Our God, Eager to Save

Posted January 10, 2010

Tomohisa had reached a coveted status in Japan’s vertically-ordered society: medical doctor. Along with the status came wealth, which he used to buy the affection of women…and lots of booze. His selfishness blinded... [Read More]

The Humbled Tsunami

Posted December 2, 2011

When the warning sirens went off, residents in a south Sendai neighborhood fled to the local school. Together with panicked children still in class they climbed to the rooftop. Some 600 altogether... [Read More]

Japanese Get "Bach" Hope

Posted September 21, 2011

Who would have thought Bach would be involved in 21st century mission work in Japan? I have frequently read with interest of the strong connection between classical music (particularly J.S. Bach) and Japanese interest... [Read More]

Tsunami Ground Zero

Posted April 7, 2011

I still haven't returned from tsunami ground zero. That is to say, although I've been back several days already, the reality of the scene is still with me. The incredible amounts of mud in once beautiful homes... [Read More]

"Nice Try, Kevin" File

Posted February 9, 2011

This one goes into the "Nice try, Kevin" file. I just thought it was a nice-looking bunch of flowers in the storefront and, on the spur of the moment, decided Kaori deserved to enjoy them. Chrysanthemums, however, are... [Read More]

The Gulliver Complex

Posted November 9, 2007

I'm a giant again. Well, not really. But it sure feels like it again since returning from the States. The first sign was bumping my head in the shuttle bus from the airport. By habit, I normally duck my head through any... [Read More]

Foreigners Don't Get the Point

Posted January 31, 2010

I'm standing in line at a drugstore with other shoppers. The woman in front of me has just pulled out a business card file. Hurriedly she flips through at least a hundred or more cards searching for the right one. It's a... [Read More]

More Powerful than Bombs

Posted July 5, 2008

Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan's... [Read More]

Ready?

Posted September 14, 2010

I'd been putting it off. Although I knew it was important, taking inventory of our earthquake and disaster gear just wasn't getting done. Japan rests along the "ring of fire" in the Pacific ocean, a stretch of area that is... [Read More]

150 Years Later

Posted March 17, 2009

This spring marks the 150th anniversary of Protestant Christianity in Japan. The first protestant missionaries set foot in the port of Yokohama back in 1859. Now they were real church planters -- overcoming all... [Read More]

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I for Japan. Japan for the World. The World for Christ. And All for the Glory of God.

— Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Evangelist

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Rambling Notes from Japan

Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.

Chocolate Conundrum

Japan's got a sweet deal for men on Valentine's Day. Forget about choosing cards, fussing over flowers, or treating your date to dinner out. Here in Japan, it's all about gals giving the chocolate. The guys just relax and wait for the sweet treats to come their way. (Don't worry. The men will get their turn later.)

On February 14, ladies get the murky duty of judging where they stand in their relationships, and giving accordingly.

First, there's the "giri choco" or "obligation chocolate." This is an inexpensive bag of sweets that you give to the guys around because you must. It's expected. It's a way of "greasing the skids" of the relationships in life. All of them. Well, mostly. Just don't get caught not giving to someone!

Then there's "honmei choco" or "favorite chocolate." These you only give to guys you want to show your affection toward. These sweets tend to be rather expensive, and probably even homemade.

Oh, yes! There's the "tomo choco" or "just friends chocolate" as well. That's a whole other category of relationship to figure out.

With all this chocolate swirling about, you'd think the guys would be thrilled. Not really. Getting chocolates comes with a whole set of obligations. Men must reciprocate on "White Day," a month later on March 14. Each and every chocolate needs to be responded to, often with one worth three times as much as received. Talk about putting on the pressure!

No doubt about it. In spite of all the heartshaped boxes, Valentine's Day in Japan is less about love, and more about duty and obligation.

Japan, if all this makes you yearn for a true unfettered expression of love, forget about the chocolate thing. Look to the cross of Christ instead. Here is a love given out generously to all − without levels, obligations, or payments still owed. John 4:10 says "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Now that's a sweet deal! Obligation chocolate? Nah! I'll take unmerited love.


When it Comes to Christmas, Japan "Takes the Cake"

When Japanese in Tokyo dream of a “white” Christmas, it can only be made of cream frosting...over yellow sponge cake...with red strawberries on top. For Japanese, strawberry shortcake is the essence of Christmas. Here in Kawasaki, the Christmas cake order forms from local bakeries fill our mailbox from late October. For those who dislike the long December 24th pickup lines, home delivery is possible. Tiny brand name shortcakes can set you back $50 or more!

