Tag Archives: culture

Japan Living

My family and I have been fortunate throughout my military career, and one such blessing is that the Air Force has seen fit to station me in Japan for the vast majority of my 20+ years.

Japanese culture is amazing. Honor and courtesy matter a great deal. Service is valued and something people take pride in. Offering a tip at a restaurant, for example, is frowned upon. The workers know the quality of their product and their service, and they charge you for what is fair. They don’t need a tip as a bribe to put in good effort nor do they want you to feel like you have to help them out financially. (I’m probably vastly misunderstanding the reasoning behind this but the point is, you don’t tip like you would in the States.)

It sometimes seems like the treatment or culture that is too good to be true.

There are some downsides… Traffic laws are such that any accident is partly your fault even if it’s clearly entirely the fault of the other party. If you hadn’t been where you were, they wouldn’t have hit you, or so I guess the logic goes.

So when a landscaping crew’s high-power weed whacker accidentally launched a rock into my minivan’s passenger side window, shattering it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 


While stopped and waiting for the light to turn green, I certainly didn’t expect the sudden pop and Pssshh of crumbling safety glass falling into my car. I may have said something unkind to the worker who–back turned to me, oblivious to my plight and rage–continued trimming the plants on the sidewalk’s edge. His co-worker noticed, called his attention to the situation, and helped start a rough conversation involving contacting his manager’s secretary who thankfully is bilingual. On the phone, she apologized and said someone was coming to take a look. 

In the States, I could almost imagine getting the finger and being sent on my way to sort matters out on my own. I worried that, like a traffic accident, this might fall into some mystical category of “But did you not contribute to the damage to your vehicle by placing your vehicle at that intersection, at that exact moment?”

The company offered to repair the window, which I at least hoped would be the case. I was happy enough with that.

Then they offered to get me a rental car in the mean-time. 

They repaired the car in less than half the expected time.

Then they cleaned out my car and (I’m pretty sure) filled up the gas tank. 

They paid for the rental–or technically, I paid for it on my credit card then they paid me in cash.

And then the manager handed me another envelope that looked like money. With some help and laughter from the bilingual ladies at the car rental office, I found out this was “for dinner.” It was a 10K yen note, which is roughly $100. I mean, the minivan might indicate a large family, but still… That’s a pricy dinner!

It would have been rude to refuse, because this is another custom. When you make a grievous error or do someone harm, you apologize and bring a gift of some sort to smooth the relationship.

As I type this, the taco style brick-oven pizzas my family loves are being cooked, purchased with the “dinner” gift, to be enjoyed with a family movie. Not too shabby. 

(Okay, being honest: the teens will probably thieve some pizza, opt out of family time, and hide out in their rooms watching YouTube videos. Just because we live in Japan, that doesn’t mean everything changes from what you might expect in the States.)

Unpacking a Backpack

My Facebook news feed and WordPress reader today are surprisingly full of things related to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

All because of a 9 year old boy’s “girly” backpack. Or perhaps because of the reactions to it, from the bullies in his school to the administrators dealing with the situation.

The backstory is a kid wore his My Little Pony backpack to school and got picked on. His mom complained to the school staff, and in addition to whatever else they did, the principal said the kid should leave the backpack at home.

I’ve read comments and blogs raging against bullies, saying this response is the same as “She deserved it because she wore that dress.” (Full disclosure, that was my initial take and I even posted that comment online.)

And I’ve read blogs declaring “I wouldn’t let my kid wear that, because boys should be boys.” One poster made what I think is a valid point – are we really comparing a kid picked on for wearing a MLP backpack to rape?

I’m sitting comfy in my house in Nebraska, far removed from Grayson’s life and surroundings. I only get the side of the story presented in the angry blurbs on FB, saying “The school sided with the bullies!” I don’t know what all the school said to the family, or whether the bullies have been disciplined, and how severely, if so.

So naturally my limited information qualifies me to speak in absolute terms about what’s going on in that kid’s life.

I am however a fan of the show, along with my four kids (14 yr old daughter, and boys ages 13, 8 and 3). My wife is decidedly opposed to all things Pony.

Here are some general observations:

1. Violence against others is unacceptable. Assaulting someone (physically, verbally, socially) has no place in a civilized society. Such actions deserve swift and stern discipline – knowing that the point of discipline is not merely to punish but to educate and rehabilitate toward a more desirable behavior. Consider this a teachable moment.

2. The sad fact is that your hobbies, your lifestyle, your chosen associations, your style of dress, your interests, and pretty much anything you do are subject to ridicule from people around you. The more you deviate from whatever is the societal norm, the more you can expect to get some negative attention. Should it be so? Nah. But is it so? Yes. There needs to be some recognition of this.
Even so, let me refer you back to item #1, which trumps this.

