A family move from Tokyo to Chicago, Illinois in January of this year has precipitated many changes. Soon after our move I realized that I have the opportunity to build something new. One of those golden opportunities to restart, to build a new initiative that will impact many in a positive way. I’ve invited a number of key leaders and friends to give me input. I’m very excited about the new direction.
Seizing new opportunities requires that I let go of many things I’ve held dear. JapanCAN is one of them. I will not shut down JapanCAN.com. However, from this week I will be posting periodically rather than weekly. When I’m ready to announce the new globally-focused media initiative, I will post about it on JapanCAN.
Thanks for reading this blog. I appreciate each person who is part of this journey. Thanks for caring about Japan!
At 1:00 PM on Sunday, June 7, 2015 Finding Beauty will screen at the Justice Festival in Chicago. I (Paul Nethercott) will be there.
On Tuesday, June 9 Finding Beauty will screen during the 6:00 PM Pre-Fest at the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles. I will be in L. A. for this screening and a number of other meetings.
If you are in the Chicago area or in L. A. please reach out to me. I would love to see you.
We have submitted the film to a number of other film festivals, most of them are international ones. My desire is that this little film will bring hope and healing to many people around the world. Please pray that we will have many opportunities to screen Finding Beauty in the Rubble.
Thanks for your support. We could not have made this film without you.
Warmly, Paul Nethercott, Missionary Filmmaker with TEAM
Mission Frontiers — a respected magazine published by the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA — created a stir when they wrote that biblical truth found in Buddhism is a means of leading Bhuddists to Jesus. A portion of the Mission Frontiers article is below:
Do we actually believe what Paul wrote that God’s “eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen” (Rom 1:20, NIV)? How does this apply to Buddhism? Can we find eternal and divine fingerprints in Buddhism? Instead of dismissing everything Buddhist as untruth, let us try the opposite, finding some truth within Buddhism. Such a new approach might actually hold the key to breakthroughs among Buddhists.
Many Buddhist concepts are so biblical that it is possible to think they are straight from the Bible.
Once we understand Buddhism better, how it highlights the truth, we see God at work everywhere. He prepared a path to walk on. We don’t need to fight Buddhists for “wrong beliefs,” engaging in defensive apologetics because we feel threatened by their beliefs. We can explore new ways of engaging with our Buddhists friends, because God’s fingerprints do exist in Buddhism.
OMF leaders in Thailand spoke out very strongly in opposition to the ideas presented by Mission Frontiers. A section from the OMF leaders response includes the assertion that the ideas presented in the Mission Frontiers article are syncretistic:
OMF Thailand would like to commend Mission Frontiers for dedicating an issue to address the challenges of missions in the context of folk Theravada Buddhism. The various writers in this issue attempted to find an answer to the question, “What is it going to take to see large number of Buddhists turn to Christ?” The missionaries of OMF Thailand affirm this longing. We also appreciate the contributors who stimulated critical reflection, discussion and prayer for the Buddhist world. We agree that various mistakes were made by both Western and non-Western missions. There is still a great need to discover ways to communicate the gospel meaningfully to the Buddhist mindset. What then are the problems with some suggestions presented in this issue? While there are some good proposals by a few writers, there are also serious concerns regarding a naïve and unbiblical approach towards Buddhism, a disconnection with on-the-ground reality, a distancing from the growing national church, and a dangerous promotion of syncretism.
Do you think there is merit in the approach that Mission Frontiers advocates? If not, why not? (Please don’t respond to this question unless you take the time to read the original Mission Frontiers post and the OMF response to it).
“Beauty is the hard-to-define essence that draws people to the gospel.” (David Taylor)
“No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!” (John Muir)
“We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.” (C. S. Lewis)
Beauty attracts our curiosity and makes us feel alive, it make us feel good. Beautiful flowers, birds, and trees bring joy and delight. Why is that? If we open our hearts and minds, beauty leads us towards God.
The beauty of God’s creation has spoken to me personally. At a very low point in my life, a season of depression and anxiety, my family visited Yosemite national park in California. I was amazed at the stunning beauty of the place. As I sat on the rim of Yosemite valley my mind filled with the thought, “If God wants us back in Japan, He can make it happen.” I felt anxiety drain out. I had hope again. In that instant the beauty of God’s creation touched me. It spoke of his love, majesty, power and grace. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Psalm 19:1)
The people of Japan have a deep appreciation for beauty and I believe beauty is key to reaching Japanese for Christ. Are you seeking ways to seize the opportunity? In his post Art, Love and Beauty: Introduction Makoto Fujimura asks a pertinent question, “Is your church known to strangers and enemies for art, love and beauty?” If not, what can you do about it?
Please consider using our short (4 minute) documentary Finding Beauty in the Rubble. This film is available to share with your friends via social media; you can download it and show it to a group of people; you can bring a strong visual element into your worship service by integrating it into your Sunday morning message. A fitting passage to use in conjunction with showing the film is, Isaiah 61:1-3.
We have submitted the film to a number of other festivals including the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (the most prominent documentary film festival in Japan). Please pray that we will have opportunity to screen Finding Beauty at the Yamagata and at many other festivals around the world. I want this film to be seen, to impact lives, to bring a measure of hope and healing to many people around the world.
What are your ideas for sharing the Gospel with Japanese through beauty?
Joyce Inouye lives in Southern California and is a certified Learning Disabilities Specialist. Joyce pioneered the “Special Needs Institute” of the Southern California Association of Christian Schools International, has taught at La Verne University and presently teaches online courses for the graduate school of Fresno Pacific University. She also has a private practice called, Christian Educational Therapy. In 2012 Joyce began making trips to Japan to bring help, information, and hope to the learning disabled and to their families. I met her on one of those trips.
JapanCAN: Why do you do what you do?
Assuming you mean the ChildD Ministry in Japan… How does one say “No” to God? As my son was initially fundraising for doing mission work in Japan through Asian Access he surprised us by sharing a video he had created to raise awareness about Japan. When I heard about the suicides and the numbers I just COULDN’T let that go… I just wrestled with this fact… thinking, “Did my son have a typo of too many zeros? Checking the Internet, and being upset that the Japanese are killing themselves with such numbers, I would continue to come to one conclusion saying, “Come on… honestly, what can I personally do? I am one person. I can pray… perhaps stand in the gap? But that’s about it?” I remember wrestling with the suicides and shaking my head saying, “the pressure, the father/mother wounds, the culture’s confusion, the fears, pride, and ultimately the historic rejection of Jesus as Lord all contribute to this.
