[Storm Buster series] Home-stay and campus fellowship in Japan

Pius Chi-Shing Lee

In 1988, I left Oslo for Tokyo with an early morning departure flight on a cold winter day. It was not a direct flight, but with a relatively short overlay in Hong Kong. My destination was a small agricultural town in Aichi Prefecture (愛知縣), Central Japan. The last leg of the journey was by trains from Tokyo to Aichi. Our plane approached Haneda Airport, Tokyo around 8:00 pm local time. The vivid impression of a foreigner newly arrived in the megacity Tokyo was indelible and resonating to this day. As a young man raised in Hong Kong and educated in North America, I bragged to myself as one who had seen aerial night-lights of large cities. Tokyo was certainly an echelon above all norms. There were lights and artificial illuminations as far as the eye could see when one gazed from the fuselage of an ascending or descending airline. The train ride from Tokyo to Central (中部) Japan was equally memorable to the degree of soul-haunting until today. There were many express trains and each with its specific fare tariffs. I could not afford the speedy bullet trains and took a second tier express train. It was a good 6-7 hour train ride with a few stops before the Aichi Stop. Before leaving metropolitan Tokyo, the express train would speed through the densely built city with what seemed to be an inundation of skyscrapers in elevated rails and tunnels. In one turn the train was speedily unswervingly-zooming towards an office building in its elevated rail around the building’s third and fourth floor — I could see employees working behind the tall glass building windows. I was scared as if the train was suicidally heading into the building. It turned just in time as a speedy roller coaster, and in my startle no other passenger was scared but me. My fellow passengers were relaxed and dozed as it was already 11:00 pm. I was the new-comer unapt to the pace of this sunrise land with many wonders.

Sleepy Atsumi Peninsula

I arrived in Aichi more or less on time, and the hotel front office lady greeted me in her sleepy eyes when I checked in very early in the morning. It was a short stay as I should check out in a few hours, having booked only one night. The air was crisp and the roaring wind was loud in this somewhat wind-swept stem of the Atsumi Peninsula (渥美半島). It was surreal to be a foreign student in a country without knowing the language, the culture, or the general mind-sets of the common people. I was anxious to meet my research supervisor as he had promised to greet me in the hotel lobby in the late morning that day. I only came to know my supervisor through his research papers and his fame in the fields of meteorology and air pollution control. I fidgeted and was still unconvinced with the fact I was physically in Japan while waiting for my only contact in Japan in the hotel lobby. Punctually at 10:00 am my supervisor gently entered the lobby. I had seen his picture on the internet on the university’s faculty introduction, but his in-person stately manner charmed me further with his handsome smile and assuring voice of a professor.

Atsumi Peninsula (渥美半島) – Cape Irago
By Bariston – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112501340

Wind Swept Aichi Coast

Japan gave me a very good first impression as I was unconsciously comparing that with my past experience when I first arrived in Canada, United States, and Norway. The airport was orderly, people were helpful, and the posted signs and printed directions on brochures were clear. Despite my importune hour of arrival in the hotel in the early morning on a weekday, I was greeted adequately even in a little wind-swept town in a remote location miles away from the nearest major city of Nagoya. All in all I felt throughout this wide geographical and metropolitical spectrum in Japan, everything seemed functioning perfectly — from an unthinkable gigantic mega-city of Tokyo to a remote wind-swept agricultural town in the sea-ward side of Aichi Prefecture. I had once conceived as a monoethnic and monolingual car-maker monopoly of the world was actually warm, friendly and welcoming. This first impression was reinforced and confirmed in my 7 years in the country as a Ph.D. student and later as an employee of the Japan Weather Association, a non-profit weather agency serving the public as well as a civilian liaison for the national weather bureaus.

Pronounced Land-Sea Breeze

I was fortunate to be given a temporary guest room in the university’s foreign scholars’ living quarters. It was reasonably priced and conveniently located inside the university campus. The University was situated in a somewhat elevated plateau tens of meters above the surrounding farmland and livestock husbandry. Being not far from the Pacific coastline, the night-time land breeze and day-time sea breeze was religiously punctual and powerful. Whenever there was gorgeous sunshine in the day, the contrast of surface temperatures over land and sea tended to be the largest resulting often with the strongest low-level sea-ward jet in the night-time and land-ward jet in the day-time. This happened almost everyday throughout my on-campus lodging experience of 3 years. The cool sea water near the Atsumi Peninsula was influenced by the Oyashio Current, a polar current originating from the Bering Sea. The exception from the strong winds phenomena occurred when the sky was under heavy overcast when the land-sea lower atmospheric circulation was suppressed by thermal inversions and thick clouds. The mountainous terrain of much of Central Japan also enhanced the mountain-triggered wind flow on both sides of the Main Island. My supervisor kindly walked me to the guest house. We were nearly yelling to one another as the roar of the wind was so thundering that we must talk above its deafening roar.

