Week 3: Rituals, Religion May 4-10

Reading:

 

  • Ch. 20, Pg 163-170 “Arranged Marriage in Japan,” Omiai お見合い
  • Ch. 25, Pg 201-216 “Japanese Funerals,” Soshiki 葬式
  • Ch. 11, Pg 153-159 “The Japanese Sense of the Seasons,” Kisetsu 季節
  • Ch. 15, Pg 127-134 “Adopting Elements of Foreign Culture,” Iitoko-Dori いいとこ取り
  • Ch. 21, Pg 171-179 “Folktales of Japan,” Otogibanashi おとぎ話

 

Interviewing:

  • Interview a Japanese.
  • Discuss various topics from the book.

Pray:

  • Pray daily for Japan and Japanese, using Operation Japan. Make a note in your blog concerning the information and/or your prayer.

Writing: Weekly Paper: “Impressions and Points from Your Reading”

  • 1. Interact with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
  • 2. Discuss how these cultural characteristics might affect your ministry with Japanese people.

Extra Suggestions:

Discussion

  • 2

    Week 3 cherry blossom time

    Linda Grimms
    Reply

    The readings for week 3 – arranged marriage, funerals, seasons, folk tales, and adopting elements of other cultures — were interesting because of their diversity. And Anne’s blog brought it together with her insights on cherry blossom time. Here are some observations and reflections on several of these topics.

    Marriage and death are two rites of passage seen differently in every culture, including Japan. As for funerals — there is an interesting Japanese movie called “Departures” that offers some insightful additional perspectives on the ways that Japanese people prepare the dead for their afterlife journey, from the perspective of the undertaker – good movie, worth watching. Mostly what I observed was that the role of the undertaker is one of the least-favored among the lowest social ranks in Japan, because the Japanese people find death to be such a difficult and impure circumstance.

    As for the Japanese folk tales – I believe they have much broader scope and influence than the author of this book suggests. I have read some of the Japanese origins document, Kojiki, and many of the stories recorded in “Japanese Tales” translated by Royall Tyler. Those folk stories take you into the seen/unseen amalgam of Shinto, Buddhist, and folk religion stories as they intersect with Japanese people – rich, poor, soldiers, monks, thiefs, honorable and dishonorable, funny, scary. In my understanding, these Japanese folk tales are seen as part of the lore that goes into what it means to be Japanese, in the same way that most cultures have their origin and cultural heritage stories.

    I was blessed by Anne’s blog on cherry blossoms. In spring 2014, when I was in Japan, I was amazed to see daily reports on the best cherry blossom, and the progression of the blossom season from the south toward the north – this was national news! Anne helped me see the link between the cherry blossoms and the hope that it brings as the visual beginning of a new season. In her blog, I learned that the Japanese school year begins in April because it coincides with cherry blossom season, a season of new beginnings and hope – that’s really interesting! Hope for me is Easter – a season for celebrating new beginnings and hope because of the resurrection of Jesus! Praying for the day when Easter is the reason that the Japanese people rejoice and know the true reason for hope.

    • Ethan Silveus

      Hey there Linda! You had some great responses and I especially liked what you had to say about the Japanese folk tales! As I read that chapter I definitely did not find out what I had expected to find out, but I think I was thinking more about myths instead of folktales which are slightly different. Your insight was great and I loved reading through your response! Thanks for sharing!

    • Emily Frey

      I love your connection between Cherry Blossom season and Spring/Easter. I am going to use that! Its a perfect connection. We named our oldest daughter Lily after the “resurrection flower”. She was born in May and it is our favorite Spring flower with special meaning for our Christian holiday. All of these concepts kind of work together to create a great way to share the Gospel.

  • 1

    Emily's Notes on Japanese Rituals & Religion

    Emily Frey
    Reply

    I really enjoyed the chapter on omiai and couldn’t wait to hear my Homestay student’s thoughts and plans for marriage. However, our conversations this week turned instead towards death…

    The chapter on soshiki wore me out and broke my heart. To read of all the ritual duties before, during, and after a death was overwhelming. The way the Japanese deal with and understand death seems so over-involved and over-done. In the past, I have appreciated and really respected other cultures’ ways of burying the dead (Afro-Carab in Honduras) because they seemed so much healthier than our American “White” way; but not this. Its like the Japanese can’t deal with the reality of sudden and immanent death so there are all these ongoing narratives to give them comfort, connect death to life despite its quality, and possibly provide additional time to rationally deal with those raw emotions—something they are accustomed to pushing down and keeping hidden. Maybe this is why aware is so important and collectively understood as explained in the chapter on folktales.

