Tuesday, September 21, 2021

COVID Abroad in Japan

 


It has become quite clear in the last year that our world is ever-changing due to the COVID virus issue as well as the government responses to how best to deal with the issue. Sometime in March 2019 in Japan we started to experience signs of COVID as toilet paper lines and mask shortages became a reality. A few months later this reality started to hit home in the United States. What was that experience like in Japan? This is one of the most common questions that we get.

Japan prides itself on being a homogeneous society, so the response to COVID appeared to be immediate and uniform. Japanese typically wear masks anyway given their close proximity in daily life, desire to prevent spreading of sickness to others, and general cleanliness. When COVID came on the scene society quickly wore masks everywhere believing that it would prevent viral spread. Even to this day they continue to wear masks everywhere. Almost immediately every area open to the public had hand wash sprays out with requirements for use upon entry. Some of the larger stores also had head thermometers to determine if the body temperature was at fever levels. Eventually the nightlife areas were shut down as they were determined to be a major spreading areas. The Japanese solution was to close down known drinking areas as well as limit restaurants to a 7 P.M. curfew. Japanese people were hesitant to get the vaccine, however when the government began to issue them by age category almost every elderly person immediately got one. However, there is still a portion of society that refuses the vaccine. As of the writing of this article about 60% of Japanese have received a vaccine.

In general, currently in Japan the infection as well as death numbers are very low compared to most countries. I believe this has to do with the Japanese culture itself in that Japanese tend to keep their distance, don't touch, and have excellent hygiene practices in general. Almost immediately Japan also closed its borders to international travel to most people unless they had special permission which was difficult to get. Even now it is very difficult to gain access into the country unless you were a prior resident. For this reason many in ministry have not been able to gain access into Japan. Also, many in ministry have come off the field as well. We plan to re-enter Japan in the winter time. Please pray for Japan that they would re-open their borders so that families can see each other, business can occur, and ministry can be done.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020? 2021?

 


All around the world there has been great anticipation for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, however events took a different course when the Covid19 outbreak rapidly changed international plans. Now Japan, who has spent billions of dollars on constructing new stadiums, advertising, and staff faces increasing opposition to the Olympics both locally and internationally. Originally, the plan was to move the Olympics to the summer of 2021 in the hopes that the virus would dissipate over the course of a year. This view received full approval and is still continuing on despite heavy opposition. The proponents believe that hosting the Olympics will show the world that we can beat the virus and that we must continue to go on as normal, while those opposing fear that hosting the Olympics will spread the virus in Japan's main mega-city.

Thus far Tokyo has remained quite well protected from Covid19 with maximum infection levels reaching around 1000 per day at the most, which is quite incredible for a city of 38 million. The current total numbers in Japan for Covid19 infections are about 830,000 out of 126 million people. The death total is around 15,000. Interestingly enough the population is largely unvaccinated. Tokyo itself has cycled through seasons of lockdown and no lockdown depending on the infection numbers. Currently the new lockdown is in effect until August 22nd. Officials originally decided to allow spectators at half capacity of the stadiums, then decided a maximum of 10,000 spectators, and now they are saying no spectators. There was talk of letting limited foreign spectators come, but that was eventually decided against as well. Now there will only be 1000 special spectators allowed for the Opening Ceremonies.

Concerning athletes, they will need to live under strict conditions with constant Covid19 testing, social distancing, masking, and very limited interaction or travel in the city. They are also required to return home after all of their events are completed. Already some athletes from Uganda tested positive for Covid19 upon arrival, were isolated, and disqualified. Japanese media has focused on foreigners without masks which has stirred up fear as it is a common belief here that foreigners are the cause of virus spreading! Overall Japan has remained very strict when it comes to entry and departing with many mixed families (Japanese married to foreigners) still not able to see each other due to being caught overseas during the initial virus outbreak. Is it a good idea to have the Olympics? Will it be held? That still remains to be seen as mounting pressure increases. Please pray for us as we are going to attempt street evangelism during this tense time.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Passing away in Japan

 


In the last year my friend Dennis as well as two elderly men in church have passed away. In every country it is important to understand how people view death as well as how they deal with departed loved ones. What exactly happens when someone passes away in Japan? How is it different from the West? While in language school years ago my wife was required to watch a movie called 'Departures' which characterizes the traditional Japanese method of a funeral process. If you have two hours and are interested it would be worth viewing. However, I am told that the process is much more streamlined these days with the events that were depicted in the movie becoming increasingly rare.

