Christian Events Marking the "Year of Japanese-Brazilian Exchange"

by Matsumoto Toshiyuki, pastor?

Kyodo-midorigaoka Church, Southwest Subdistrict, Tokyo District

The year 2008 marks the passing of 100 years since the first Japanese immigrants went to Brazil. To celebrate this anniversary, 2008 was designated “The Year of Japanese-Brazilian Exchange”(Ano do Interc?mbio Jap?o-Brasil) by the governments of both countries, with commemorative stamps and coins being issued and various celebratory events being held. Since 1908, a large number of Japanese people have immigrated to Brazil, and their descendants have spread throughout the country. So Brazil today has the largest ethnic population of people of Japanese descent in the world: over 1,500,000. Immigration has also taken place in the opposite direction, as since the 1980s Brazilians of Japanese descent and other Brazilians have been coming to Japan to work and study. So there are currently more than 300,000 Brazilians living in Japan.?

Christians have also held celebrations of this anniversary. In Brazil, the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Brazil sponsored a series of ten evangelistic concerts by Mori Yuri, a Christian singer known for her involvement with the children’s television program “Uta no onei-san (Big Sister Singing Songs),” broadcast by NHK (the national television network in Japan. These concerts took place from Aug. 29 to Sept. 14 in various areas of Brazil. In S?o Paulo, over 1,000 Japanese Brazilians gathered to hear hymns and nostalgic Japanese songs. ?

In Japan, to mark the Year of Japanese-Brazilian Exchange, an ecumenical bilingual service was held at the Kyodan’s Harajuku Church, which is situated next door to the Brazilian embassy. This service, sponsored jointly by Harajuku Church and the Catholic Tokyo International Center, was also supported by the National Christian Council’s Committee on Human Rights of Foreigners in Japan, the Music Department of the Kyodan Tokyo District’s Southwest Subdistrict, Brain corporation with the backing of the Brazilian Embassy.?

I led the singing at this ecumenical service, with guitar and percussion accompaniment by professional Brazilian musicians who are working in Japan. We sang three hymns from Brazil (from both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions), in Portuguese and Japanese. The Japanese versions were translations I had done myself.?

During the seven years that I worked as a missionary in Brazil, I encountered many typical Brazilian hymns with their wonderful rhythms, beautiful tunes, and strong social messages. As I really wanted to make it possible to sing these hymns in Japanese, I translated more than ten of them in order to introduce them to Japan. One of them, “Momento Novo (New Time),” which we sang at the ecumenical service, is included in the Kyodan hymnal Sambika 21,” published in Japan ten years ago.? The English words are as follows:?

?? ? ? ? God calls his people now to a new life,

? ? ?

? ? ? ? ? ? ? walking along together hand in hand;

? ? ? ?

? ? ? ? ? ? ? the time is ripe for changing, the moment is now.

?? ?

?? ? ? ? Let’s walk together; no one can go alone!

?? ? ? ? So, come and join! Get in a circle with all the people,

?? ?

? ? ? ? ? ? ? your hands and hearts are important!?

Father Olmes Milani, a Brazilian missionary working at the Catholic Tokyo International Center, gave a powerful ecumenical message. “In spite of the many cases of division, war, exclusion, and prejudice, we hold on to the same vision that God has the hope of building a new kingdom, both for God and for ourselves. This is a kingdom founded not on legal, social, or political systems but on the power of love for one another, where differences of language, culture, and religion are not obliterated, but where, united as one body, we can build a world of peace and love, to the praise and glory of God.” We pray that the next 100 years will bring a bountiful new harvest for the churches of both Japan and Brazil.

?(Tr. SN&BE)


Christian Composer Leaves Legacy of "Tomi-songs"

by Maruyama Motoko, head piano teacher

Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution, Tokyo ?

The boys camp with the longest history in Japan, Nojiri Gakuso, is held every summer at Tokyo YMCA’s Lake Nojiri Campground. The 73rd session was held this year. The camp songs sung there are called “Tomi-songs,” and there are more than 100 of them. The man who compiled the songbook is my father, Tomioka Masao.? From 1937 until he died in April 2008 at the age of 98, “Tomi San” (Mr. Tomi) spent his life as a song leader and songwriter. My father was born in Gunma Prefecture in 1909. His father, a dedicated Christian, died at the age of 37. As his father had willed, my father began to board at the age of 14 at the home of Noguchi Suehiko, pastor of Yumicho-hongo Church. There he heard organ music and the four-part harmony of hymns, and this experience set him on his life’s course as a musician and music teacher with a deep Christian faith.?

