Christmas in Japan
A Short Lesson on Japanese Culture that Pertains Directly to My Life Here:

Yes, the Japanese celebrate Christmas--- by eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. Its true-- several years ago KFC aired a commercial in Japan that depicted a white family eating together at KFC on Christmas and from that the Japanese concluded that "American Christmas=KFC." So if a Japanese family wants to eat at KFC on Christmas, they have to make reservations far in advance, and it is the busiest day of the year for the restaurant. The statue of Colonel Sanders outside the restaurant is currently in a Santa suit.

Christmas here is largely a commercial holiday. Stores go ALL OUT with decorations, and people decorate their homes a little, too. But they don't really exchange gifts. And they don't have a big meal that day. The stores are all open on the 25th, and people go to work that day. Its all commercial-- similar to the U.S., but at least many Americans still have some traditions they stick to, like being with family or something. Not the Japanese. No Jesus involved.

Which is typical of most of Japanese life. Less than 1% of Japanese are Christians. Many Japanese don't really believe anything. They may ascribe to Shinto beliefs-- they'll go to shrines on special holidays, have Shinto funerals, buy lucky charms, etc.-- but there is no real conviction. Some people also claim to be Buddhist, but even then it is not a deeply-held conviction. Maybe they just like Buddhist teachings, think they're a good idea for living, but that's it. The Japanese ideas of morals are different too. Its not: "This is wrong, I shouldn't do it," but "I can't do this because I can't get away with it." Many Japanese are consumed with materialism. They have strong ties to their family, but that's about all the deep conviction a typical Japanese has.

Granted, there are exceptions. I have gotten to know many Japanese in the Christian community here. These people are definitely outside the box for Japanese culture, because they are deeply commited to Christ and to their church and their Christian communities. Most of the churches in Shimonoseki will do things with other chruches and they're all kind of networked together. For example, I was invited to a Christmas celebration at Yamanota church, but I don't normally attend that church: I attend at different church which is loosely connected to the Yamanota church. I also attend some Bible studies or get-togethers that are put on by other churches in the area, as do other Christians in town. So the Christian community here is pretty tight. It's really neat to see how much they love each other. Despite all of my questions and skepticism about other Christian beliefs, that is maybe the one thing that keeps me holding on to Christianity -- the community of believers and how fiercely they love each other. Maybe that love is a reflection of God's love for me.....

And Now for Something Completely Different (about my life, that is):

I've been in Japan for three months now. While my Japanese level is definitely lower than I like, many people comment that I speak Japanese so well for only being here for three months! I knew before coming here that I wanted to be very ambitious about learning Japanese, and that ambition seems to have paid off. I can have basic chit-chatty conversations with people, ask store clerks any questions I have, order food without worrying about what I'll end up eating, etc. And I'm starting to learn some more complex grammatical structures, though practicing these can be a bit painful for the Japanese listener, as it takes me awhile to first process the sentence in my mind, then to say it out loud correctly.

Teaching is going well also. Finals are next week, so this week is a lot of reviewing and test-writing for the English teachers. Most of my students are very bright and attentive in class. However, I have one very naughty class. You can read about them here. Other than this one class, my students are a joy to teach. I receive journals for two writing classes. The students can write about anything they want-- as long as it is English and a page long. I love reading these journals and writing back to the students. Sometimes their thoughts or hopes really surprise me. Sometimes they tell things to us English teachers that they wouldn't feel free to tell even their parents. So in that way, the journals are a form of therapy for the students-- a kind of free-writing for them. It is a non-threatening way for them to communicate any ideas they want in English.