For instance, in the West after someone has been legally declared dead the various processes begin including funeral services, legal, and financial. The body itself is usually dealt with quickly. In Japan the process may take awhile with the body remaining at the house given typical Japanese beliefs about the afterlife. Often times Buddhist priests are involved in various rituals to prepare the body for the afterlife as well as for the cremation process in the family temple. Most bodies are cremated as per traditional beliefs as well as a general lack of space for burying bodies in Japan. Although some churches have graveyards for bodies or “bone-closets” to store the ashes. In Japan Buddhism has retained much of its relevance by concerning itself primarily with the process of death with various rituals, beliefs, and grave-site management. The entire process itself can be very costly, however if the family cannot afford to pay the state will actually subsidize some of the expenses.

Most Japanese consider themselves to be Atheist with cultural Buddhism adhered to because of ancient cultural expectations. The Buddhist view of life is that of a circle complete with multiple lives and deaths over a long period of time until they are able to break free and achieve nirvana by doing various good works. Rituals after death are very important in this mindset because it is believed that they are helping the departed one to the next step of their reincarnation which can take a certain amount of time. Death as well as the body itself are viewed as important events. Whereas Westerners tend to view death as a one time event and life as a line with a beginning and an end. Americans tend to put less importance on the body itself and more value upon the eternal soul and the afterlife. With that being said the views of death are entirely different, however they can lead to important conversations about spiritual matters. We usually do not think much about death until it impacts us personally. This rare time can be used greatly by God. Please pray for Japan. 


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Japan Culture Series 29: N.E.E.T. (ニート)

 


In reaction to the dominant performance-oriented culture, a group of people known as “NEETs” have arisen among new generations in Japan. NEETs are known as: “Not in education, employment or training.” How did this come about? In a recent YouTube video , the author describes a group of people who do not want to follow the path of previous Japanese generations in becoming salary-men. In Japan, from a very early age children are conditioned to immerse themselves in study in order to become an acceptable part of society. These often rigorous standards do not leave much time for anything but work with the ultimate goal of being completely dedicated to a company or trade for life. If this standard is not met then a person will be seen as useless. As has been stated before on this blog: in Japan the career is number one, family is number two, and God is last. Often times children will not know their father due to long hours away from home at work. For many salarymen a daily 10pm or later time of work is not uncommon. The trade off is materialism for family, which has created certain levels of social dysfunction.

In reaction to this culture, NEETs have arisen with various motives demonstrating to Japan that all is not well socially. Rather than continue the system of working long hours, these people have chosen rather to 'drop out' of society by living a minimalist lifestyle, or refusing to work by living off their parents or government. In Japan if a Japanese person is not a salary-man or some other respectable trade they will be looked down upon even if they can make a living using some unconventional means such as earning money through Internet (Youtube, Facebook, Buying/Selling/Trading etc.), small craft sales, Pachinko, etc. However, with the rise of working from home due to COVID cultural attitudes may be shifting. Many Japanese are now able to make money through the internet, small businesses, or other non-conventional means that do not require group involvement. For the majority culture in Japan this is a scary prospect that may change the established norms of society.

What do these changes mean for Christianity? In many ways these changes are showing that many Japanese in newer generations are beginning to think 'outside the box' more than in prior generations. As it is becoming more common to travel overseas or study abroad, more Japanese people are being exposed to new ways of living. When they return home they are not satisfied with a salary-man lifestyle. Though this can be fearful to the dominant culture it is helpful for the cause of the gospel. Those who are not overly busy actually have time to consider their purpose in life, why they exist, and what happens after they die. For this reason these people are far more open to God. Also, when these disenfranchised people are rejected by mainstream society, they can find that they have acceptance from God. Pray for those in Japan who have time for God.


