Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thursday May 19, 2011 Road Warriors and Reflections

Scott the airline pilot and Ian the New Zealand expat who has a Japanese wife and little girl, are driving the HiAce back to Osaka with me. Chad will be leaving later today after supervising some volunteers who are acquaintances of the sensei. Then Eric will oversee the team, so the work goes on without me but part of my heart will be with the team and the victims we helped. Yesterday the government deemed it safe to travel through the 80 km radius of Fukushima Power Plant, which is a good thing because the Tohoku Expressway goes through that circle and that’s the way we’re going regardless. Between Koriyama and Fukushima City we get a rare treat—we spot a little smoke rising from the Adatara Volcano.

We make great time; after having left at 9:30, we take all the right turns and make it to Osaka by 8pm for last pictures and goodbyes. And I still have time to catch the trains, including the shinkansen back to Kojima the same day (evening). I’ll have 4 days with Brent and Sandy before leaving the 24th for the States. Just in time to say goodbye to Paul and Stacey and Titus before they head back north to their mission church in Haruna/Goma.

Some last “uniquely Japan” observations.
• Everyone uses cash in Japan, hardly even saw a credit card or ATM
• No tipping
• The US is a car culture; Japan is a bicycle/train culture
• Never see an old car in Japan (but plenty of old bikes); Never see an old bike in US (but plenty of old cars)
• People ride bikes at a slow and steady pace with the seats low and their knees rising above their waists as they pedal
• Bike locks are attached to the bikes at the rear brake and kickstands at the rear axle so it only takes a second to park your bike and lock it, and then hop back on it after your errand
• Crushed gravel is used instead of grass at many city parks
• A lot of rivers
• Almost no one is overweight; in fact everyone is lean. I wonder if all the middle aged and older women I see hoeing in the vegetable gardens have something to do with it. PS. The weight problem was the first thing I was struck by, upon returning to the US.
• The trains and buses don’t have the public service ads about civic action or health/mental health awareness like we do in the states. What they do have are ads for entertainment, places to eat out, and theme parties/events.
• School uniforms and backpacks (the backpacks cost $70, they’re “required,” made of heavy leather, and intended to last for years)
• Train stations, banks, markets, doctor offices, all have more employees working and positions staffed than in the US. Helps job security, reduces unemployment.
• There are way more car models in Japan, and many of them are more sleekly styled than in the US
• What I called K cars are actually Kei cars (and trucks)
• The vacant lots scattered among the houses, where we saw so much debris and belongings piled up? Many of them were actually rice fields. Urban rice fields and gardens are everywhere, even in the cities. No level land is wasted—where there are no buildings there are rice fields.
• Houses aren’t painted on the inside; they’re covered with textured wall covering. Floors aren’t carpeted; they’re covered with tatami mats or left with the hardwood showing
• Do not open your taxi door; the driver opens and closes it remotely
• No pickup trucks; the work trucks are all flat bed, low side open delivery trucks
• On weekdays, every male office worker wears a suit and tie; so do high school boys if they’re not wearing uniforms
• Every single person I met was pleasant and helpful; some were merely being properly polite, but those I got to know were sincerely interested and appreciative when I told them what I was doing.

• Beautiful scenery and countrysides, expressway tunnel entrances decorated like swans; but what was not attractive: thickets of telephone poles and wires, and (to my eye) chunky, blocky concrete elevated railroad tracks and stations.
• Fortunately I’ll miss the hot, sticky rainy season coming up

Will I come back to Japan? Everyone says it would be a shame to have learned the smattering of Japanese I picked up and not come back. But it’s the hugs and tears of Grandma Teruko Oikawa from Kitakami Cho, and the unsettling nudges of God’s Spirit that will most likely work on me over the months to come.

What did I learn? One thing is people require a long investment. Programs and projects can be hard work, but when you’re done, you’re done. People, you’ve got to hang in there even when they disappoint (Demas, 2 Tim. 4.10). I’m still learning to invest in people. Jesus chose twelve that they might be with him, and follow him as he showed them Kingdom principles in every facet of life. I’m so glad that our team spent time listening and building relationships. By the way, the same principle applies to kids—I’ve heard people say, “I don’t want kids, they’re too hard.” Of course, they are messy and loud and irrational and may even break your heart, but there is no better investment, nor richer reward.

A final anecdote about the sensei and I’ll close for now.

When we were cleaning the sensei’s other dojo, Abigail pointed out a sign on the wall and told me the following: Sensei and his students used to compete in the national karate leagues, but he got fed up with attitudes and favoritism at those meets. So he started and developed his own system, with an emphasis on youth character development. And before we arrived, he was already collecting relief supplies for families of his students and others who had lost everything. The sensei is also a chiropractor and has

shelves and shelves of books covering health, physical fitness and inspiring better youth. On the wall of the dining/living area is a quote from Thomas Edison in Japanese and English that goes something like this: “The doctor of the future will not spend his time treating sickness, but instead teaching people how to keep their bodies healthy.”

Why do I mention all this now? You see, when God providentially put the people in our path that would lead us to that dojo, he wasn’t just bringing the team to a temporary operations base, God was leading us to just the right dojo and just the right sensei. I believe the sensei’s heart was already prepared to be the kind of “man of peace” that Jesus in Luke 10 told the 70 disciples to look for and stay with.

Even Joe and the over-the-top Calvary Chapel guys were just the right ones to put down that temporary floor in Yukari’s house.

“Who knows but that you were put here for such a time as this (Esth. 4.14).”

Sometimes it just makes me shiver to see how God works.