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.

20150102-D60_2822

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.

20150102-D60_2868

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.

Autodesk Design Night

20130906-_D7X1953-2

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.

20130906-_D7X2852

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.

20130906-_D7X1930