Today, there are many seminars and books on the "mysterious mystique of the peculiar Japanese people and their country." I learned all about that during 14 days on the American President Line's ship, the Wilson sailing from San Francisco to Yokohama from April 14 to 28, 1951.
We could bring on board 350 pounds of baggage, plus everything we could cram in our bedrooms. On board were 12 passengers who ate three means in formal fashion at the captain's table.
Midway through the journey, a radiogram told of Gen. Douglas Macarthur being fired by President Harry Truman. In the back of the ship were invited "guests" from Ueno Zoo: tigers, lions and assorted ferocious animals. Why? Because during the war all zoos were not only depleted, but cannibalized by hungry people living on grass, roots, and bark.
So how did I learn all this in 14 days? My tutor was Kiyoshi Togasaki, a Christian businessman and publisher of the Nippon Times, the patriotic wartime name for The Japan Times of today.
After we all introduced ourselves, the stately Mr. Togasaki learned that my parents were from the city of Nineveh, now Mosul, In Iraq, where Jonah went to preach God's Judgment ("repent or be destroyed in 40 days!") upon the Assyrians. The king repented and made every living thing, human, and animal, fast and pray for 40 days to avert God's impending judgment. It worked. To this day the Assyrians call themselves the "only Christian nation in the world." Four million Assyrians worldwide have no country today.
When I mentioned that, he said, "Persians, Assyrians, Nestorians? Your people brought over to us three priceless treasures: the Bible's Gospel, democracy and medicine."
And after telling me some of Japan's history that is not written in books, he said, "Japanese history is fairy tales, 'his story' ("setsu") vs. 'my story.' You must become a lifelong student of true history and proponent of this magnificent unwritten Christian testimony. Yale University's Kenneth Scott Latourette called Nestorians 'the greatest missionary movement the world has ever seen.'"
In the course of eating and being aboard the ship with him for two weeks, I learned what a true, upright Japanese is. He told the gripping story of how he, as an important-export businessman, or "boeki," lost everything in the tragic San Francisco earthquake of 1928.
Because all records were burned, there was an amnesty that "you didn't have to pay anything you couldn't find the bill for." But he said proudly, "I'm a Japanese Christian! I got in my horse drawn buggy and went to every single company of person I owed a dollar to. We wrote from memory all the bills and I paid every last penny. How could I do anything else before an all-seeing, all-knowing God?"
Then he showed me pictures of him as an evangelist preaching to thousands of people before and after World War II. He hand-printed huge song sheets one by one and after leading the singing, he preached the Gospel. His favorite message was, "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life; No one comes to the Father in heaven except through me.'" Togasaki asked, "How could I preach God's pure Gospel with an impure heart?"
To understand how the deep significance of my meeting Mr. Togasaki is to understand the background from which I came. My father and mother escaped a holocaust in 1917 when more than 180,000 Christians were massacred by Turkish Muslims. They were "boat people" who ended up in Chicago where I was born. I grew up hearing horror stories from cousins and family friends.
When I told my parents that God had called me to Japan, my Dad fumed. "You're crazy! Those Japanese men walk around in kimono with two swords, on big and one small. If they get mad, they'll kill you. Don't go near that place!"
Therefore, when I met this stately, godly gentleman - instead of what I had feared - I was overwhelmed.
We led two joint Sunday morning services aboard the ship. He led the singing and I preached. He also took the offering and dedicated it to my future work in Japan. That was the first offering I had ever received from a Japanese hand. And that's how I've lived by faith for 46 years, from "hand to mouth." From God's hand to my mouth.
What did I learn from him? I learned:
- Punctuality ("jikan genshu"
- Neatness ("kichin toshite")
- Frugality ("setsuyaku")
- Integrity ("shinyo")
- Knowing and repaying obligations ("giri-ninjo" and "on")
- Filial piety ("oyakoko")
- Respect for elders ("sempai sonkei")
- Tighten your belt and go one more notch ("gambare")
- Honesty ("shojiki")
- Reality and phony spirituality ("honne" and "tatemae")
He didn't have to parade it, it showed in the sparkle in his eyes. A man at peace with himself and God.
