I hate “the holidays” Monday, Dec 14 2009 

Ok, so I’ve been in the United States and America for under two days and I’ve already had my sickening fill of “the holidays”. The shopstaff greet you “happy holidays”, Old Navy advertises “holiday cards”, all channels at all hours constantly play “holiday movies”. It’s utterly saturating, and the lengths to which they go in avoiding the word “Christmas” are unbelievable. Holiday cards, carols, traditions and trees simply don’t exist.

As an Australian I get a lot of American television, and thus had heard of the “war on Christmas” – as well as the credible claims that this was just the hallucination of “red under the bed” reactionaries. Now that I’m here though, reading the billboards and seeing the ads, I’m utterly convinced. There really is a war on Christmas.

Santo Niño, have mercy on us.

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Minor jubilations Wednesday, Dec 2 2009 

Sunset

When I was a teenager I went with some friends from school on a day trip to the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney. We were organising members of the school’s “Christian society” called Students Alive (or “STIVE”). At the time I felt rather awkward, because my friends were awe-struck by the majesty of God’s creation, while I (in typically inept cradle Catholic style) just boggled at them, thinking “what’s so great about trees and rocks?”.

That was about seven years ago, and since then I have become a sort of man. (more…)

Angels defend us! Saturday, Nov 21 2009 

People don’t really believe in angels these days. The popular media is flooded with images of fat, laughing babies with useless little wings and sparkly harps sitting idly on clouds. As far as anyone is concerned, angels turn into fairies when they grow up, trading in their flab for sex appeal.

What they certainly don’t believe is that angels exist, they serve God (or satan) and are unimaginably powerful. In my English class this week we somehow came to talk about the phenomenon of “Shinigami” arising in Japanese popular culture, and how it is drawn not from Japanese spiritual traditions but a misunderstanding of the artistic representation of Death in European culture. From here I explained that angels are usually imagined as described above, but then drew a simple representation of the angels as described in Revelation: tall, robed figures with a halo, six of wings and (from Genesis) a flaming sword. Then I explained that even this was just a representation, since angels (like God) are spirits without bodies.

Now we come to the question of guardian angels. (more…)

Kyoto Wednesday, Nov 18 2009 

I went there at the weekend, with ten friends from Yamanashi and twenty Brazilian-born Japanese from all around Japan. It was without question the most enjoyable weekend I’ve had in Japan, though my one regret is that I wasn’t able to attend Mass.

I took about 1000 photos, of which I considered 300 or so worth publishing. See them over at my Flickr page.

A name, a seal Sunday, Nov 8 2009 

Inkan

When I first arrived in Japan I was surprised at the number of things I could do without this stamp. We had been told that to open a bank account, buy a cellular phone, pay our bills and register for classes we would need to make an 印鑑 “inkan”, the engraved name stamp used as a signature in East Asian countries with a Chinese cultural heritage.

It turns out that in recent years, Japanese companies have become a lot more accommodating to foreigners and their handwriting. Japanese family names tend to be only between one and three characters long (the common Suzuki is 鈴木) and fit very easily onto that little wooden stamp. My name on the other hand becomes seven characters in Japanese, nearly impossible to write. Other foreign names have even more syllables, prompting the Japanese post office (which provides insurance plans and savings accounts), major telephone providers and government offices to accept signatures in lieu of the stamp.

Really though, if you’re coming to Japan wouldn’t you want to get one of these cool looking stamps instead of just using your boring old signature everywhere? That’s how I felt, and so my Japanese friends came to the rescue with a home-grown solution. Ateji!

(more…)

Treasure in heaven Monday, Oct 12 2009 

A few years ago I met Br Paul Rowse, OP. This year he has professed Solemn Vows, and I believe is to be ordained deacon in December. Please pray for him and all the Dominicans of our province.

At that time (in illo tempore…) we were enjoying a lighthearted conversation when something came up, to which he replied “I have nothing in this world”.

It was a phrase which I have never forgotten. So simple, so easily misunderstood by children of this age (like you or I), and yet perhaps the single best reflection on the grace of evangelical poverty. It is to me a particularly appealing aspect of religious life, which no doubt surprises my friends (who see me surrounded by expensive gadgets, and well know my love of the latest computer, the greatest camera, the finest clarinet). The willingness to let go of material objects as objectives, and use them instead as mere tools for reaching the final objective, is true feedom.

All this came back to me before Mass today. This time it was in Portuguese (celebrated by a magnificent Jesuit missionary) so I did my best to participate by absorbing the readings in preparation. The first is from Wisdom (7:7-11, RSV-CE)

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth.

With a rush my heart was lifted to the clouds, a swirl of memories joining the gratitude of the moment. This passage describes better than I ever could one of the reasons I want to give the government of my own life back to God and serve him as a Dominican friar. To praise him in the Office and the Mass with my brothers, to bless his people with the most precious sacraments, and to preach his glorious love and the splendour of his eternal truth. The mere thought of these things fills me with an anticipation, an eagerness I can’t describe.

