A voice crying in the wilderness

Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

The essensce or the substance

Is it possible to love the concept more than the subject itself?

I find myself settling into a Madness about China and, subsequently, Japan again. What I think I understand however is that it isn’t living in Japan that appeals, but its “Japan-yness”. Because of having such a large number of people living in a comparatively small nation – Australia has 7.7 million square kilometers with a population of 24 million people compared to 129 million people living in 378,000 square kilometers in Japan, thus a population density of 3 people per square kilometer versus 340 – there is a greater focus on group harmony or community harmony. No one wants to upset one another, everyone has a great respect for each other’s space and peace.

On rereading “Persimmon wind” by Dave Lowry, I learned of two concepts. The first, “Wa” () refers to “harmony” – maintaining the peace in the group by putting aside their own individual desires for the benefit of the many. This is a concept that very much goes against First World Western perspective – we are a society that is very focused on the needs and wants of the individual. We might have a rowdy party without considering how much this might disturb our neighbours, or talk loudly into our phone whilst on the train or in a restaurant.

The second concept is “Ma” (), or “negative space” – it is often translated as “interval”, “gap” or “pause”. Its the things left out that convey more meaning that the things put in.

Put another way, the Western perspective is to fill every available space, every available moment with substance and noise – even to the point where we lose ourselves and become buried under endless nonsense.

The concept of “Ma” is that we keep things simple and empty – instead of filling a wall with dozens of posters and pictures, we might have only one or two images on the wall that we would be able to focus on and absorb all the details. Compare Bach’s “Air” to a Yngwie J. Malmsteen million-notes-per-second guitar solo. Peak hour traffic versus a quiet drive along the coast or walk in the mountains.

We fill our lives with so much stuff and nonsense that we leave no room for ourselves. Sometimes we become so filled with everyone else’s ideas and concepts that we no longer know who or what we are.

We don’t take the time to stop and appreciate what we have. We don’t take time to just stop and breath.

Despite my crazed passions of the last year, I have no real desire to live in Japan for an extended period, nor have I any great desire to learn the written language even though I have managed to (largely) get my head around the spoken language. Truly, it is to the point that I struggle to learn any other language – someone speaking to me in French or Indonesian would have me automatically replying in Japanese despite my best efforts.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t wanted to move there – during my illness and extended recovery last year, depression led me to want to leave my marriage, move to Japan and take up permanent residence, change my name to Akira Kobayashi and go native. I wanted to renounce my previous life and start afresh in a new land.

Perhaps one day I will – I’m toying with the idea of retiring to Japan; that is, at least, when I am in a position that I no longer need to earn a living or march to the beat of another’s drum. I can go out to teach, or stay home and drink beer, people watch and smoke my pipe, whenever and however I feel.

So why do I keep becoming obsessed about Japan? I’ve done my share of hard work and long hours, enough that I wouldn’t want to go back to living that way again. I’ve lived in small apartments, but even the smallest here is nothing compared with how small they are there. I’ve done my share of long commutes, typically covering 500km a week. And after 25 years of anime and manga fandom, I’m quite over the insatiable appetite and shallowness of popular culture.

What is it that calls to me from there? I’m attempting to find out some more at the Perth Japan Festival coming up in three weeks. I’m endeavoring to distill the essence of Japan in an attempt to apply it to my life here, within the confines of a self absorbed, self centered and selectively tolerant Western society. Around the world, major cities will often have their “Chinatown” and “Little Japan” areas where entire suburbs and communities are given over to a single culture, but Perth is small enough and isolated enough that we have, at best, Generic Asian Fusion Town – Northbridge – where every non-Anglo-Saxon culture rubs shoulders on a daily basis. Consider the number of Japanese restaurants and eateries operated by Korean and Chinese with how few are operated by actual Japanese.

I have visited the Hyogo Prefectural Government Culture Centre in City Beach though I have yet to sign up for their study groups – I work alternate weekends at The Day Job but it is a better arrangement than it used to be. Aside from formal lessons, there is a comprehensive library for everyone to read (though you have to be a paid up member to borrow items) and casual chat sessions where one can just drop in and pass the time of day over a coffee, each helping another to practice a less familiar language – open to members and non-members alike.

