Robert & Roberta Adair

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I’ve written a couple of ramblings about likes and dislikes related to Japan. I think I’ve also written before about having a personality that “when I’m up, I’m up. When I’m down, I’m down. And when I’m only halfway up (…wait. Does that happen?…) I’m either up or down.” Well, here’s a little ramble about the downs and the dislikes.

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Mom’s backyard. I love this view.

When I was in the States, it was sooo great to be with family and friends. I’ve had bouts of homesickness here so strong that I physically hurt. True story. Yet on this trip I realized that in a lot of ways, the US isn’t my home anymore. It’s great to go back (and enjoy steak, wide roads, grass, diversity, big laughter, etc.), but this piece of Japan is home – our house, our friends, our narrow-aisled grocery store, our crotchety old neighbors, our church, our community. Stepping into the airport in Narita and being once again surrounded by a bunch of Japanese faces felt so…right. I don’t know how to explain it.

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Romantic Japan last fall

As exhausted as I was (ha! still am), I had a strong peace that this is where God wants us. This – Japan, one of 2 countries I once told God I didn’t want to go – has become home.

Then yesterday happened. I’ll try to keep details out of it as I don’t want to vent or incriminate too much (and, yes, I’ll most definitely be spewing and deleting as I type…). But a few things that drive me really, really crazy about the culture slapped me silly. I came home, yelled at invisible people in the mirror, cried, and took a nap while J slept. When he woke up crying, I may or may not have cried some more (not soft, tender, sad tears but Frustrated! Angry! Grrr-why-am-I-in-Japan tears).

I DISLIKE giri (obligation) that affects every aspect of society. If invited to, say, a wedding, one’s reaction (my perception) isn’t “YAY! I get to celebrate my friend’s special day!” but “Oh boy. I have to go and I have to give a lot of money.” It’s a dance. Guests are expected/obligated to give a minimum of $100 each (some say $300), and the couple is expected/obligated to give a reciprocal gift that is between 30 and 50 percent of the original gift’s value. This feels so heavy to me – it’s not a light, celebratory thing. Do you have a very good friend who is unemployed at the moment? A sweet but poor relative? Better not invite them as you wouldn’t want to shame them for not being able to fulfill their social obligation.

(Do you see someone drop a bag of groceries? Better not help them as they’ll feel obligated to reciprocate. Want to have a neighbor over? Better not as they’ll feel obligated to bring an expensive gift or to return the favor and you don’t want to make someone feel indebted to you. Soo many more examples…and this drives me crazy like fo rizzle.)

I occasionally simply ignore giri because it will bind me from doing anything ever for anyone. Wow, I’m writing in extremes…but I think many people around me function like this.

I DISLIKE the extreme value on fairness. If you can’t do something nice for everyone, don’t do anything nice for anyone. Again, this sounds extreme, but this is how I perceive the society in which I live. I find it interested that it’s often foreigners or Japanese people who have lived abroad who have cared for us (and people around us) the most in our time here.  After living here awhile, I’ve started to occasionally feel a pang of embarrassment for having a family over for dinner.  I feel this “if I can’t have everyone over, I shouldn’t have anyone over” thing…which, again, feels binding.  And gross.

I DISLIKE in group and out group thinking. I struggle with the attitude, “but she’s not really one of us…” Loyalty, caring for people closest to you, etc. is great. But so is welcoming and showing hospitality to new people and to the outsider. I totally believe that it is the responsibility of the group to be intentional at reaching out to the new person and not the responsibility of the new person to have to force his/her way into the group. This may or may not be a major hot button topic with me (and I might live in a culture where this isn’t valued. Or so I perceive.)

There are more dislikes to the situation from yesterday.  I know that the intensity of frustration that I feel right now will pass.  I also know that there are Japanese people around me who don’t function in these ways…and that there are loads of expats who have bumped up against these same things for decades longer than I have.  I also know (somewhere in that self-righteous heart of mine…) that this IS where God has me, that there ARE beautiful, wonderful things about the Japanese culture that reflect the goodness and character of God, and that there ARE ways that the Kingdom of Christ needs to bring light to not just individuals but the culture.

Thanks for your partnership and prayers on good days and on rough, angry-tear days.

 

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