Saturday, April 09, 2005

Japan Hour

Conquered by food troops from the Land of the Rising Sun (fortunately without the earnest Japanese commentator voice-over).

Started off with taiyaki and obanyaki. Taiyaki is a sweet snack shaped like a sea bream ("tai" in Japanese). It is made, like pancake, from a mixture of flour, eggs and sugar and is filled with a sweet red bean paste called "anko". Obanyaki is much the same thing but is shaped like a coin called "oban" which was in circulation during the Muromachi (1333 - 1568) through to the Edo (1600 - 1868) period.

Munched on hot takoyaki, balls of the severely severed limbs of an octopus entombed in a wheat-flour batter with sprinkles of chopped leek, topped with okonomiyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.

Moved on to nibbles on some yakitori, well-marinated tender grilled chicken on sticks. Would have been great with a cold Sapporo.
Before the main meal, chomped on some good sushi: sake, unagi, california handrolls, soft-shell crab maki and temaki, accompanied by plates of fried tofu and okonomiyaki.

Passed on the gari, thinly sliced pink pickled ginger, normally served after sushi, meant to cleanse the palate between courses.

Then stocked up with hearty (or as hearty as wimpy Jap food gets) sukiyaki, thinly-sliced tender beef and vegetables cooked in a tasty soup at the table and dipped in raw eggs just before eating. The egg cooks on the hot meat. Sukiyaki was eaten with Japanese rice sprinkled with umeboshi, shredded pickled plum which is supposed increase appetite and aid digestion.

There was also tonkatsu, deep-fried breaded meat with rice in a Japanese curry sauce.

Bowls of miso soup and cups of green tea later, there was dessert: freshly grilled sticks of maccha yakimochi, glutinous rice-flour green tea balls lightly toasted on a warm grill before being slathered with sweet red bean paste; mochi ice-cream, ice-cream inside a mochi covering; and strawberry kisses, ice-cream hidden inside a holed-out strawberry.

Japanese cuisine is interesting and delicately-packaged. Quite a few are good to eat on the run and in small dainty portions, if you're after that sort of thing. But it's just too politely-flavoured for my taste. Which makes me wonder whether all Japanese cuisine and snacks are dedicated solely to the flat tummies of slim Japanese girls. Maybe they just don't eat anything that's not kawaii. This theory is evidenced by the fact that when Glico wanted to manufacture a product specifically for men, they had to name it "Men's Pocky" so that the sweet sensibilities of their usual customers would not be shocked by the staid racing green packaging and dark chocolate within. Anyway, my tummy didn't register this pretence of food and I'm home and hungry again. Someone suggested that I'd never make it as a missionary in Japan...

I've always wondered for years why the Japanese are so resistant to the gospel. Apparently, as far as anyone can tell, less than 0.4% are genuinely Christian (how do you get statistics like that anyway?!). Assuming this is true, it seems very strange that although they take to all new and foreign things eagerly and incorporate them into their youth culture resulting in Japanese fast food like the Japanese burger-joint Mosburger, and the quixotic J-pop and J-rock, they don't take at all to this "Western" (not quite Western, more Middle Eastern, must detractors never notice) religion called Christianity.

Are their hearts more hardened towards God? Some suggest that it's God's judgement on them for the atrocities committed during World War II (but what about the Germans, the Romans during the Roman Empire, the Mongolians during the time of Genghis Khan, and arguably, in light of the Iraq War, the Americans?). Others suggest it's the innate animistic culture (but how about the Taoists in south-east Asia?). Even more others think it's the cultural and language barriers (but what about the tribes in Africa, or Myanmar, or even Sweden?).

We may never know the superficial reasons for this. But we surely know the underlying reason: like everyone else in any other century, culture and country who does not acknowledge God as God, it's that unrelenting problem of sin; of people turning their backs on the One who created them and the house they live in and continuing shamelessly to make themselves comfortable in that house without so much as greeting to the Owner of the house.

Not all of us will have the ability or resources to proclaim the gospel in Japan. But as Christians, all have been given the ability and resources to promote the gospel in Japan (and anywhere else in the world): the gift of prayer.

In a recent issue of indepth, John Dickson writes of the events leading to the conversion of his family:
"Glenda had taught Scripture in the local high school for years with little observable 'fruit'. She had been faithful in the task but had not witnessed students coming to Christ for almost a decade. That year, everything changed. A city-wide movement of prayer had commenced. Her particular group prayed specifically for Sydney's North Shore and for the school ministries in which several of them were involved. Within the year Glenda's ministry was booming as she hosted regular evangelistic events in her home. As many as 20 students from the local school eagerly crammed into her lounge to ask questions and to hear guest speakers she invited along. At least six of the students from her class of 1982 devoted themselves to Christ for the first time. Three are now passing the gospel on full-time (I'm one).

A few years after these strange days, I asked Glenda what she put her 'success' down to. Without blinking she answered, "Prayer. We prayed earnestly, regularly and specifically for your school, and the Lord in his grace answered us."

As an evangelist who is sometimes tempted to think too highly of skill, style and creativity in evangelism, her words were a salient reminder. The 'harvest' is the Lord's not mine. The most basic evangelistic task, therefore, is not evangelism or financial generosity or even the godly life; it is prayer to the Lord of the harvest."



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