Though it occurs to me why I might desire to learn about Japan from someone who has chosen to leave there.

Perhaps it would give me a better perspective and appreciation of “here”?

My own private Bali

Visiting Bali has been on my mind once again.

A crazy week at The Day Job due to a draining roster and staff illness, absence or suspension left me feeling very sore and burned out by Sunday night. Even as I was getting ready for work on Sunday morning, I glanced in the mirror and noticed for the first time how sick I looked – my face pinched and drawn and my skin tone looked almost blue. I would have happily taken the day off if we had a full compliment of staff, and I was confident that I had achieved all of my targets. Fortunately it was the last shift of a long roster and so was only five hours.

I had been using my massage chair quite a lot during the week because of a sore lower back, to the point where I was starting to feel quite bruised. I earnestly wished I was back over in Bali again where we were getting complimentary massages at the hotel’s day spa and on just about every street was another day spa offering full body massages for under $AUD10.

Even now, on my second RDO of the new week, I sit in my studio with the gas heater humming away and listening to the rain. As I write, it is 9 degrees Celcius outside. I always thought of myself as a Winter person but since visiting Bali last year, I don’t enjoy Winter any more other than the rainfall watering the garden and filling the dams.

But why do I think so much of Bali? Nekohime-sama and I visited a year ago next Sunday, staying for a week at a new (less than 12 months old) 5 star hotel. The heat and humidity were quite a shock to the system after leaving a Wintery Perth at 4am, though I had mostly adapted to it after a day. Most of the places we visited were within walking distance, though walking was always a challenge on most streets as the pavements were quite uneven, often under maintenance and frequently blocked by parked vehicles. Searching for somewhere to have lunch on the first day left me rather sunburned as I didn’t wear a hat, the maps we were given suggesting that the best eateries were only minutes from the hotel. We spent quite a lot of time at the pool, though I am not much of a swimmer – the pool was located at the centre of the hotel so by mid-afternoon, much of it was in shade and the sea breeze made it feel comparatively chilly. The poolside bar provided drinks to wherever we were seated and, if required, the kitchen would also deliver food poolside as well though they didn’t encourage it.

People frequently tell us that they go to Bali for the shopping – there wasn’t a great deal that we saw that appealed to us, though we did buy a few articles at various small shops and market stalls such as Seminyak Square and The Flea Markets. I came away with a couple of shirts and Nekohime purchased some loose cotton pants. A visit to Mata Hari in Kuta also provided a few t-shirts and a cardigan. However, after we returned home and washed some of our new acquisitions, several of them had to be thrown out as they either came apart or shrank in the wash, much to our disappointment.

I think the best memories of our visit, aside from the trip to the Safari Park, was dining out at a different restaurant almost every lunch and dinner. Breakfast was included in our hotel package and we were each given vouchers for one lunchtime meal and one dinner. I think only one restaurant left us feeling disappointed, but we didn’t know at the time that traditional Indonesian food was served at room temperature. Though we finished our meal, we were left feeling unwell for much of the evening. Most of the meals were very cheap by Perth standards – dinner for two with a beer each usually came to no more than $AUD25 – about half what we would pay for in Perth – some only coming to $AUD18. The only surprise was at a rooftop bar at the beach where we had been recommended to go by family as they had visited there only a couple of weeks before – the bill, including a couple of cocktails, came to just shy of $100 – I had brought only just enough money with me to cover it. However, the staff having learned that it was my birthday gave me a slice of cake (with “Happy birthday” written on the place in chocolate sauce), a handshake from each of the waitstaff whilst the band played “Happy birthday to you” and two vouchers for free cocktails which we used the following evening.

