24 Jan BEAUTIFUL THINGS I SEE IN JAPAN: A Foreigner’s Perspective

E. Devin Vander Meulen II, Staff at YWAM Tokyo

CULTURE OF HONOR: In 2011, I landed in Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan for the very first time. Immediately, I noticed a strong cultural value for honor. After growing up in the west for 25 years, I was very surprised in the most wonderful way to be confronted with a nation that honors zealously. The Japanese flight attendants had been different, the customs officials so kind, the people on the train so amiable. The more time that I spent in this beautiful nation, the more I began to see how kindness and honor dominate every fascinate of life.

I have now been here for almost two years, and have seen young people get out of their seat on a train so that an elderly person could sit. I have watched as a whole room of people rose to their feet to lovingly greet a pastor as he entered the room. One time I walked into a store and asked for directions, and the employee walked two city blocks with me instead of just telling me the way. Another time I went for a hike on Mount Takao and met an elderly man that bought me lunch, hiked the mountain with me and took me with him to the next peak too and then helped me find a bus and the right train home. I also remember being embraced by an elderly Japanese pastor that weeped as he hugged me and thanked me for coming to Japan. And with tears in my eyes, I got to see a lady honor her husband in front of a whole room of youth as she introduced him as the speaker. Later I got to see him also honor his wife and talk about their journey together.

Everywhere I look in Japan I see honor, respect, selflessness, and servant heartedness. What my heart longs for is to see the fullness of this come to life as God brings revival to Japan and Japanese people start walking more and more in the fullness of each of these beautiful traits.

HIGH VALUE FOR BEAUTY: Japan is a nation that understands beauty. Form, Function, Life. Beauty is everywhere in this nation. The people are beautiful, the nature here is stunning, the art is wonderful, the architecture intricate and detailed. Even fruit is displayed in visual perfection, boasting tasteful juiciness. What I have come to learn is that Japan longs for beauty. Japan is drawn by beauty. And Japan is a nation that carries beauty in their very hearts, mindsets, and faces.

It is not my desire to compare and contrast in a negative way. I do want to share though about some interesting aspects of beauty I see in Japan. One example are the public parks. Never have I seen such well tended, colorful, layered, and multi textured parks before. The longer that I have lived here, the more that I have realized that everything is done intentionally and also with aesthetic intentionality. I am constantly amazed at the beauty of buildings’ interiors, the intricacies of silverware, the quality of everyday products, and the well kept flower gardens outside of many city homes.

I have recently learned that in many ways, Buddhism was originally evangelized into Japan through beautiful art. I would love to see what it would look like for Japan to see Christians expressing the beauty of God through art. That is why I am part of a new ministry here at the YWAM Tokyo base that aims to use art as a form of evangelism in Japan. I also believe that the Japanese people carry amazing hearts for worship and I long to see a generation of Japanese people radically in love with God and worshiping Him as the most beautiful thing.

PEACE + STRUCTURE: The Japanese people love structure, order, and peace. As someone who has an analytical mind and a love for detail and systems, it has not been too hard to adjust to this wonderful culture. Even so, I am continually amazed by the intense level of detail, organization, teamwork and structure that exist in every part of Japanese life. For example, when walking through a train station (some of which have 2,000,000 people pass through a day), I am amazed at how so many people can occupy such small places, all be moving in different directions, and yet never run into each other! It is quiet fun to spend time in busy train stations and observe these mind boggling displays of navigational awareness, unspoken communication, and community organization.

I have been told that in different parts of Japan the community of people that live there decide upon rules for walking. For example, where I live, I have been told that when you are about to cross paths with someone walking directly toward you, my town has universally decided that you will turn left. When both people turn left at the same time they avoid running into each other. It sounds kind of strange but I have been testing it and it works almost every time. Another powerful example was when I went up north to do disaster relief work for the 2011 tsunami. I was amazed to see that almost all of the cleanup work was done by hand. There were very few machines at work. Instead, a complex network of organized man power slowly restored order to the geography of chaos.

In all of this I see a desire to do things well, to work together in a team, and to maintain a community standard of living that puts the group above oneself. I think that this is very beautiful and reminds me of the kingdom principles of service and selflessness. And I think God likes when people do things well. Yet I also long to see Japan freed from a national stronghold of perfectionism. I believe that this will only come as Japanese people encounter the radical love of the Father, walk into their full identity as sons and daughters of the King and fully know that they are loved for who they are not for what they do.

SUMMARY: These are a few observations that I have made while living here in Japan. I love this place. I intentionally wrote this blog post from my perspective as it is meant to be just that. I do not claim to know everything Japanese. I don’t even claim to see things perfectly. Far from it. My desire is to simply share what I see, a glimpse from a foreigner.

(Devin is a precise instrument of the Lord, with an eye for graphic design and art. He is on his second year as a DTS staff.)