The interesting point about the Tomi-songs is that they capture the accent and intonation of spoken Japanese. They make the songs as enjoyable as conversation. Because the melodies and verses are so natural, no one can keep from smiling. In addition, there are a variety of other Tomi-songs: some like traditional Japanese melodies, others like the folksongs of countries like the United States, England, Finland, and India. Some verses are even set to melodies from the hymnal and from Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”.

After he turned 43 years of age, my father taught music for 20 years at the junior high and senior high school of Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution. During this time he rearranged many pieces of religious music for women’s voices, which were sung during the school worship services and on ceremonial occasions. He also directed all the students in a great chorus. Among his arrangements for women’s voices are Handel’s “Messiah,” Rossini’s “Faith, Hope, and Love,” and a collection of Christmas music published by the Ongaku no Tomo Sha (Friends of Music Company), all of which are still used across Japan.

My father put into song Bible stories like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Sower, and Noah’s Ark as well as the names of the Books of the Bible and the names of the 12 Apostles, so learning the songs results in learning the Bible stories, the books of the Bible, and the names of the 12 apostles. My father often said that if we learned these as children, we would understand their meaning as adults. A Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution graduate said that these songs were very useful when she took the entrance exam for theological seminary.?

My father was also a member of the committee that created the new children’s hymnal.? He wrote many hymns for adults, children, and even kindergarteners, including the hymn usually sung at church school birthday celebrations. A Catholic priest who was transferred to Brazil took my father’s Christmas pageant “Jesus’ Birthday” there, and it is being used in Japanese classes for third-generation Brazilian-Japanese living in that country.

My father always ended his work with the words “Glory to God,” and now he must be at peace, resting with his Father.

Note: Maruyama Motoko (born in 1949), the eldest daughter of Tomioka Masao, was a student of Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution’s elementary, junior high, and senior high schools and graduated in 1968. She majored in piano at Musashino College of Music, graduating in 1972, and is presently the head piano teacher at Toyo Eiwa Educational Institution in Tokyo, which has schools for kindergarteners through graduate students. (Tr. JT)

Commemorative Events for the 150th Year of Evangelism in Japan

Next year, 2009, will be the 150th year since evangelism began in 1859 in Yokohama. The Kyodan considers this to be an appropriate year to regard with special remembrance. Of course, celebrations are being planned not only by the Kyodan but also by the wider Japanese Christian community, such as a gathering under the theme “Commemorating 150 Years of Mission” being planned by the Japan Evangelical Association and the National Christian Council in Japan and the “150 Years of Protestant Evangelism” event to be held by Kyodan volunteers.

“The History of the Founding of the Kyodan,” which was released on Oct. 26, 1956, records that “evangelical Christianity in our country originated with the evangelistic activities of a foreign missionary who arrived in 1859 (the sixth year of the Ansei Era); and on Feb. 2 (according to the old calendar) in 1872 (the fifth year of the Meiji Era), the Nihon Kirisuto Kokai was founded in Yokohama as the first Christian church.” One opinion held is that the evangelism done in Okinawa by an Episcopalian missionary, Bethelhiem, should be regarded as the “beginning of evangelism in Japan,” but at that time Okinawa was the Ryukyu nation and not part of Japan, so this date was not adopted. Also, in the past, 100 years of evangelism was celebrated in 1959; and the fact that many churches celebrated the 50th year and the 100th year of evangelism, recognizing 1859 as the beginning date, requires a like appraisal of history.

The Kyodan Executive Council, at its third meeting of the 35th General Assembly period, approved the establishment of a “committee on preparation of events commemorating the 150th year of evangelism in Japan” and elected Kobayashi Tadao, a member of Kusakabe Church, as chairperson and Fujikake Junichi, pastor of Yokohama Shiro Church, as secretary. In subsequent Executive Council meetings, reports from that committee have been received and approved.

In naming related events in the past, the word senkyo (missionary preaching and teaching) has been used, but it would seem that this word indicates consciousness of “unfolding teachings” through the work of missionaries sent by overseas mission bodies. However, as we approach the 150th year of commemoration today, most of the foreign mission organizations have withdrawn; and it has become an age of independent dendo (communication of the way) by Japanese people. So deliberately and with an awareness of these developments, it has been decided to hold the events as a commemoration of “the 150th year of evangelism (not mission) in Japan.”

