Hello, everyone! I just got back from a lovely home stay in Komono town, two hours north of Nabari (my city) by train. I arrived Friday night and met the family: Kazuko the mom, Toshi the dad, and Yuka the twenty-eight year-old daughter. Here`s a picture of us at the ramen restaurant on Sunday night:
They also have another daughter but she`s moved out. One thing I`ve noticed about Japanese families who live in houses is that one of the daughters tends to live at home. In fact, I`ve never been in a Japanese house with a middle-aged or older couple that didn`t have an unmarried but working son or daughter (usually daughter) still living with them. It makes a lot of sense, I guess. Why waste the space and resources? Plus there`s the expectation that she will take care of her parents as they get older. I guess that eases the transition from having to suddenly move in with them when an unexpected accident or crisis happens. There isn’t the same stupid stereotype we have in the U.S, that living with your parents after you`ve grown up somehow makes you a less successful person. The family also shares one car. Why waste resources on more than you need? They simply pick each other up and drop each other off at work and other events, or car pool. Americans are far too obsessed, I think, with individual freedom, when in actuality, if they worked out a system and were willing to make just a little sacrifice, there would be hardly any encroachment on their freedom and they could save a lot of money. Fortunately, things are changing. Last I checked there were lost of plans for more public transportation in America`s future, and more folks are carpooling.
On Friday night the family took me out for yaki niku (Korean Barbeque). It was sooo good! Did I mention the Japanese have a very delicious yogurt soft drink? It`s called Calpis, I think, and healthy. Then they took me out to some oat fields to watch the fireflies. There was one bush just full of them!
Kazuku had to work Saturday morning, so Yuka and I passed the time talking and watching Japanese cartoons. It was amusing to see some of my favorite dubbed childhood shows in the original Japanese, like Dragon Ball Z. It made a lot more sense in Japanese. I realized some of the translations were off, because they were so literal or lacking in cultural context. Like something as simple as “genki” being translated as “healthy” when the main character actually means energetic, excited, ready to tackle the task at hand. There are so many set phrases in Japanese that carry a whole myriad of meanings or double meanings that just can`t be translated in the amount of time it takes for the characters to move their mouths, or in the very least comes out sounding really awkward in English. Now that I actually understand Japanese culture better, I can catch some of the references and they`re not just weird, but funny. Japanese humor is very different from Western, full of it`s own set of character archetypes, scenarios, and even it`s own form of Vaudville-esch slap stick based on old Japanese theater tradition and even Sumo wrestling. It was doubly amusing to note the things I laughed at and the things that Yuka laughed at. They were usually totally different, and when we tried to explain to each other why we were laughing, it was impossible.
Then we went to see a temple that was famous for its hill of 450 Buddha statues. Here`s a picture of the hill:
And here`s Yuka and me at the top:
I kept asking when it was built, who built it, why, and what it was supposed to mean/represent, but both of them said they didn`t know and I can`t find it online. Afterwards we went to the shrine. There were some priests blessing the cars. You know, that’s something Japanese Christians do too, I’ve noticed. It makes sense. The Shinto version was interesting to see, here`s a video:
I asked lots of questions about their clothes, the sticks they waved, and the prayers they chanted, but the only thing they knew was that the sticks were for “purification.” Here`s me beside a priest:
Even he could not explain it to me, in English or in Japanese.
Here`s a picture partway inside the shrine itself (the most inner part is like a holy of holies only the priests can enter; you can take a picture of that):
And a smaller side shrine:
Inside the shrine I asked which Shinto god it was made for but again my host mother didn`t know. She tossed in some money and said a little prayer. I asked her if she really believed in what she was doing and in the god of the shrine. She said, very emphatically, yes. I wanted to say, “how can you possibly believe in the god when you don`t even know who it is?” but I didn`t want to be rude. I already felt rude for not participating in the purification or prayers, but when I said I was Christian they didn`t press me.