My heart was being molded toward Japan because my son was called to Japan to serve, and since the tri-disaster in 2011, I had the opportunity to pray for Japan and serve CRASH. I distinctly remember talking to one of the leaders of CRASH… as they invited me to train at their organization. They told me that in Japan, there is little to no information for those with Learning Disabilities, then they asked, “Would you come and train us?” My response at that time was, “I don’t travel. But one day I will visit my son in Japan… I will let you know, I can train whoever you can gather.”
Then the following week, God spoke clearly saying, “Many of those who committed suicide had undetected Learning Disabilities.” I remember falling to the ground and saying… “Lord… really?! Are you kidding me? Why did you say ‘learning disabilities?”
Within months divine “happenings” started to line up, and then next thing I was wrestling with was the high honor to be asked by Hiro Inaba President of CHEA Japan to be the Keynote speaker of the winter convention in Hakuba, Japan. I knew it was an irrefutable call from God… but I fought it. It just didn’t make sense… how could I make a difference by speaking at this conference?
JapanCAN: What are some of the big challenges for parents in Japan who have children with learning disabilities?
First of all… there is a lack of accurate information. I realize the culture does not lend itself to acknowledge weakness or differences. As a result those with unique and special needs do not have their needs positively addressed.
Secondly, when parents do address their children’s needs, I find them focusing on their child’s differences/weaknesses/unique ways. This would be fine if they would also focus on their child’s natural strengths and talents. This is paired with a lack of information in a society that shuns differences, academic challenges, and places high priority on being excellent and perfect.
Lastly, and most importantly… “Hidden disabilities”(those challenges that are not visible) are global. They are in Japan, and growing more prevalent with each year. In America, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has risen 53% in the last decade! More and more children are being diagnosed around the world. Yet, without God’s Kingdom perspective, Satan has an “open door” to twist Truth and bring in ungodly beliefs.
I have found the enemy attacks multitudes of Christian parents who have children with unique learning challenges — whether it be ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Autism, and/or process disorders. As the parents address these challenges to the best of their ability, even with God’s Word, the enemy’s strategy is to raise up conflict, division and distractions. This wears down already weary “brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ”, evoking fear for their children, upset, envy, bitterness, and opening the door to becoming very wounded in the process. The Guilt, Fear, Anger, Conflicts, etc. affects their quality of life.
I believe God has called me to be part of His amazing story. It is about the Christian families and children in Japan. I am there to let them see how important it is for them to have Kingdom perspectives in their battles. How the Lord delights over them with singing, and how God is with them, and He has equipped them to do a great work in a land that needs Jesus.
JapanCAN: What resources are available in Japan?
Over the two years God has raised up several strong indigenous leaders wanting to be trained by the ChildD Ministry. They have shared, “there are websites and books that inform the Japanese what a disability is and generally how to accommodate. But the books do not bring HOPE, and often times lead the families to using too much medication. We feel it puts the focus on how different their child is and how weak they are. It identifies their children by what they do… versus who they are.
We have a Japanese website which a plethora of information, with much more to come.
The ChildD Ministry also goes to Japan twice a year to speak at conferences and to meet families for appointments.
In 2016 we will begin training a few seriously interested individuals how to help those who have unique and learning needs.
The ChildD Ministry will provide webinars so that training, resources, and needs can be addressed online.
As God broadens and expands special needs programs in Japan our hope is that a growing number of people living there will have a Kingdom perspective regarding learning challenges. And this is just the beginning… there is more to come.
JapanCAN: My understanding is that there are three primary learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. If that is accurate, please describe each one briefly and why we need to understand them.
There are three recognized learning styles that used to reign as how children learn best.
Visually: means that children learn best by what they see. This includes children who have no weaknesses visually or processing in the brain what they see.
Auditorially: that children learn best by what they hear. This includes children who have no difficulties hearing or processing in the brain what is said.
Kinesthetically: that children learn best by doing. This includes children who work best by actually doing, participating, being active in what they are learning.
To the world, educators and parents globally, these three ways of learning have been well documented.
But in my 39 years in the field of Learning Disabilities, and my understanding of God’s Word, I believe there is a learning style that I have been using that has turned the severe academic learners into victorious students! It is learning through God’s individual design. I call this style, “Suite W.” Only because “Suite W” is an acronym that defines its meaning.
Strengths: Teaching through their “strengths.”
Uniqueness (Psalm 139:13-14): Embracing the individual uniqueness not squelching it down.
Interests: Teaching using their interests.
Temperament: Recognizing their character, personality, attitude, frame of mind, emotions, creation, and their heart, blessing them in the positive and God honoring.
Energies: Recognizing their longevity to tasks, what motivates them, accommodating for their needs.
Weaknesses: Using their strengths to remediate their academic, emotional, intellectual, social, physical and Spiritual weaknesses.
JapanCAN: Which learning style does the Japanese school system cater too?
Honestly? I have not been to every classroom in Japan’s school system. Truly, it is not always the curriculum that develops knowledge and learning, but the teacher, who sets the tone of the classroom. From what teachers in Japan have shared, students learn mostly by lecture (Auditory) and when doing independent work it shifts to visual with rare opporunties for Kinesthetic learning.
Specialist in Learning Disabilities, Christian Educational Therapy
731 N. Beach Blvd. Ste. 209A
La Habra, California 90631
To find out more about ChildD, watch this informative video:
“Japanese tastes in cars, technology and leisure profoundly affect how we think and what we buy. But who are the Japanese? To the outsider Japan has made the switch to a Western lifestyle – to Western materialism – in the space of a few generations. But in fact Japan remains profoundly alien, a culture where ritual holds sway.” (Brotherhood Books)
Paul Nethercott asked me to review The Unseen Face of Japan by David C. Lewis. Since my husband and I are hoping to be long-term missionaries in Japan, I was interested in reading this book for my own education. I was not disappointed! If you are living/working in Japan or are a Christian who cares for the Japanese, this book is a must for you.
