A while ago we challenged ourselves to speaking only Japanese for a whole day. This was a big challenge, especially as parents who, in some situations, need to communicate clearly and quickly. The kids understand Japanese pretty well (especially Rebeca & Anna) but Dad & Mom, in spite of a lot of study, still have a lot to learn. We did our best and made a video about it, and that video really connected with people here in Japan and around the world. So recently we decided “Let’s do one day in Japanese again.” And so we did.
While I wish Japanese just rolled off my tongue, most of the time for Ruth and me it’s a still a big challenge. But in the challenge of doing this video again, we’ve come to realize just how far we’ve come in the last couple of years, and that’s encouraging. It gives hope that in the not so distant future, our whole family will be perfectly comfortable in Japanese as well.
But speaking Japanese isn’t the only challenge we’re up for. Recently I made a video about how we celebrate Easter here in Japan. Yes, there are chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs in the stores, but by far those who celebrate Easter are Christians who remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So the challenge is, how do we go about celebrating a predominately Christian holiday here in Japan?! Well, with a big party and lots of kids, of course! And you can’t forget the Easter story.
Hope is essential to life. Hope pulls life forward and helps us move forward in face of adversity. Where there is hope, there is a way. Holding on to hope is imperative for a thriving life. And if you look for hope in nature, I believe you can find it perfectly represented by the Sakura (cherry blossom).
Every year these trees announce the arrival of Spring in a most spectacular way. As the brown cold of winter gives way to warmer temperatures, the Sakura coordinate its blooming to coincide with the greening of the grass and the sprouting of spring leaves. A seemingly dead landscape bursts to life in what is nothing short of a miraculous, seemingly overnight change. It is that miraculous change that we highlight in this episode of Life in Japan.
A Hope that Holds
The arrival of hope in our hearts is like the arrival of Spring. When hope comes, it flowers and the cold, dead corners of life suddenly burst to life. For this hope to hold, it must be anchored in something more permanent than the Sakura petals that come and soon go. Yes, hope must be anchored to a source that is constant. The better the source, the more lasting the hope.
For me, I have found no better hope than the hope I have in the love of God. This love is more than just a happy feeling or a positive thought. The extent of this great love was perfectly expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus shows the full extent of God’s love and is in fact the very embodiment of love. God’s love for people didn’t condemn people for their failures, but forgave them and healed them. God’s love in Jesus took our failures, our shame and our sickness on the cross and there were put to death with Jesus. And today, Good Friday, is a special day of remembrance for people all over the world of this great sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.
But the story didn’t end there, because God’s love was bigger than death itself and raised Jesus from the grave. Yes, only three days later came resurrection Sunday— EASTER— and that day is the day of Jesus’ ultimate triumph over sin, death and the grave.
Your story may seem over, that the best days of life seem to have come and gone. Maybe you find yourself in a place of little or no hope. I would love nothing more than for you to find the true source of hope in the love of God in Jesus that changes everything and can make even the darkest of winters bloom into a beautiful sakura spring of hope. This hope speaks to our hearts that the best is yet to come and that in any situation, no matter how bleak, there is a sakura spring just around the corner.
Yokohama is the city next-door to us, Japan’s first modern International city. It’s called “Japan’s front door” and for good reason — it grew from a fishing village of 800 people to the second largest city in Japan in around 200 years because it became the international port for all of Kanto (a.k.a Greater Tokyo).
Yokohama was the acceptable place for foreigners to live, and as such it became Japan’s first truly international city. It is home to the largest Chinatown in all of Japan, and perhaps the world. On the bluffs of Yokohama are some truly western homes, schools, churches and communities.
Yokohama’s Minato Mirai area has a very similar feel to Chicago’s downtown to me — it is an open area along the waterfront full of towering skyscrapers, renovated districts for shopping, museums and attractions as well as tons of restaurants and dining. But if you move further away from there, you are greeted by a densely populated urban sprawl resembling many other parts of Japan. The city layout is in a more typical grid layout found in cities around the world.
