By Kathryn Higgins
I’d consider myself a well-travelled person. I’ve lived in three countries, backpacked through Europe and scoped out several Mediterranean hot-spots… and nothing in my experience can compare to the cultural uniqueness of Japan.
Fish. All foods have a fish-quality in texture and taste.
People openly smoke in restaurants.
They have three alphabets, making Japanese a super difficult language to try to pick up or read.
Miso soup accompanies breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
Coffee is served cold in the mornings.
Vending machines are a massive industry, even serving cigarettes!
The streets are CLEAN yet there are no garbage cans anywhere.
The Salvation Army had rather large numbers in it’s early years but during WWII Salvationists were taken for British spies and were targeted. The Army still hasn’t recovered.
If you are feeling under the weather, you walk around with a medical mask on your face.
Nobody talks on the streets or the subway.
Politeness is very important.
Laughter is often stifled with a hand over the mouth.
Everyone is expected to bow to those who are deemed higher.
There is a way of doing things, rules to follow, a hierarchy to adhere to.
The people of Japan were warm, lovely, welcoming people, but there was a culture of oppressiveness to personal expression. This, for someone like me, was difficult to adjust to. But this restriction of expression was exactly what the Lord wanted to address that week. The theme was Unbound.
Early on, when we sent our set lists in for translation, a few songs bounced back from the Japanese organizers because they couldn’t find a translation or thought the song wouldn’t be a good fit… but one in particular stood out to us. Freedom by Eddie James. We insisted we give it a try. If you don’t know the song, the chorus goes a little like this,
… I knew you’d catch on.
The first time we sang it, the crowd was heavy with that anticipatory anxiety from not knowing what was expected. We encouraged clapping, dancing, jumping, even screaming. By the end of the song, they were getting the hang of it, but apprehensively. The song was then requested again during the next meeting, then again at the next and over and over until it became the mantra for the week. We even learned it in Japanese!
That word freedom was the gateway. They needed that constant reminder, over and over, repeating and repeating that there is freedom in Jesus. During our final set, Freedom was requested as an encore, were the youth joined hands, jumping in unison, running back and forth at the front of the church as one, dancing with abandonment. For us, that was it. That was the high point of our experience. The freedom of Jesus infiltrating a culture so laden with decorum and rules. He was realized in a new way. He was present.