Saturday, March 3, 2012

Found in Translation, part 2

CAJ has its own unique culture and it is a culture that I appreciate tremendously. I feel like I am able to live out my career and calling in such a culture, and that's big.

That said, it's also a small community, and insular in some ways... really not unlike Lynden or Sioux Center. Not that this is bad, but one needs to be so intentional about getting out and engaging other communities, because that won't just happen without taking initiative. This is perhaps the biggest reason that I do not attend KBF, the church on CAJ's campus: I need time away from school.

Fortunately, I need only walk a few minutes to Reno's Bistro to build new friendships and participate in culture that, while not strictly Japanese, is also distinct from the culture of CAJ. It's a good first step in me fulfilling my hope to one day fearlessly engage with the broader Tokyo culture that I am living in. Not that I'd ever become a church-planter or give up my job teaching, but... it just seems like hiding in a comfortable cultural shell goes against what I've been called to.

Anyway, tonight was another one of those fantastic "I'm not in Lynden anymore" moments (they seem to happen less and less as time passes). It was "Blues night" at Reno's Bistro. Remember, Reno's is an American restaurant, run by a man who is originally from Florida and his wife, who is Japanese. The blues group, named "So What", were incredible, but likely were not what my American readers would imagine: the lead singer was a middle-aged Japanese man with graying hair, beard and pony-tail. Though his spoken English was accented, his pronunciation while singing was totally authentic.

The blues man, at one point during the night, began to press down the frets on his guitar with random objects from around the restaurant while he continued to play skillfully. Such objects included a beer bottle, a fork and the chair (pictured to the right)

My dinner companions: my American roommate Gabe, my Japanese friend Ayaha, and a couple who I met for the first time tonight: Elena and Shion. Elena is Russian, but grew up in Japan. Shion, who is Japanese, is a journalist who has, at various stages in his life, competed in the Olympic extreme winter sport of "Skeleton" and worked as a wine-maker in Italy. Shion and Elena have a pet toad that they found in downtown Tokyo and adopted.

To cap it all off, at one point during the night, Japanese hip-hop artist Soulja (who attended CAJ a decade ago, and whose Belgian mother is a colleague of mine) got up and sang "Stand by Me" as the group played back-up. Everyone in the crowded Bistro (mostly Japanese families) sang along at the top of their lungs during the chorus.

It was a fun evening, and something so different than what I expected I'd be doing on a Saturday night at age 25 back when I was in high school and college. Cultures are complex and rich, and though the culture of one person in one place may be different than that of another person in another place, cultures were not intended to exist in utter isolation from each other. We as humans have the capacity to interact and share, not just with the people who happen to be in our native bubbles, but people in other places and situations as well. My challenge to my readers in America is this: even if you do not travel overseas, what can you do to learn about another culture, to engage with another culture?

Trust me, it's worth it.

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