The main plans are for the following:

?? (1) The theme of the events:? “Christ Indeed My Savior”

? ? ? ? Scripture:? I Corinthians 1: 18~25

? ? ? ? The aim:? To affirm that our salvation is in the forgiveness of sin through the cross of?

?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? our Lord ?

?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Jesus Christ, and to stand firmly in that salvation and develop a new evangelism

? (2) Commemorative events:?

?? ? ? ? ? ? 1. A 150th year of evangelism in Japan ceremony on ? Nov. 23, 2009?

?? ? ? ? ? ? 2. A 150th year of evangelism commemorative worship service on June 24, 2009,?

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? celebrating the foundation of the Kyodan

? ? ? ? ? ? 3. The publication of a “150th year of evangelism in Japan” commemorative book?

?

?? (3) Commemorative fundraising.? Goal amount:? 5,000,000 yen? (Tr. RB)

Katsuyama Ken’ichiro, executive secretary

36th General Assembly Deliberates Communion-related Issues

The 36th Kyodan General Assembly was held Oct. 21-23, 2008 at the Metropolitan Hotel in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Under the theme of “The Kyodan: Unity and Solidarity as the Church Universal,” the agenda items uppermost in the minds of participants centered on the issue of “open communion,” in which non-baptized worshipers are allowed to partake of the communion elements, and on the related issue of the “recommendation of a minister to resign.” The debate was lively, to be sure, as several similar motions related to the issue were voted on. The results were rather confusing, as the motions concerning “withdrawal of the recommendation of a minister to resign” were narrowly defeated [all by hand votes], while the “motion to recognize the invalidity of the admonition (against Kitamura Jiro, the pastor of Momijizaka Church)” narrowly passed [by secret ballot]. The debate will continue into the new General Assembly Period.

Of the 400 delegates, 367 were present when the assembly convened. The ten delegates from Okinawa declined to attend, as they have done since the 34th General Assembly, but three appointed representatives, including Former District Moderator Chibana Masakatsu and the Former Vice-moderator Gushiken Atsushi, were in attendance.?

Kyodan Moderator Yamakita Nobuhisa said in the moderator’s report: “The banner behind me expresses the theme of our assembly, which is ‘The Kyodan, Unity and Solidarity as the Church Universal.’ It is my fervent desire that we would again return to our roots in the present reality in which we find ourselves, when the very core of our unity as a church is being shaken.” In his opening remarks, he referred to the matter of open communion as the most significant issue of the previous 35th General Assembly Period, pointing out the illegitimacy of the practice and saying that “it not only threatens the ecclesiastical structure of the Kyodan and brings disarray into the entire church but also results in damage to our ecumenical relationships.”

Concerning Moderator Yamakita’s report, numerous questions and criticisms surfaced, such as the ignoring of Okinawa in the 150th anniversary of evangelism in Japan, the dropping of the “reconsideration of the union” (of the Japan and Okinawa Kyodans in 1967) due to a lack of time, and references to what a “universal church” should be. Moderator Yamakita responded by saying:”With respect to Missionary Bettelheim [an Anglican doctor who arrived in Okinawa in 1846] and the 150th anniversary issue, this was already brought up in the 34th and 35th assemblies. We inquired of the Anglican Church about this, and they view his service there as part of Ryukyu history, saying that their church would also be observing the 150th anniversary in 2009.? I also understand that there are various opinions on the communion issue, but while it is permissible to have variety, this must still be within a united church that is part of the Church Universal.” This discussion went on for almost an hour, and then the report was accepted on a hand vote, with 213 of the 368 delegates who voted approving it.

General Secretary Naito Tomeyuki touched on structural reform in the general secretary’s report, saying: “Concerning the proposal to revise the number of delegates to the General Assembly, the responses from the various districts were evenly split between those in favor and those opposed, and so more work needs to be done on this. Thus, we will not bring it up for debate at this assembly.”

The most controversial topics of the assembly concerned the issue of how the rite of Holy Communion should be understood and the related issue of the admonition of a minister for practicing open communion. A motion was presented to “establish a format for sincere dialog in order to preserve trust among the churches of the Kyodan.” The General Assembly steering committee ruled that since this motion would be related to the election of officers, it should be dealt with first.

