Miyabi – A Lesson In Japanese Culture

If Japanese culture can be seen around us every day in the little things, like a meticulously trimmed bonsai in a bank lobby or an omamori (good luck charm) dangling from a cell phone strap, Miyabi lies at the opposite end of the spectrum as a grandiose, in-your-face display of all things beautiful about Japan.

Miyabi is a three-day event hosted at Meguro Gajoen, a large and famous hotel which is itself known for its over-the-top display of Japanese culture. Gajoen is primarily a wedding venue and as such, has built an environment of perfect backgrounds for Japanese wedding photos. One side of the building is almost exclusively a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking a Japanese garden, complete with waterfalls, zen stone garden and koi ponds. As all gardens in Japan, the look changes dramatically from season to season with a little help from both nature and a talented grounds-keeping staff.

But back to Miyabi. This event brings together many of the arts that are collectively known as bunka, Japanese culture. Traditional dance, music, kimono, ikebana (flower arranging), shodou (calligraphy), and other arts are performed for the public in this breathtaking venue, all free of charge. If you were in Tokyo for a week and wanted a crash course on Japanese culture, just spend three days here and you’d be swimming in it.

My friend Paul Nethercott and I went to Miyabi to support Sheila, a woman who attends Paul’s church and whose work a film team we are working with from Huntington University in Indiana will be making a part of a documentary on this month. It is easiest to describe Sheila as a kimono expert and aficionado though officially, she is much more than that. With the depth of her knowledge about kimono, she is a national treasure to Japan.

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On the day we attended, there was an oiran procession which Sheila’s daughter took part in. Oiran were the highest class of courtesan and in their day often attained celebrity status. Paul joked that the oiran’s costume could put Lady Gaga to shame and indeed, the oiran set the standard of haute couture in the same way Lady Gaga affects ours today.

We also viewed a kimono fashion show which Sheila herself was involved in. Though I expected the beautiful traditional kimono, there was a great representation of modern twists on the kimono for the younger generation: shades of punk, goth and good old rock and roll.

After the show we toured a room full of incredible ikebana, plants and flowers representing the New Year arranged in intricate shapes and designs. Ikebana is actually more than just flower arrangement; it’s the art of arranging living flowers.

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Finally, we watched a performance by Yosakoi, a group combining traditional Japanese dance with coordinated flag waving. Several of the flags were on poles 4 to 5 meters longs and were waved gracefully over the heads of the audience. It was an energetic show of skill and stamina.

One might wonder why it is important as a Japanese ministry worker to attend and experience Japanese cultural events. The answer lies in the fact that the culture of a people reveals a lot about the keys to their hearts. If we examine each aspect of Japanese culture individually, one or more facets of the heart of the Japanese is revealed to us. And without a doubt, the very same things that Japanese value in their culture can be found in the gospel. Many Japanese view the Bible as a foreign work of literature and Christianity as a Western religion. But as we better understand Japanese culture, we can relate aspects of the Japanese culture to the Word of God, demonstrating that the Bible is God’s love story for all mankind.

One fine example is the art of tea ceremony. Our friend and co-laborer Matt Burns created a wonderful short called “Serving Through Tradition” that relates the tradition of serving tea to Biblical teachings. Several pastors in Japan are practitioners of tea ceremony as a way of connecting Japanese culture to the gospel.

Serving Through Tradition 茶道:伝統を通して奉仕する from CRASH Japan on Vimeo.

Tim Svoboda, President of YWAM San Francisco, gave us some sage advice in his Perspectives class: “The job of the missionary is to fall in love with the place they are in.” Everyday, God gives us a new and deeper love for the country of Japan, its culture and its people.

What Is the Role of Art in Worship?

Somewhere, somehow, we simply lost our way. They understood the power of art as a form of worship in the Renaissance, when Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were prolific in producing works of art for the glory of God. For centuries it seemed that art and religion could not only co-exist, but magnify the beauty in each other when practiced together.

Yet inevitably, the separation came and the Western world has never again been able to realize the power of combining art and worship as it was done in glorious history.

One only needs to read through the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, to realize that God, the most powerful being in existence, is an incredible artist. Genesis 1 takes us step by step through God’s creative process for creating everything, and the level of detail He used in making the created world. Taking it one step further, you don’t even need to read the Bible, just take a walk in the forest or along the beach. Dive into the depths of the seas or climb the highest mountain. The glory of God’s creation is everywhere as only an Artist-Creator can imagine it.

And then we read that mankind was created in God’s image, which means, among other things, that all that creative capability God used to make everything is also inherent within us. We were made to be creators. We were made to be artists.

Yet the typical church in modern days is sadly lacking in artistry as worship. Church leaders are faced with difficult financial choices these days, yet it seems art generally falls to the bottom of the priority list at most churches. Looking around the typical church, you will find signage and materials derived from Christian clip art. Store bought posters with Christian phrases or Scripture passages. Powerpoint slides with stock image backgrounds. Art in church is no longer something to be created, but something to be consumed, purchased in packages from companies who sell the same stuff to thousands of churches.