I think the greatest appeal of Bali was having a week away from the pressures of everyday society where all the housekeeping and cooking was taken care of by someone else, drinks (at least, beers) were cheap and plentiful, a taxi ride cost pocket change and the biggest decision we had to make each day was where to eat or which path we would walk down to find our way back to the hotel. Sitting outside on the gotel balcony on a balmy evening sipping a triple shot gin and tonic (I drank most of a litre of duty free gin during the week’s stay as I didn’t want to bring home a partially opened bottle in my luggage), it was during that quiet, fuzzy headed time that I thought that I could handle living like that every day. Maybe we could move to Bali and live like kings?

I had hoped on my days off that I could take some time to sit out on a banana lounge in the back garden and get some sun whilst reading and sipping a Bintang beer or so. This was not to happen, though – in the last 36 hours we have had in excess of 30mm of rain and the temperature has barely reached 11 degrees. Though I can’t afford to travel to Bali any time soon, I had at least hoped to travel there in my mind.

The cake is a lie

I don’t think I fully understood the metaphor associated with that gaming quote until now.

Its only now that I have started to turn away from worldly viewpoints that things are starting to become clearer to me. From birth, or even before then, we are conditioned to be achievers – to be more successful than the previous generation.

To me, success equates to contentment, satisfaction and free time. To the world view, success represents material wealth, expensive possessions, the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. But this view is hollow and empty. You will never reach a point where you are satisfied. There will always be new items, newer gadgets demanding your attention.

It is like a sugary dessert – it satisfies for a moment but has no substance. Before long, you will be demanding more. It is addictive and you will find yourself craving constantly.

It is okay to have it as an occasional treat, but not all the time. To restrain ourselves is perceived as needless strictness, self denial, aestheticism. We have confused success with excess – that we can permit ourselves to indulge whenever we wish; cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sugar is a poison, material wealth very much so. Overconsumption will make you sick and will eventually kill you, An excessive and indulgent lifestyle equally so.

I am thankful that my eyes have been opened to a more organic, substantial and moderate lifestyle. It isn’t a case of self inflicted poverty, rather a positive step away from the madness that is the material world. Breaking free of that feels like a huge burden has been lifted from me, of expectation, of false achievement, of shallow mindedness.

If there is such a thing as enlightenment, it is shedding worldly values and possessions. Money will not buy your way into Heaven but it will surely drag you all the way to Hell.

A line in the sand

Is there a point where, as a Christian, you can say “I care only this much”? You draw a line in the sand that you do not cross lest you go mad watching people around you willingly, gleefully hurl themselves into destruction.

Though I often recite the mantra “Be in the world, but not of the world” and endeavour to live a life that reflects God’s glory, I often find myself wondering that because I am such a twisted, broken wretch, how can anything I do glorify God? Who can look to me and see Jesus at work? I am as flawed as those around me that I despair for.

Through God’s grace, I have been taught how to stand back from the material world and find now that I generally don’t covet Earthly treasures – I have all that I need, to do what I need to do. Any time I get distracted by new gadgets, I qualify it by asking “How will this enhance my creativity? How will it make me more productive?” If I can’t answer that, I don’t need it – unless my current product need replacing.

Accordingly, working in retail and being impelled to upsell customers to the latest, greatest and most expensive products certainly goes against the grain of what I believe to be a righteous way to live. Worse is when customers get upset and angry over either minor flaws or temporary inconveniences – if you fridge breaks down, it is an urgent matter. You need to keep your food cold and fresh. However, if your dish washer fails, you shouldn’t despair just because you have to wash dishes by hand for a few days. And with the privilege of buying premium products comes the responsibility of performing basic maintenance to keep everything in good working order.

Treasures in Heaven

The only person harder to buy than the one who has everything is the person who wants nothing.

In many ways, one of my goals in life is not to have the best of everything, but to be satisfied with what I have. Whilst the pursuit of material wealth is endless and full of disappointments, what do you do when you have all that you need?

Having just replaced my washing machine – not because the old one was faulty but because we wanted a larger, gentler and more economical model – I experienced a bout of empty joy. Yes, the new machine can wash larger loads, will use less energy and water, but I feel that I have spent unnecessary money on a product that otherwise did not need replacing.

