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.