The other day I was hanging out with my good man Ross. We spent our time doing our normal activities: reminiscing about growing up in the 80/90s, searching for somewhere that sells UK-chip-shop-quality-chips, and ranting a bit about Japanese culture.
Now as two Brits (at least for the time being: we’ll see what happens with Scotland) we do quite well at ranting about the differences between Japan and the UK. Often we focus on fairly trivial stuff, like how hard it is to find good chips here, but this time we also talked about more serious issues. Like how many Japanese children experience bullying (and how extreme that bullying can be) and how the pressure to work drives people to emotional and physical breakdowns.
At one point Ross turned to me and asked,
“But do you think Japan will ever change?”
Now let me just interject here (is it still an interjection if it’s your own words?) and say that I love Japan. Love it to bits. I love the people. I love the natural beauty. I love (most of) the food. I love the language (though it drives me crazy some times). And I think there’s a lot that the UK (and elsewhere) could learn from Japan’s culture.
But . . .
There is a dark side to Japan. Problems that I am unashamed to say I want to see changed.
I’ve already mentioned the school bullying, and the work pressure. But there’s more:
- Pornography that is frighteningly available (as in, you can see it through the window of convenience stores).
- Homelessness that seems to be largely ignored by the authorities.
- Countless men who spend all their spare time and money drinking and gambling.
- Family breakdowns.
It’s no surprise really that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
And now I know it’s popular to say that all religions essentially teach the same thing (or at least the same ethics) or/and that principles such as “love your neighbour as yourself” are common sense. But honestly I would say that Japan is an example of what happens when you have an advanced nation that has a morality not based on the gospel of grace that Jesus brought.
The first protestant missionary came to Japan over 150 years, proclaiming forgiveness and freedom in Jesus name. And yet (if my maths is correct) you are still more likely in Japan to commit suicide than you are to trust in Christ.
But the other night I saw something that reminded me to have hope. To believe that yes, Japan can change.
I saw the moon.
We went up to mt. Moiwa and looked out over Sapporo. It was a clear night and the moon was shining beautiful and bright in the sky. A lot like this:
As I admired the moon I remembered a sermon I had heard a couple of months ago where the preacher mentioned something I had never really appreciated about the moon before–something moon tells us:
Morning is coming.
Because the moon itself is just a rock, right. It doesn’t produce any light of its own. It simply reflects the light of the sun. The sun that is temporarily blocked from our sight. And as it does, the moon proclaims,
Yes, now it is night, and darkness covers the land. But morning is coming. The sun will come back into sight. Indeed I can see it now. Don’t lose heart. Have hope.
Japan is known as the land of the rising sun. But to be honest, it often feels more like the land of perpetual night. I sometimes feel like, when is the sun going to really rise on Japan?
But I believe the morning is coming.
I believe that because I’ve experienced the overwhelming power of the kindness and grace of Jesus in my own life. I don’t have time to go into detail here, but I sometimes think that Jesus saved me because He wanted a challenge. My heart was so messed up you wouldn’t believe. And yet the light of the Son of God has shone into my life, burning up old desires and changing the culture of my heart. So I believe He can do the same for the people of Japan.
There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis that I love,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun. Not only because I have seen it rise, but because by its light I see everything else.”
That’s the same reason I believe in Christianity. I’ve seen the sun rise and give light to my life. In that way (and I know this sounds weird) I want to act like a moon in Japan. Not that I’m a source of hope in and of myself, but I want to reflect the light of Jesus so that people will see me and know that the Son of God has risen.
Morning is coming.