Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Virtual Grave Visit

In Japan, in accordance with Buddhist tradition, the bones of a deceased family member are placed in an individual urn and kept with those of their ancestors in a family tomb (ohaka). Living family members visit the tomb on Ohigan (Spring and Fall Equinox) and during Obon (Festival of the Dead) in the summertime. Most Japanese people live in big cities these days, and must travel long distances to their ohaka, which tend to be in smaller cities and towns in the countryside. In families whose members live far away, not everyone can make it back to their ohaka for Obon every summer to pay their respects.

Last night as we were watching the news, there was a story about "virtual grave visits". They showed a computer screen which showed a grave like the one pictured here. The visitor could move icons from the side to do all the things one would do in a "live" visit. There was a bucket of water with the ladle to wash down the grave. Then you could put fresh flowers in the vases, light sticks of incense, put a fresh offering of fruit, and even if appropriate, a full glass of beer. Another button started the Buddhist prayer chants.

After doing some web searches, I discovered that it isn't just for families that live far away. More and more people are scattering ashes because the cost of a grave plot is outrageous ($70,000 to $80,000 in some city cemeteries). But the family still needs a place to go to pay their respects. Thus the virtual grave visit.

As a part of the news story, they also showed a "grave condominium" where ashes of the deceased were stored in lacquered boxes and when someone wanted to come and show their respects, they would insert their prepaid magnetic card into a slot in the butsudan (Buddhist altar), a computer would then issue orders to automatically bring the ashes of the deceased down, the door would open up and automated prayer chants would begin. One lady said it was so much easier, there were always fresh flowers, she could come whenever she wanted to, and it cost less than buying or renting a burial plot. (The photo here is of a home butusdan.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Here I am to worship"

Mina was in tears when she called Stan late in June, saying that she had decided she wanted to be baptized. A student at a private Japanese school and in a class for children who have come from other countries, she has become a victim of harassment. This has been building up for a while, and we spent time praying for her during the Alpha session on "Does God Heal Today?." Her brother decided to be baptized at the end of the Alpha course, but Mina wasn't ready though she felt some pressure from her Mom and brother.

Early this summer, realizing that she had come to the end of her own strength in coping with the harassment, she reached out to the Lord and has discovered His grace there when she worships Him. Her testimony at her baptism on July 16 was an encouragement as she told of coming to the decision herself to follow Christ and demonstrate that through baptism. She shared in English, and then repeated the testimony in Japanese. She sang the refrain of the "Plus One" song,

Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that you're my God
You're altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

She has begun singing this chorus when overwhelmed at school. We pray that Mina's summer break in England will be renewing and refreshing, and that there will be a break-through at school for her when she returns in September.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

How to Eat at a Sushi Bar...Don't try this at your local shop

How to eat at a Sushi Bar

We first saw this tongue in cheek video over the Christmas holiday and found it so amusing. This is not to be taken seriously--just enjoy it. We'll be glad to answer any questions after you've watched it.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Free at last" -- World Cup Musings

The past month has been very draining on us--we have been caught up in World Cup Soccer fever. Only for us, it has meant games at 11 P.M., 1 A.M. (we skipped all but one Brazil game at this time slot), and 4 A.M. Tomorrow morning the final will be played at 3 A.M. As you may imagine, it has been kind of rough on our sleep schedule!

We attribute this fanaticism to two things--Japan has been full of world cup soccer news for the past 12 months, and it was only natural to get caught up in this. The other reason is that I (Faith) was born in Brazil, and there IS only one team to root for in the World Cup--until they let me down. Unfortunately, both Japan and Brazil were assigned to the same group for the first round play. We were disappointed very quickly with the Japanese ability to keep up, as well as with Brazil's lackadaisical performance.

I was traveling to visit Asian Access missionaries in Kyushu the night Japan and Brazil played each other. By some supernatural event, I was awakened in time to sneak into the living room, hit the TV on and mute button at the same time, and see the last 15 minutes of the game. That is hard core dedication!

Brazil made it on to the next two rounds, but didn't pull it together in the end. We've had other "replacement" teams we've supported, but the last one, Portugal, lost in the consolation game early this morning. We really don't care whether its France or Italy who wins in the 3 A.M. game--but we'll be up for a good part of it, because we promised the boys, and we've stuck this tournament out until the end. We have travel plans that will put us on the road after the game--and we hope it doesn't go into overtime and penalty kicks, because that will mess up our schedule.

One nice thing about the watching the games from here--we haven't had to pay for any of the viewing as all the games have been carried on one of the regular commercial TV stations. I remember watching Brazil win the World Cup four years ago on a TV at a friends' house in the States, where I could only get it on the Spanish channel, and the picture was snowier than Illinois in January.

So, we will soon be "free at last" from the World Cup Syndrome. We'll miss it, but I think the dark circles under our eyes should be gone in a few days, we'll be able to carry on complete conversations.