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 thoughts:
  • At 12/03/2006 3:03 AM, Blogger Frank said…

    I need to show you the restaurant "It's Christmas" down at Karato...unfortunately it's closed on Christmas Day. Would have made a great blog post!

    I'd agree to a point about Japanese morals, but I do know a lot of Japanese whose morals are less relativistic than just a fear of punishment or shame...although based more on Confucian than Christian philosophy. Shinto has no real moral philosophy other than a very practical desire to get favors from the spirit world, and Buddhism here is quite formalistic and fossilized. The explanation I've heard is more of a secular "feeling" that "If everyone just did what they liked, society couldn't survive" and a basic "Golden Rule". My friends, though, do seem to have a lot more empathy than the ordinary Japanese.

    The newer generation, however, seems far more mercenary than the last.

  • At 12/11/2006 2:33 AM, Blogger Matt Hulstein said…

    Oh Ruthie, Im so glad for you. Yay for Japan, yay for Jesus, yay for KFC, and yay for dating. Love ya and miss ya.


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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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