Conversely, when we replaced Nekohime-sama’s car, that was necessary as the old unit was becoming unsafe to drive. I don’t take joy in the new vehicle, but rather there is a sense of relief that there is one less thing to be concerned about.

My day job is working in retail, supplying goods and services to customers. The store carries both good and not so good products. I endeavour to direct people to the products that I believe are better but there is also pressure to promote more premium brands whether they are worth their money or not – I acknowledge that get more satisfaction from selling a mid-range product that I trust than a big name that I don’t, regardless of how much margin it provides.

These days I find that I view the world with a sense of detachment – if a product works, I like to leave it alone and only replace it when it breaks – I don’t like to pursue the latest and greatest. I don’t mind spending a little extra if I think the quality justifies it whereas cheap products often don’t last and need to be replaced sooner – there is a cost to the cheapness.

If only we could have more people look beyond the dollar value.

The Simpler Life

I think I have finally come to understand my rotating obsession with Indonesia (primarily Bali), Japan and trying to relocate to Albany.

Each year that passes, I find that I am becoming more and more disillusioned with Western society. We, as a collective, are very fortunate and privileged to live where we do and have all the social securities that we do – and yet the more we have, the more we want. Instead of being thankful, we have become greedy, self important and rude. We flaunt our success and hoard our excess instead of sharing with the disadvantaged.

I found that I looked to Japan for a more idealistic way of life – people who were considerate towards one another, who worked co-operatively for the collective good of their community. People who were polite and well mannered, considerate and well behaved. People who were diligent and hard working. Everything I wanted our society to be – a stark contrast to the boorish, self-centred, self-serving “I want everything my way, NOW!” attitude of the spoiled Westerner.

During one of my bouts of depression and its subsequent upswing, I became obsessed with moving to Japan, taking up permanent residence, adopting their culture as my own, even changing my name and forging a new identity. If my wife didn’t want to go, fine – I would go by myself. I started studying again, trying to improve my understanding of the written language (I used to be competent in conversational Japanese but struggled with kanji and katakana).

But as I continued reading and referencing the logistics required to relocate, I started reading more and more blogs and journals of people – predominantly Americans – who had been living in Japan for some time, learning from their experiences of settling in and adapting to the culture, all the social protocols and obligations. The more informed I became, the less ideal the lifestyle appeared. Its not that the idea became unappealing, but rather the relocation would simply be exchanging one set of complications for another. Additionally, due to my peculiar dietary and medical requirements, along with many philosophical choices, I would need to import a great number of items from Australia. In short, I would probably be trying to recreate a miniature Perth in a different country.

Thankfully, my manic mood finally reached a degree of equilibrium and I was able to look at the concept with a clear mind. I would love to visit Japan again, but moving there is for a whole different project.

However, remaining in Perth still left with me with that frustration with our selfish, materialist society.

As a thought exercise, I considered how my expectations changed as my income increased. The more I had, the more I wanted and the less satisfied I became. Truthfully, I was happiest and most content when I had very little.

But could I go back to being that way again?

I continue in my pursuit of uncluttering my house – its an ongoing project and will probably last a lifetime. Its not that I want to get rid of absolutely everything, but I certainly would like to pair everything down to the essentials and remove unnecessary duplications.

An aspect of this is an attempt to step away from our disposable culture – I don’t believe in buying the best possible quality of everything; having worked so many years in retail and customer service, it repulses me the amount of money people will spend on an item for what is essentially “boast value” – people who buy expensive products for the sake of buying an expensive product even though they will never use it to its full potential. It would be a demonstration of the shallowness of our society by trying to impress people by flaunting how much money we have to waste. *

Unless a product has a history of longevity and delivers demonstrably better results, I tend to shy away from the premium products and direct people to more conservative, practical and realistic products. When buying for myself, as an example, though I might be happy with a $10 pair of jeans, I am also happy to invest $70 in a higher quality pair that will last longer and fit more comfortably. I do find, however, that the cheaper pants suit my non-fashion oriented tastes a great deal better. I certainly wouldn’t like to invest $100 for a brand name pair that is likely to have been made in the same sweatshop as the $10 pair.

