With a population of nearly 130 million people and a habitable area of just one fifth its total landmass, Japan is an intriguing country with a rich and wonderful heritage. It’s number one on my foreign travel destination wish list. Before I go, however, I would like to have enough of the language down to make my way intelligently through the crowded streets of Tokyo and not be seen and sneered at as an unintelligent “gai-jin”, or foreigner (they wouldn’t really do that). I want to blend in. That should make things a little easier, I guess. But that’s just speaking. Far as reading goes, there are three alphabets to learn. For instance, there’s Hiragana, which is the character alphabet for the individual phonetic sounds within Japanese. Then there’s Katakana, a more angular counterpart to Hiragana. Katakana is used to write foreign words for which colloquial Japanese has no direct translation. And then there’s Kanji. The Kanji catalog contains around 6,000 symbols ranging from simple to complex. An old neighbor told me once, that in order to read the newspaper, you need to know at least 2,000. Many signs and sentences are a combination of all three. I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me.
And with reference to the gift of Speaking in Tongues, I do remember a story I heard on a Christian radio show many years ago where an American man told of his interaction with two Japanese women who heard his English in their native tongue. Nothing to sneer at.
Much can be learned from the traditional Japanese way of life. Of austerity and frugality and respect. The simplicity and honor of their person-to-person interaction inspires and appeals to me the most. Bowing is more than a simple, genuflecting gesture of respect–it’s an art form that takes years to master. And if someone hands you a business card make sure that you treat it with utmost care and respect. It’s considered a cardinal sin to disrespect another’s business card. Seriously. If we as a church showed a tenth of the kindness, respect and hospitality that they show to their guests, God would “awake” (see Psalm 44:23), and maybe we would come together as a more cohesive body in these days and times. The communal spirit evinced in their generosity is reminiscent of the early church (see Acts 2:44). And the earthquake and the tsunami have done even more to bring them together as a people. Inspiring. Speaking of austerity, if you think the three months that kids here in America get for Summer vacation is not long enough, kids in Japan get two weeks. Even then, it’s considered too long!
So limited is the real estate of Japan that the prospective builders (say, in Tokyo) have no choice but to go up, with new floors being added to the already towering skyscrapers. It’s common to have a building with the most random and varied shops and business from floor to floor.
I suppose the main appeal of any country is the people. To be able to go somewhere and, regardless the activity in which I engage, to show someone the love of Jesus makes any trip worthwhile. That language crosses cultural, linguistic, religious and societal boundaries and barriers. It’s something everyone understands. I recommend the writings of Toyohiko Kagawa for an amazing look at the love of Jesus expressed through someone who was just as sold out to God as he was Japanese.
O yomi itadaki, arigatōgozaimashita!
(thank you for reading!)