Jesus who?

Living abroad is always an interesting experience, but I find it especially interesting here in Japan (as opposed to my time in Belgium and Italy) because the Japanese are not Christian. I, as you may or may not know, am not a particularly religious person myself, and never really thought about how much of a Christian mentality I have until I have been surrounded by people who don’t even know who Jesus is. I have nothing to say on religion in general or its presence or lack thereof in Canada, Japan or anywhere else. I just simply want to tell you all an interesting story.

In my first year one of the Japanese Teachers of English (JTE) I taught with mentioned her experience living in Germany when she was a university student. She is probably in her late 50s or early 60s now. I asked her how she liked Germany, and she said she really loved it, but was disturbed because she kept seeing the same man over and over and it was “gruesome”. At first I was quite alarmed because.. well, what is she saying? I questioned a bit further.

“For example,” she continued, “above my bed in my host family’s house, this man was nailed on a cross! With nails! It was so disturbing that I couldn’t sleep for several nights.”

“Jesus?” I asked her.

“Yeah, they said that’s who it was but I didn’t understand.”

I had to explain to her who Jesus was. Now to me that was very surprising. Even those who are not religious, or don’t practice Christianity, are still aware of Jesus. She continued on saying that his image was in paintings around where she travelled, each church containing a larger than life statue of him nailed to the cross. It surprised and frightened her. Seeing this for the first time at age 18 was shocking to her.

Because everyone in Japan follows the same “religion” (Buddhism or Shinto or a mixture of the two – which are very similar anyway and many Japanese don’t even seem to really know the difference) there isn’t any of the tension sometimes felt in Canada, a very multi-cultural country. (Japan is also not very multi-cultural. It’s uni-cultural. Is that a word? There’s definitely a proper word for that. What is it? Awkward.) Everyone for the most part has the same opinions on matters that separate us at home. Abortion? Why would that even be debated? It’s perfectly legal and accepted here, and to mention any sort of controversy that would surround it is baffling. Gay marriage? It takes no sort of “God made Adam and Eve” sort of debate (Japanese historical texts contain references to same sex relationships), instead questioning the age-old tradition of the family. However, 83% of Japanese people aged 18-29 said that homosexuality should be accepted (The Japan Times, 2013). This number is 87% for the same age group in Canada, so it is arguably an issue more for our neighbors to the south. Since we get so much American news and media in Canada I still thought it was interesting to note. Gay marriage is not officially legal, however in 2012 the first gay couple tied the knot in Tokyo Disneyland where it has allowed gay couples to buy wedding packages since 2007.

These are only a few examples of the differences in mentality that I can think of that may trace origins back to Christian thought. Interesting I think! What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

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