Here is a Japanese wedding procession going up to the shrine. Notice the female priest in front, that the bride is wearing white, that her head is partially covered, and she is being guided by a wedding assistant on her right. These is a combination of Shinto and Christian customs. But again when I asked what was what and wherefore, nobody seemed to know anything, unlike the weddings I am used to where the meaning of everything is carefully explained in the programs.
It`s sad that the Japanese are taught to just blindly revere their traditional religions but many have lost all knowledge of what its supposed to mean. It shocks me how some people think that a statue without any story, without any known purpose, can be any more than a pretty rock or at most, a beautiful work of art. Why do they treat it with such reverence if they haven`t a clue why? The simple answer, “because we always have” is no answer at all, and not even true. Obviously, they didn`t “always do it that way” because human beings were here before the statue. People ought to understand why they do what they do. How is it that the Japanese are such seekers after knowledge, such hard working, industrious people, but in this one area of religion they have completely “dropped the ball,” so to speak?
But the same is true for Christianity. I will be very bold and say that a Christian who struggles to understand the Bible and prays with the knowledge of who he or she is praying to is more pleasing to God than a Christian who goes to church without seeking understanding of the rituals performed there and makes no attempt to communicate with God in a meaningful way. God doesn’t want drones. What good is that to Him or to us? Faith apart from Love is nothing, and how can one have love for someone one does not know?
But I think some Japanese people are seeking. There were two new ladies at my English and Evangelism class, brought by their friend, and it was pretty clear from their reactions that they were aware of the evangelism element ahead of time. They didn`t make any indications one way or the other, but they listened without seeming offended and thanked me afterward, saying they would be back next week. That`s a good start!
After the temple and shrine, I got to see the famous local green tea farms. I had no idea they had fans to dry the tea on the bushes before its even harvested! Here’s what a modern Japanese tea farm looks like:
Next Kozuko showed me her hobby, jewelry making with beads, (she gave me a cute bracelet) and then I went to a clothes/books swap at Vanessa’s apartment. She`s a British CIR, or “Coordinator of International Relations” and she`s leaving this year, so she had to get rid of all her things, and so did many other people who are leaving the Japanese Exchange Teaching (JET) Program. Folks who are staying just brought things they didn`t want anymore. I got a lot of really great books and outfits in exchange for stuff I`d already read or that I`d gotten as gifts from Japanese people who, while meaning well, don`t always understand the body proportion differences between Asians and Americans. The leftovers (including most of the stuff I brought) got sent to the needy in Japan and the Philippines, so nothing was wasted!
I think the thing I was most excited about was one of the books I picked up, Twilight. I wanted to see if it`s as awful as everybody says. The writing is pretty amateur, mostly in terms of over-repetition, transitions, character reactions (why did he/she just do that? It was totally out of the boring archetype the author just spent the last fifty pages drilling into our heads but it doesn`t really do anything to make the character more interesting), and some scenes that I just thought, "why was that in there? How is it contributing to the story?" but the overall story and themes are pretty good, even if they`ve been done a hundred times before in adult fiction. Stephenie Meyer really plays up the idea of what makes something evil or forbidden. Sometimes a little too much, but it`s not a theme you see handled in young adult literature a lot. Good and evil are usually taken for granted until you get into purely adult fiction. So I can see why it became so popular. A give her brownie points for tackling so difficult and controversial an issue in her very first novel. The balance she arrives at in the end, where to draw the line between sin and simple cultural misgivings, was very satisfying. I`m not sure the film version captured that.
Anyway, after the swap we went to a really delicious (Japanese) Italian restaurant called Tom Sawyer’s. I call it (Japanese) Italian because there really is a difference between the kind of food served at Italian restaurants run by Japanese and Italian restaurants run by Italians. For example, (Japanese) Italian restaurants feature a lot more Japanese dishes like octopus, omrice, and Japanese noodles but with Italian sauces. Italian restaurants run by Italians are a lot like those in the U.S. like Zios, Olive Garden, and anything besides fast food Italian like Pizza Hut or Mazzios, which are (American) Italian. I try to explain this concept to Japanese people (and others) but many just don`t get it. To most, Japanese is Japanese and Italian is Italian. But North Americans, Chinese, Europeans, I think get it because they do it on purpose instead of intrinsically without thinking. It`s almost a kind of cultural imperialism…maybe. That idea would require an entire paper or even a book to properly analyze the topic and I`m sure it`s already been done before. Anyway, here`s a picture of our little foreigner group at Tom Sawyer`s:
Sunday morning I awoke bright and early to go climbing on Mt. Gozaisho. Only it was raining. So we only got to go a third of the way up the mountain. Still, it was the hardest climb I`ve ever done; they said it was harder than Fuji because it was so steep and the trail was hard to follow. Boy am I glad I did it in a group!
