to be the order of the day!


    I will never forget reading a missionary story about a missionary to Vietnam during the Vietnam war period. He learned an important lesson in his ministry about where to invest his time in. Vietnam was a difficult field, so he was only able to lead a few people to the Lord and closely disciple one man. He thought that he needed to have a large building to attract people in the city to hear about the gospel, so he set about his energies establishing a building. He finally established the building, only to have to later flee the country as the Communists took over in 1975. He later found out that the Communists took over the building and used it as a propaganda center for the community! He had spent all of that energy, only to have it be used by an enemy of God. However, what he did not account for was his one disciple. The man that he had discipled became a pastor, moved to a rural area of Vietnam, and ended up establishing many village churches which led many to the Lord! This is a good lesson for all of us to learn: where are we placing our priorities? On the things of the earth or on the things of God? Are we sharing what God has given us or hiding it?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Japan Culture Series 16: Nemawashi




    In the Japanese group culture a unique way of decision making predominates which is distinct from Western style decision making. This process is known as Nemawashi, or laying the groundwork in advance. When it comes to making important decisions in group settings Japanese people often try to spend a lot of time gathering support from each individual person behind the scenes before proposing the new idea to everyone at a meeting. By spending time gauging each individual response as well as trying to convince each person of the new ideas merit, a lot of 'groundwork' is laid down to ensure that the idea will be accepted once proposed. This is very similar to the American political process in Congress that is used to gather support for a bill before an actual vote comes onto the floor of the house.

    Once an idea is proposed to the group it will have likely spent a lot of time being pitched to each individual to ensure its success. Therefore, once an idea reaches group proposal level it is often accepted. In Japan the leader of the group accepting the idea is more of a formality than a decision with actual weight. In the western world new ideas are often proposed with little groundwork laid to give room for more back and forth discussions with the leader having the ultimate decision making capacity on his shoulders. In Japan open conflict is avoided at all costs, so an open discussion of proposals without Nemawashi is seen in a negative light.

    In many ways the Nemawashi system of decision making ensures that once an idea is enacted that everyone will be in agreement with it. However, on the negative side this does not allow for much change to happen as everything tends to be kept in relative comfort as opposed to trying any radical changes. Perhaps for this reason changes are difficult to come by in this ancient culture! How does this relate to Christianity? Ideally, spirit-filled Christians would work together in agreement to progress at an ideal pace in ministry. This would seem to work well with spirit-filled leadership in a church. However, on the negative side, a complacent church could stall any meaningful spiritual changes preferring rather to keep its comfort. Given the slow growth of Japanese Christianity a real effort of prayer must be made in order to see changes made in this country.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2017: Year in Review


     Well, it is hard to believe, but we have been here living in Japan for about nine months now. April 2018 will mark our one year anniversary for this term! For me this will be coming up on year two for total Japan experience while for my wife it will be year eight! Looking back on the past year has brought back a lot of good memories. This was technically our first year as parents as well as a missionary family living in Japan. What has been happening over the last year?
     
     Starting last January as a family we started to travel together with our 3 month old baby (at that time) to complete our deputation. We did not know how long we would be raising support, but we were at that time at about 85% of our support needed to come back to Japan. As we continued to pray about when we were to go back to Japan, the end of April kept coming up. We were both convinced from God that we were to go back April 28th, 2017, so we started to tell churches that as we continued to raise support. After a lot of time spent praying, calling, and emailing we scheduled new meetings throughout Georgia as well as other areas for January, February, March, and April. We did not know what would happen, but it was exciting as more churches and individual supporters decided to be a part of reaching Japan. Thank you again for being faithful to the Lord, and making it possible for us to be here!
     
     Amazingly, coming back to Japan April 28th, 2017 was certainly a change for us as we had been deputation-minded since we left in June 2015. We took some time to adjust from the jet-lag then went into ministry immediately. My wife has been primarily taking care of our daughter, but has also spent a lot of time doing ministry with young mothers as well as meeting with many Japanese women. She has a really amazing God-given ability to connect with strangers that has proven to be encouraging to this body of believers in Japan. She has been relentlessly doing the work of the missionary while balancing her time with God and our daughter. She is a huge blessing. Our baby has been growing up quickly going from crawling to walking to talking! We have been careful to be balanced with our time so as to not burn out with the long-term work in mind. My time in Japan has been primarily spent in language classes, helping people in our church, discipling, and attempting to evangelize people whom I often do not share a common-language with! If I cannot yet communicate well with them, then perhaps a gospel tract can!
     