As a few of you are aware, I have been dating a Japanese guy for about a month and a half now. His name is Gou. He is my age, and an economics student at a local university (the college system works a little differently here, which sort-of explains why he is my age and still has two years of school left). Gou and I met at the local train station. He asked me if I wanted to take some Japanese lessons, and I gladly accepted. We met once a week for awhile, just studying Japanese and getting to know each other, but now we are officially a couple. So I'm happy. Its nice to once again have a companion I can share my life with. Granted, communication is sometimes a problem, but Gou's English is quite good and is constantly improving, as is my Japanese. We try to communicate in both English and Japanese, but usually if we want to have a deeper conversation we have to use English. In any case, I am very grateful for his support and his prescence in my life right now.


written by Ruthie @ 1:41 AM   2 comments
Book of Tea II

Okakura on Western culture:

p. 33 Some of my compatriots [fellow Japanese] have adopted too much of your [America/Europe] customs and too much of your etiquette, in the delusion that the acquisition of stiff collars and tall silk hats comprised the attainment of your civilization. Pathetic and deplorable as such affections are, they evince our willingness to approach the West on our knees. Unfortunately the Western attitude is unfavourable to the understanding of the East. The Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your information is based on the meager translations of our immense literature, if not on the unreliable anecdotes of passing travelers.


written by Ruthie @ 12:47 AM   0 comments
Book Of Tea I
This is to be the first in a series of posts on The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. Okakura wrote The Book of Tea in 1906. He wrote it originally in English, so the quotes I use from the book are not translations, but his original words. The book has since been translated into Japanese and, I suspect, a few other languages as well.

Okakura wrote The Book of Tea not only as a way to enlighten Westerners about the traditions and history of the Japanese tea ceremony and tea culture; he also expresses his thoughts about the impending Westernization of Japan at the turn of the 20thcentury. What I love about Okakura's writing is his eloquence and frankness concerning this thoughts on the changing culture around him. Most Japanese still are not frank in expressing their opinions, so I was pleasantly surprised to read the sometimes harsh honesty Okakura writes with. Below is an excerpt regarding the innacurate perceptions Westerners held of the East in the early 1900s:

"Those who cannot feel the littleness of the great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will see in the tea-ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilized since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields. Much comment has been given lately to the Code of the Samurai—the Art of Death which makes our soldiers exult in self-sacrifice; but scarcely any attention has been drawn to Teaism, which represents so much of our Art of Life. Fain would we remain barbarians, if our claim to civilization were to be based on the gruesome glory of war. Fain would we await the time when due respect shall be paid to our art and ideals." (p. 31)


written by Ruthie @ 9:35 PM   0 comments
Chapel Speech 2

To be delivered in Japanese on Saturday, November 25.

When I Survey the Wondorous Cross

Exodus 12: 21-23: “Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.”

Recently at my church I heard a sermon about the significance of the first Passover that is described in Exodus. My pastor talked about all the different parts of the Passover: the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, and the angel of death. The sacrifice of the lamb and the blood over the door were the most interesting parts of the sermon to me. It was at that time that I started thinking a lot about sacrifice. Sacrifice is a very important—maybe the most important—theme in the Bible. I want to talk today about three very important sacrifices in the Bible and about why God’s demonstrations of sacrifice are so important to us.

The story of Abraham and his only son Isaac is one of the first sacrifice stories in the Bible. In Genesis 22 we find the story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his first born son, Isaac. Abraham does not understand why God asked him to kill his only son—the child that God said would be the father of a great nation. However, Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham loved Isaac very much, but he loved God more—so much more that he was ready to kill his only son when God told him to. But at the last moment, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice so Isaac would not have to die. The death of the ram was a substitute for Isaac’s death.

In Exodus 12, God kills Egypt’s first born sons so that Pharaoh will release the Israelites from slavery. In order for the Israelites to save their first born children, they must sacrifice a lamb. The lamb takes the place of the first born son. God told the Israelites to put the blood of the lamb over their doors so that He will not kill their sons. The Israelites were covered by the blood of this lamb, and they were hidden from God’s wrath.

