Hello all, this is Matthew posting from Japan! We’re finally here! After a long flight and using my super rusty Japanese skills to find out where we needed to go, we are settled in at our hostel. Despite having arrived around 8pm Japan time, and going to sleep not long after, my body woke me up at 2:30 am. So there I sat for 4 hours, waiting for the sun and Kristen to get up. But, I was able to use the time to refresh some key phrases in Japanese.
As for our first day here, I have to admit it was a little over whelming. Right off the plane we were hustled through customs by a small army of employees; pointing, typing, and directing. A short whirlwind later and we had arrived, officially in Japan. Crowds and colorful posters abounded as Kristen and I tried very unsuccessfully to find a place where we could stand out of the way and figure out what were doing. After some searching, and a couple of failed attempts, we managed to buy our train tickets. (Which then lead to a fun game of ‘watch the foreigners try to figure out how to use the automatic ticket gates’.) Once through the gates and on, our best guess of, the correct train we found that it was mostly full and there were not seats left next to each other. So Kristen and I spent the hour train ride sitting next to strangers on the train.
Now to preface the next section, from what we’ve learned of the culture in Japan, they are a very ethnocentric people. Often, outsiders or foreigners are treated, not with hostility, but with and general disregard or understanding that they don’t quite belong. From the start we’ve gone in with an understanding that building relationships with Japanese people would be difficult and they may never quite accept an outsider on a deeper level. I was determined not to let that, or my fear of embracing my self by speaking terrible Japanese, stop us from trying. So when I found myself on an hour train ride sitting next to a young Japanese girl, I figured this would be a good a time as any to start. So after I finally felt confident I could say ‘Do you speak English?’ in Japanese, I turned to ask her just in time to see her put her headphones in and close her eyes to go to sleep. Well, that was a good try.
Fortunately, I was given a second chance when, after returning from the rest room, the young lady asked me in English if the sun was bothering me as she offered to pull the curtains shut. Since she seemed to have a good understanding of English I chanced a conversation by telling her I actually enjoyed the view because this was my first day in Japan. At this her eyes brighten and she began to ask me questions about our trip. Once we had finished some recommendations she had for us we moved on to backgrounds and differences between Americans and Japanese; including politics, English classes in Japan, and the embracing lack of perspective that Americans often exhibit. (Which she agreed with haha.) She even helped me brush up on my Japanese a little. All in all, it was a great conversation, better than I’ve had with many Americans. But most importantly, God showed me that no one is beyond His reach. For all the fear we have of being outsiders and not being accepted, of failing to build meaningful relationships, or of not knowing the language well enough, God has reminded me that He is greater. What’s more, the more adversity or greater the challenge, the more we get to see His mighty power at work. If this mission field was an easy one, what would we need God for? No, this is the perfect place for God to show Himself, so that no one can question whether it was Him or not. Only He is capable of breaching that gap and reaching out to his children in Japan, and in His unending grace He has allowed us to be a part of what He will accomplish.
As for the girl on the train, I never even got her name, but I will always remember her as the first friend we made in Japan, and not the last.