     Since coming back I have been convicted to make sure every person that I come across in an interaction gets a gospel tract no matter what. I have also made a Japanese website  to help in this way. The '10-40' window has the least amount of Christians anywhere on the planet. If Japan truly has only a ½ percent born-again Christian population , then gospel tracts are a must in daily interactions. Also in recent months I have been thinking about the Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and other English speakers here in Tokyo. This has led me to order some tracts for each of those respective groups as well. We do not know how long we will be alive, nor how long our work will be allowed here in Japan, so we must be diligent with every chance that we get. With this in mind we have given out over 30,000 tracts in the last 9 months, which is about 28 boxes of tracts shipped from the USA! Even with this number in mind we must realize that it does not even begin to reach the estimated 38 million people that live in and around Tokyo, nor the other millions who visit each month.

     
     Overall, it has been good time in our world's present situation to be back in Japan. We sense that lives are being impacted for Christ. I have now easily put in enough time with Japanese to do what it takes for an English speaker to fully learn Spanish. (500+hours) Just to give some perspective, I now will need to put in another 1700+ hours of study! Your prayers are much appreciated! We certainly could not do a lot of this work without your prayers. We pray for more years to come to continue ministry in this land. God bless.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Japan Culture Series 15: Kisetsu



Given its balanced geographical location on the globe, Japan is a country that experiences four distinct seasons. (Some say more if rain season is included.) These distinct seasons known as Kisetsu have greatly influenced Japanese life. One of the finer experiences of living in Japan comes from learning to appreciate the distinct seasons. Each season brings its own festivals, foods, and experiences for better or for worse. For instance where we live here in Tokyo the summer season is wet and humid followed by intense levels of heat. The remedy? Light summer clothing, cool fruits, hand-fans, and parasols to avoid the sun. When the season ends new foods as well as new expectations arise. As Americans we are used to being able to buy anything at any time of the year, however here in Japan it is expected to patiently wait for certain products to come into season. For instance fall is kaki season, while unagi is eaten in the summer. Japanese enjoy the building anticipation that comes from waiting for their seasonal favorites each year! How about the celebrations?

While in language classes a teacher described the importance of the four seasons here. In the springtime a popular event is hanami , or flower viewing. Special time is set aside to view the cherry blossoms with your friends. It is expected to eat a meal and drink alcohol near a cherry blossom tree during this time. In the summertime a variation of obon and tanabata are celebrated as was described in a previous blog. In the fall, harvest festivals rein as the local people thank the local deities for their harvest. These festivals are recognized worldwide as those in which people carry idols throughout the streets while dancing and celebrating. Finally, in the wintertime New Years is the large festival in which families adorn their houses with Shinto items and prepare a famous mochi rice soup to eat while watching the new years celebration at a famous Shinto temple taking place on TV. If people do not stay home during this time they will typically gather at a local temple to await the new years blessing. These seasonal celebrations form the dominant Japanese culture. As an American it is somewhat refreshing to see unity displayed through the various seasonal celebrations here. It is also interesting to note that Japanese people do not have any problems saying 'Merry Christmas' during the Christmas season!