Here`s a picture of our group, a mixture of foreigners and Japanese. I`m standing on top of a pile or rocks. The blond girl sticking out her tongue is from Sydney, Australia:
Here’s the gondola (rope way) through the mist. Pretty cool looking. It would be cool to glide in and out of clouds like that.
Speaking of cool misty stuff, here’s some enshrouded rock formations:
Two people trying to climb up the rock formations; the American is Holly from Colorado:
The pine forest:
A mountain cabin in the woods (that has been destroyed twice by natural disaster in the past few years, but the family just keeps rebuilding. That’s the Japanese for you. Very resilient and stubborn):
And a view of a city nestled between the mountains.
The only downside was that I would have liked to just stop and stare at the scenery more, but I was so busy keeping my eyes focused on the path so I wouldn’t trip over any rocks or branches and keeping up with all the experienced climbers that I barely noticed the beautiful nature around me. They said we finished in about half the time it usually takes. When Mom and I tackle Fuji we`ll have to take it nice and slow so we can enjoy it to the fullest. Getting to the top is only half the fun. The true joy lies in the journey.
We finished at noon and went to a nearby onsen (natural hot spring). It was pretty nice and really helped relax my aching muscles. Then I went to dinner with my host family at a ramen shop. Ramen are Chinese noodles, but as previously established with the Italian restaurant, ramen shops are thoroughly Japanese establishments and you couldn`t find anything like them in China, so they are therefore better categorized as (Chinese) Japanese. For example, the first course was sushi (very good sushi, I might add), followed by Chinese noodles in a Japanese vegetable soup. And to add even more layers, yes, incase you`re wondering, this is the same “ramen” that poor American college students can buy at the dollar store for fifty cents a package, only not quite. That ramen is an example of (American, Japanese) Chinese food because the American version is a disgustingly MSG drenched form of the nice Japanese food, which is a cheap form of the Chinese delicacy. If I`m understanding the progression (or regression) correctly, it was a really fancy “hot pot” food enjoyed by the rich in the winter time of China, was devoured by the Japanese troops who swept through during World War II, taken back to Japan, and the American GIs after World War II picked it up and brought it back to America. Weird how these things evolve.
On a very distracted side note, I`ve always wanted to know why Orsen Scott Card decided to refer to some aliens in his books as “ramen.” I realize it means one who is “friendly but outside the main group” in some Nordic language, but for Pete`s sake, it means a kind of noodle in Chinese, Japanese, and American English, and he has all three of these ethnic groups in his books! Obviously somebody didn`t do their research. Every time I read a sentence with that word in it, I just burst out laughing! Look, we`ve got Chinese noodles landing in spaceships in the middle of town! It`s just a really funny image.
So it was that at the end of a long but fun weekend, I arrived back in Nabari at 8:00pm. That`s when I finally, after six weeks of (more) intensive revisions, sent off two of my novels, Treasure Traitor and Dargon the Human Slayer, to Simon and Shuster Publishing. Now it`s in God`s hands. I`m just going to stop worrying about it and continue enjoying my time in Japan. “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Prayer Requests for this Week: Prayer for the two ladies who started coming to my English and Evangelism class last week. May God open their ears and soften their hearts. Prayer for patience as I wait for responses from both them and the publisher. It is always a struggle for me to let go of worry and just trust God. May His perfect will be done, whatever that may be.
Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,
L. J. Popp