Packed trains, crowded sidewalks, unfamiliar smells, bewildering signs and a perplexing language that sounded completely unlike the vocabulary and grammar lessons that we so diligently studied before our arrival. Here we were in Tokyo, Japan – a city and country unlike any in our experience.
Married Goshen College graduates, Wade and I had enjoyed several jobs each, but both felt a tug toward doing some type of service. After exploring a variety of options, we surprised ourselves and our families when we settled on working as support personnel for JEM, a small mission organization centered on providing Bible training for church pastors and teachers in Niigata prefecture, on the west coast of Japan, a country where less than one percent of the residents identify as Christians. Wade focused on photography and creating slide shows while I composed newsletters and other communication as needed by the organization. Preparing for this venture included three months of language and cultural training in Washington DC before finally arriving in Kashiwazaki, our hometown for two amazing years. In that time, aside from one preplanned phone call, staying in touch with family and friends in the US was through blue aerogramme letters and occasional photographs.
Adjusting to an ancient culture vastly different from our rural Ohio setting provided exciting as well as daunting experiences that broadened our Mennonite horizons, expanded our spiritual growth, and taught us more than we could imagine about working together harmoniously as a couple and as part of a caring team of diverse coworkers. Several have remained special friends for fifty years. The most consequential event during our time in Japan was welcoming our dear baby daughter Leah, born on the Emperor’s birthday!
Looking back after many years, we can still see life changing lessons and habits from our time of service. Some are simple, like never wearing shoes in the house, eating Asian food with chopsticks, or feeling the need for a slight bow when greeting or thanking someone. These actions became so much a part of our everyday life that we almost forget their origin.
We remember gracious manners that permeate the culture, and understand the value of adopting behaviors that benefit the community, rather than insisting on personal freedom to do as we please.
Respect for history, tradition and beauty is so ingrained, that Japan designates artists, and others who have contributed to society as Living National Treasures. I think this focus has inspired us to appreciate the ever-changing beauty in nature and also to encourage the talents and skills of family and friends in their ventures. I could also wax on and on about the techniques and delights of arranging flowers that are so esteemed in Japan!
We remain grateful for the Lord’s leading and protection that we felt in so many ways. Wise leaders supported us and became “family” to fill in when ours were far away. Singing and worshipping together in varied settings brought encouragement. Our lives have been immeasurably enriched through the time we spent in the Land of the Rising Sun, and the joy lingers in myriad ways.