How do Christians live during the seasons? It is no secret that a serious life set apart for Christ can be difficult in face of the world's culture. For Japanese Christians a real distinction must be made since their society is so different from Christianity. Most Japanese who are serious about their faith will avoid participating in any festivals that bring into question anything that may be an affront to the Savior. Instead, Christians will often have their own holidays to celebrate or will celebrate holidays without the Shinto or Buddhist influences. Unfortunately there is much pressure by the larger culture here for Christians to conform whether it be in school, work, or daily life. Please pray for Japanese Christians as they face the pressures of living here during the seasons! 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Japan Culture Series 14: Omiai




     To those who closely follow trends that occur in Japan the talk of population decline will inevitably come up. As reported masterfully in this article, modern marriage has become increasingly unappealing. Traditionally, a man could find a good career to provide while his wife stayed at home to raise the children. Now that many women have greater access to the job market they are choosing to forego marriage altogether, which has created a steady decline in population. Given that a great majority of people in Japan are now engaged in a career, there exist few opportunities to form a “love marriage”. In the Western world a relationship formed upon love seems to be the primary motive for marriage. However in many Eastern countries, arranged marriages have historically been common practice.

      In Japan the concept is known as 'Omiai', that is, arranged marriage. It is becoming increasingly popular given the modern situation that many Japanese people find themselves in. With great emphasis placed upon economic success often times thoughts of a family become low priority. Traditionally, arranged marriages worked in local areas where people knew each other through family connections. Later the heads of the families determined marital arrangements that would best suite the long term goals of the family prosperity without considering the individual as much. Now families or individuals can hire a go between to connect interested parties. After viewing a database full of potential suitors each party must agree to meet up. They then meet successively and determine whether to further the process to marriage. If interest is determined the man will send gifts which include an engagement ring and money. The interested parties will then typically get married in a Shinto ceremony.

      With the divorce rates in Japan a lot lower than in the United States it is hard to fault Omiai as a bad choice! Although it does have its dark side. We know a woman here who under much pressure from her family decided to go along with an Omiai only to have it end in an unfortunate divorce as well as increased mental issues from which she has not yet recovered. However for each sad story there are likely stories of success. Here in Japan with such a small percentage of Christians the practice of Omiai may not be out of the realm of possibility for some. Although personally, I think that large annual fellowships within denomination are a good way to meet people here in Japan. The most important element here for the Christian minority is to stay strong in their convictions not to marry a non-believer. Please pray that Japanese Christians would be able to remain strong in their commitments to the Lord.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Pachinko


     It was about 9:40 AM as I was biking my way to my morning language class when I noticed a long line of people outside of a massive building. What are these people waiting for? They were the dedicated followers of Japan's biggest casino-like craze known as Pachinko. Pachinko is Japan's closest resemblance to legalized gambling. A mix of pinball, slot-machine, and video game all with the piercing loud sounds of something like a chaotic battleground encompass the user! ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4ITrsWiyvk ) This addicting adrenaline rush keeps the hapless user coming back for more.

      Anyone recalling our missionary presentation given in America will remember the mention of Pachinko. Why is it so popular? My thoughts are that for many it is an escape from the monotonous everyday life of the average Japanese person who does not know God. In the same way that Americans are drawn into casinos, many Japanese are addicted to Pachinko. The only difference being that multiple Pachinko parlors are in every city across Japan. It is well known that building space as well as energy are not cheap in Japan. Literally thousands of dollars have to keep flowing through these massive places each day to keep them operating. No doubt this has a great impact upon the spiritual well-being of many Japanese.

      How can these people be ministered to? Being from Montana one quickly becomes accustomed to seeing multiple casinos everywhere. I recall an old co-worker with four children going to gamble her paycheck away. This is a reality for many that we often do not think about. While living in Montana I used to pray over casinos near my house and leave gospel tracts in them. Here in Japan I am convinced that the same thing needs to be done. I have started by handing out gospel tracts to the people in line at the Pachinko parlor that I bike by every week. I have also started to walk in and leave gospel tracts in them as it is often too loud to talk to people. Just near my apartment there are four large parlors that I am aware of. Please pray for those addicted to this lifestyle. Also, consider the casinos in your own areas. Perhaps it is time to start praying for those people as well. Every small act counts.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rural Japanese Christianity



This month we had the opportunity to travel outside of Tokyo and the main island we live on, to visit some Japanese friends in Oita City, Kyushu, Japan. The husband was originally from Oita, so they decided to return there about a year ago to help their father's small church that had been planted by an American missionary in the 1970s. It was a good reminder for us to realize that outside of Tokyo in the 'real Japan' life is a lot more challenging for Japanese Christians. It was also a good reminder for us that there are very few Christians in Japan.