The next important instance of sacrifice is when Jesus comes to earth. John the Baptist knows what Jesus will do and what He represents when he says: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John knew that Jesus would die to cover the sins of all people. God’s only son dies for us so we are hidden from His wrath. But since Jesus is not just a lamb, but a divine being, the power of the sacrifice is much greater. In Exodus, the Israelites were covered for only one night by the blood of their sacrificial lambs. God gave Abraham grace by providing a ram for Abraham to kill instead of Isaac, but the ram’s death was only a replacement for Isaac’s death and for no others. When Jesus was sacrificed, it was one time for all people-- now and for the all the people who will ever live in this world. Just like the blood of the lamb that covered the Israelites at Passover, Jesus’ blood covers us so God does not destroy us. That is not only a huge display of power, but a huge display of love. The Israelites only had to sacrifice an animal-- that is easily replaceable. Abraham was very close to killing his son, but God prevented it. But God did not give His own son such mercy. He sacrificed his first born son (God on earth) for humans who continually turn their backs to Him. We repeatedly do wrong in God’s eyes, and still He wants to redeem us. Why? The only answer is love. Love must be the answer. God’s sacrifice of His perfect son is the ultimate expression of love. My love for my parents, your parents’ love for you, a leader’s love for his country—these displays of love never come close to God’s love for us. God’s love is so perfect, so complete, as to require the death of his Son, Jesus. 1 John 4:9-10 says this: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

So what is my response? How should I react to this knowledge? I suppose I could say “thank you,” to God, but that does not seem sufficient. No; I need to in turn give God my entire life. After all, He gave me His.


written by Ruthie @ 10:33 PM   0 comments
I love photography. My dad was something of a photographer in his day. He even won some awards for his work. Partially because of my father's awesome photography, I took two photography classes in high school. I used a manual 35mm camera and I exposed my own film! When I worked at HyVee I learned how to expose film using a 1 hour film machine. I've always liked to goof around with photo editing software. I also like to look at other photographer's work to see how I can capture life around me in a different way. So I guess one could say photography is sort of in my blood. I've been more interested in photography lately, since I now have my own digital camera. Well, today I came across a website full of AWESOME B&W photography: Stewart Redler. Check it out. Or suffer the wrath of Ms. Umthun, Japanese schoolmarm. No pressure.
written by Ruthie @ 10:12 PM   1 comments
Today I taught a class of first year high schoolers. I usually dread this class because the students are in the A class. At the high school there are several different classes: A, B, C, D, E, and M. E students have a concentration in English. M students have a concentration in music. D students are probably the smartest and hardest-working students in the school. That leaves the A, B, and C classes. They aren't at the top of their class, they don't care about English-- most of them have bad attitudes (Granted, I have about five students in my class of fifteen that do their work and pay attention most of the time. These students keep me from unleashing my teacherly wrath on the rest of them). So class is usually a trainwreck: students don't bring their books; students play with each other's hair, markers, and miscellaneous other school supplies; students laugh and talk LOUDLY while I'm trying to lecture; students sleep and don't bother to finish their worksheets. This is what goes on in a normal class. Their behavior was bad enough to warrant the creation of-- dun dun duuunnn-- a seating chart! Gasp! So for the past two class periods I've had the students in a seating chart so that they are most decidedly not sitting by people they normally chatter with during class. Today, however, their behavior was exceptionally intolerable.

I lectured a little on time language and how to talk about how long something takes (using vocabulary like "half an hour," "an hour," "over an hour," etc.). Then I handed out a worksheet with ten or so questions requiring a short answer. I usually walk around the classroom to check their work and answer questions. Today some of the students got smart and decided to put tiny post-it notes on my back when I was talking to another student. I think they got five or six on my back before I noticed (they're clever little devils). Finally, I realized that when they were tapping me on the back they weren't merely trying to ask questions. I pulled one of the post-it notes off of my back, shot a steely glare at the nearest perpetrator, and slowly ripped the post-it note into tiny pieces. As I tore the post-it up in front of them, they gaped at me like, "Woah, she means business." Then I swiftly walked to my desk at the front, pulled the rest of the post-its off my back, then went around the classroom and confiscated the rest of the post-its (which I think three students had. Man, those kids are clever. And evil). The rest of the class was relatively
written by Ruthie @ 4:43 AM   0 comments
You know how the morning after a strange/wonderful/crazy experience you wake up and you're not quite sure if it was a dream and part of you wants it to be a dream because it was just that weird and maybe not a good idea and part of you really wants it to have been real because it was awesome and beautiful? I do.
written by Ruthie @ 10:19 PM   2 comments
So, I was wrong about one of the kanji. The one I thought looked like "Lord" is actually "sheep" (羊). So the kanji for "sacrifice" could be transliterated: "a sheep is over me and gives me life." One could stretch this a little further and say, "The Lamb covers me and gives me life." Just a thought. Maybe this isn't quite as conclusive as my previous--conclusion--er--anyway, maybe it isn't quite as clear in pointing to a biblical idea. I don't know. It's still cool.
written by Ruthie @ 6:58 PM   0 comments
I just learned that the word "karate" literally means "empty hand." I also learned that the word for "tone" (referring to music) literally breaks down into "sound color." Interesting, no?


