With my wife at work and the kids back at school, the house is either a lonely or quiet place, depending on the day. But now that the rest of the family is busy, it has given me inspiration to find a schedule that works for me.
When we were getting ready to come to Japan, we had already decided that I would dedicate the better part of a year to “language and cultural acquisition”. That’s just a fancy way of saying that I would study Japanese and experience as much of living in Japan as I can from a local perspective. This was clearly communicated to our supporters so there would be no question as to why I wasn’t jumping headfirst into ministry opportunities (though in a limited way, I have done that too).
The value of language acquisition is fairly straightforward; if you’re going to get beyond surface conversation with most Japanese people, you have to know how to speak their “heart language”. Japanese is so rich with expressions and nuances that are difficult to express in English. What might take 10 minutes to explain in English can be said in a simple Japanese phrase that will light up a Japanese person’s eyes.
Beyond that, it is frustrating to have to ask for help from a friend to read documents or visit the city office to get something done. Thank God for our friends who have been so helpful in this area. If you ever want to experience your “second childhood”, try moving to a country where you can barely speak, read or write the local language. It is a humbling experience to say the least. I’m looking forward to the day I can carry on a decent conversation and read enough to visit a bank or government office by myself.
That said, I have started finding a groove in language study. Once or twice a week, I study for 4 hours on Rosetta Stone, which is teaching me reading, listening and speaking skills. It’s something I have to do at home because it would be, well, awkward to be out in public doing speaking exercises with my computer. Once a week, I meet my friend Mark to go out to a cafe to study; on these days, I can practice my reading and writing. Also once a week, I meet my wife’s cousin and her husband for lunch and we exchange Japanese and English conversation and instruction for a couple of hours.
Cultural acquisition takes place on a number of levels. The first is simply learning how to live like a local. That means shopping where they shop and eating where they eat. Admittedly, in Japan, none of these things is a huge challenge for us. We love Japanese food. We love shopping in Japanese stores. But we also experience the problems they experience. The incredible bureaucracy involved in any major (and many minor) processes. Having to wait in the doctor’s office waiting room because they don’t take appointments. Getting smooshed into a rush hour train.
But then there are the experiences of doing things the locals enjoy. Attending a summer festival. Going for a hike in the mountains. Cheering on the local baseball team. In a city with a population larger than the population of entire countries, there seems to be endless things to do and see. There is even a monthly magazine, “Tokyo Walker”, packed with information about events, restaurants and neighborhood attractions.
When we do these things, we don’t want people to get the idea that we’re playing tourist. The exact opposite is actually true; we are trying to live out our lives here like we were born and raised in Japan. Tim Svoboda, President of YWAM San Francisco said this: “The job of the [M] is to fall in love with the place they are in.” The main reason we are exploring our city of Tokyo (and hopefully the country of Japan) is to better understand the people who make up Tokyo and Japan, because to understand them is to grow to love them more deeply. And to adequately share the gospel, we must have that deep love for those whom we serve.
You’ll probably be seeing a lot more posts from now on describing some of the local culture and activities of Tokyoites. Don’t worry; this isn’t becoming a travel blog. It’s simply a way for me to process what I am learning about the local culture and share it with you. I hope you will enjoy these posts as much as the updates about our ministry, because, in fact, they are truly an important part of our ministry!