Historically, the island of Kyushu had a reputation for being open to the initial Jesuit arrivals in the 1500s. So much so that the Daimo, or regional ruler converted to their cause. Oita City historically had been converted to the Jesuit cause at that time as well. However, tragically, later the entire Jesuit converted population was put to death by the Shogun. This history has been preserved to this day as a reminder of 'misfortune' for those who dare depart from the established traditions. In more recent times the city of Nagasaki, which is also located on Kyushu island, was known to be a 'Christian'city', despite being a weapons production center during World War two. Historically, it was one of the cities that received complete atomic destruction. So, in the mind of many Japanese who are aware of history, Christianity is met with caution especially in more rural areas.

Our friend's church which has been in existence since the 1970s has about ten people that attend it. It is not because they are not good ministers, or not faithful; it is just the spiritual reality of their area. In a small city there is great pressure not to depart from the ancient traditions, even if a person does not believe in them any longer. Local rituals, traditions, and beliefs are strongly tied to success as well as abiding by the wishes of departed ancestors. Even though there may be interest in Christianity, many do not want to risk being hated or shunned by their family. Outside of urban areas family ties are viewed as more crucial to daily life. The pastor told us that the church had a lot of opposition when they moved to a new property, but that the local people eventually accepted them after many tense years. They are especially hated for refusing to take part in the local matsuri festivals which include many forms of spirit worship to the local deities. Though their church is small it has its advantages. One advantage to a small church comes in the form of strong spiritual unity and care for one another under difficult conditions. For that we could learn from them just what really is important. A new generation is now ministering with new ideas on how to reach the area. The pastors advice to us after thirty years there in the ministry was to not give up. Please pray for the believers near the Oita City area!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Japan Culture Series 13: Hedataru to Najimu



To a degree whether we realize it or not our personal space plays a key role in our daily relationships with one another. For instance, in the United States we recognize that it is wise to set boundaries in our relationships with co-workers. Most people would probably not share a lot of personal details of their lives with a co-worker as opposed to a spouse. We tend to setup boundaries within our social interactions to govern our daily lives. To move from a casual acquaintance to a close friendship requires that we go through certain invisible social steps all the while paying close attention to social cues of each party involved so as to see whether it be possible to gain a closer relationship or to maintain the present casual acquaintance.

In Japan this process can be described with two terms, Hedataru and Najimu. Hedataru means to separate or set apart while Nijimu means to become attached to or familiar with. Relationships in Japan begin with a distance known as Hedatari, then move through Hedatari, and move into the closeness of Najimu. Moving through these stages requires much time, restraint, and patience. Unlike the United States or Latin cultures where relationships can be developed rather quickly, in Japan it seems to take a lot of time. Japanese people tend to keep at a distance as many of their social interactions tend to be far more formal. From the student to the teacher, the customer to the dealer, or the child to the parent much distance as well as formality is observed by default. With a more formal society it not only takes more time to develop close relationships, but it is also more rare of an occurrence. To be invited to someone's house for instance is not only rare, but also indicates that a major change in relationship has occurred. Once Najimu has been established trust will increase. Interestingly enough, since Japan is a highly formal society there are outlets seen as necessary for shedding Hedataru with strangers such as drinking together as well as attending the Onsen together without clothing!

As missionaries it takes considerable time for us to establish relationships not only as foreigners, but also in respect to Japanese societal norms. If we fail to observe these customs we will be seen as barbarians, much akin to something like walking into a five star hotel without shoes or a shirt on! Imagine the embarrassment! However, once relationships are established Japanese tend to be far more open to the gospel. It appears that they tend to get truth from relationships rather than objective sources much like the post-modernist person does in the western world. This could be one of the reasons why it takes more time for Japanese people to become Christians. We must remember to remain firm in keeping our testimonies which includes avoiding drinking, Onsens, and local pagan-rooted festivities. Unfortunately to Non-Christian Japanese these choices can all be seen as blocks to establishing a friendship. However, we will continue to trust God. Please pray for us as we continue to build relationships with Japanese people.