Japanese culture should never be seen as "Asian culture". Sure, they share the same continent as Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese people, and they all like to eat rice! They all have black hair, they all have different shades of beautiful olive/tan skin, and their eyes are more oval shaped than caucasians. But the similarities end just as quickly as they would if we compared ourselves to Mexicans in North America. I have been just as guilty as the other person about passing general assumptions about culture and Asians. We are still learning a lot!
Here are 10 big differences we discovered about each other:
1. Japanese have a strong fixation with clean feet. Maybe this isn't every Japanese person, but culturally there is a preference for shoes to be placed at the door, for clean shoes to be ready indoors to walk with, and for the floors indoors to be always spotless. No clothing, bedding, books, or personal items are ever placed on the floor, even for a short time.
2. Hygiene is extremely important. Keeping hair combed, teeth brushed, nails trimmed, skin clean and moisturized is a high priority to everyday life, and much time and effort is devoted several times a day to it. One of the first nights she was here, our water had to be turned off for Kris to fix a leak going under our house. Our student became very nervous because the faucets were not working for a couple hours. She wanted to wash her hands but couldn't. On top of that, she walked outside in her clean shoes and they got some dirt on them she could not immediately wash off (refer to #1). She panicked! We don't think much of it, but it made her extremely uncomfortable.
3. Toilet paper must be in abundant supply. I don't know if this is all Japanese, but tissues and toilet paper are used for many purposes. It is likely for hygienic purposes (note #2). She went through one to two rolls a day, and when supplies ran low upstairs became very concerned she would run out! I had to make an extra trip to the store once just to keep her amply supplied.
4. Eating meals is a long event, not a rushed necessity. She was shocked we eat meals quickly so we can leave for practices, events, and outings every day. Japanese like to sit down and slowly eat, engage in conversation and take their time every meal before getting up from the table. In our family (like many American young families) we rush to prepare a meal, sit down quickly, and as soon as we're done eating, we hop up and run to get ready to do what's on our nightly schedule. This came as a shock because Japanese culture does not have nightly activities like we do. This reflects on the crammed/busy lifestyle Americans are known to have. Japanese culture is much more relaxed and slow-paced, even in big cities like the one she comes from.
5. Some Asian ethnicities love spicy food, but not Japanese! Even a peppermint was overwhelming to our student, and we had to find her a drink after giving her a lifesaver in the car one day. We are learning that we have to prepare blander foods for our Japanese friends.
6. Americans are very emotional people. Japanese hide their emotions, at least from people they don't have very close relationships with. They don't show sadness, anger, fear, even excitement openly. They are very even tempered at all times (on the surface). I am an emotional person, especially when I am tired, rushed, or stressed. These emotions on display in our home (accompanied by 4 loud, emotional children) was extremely shocking to her. She didn't react by complaining or getting upset, but just sat in silence and occasionally retreated to her room and closed the door to get some peace and quiet!
7. Japanese are too polite to say no or disagree. She would agree to do things with us, but when it was time to go, she would be in her room. This was disconcerting to me since I'm a person of my word. If I commit to something, you can be sure I'll do it. Japanese culture isn't that way. It is better to avoid saying no and then avoid confrontation when its time to go.
8. Japanese are much more modest than Americans. I highly admire the girls we've met for this! They haven't succumbed to Western culture that screams "the more skin you show the better you look". We don't have to worry about our boys getting exposed to sights they shouldn't see when our Japanese friends are with us, even in the pool.
9. White skin is better than tan skin! It is very odd to Japanese that we like tan skin. To them, pale skin is very beautiful and tan skin reflects being a part of the poor working class that has to be outdoors working all the time under the sun.
10. Porta Johns are extremely disgusting. I just had to add that one. Poor girl, she had to use one at a festival and I didn't think she'd ever recover. Needless to say, we are never offering to take any Japanese girls camping with us!
Now I'd like to share on a more transparent level what being in a home with a Japanese student has revealed to me about my heart.
1. I am too fixated on schedules. Being pushed to get to all our appointments, events, and practices on time stress me out to the point of bringing on anxiety, migraines, and even meltdowns. Trying to herd our crew into a van when no one seems to care whether we are on time or not drives me bananas. I need to figure out how to handle this better, as it comes across as not trusting God and trying to be in control of my own little world.
2. The more I serve others from other cultures, the more I realize American culture is not perfect! There are so many things about our culture that come to light when we talk with students about theirs. They are sometimes very surprised and delighted we do things differently, but other times they are shocked at our behaviors and practices. Every culture has positives and negatives, and coming to realize that helps me be more sensitive to serving our friends best. We as Americans can not be ethnocentristic (believing we are the superior culture) if we want to connect with others. We can all learn from each other in humility!
3. Whether a person of a different religion/worldview comes to faith in Jesus or not does not define whether or not we've been obedient in serving them well. Every person who comes through the doors of our house will at some point hear the Gospel. God opens doors for us to share our faith on a continual basis. This is such a joy and answer to our prayers. Maple Hill Manor is our mission field. Yet the results of our sharing our lives, resources, blessings, and beliefs with others is not up to us. It is an individual choice of every student we form a relationship with. We can not coerce, manipulate, or force them to believe. We only can be obedient to what God has called us to do, and that is to be His messengers, His hands, and His feet to others who need to experience His love and forgiveness. It is often discouraging to me, but it shouldn't be. Adoniram Judson spent 7 years in Burma before he saw the first person become a Christian. Many other pioneers before us had to serve and share for years before they saw any lives changed. So we will continue in hope and prayers that God knows what He's doing. He will sovereignly do the work in their hearts through His Holy Spirit when His timing is perfect. Every one of the students we love on will go home one day and carry these memories with them. They all acknowledge to us as they leave that they appreciate our sharing with them about our faith. They know it is something worth considering. They understand it is why we do what we do. We love them because God loves them. We pray that the seeds that fall will penetrate their hearts...one day. But we can't grow discouraged.
4. To Whom much is given, much is required. These are the words of Jesus in Luke 12:48. I don't know why He chose me worthy to call me to this place. This is not easy work. Most days It weighs heavy on my heart. I feel so much responsibility to find every opportunity I can to love on these students who consider us one of, if not the only ones, who are like family to them in America. With all the other responsibilities I have as a wife to an extremely busy farmer, mother and educator of 4 (about to be 5) children, part time night shift nurse at a psychiatric hospital, friend to so many precious people in our community, and keeper of the huge historic home and grounds we are now up keeping, it overwhelms me. God placed all of these things before me because He is good. He is love. He answered my prayer for each and every one of them (you should see my prayer list- He gives what we ask for, y'all!). But the hardest thing is giving it all back to Him. He wants us to manage, work, obey, and serve, but giving back the results in trust to Him. That's really hard. It is as if the message Jesus gave us in that verse is "If I give you much to do in My name, I expect you to use it much, but I also expect you to place it much in my hands for the results as well"
Thank you for taking the time to read of these lessons I'm learning. International ministry can take so many different forms. If you'd like to invest in the lives of international students, please pray for God to open doors for you. He did for our family. There is such a vast, vast need across our nation. God is bringing them to us. We need to go to them.