Christmas in Japan by Tim Boyle, missionary Buraku Liberation Center, Osaka

Rudyard Kipling’s famous words, “East is East and West is West and never the ‘twain shall meet,” may have a certain ring of truth to them, but in many ways the “twain” have met, with both Japanese and North American cultures importing various traditions and even fads from each other. The flow has been mostly from North America to Japan since Japan opened up to the outside world some 150 years ago, but in recent years, there has been a considerable flow in the other direction, as is witnessed by the popularity of pokemon and other such phenomena.

Christmas, however, will be the focus of this article. My first Christmas in Japan was in 1971, and I have found both the familiar and the novel in the ways Christmas is celebrated in Japan.The Japanese people are known for their love of festivals–especially those that can be easily adapted for commercial purposes. Christmas is not, however, the only holiday that has been so exploited, but it certainly tops the list. As a point of comparison, importing Valentine’s Day was a sure-fire way to increase chocolate sales, and the Japanese went one beyond that, creating “White Day” a month later on March 14 for people to return chocolate or other goodies to those they had received? gifts of chocolate from on Valentine’s Day.

The Easter Bunny, however, is something that (perhaps fortunately) has not yet made much of an impact. Even within the church, Easter celebrations are proportionately much less emphasized than in North American churches, in large part due to the inconvenience of its date changing from year to year and, more importantly, because it comes at the busiest time of the year in Japan, with both the fiscal and school years ending on March 31 and beginning anew on April 1.

The relatively recent import of another North American holiday has now been given an unusual twist in connection with Christmas. Halloween is depicted in the Japanese media as a “Christian Festival” (a bit of a misunderstanding, to say the least), and this year, I witnessed a marvelous bit of syncretism, seeing my first “Halloween Tree.” It was exactly like a Christmas tree, except the ornaments were a variety of Halloween images, such as orange jack-o-lanterns, white ghosts, skeletons, and black witches on broomsticks. It was quite attractive, even if a bit jarring, and who knows, maybe that will soon become a new reverse import into the U.S. ?

Christmas also begins early in Japan, as there is no tradition of waiting until late November, after an equivalent of the “Thanksgiving Day turkey,” to begin putting up Christmas decorations. Icons of Santa Claus grace store windows as early as the beginning of November, and Christmas irumineishon have become quite common–even on private homes. (In case of confusion, that word is “illumination.” Many words are also imported and most definitely “transformed” when put into the Japanese phonetic system.) ?

North American Christians often lament the crass commercialization of Christmas and express their desire to “put Christ back into Christmas.” While the real “reason for the season” may have lost ground in North America, it never really got off the ground in the average Japanese mind. Most Japanese may recognize that Christmas is a “Christian festival,” but you cannot count on even that. A few years ago, I overheard a Japanese person comment upon seeing Christmas decorations in the lobby of a church, “Even churches celebrate Christmas!”? This lack of historical context leads to all sorts of incongruence, such as the popularity of having a “candlelight service” complete with the singing of “Silent Night” during year-end parties–even when there is not a single Christian in the group. It is the lovely atmosphere that Japanese find attractive, and this is also the primary reason that Christian-style weddings have become predominate. ?

While perhaps a bit off the subject of Christmas, this other postwar import has some interesting connections with the topic. Japanese young people prefer the “glamour” and emphasis on love found in Christian-style weddings, and so the majority of Japanese weddings are now performed in wedding chapels, which are often beautiful Christian architectural structures built right on the grounds of hotels and used exclusively for commercial purposes. One such wedding chapel I came across does, however, directly connect this phenomenon with the main topic of Christmas. Located near Narita Airport, “Hotel Chapel Christmas” is a combination hotel and wedding chapel, with a huge statue of Santa Claus inviting people in.?

So Christmas in Japan is a mixture of the familiar and exotic, and as a Christian missionary to this land, I sometimes lament the shallowness and naivet? of the ways it is celebrated. Nevertheless, this season is the time of year when we have by far the most opportunities to connect with people through the appeal of Christmas and to direct their attention towards Jesus. Thus, we make every opportunity to utilize the attraction Japanese have to Christmas to plant seeds of faith that can sprout throughout the year.

May you have a Merry Christmas, wherever you are.