For all our shortcomings as a city, Perth is still a privileged area and living here is a continuous and precarious balance of being in the world, but not of the world – even with my minimalist mindset, I still can be easily distracted by gadgets and materialist possessions. For example, I like my clunky but functional setup with Linux at home, but I am constantly fighting the urge to convert back to Apple – not because of its “coolness” but because all the equipment works together so nicely. A constant battle because Apple represents so many of the aspects of materialist society that I resent and reject. But apart from the tight integration with other Apple products, I cannot justify the expense as using their equipment would not make me any more productive or creative, but more likely would provide me with more distractions.

It would be tempting to run away from society and live as a hermit – as long as I had fresh water, electricity and a broadband internet connection of some description. But what would that achieve? I might be living a more complete and wholesome life but the rest of society would be continuing along their slippery path towards their inevitable self-destruction.

Regrettably, I must continue to live in the world as I have both a duty and obligation to lead by example – to show people a better way to live, rejecting Earthly treasures and selfishness, instead showing love, mercy, kindness and the way to Christ.

Even to those people who are far more deserving of being beaten over the head with a shovel.

* The recent mining boom and subsequent crash was a great example of this – so many people thought “I have just made a bucket load of money, I shall spent it wildly and recklessly.” With so much disposable cash abounding, the cost of living in Western Australia doubled over the next two years and even following the crash, the cost has barely come down.

Current affairs shows started doing reports on how people who were earning six figure salaries last year were now living on the streets following the crash. I’m sorry, but its difficult to be sympathetic to someone who earned in excess of $300,000 over the last two years but has absolutely nothing to show for it.

Embracing insomnia

Usually when I start writing an entry, I have notes to refer to written during lunch breaks or on trains – numerous notepads and exercise books lurk around me waiting to capture the nonsense that leaps forth from my mind at the most inconvenient moment. Its not often that I draft something direct into the word processor.

There are times that I have trouble sleeping – I wake up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning trying to get back to sleep. Sometimes I wake up my wife, sometimes I’m lucky enough that she will sleep on through – my habit of getting out of bed in the dark and going into the other side of the house does not meet with approval since she fears I may trip over something and injure myself. I think its more that I sometimes kick an object in the dark and wake her up.

I’ve come to appreciate that quite time; usually between 11:30 and 1:00, sometimes later – I’ve occasionally watched the sun rise before going back to bed for half an hour before the alarm rings. Its a time when everyone else is asleep and I am left alone with my subconscious mind. A time when it is just me and God – and the cat if she is feeling playful.

A time when I can work through ideas and get my thoughts in order.

Some people hate being awake at this time – and fair enough if you’re up for several hours. There can be a number of reasons – anxiety and stress tend to be the biggest players; lifestyle too, if you are prone to going to bed late and sleeping in. Sometimes it can be chemical – caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar or even far more sinister substances. I found that recently I’ve made a number of minor changes – I tend to rise early, go to bed early and read (I try not to use my tablet or ebook reader during the evening), avoid coffee, I’ve cut back on drinking and stopped my cigar smoking habit. Most of all, I trust everything to God – I might sometimes get a glimpse of what God wants me to do, but not an accurate time frame, and can make preparations but a lot of time, I just see what happens on a day to day basis.

One of the areas faith and religion come to friction is how God’s grace is perceived. Religion takes the approach of “I’ve followed all the rules, dotted the Is and crossed the Ts – you owe me now, God” whereas faith follows the line of “God has redeemed me through His mercy and grace so I do good things for His glory, and so others may see His work in me”. Sometimes it works to take a little of each – God is full of grace and mercy but don’t think that means you can take liberties, working on the idea that He will forgive you. You think you may have plenty of time to repent for your misdeed but no one knows for certain what the Father has planned for us – but when we do sin, we can confess and ask for forgiveness.

So whilst I wait for God to reveal His plan, or at least the next stage in His plan for me, I can use my quiet time for contemplation and preparation.