This week’s episode of Life in Japan is focused on the city of Yokohama. There is so much in a city of this size that it’s just impossible to cover it all in one episode, let alone hundreds of episodes. But we hit some of the highlights on our family trip and I can’t get over how much it reminds me of Chicago! Please enjoy!
Chicago’s Sister City?
Officially Chicago’s sister city is Osaka, Japan, and I think that’s a good fit. But to me Yokohama is just as good of a fit, if not better. But that may be for personal reasons. You see, I went to college near Chicago, and the impressive city was just next door to me (about the same distance as Yokohama is to us in Kawasaki now). But I rarely went into downtown Chicago itself. It’s not that I didn’t like it or that it wasn’t fun — I liked it a lot and it was always fun! I just didn’t realize the uniqueness of what was right next to me until I lost it. Once I moved away, I found myself wishing I had taken more advantage of the fact that I lived right next to Chicago.
Too often we fantasize about what is out of reach instead of enjoying what is within our grasp. We dream about a life somewhere else (maybe you dream of a life in Japan!). We imagine what life would be like if we had a different family or other relationships. We can too easily overlook the huge blessings God has put in our lives, within our reach.
Yokohama could easily be that way here too. Especially in the Greater Tokyo area, there are so many amazing places to go and things to see that one could easily overlook that which is right under your nose. The pandemic has forced us to look locally for our fun, and that’s no bad thing, especially when there are amazing places like Yokohama right next to us.
What’s right next to you? Are you overlooking something that you may regret later? It may be a relationship. It could be a different way of life that is richer and more satisfying. Yes, it’s good to imagine a better life and make proactive steps towards it. But happiness is not found when you reach that location, but in healthy journey that gets you there. And in the weeks to come, we want to look more into what makes a healthy life journey.
Japan is not a small country as far as size goes, but when you factor in its relatively large population and the fact that most of the geography of the country is mountains and valleys, you are left with an interesting conundrum. How do you fit all of those people in a relatively small inhabitable area? Dealing with these factors in the way that the Japanese have dealt with them over the years defines what Japan is today.
Everything is compact in Japan because it needs to be compact. Everything is smaller than in Western counterparts. Homes, offices, roads, parks, stores and the list goes on. But no where else is that as plain obvious then when you compare Japanese furniture stores to Western ones. Beds are smaller. Couches and seating are on the floor. There are aisles of space saving contraptions. Everything is purposeful, stylish and practical.
Compare that to any Western furniture store (say IKEA) and you see the differences. Furniture is still stylish, but it is large and inexpensive. You can save a bundle if you don’t mind putting it together yourself. And that’s where the differences start. Both kinds of stores are useful and nice, but both are very different. It’s time to explore the unique world of Japanese furniture stores.
Not far from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo in nearby Chiba lies a village with a very interesting identity: it is Tokyo’s German Village. It’s been on our list of things to try in Japan for a while, so when we got a few days off as a family over the holiday break, we knew right where to go.
It’s always fun to see another country interpreted through some other culture’s eyes. That’s one of the reasons why people enjoy watching Life in Japan, they get to see Japan through our perspective as foreigners. So seeing Japan’s take on Germany seemed especially interesting to us.
Although we could easily do it as a day trip (it’s only an hour and a half by car from our home), we decided to book a cheap hotel to act as our home base and do some extra exploring around us. It turned out to be a great call, as we stumbled upon some really fun and unique places, including the the longest slide I’ve seen or done anywhere!
So what was the verdict? Did Tokyo’s German Village seem authentic? I feel like I am partially qualified to answer, since my last name is German (even though my ancestors are Swiss) and I’ve been to Germany before. For the full verdict, you need to watch the video to the end, but suffice it to say if felt more Japanese than German, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a fun mash-up of the two cultures (more, if you count our culture!) It was definitely worth the trip.