Desire to Teach Faith to Children Inspires Japanese Hymnist

It has been eleven years since the Kyodan’s new Hymnal 21 was compiled and

published by the Kyodan’s Hymnal Committee. Included in this hymnal are a

number of hymns by Japanese composers. We would like to share with you how

the words of one of the hymns, “In Old Galilee when Sweet Breezes Blew” (No.

57 in Hymnal 21), were written by Befu Nobuo (1913-2003).

Befu Nobuo was born in 1913 in Kochi Prefecture. In 1934 he attended an

evangelistic service at Yokohama Shiro Church. He was soon baptized and

began working with the church school teachers. In addition, he became a

member of the newly-formed Christian Association for Children’s Stories,

giving time and effort to writing Christian stories and sermons for

children, and composing hymns.

The father of four children, Befu was a middle school science teacher, a

Sunday School teacher, and as an author of children’s literature he found

meaning in writing children’s hymns as a way of conveying truth to the

younger generation. Befu said: “In the future I want to continue to write

children’s hymns that can be understood, enjoyed, and from which children

can grasp God’s grace and love. However, it is only through God’s power and

grace that I can hope and trust that my poor, unskilled poetry can be used

to nurture the faith of children.” It was out of this earnest desire on the

part of Befu-his earnest desire to convey God’s word to children-that “In

Old Galilee when Sweet Breezes Blew” was born.

Every summer at the St. Mary’s Campsite in Ichinomiya-machi, a summer

retreat was held for middle and senior high school students in Chiba

Prefecture, in which Befu participated as a leader. The theme of the 1973

summer retreat was “The Bible.” On the last day of the retreat, each of the

participants wrote their impressions of what they had experienced. Befu sat

down at a slightly elevated area beside a lake where there was a pleasant

breeze. He thought of the middle and senior high school students, and prayed

that he might be able to convey the blessings of the Bible to the students.

There was a cool breeze, and on the highest point of the campsite was a

replica of the crucifixion.

1. In old Galilee, when sweet breezes blew o’er the lake,

? ? Where he spoke to crowds when they came to hear,

? ? Those words of grace that gave them promise;

? ? Oh speak to me now, and let me hear those words of grace.

2. On that stormy day, when waves billowed high on the lake,

?? ? His disciples feared till he spoke to them,

?? ? Those words of power that gave them courage;

? ? Oh speak to me now, and let me hear those words of power.

?3. On that cross he hung, to die for the sins of the world,

?? ? From Golgotha’s shame he called out in pain,

?? ? Those saving words of hope to sinners;

?? ? Oh speak to me now, and let me hear those saving words.

?4. On that eventide two friends for Emmaus were bound,

?? ? Recognized him not till he spoke again,

?? ? Those words of life to his disciples;

?? ? Oh speak to me now, and let me hear those words of life.

(Translation taken from Sound the Bamboo, the Christian Conference of Asia

Hymnal published in 2000)

This earnest prayer, which 60-year-old Befu was striving to convey to

teenagers, is now loved and sung by many people as “my own prayer,”

transcending generations, denominations, and nationalities. (Tr. WK)

? ? ? ? ? ? * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Befu Nobuo, ‘ In Old Galilee When Sweet Breezes Blew’”

From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)

Summarized by Nishio? Misao, member

KNL Editorial Committee

Japanese Hymns Now Appearing in English Hymnals

by Tim Boyle, missionary

? ? ? Buraku Liberation Center, Osaka

Japanese Hymns in English is the title of a book I ran across that was

written by Pauline Smith McAlpine in 1975.? It contains her translations of

50 hymns written by Japanese Christians, along with short biographies of the

composers of the hymns.?Few of these hymns have been known in the West, but

in recent hymnals of several mainline denominations, some now

appear.?Likewise, two specialized hymnals focusing on Asian hymns contain

numerous translated Japanese hymns.?The following website gives a complete

listing of the hymnals that contain particular hymns:

I want to highlight a hymn that is often confused with the hymn described in

another article on Japanese hymns in this KNL issue, since both begin with

the words “Gariraya no Kaze” (Winds of Galilee).?The other “Gariraya no

Kaze” hymn was composed by Yuki Ko, the “Charles Wesley” of Japanese hymn

writers.?In fact, Yuki’s 10 hymns in the new Hymnal 21 is second only to

Wesley’s 15, unless the 24 hymns attributed to the Kyodan’s Hymnal Revision

Committee are counted.