The Unseen Face is a Christian anthropologist’s analysis of Japanese culture, religion, and worldview as well as a brief history of how Christianity has had an impact on the nation. Lewis’ findings are based on surveys, observations, and interviews. He goes beyond conventional ‘anthropology’ to offer ways Christians can best communicate the gospel and use cultural elements to glorify Christ.
Lewis does a good job of documenting and describing Japanese culture. More importantly, he deciphers why Japanese do what they do. I was surprised to find out that MOST Japanese regularly partake in religious activities while feeling that the activities have no connection to religion. While most Japanese own charms and many worship at god-shelves in their home, few profess belief in the power of these rituals. Many do it because it’s expected of them by family members, because their friends do it, or because they’d rather be safe than sorry ‘just in case’ there is a malicious spirit out there.
I was pleasantly surprised that Lewis offered observations and suggestions, despite that being taboo in the anthropology world. Lewis identifies weaknesses in the current Christian mindset toward evangelizing Japan, calling on a need for greater emphasis on spiritual warfare.
Lewis documents that most Japanese companies — including the huge modern corporations we all know — routinely organize and pay for Shinto and Buddhist rituals. I was surprised to hear about this aspect of business life in Japan. These rituals are viewed as a means to promote and ensure safety in the workplace. Usually only those in higher management participate in the rituals but sometimes every employee of the company is asked to take part. Participation is not mandatory. However — due to social pressure — it is very difficult for a Christian to opt out.
The Unseen Face describes the worldview and customs related to Japanese ways of dealing deal with death, birth, aging, cleanliness, safety, holidays, fortune, family, and shame. Lewis states that Japanese people living outside Japan continue to practice many of the same customs and worldviews of the motherland. Therefore, it is important that anyone planning on interacting with Japanese anywhere in the world needs to work at understanding Japanese culture.
Lewis provides answers to many crucial questions through research. His book offers a treasure trove of information. If Japanese culture is a puzzle, Lewis is giving his readers vital clues to decoding it.
In a nutshell, Lewis finds the Japanese to be heavily motivated by both guilt and shame, disillusioned by the events of World War II, and desperately searching for peace of mind whether through charms, visits to a shrine, or rituals.
They are steeped in a tradition that puts them in great spiritual bondage, but they have yet to see Christianity as the power to release and protect them. Instead, it is mainly perceived as a Western, intellectual religion which has little influence over their way of life.
However, there are many things already present in Japanese culture that are valuable and can serve as stepping stones to the gospel. The Japanese as a whole feel an affinity to nature and give great respect to their elders and heritage. A Christian faith that emphasizes these values would be more appealing to Japanese. We need to show Japanese that Christ is the Savior of the world, not just of the West.
Lewis also points out that a purely logical argument for faith can often be lost on the Japanese, who are, as a whole, more feelings based. Revealing Christ through the arts can have a much greater impact on the Japanese than traditional Western approaches to the gospel.
In short, The Unseen Face of Japan creates a fantastic foundation for the Christian worker looking for how to best relate and share their faith in a Japanese context. It is detailed, well-researched, and the reader is not left without some suggestion of how to apply what Lewis has learned on each subject. I, personally, feel that much of what I have observed in Japanese culture is beginning to make sense in light of what I’ve read by Lewis. I heartily recommend this book!
Mrs. Fukuoka’s home and most of her neighborhood was washed away by the tsunami. Many of her neighbors died. After the disaster, Mrs. Fukuoka found meaning and hope by making jewelry from “sea glass” debris found on the beach.
Inspired by an ancient biblical prophesy that The Creator God would “give beauty instead of ashes” we want Finding Beauty in the Rubble to encourage and bring hope to many.
Please share this film with your friends! Feel free to download it and use it at any gathering you like.
I’m deeply grateful to the many people who were part of making this project happen. Mika Takana introduced us to Mrs. Fukuoka and helped the day of the interview. I want to thank the 2 Criminals film crew — Matthew T. Burns, Atsuko Tateishi, Todd Fong, Esther Yomoah, and Nancy Nethercott.
It takes many years of concerted effort to learn the language and culture of Japan. Even for dedicated learners, Japan can feel like a room with smoke and mirrors… Confusing, and hard to navigate. For newcomers, it is very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions.
Here are some misconceptions I’ve heard from visitors to Japan:
1. “Japanese aren’t emotional.”
The culture values being in control of one’s emotions so Japanese express emotion sparingly or in ways that are hard for foreigners understand. Japanese use subtle body language, nuanced words, tone of voice, and other subtle clues that communicate feelings. This does not mean that “Japanese aren’t emotional.” It does mean that foreigners are often clueless as to what is really going on.
“Saving face” is a value inherent in the culture of Japan and plays a part in why Japanese don’t show emotion – to save face for themselves or the person to whom they are talking. Children are taught from a young age to not show their emotions. Not that they don’t have emotions, but to not show them.
2. “Japanese aren’t interested in spiritual things.”
It IS true that very few Japanese are interested in organized religion. However, the vast majority of Japanese are extremely interested in spirituality. Evidence of this interest abounds in pop culture (manga, movies, TV, novels) which is saturated with spiritual themes. One example is the animated movie Spirited Away. Another clear sign of interest in the spiritual side of life are the millions of Japanese who visit shrines and temples at new years. The Unseen Face of Japan is a very valuable resource for gaining understanding about the intense interest Japanese have in spiritual things (see link below).
Modern Japan (Photo by Andrew Benton)
3. “Japan is a Westernized post-modern nation.”
Influenced by the West? Yes! However, it is a huge mistake to look at stuff like cars and buildings and jump to the conclusion that Japan’s people and culture are thoroughly Westernized.
It is true that Japan has an amazing infrastructure and advanced knowledge of science and technology. It is not true that Japan’s culture is the same as or similar to cultures in the Western world. Nor is Japan “post-modern.” How could a culture that has never been “modern” be post-modern? I think the best way to describe Japan is “pre-modern” with a veneer that looks Western and “modern.”
