Thursday, June 06, 2013

Train Legs and Missionaries

Daniel and I arrived in Japan yesterday, warmly greeted in Ikebukuro, a suburb of Tokyo, by my seminary classmate and friend, The Rev. Shintaro David Ichihara and his family. Shintaro and I shared many fascinating hours together at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in 2001 poring over the English of his Master’s thesis on missionary liturgical work in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Anglican Church of Japan.) Later, he assisted with preaching and presiding at Christ Church -- Sei Ko Kai, the Japanese American mission congregation in San Francisco where I began ordained ministry.
He’s not as tired as he seems...

We rested last night in the shadow of missionaries, particularly Channing Moore Williams, the Episcopal missionary bishop who founded Rikkyo University in Ikebukuro. Shintaro now serves as chaplain at the High School affiliated with Rikkyo University. By happenstance, as we travel north by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Sendai, I am reading about Samuel Schereschewsky, Williams’ contemporary, a missionary to China and Bishop of Shanghai, who spent his twilight years translating the Bible into Chinese in a little room in Tokyo, arguing the vagaries of culture and language with his assistant, Yeh Shanjung. The two were notoriously stubborn and argumentative. In a hot little room that served as Bishop Schereschewsky’s bedroom, living room, and study in a tiny rickety Tokyo house, they were overheard by Schereschewsky’s daughter and caregiver:

“Don’t you suppose I know my own language?” Mr. Yeh would shout.

“Yes,” retorted the Bishop, “and I spoke it before you were born.”*

With what I hope is some greater humility, I’m re-acquiring my train legs and rudimentary Japanese skills. Daniel brooks no error in my pronunciation, so I am well-disciplined!

Waldo dooko?
I listened this morning to children singing together in a primary school near the Ichihara’s home, soon after their five-year-old daughter was dressed and pressed in her uniform and then walked to school. Little Mugiho and I played the piano for each other after breakfast. Japan remains Japan in all things: ordered and lively, like the throngs packing into local trains in Tokyo yesterday evening’s rush hour as two beleaguered travelers made their last leg from Narita with luggage in tow. Now I watch the rice fields on the right and mountains on the left sail by as we journey to the Diocese of Tohoku.

At Omiya Station
Our mission as we travel north this day is to see firsthand the work of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai in relief work from the devastating March, 2011, tsunami — one that claimed tens of thousands of lives and decimated and in some cases utterly eliminated communities along the northeast coast of Honshu. We will skirt the very outer fringe of the radiation zone of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in a brief visit to one of the local parishes this afternoon, and then meet the Bishop of Tohoku tomorrow in Sendai proper, and I have been graciously invited to help administer Eucharist at the Cathedral in Sendai on Sunday and then speak briefly to a meeting of the church women in the afternoon with Shintaro serving as my translator. It may, coincidentally, be the first time a Gregorian friar appears in any official way in the Diocese of Tohoku!

*from “Schereschewsky of China” by Massey H. Shepherd, Jr.

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