Blame it on Western influence. It’s said that the founder of Fujiya Food Service, Fujii Rinemon, first got the idea during a Christmas visit to the States in the 1920’s. Fujiya has sold the Christmas cakes ever since, although it’s only been the last 20 years when they fully took root in Japan’s Christmas psyche. Now, 75% of Japanese say they must eat Christmas cake!

Just think...if Fujii had visited a church instead of a cake shop, the Christmas story might be very different in Japan today. Missionaries like me often wonder why Japanese find the cake to be so compelling of a Christmas image, while the baby Jesus is so foreign (I challenge you to come and find Christ anywhere at Christmas in Kawasaki).

Japanese have long been eager adopters. They pick and choose from other cultures those elements they enjoy, and discard the rest. But who would discard the baby Jesus for cheap white frosting? If only Japanese knew the real value of each. But then again, do we? American Christmas values may not be so far behind the white frosting of secular Japan. Unless we decide differently.

My Christmas dream is that nativity sets will replace shortcake as Japan’s new Christmas craze. My prayer is that you and I, too, will treasure the baby Christ much more than just the “frosted” fun this Christmas.



Relearning Holiday Celebrations

July 4th went by without a single boom or bang. No hotdogs or patriotic concerts. Can you imagine July without a fireworks show? What about Labor Day without BBQ, backyard or beach? Or Thanksgiving without turkey or family gatherings? Something would be missing, wouldn’t it? What if Christmas or Easter weren’t even holidays? This is life in Japan. Yes, it does feel incomplete at times to this expat.

True, Japan has its own holidays. But to be honest, many of them lack appeal to me. I know I could probably learn a few things from Japan’s “Respect for the Aged Day” and “Physical Fitness Day.” But many holidays like “Sea Day,” “Mountain Day” and “Setsubun” (google it) have distinct Shinto values and make poor substitutes. And don’t get me started on Japan’s swapping of the Baby Jesus’ birthday with the emperor’s birthday in late December. That’s no celebration!

So, after 16 years here, we recognize that some things will remain a loss in our lives. I (Kevin) probably mourn this loss more than Kaori or Justen, both raised in Japan. But just when I start to feel like a martyr by settling for the skinny Japanese porkdog, in a top-cut bun, with the seaweed sprinkles and the horseradish mustard that clears my nose, I sense God asking, “How long will you mourn these small losses, Kevin? Whose kingdom’s celebration are you living for?” And I remember that I’m not at home in this world anyway, and look toward the eternal celebrations out of this world. Thank you, Lord, for good things to come!

(But next time we’re in the States, treat me to a decent Chicago hotdog.)



Merry Halloween?

It doesn't take long in Japan to discover that many holidays have crossed the ocean. One also soon discovers that the way these holidays are celebrated is very different than one's own experience. Japanese tend to be very eclectic, adopting a variety of styles, tastes and customs from many cultures, but always adapting them to suit their unique tastes. Borrowed holidays are a pretty "mixed up" affair here. 

This American foreigner was intrigued to discover that Japanese turned Valentine's day into two separate events in February and March, one for boys and another for girls. Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. And the Christmas cake, not ham or turkey, is the main eating attraction.

Several years ago Halloween began to become more popular in Japan. While I have mixed feelings about this holiday coming to Japan, it brings a flavor of home to see pumpkins and fall decor in stores. But I have to draw the line at the new greeting this year printed on Halloween goods and decorations everywhere: "Merry Halloween." I hope it is a one-year anomaly coming from some confused supplier somewhere in Asia, but I have the feeling it's going to become a fixed part of the local vocab.

I can see where this mixed up holiday trend is going in Japan. So someday when a Japanese wishes you a "Happy Christmas" in a card with a picture of a Mickey Mouse cake on it, you will know where it started.



Let the Children Come

Japanese celebrate a 1000-year-old festival in November called Shichigosan. “Shichigosan” literally means “seven, five, three.” These are the ages that are considered critical in a child’s development by Japanese. Parents will dress their children in traditional clothing, and take them to the local shrine where the priest will offer a prayer of blessing from the gods.

This affords a unique opportunity for the church in Japan. There is no stronger god than the true, living God; and no greater blessing than that which He gives. Why not ask parents to have the church pray for their children instead?

This past November Sunday, I again had the opportunity to pray for the salvation or spiritual growth of kids gathered at our church, as parents watched and listened. Jesus said, “Let the little children come!” and so we welcome them in His name!


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We serve with WorldVenture, an evangelical faith mission. Our sending/home church is Cornerstone Church of Lansing, Illinois.
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