The church in Japan is an example of how the outward trappings of the church culture looks Western — the clothing, music, and architecture. But, the leadership style and the way people in the church think and act is not Western. In most ways, the church has typical Japanese culture patterns.
What misconceptions about Japan have you observed?
Mr. Shiraishi and his wife Hideko are delightful people, warm and friendly. They attend Kurume Bible Fellowship (KBF), which is also our home church in Tokyo. Mr. Shiraishi’s story of hope:
At the beginning of October I was taken to the hospital due to an acute pain in my back. During my two month long stay in the hospital, I received many visits and prayers, and words of encouragement from many of you (at my church). I was very grateful for all your support, and to be part of Kurume Bible Fellowship.
It was a dreadful disease, some kind of bacteria got into my spinal cord, which could have damaged the bones and the spine. I had very severe pain that was unimaginable for many days. I almost screamed “God, why do I have to experience such dreadful pain!” But when I started to feel down, a word from the Bible helped me, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…… Blessed are those who mourn.”
When I remembered these words in the Bible, I started to see reasons for my challenging experience. If we as human beings can not avoid painful things, there must be a reason behind them, and God must be trying to teach me something important.
Mr. & Mrs. Shiraishi volunteering with Operation SAFE
I realized that God has given me this trial of pain and sickness to make me strong. If we train our muscles, they become strong. In the same way, we can become strong through our hardships. I started to think that if the hardship was given by God, I could surely overcome, because it says that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. As I believed this truth, even though I was in the midst of physical pain, I was able to bear it.
It was 2007 when I became a Christian. Barry Potter (who is now in US) and Gary Bauman took hours and hours to teach me the truth in the Bible. At first I could not believe them because they did not sound rational. I was strongly against Christianity, and told them “ I will never believe it”.
However, my rational thinking never reached an answer to the question “Does God exist or not?” I think it is impossible for us mortal men to understand the eternal God.
I realized it is not about arguing, but it is about faith. It took me a long time before I came to faith, but I finally took a chance to trust in Him. As a result, I found an amazing peace inside myself. I was in a stressful society, I was nearly worn out, but I had a peaceful mind. I understood it was a result of being saved, and the living water flowing from my heart.
As Paul repeats in Romans, I realised that faith is very simple because “Grace is given through faith in Christ Jesus. It is by grace not by work.”
I was selfish, but now I am beginning to love my neighbors. It surprises me, but maybe it is the power of faith in God.
When I had this illness it was not easy, but very hard for me to be in the hospital. But at the same time I experienced a strange sense of peace and hope in God that relieved the severe pain. I knew that God never abandoned me. Now I am making a great recovery.
If any of you who are facing challenges, I would like you to remember that God is ready to help you, so you can put your complete trust in him. He is full of grace to help you grow in him. I testify this is true through my own experience.
Suffering is not just something we should try to get rid of, but it can be seen as a gift from God because through these experiences, God makes us grow.
I am thankful for my illness, and now I have almost overcome this challenge. I give thanks to God who guided me through this journey, and I say “Amen.”
As a means of gaining insight into Japanese culture, I highly recommend Departures. For anyone who cares about Japan this is a “must see” film. (Paul Nethercott)
Recently, I (Alecia Tallent) had the privilege of watching Yojiro Takita’s movie, Departures. Winner of the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, as well as Best Film, Actor, Director, Sound, Screenplay, and Cinematography at the 2009 Japanese Academy Awards.
This simple yet powerful film follows the life of cellist Daigo Kobayashi who is newly married and recently unemployed. Returning to his hometown to try to find a new life for himself and his wife, he accidentally gets a job preparing the dead for funerals. While this may sound like a comedy (and some parts of it are), Departures is a very touching and thought provoking film. I found myself needing tissue often!
Departures is not a movie I would have normally picked… I tend to enjoy action or fantasy films much more than narrative. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by its ability to transcend cultures, especially in regards to death. Part of Daigo’s job entails restoring dignity to the deceased: washing the body, adding makeup to the face, and dressing them in a nice robe. Ultimately, he is preserving the memory of the deceased in a way that is gentle, beautiful, symbolic, and respectful. I appreciated the concept of beautifying and respecting the memory of the dead, especially for the sake of the mourning family.
The movie has much to say about relationships. The movie’s ‘B’ plot centers around the fact that Daigo’s father walked out on his mother when he was only 6 years old. His brokenness and anger at his father is what drives him, leading ultimately to the film’s climax, which I won’t spoil except to say it was both satisfying and tear inducing.
The film explores how Daigo’s job taking care of the dead affects his relationships: old friends steer clear of him, his wife begs him to quit, and the deep connection he makes with the coffin-shop assistant and the owner of the business. These relationships reflect struggles that most people can relate to: how do you stick up for what you think is right when it brings your loved ones pain, how do you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, how do you accept and grow to understand the people around you, despite their occupation? Though set in Japanese culture, these questions are universal.
I was impressed with the film’s music, use of symbolism, and cinematography. The symbolism of the main characters unceremoniously feasting on fried chicken after just handling a corpse made me uncomfortable but it was perfect.
There is very little dialogue in the film, but I did not miss it. The symbols tell the story so beautifully that you can almost feel what’s going on instinctively without necessarily hearing words of explanation. In fact, the last scene of the movie is done almost entirely without dialogue, yet I felt it was the most emotionally powerful part of the entire film.
I find Departures very important for those interested in Japan if only because it has a wonderful depiction of Japanese culture and thought, and it very poignantly reminds any of us concerned with Japan’s spirituality that death is a reality all must face but not all are prepared for.
However, I would not limit this film to being of use only to those who enjoy Japan. I believe everyone would benefit from watching Departures. I was surprised by its cultural transcendence and the amount of reflection it generated as I contemplated death. I found myself grieving for the ones I had lost but had never really had the time to personally “let go” of in a healthy way.
The movie touches on the sore spots of humanity, death and broken relationships in a way that helps the viewer face both without making them feel hopeless. My favorite line was spoken by the man working at the crematorium as he prepared to cremate one of his good friends that had passed away, “I believe death is a gateway.”