3. We need to get past the idea that some hobbies are only for boys, and some are only for girls. Most hobbies are gender-neutral until society weighs judgment. You like cars? Great. Work on cars. You play the violin? Awesome. Be the best at it that you can be. You love musicals? Fantastic. There are some powerful stories and songs worth anyone’s attention. Baseball’s your thing? Lovely. Go to town telling me about the ’86 World Series. You pwn noobs in video games online? Rock on. Be 1337 (‘leet’ as in ‘elite’ as in ‘highly skilled’). You find a cartoon both funny and meaningful? I’m glad you like it. Enjoy.
Which of the above are for boys and which are for girls? And who says so? And why should I care?
I care because see item #2, which we’re all going to have to deal with on some level when we discover how our interests line up with what society expects.

4. MLP is actually a great show on many levels. It’s got an edgy humor that admittedly is not for everyone, but each episode also has a moral story that never gets preached at the audience. Think Veggie Tales without the Bible references. The show IS marketed for young girls, but obviously can appeal to others because it’s done well. See item #3.

I know this is the “Viral Outrage of the Day” or whatever. Next week or next month, we’ll be talking about something else and this won’t matter.

I think those life lessons listed above do matter (except maybe #4). And I hope those are the sort of calm and reasonable approaches we can take when we all freak out and choose sides on the next debate.



I realized today what my spiritual life has been missing.

No, no… my problem isn’t a lack of discipline or a hypocritical lifestyle.

Those are just the symptoms.

My problem is that I don’t have a Christian tablet. I have a heathen iPad.

I saw this article and wondered what in the world we Christians are doing sometimes.

Seriously. “In the world, what are we doing?”

We live such neat little Christian lives, where we only listen to Christian radio or read from Christian media sources. Our Christian leaders in church and on Christian websites tell us what to think about all the stuff going on in the world. We can get together at our Christian coffee shop in the Christian version of Borders and compare Christian notes about the best-selling Christian fiction or self-help books. We’ll have Christian sports nights where we get together with all our Christian buddies and throw a football around. Maybe we’ll have Christian movie night, while the kidlets are in the back room watching VeggieTales (the good Christian ones from the old days with the Bible verses).

On the weekend, we’ll have Christian services (the good folks go to morning and evening service if available). And there’s the Wednesday night groups with good Christian activities for the kids. Don’t forget the Women’s Bible Study on Thursday morning and the Men’s Prayer Breakfast on Saturdays. Oh, and I can’t hang out Thursday night… Christian band practice, so we can jam to Christian music at Sunday’s service. But don’t miss the Friday night meeting where we talk about Christian politics and saving America and how candidates measure up in their support of Christian policies. (We won’t tell you how to vote. We’ll just tell you how they voted, and you can decide for yourselves at that point.)

Ok, I honestly don’t think any of those things, taken by themselves, are bad… even the political aspect. I’m no fan of the “Christian nation” idea, but if people are actually learning some of what is going on in the political realm, I think there’s a net gain. If people are being mis-informed to support a particular agenda, then that gets back to my point with all this.

Someone will ask, with the best intentions, “What about holiness?”

We are absolutely called to be holy. We can’t ignore that. But we’re also told to be “in the world yet not of it.”

Too often we solve the “not of it” by being “not in it.”

The Christian brands of everything are not going to make us “in the world yet not of it.” Though they may even be good competitive products, buying them doesn’t do anything for my spirituality.

If we mirror the culture around us–if we do almost everything people outside the church do, except we call our activities “Christian,” then I think we’re missing something important.

We can build up a fort to keep out the world.

We can isolate ourselves from everyone not us and insulate ourselves with Christian everything. We can hunker down like a family in the basement during a storm, trying to hang on in a culture some feel is steering farther and farther from traditional values. “Don’t go outside… it’s dangerous out there. In here, it’s safe. It’s Christian.”

Or we can build a home that welcomes the weary and refreshes their souls.

We could open our doors and our hearts. We could make our churches, our homes, and our very lives into places of refuge, where people can unload their burdens and find compassionate support.

We could show people we care less about cultural or political or religious views that divide us, and more about the person who has the views.

Instead of judging the person in trouble, we could extend a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. We could roll up our sleeves and get dirty while meeting practical needs… not as some outreach program where we wash your car or give you a meal after we preach the gospel to you,

We could give someone a meal because they’re hungry, they need it, and we care about them more than the number of converts or new visitors our church gets this month.

Are we going to find out some ugly things about the world and life? Yes.

Are we going to deal with difficult situations where there are no real easy answers, no clear-cut Scripture verses we can parrot at the person? Yes.

Are our beliefs and our views going to be challenged? Absolutely. We might see a whole new side of the people we thought were against us. We might learn a completely different side of a political or cultural issue. We could be exposed to new thoughts we haven’t had before.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Everyone knows how dangerous thoughts can be.

I need someone to tell me which are the Christian ones I’m allowed to have.

Maybe there’s an app on the Edifi for that.