Friday, March 18, 2011

My Japan

Mukashi, mukashi ni (Once upon a time or Long, long ago), I lived in Japan. I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I loved every second of it. Even the really difficult seconds. I had no trouble enjoying the culture, the food, and the people. The people are amazing. I had Japanese companions who taught me a lot. I was immersed in a completely different society and saw how successful something so different could be. Near the end of my mission, my mission president telephoned to ask me to extend my mission by one month. In a heartbeat I said, "Okay!" He stammered, "Don't you want to think about it, consider your plans upon returning home, ask your parents or bishop about it, or possibly pray about it???" I said, "Nope." Nihon o aishiteimasu (I love Japan)!

So now they have trouble. Big trouble. The 9.0 EARTHQUAKE caused a phenomenal TSUNAMI and RADIATION LEAKS from the nuclear reactors. Big, BIG trouble. I did not live in the area where these disasters are taking place, but Japan is about the size of California (third largest state) or Montana (fourth largest state) and because it is an island nation situated on the edge of the Pacific Plate, it is volcanic and mountainous (and earthquake and tsunami-prone) and therefore, only eighteen percent of the actual land is habitable. Eighteen percent!

Yet, all these people live there, together, in harmony. Japanese manners are shaped by geography. If you were stuck on an island with that many people, you would figure out a pretty good system as well. Here in America we've got wide open spaces and plenty of room to sprawl. Our culture reflects that spaciousness with applause for individualistic style. I am so impressed with the incredulous tones with which reporters are covering the story. They've covered earthquakes before. NOBODY IS LOOTING! Japanese people are just quietly, patiently standing in lines for hours on end, waiting for food and other necessities. They are helping themselves and each other. It is the Japanese way. One NPR (National Public Radio, for those unenlightened) story spotlighted a gentleman teacher. His English was very good. The reported began, "What is your name?" The man stated his name (I don't recall) and added, "Thank you for coming." At the end of the interview, the man said again, "Thank you for coming." It is the Japanese way.

This teacher explained in English, "This is my town and I am a teacher. Many student are missing and so I am sad." Totally made me cry. I would be SO SAD if my students were missing too! He was calm. He spoke evenly. The reporters kept using the word DIGNIFIED. Yes, that is the Japanese way.

I heard another story about a girl who couldn't contact her parents. So she walked to the bank, withdrew as much money as they would allow, and got on a train for home. Where the trains stopped running, she hired taxis. The taxi drivers used back alleys and various routes to get her as close as possible. She spent $800 getting as far as she could and then she walked the rest of the way. A camera/news crew tagged along and caught it all when she returned home. Her mother was shocked to see her and sort of cried out in surprise. Did the girl take a flying leap into her mother's arms? No...that's not the Japanese way. She bowed to her parents. It is the utmost sign of respect. And then her parents bowed to her. Maybe that sounds strange to some people, but the emotion of the moment was overwhelming for me because I UNDERSTOOD. When you live somewhere with people and eat food with them and speak in their language and adopt their customs, you become part of them and they become part of you. I love my Japan.

K and I have been praying for Japan. We've donated to the Humanitarian Fund administered by the LDS Church. We've also donated to the American Red Cross. We don't really know how else to help. We will all take turns at enduring natural disasters and other hardships. The world seems to be pretty much on board with assisting. I hope so. I hope My Japan is really Our Japan. Nihon wa watakushi no dai suki desu (Japan is my fave or "big like", another way of saying I Love Japan)!

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