Finally, I appreciated the moral message of the film: that a healthy respect of death should urge us to treasure life, particularly the lives of our friends and family. I was led to contemplate how much of the Western culture views death almost flippantly. We kill people in movies and video games with ease and our questions about the unborn and the elderly have more to do with generalized social dynamics than with the idea that each life is precious and that death is a tragedy to be mourned and treated with care and dignity.
Departures gently but strongly reminds the viewer that life is temporary, and we should take our relationships more seriously, being quick to forgive, accept, and cherish each other for we may not have another chance. I heartily recommend this film to everyone. Don’t shrink away from it simply because of its subject matter or depth: let its beauty, honesty, and reflective nature seep into you and help you weigh what is truly important in both life and death.
Thanks very much Alecia for reviewing Departures for JapanCAN!
Departures is the only film I’ve seen 3 times in a theater. This remarkable film really touched me. One reason is that, in the end, the main character forgives his father. I have never seen this level of reconciliation and re-connection happen in any other Japanese film. Because of the redemptive nature of the story, I believe the writer knows the Bible well and is most likely a follower of Jesus.
For those of you who know care about what Roger Ebert had to say about Departures, “I showed Yojiro Takita’s film at Ebertfest 2010, and it had as great an impact as any film in the festival’s history. At the end the audience rose as one person. Many standing ovations are perfunctory. This one was long, loud and passionate.” (Roger Ebert)
Please go HERE to join our crowd-sourcing campaign and be a part of making the short hope-filled documentary, “Finding Beauty in the Rubble.”
Act soon, the campaign will end on March 21, 2015.
A segment from the film (unfinished):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm01HYsDy6Q
“Finding Beauty in the Rubble” is a short documentary film about Mrs. Fukuoka, a humble housewife whose home was washed away by the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Mrs. Fukuoka barely escaped the rushing waters that took away her home and killed many of her neighbors.
Shot on location in northern Japan, our documentary will show how Mrs. Fukuoka has found hope and meaning by making beautiful jewelry out of debris from the tsunami.
If you back the film, you will receive “rewards” such as original jewelry made by Mrs. Fukuoka. Using “sea glass” polished by the same waters that destroyed her home and her entire neighborhood, Mrs. Fukuoka makes beautiful jewelry. Broken things become beautiful. What a great metaphor for life!
I love seeing my wife wear the gorgeous earring/necklace set that Mrs. Fukuoka made and gave to her. Seeing it brings back good memories of spending time with Mrs. Fukuoka in her home and on the beach nearby where she finds the sea glass.
Please go to the Campaign Page and back our project. And please use the “share” button to let your friends know.
Four years after Japan was hit hard by a massive earthquake, it is amazing how Christians continue to respond to the needs of survivors. One of our good friends, veteran SEND missionary Janet Kunnecke, recently presented a workshop on communication for a group living in Ishinomaki, a city that was devastated by the tsunami. Here is Janet’s report,
I was invited to do a workshop on communication — focusing on listening well — at a house church on the coast near Sendai. I was pleased that a fellow SEND missionary had asked me, as I’d hoped that my workshop materials could be of use in the disaster region. Little did I expect that I would be so encouraged by the warm, lively, joyful group of 11 people I met there!
Hearing stories of how the tsunami impacted each person, I was amazed to hear that most of them had come to follow Jesus after the disaster. Through the loving service of Christians they met doing relief work, they saw something they wanted. For most, these were the first Christians they’d ever known.
Though most of the participants had lived in temporary housing before their homes were repaired, and still struggle with many difficulties, they now regularly visit others who are still there, serving them by listening to their stories, doing crafts or cooking events, learning hula dancing together, or giving hand massages.
I was so happy to be able to help them be better listeners. To help them learn early in their Christian experience to prevent mis-communication which often lead to more serious conflict.
The group engaged with the communication material and the learning exercises so much it was hard to interrupt to debrief what they had learned! But they obviously were grasping the implications of their discoveries and talked about their own experiences. One woman who’d recently quit her job was glad that even though we’d been trying to schedule the training for months, it didn’t happen until she was free to be there. It turned out I’d met her before, as she used to work for a delivery service that included our cabin in its area! What a treat to see her joy as she told me she’ll be getting baptized in a few weeks.
There was another cool connection, too. One woman was from Fukushima, and had evacuated with her church to a camp in Tokyo for a year. She was there when Grace Church (one of our supporting churches in the USA) sent a team to do a kids English program!
Pray for this amazing group, for continued growth and maturity, for unity among them, and good relationships as they serve.
Thanks very much Janet for your report! If you have recent experience serving in the Tohoku region, please comment on how you have seen God at four years after the disaster.
“Finding Beauty in the Rubble” is a documentary film about Mrs. Fukuoka, a humble housewife whose home was washed away by the tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Shot on location in northern Japan, our documentary will show how Mrs. Fukuoka has found hope and meaning by making beautiful jewelry out of debris from the tsunami.
There are several reasons we are making this film:
We want to encourage and bless Mrs. Fukuoka help her by selling the gorgeous jewelry that she makes. In other words, making the film “Finding Beauty in the Rubble” is a way to reach out to Mrs. Fukuoka with the love of God.
The people of Japan are largely unreached with the Gospel. Like the parables of Jesus, we want Mrs. Fukuoka’s story to winsomely point Japanese in the direction of Jesus. We want to remind people around the world to Pray for Japan!
Thousands of survivors of Japan’s mega disaster are still living in temporary housing units and dealing with ongoing fear regarding radiation from the stricken power plant. Through this inspiring story of restoration we want to bring hope to the many other survivors.
Go to the KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN page to order unique “Sea Glass” jewelry made by Mrs. Fukuoka and be part of making the documentary “Finding beauty in the Rubble!”
We really need your help! Please consider supporting the Kickstarter campaign. Please let your friends and family know about the campaign. We cannot meet our goal without you!
As part of her emotional healing process after the disaster, Mrs. Fukuoka would take walks on the beach with her dog Kai-kun, where she saw many artifacts from the tsunami, former pieces of people’s lives washed up on the beach. One item caught her attention: pieces of glass, broken by the destructive power of the tsunami. Polished by the sea and the sand, the broken pieces had become beautiful gem-like “Sea Glass.”