written by Ruthie @ 5:25 AM   1 comments
I've almost finished writing my second chapel speech, which I will give November 25. I decided to write it about sacrifice because a sermon at church recently was about the Passover and the message really hit home for me. This was an important event because not many sermons lately have "hit home."This is because 1) the sermons at the church I attend are roughly and simply translated into English on paper and are therefore usually lacking in substance and 2) I've been in a spiritual "funk" for over a year now. But this sermon was different. It was about the Passover-- not really about sacrifice at all, but about the significance of the bitter herbs and the wine and unleavened bread. But my mind took off on sacrifice and I started thinking about how Abraham's "almost" sacrifice of Isaac and God's covering the Israelites with sheep's blood at the Passover all portend Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Anyway, what I wanted to share was what I found in the Japanese characters for "sacrifice."

Kanji are often very complex: one character may actually contain several characters that have been compressed together. A simple example is the word for "good:"
This character is actually two characters pressed together: the character for "woman" (女) and the character for "child" (子). It may be interpreted, then, that this character means that a woman with a child is a good thing.

The word for "sacrifice" is much more complicated. It includes a radical: a squished character that can be found on the side, top, or bottom of a character.
The word for sacrifice looks like this:
This word is composed of two characters, each of which have two or more characters pressed together. The first character (犠) has three parts. On the left side is the radical for "cow" (牛). On the ride side are two characters: one on top of the other. I think the top one is derived from "Lord" (主). The bottom character is a formal kanji for "me" (我). So the first character could be interpreted like "The Lord is over me [through the use of, with, because of] a cow." The second character is not so complex. It also has the cow radical on the left. Next to that is the character for "life" (生). This character could mean something like "life [from, with, alongside, because of] a cow." The two characters together mean "sacrifice," which I roughly interpret to mean: "The Lord covers me through a cow's life." When I came to this conclusion I was amazed.

Keep in mind that Japanese kanji are derived from Chinese script, which is one of the oldest written languages in the history of the world. According to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, the earliest form of Chinese was first used during the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC-256 BC). I couldn't find any approximate dates on Wikipedia as to when the first Hebrew Bible was canonized, or when the Bible was first introduced into China, so I can't be sure about this, but I wonder if these characters were created by the Chinese before they read the Bible. Here's another way to say the same thing: when the Chinese created their characters for sacrifice, they probably did so without understanding the biblical concept of sacrifice; yet their characters express roughly the same idea. Does this mean that God was at work in the creation of the Chinese (and ultimately, Japanese) language so that His Word is embedded in it? Please know that this idea is not original. I first read about it in a Randy Alcorn novel. But it fascinates me, nonetheless. This word, "sacrifice," is not the only word that may contain a biblical allusion. Alcorn also mentions the kanji for the word "creation" as possibly having a biblical connotation. I intend to look for more.


written by Ruthie @ 12:17 AM   2 comments

Name: Ruthie
Home: Japan
About Me: I want to know who God is and what his truth is. I love getting lost in beautiful music and cloudless star-filled skies, especially in the fall. I hate being bored. I like big cities. I want to travel the world.
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