Monday, January 18, 2021

2020: Year In Review


It is that time again to look back and reflect upon the previous year. What a year it was not only here in Japan but worldwide! This April 2021 will conclude our forth year here in Japan as a family. Our theme for this last year is as follows:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” - Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV

Our original desire was to return to the United States on a furlough after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, however that plan changed quickly as we decided to stay longer due to a few factors including Covid19, travel restrictions, visa issues, and the US Elections. A few missionaries have been on freeze away from their ministries due to these issues, which has led us to rethink our strategy. The year has been filled with new territory in many ways. Our missionary motto has been close to adopting the quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you have where you are at.” As is evident over the past year with the Covid19 outbreak, various supply shortages, lock-downs, and global riots we had to shift our preconceived plans. Things do not always work out the way that we would like, so we have to quickly adapt and use our time wisely. We have continued to do evangelism in the form of giving out gospel tracts around Tokyo, giving out masks with gospel tracts early on, doing Christmas evangelism with gospel tracts and cookies, teaching English using the Bible, and switching to a lot of online evangelism through Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and AfterDeathTruth.net. The church we are working with here in Tokyo has seen 8 salvations in the past year with 2 that we have had a hand in as well as increased numbers of people watching services over the internet. This really demonstrates that many Japanese have been considering spiritual matters while they have had this unusual time to reflect on life more.

It is evident that the world is changing rapidly which could mean that the Age of Grace is coming to an end moving to the increased rise of globalism. For those who study Bible prophecy many indicators appear to be occurring that remind us to redeem our time, live for God, and not to trust in ourselves during these uncertain times. For those reading this blog it should be a time to reflect upon your life. What are you doing with your time? What are your priorities? Are you ready to face persecution? Are you ready to face God? If we have learned anything from this year it is that we are living in perilous times in which we make sure that we are in a right relationship with God.

 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Japan Culture Series 28: Kawaii (可愛い)

 


It may come as a surprise to those obsessed with the historical romantic view of Japan as a great warrior culture that nothing dominates the Japanese cultural mindset more than the concept of Kawaii. Kawaii simply means cute, helpless, innocent, or lovable. In Japan no matter where a person travels they will be inundated with cute things whether it be advertising, city mascots, fashion, or the Japanese mindset of what is desirable. While in America we tend to be drawn to that which is 'cool' or 'sexy', the Japanese are certainly drawn to that which is Kawaii. This concept is so deeply held that even the most manly Yakuza gangsters can be melted by that which is Kawaii.

Upon first arrival in Japan I thought nothing of it, but now after having been here awhile I admit that I now am impacted by that which is cute. Being the father of two young daughters I cannot but help to be constantly reminded, whenever we go out, of cuteness from the average Japanese person. Many Japanese people are so saturated with the concept of Kawaii that when we do go out they will stop what they are doing and go into a kind of frenzy exclaiming how cute our children are. Sometimes we will even get a “Mecha Kawaii”, which means super cute. Why is this the case?

It seems to be the case that after seeing something cute and innocent we are instantly triggered with warm feelings. These sentiments have gradually been included into Japanese culture over time to where it is now a major force. The Japanese seem to have tapped into cuteness and turned it into a powerful force of marketing that can potentially change our perception about just about anything. Almost every city has a Kawaii-type mascot to draw attention to otherwise boring governmental business as well as tourism. Even the police have a Kawaii mascot intended to promote a safe or fun type image that inspires trust of authorities. This feel-good sense has been exploited to the max here in Japan to promote just about anything under the sun that can generate cash. It would seem that this love of all things Kawaii has generated a greater love for the things of this present world in the Japanese people's hearts. Cuteness has become something that Japanese people literally idolize. It seems to energize them as sort of an escape from a seemingly mundane, mechanical life of strict schedules and repetition.

God has certainly instilled within us a love for that which is innocent, cute, and helpless. When we reflect upon these things it reminds us of our own frail beginnings of infancy and early childhood. We can realize that we are really not as great and mighty as we think we are since we all came from humble beginnings. Once we realize this we can begin to realize that we are indeed not the greatest power in the galaxy, instead rather turning our focus to God which is the true great power. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Falling Away

 

A recent study in the United States indicated that one in fiveChristian” Americans would not return back to church after Covid19 issues end. In the United States there are many reasons for this as the culture shifts causing cultural Christianity to disappear. What about in Japan where the culture is already overwhelmingly opposed to Christianity? What do Christians face here?