Bump into a Foreigner Friendly Church

There was a six-week gap in my lodging. The reason being that as I was admitted as a graduate student, I was eligible to move into the foreign student dormitory next to the foreign scholars’ living quarters after a six-week wait was fulfilled. My supervisor was extremely kind and arranged for me to stay free for room and board with 2 families as a foreign student — three weeks with a broadcasting company top manager, and three weeks with an owner of a large construction company. Both experiences were eye-opening and I first-hand witnessed the kindness and generosity of a common Japanese person. The owner of the large construction company had a daughter who was one of the pianists of a local Christian Church. The church was quite a distance — within a bike ride distance, from the University but it was very foreign-student friendly and I began attending the church with fellow-students who gave me rides.

A Missional Church

Later I found out that almost all the Christians in the University attended that same church. All the elders and leadership in the church were fervent and dedicated to campus ministries in our technical university and the only other general university in this agricultural town. I felt the college students, including the foreign students, were well received in the church. The young-adults’ ministry pastor was an alumnus from our university. The church was practicing kingdom expansion for the Lord Jesus despite the dismal statistics that 99% of the students would leave the town for career opportunities. The church never hesitated to invest in campus ministry that seemed a losing business secularly speaking. I remembered that on my third Sunday at that vibrant church of about 200 members consisting of many age groups, one of the elders gave me a big envelope with his handwritten testimony. This honorable elder served in the church governance board and his son was a student of our university. The testimony was written in Traditional Chinese scripts. He quoted a large biblical segment from the Epistle to the Romans, and at the end of the letter he sincerely invited me to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. I promptly thanked him and shared with him again — I thought I introduced myself clearly that I was a follower of Christ three weeks ago.

Land of A Spiritual Wilderness

These honeymoon experiences with the Christianity presence in Japan were disillusionary. In the long seven years in Japan as a foreigner Christian the overarching feeling for me was isolation, out-of-touch and obsolescence. Being a hierarchically strict society, humanism and feminism did not infiltrate Japanese society as quickly as her counterparts in Europe and Northern America. By humanism and feminism I meant the overblown distorted philosophy of equity and entitlement that spearheaded defiance against the original orders and roles of all creatures defined in the Christian Bible. Unfortunately this extra layer of societal protection did not ease the inroads of the many Christian missionaries in Japan. The skepticism against Christianity was tall and the walls of self-pride and self-righteousness were even taller. Despite the large number of missionary societies which worked in concert with one another by dividing geographical responsibilities — Japan had the world’s largest number of missionaries per square kilometer, the country had barely one percent of her population called themselves Christians. It was my regular prayer that the Lord Jesus showed mercy to the leaders of Japan by converting them first so that they in turn would convert the entire populace into the faith. The Chietian-first evangelistic strategy of the tribal society might work well in Japan.

Strong Believer-Heros

Japan had few Christian churches and few Christians. Christians must have strong faith. All odds shone negative lights on them. The monoethnic and monocultural society allowed only a few norms of Sunday behaviors such as sport clubs, hobby circles, and private tutoring on academic or cultural pursuits. Christians must have strong faith in Jesus to survive the relentless social battering of peer pressure. I owed great debt to two brothers in our campus fellowship who came weekly to my dorm to give me a ride and encouragement to attend church worship and prayer meetings. There were only five members in the fellowship — with a professor counselor. We all came from places far away from Aichi, Southern Island Shikoku, Western Island Kyshu, Northern Prefectures in Main Island Honshu, Manila Philippines, and me from Hong Kong. The brother from Shikoku pledged to study in a seminary as he felt called to be a pastor. His father sternly warned him that his sonship ended when he graduated from the technical university. He would disown him the day his son took a career path that was disapproved of by him. This brother helped me most and his name is composed of two Chinese characters “真理”, which means truth. What a hero of faith who died to his earthly sonship but truly committed to the eternal truth and the truth set him free to serve the Truth, Life and Way of the world — Jesus.

Author: Pastor Dr. Pius Lee is the Director of the Development Division of NYSTM. In 2021, he retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States, and was selected the winner of NOAA’s Administrator’s Award for the Air Pollution Forecasting Research Group in 2020. Pastor Lee and Mrs. Ancy Thuyen-Anh, Lee have three sons and one daughter. The couple relocated from the capital, Washington, to New York to take up the post.

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