First, a brief biography of Yuki Ko: Born in 1896 in Tottori Prefecture, he

was educated at Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya. In 1921, he was

installed as the pastor of Tokyo Futaba Independent Church, the predecessor

of the Kyodan’s Higashi Nakano Church.?He also was a lecturer at Aoyama

Gakuin University and a member of the Board of the Christian School of

Music.?He passed away in 1985.

Yuki’s version of the “Galilean breezes” is set to “Missionary Hymn,” a

Lowell Mason tune that in English hymnals is usually associated with “From

Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” While McAlpine includes her translation of this

popular hymn, it does not appear in any standard English hymnal, most likely

because it is not associated with a Japanese melody.

Another of Yuki’s best-known hymns, however, now appears in several English

hymnals, including the New Century Hymnal published by United Church of

Christ (UCC). “In A Lowly Manger Born” (also known by the title “Behold the

Man”) is set to a tune known as “Mabune” (Japanese for “manger”), written by

Abe Seigi in 1930.?


1. In a lowly manger born,

Humble life begun in scorn;

Under Joseph’s watchful eye,

Jesus grew as you and I;

Knew the suff’ring of the weak.

Knew the patience of the meek,

Hungered as but poor folk can;

This is he. Behold the man!

2. Visiting the lone and lost,

Steadying the tempest tossed,

Giving of himself in love,

Calling minds to things above.

Sinners gladly hear his call;

Publicans before him fall,

For in him new life began;

This is he. Behold the man!

3. Then to rescue you and me,

Jesus died upon the tree.

See in him God’s love revealed;

By his Passion we are healed.

Now he lives in glory bright,

Lives again in Pow’r and might;

Come and take the path he trod,

Son of Mary, Son of God.

The UCC’s New Century Hymnal contains four other Japanese hymns, while the

United Methodist Hymnal and the Presbyterian Hymnal each contain three.

Interestingly, the Japanese hymn that appears most often in English language

hymnals is to a tune called “Tokyo.”?It appears in eight hymnals, with three

slightly different translations, but all close to “Here, O Lord, Your

Servants Gather.”?Yet, it must not be sung very often in Japanese churches

because to use a musical phrase, it does not “ring a bell” with me.

The next most common hymn appears in four hymnals and is one I am very

familiar with, as it is frequently sung in Japanese churches. “Mikotoba

Kudasai” appears in the United Methodist hymnal as “Send Your Word, O Lord,”

while in the UCC hymnal the first line is, “Make a Gift of Your Holy Word.”

These few Japanese hymns that are included in English language hymnals are a

good beginning. I can think of several other beautiful Japanese hymns that

would be excellent additions.?Hopefully, some of them will find their way

into our various hymnals, along with hymns from other cultures as well.

Nine-day PCT-Kyodan "Youth Mission 2008" Held in Japan

The event? “Under the Lord’s Blessing, Youth Mission 2008,” was successfully

held July 31-Aug. 8 by Kyodan’s Committee on Edudation. There was good

fellowship between the seven young people from the Presbyterian Church in

Taiwan and the Japanese youth who participated.

The program began with a reception on July 31, and the next day, on Aug. 1,

we had the opening service. Afterwards we strolled through Harajuku, the

youth district of Tokyo. It was fun making gyoza (Chinese dumplings) for

dinner with young people who are members of the Student Christian

Fellowship. An evening lecture was given on “Japan’s Christianity and

Yokohama” as preparation for the following day’s study trip to Yokohama.

After a meditation session, everyone enjoyed a dance party. SCF members

presented yukata (a kind of summer kimono) to the visitors. On Aug. 2, we

visited the Yokohama churches referred to in the lecture given the previous

night. That evening, the youth from Taiwan headed to the churches assigned

to be their hosts, where they observed Sunday morning worship on Aug. 3.

On Aug. 4, we traveled to Osaka via the Shinkansen (bullet train) in the

morning, and spent the day sightseeing in Osaka. We moved on to the Mt.

Rokko YMCA, where the conference was held, Aug. 5-7. Under the theme of

“Walking Together with Our Lord,” we talked about God and about ourselves.

At the end of the conference, we prepared a candlelight service using our

own forms of worship, including holding hands in a circle, sharing

testimonies, and engaging in a drama based on the Bible-all to the praise of

God. At the end of the conference on Aug. 7 we went to Nara, where we

enjoyed the sights of this traditional city. The closing worship of Youth

Mission 2008 was held at Nara Takabatake Church. We had a good time with the

youth from Osaka District. We all enjoyed Nara cuisine. Then, on Aug. 8, we

sent off the visitors to Taiwan from Kansai International Airport.