Mrs. Fukuoka began turning the found pieces of polished Sea Glass into jewelry that she gave to volunteers as thank-you gifts. We heard about Mrs. Fukuoka from Mika Takana (on the right in the photo below), a close friend who we’ve known for over 20 years. A musician, Mika has performed dozens of concerts for survivors of the disaster.
In November 2014, we traveled to Tohoku (the region of Japan hit hard by the disaster) to capture footage for “Finding Beauty in the Rubble.” Mrs. Fukuoka invited the five of us into her recently rebuilt home (see picture below) for coffee and snacks, and at the end of the day served us dinner. Her warmth and generosity captured our hearts.
It was sobering to see that the tsunami had washed away her entire neighborhood, killing many of her neighbors. We captured her story of survival and recovery, in her own beautiful words, along with footage of the area around her home.
Todd Fong, my friend and colleague on the 2 Criminals film project, posted on his blog that Akie Abe, the wife of Japan’s current Prime Minister, visited Biblical Church of Tokyo. Mrs. Abe was at the church to connect with volunteers at Wheelchairs of Hope (WOH), an NPO that uses space in the church building.
Founded by World Venture missionary Mary Esther Penner, “Wheelchairs of Hope refurbishes used wheelchairs in Japan and distributes them throughout Asia, providing mobility, new life and hope.”
I asked Mary Esther how Mrs. Abe heard about WOH and why she visited the building. Mary Esther wrote,
It seems when God answers prayer, it’s often in a way we cannot take any credit for, so God gets all the credit, 100% of it. We think we’re asking for funding and seeking business people traveling throughout Asia to transport wheelchairs, and God sends Mrs. Abe. That’s God.
In 2010 WOH was recognized by FESCO (Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution) 社会貢献者表彰 and apparently Mrs. Abe now chairs that organization. That may be the reason (why she came visited us).
In 2013 Mr. Tani and I represented WOH at the annual ILBS (International Ladies Benevolence Society) awards ceremony. Mrs. Abe was distributing the awards, so maybe that is part of the equation.
A couple years back it was clear the (WOH) project was growing past what I could handle and Mr. Tani (before retirement he was the HR manager for a major Japanese company and president of two of their subsidiaries in Thailand) took over as director. I accepted a meishi (business card) that said “Founder and Honorary Chairman” just so it was clear I wasn’t ousted for embezzlement or whatever else.
Mary Esther & Mark Penner
I now function as cheerleader and volunteer for wheelchair cleaning days. I don’t attend board meetings, and am not involved in decision making or leadership… Mrs. Abe’s visit was announced after I already had a trip scheduled (conference in Manila) so I wasn’t even there.
If you see photos, there are only Japanese in the pictures. On a personal level of course I was disappointed not to be able to meet her but as a missionary, I am delighted the project has transitioned entirely to a Japanese director and a Japanese board.
What was most exciting to me is that when Mrs. Abe came, she saw people from all walks of life participating; people who society considers successful and people who society pities or shuns. I hope she saw it is not just overseas that we want everyone to be part of a community of Hope, but here in Japan too. As a Japanese NPO we are not to be “religious” but she saw that — as always — we begin work with prayer offered to God in Jesus’ name. It is only because of Jesus that we do what we do.
Wheelchairs of Hope grows out of Mary Esther’s passion to help those who deal with the challenges of caring for a handicapped loved one, as she does. Mary Esther is a remarkable woman. She is impacting the culture of Japan.
Todd Fong’s blog post, with excellent photos by him:
NOTE: Pastored by Seiji Oyama and Kathy Clutz Oyama, Biblical Church of Tokyo owns a large multi-story building that was a factory before the church purchased it. The church has a vision to meet the needs of those who live in the densely populated community around them. According to Pastor Kathy, large numbers of community people enter the church daily to use the church building. At a later date, I will do a blog post on the effective ways this church is engaging with those living nearby.
On Sunday, Feb 1st Kenji Goto — a Japanese journalist known for his courage and integrity — was brutally killed in Syria by ISIS.
ISIS killed Kenji Goto for reasons only they could explain. However, it appears that ISIS was upset by financial aid that Japan had recently given to groups who oppose ISIS. Apparently, Goto became a pawn that ISIS used to intimidate the government of Japan.
So, who was Goto? What was he really like? What does his death mean?
Goto was a respected journalist and a good man who cared about people. And — according to people who knew him — Goto was also a faithful follower of Jesus. I asked a freind in Tokyo if this was widely known and she wrote, “The TV news mentioned that he was a Christian, so I assume many people now know about his faith.” Both mainstream and Christian news outlets have intensely covered what happened to Goto.
Before he was taken captive by ISIS, I had never heard of Goto. He reported for mainstream news outlets so he was not widely known in Christian circles in Japan. While his work was for mainstream news, the reporting he did from war zones was not typical. Goto was widely known for his compassion and for reporting on children and others who were vulnerable.
A Yahoo news report stated, “Whether in tsunami-stricken northeastern Japan or conflict-ridden Sierra Leone, the stories of the vulnerable, the children and the poor drove the work of journalist Kenji Goto.”
Goto was also actively involved in the lives of youth in Japan. Tamagawa Seigakuin (a Christian school for girls in Tokyo) invited Goto to speak to their students every year. I asked Bernie Barton, who works at Tamagawa Seigakuin, to reflect on Goto’s life,
He always visited our school during our May Orientation Camp week. He came and spoke to our third-year junior high students (9th graders) on the theme of Human Rights and World Peace. Goto-san had come every year since 2005, even adjusting his schedule to be sure that he could be here for this time with the students. It was his passion to help people know about the effects that conflicts, wars, poverty, greed and prejudice have on people, especially on those who are weak, or in a position of weakness. He did this through his reporting and through his books and through speaking at schools.
His books were written for an upper elementary school level, so you can see his desire to help young people know of the plight that people face in many regions of the world–an Afghan girl who can’t go to school, a child laborer in the Sierra Leone diamond mines, the devastating effect of AIDS on a village in Estonia, and the struggle of a family that experienced genocide in Rwanda.