“Be ready,” He says to me, “Be prepared.” For what I don’t know for certain but I want to be able to hit the ground running when I find out.

Stressed for success

It’s strange how a seemingly minor event can change your whole perspective on life. A week ago I fell ill with what I thought was a bout of food poisoning after having lunch at a café near my day job – the GP agreed on this diagnosis and prescribed rest, fluids and anti-nausea medication. After a day, I had mostly recovered and thought I would be back to normal by Australia Day.

Instead I ended up in hospital overnight after crashing horribly – initial tests suggested an infection that was an the border of invading my bloodstream and turning very serious indeed. Heavy duty antibiotics were administered intravenously and I rallied enough to be sent home the following day – much to the disgust of my employer who seemed to think I was just enjoying a long weekend.

Lying in the hospital bed, I had time to consider my condition and compare it to the health issues my family had been experiencing recently; Dad suffered a stroke several years ago from which he has never quite fully recovered, and more recently underwent surgery on his knee and presently has difficulty walking or bending it enough to drive. Mum suffered a heart attack a year ago and has had ongoing issues that her regular GPs and specialists are having difficulty diagnosing and resolving. My brother had bowel surgery back in October and although his health has now improved dramatically, life and circumstances continue to pressure and to challenge him on a daily basis.

Last year, I declared 2015 the Year of Getting Stuff Done. I made many grand plans and set lofty goals, working and studying to the point of draining and exhausting myself. Truthfully, my ambition lies some 20 years hence so there has been no pressure to exert myself and yet plans such as studying the Japanese and Indonesian languages and culture took hold to the point of becoming an obsession. One day I would like to spend time in Japan and Indonesia teaching the Gospel but I need to learn to talk amongst my friends and family first.

And then came the health crash and I realised that none of it was really all that important – the Gospel certainly is, but I should start closer to home and concentrate on that. Instead I need to focus on time with family and make that one of my highest priorities. Overseas travel can wait – Indonesia is constantly changing and revolutionising, but Japan will always be Japan.

So 2016 I think will be a year of Focus and Family. The rest of the world can wait until I have attention to spare.

The Perils of Stuff

Embracing your inner minimalist, or travel light, move fast

I encountered an article in The Japan News highlighting a movement of people reducing the amount of clutter in their lives to the point that they barely owned any items at all, and those that they retained served multiple purposes – a place to sleep that doubled as a lounge suite, a smart phone that acted as television, library, music collection, game console and camera on top of being a communications device. They don’t entertain at home so they don’t require much in the way of utensils or crockery, or even furniture. An advantage to this being that a very small apartment suddenly permitted a lot of free space.

By modern, particularly Western, standards this would seem mind boggling – surely the standard by which one measures success is how much stuff you own. Moreover, how much more you paid for it. To encounter an individual, or even a community of people who have come to the realisation that stuff does not make you happy would cause many a person to think if they actually understood this correctly.

I am a natural born hoarder – I’ve been prone to accumulating stuff, and then dragging all of that stuff with me whenever I moved. I relocated 400km from the city to the country and took 10 years of computer magazines and comics with me. When I worked in a computer store, I would scavenge parts from broken systems and build new ones, grabbing whatever parts that came to hand “just in case” because “you never know when you will need it”. When I moved out of my two bedroom apartment into a three bedroom house, the amount of stuff I owned seemed to expand to fill all available space.

And then I got married and my wife brought all her stuff along as well.

When my wife moved from her family home into mine, her family decided to get rid of a lot of stuff – and passed it onto us. Stuff was accumulating, filling every room and taking over the shed. We made several valiant attempts to get rid of stuff, taking boxes, car loads, trailer loads of stuff to the recycling centre, selling stuff where we could, giving stuff away to those who needed stuff.

And yet we still have a house full of stuff.

Two years ago, my parents suffered a series of health scares – my Father suffering a stroke, though he recovered well; my Mother suffered a heart attack that we thought she escaped unscathed following minor surgery but proved to have ongoing effects. I felt compelled to move back to the country to be with them – but even if my wife agreed, with all the stuff we still had, it would be a logistical nightmare.