The author of the motion, Kobayashi Sadao, from the Tokai District, explained his rationale by saying: “The practice of open communion ignores the ideals expressed in the Kyodan’s Constitution and Bylaws, so it closes off the path to dialog. We need to recognize that ministers who observe this practice are not fit to be members of the Executive Council or church commissions.”

With respect to this issue, three delegates gave their opinions, which included statements of support, such as “The basis of trust between churches is the Kyodan’s Constitution and Bylaws,” and statements of opposition, such as “This restricts delegates voting rights.” When put to a vote, of the 363 votes counted, only 179 were in support, and so it was narrowly defeated.

As a result, the election process for selecting the next Kyodan moderator was greatly delayed, with the preliminary election not taking place until the evening of the first day. As there were 13 persons with the same number of votes for fifth place, the result was a total of 17 persons for the second round of voting–far more than usual, so the second round of voting was delayed until the next day. The final result was that Kyodan Moderator Yamakita Nobuhisa, pastor of Hijirigaoka Church, Southwest Subdistrict, Tokyo District garnered 193 votes to be reelected to his fourth term.

Moderator Yamakita expressed his ambitions for his new term, saying, “While I wonder about taking on a fourth consecutive term, given the circumstances we face, I accept the challenge you place before me and promise to do my best to fulfill my duties.”?

The new vice moderator will be the Sasaki Michio, pastor of Shizuoka Church, Tokai District, who will be serving his first term. In response to his election, he stated, “This is a big responsibility, but with your understanding and support, I pledge myself to support the moderator in his duties.”

Concerning the former vice moderator, Kobayashi Makoto, who served in that capacity for three terms, Moderator Yamakita explained that Kobayashi was scheduled to become the chairperson of the “Doshuren” [Japanese abbreviation for "The Association of Religious Faiths Dealing with the Problem of 'Dowa'" (a euphemism for Buraku discrimination)"] and expressed his appreciation for his past work.

After consultation, the moderator and vice moderator nominated Suzuki Nobuharu, pastor of Otsuka-heian Church in Kanagawa District, as secretary, and he was approved for his fourth term. ?

The general secretary for the previous biennium, Takemae Noboru, had to resign due to poor health, so his replacement, Naito Tomeyuki, was formally approved by the Assembly. Then, the recommendation of the Executive Council that he be elected for a full, four-year term was also approved. Likewise, the director of the Board of Publications for the previous biennium, Akiyama Toru, had resigned and was replaced mid-term by Arisawa Tsugutoshi. After this was formally approved, a new four-year term for Arisawa was also adopted.?

Another topic that became an issue of debate concerned the method of electing the members of the Executive Council. The previous system of voting was to cast ballots for only three persons, but the Executive Council at its fifth meeting of the 35th General Assembly period had passed a resolution to increase the number to ten people, so that proposal was put to a vote. Mukai Mareo from Osaka, however, made a motion to modify the proposal so that delegates could vote for only seven persons, or half of the available spots. His reasoning was that if the Executive Council’s recommendation was adopted, it would mean that a group that had only a slight majority could garner as much as 74% of the total membership of the Executive Council, thus creating a dominate majority. He said that Osaka District has maintained its diversity by keeping the selection process to casting ballots for only half of the available positions. He also proposed that voting be done by secret ballot, and since more than one-fifth of the delegates seconded the motion, it was adopted. His motion to limit the ballots to seven was likewise approved. The voting for Executive Council members then took place on the morning of the third day, with the 14 clergy and 13 lay persons being elected according to the new process.

Due to the lack of time to get through the entire agenda, eight motions were not even dealt with, and were thus abandoned. These included the “motion to cancel the observances of the 150th anniversary of evangelism in Japan,” “the motion to establish a forum for discussion on the sacrament of communion,” and “the motion to make a declaration of opposition to the reorganization of the U.S. military in Japan and a call for the withdrawal of military bases.” This situation was recognized by the body, and the assembly was adjourned.

Note: open communion (the practice of opening communion up to? anyone who desires to receive it irrespective of whether they have been baptized yet or not). (Tr. TB)

Katsuyama Ken’ichiro, executive secretary

From Kyodan Shinpo (The Kyodan Times)

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.