On the day after the news of his capture was released in Japan, we held a special time of prayer in both our junior and senior high chapels. All of the girls 9th grade and over knew him, as well as many of our teachers. It is quite a shock when the reality of war and the threat of death come to one you know personally. From that day on we all prayed for him, for his family, for Yukawa-san and for others held captive.
In each of the chapels that first morning one of the teachers who had worked with him when he came for his lecture to our 9th graders spoke about him at the opening of the chapel. One of the teachers reminded the students that Goto-San had closed his lecture with them by saying, “I am sure that you all want world peace. If you do want world peace, I ask that you take a moment and look at those around you. World peace starts with you caring for those around you.”
That is the kind of man Kenji Goto was. That is why he went back to try to help Haruna Yukawa. That is why he ultimately gave his life to try to help bring peace to our world. I assume you do know that Goto-san was a Christian, a member of a church in the neighborhood of the school here. We can truly say that his life was lived out for the purposes of God.
Another personal reflection on Goto’s life is from his wife, Rinko, who wrote,
While feeling a great personal loss, I remain extremely proud of my husband who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria. It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war. (A personal statement from Kenji Goto’s wife, Rinko)
While Goto’s death was tragic I do not believe that it was meaningless. Kenji Goto was a man of courage who lived out his convictions. In the end he died because he put himself in harms way to help out a friend. We need more followers of Jesus like Kenji Goto. He will be remembered as a man of faith and integrity who made a positive difference in this world. I would like to have known him.
The Reaching Japanese for Christ (RJC) international conference is taking place February, 12-14, 2015 in California.
Founded by retired Converge missionary Don Wright, RJC is currently led by Dennis Peters who was a missionary to Japan for many years with the Assembles of God. RJC is important to many of us who care about Japan. I’ve been to several of their conferences and have found all of them of value for networking and learning about effective ways to reach Japanese with the Gospel.
In particular, RJC is courageously addressing the challenge of contextualizing the Gospel for Japan. Last year, the main speaker at the annual RJC conference was Daniel Kikawa, producer of the documentary, God’s Fingerprints in Japan. Inviting Daniel to speak at RJC gave him a platform and a new level of credibility within the evangelical missionary community in Japan.
After last year’s conference, we had several valuable discussions related to the contextualization of the Gospel for Japan. The discussions took place on the RJC Facebook page — there were dozens of comments from around the world. These Facebook conversations put me in touch with a number of like-minded people, one of whom is Dr. Samuel Lee (see below for a link to the interview he did with JapanCAN on contextualizaition).
Late last year Don Wright reached out to JapanCAN about the idea of doing a workshop in Tokyo to promote original, contextualized music for Japan. We are in the early stages of planning a workshop! That is about all I can say about it at this time but I’m really excited about the potentialities.
Regarding the highly recommended International RJC Conference:
When: February 12-14, 2015
Location: Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, 2000 N. Fairview St. Santa Ana, CA
Recently posted on Facebook, “We have just posted the RJC Conference, Feb 12-14, schedule and a list of the exciting seminars and speakers. Please help spread the word. And the early-bird registration discount ends soon! For detailed information on the conference go here: International RJC Conference — 2015”
One of my goals for 2014 was to post weekly on the CAN blog. I am pleased to report — with the exception of 1 week — I was able to meet that goal. I could not have done it without the faithful help of my wife Nancy who checks grammar, spelling, and gives feedback on content.
Is the approximately one day a week I spend on this blog a wise investment of my time and energy? Is it worth all the effort? I believe it is. This blog has put me in touch with a number of people, I have been able to be part of starting a few important conversations, in particular on the Reaching Japanese for Christ Network and Contextual Ministry in Japan Facebook pages, and — perhaps most importantly — writing this blog forces me to think more clearly about issues that are important to reaching Japan with the Gospel.
Goals for 2015:
— Continue posting weekly.
— Make contextualization of the Gospel a theme of this blog. I believe that contextualization of the Gospel is key to the long term health of the Church in Japan. However, contextualization of the Gospel in Japan is an extremely complex and challenging issue. There is no easy way to go about it. No one has a clear “road map” showing the way forward. I can’t think of an issue that generates more fear, criticism, and misunderstanding between believers.
I do have hope and I want to do whatever small things I can do to bring about positive change in relation to this issue. I want to generate conversations, connect people who care about this issue with each other, and create visual stories (films) that show how the Gospel does connect in so many ways with Japan’s history and culture.
— Improve the quality of the posts on JapanCAN. I will do this by inviting competent and interesting people to do guest posts, and by asking several key people to give advice on ideas for content.
— At least once per/month write about a resource that has practical benefit for those of us who care about the Gospel and Japan. The “resources” highlighted on this blog will include books, films, videos, websites, and more.
Here are a few specific posts to look forward to on JapanCAN in 2015:
The Unseen Face of Japan, book review by Alicia Tallent
Japan’s Longest Day, book review by Paul Nethercott
Redemption in Ancient and Modern Japan, Part II
Finding Beauty in the Rubble (of Japan’s epic disaster) a video
Redemption, a video
Departures, film review by Alecia Tallent
An interview with Roald Lidal, publisher of NEXT (Bible Manga).
An interview with Joyce Inouye, Specialist in Learning Disabilities, missionary to Japan.
“Why Are We Failing to Contextualize the Gospel for Japan?” by Paul Nethercott
Katsuhiko Shiraishi’s Story by Mr. Katsuhiko
Unbroken, film review
Princess Mononoke, film review
“Jesus never left home without a story, So Why Not Follow His Example?”
Reviews of books on contextualization recommended by Dr. Samuel Lee
God’s Grand Plan of Redemption or “Where would you drop a virus?” by Keith McCune
If you have ideas for posts, I would love to hear from you… Please use the contact form on the blog or Facebook to get in touch with me.
And, thanks for reading this blog! If you find it helpful, please let me know and share it with your friends.
Ten years ago we were delighted when David Suum brought a group to Tokyo from Myanmar to attend a CAN Worship Seminar. We enjoyed David and we’ve kept in touch.
