An unexpected find
While going for my regular (three times weekly) 6km runs, I noticed something rather unexpected (for Japan) along the route. A bottle brush flower! This is a flower which is native to where I'm from in Australia! What was it doing in Japan? What was the chance of one being along my running route? So far this is the only bottle brush that I've seen in Japan, I wonder if this person is a collector of rare flowering plants? Well it was something that brightened my days as I ran passed it while it was in bloom. A little reminder of Perth, and big reminder that God is always watching over me. I went back at later time of day with the camera and got this photo.
Some links to photos of bottle brushes I've taken in Perth:-
Since we finally came to the end of a rather busy period of English classes. Ritsuko and I decided to catch the train into Kawaramachi and have dinner at “MOS Burger” as a bit of a celebration.
Now MOS Burger is a Japanese chain of hamburger restaurants that make much better burgers and fries, than that other way more famous Hamburger chain starting with “M”. Actually I would say that their burgers are comparable with the burgers from Fast Eddies (a chain in Perth), yet cheeper and faster. Unfortunately MOS Burger is getting a bit harder to find now due to the popularity of that other way more famous chain starting with “M”. There used to be an outlet of MOS Burger in Nagaokakyo (before we moved here), but now it's gone, so we have to go to Kawaramachi. If you're visiting Japan and craving for a burger, please visit MOS Burger rather than that other chain starting with “M”, you may be pleasantly surprised.
First day at Kindergarten
Well, after more than four months of waiting (from the time I did the training) and a lot of preparation, I finally had my first day of teaching English at Megumi (Grace) Kindergarten. I'm loving it. I would say that this would have to be my best job ever! And I've had some good jobs and working environments over my 14 year IT career in Perth. There is nothing more rewarding than to be able to teach children and see them learning something. Especially when you're exposing them to a totally new language and culture.
My Dad, who for about the last 18 or so years has worked as a career counsellor, once was telling me about how there is a growing trend of people who have “portfolio careers”. That is rather than follow a traditional career path in a given profession, over time have various career changes. Sometimes this is out of necessity, because jobs get replaced by technology changes. Other times it's more for personal reasons, someone just wants a change. When I look at what I'm doing now, I'm actually juggling a portfolio (Pastor, Kindergarten Teacher, English Teacher in own school, Photographer) of jobs at the one time. While it can be busy, stressful, and frustrating trying something so far from my profession. At the same time I feel that I'm now living my best life so far, and I have no desire to go back to being a full time Business Analyst, Systems Analyst or Programmer. However the things I learnt from those jobs certainly help me in unexpected ways in the teaching jobs.
It's is such a privilege to be working with Megumi Kindergarten both directly and indirectly as we share with the Japanese people the Hope that we have in Jesus Christ. When I read articles like this one ( http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSTRE54D21P20090514
) about the increasing number of young Japanese committing suicide, I feel the Gospel message is needed here more than ever.
Coming to Japan was a real step of faith. We are not on the payroll or associated with any missionary society. We do have a couple of income sources from assets in Australia and some income from book sales of our 4 published works. However, we had no jobs to come to here and the Australia Dollar at the time had plummeted against the Yen, meaning that we only wanted to transfer a little at a time to Japan. That made us learn to live on very little. The first month we were busy settling in, from December we started “James English Class”, we ran a month long advertising campaign. After a month and a half we had one student! A note to anyone coming to Japan and starting there own English School, it's hard to get people out of their houses in winter! At the end of January another missionary (who we had only met once prior) suddenly and unexpectedly decided to return to Australia handing us over 12 students. We now have about 25 students that either come to our house or the community centre (where we hire a room twice a week).
In March “James English Class” began a contract to teach English to employees of a company that is based near the Hankyu Sone station. This happens on the second Saturday of the month. Ritsuko, I and one more teacher who we employ casually for the class make the trip from Kyoto to Sone which is near Itami in Osaka-fu. In the morning we all teach beginners classes, in the afternoon I have an advanced class with the International Sales team, which is a chance to put my MBA skills to good use.
While we still have not got anywhere near the level of income we had in Australia (maybe 1/5), we're starting to reach the stage we're we are getting enough to live on and maybe a bit left over to buy and process some film! However, I realise now just how much I wasted money in Australia, these past 6 months in Japan taught meet a lot about what's really necessary, it's also helped in increase my faith.
The Carp Festival
Now in Japan there always seems to be male and female days. Whereas in the west Valentines day is where couples give each other gifts, in Japan only men get gifts on Valentines day, but a month later is White day where the men give the ladies a gift in return. The same is for the Children there is the Dolls festival for the girls (on the 5th of March see http://www.pbase.com/jameslclarke/image/111286709)
and then the Carp Festival for the boys on the 5th of May. The funny thing is that 5th of May is also a public holiday called “Children's Day” whereas there is no public holiday on the 5th of March.
So the question is do we as Christians fly Koi Carps for our sons? There are some groups who would avoid doing this. However we must remember that many of our so called “Christian” Holidays have pagan origins (like “Christmas” and “Easter”). I think as long you are not worshipping another god, and the you place the focus of the holiday is on Jesus then it's OK to celebrate them. At the same time I think we can go without these holidays and still be just as good Christians, but these holidays are good bridges to connect with other people in the world and share the Gospel with them. When I was in Singapore the church I attended there used to celebrate the “Holy Ghost Festival” as Christian version of the “Hungry Ghost Festival”, and it was a time of a lot of evangelism and it connected with people there. The church I attended in Bangkok has it's own ways of celebrating Songkran Festival and Helping the Elderly (rather than praying to ancestors).
It all comes down to contextualisation rather than syncretism. Contextualisation is adapting our method of presentation, but not the core message, to fit a cultural context. Syncretism is where we mix our ideas with other cultures ideas to come up with something acceptable to the culture. So contextualisation is the right approach, syncretism is the wrong one.
So, a contextualised carp festival, might be through drawing parallels with some of the perceived virtues of of the carp with Christian values. Maybe rather than a journey to the mountain to be come a dragon, it could be though of as the journey of our Christian life battling the currents of the world as we press on towards the goal that is heaven.
Now, I know there will be some at the extreme fundamentalist end of the spectrum who will now label us as heretical. Here is a word for you “Just as your (spiritual) ancestors the Pharisees stumbled people from the truth by making it so exclusive, you do the same except with a 'Christian' label. Wake Up! You're stumbling many and saving very few.”