Life as a Christian in Rural Japan

(From an interview with Yamashita Yoshie,

a member of Mima Church in Shikoku District)

 

The city of Uwajima, in Ehime Prefecture, retains strong traces of its history as a castle city. From Uwajima, which faces the sea, a narrow road leads east through the mountain passes to the town of Mima. Alongside the Mima River, which runs through the heart of town, stands Mima Church.

 

Although Christianity was introduced to this area during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), no church was established until after World War II. This came about through the evangelistic efforts of the Nakanocho Church in Uwajima and the rural evangelism of Rev. Kagawa Toyohiko. It is said that Kagawa thought the community needed a nursery school, so he bought a farmhouse to be used both for a nursery school and for worship. That building continues to be used for worship today.

 

Yamashita Yoshie was baptized by Kagawa in 1951. At that time Kagawa told her, “Until death, remain faithful.” She says those words have continued to pull her along her faith journey. Married into a farming family, she has continued the farm, and since her baptism she and the other church members have maintained the ministry of Mima Church.

 

Living in a farming community and supporting a rural church is far from an easy task. Of the 63 years of Mima Church’s history, 55 of those years have been without a regular pastor. There were personal struggles for her as well. Her oldest daughter, who was active in their church school, drowned while still a young girl. Her husband, who was a Christian, spent over 20 years in a wheelchair before his death. However, as she shared her story, there was no trace of distress or regret in her voice.

 

“When we talk about the church, a lot can happen. Sometimes there are strong disagreements, with someone leaving the church saying they won’t return. But when Sunday comes, the quarrel is forgotten, and everyone cheerfully goes to church. When I go to church for Sunday worship or Wednesday prayer meeting, I sometimes walk to church along a country road, using a pushcart instead of a cane. People often ask where I’m going, and when I tell them that I’m going to church, they tell me to watch my step. Sometimes they even ask me to wait, and they cut flowers for me to carry. I consider that part of my witness to the community.

 

“We had our oldest daughter’s funeral at the church. It happened suddenly, but when we went to the church, it was filled with sunflowers. I was so surprised. I wasn’t aware that a funeral could be so bright. From that funeral, it was well understood that I was a Christian.”

 

In her community, a fee for community activities is collected twice a year. Part of that fee is for the local Shinto shrine, but she does not pay that part of the fee. The senior group of the community cleans the shrine, but she does not participate. It may seem a bit unusual, but the community allows this. After all, at 94 she is one of the oldest members of the community,

 

About 40 years ago, one of the pillars of the church, Shimazaki Reiko, died. Yamashita feared that the church would not be able to continue. At that time, she was only attending worship. But then, for the first time, she said she felt a strong personal responsibility for the church as well as a strong sense that “it is God’s church, and there is no reason to fear.”

 

Her home is near the mountains, surrounded by rice paddies and fields. A road from behind her home runs up into the mountains. Seike Ritsue, Yamashita’s younger sister, was an evangelist. After her retirement she returned to Mima, and they lived together for awhile. She pointed to the mountains behind the house and fondly remembered how her sister would often walk along the road into the mountains to pray.

 

Alone now, she reads the Bible twice daily. When doing so, she always reads facing the Buddhist altar that is in her home.* She wants her ancestors who died as Buddhists to hear the Gospel. Although she may forget what she has read, she never fails to read aloud.

 

When she was younger, Saturday was a day when she would work extra hard because she would go to church on Sunday. Now when Saturday comes, she takes extra time to rest so she can go to church on Sunday.

____________

*The family Buddhist altar is traditionally kept in the home of a family’s oldest son. However, given various family situations, it might be kept in the homes of family members who are not Buddhists in deference to their ancestors. (Tr. JS)

 

 

—From Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend)

January 2014 issue

山下ヨシヱ 愛媛・三間(みま)伝道所会員(農民として生きる《インタビュー》

城下町の面影を色濃 く残す愛媛県宇和島市。海に面したその市街から東に山間の隘路をたどると三間町に出る。その町中を流れる三間川沿いに伝道所は立って いる。

この地にキリスト教 が伝わったのは明治時代だが、伝道所ができたのは戦後のこと。宇和島中町(Uwajima Nakanocho)教会の開拓伝道と賀川豊彦(Kagawa Toyohiko)の農村伝道による。賀川は、信徒が礼拝するためと、農村には保育所が必要だろうと、農家を買い取ってくれ たそうで、それが今も使われている会堂である。

信徒の一人、山下ヨ シヱさんはその賀川から1951年に洗礼を受けた。そ のときに賀川からもらった「汝死に至るまで忠信なれ」という言葉に、ずっとひっぱられてきたそうだ。婚家は農家であった。受洗以後、農業にたずさわりながら他の教会員とともに 伝道所を支えてきた。

農村に暮らし、農村 教会を支えることは並大抵のことではない。63年の教会の歴史の中で55年間は無牧だった。個人的な試練もあった。教会学校へ通っていた長女を幼くして水難事 故で失い、クリスチャンだった夫は20年近く車椅子の生活を した後に先立った。でも、山下さんの語りはそんな苦労を感じさせない。

「教会、教会と言って も、いろいろあるんですよ。意見が合わず『もう行かんぞ!』と飛び 出しても、日曜日になるとそんなことケロッと忘れていそいそと教会へ行くのです」「日 曜の礼拝や水曜の祈祷会に、手押し車を杖代わりにして歩いていると、『おばあちゃん、どこ行きよるの』と土地の人 が聞きます。『教会へ行きよるのよ』と言うと、『そう、気をつけてね』と言われる。「ま た、『ちょっと待って』と言って花を切ってくれる人もいます。」わしゃ、それが証しじゃと思っとります」「長女の 葬儀を教会でしました。突然の葬儀だったけど、教会に来たらひまわりがいっぱい飾ってある。びっくりしました。お葬式があんなに明る いもんだとは思ってなかった。そのお葬式で私がキリスト教だというのが周りに伝わった」

集落では年に2回、町内会費を集めにくる。でも山下さんは神社費は払わない。老人会では神社の掃除も あるけど、それにも加わらない。ちょっと変わっているけれども地域ではそれが許されている。94歳。何しろ、土地の最 古参の一人である。

40年ほど前、教会を支えていた島崎鈴子さんという信徒が亡くなった。「教会はもう立ち行かなくなると思いま したよ。それまではただ礼拝に来るだけの私らだった。このとき初めて、私らの教会だと自覚して、『神さまの教会じゃけん、何も恐れる ことはない』という気持ちになりました」と語る。

自宅は山際にある。周 りは田んぼと畑。裏庭からは山へと続く道がある。山下さんの妹、清家リツヱ(Seike Ritsue)さんは伝道者だったが、隠退後にこの家に戻ってきてしばらく一緒に暮らしたことがある。その裏山を指さし ながら、「妹が祈るためによくあの道をたどって山へと入って行きました」と懐かしむ。

 

一人残された今も、 一日2回聖書を読んでいる。それも仏壇に向かって読む。仏教徒として亡くなった先祖達に読み 聞かせている。読んでもすぐに忘れるけど、とにかく毎日欠かさずに読む。「昔は土曜になると明日は礼拝じゃけん、明日の分もと働いて きた。今は明日の礼拝のために、体を休めにゃいけんという気持ちです」と語る。(信徒の友2014年1月号)

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