Certainly most churches do not have the budget to hire graphic artists, art directors, interior designers and the like. But not all art is produced by professionals and some of the most beautiful pieces of art come from the hearts of children who see their art as an act of worshiping Jesus. Yet somehow, we don’t encourage people to worship God through art. Arts and crafts in most churches are just a fun thing to do to fill time at the end of Sunday School hour or an event to outreach to the community. What if we elevated art back to the level it once held during the Renaissance, art purely as a form of worship?

A few years ago, Crossway took this very idea and did something with it. They commissioned a Japanese Christian artist named Makoto Fujimura to produce a special edition of the Bible called “The Four Holy Gospels”. Basically, it is an edition of the four gospels of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) printed in art book format and illustrated by Fujimura. “Illustrated” is actually a bit misleading because Fujimura is an abstract artist so much of the art happens in the wide margins of the pages of the gospels and is designed to interact with the text on those pages. The product was an incredible work entwining art and the beautiful message of the gospel in a form that would compel you to open and read it daily. You would never use your Bible app if you had a Bible as beautiful as this.

A video made by Crossway further explains their motivation behind this incredible project.

I believe this is one small way that reveals how bringing art and worship together elevates both acts. Art doesn’t have to be a secular activity and worship doesn’t have to lack in creativity.

Ultimately, the question is have we downplayed the role of art in worship too much in the modern church? And if we have, how do we reintegrate art and worship in our churches in ways that engage people and allow them to participate, as artists created in the image of God?

 

All Things Japanese – Mizuhiki

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My mother, being the serious crafter she is, asked me if I could send her some Japanese decorations she could use to make cards with. I knew what she wanted was mizuhiki, an art form in Japan involving strands of stiff cord that are shaped into beautiful designs. It so happened that we had a bag of mizuhiki stored in our house from many years ago (don’t ask me how this happens) so I got the bag out to send some to my mother. Of course, the mizuhiki turned out to be so beautiful I had to photograph them before I sent them.

Mizuhiki are used in Japan to adorn cards, basically the way we use ribbons or bows in America. I have a couple of examples of cards made with mizuhiki here.

Mizuhiki can also be wire sculptures given as gifts for special occasions. They are usually sculpted into the forms of animals or other objects that can be displayed in people’s homes. Originally, mizuhiki was used to tie up the hair of samurai. Undoubtably, the ties became more and more ornamental. Today, modern jewelers are taking a riff from mizuhiki and creating mizuhiki inspired jewelry. Just another case of how modern Japanese preserve a centuries old art form for future generations to appreciate.

Autodesk Design Night

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Full disclosure: I currently work as a part-time consultant for Autodesk and I worked as a full-time regular employee for many years before that. So yes, I’m a bit biased toward what I believe is a fantastic company, both to work for and for what they are contributing to the world. Biased or not, you should check out Design Night at least once and make your own decision about it.

One of the events I look forward to each month is Design Night, an event sponsored by Autodesk and hosted in the incredible Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco, which is a treat in and of itself. Design Night dives into various aspects of how creativity and design are impacting our world in the areas of art, engineering, fashion, architecture, you name it. Autodesk is not a household name, but its products our used to create much of what we see around us everyday: buildings, cars, household objects and even the special effects for movies, TV and video games. So it makes a lot of sense that Autodesk would host Design Night, given they have customers working in almost every conceivable field of the design world.

Design Nights are organized around a theme, from fields of technology, science and recently, even fashion. A well-known celebrity from that particular field presents on their work. One of the more popular speakers recently was Leo Villareal, the artist who created the beautiful Bay Lights artwork using the western span of the Bay Bridge. But Design Night is about interaction, so there are a few tables set up around the Gallery where participants can make something: LED jewelry, a clock made from recycled LP records or tree trunks, even homegrown oyster mushrooms!

Of course, no party would be complete without food and entertainment. There’s an open bar all evening, serving standard drinks and usually a special creation chosen based on the theme of the night. Catered food has ranged from Thai to Mexican to California fusion and is also complementary (until it runs out). A DJ spins theme related beats to set the mood.

And then, of course, there is the company of participants. Many of the Bay Area’s most brilliant and creative minded folk attend Design Night regularly. On nights I have attended or worked at Design Night (as a photographer or table volunteer), I have met authors, architects, fashion designers, and even a guy who worked in Information Technology at the Federal Reserve across the street (“Stressful work I bet.” I asked him. He just shrugged.).

Tickets to Design Night tend to sell out fast, sometimes within days of the event being advertised, so you’ll have to make a quick decision if you intend to go. Don’t forget the ticket includes food, drink, and anything you can make on that evening, so it’s actually quite a bargain if you fully participate. To receive information about future Design Nights, get on the Design Night mailing list.

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Making a clock out of recycled wood at Autodesk Design Night.

A model from Melange at the Designista! Design Night.

Playing with the body controlled ball maze in the Autodesk Gallery.

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Road Trippin’ – Getty Center

Road Trip - Getty Center

Took a short road trip with my dad to Los Angeles and we decided to check out the highly recommended Getty Center. We only had an hour or two which is definitely not enough time to take this place in properly, but if you’re visiting LA, plan to spend some time at this gorgeous place.