What does Japan need the most?

* Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, this 2009 blog post has been getting a lot of traffic. If you are interested in donating toward relief work in Japan or learning about their current needs, please visit our latest Japan posts at http://blog.ywammadison.org/archives/971 and http://blog.ywammadison.org/archives/965. Thank you.

by Manuel, Bible School for the Nations leader, in the second part of their field assignment in Japan

I was tired when we arrived in Japan, but the excitement of being in a new country gave me a boost of energy. As we were sitting in the middle of our many bags at the train station, I remembered my iPod with its Japanese phrases application. I looked up a few simple words and tried them out on people around me.

For the next forty-five minutes, I talked with a Japanese woman sitting next to me. We exchanged stories about our families. She told me about her job and Japanese culture.

“I can’t go home for Obon this year,” she said, sadly. “Obon is a Buddhist festival. The spirits of the ancestors come home to visit our families.”

Obon was beginning soon, and I learned that it means a lot to people here in Japan. It is a time when families get together and remember their dead loved ones. They clean their homes, decorate, and make food for them for several days. At the end, they light lanterns to lead the spirits back to their graves.

“What do you think Japan needs the most?” I asked her.

She thought for a long time.

“You ask hard questions,” she said.

Finally, she answered. “Japan needs to return to the traditions that honor family and community. People in Japan now lead very isolated lives. Nobody cares about anybody. People don’t talk to each other – whether on the train or in any other public places.”

We kept talking for some time about how communities are transformed as people stop living for themselves.

I’m surprised how easy it was to get in conversations with people at the train station, and glad for the long conversation with this woman. I’m very much looking forward to the two weeks here to learn more about Japan!