Those are 10 lessons - as well as a lot of other lessons learned from The Japan Times publisher Togasaki - stood my in a good stead with all of the ups and downs, victories and defeats, pluses and minuses, merits and demerits of living, working, loving, suffering and surviving in Japan since 1951.
Why? That is what a born-again Japanese Christian believer can become.
Although every day we read about and see on TV scandals in every section of society - politicians, bankers, doctors, real estate agents, businessmen, school presidents, public servants, teachers, professors or yakuza, you name it, there is a wall-to-wall scandal.
But that's when looking at Japan with the naked eye. Put on the "Bible's binoculars" and see past the outward to what the inner can become and you have a million miracles of the million Christians in Japan. When there are more like him, there'll be more Christians. There's a saying that to tell if a stick is crooked, put it alongside a straight one. Togasaki was a "straight stick."
All those private lessons I learned, we see just the negative opposite in too much of today's society. How could we explain to Grandfather Togasaki what is happening to his young great-grand-daughters - 14- and 15-year-olds selling their bodies to dirty old men for a Guvvi bag? Their guiding Ten Commandments are reduced to Beat Takeshi's one: "Everybody's doing it, so what's wrong?" ("Aka shingo, minna de watareba, kowaku nai!")
You say, "The sex-crazed Japanese men have always been there." Maybe, but the beautiful you maidens haven't.
I give a one-hour message on "True Love waits" using 50 slides and ended up with a pledge to be born-again and then before God, parents, friend, future spouse, myself, - "I will keep myself pure until marriage." Now with the AIDS scare, even Newsweek agrees, calling abstinence "trendy."
After preaching this, one mother in the audience said, "That's fine, you can use the overhead projector to describe this, but you must give us something in our hands that we can use." So with the help of talented artist Madoka San and the International Chapel Ministries of Nara, we produced a 32-page colored manga titled, "True Love Waits." These are cheap enough (\50) to distribute in front of schools. Already 35,000 have been passed out.
Every time I am discouraged or disappointed in a situation or person I remember Mr. Togasaki, or what it took for hardy, robust Assyrian-Nestorian missionaries who took six months riding on a horse, sleeping under the stars and eating the mutton they put under their saddles to soften up during the day so they could have "sukiyaki" at night - what it took for them to get to Japan and make the first Christians, as early as 198 A.D.
Or I think of what a beautiful, straight Christian Togasaki was and measure it with that. I see reality and face the facts, and yet I kick the facts in the face and pray that this person I'm dealing with may become another Togasaki.
And so I carry on in my 46th year of bringing God's Good News to Japan accompanied by my wife, Lila, and son Ken, who together with me have had almost 110 years of labor of love ("muryo hoshi") for Japan's wonderful people.
Yes, less than 1 percent are baptized Christians, but I'm heartened by an NHK survey that showed 35 percent of Japan's youth (between the ages 16 and 24) would choose Christianity if they had to choose a religion.
Only 11 percent chose Buddhism and 3 percent selected Shintoism. I'm encouraged by the fact that the Bridal Industry News Weekly said that up to 85 percent of Japan's future brides would choose a Christian wedding over their father's objections to have a Shinto one, and more than 65 percent do.
Why? The future bride answers, "Because it's trendy, bright ("kakko ii"), happy ("tanoshi"), light ("akarui"), positive and "I can't understand the preacher when he says, 'Husbands, love your wives as you love your own body, and respect her.'"
And that's Japan's bright future, to follow the "Amaterasu," (the "light that brightens heaven,") which is another name for the "luminous religion," ("Ten shu") preached by Nestorian missionaries, which is just another name for the Lord Jesus Christ, "the Light of the world," brought by the Nestorians all the way from seminary in Ctesiphon, Iraq, to Japan's Sakoshi, Kyoto and Nara some 1,800 years ago.
That "Light of the World" is Japan's only hope as we approach the next century. Go to the light! If you're lost, find the Light-house.