I arrived here in Tokyo yesterday afternoon around 3:00 (actually I'm in the city of Narita, where the main area airport is located). I stayed at the same western-style airport I always stay at when I'm spending time in this area. After 16 hours of flying yesterday, between Columbus and here, I wanted nothing more than to just take a hot shower, get a quick meal (Japanese gyoza, a small bowl of white rice, and a bottle of water), and then some much-needed sleeeep. And sleep I did. I closed my eyes at 6:00 p.m. and woke refreshed at 5:30 a.m.
The view of Narita from my hotel-room window, today, 7:00 a.m.
Japan is one of the countries I most enjoy visiting. I love it here and wish I could speak the language better -- much better -- though I do my best to stumble around in my pigeon Japanese that elicits more good-naturedly embarrassed smiles from the locals than anything else ("well, at least he's trying," I imagine them saying to themselves). As soon as I utter a few phrases in Japanese, they perceive my lack of conversational skills and politely switch to English. Sometimes, to Engrish, which provides me with no end of divertment. (But that's another story for another time. I could tell you some funny Engrish stories from my visits to Japan over the years!)
Its missionary possibilities are endless, although (or maybe because) it is a decidedly secularized society, and aside from a patina of Buddhist and Shinto cultural religious sensibilities, the Japanese are, sadly, generally atheistic. Not in the aggressively anti-God way that many atheists are in the West, but more out of a general apathy, a lack of any interest in the possibility that God may have a personal claim on their lives. I very much enjoy meeting and observing the Japanese. Even though it's clear that I, as a Westerner, am not someone they'll typically get beyond the merely superficial formalities of giving directions or answering questions about the local weather, etc., I do sense in these extremely polite and gracious people a deep reservoir of latent yearning for God. The hard part, as any missionary to this land will tell you, is getting past the hardened secularist/consumerist/complacency that so many Japanese are in the grip of.
It surprises some to know that if the Japanese Shoguns had not brutally persecuted and wiped out the thriving Catholic communities that existed here in the 16th century, and had the Church not been hindered in its growth, it is quite likely that Japan would have been a thoroughly Catholic country -- much like the Philippines are today. I think the same would have been true for China, had not the Communists stomped on the Catholic Church when they came to power in the late 1940s.
When I arrived at my hotel, in addition to the Japanese-English edition of the Gideon Bible in the nightstand, I also found the obligatory copy of The Teachings of Buddha, also in a Japanese-English translation.
Although I don't know this for sure, I suspect that hotel guests are going to be much more affected by the teachings of Jesus Christ, as found in the New Testament, than they will be by the bland aphorisms of Buddhism. Not to mention the fact that in Buddhism, even with its Four Nobel Truths which are in themselves expressions of certain truths about this life, there is no real solution to the problem of evil and suffering beyond an identification of (some of) the causes of suffering in this world. The endless cycles of Karmic rebirth cannot explain nor resolve the problem of Evil. By contrast, Jesus Christ is the answer to this age-old conundrum that men have puzzled over since time immemorial. But then, that goes back to my thoughts about how successful Catholic missionaries could be here in Japan if there could be found a way to break through the shell of indifference and complacency that so many Japanese seem to be encased in. I don't know. Perhaps it would take a national catastrophe of some sort to reawaken in these good people their hidden, dormant desire for the ultimate good, God Himself. Perhaps someday I will have the privilege of helping the local Catholic missionaries in their efforts to reach out to the Japanese people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the meantime, I can only just enjoy each visit I make to this wonderful country, enjoying the people and their society from the outside, but praying for them to discover Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Who knows? Perhaps in God's inscrutable providence, Japan may yet become the Catholic country it might have been. Deo Volente.
My flight to Kuala Lumpur leaves soon. I'll be back in touch when I get there. And thanks again to all of you who are praying for me.