    My Japanese friend told me a few stories about her paternal grandfather dying when she was 14 years old. She said they had a funeral company take care of the rituals. There was a wake, cremation, and ceremonies at 49 days, one year, and three years after death. She still visits her living grandmother sometimes. Her immediate family does not have a traditional shrine set up in their city apartment but her grandmother has one at her house in the country. She spoke candidly of the belief in dying things coming back as animals or nature. I asked her if that meant that she was more careful not to kick the dog, and she laughed. This gave me a brief opportunity to share about Christian beliefs in heaven and hell, and the experience and purpose of eternal life with Christ.

    These were easy conversations because she knew I had recently lost three family members since the New Year because it had been while she was living with us. Each month until corona-virus lockdown I had traveled to see family and take part in the funerals. Then, I would come home and share with her about the experience as much as I could. I can’t imagine the stress of having to deal with all the ritual ceremonies associated with one family member, no less three, while just trying to survive the grief! How impossibly overwhelming! Lord, be with these grieving friends as they search for answers that are not there. May they see the hope, comfort, and love that you offer!

    • Ethan Silveus

      Great thoughts Emily! I really enjoyed your response and you had some great thoughts! I too really enjoyed the chapter on Omiai! I’m glad to hear that, though you didnt get to talk about omiai with your friend, the conversation still sounds like it was really great! Thanks for sharing!

  • 2

    Japanese Marriage

    Ethan Silveus
    Reply

    This weeks reading was once again fantastic but there was one thing above the rest that really stood out to me, and that was the Japanese Marriages. This really resonated with me, and I think it is because my wife and I are coming up on our one year anniversary! Our wedding is still very fresh in my mind along with many of the memories leading up to it, so reading this weeks reading was interesting as I grappled with trying to relate on how marriage worked there! Here in the US, my wedding was no exception, we are allowed to be incredibly selective with who we choose to marry, and really, the most our families usually interact with it is whether or not they approve of the to-be spouse, but even if they don’t, there is no repercussions usually! This is so vastly different to the Japanese traditions where most the time at least the parents are still choosing. I understand that this is evolving a bit and people are just now starting to choose more independently, but the majority are still arranged marriages at the moment from what it sounded like. It was also hard for me to grasp a bit with the age at which they get married. Now, I understand that that is also the average age here, right around 30 or late 20’s, but I was 21 when I was married and I can’t begin to imagine how the next 7-9 years of my life would look like had I waited that long to get married! With all that said, I have a few questions that come to mind that you may be able to answer…
    1. Does ministry look different for Japanese couples than it might look here in the US? If so, how is it different and do you have any advice?
    2. What are you thoughts on arranged marriages, and how do you see the effects of more independent marriages effecting the Japanese society if at all?

    Thanks for reading! I look forward to your answers! God bless!

    • Emily Frey

      Hey Ethan, thanks for your reflections on marriage!
      Most of the students I have asked about marriage tell me that their parents married out of love and not an arranged situation (and they plan to do the same). Their grandparents are usually the last generation to have had arranged marriages, yet are the only ones still together after all these years. Divorce seems to be more prevalent than the country would publicly admit to. I was surprised to be told so many times by the students that their parents no longer lived together. It was always hard to get a good read on what their thoughts or feelings were about that. Generally, they admitted their fathers had little to do with them anyway so it was any different. Yet, they could all agree that their mothers worked incredibly hard.

    • Gregg Hutton

      Hi, Ethan. Congratulations on your marriage and your soon-to-be one-year anniversary! You have some great questions. The first one would be a good discussion point for all of us to take up.
      I’ll share with you a bit of what I learned through this set of readings and interaction with my Japanese friends. I spoke with a Japanese woman in our church and she thinks that numbers are even for arranged marriages (miai) and love marriages (renai). As Emily pointed out, people in their 70s and beyond have a higher percentage of arranged marriages. It seems that many people who do have arranged marriages are in higher social circles. The woman I spoke to met her husband at the company where they both worked. Japanese call it “shokuba kekkon.” It has been a big part of the couple’s process toward getting married to have the man meet the woman’s family. Fathers used to have a great deal of say in this, but I’m not so sure anymore. There are many couples who wait to get married and just live together. That has become more accepted in Japan. Sadly, many of the university students I teach have accepted the idea that living together is good preparation for marriage. Some parents have even encouraged this.
      Emily is also correct in saying that the moms work very hard, often doing a lot of the childraising on their own since the father has, or is, usually at work 5-6 days/week until late. That can be changing now, and with the coronavirus and more men working from home, there are good aspects–like the dads seeing how much the mothers do–and bad things too. Stress-related divorce, DV and other abuse being reported in the media. Please be praying for Japanese families.