Last year my wife Nancy reconnected with David in Florida where she attended an alumni course at the Institute for Worship Studies (IWS). It turns out that David and his wife Niaang had become students at IWS. Not long after meeting in Florida David invited Nancy to teach a session on the Renewal of Worship Through Scripture Reading at his school in Rangoon, the capitol of Myanmar. Below is Nancy’s final report from her trip:
We finished off the week of teaching with the students leaning into their Scripture presentation assignments in preparation for the weekend activities. Sunday was a FULL day with me preaching (“We Have Come to Worship” – Matthew 2:1-12) in two churches in the morning and then speaking (“Offering of Worship” – Romans 12:1 and other passages) at the Graduation Banquet in the afternoon. Monday afternoon I also spoke (“The Lord is My Strength” – Psalm 118:14 and other passages) at GMI’s 10th Graduation ceremony and also had the privilege of moving the graduate’s cap tassels from the right to the left after they received their certificates.
For each of those events different students presented 2 readings = 6 unique presentations, 4 in Burmese and 2 in English. They did a great job and it was so exciting to see them enjoy and grow in another area of church ministry.
GMI (Grace Music Institute), under the fine leadership of my friends, David and Niiang Suum, is doing an amazing job of training up the future church leaders of Myanmar. These 67 students have now all returned to their home churches, equipped for various ministries and having grown in the Word and in community.
David and his wife Niiang are now in Jacksonville, FL to finish their studies at IWS (The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies) where I received my doctorate in worship studies in 2006. David is in the doctoral program, Niiang in the master’s program – both will graduate in June, 2015, Lord willing. Please pray for them as they do graduate level work in their third language.
This was my first trip in my role as Associate Director of the IWS GROW Center. The GROW (Global Renewal of Worship) Center was established last year by IWS leadership to recruit more international students and to support our international students (25% of the student body) and alumni in the indigenous ministries in which they are involved.
Most likely I will return to Myanmar next October to teach and speak at a large Worship Conference David desires to produce. I am SO thankful I could make this trip and encourage the Suums and take part in training their students.
The theme verse for GMI is Psalm 118:14 “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” It was my desire to go with 2 Corinthians 12:9b as MY theme verse, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” As I embraced my weakness, Christ’s strength empowered and sustained me.
Though I am glad to be home with my family, I miss the students and the classroom time with them. I have many new Facebook “friends” from Myanmar and know I will keep in touch with them.
Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!
Nancy Nethercott, D.W.S.
TEAM Missionary in Japan since 1987
Worship Coordinator at Kurume Bible Fellowship, Tokyo
Associate Director, IWS GROW Center
“Every few hundred years in Western society there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself… We are currently living through such a transformation.” Peter Drucker
As we transition into a new year, we tend to think about the future. Drucker believes that Western society is changing drastically… Is Japanese society also experiencing “a sharp transformation?” It seems that it is… Here are three “engines” driving change in Japan:
Digital technology is changing, in fundamental ways, the way Japanese live their daily lives. While no one knows where the digital revolution is leading us, it will continue to drive rapid change in Japan and around the world.
Japan’s epic disaster in March of 2011 was a huge catalyst for change. Particularly in relation to the Gospel. Due to they way thousands of Christian volunteers responded, the general perception of Christians became far more positive. The presence and spirit of Christian volunteers was noticed and much appreciated by survivors. Remarkably, almost 4 years later, many Christian volunteers continue to reach out to those affected by the disaster.
In the next five years, hundreds of young adults who gained extensive leadership experience through disaster relief work are going to affect change in the church and in society. These young emerging leaders are engaged with their communities. They are more effective than many current church leaders at showing the love of God in practical and effective ways. They are more open to cooperating with other believers. And, they are more open to change. The quality of these young leader will have a positive impact on the church on on society as a whole.
A third factor driving change in Japan is Japan’s very low birthrate. The aging and decreasing population of Japan will bring profound changes. In response, the government may open up and allow large numbers of foreign workers into Japan. On the other hand, the relatively small but powerful ultra-nationalist groups could gain control. If they do, Japan will possibly become closed and very hostile to the Christian faith and stridently anti to anything foreign.
No one knows what will happen. Based on history, the likely scenario is that ultra-nationalists will prevail. If they do, the days of open mission work in Japan will almost certainly come to an end. Legalized persecution of Christians will return, and it could be very harsh. No longer would we missionaries routinely receive religious visas to work in Japan. We need to prepare for this possibility.
No matter what happens, for the church to thrive, we need a contextualized Gospel for Japan that is not perceived to as “foreign” to Japan. Is that possible? Yes! If it has happened in other cultures, why not Japan?
The changes occurring in Japanese society present opportunities as well as challenges. Many are saying that there is greater openness to the Gospel in Japan today than there has been in generations. It is an exciting time to live in Japan.
Earthquake, Tsunami, and Radiation Disaster Strikes Japan
War in the Middle East
There seems to be no end of headlines telling us of suffering and death while our “small” personal crises almost never make the news.
As a young child I experienced crises when my family moved to a small town called Killam (I am not making that name up). It felt like the town was trying to kill us. However, it wasn’t the town, circumstances made it a tough year:
— I had a hard time adjusting to the new school system and my teacher was mean.
— My dear mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
— One night my 16 year old sister’s “friends” dropped her off in front of the parsonage (my dad was a Baptist pastor) stone drunk. My parents sent her away to live with my Aunt and Uncle.
— On a cold winter day our coal furnace blew up. This little event filled the entire house with black coal dust.
Tough things happen. All the time. And, we want to know why.
I saw an article on the topic of why a successful person like Robin Williams would commit suicide. Trying to figure “why” terrible and difficult things happen is a complete waste of time. Seldom do we come to understand the “why” of anything.
The question to ask is, “how can I be part of seeing something good come out of this tragedy?” or “How can I find meaning in this crises?”
Japan’s epic disaster in 2011 was a huge challenge. Why did it happen? I don’t know, no one does.
What I do know is that it was an opportunity for the church in Japan, the church around the world, to respond with love. Through joining with others in doing disaster relief work I found great meaning in the mess.
There is always a silver lining to be found.
Right now, as my family faces a crises, I am looking for the silver lining. I have hope. Sometimes all we can do is “hang on” as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death until we find what we are looking for — hope.