But beyond these, to contemplate in this life the mysteries by which I hope to be enfolded in the next. I have tried so many other things, and I simply cannot imagine a better way to use the gift that has been entrusted to me – myself.

Typhoon surprise Friday, Oct 9 2009 

Some of you may have heard about the typhoons (tropical cyclones, hurricanes) currently active in the western Pacific. One of them has spent the last week sitting on northern Luzon in the Philippines, basically making life miserable for thousands. Fortunately my extended family are a little further south, and live largely unaffected. The other one approached and landed in Japan early today, and has since passed through to the ocean again.

I first found out about the typhoon (presumably from the Japanese 「台風」”taifuu”) last night, from colleagues at the university. It had already been raining heavily for a week, though I did notice the wind getting stronger. By late afternoon the city office had sent cars around telling people to go home and shut themselves in, as the storm was intensifying. I remained to teach my class, but only one student appeared so we ended half an hour early.

This morning, I woke up at 6 to wind and rain beating on my building. I checked the weather alerts, and found a map of Japan marked completely red. Melor had just hit Aichi prefecture, and was expected to travel north-east directly up the middle of Honshu, the main island. This would have put Yamanashi square in its path, as well as keeping the entire island in its most intense area of influence. Naturally, the university issued an alert cancelling all classes for the day and encouraging students and staff to remain indoors.

This is when the unexpected happened. (more…)

Out of the frypan… Monday, Jun 1 2009 

…and into two tests in one week. Tomorrow is a usual fortnightly progress test (my intensive Japanese course covers one textbook chapter per day, four days a week). Wednesday is our day off, and Thursday we are being tested on all material to date. 25 chapters, including all grammar forms, vocabulary, and of course kanji.

I also need to prepare my second methodological analysis. The first one was (I think) a success, based on observation of the five “groups” of Catholics in Kofu – Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, and Filipino. Truth be told the Spanish and Portuguese groups may well be the one group of “Latin Americans”, but they attend separate Masses and have their own priests.

I think the next analysis will be survey-based, and very simple. Perhaps I will compare the level of catechesis amongst typical Kofu Catholics with non-Catholic Japanese, and Australians (both Catholic and non-Catholic). I’ll have to write very basic questions so the meanings are strictly defined in both languages (and understood by non-native speakers). I’ll also have to consider assessing the attitudes of non-Catholic Japanese towards Catholics and Catholicism, compared to that of non-Catholic Australians.

In the meantime, here is a piece of news from last year. Apparently this Spanish-speaking fellow lost something in the moat around the Imperial Palace and went to fetch it. Here we see his mighty weapons employed against the Japanese police: rocks, water splashes, a traffic pole, and nakedness (blurred to preserve custody of the eyes).

Procrastination… Friday, May 29 2009 

…is from satan. He will even happily turn our attention to doing good deeds if it will affect the greater evil of neglecting pressing duties for the sake of things that can wait.

As an example, I have today begun a project I’ve had in mind for a while. As mentioned earlier, a lot of people are finding this blog while searching for information about Catholic parishes and things in Japan. At the moment I don’t have much up at all, and what there is can’t be easily found (buried in comments), even my own searches have turned up very few online resources for English speaking Catholics in Japan. There are a precious few sites with essential information in broken but usually understandable English (Mass Times for 外人). The site linked in that entry is buried deep in subsections, links circularly, can’t be easily navigated, and can’t be easily found with a straightforward search in native English.

Of course, I can’t complain if I’m not willing to use my own abilities to fill the need. (more…)

Quick update Thursday, May 28 2009 

Apologies dear reader. My blogging habits still haven’t settled. However, it’s worth noting that a lot of the time I comment on my flickr uploads in a way akin to twitter, so it’s certainly worth clicking the left sidebar to see my flickr photostream from time to time. I’ve found it to be a lot less troublesome commenting on my photos that way than trying to illustrate coherent blog posts with them.

This weekend another major assignment is due for UTS, so I’ll probably write a big, deep post here in a fit of procrastination. I’ve been meaning to write about last Tuesday’s birthday outing for my friend Fay (we went to “kaiten (revolving) sushi” and karaoke, both firsts for me) as well as our trip to a small town in Yamanashi which is the centre of the local traditional paper manufacturing industry (I made a lamp!).

I’ve noticed a steady stream of people clicking through to this blog looking for information on various elements of Catholic life in Japan, which I haven’t yet got around to publishing. I will do my best to get to Tokyo soon and record what I can.

Please pray for me everyone, so that I can focus well and produce some decent work for my taskmasters back in Sydney. The current assignment will probably be on how the five different Catholic communities (divided by language) in Kofu worship, and developing my research methodology. 2500 words!

PS: Also updated the UTS Yamanashi blog with some more details in the finances, university, and residence sections. Feel free to take a look and leave suggestions!

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