What I’ve learned about God from Japan and the Japanese people

There are countless Japan-based Youtubers, documentaries, anime, books, and so many other forms of content that display the beautiful country that is Japan. Even recently, the new FX series Shogun exhibits Japanese life, history, and culture in a masterful and entertaining way. In many ways, these kinds of content have helped form and build my love of Japan and helped educate me on this mysteriously beautiful country over the years. While I have gained a lot of knowledge about and love for Japan from these kinds of secondary sources, it’s been my first-hand experience of Japan that made me truly fall in love with the country and its people and, as I’ve dived deeper into understanding Japan, I have been able to see aspects of God’s nature even in a country that barely knows who He is yet.

The first thing that fascinated me about Japan was its “unique” and interesting culture such as its anime, bright neon districts in Tokyo, Kawaii (cute) music videos, and foods like Sushi and Ramen. However, while those were the things that initially piqued my interest and brought me in, what got me to stay was the people that are filled with such kindness, respect, and diligence in all that they do. I have been deeply impacted by the Japanese people and learned so much about life and have grown as a person through my interactions with them.

One of the traits that stands out most to me is the deep respect Japanese people have for others, for nature, and even items. This respect comes through in so many ways, with the most obvious example being bowing, but this is merely the cherry on top of how they talk to and interact with others; bowing is an outward expression of what they believe and value. They are careful in every conversation to make sure they are being respectful of the people they are around and, conversely, not being a burden/annoyance (they even have a word for this called Meiwaku). Some easy ways this shows itself in public is how well they clean up after themselves and how they quietly and patiently wait in well-formed lines at restaurants and train stations (cliché examples, I know, but they hold very true).

When it comes to day-to-day conversations, they are extremely respectful of the person they are talking with. One poignant example is their use of Aizuchi, which is a Japanese word that refers to verbal acknowledgement and feedback that you are listening to and engaged in the conversation. They emphatically nod and throw in Hai hai’s (essentially saying “yes yes”) to show that they are interested (or at least paying attention) in whatever you are saying. Rarely, if ever have I felt brushed off, disrespected, or ignored by a Japanese person when I’ve had conversations with them.

To go along with this, Japanese people are excellent at praising and encouraging the person they are speaking with. They are emphatically excited when a foreigner displays even the slightest interest in Japan or in learning the Japanese language. There’s a common Japanese expression that goes “Nihongo Jouzu” that they use to say “Your Japanese is so good.”  Now, Japanese people will sometimes use this phrase even if all you say is Konnichiwa. To some foreigners, this can get annoying and old after a while, but from the Japanese perspective, they are simply trying to encourage someone who is learning their language. Many Japanese are genuinely surprised when a foreigner takes the time to learn their language and they express their gratitude abundantly. Seeing this taught me the importance of trying to positively impact the person I’m in conversation with and to encourage them even in small ways.

Japanese people are also incredibly diligent and seek excellence in everything they do. Whether it’s how they intricately arrange their gardens, their beautiful gift wrappings, or how they clean anything beyond spotless, their commitment to excellence in everything they do is unmistakable. When I was at university in Tokyo, I would regularly see the university grounds crew cleaning areas that already looked pristine. When they were cleaning outside, they would sweep the steps even if there were only one or two leaves on them. Often, they would sweep the whole courtyard by hand just to collect a few leaves and tiny pieces of trash that most people would never have noticed anyway. While I was tempted to feel bad for them, they always had the happiest demeanors and seemed to take genuine pride in what they were doing, even if it they were doing what we might call “menial tasks.” However, seeing this commitment to excellence even in the most “insignificant” ways helped me gain a deep respect for the Japanese people and taught me how important it is to do a task to one’s best ability, even if that task is small or unnoticed by others.

I have been so blessed and learned so much from my interactions with Japanese people. Many of the lessons I have learned from them I have directly applied to my walk with Christ and have revealed new aspects of who God is and what He values. By respecting others, I can better communicate God’s love to them and show them that they are valued and worthy of respect. And the idea of diligence and doing one’s best no matter what you’re doing comes straight from scripture. We read in Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” No job, relationship, or moment is insignificant to God and shouldn’t be insignificant to us either. The Japanese, though they don’t realize it, are already giving God glory in this way and are going to be very dangerous for His kingdom when they finally catch on to who they’ve been serving this whole time.

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