Unlike the United States there is great pressure here to avoid Christianity given the underlying cultural norms that assume that being Japanese consists of: 1) Japanese racial identity, 2) Japanese language ability, and 3) Japanese accepted cultural norms which are heavily intermixed with Shintoism and Buddhism. All three of these elements make up “Japanese Culture”. An underlying assumption is that if you do not have these things, then you truly are not Japanese. So strong are these sentiments, that the few who do not agree with this understanding are readily shunned. 

Japanese are typically taught that Christianity is a “White man's religion from the West” that first came to Japan with the imperialistic intentions of the Jesuits and is therefore incompatible with Japanese values. However most Japanese are shocked to find out that Christianity is actually an Asian religion originating in the Middle East with most Christians being outside of The West. They are also shocked to find out that Christianity arrived into Japan before Buddhism and even has a Trinitarian God in its most ancient foundational religion that pre-dates Shintoism.

Ironically, Darwinism and Atheism, which are truly Western concepts are not questioned even though these ideologies have displaced Japanese culture more than any other in recent history! Even though most Japanese do not believe Shintoism or Buddhism personally the cultural pressure remains strong to give all outward appearances of adherence to said concepts.

When one decides to be a Christian here they are faced with the decision to potentially alienate themselves from their family and culture, which is a huge sacrifice in a group-oriented society. This has the effect of either creating a strong believer who lives for God or a life of stress, shame, and eventual surrender to the majority culture for those who desire to try to live in both worlds. 

One of the older ladies that my wife led to the Lord was faithful for years, traveling about two hours for church each Sunday, and even getting Baptized. However, when faced with continual family pressure as well as the realization that she would have to get rid of her family idols, it proved to be too much to handle, leading to her abandoning of the church. This is the sad reality for many Japanese Christians who have indeed learned the truth, received Christ as Savior truly, yet have returned back to their former lives preferring to live painfully as secret believers. It should be a reminder for Christians to determine which shame is greater; that of society, or that of our conscience and God. Please pray for Japanese Christians who have to make hard decisions in a world that is highly opposed to them living out their faith.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Tsuyu: The Japanese Rainy Season




In Japan during the month of June and July it is considered rain season or Tsuyu (梅雨). In the West we think of the word monsoon when we think of Asia's rainy season. For Americans thinking of places like Seattle and Portland's constant rain help to understand what it is like here during this time. Most of Japan is greatly impacted by these extended rains with the exception being Hokkaido to the far north. Often times people choose to stay indoors leading to economic activity as well as travel being limited. Some weeks can include constant rain while others are generally humid with constant drizzles. On the negative side many hazards such as flooding and landslides often occur in various areas. This year alone millions of yens worth of damage as well as many deaths have already occurred. Here is an article summarizing what has happened this year so far. The government has increasingly become more involved in organizing help to ravaged areas in the form of manpower and financial assistance. Also, it cannot be forgotten, that these damp conditions lead to rapid growth of mold as well as many varying sicknesses from barometric pressure changes. It can be said that these conditions have impacted Japanese culture as a whole.

For one these conditions allow for Japan's rice crops to flourish. Rice is well known for its need to have an abundance of water as well as humid type conditions to thrive. Rice has been the bedrock of Japanese civilization for generations. Historically, depending on the crops each year the nation would succeed or fail. Much of the country appears to be a jungle-like climate complete with lush vegetation, rivers, ponds, lakes, and all of the wild-life associated therein. These dense jungle-like conditions combined with Japanese folklore about spirits may be a reason as to why Japanese people do not seem to be too adventurous as a whole when it comes to exploring nature. The rain season has also led to Japanese being a more reflective people leading to great interest in poetry in times past. It could also be that these long rain season contributes to depression and mental issues that have often characterized the Japanese experience in recent times.

Though in modern times it does not seem that the average Japanese person has as much time to themselves as in times past, the rain season does thankfully allow for time to read and contemplate ideas. More open-minded Japanese people can use this time to read and watch videos about spiritual matters in particular. In recent times following a long Covid19 season beginning last January, the rain season has appeared to be particularly long. It seems that this season as well as growth of Covid19 this month has started to weigh down heavily on people looking for some kind of end in sight. Japanese people are really looking for answers, purpose for life, and reasoning about God. When finances, travel, friends, and peace have been taken away, what remains? Please pray for them to seek the truth during this rare time in life when the “normal routine” has ended.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Japan Culture Series 27: Jishuku Keisatsu


What happens when the law has limitations? In Japan the culture of shame often picks up where the law leaves off in solving issues. If something goes against societal norms in Japan, it is often seen as an open door for the strong 'culture of shame' to employ public shaming as a way to ensure compliance. In a group culture people tend to fear what others think rather than being independent. A recent case in point relates to the recent Covid19 pandemic. Fear arises when people think other people are not following the standards of social distancing, so they take it upon themselves to shame others into compliance.

