Monday, November 17, 2003

Christianity in Japan:
Ajimu Elementary school is preparing for the Culture Festival next month. As part of the Human Rights curriculum in the Japanese schools, the culture festival usually features a drama dealing with problems of discrimination in Japan. This year the topic is persecution of Japanese Christians during the Edo Period. I was called in today to answer the children's questions about Christianity, and also to show them how to pray for the purpose of the drama.
There is a lot of ignorance about Christianity in Japan, and most of what is known is gleamed from American movies. Now, I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but for a predominately Protestant country, we have a lot of Catholic imagery in our movies. (I suspect because the rituals of Catholicism make a better visual on the big screen). Thus Japanese people associate Catholic rituals with American Christianity.
For instance whenever the subject of Christianity or prayer comes up, a Japanese person will usually gesture by crossing themselves the way Catholics always do in the movies. When I first came to Japan, I tried to explain that we Protestants don't usually make the sign of the cross when we pray. But most Japanese people don't know the difference between Catholics and Protestants, so this usually leads to discussion about the reformation that is very difficult to conduct across the language barrier.
The other difficulty is Japan, as a country which has historically been isolated from the rest of the world, often has a lot of stereotypes about the outside world. These stereo types can be very difficult to break. It's almost impossible to convince a Japanese person that Protestants don't cross themselves, when that Japanese person "knows" for a fact that all Christians make the sign of the cross when praying.
So, this is a battle I gave up on a long time ago. If a Japanese person asks me if I pray everyday, and then makes the cross sign, I just go along with it and say, yes, I do make the cross sign all the time when I pray. I also go along with all the other stereotypes about Christians that come from Hollywood. For instance, we all wear crosses around our neck, which we pull out at various times during the day and clutch with both hands while we kiss it.
And today followed much the same pattern. When I was asked to teach the children how to pray, I just taught them to cross themselves like they see in the movies. There was a question about whether to cross from the right shoulder or the left shoulder, and I didn't know, so I just guessed, but pretended I knew what I was talking. And when asked what they are supposed to say while they cross ourselves, I just made that up as well. ("In the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen"--I think that's right, but I too am just going by Hollywood movies).
I'm a little nervous about how much time I added to my stay in purgatory today by lying about prayer, but it was so much easier to just tell them what they expected to hear. Even in my own English conversation classes, where I am preparing the Junior high school students for a trip to America, I followed this pattern. We were talking about Church, and after initially trying to explain that we don't cross ourselves in my church, I just gave up on it.
So, I'm a little worried my credibility will be at stake when these Junior High school students come to America with me this December. So if it's not too much to ask, I need a little help from anyone who happens to encounter me and these students over Christmas break. If you could just please cross yourselves from time to time, and every once and a while pull out a cross from around your neck and kiss it, I would really appreciate it.

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