Well now I’m in Japan, and have just finished OMF orientation. We’ve spent a couple of days learning a tiny amount of the language and a bit more about Japanese culture and religions.

But first some observations about Japan. The thing that I found most surprising was how small the streets are! They are very narrow and tight, and have so little traffic. I knew a lot of people took the trains, but I guess it really must be the dominant method of transportation, aside from walking and biking. The train stations are huge and the trains are probably twice as long as in Brisbane… so they can fit a lot more people in.

The food is pretty decent and some is moderately priced, though tomatoes aren’t! I went to the supermarket today, and they seemed to be close to 100 yen each, about four times what I thought, though I must have misread the sign. Which is not surprising as I can’t read Japanese, but I’m sure it said 98 not 398!

The people are very lovely, quite and polite. They really do keep their country beautiful, and they put ours to shame. Which makes what we learnt in orientation all the sadder. The Japanese people value their traditions hugely, especially so in the area of religion. The two largest religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism, though they seem to have somewhat merged together here. What is sad though is that even though it’s been estimated that only around 5% of the people actually believe these religions are true, they pretty much all still participate in their practices. To not follow these practices is to go against tradition and to be un-Japanese. This is especially the case with ancestor worship. In Japan it is believed that when you die you become a new Buddha, and so to not follow the practises is to show disrespect to your ancestors and family, even when the people know it’s not true.

We visited a Buddhist temple today, and one thing I noticed were what seemed to be prayers for sale. For 100 yen you could buy a paper prayer to tie around a cable nearby. Surely these people must realise that a religion where you can buy prayers, and at such a low price, cannot be true! But as those leading the orientation told us, truth is not always valued highly here. Even if a person understands and even agrees with the Gospel, they may not personally accept it as that would mean they would have to stop following several of their traditions. Being Japanese and following the traditions is so important to these people.

Please pray that even though I am completely unprepared, I may still be able to help the Japanese church here, and the same for the rest of my team. Pray that the people might understand that truth does matter, and that the Gospel transcends culture and accepting Jesus does not mean rejecting their Japanese identity. And praise God for the wonderful work he is doing in so many of the churches here!