Despite the external signs of religious structures, moral codes seem loose here: I once mindlessly picked up an innocent-looking magazine from a convenience store stand—and quickly snapped it shut after spotting full-frontal nudity. I then saw a middle-aged man reading that kind of magazine on a subway, while sitting next to a mother cradling a baby. While staying at a local hot spot in Tokyo, a friend and I accidentally wandered into the area’s red-light district—and we saw coquettishly dressed women marketing themselves with signs (5,000 yen!). Young, beautiful women draped the arms of much-older, much-less-attractive men, and broad-shouldered mafia men, arms folded, stood outside questionable establishments.
When I told my church friend all this, she blanched and said, “Oh, never mind, I won’t visit Japan then.” But that was opposite of the point I was trying to make. Japan is worth visiting because it displays a similar phenomenon that many American Christians are blind to in their own country: the paradox of a great nation suffocating in its greatness. Everything is so immaculate, so beautiful, so convenient—but beneath the lovely wrapping is a hollow that echoes. I listened to that echo for 16 days, yet my eyes were constantly stimulated by pretty gardens, pretty bento boxes, pretty faces—which only compounded the sense of shallowness and loneliness.
Then, during my second-to-last day in Japan, a local pastor invited me to his church in Tokyo for a Sunday service. He led the service in a cafe that the pastor and his wife own, where he also holds live concerts, premarital counseling, and unconventional classes—all part of an innovative evangelistic strategy to reach the local community. The majority of his church members are new converts and first-generation Christians.
That meant the service was entirely in Japanese, a language I cannot understand (I had an interpreter for the sermon). Yet as I stood among the 120 people of all ages, listening to them worship and pray and bless each other in Japanese, I felt my loneliness subside. I was still a foreigner amid strangers, but I too know the Shu (Lord) whom they call Father. I too pray in the name of Iesu Kirisuto (Jesus Christ) and felt the Seirei (Holy Spirit) move in that room. And for the first time since I landed in Japan, I felt my soul relax: I was home. I was among family.