  • 1

    Week 3

    tidus
    Reply

    Surprised to see that arranged marriage is still a method of finding love as I do think it is starting to become outdated for the most part. I know a couple (Age 29 and 30) who did not marry through arrangement and although they are only just one pair who didn’t, I don’t think the younger generation will continue this process especially since both men and women in Japan are starting to not even marry at all.

    I’ve never attended a Buddhist or Shinto funeral but I have been given the opportunity to pay respects to my friend’s grandparents in Taiwan in a Buddhist tradition. I must say that it is a wonderful way to remember those who have gone before us and the similarities of one living in a different world also resonate with heaven in a way if you think about it. We will all end up in a better place after death and I think that can be a key in sharing the gospel when the topic of death is presented.

    In Chapter 15 of Iitoki-Dori, I noticed Christianity was mentioned a little bit towards the end. I’m curious to why it has not been very successful ever since the adoption long ago. Since most of this week focused on Buddhism and Shinto, I imagine it must be difficult for a Japanese person to transition to Christianity in many ways. This can be talked about a lot but I do think some Christians can be a bit harsh when introducing Christianity to non-believers and I believe a careful approach is needed not to just Japanese but to those who don’t know Christ in general.

    • Gregg Hutton

      Chris, you are correct. A careful approach, one done in love with prayer and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit is very important in sharing Christ with Japanese. Counting the cost of following Christ is one of the most important steps a person can make in any culture. Following Jesus, making Him the Lord of life, is counter-culture in so many places. Japan seems to embrace new things and attitudes as long as they don’t rock the boat. Daniel and his friends in Babylon, Jesus and those who followed Him, the first Christians, came up against the worship of many gods. Believers in Japan can love their families, love their country and culture, yet how do they do that without compromising their faith? It is very difficult. Please be praying for Japanese believers and for the church in Japan to stand upon the truth of the Bible and love their families and others around them as Christ leads them.

  • 0

    Iitoko-dori and the Spread of the Gospel

    scbehar
    Reply

    Ministry in any context is difficult. This is true because despite our best efforts the results belong to God alone. So, whether we are trying to reach Bible-belt, nominal “Christians” in the USA or Japanese people the task of ministry is beyond our capabilities. We need God to work. When considering cultural phenomenon in general and Japanese culture in particular it is important to remember that the barriers exist in the human realm and specifically to human communication. No barrier exists that the gospel cannot break through.
    Japanese culture has gone through a few important shifts. The adoption of an emperor system based on a descendent of a “god” was an early development. The later absorption of Buddhism and Confucian values again changed behaviors and societal rules. Further gains and losses culturally and globally have firmly established a key aspect of the Japanese mind: changeability and ready assimilation of new ideas. Almost all cultures do this, but the Japanese are marked by their ability to assimilate a new idea and make it Japanese. This means that even conflicting ideas can be brought into Japanese culture and held in balance. This is possible because Shintoism has no set doctrinal foundations. Gender roles, sexuality, societal roles, and even religious ideas can shift in less than a generation. The one exemption seems to be the gospel of Jesus. The exclusivity of the message that Jesus saves sinners by faith in him alone makes Christianity distasteful to most people, but to the Japanese culture it is a black eye.
    What can be done about this? Not much can be done to alter the gospel. Changing it means making a new gospel, which is no gospel at all. The overcoming of this barrier is ultimately in the hands of God, but the follower of Jesus that wants to live out their faith in Japan must consistently model the gentleness, meekness, love, and devotion of Jesus. Japanese culture is full of examples of single-minded devotion. Humility and gentleness are highly valued characteristics. Fidelity in personal relationships is the core of all honor-shame cultures. The barriers of communication can be overcome by being present for long enough to show your Japanese neighbor or friend that the gospel has changed your life for the better. The hope is that the gospel will change their life too.