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24 December 2013

"Chinmoku (Silence)" by Japanese Christian novelist

The novel was written by Japan's most notable novelist in 20th century, Endo Shusaku.

Recently the news that Hollywood decided to make the story into film next year was reported. The setting of the story was early 17th century of Nagasaki, Japan when the government ruled ban on Chrisitianity and entry of foreigners except Chinese and Dutch. That policy was aimed to get rid of western influence on its society in order to avoid colonization. Dutch was neutral as for this matter. Dutch hated Catholic nations and advised Japanese government to stop trading with Catholic nations.

The story started with a news that one most prominent and highly respected missionary sent to Japan abandoned his faith after severe torturing by Japanese authority. That shocked two Portuguese Catholic priests. They decided to secretly enter into one secretly Christian village in order to locate the missionary and continue Chrisian preaching for the localies.

However, they were found and arrested by Nagasaki authority and then their followers were tortured to death. One of the two died. One surviving one prayed God for his tortured followers but no salvage was done. God kept silence.

Later he finally met the person he wanted to meet from the beginning. The missionary he once respected whom he tried to locate. He was advised by the missionary to abandon his faith just as he did. Then he followed his advise. What he did was stepping on plate of engraved Jesus Christ picture. That was most usual custom to check if a person is Christian or not in those days. If you could do that, that proved you were never Christian or you just abandone your faith by doing so. He stepped on it to save tortured followers. It was a deal with the authority.

Since that era, Japanese Christian teaching was totally abandoned until it was re-allowed in late 19th century.

Surprisingly the story is based on real characters and real events. In the book the authority says "Christianity can never place roots on Japanese land. It is never universal teaching." That sounds true.

In fact centuries after that era, even after freedom of faith was insured by the constitution, less than 1 % of the population are Christian today. More surprisingly in this season you can veiw many illumination and Christmas trees and find Christmas events in Tokyo. But very few of them are dedicated Christians. Japanese Christmas events are nothing but commercial purpose.

One remain of Christianity of that era may be tea ceremony. There is a legend that Japanese tea ceremony was modeled after Christian mass ceremony in that era. In fact founder of tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyu was a man of the era that Christianity was still allowed and his wife and daughter were Christian.

If that is true, Christianity was continued throughout banned era. The root was placed. Praise Jesus and Praise tea!


13 February 2013

Learning Japanese heritage from a Canadian

I went to Kyoto last weekend holidays. The main purpose of the trip was to meet a foreign instructor of Japanese Sado. Do you know what Sado is? Sa means tea, Do means way, meaning "Way of tea." You can learn how to serve tea and sweets to guests and how to be served as guests.

Some people not only foreiners but even Japanese claim that it is too much of formality. I always thought that way. But my encounter with this Sado instructor changed my view.

His name is Randy-san. He manages a cafe in Kyoto. He is a Canadian man who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years. He first came to Japan to learn martial arts but later found out he had to be skillful for both martial arts and academic things. Then he chose Sado.

I joined his cafe's tea ceremony lesson for beginners. 6 students including me attended the lesson. His Japanese is excellent. He wore a very suitable kimono for tea ceremony. Only I wore kimono among 6 Japanese attendees. Actually my kimono was not suitable for tea ceremony.


He could explain every detail of Sado such as how to prepare and proceed.  

Then each student was instructed to perfom how to do each act of pouring hot water, mix with tea powder and then serve guests and how to be served. It is precisely ruled like social dances. No free form on your own. You have to memorize each act and perform that in public to be a good host and guest. That is kind of a hard thing to do. Interesting those things should be taught by a Japanese instructor but this time the other way around. I, Japanese was a student and Randy-san, Canadian was an instructor.

kyoto,kimono, tea ceremony,

He said "up, pull, cover" when I try to bring up hot water from the pot. I had to repeat that 3 times. Weird, just for bringing up, you have to know how to do each act. But that is the way of tea ceremony.

I asked him why we should follow so many rules just for tea ceremony.

He answered that we should not consider them rules rather these are manners. It is fun to have meals and drinks without manners in casual clothes relaxing at home. But you can also enjoy formal dinner at high class restaurant wearing formal clothes. Just like that. You can enjoy such formality.

He said significance of Sado is like significance of life.

Wow, it seems a foreinger, westerner had a better view on Japanese culture because he sees things objectively.

Maybe that is a dilenma we, Japanese including me have had for a long time. He just seemed to solve that instantly.

It is like how I learnt why Geisha girls put thick white make-ups on their faces by a Hollywood film "Memoirs of a Geisha." In the old days party rooms were so dark without strong lights that Geishas needed such make-ups to shine their faces to be recognized. Japanese films don't usually show indoor darkness of the old days. Without knowing darkness of that period, you can never learn how the old time people live and see the world. Hollywood did a better job in that sense.

Ironically Randy-san got me more interest in one of my country's heritage. Similar thing happened in sports field recently. Judo has been criticized for causing scandals such as harrassment and violent instruction to female athletes. International Judo organization denouced that scandal saying that violent instruction is against original philosophy established by a founder of Judo, Kano Jigoro.

We, Japanese are forgetting what we really are. We have to bring it back!