These people have been called Jishuku Keisatsu ( 自粛警察 ) or self-appointed pandemic police. You can read more about them here in a recent news article. As Japan has decided to slowly re-open 39 of the 47 prefectures (mostly areas without mega cities) people have become cautious about those deciding to travel from infected areas to non-infected areas. As the article points out, it is a common practice in Japan for people to shame certain individuals who they deem as not complying to whatever social norm is in question. For this reason Japan also continually experiences bullying in schools, workplaces, and elsewhere at increasingly startling levels. Among other factors, these shaming practices are said to also contribute to high stress and suicide rates throughout Japan.

In a society in which grace as well as forgiveness are foreign concepts we can readily see the implications of a strict system of law keeping followed by shame for non-compliance. For this reason many people desirous of having a relationship with Christ are afraid to go against cultural norms for fear of being isolated from others and shunned from their families for life with many families even holding funerals for their newly converted relatives! In a shaming society that relies up the group in almost every faucet of life, going against the norm to follow Christ is seen as suicidal or highly hazardous to daily living. For this reason Japanese strongly believe that anything that goes against the cultural norms is not even to be considered even if it is true. Japanese would in many cases rather hold on to their ancient traditions (that they for the most part do not even believe are true) rather than face an angry mob accusing them of abandoning that 'which makes them Japanese'. For this reason those that become Christians in Japan, although few, are often highly dedicated and courageous people who desire to be both free inwardly and outwardly whatever the cost may be. It is also for this reason that some people can take many years to decide whether to become a Christian or to even openly live as a Christian outwardly in society. In the West even as times change we still often take for granted that we can live freely both inwardly and outwardly as a Christian in a grace-based society. Remember to pray for Japan!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Japan Culture Series 26: Syakaidekiyori




In recent days with constant talk of the virus spreading worldwide the term Syakaidekiyori 社会的距離 (social distancing), or practice of keeping a safe distance in order to prevent the spread of disease, has been circulating in the public forum as a new idea. However, in Japan this social distancing has been the way of life for a very long time. How is it that Japan being so close to China has experienced a relatively slow spread of the virus in comparison with other countries? ( https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries )

In most areas of Japan people live in very close proximity to one another due to living on a densely populated island. Japanese culture, although highly respectful, does not generally include touching. In fact, Japanese people generally keep their distance from one another in daily interactions. They rarely speak with strangers either. (A stranger being considered one outside of their immediate group.) This does not mean that they are cold or uncaring. On the contrary they are taught from a young age to be aware of each other at all times. This skill is known as 'reading the air'. So, during flu season it is typical for Japanese people to wear masks to prevent spread of sicknesses, though in America we would consider this weird. If they have serious symptoms they will generally stay home from school or work rather than spread it. Also most public stores have hand-sanitizers located at entries and restrooms. Japanese are also taught at a young age to wash their hands and gargle when coming in from outside. Some public drinking fountains here in buildings have signs saying “No Gargling” as it is an instilled habit of many to do so when walking in from outside to clear possible throat germs. There is generally a strong sense of shame in spreading sickness to others. Each year in Japan various schools will shut down if they suspect that a certain percentage of students have the flu. All of these factors are likely reasons as to why the virus is spreading slowly here in Japan.

When I first came to Japan I thought that wearing masks was silly as well, so I did not do it. I rode the train into Tokyo each day for language school through flu season with no mask and a normal hand-washing routine. That winter I was sick for three weeks altogether. The factor of adjusting to a new country's diseases as well as being in close proximity to others daily on the train led to my sicknesses increasing. However, the very next year I practiced social distancing habits by wearing a mask, avoiding sick looking people, and washing my hands after every train trip in and out of Tokyo. The results? I was only sick for one week that winter! Personally, I do think that social distancing has its merits especially in a time of worldwide virus spreading. The downsides are that people are very cautious when talking to others about religious matters. Please pray for openings to share the gospel with these people!