Then I read the article on minimalism and it struck a note with me. Not a chord, just a single note – like a bell ringing clear and pure, resonating deeply within. People being happy and content without stuff – and because they weren’t spending all their money on stuff, they had more money to play with or invest. They had traded regular visits to StuffMart for quality time with friends, dining out or entertainment.

I badly wanted to be a part of that.

So we’ve started small – replacing some of our extensive collection of books (my wife and I are avid readers) with digital copies; ebooks. Albums and singles on cassette and vinyl replaced with digital versions; CDs extracted and uploaded to The Cloud. Our collection of game consoles and games sold off and replaced with emulators and updated remakes. Photo albums and negatives scanned, displayed on a digital photo frame, phone, tablet or television – who needs a slide show any more?

And clothes – so much that we don’t wear any more! Those in good condition sold or given to charity, those that were worse for wear taken to places like H&M in exchange for discount vouchers.

Its a slow, ongoing process – decluttering can start easily but when you come to items close to your heart, of sentimental value or family heirlooms, the process becomes so much tougher. Photos can be scanned but ornaments not so – perhaps one day in the age of hard light holograms, we can summon distant memories from the ether to recreate and display and dispose of when needed.

The Cloud is the declutterer’s friend – your music, photos, ebooks, videos, documents and the like can be accessed from anywhere with internet access and shared with whomever you wish, wherever and whenever you wish. But don’t forget to keep backups – if you only have one copy of something, it isn’t precious – don’t be disappointed if you delete it in error or a system failure wipes it out.

Japan and the Christian mind

Crossposted from City Cost
It intrigues me that less than 1% of Japan’s population identify as Christian. According to Wikipedia, this still equates to over 1 million people if you lump Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox together. A respectable number even if a tiny, tiny proportion of the nation. When I began studying Bahasa Indonesian some six months ago, I learned that around 10% of the population identify as Christian, but this number is closer to 23 million people.

I began studying further, utilising search engines, blogs, ebooks and even talking to Actual People and the prevailing thought seems to be that Christianity is disruptive; it spoils the harmony of the community and provokes a selfish, individualist attitude.

What kind of “Christians” have these people been talking to? The question stopped me in my tracks. In my own experience, Christianity seems quite in tune with the culture – it is focused on community, assisting those around us who cannot assist themselves and reaching out to those around us, lifting one another up and teaching one another. The question really should be “How have we Christians been conducting ourselves?”

I started thinking about my own experiences with so called Christians before I found my faith again and I began to understand the negative viewpoint. I encountered a great of hypocrisy, bigotry disguised as doctrine and wild eyed, mindless fanaticism. People confronting me in the street, grabbing my arm and shouting how I was doomed if I didn’t accept Christ as my Saviour, buskers committing crimes against music to the point that even the church they were performing in front of ordered them to move on. And then you have the prosperity focused churches who are all about the money. Certainly one can understand how these false teachers are seen as disruptive and objectionable.

As I began to write this entry on New Years Day, I received multiple interruptions that disrupted my train of thought – these proved to be beneficial however, as they gave me time to further my research and realise that my original idea was incomplete. Whilst I had briefly glanced at the history of Christianity in Japan, I discovered that there was a great deal more than I first thought and my original understanding was flawed.

I came to discover that part of the problem was they way we approached the subject – Christianity explained from a Western perspective can be construed as sometimes meaningless, sometimes objectionable and offensive. Expressions and similes that we use in English (or even the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic texts) don’t translate well into either the Japanese language or the culture. In addition to translating the language, we must also seek out a cultural equivalent to explain.

So as I renew my studies of Japanese, reviewing my textbooks and notes from my night classes dating back from 1997, I realise that I need to approach my learning from the other direction – I need to study not just more about the culture but also the religion of Japan to find parallels, to find the parallels that make the gospel more comprehensible but more accessible. We will never inspire people to look further into the gospel if we start off offending them.