Although only five Japanese youth participated in the whole schedule of the

event, the group from Taiwan had many encounters with Japanese young people.

We also received a warm welcome from a great many others. The Japanese youth

were impressed by the faith of the youth from Taiwan, and the nine-day

program was a precious and memorable event for them. We experienced the fact

that we are brothers/sisters sharing a common faith in our Lord Jesus

Christ. I would like to report with much gratitude that our Lord was with

us, protecting our health and encouraging our fellowship throughout those

nine days.?

The next session of the Youth Mission of the Kyodan and the Presbyterian

Church in Taiwan is scheduled to taken place in Taiwan in 2010. May God

continue to bless our Youth Mission program in the future. (Tr. HL)

?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Sato Tomoko, member

?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Youth Mission 2008 Committee

Kyodan Women's Federation Hosts Japan-Germany "Youth Mission 2008" Event

Youth Mission 2008 with the Berlin-Brandenburg Evangelical Church-the 5th

Germany and Japan Youth Exchange-was held in Japan, Aug. 12-22. The Steering

Committee of the National Federation of Kyodan Women’s Societies (NFKWS)

planned and hosted the program. Pastor Ute Feuerstack headed the German

delegation. The three-day retreat convened at Ashino-ko Camping Village in

Hakone, Aug. 13-15., with14 German participants, including 9 youth, and 26

Japanese participants, including 12 young people. The theme of the retreat

was “Faithfully Administering God’s Grace (I Peter 4:10).” We discussed

environmental issues, something many people throughout the world have become

more concerned about today. Abe Rintaro and Hamda Makito, seminarians at

Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, led the event for the entire three days.

On the first day, Pastor Ute Feuerstack preached during the opening service

for the retreat. Following the service, we introduced ourselves to one

another and had tea together. Afterwards, Pastor Yatsuka Kiyoshi from Aki

Church led a Bible study, during which we read chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis

and meditated on this text. The members from Germany cooked German food for

dinner. After enjoying our meal, we had time for cultural exchange. Japanese

participants introduced Japanese culture, Japanese songs with sign language,

calligraphy, and origami (paper-folding), and explained the situation of the

church in Japan. The visitors from Germany actively participated in this

cultural exchange program and were especially interested in paper-folding.

On the second day, Abe Rintaro preached the sermon at the morning worship

service. We separated into three groups?\prayer, worship, and skit?\and each

group made preparations for the closing service on the third day. This time,

Japanese members made somen, a traditional kind of noodle in Japan, for

lunch. The group from Germany liked somen more than we expected. We had

outdoor activities in the afternoon. After dinner, the German participants

introduced German culture to us. They performed a skit of Snow White and the

Seven Dwarfs and also presented a special “circus” for us. The Japanese

participants were impressed by the German performers’ entertainment skills.

We also enjoyed games together.

On the final day, Nishinosono Michiko, pastor of Kambara Church, preached at

the closing worship service. Each of the three groups formed on the second

day played a special role in this service. The prayer group offered the

invocation after the first hymn and led a special prayer after the sermon;

the skit group performed a play based on Genesis and explained the

significance of the creation story; and the worship group sang Taize hymns.

Pastor Feuerstack closed the service with a blessing and expressed her

gratitude to those who had worked on the exchange program this year and to

those who had prayed for us. She also thanked the host families, the staff

members, and all the participants. After the retreat, each of the German

members stayed with a host family and had fellowship at the church, then

participated in a study tour of Hiroshima and Kyoto together. Hopefully,

they had an opportunity to think about the peace of God, especially while

they were visiting Hiroshima.

Although the participants might have had various impressions, we have

expanded the horizon of our own views through this exchange program. With

the increasing globalization of our world recently, we share common

problems, such as environmental issues, on a global scale. By participating

in this program, we have come to realize that we have great possibilities

for our common future, despite the problems mentioned above. It is our wish

that hope and koinonia will be fostered by this program. We sincerely

express our gratitude to God, who made this program possible; to those who

worked on our behalf, to those who helped us through earnest prayers and

generous offerings; and to Jesus Christ, who makes us respect our

differences and unites us all into one Church.

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Abe Rintaro and Hamada Makito, seminarians

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Tokyo Union Theological Seminary

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