Monday, May 16, 2011

教会 (Kyoukai) Church

I haven't posted in a while, so here's a long one to make up for it!

I went to church for the first time in Japan in March.  I know I am a bad Christian, never said I was a good one.  You pay 100 bucks a week to go on a one hour train ride to a church you can't get a hold of the people in to find it's location.  Or maybe you prefer the 50 bucks a week with a three hour train ride.  I should go though, I know but it's hard when I'm this lazy.

Interesting things:

1. Words! Words! Words!
The Japanese word for a church building is 教会 (kyoukai).  The first symbol means to teach, for example education department is 教育, or instructor is 教師.  The second symbol means to meet, or meeting place.  I don't know who first chose this as the word for a church building but it I like it.  The word for Christian is simply the Japonified word Christian (クリスチャン).  The adjective is キリスト (Christ).  The word for Christianity as a religion is キリスト教 (see the same symbol here is used for both the church and the denotative work religion.  Buddhism is 仏教).  The Orthodox officially call themselves the 日本ハリソトス正教会 (Nippon harisutosu sei kyoukai), in English The Japanese Christos True (positive) Church.  They use the word Christos from the Greek Χριστός meaning Christ.  The first letter is that funky eastern European guttural 'H' sound that mildly reminds one of choking.  Often they shorten it to 正教会 (seikyoukai).

2. Knowledge
When I tell people I am Christian, their first reaction is ”ええ, カトリック?” or "What, really? Catholic?"  To be fair, not only is Catholic the common assumption in North America, I am living in the city where Francis Xavier the Jesuit founded the first Jesuit church in Japan.  So everyone here knows the Catholics.  The next question is the same as North America, "Protestant?".  When I say no, I then have to mention ハリソト (Christos).  No one has heard of that yet, so then comes the same thing as in North America.  History lesson.  The difference is, I have to explain to North Americans that there was a church that was united, become religion of Rome (then Byzantium), oh noes! Mongols split the empire; lack of communication... The story can go on.  Here in Japan I say on of two things "ビザーンチアのキリスト教", in English, Byzantium Christians, or I can say "ギリシャの教会", in English "Church of Greece" and they understand.  So the Japanese education system obviously does not ignore Eastern European history like North American does.  I love it.

Great Doors
Japanese cities look relatively similar to North American ones.  The architecture is different, because the weather/climate is different, but they don't all live in  traditional housing with the peaked roofs and tiles.  Their houses are smaller, all yards/balconies have open air laundry, their roads are tiny, and it has a different general feel to it, but it looks rather similar.  When we went to church in Yokohama I could spot the Byzantine architecture from a good distance.  It was a white washed church with a silver/gold dome with the peak standing well above the surrounding houses.  It was also part way up a hill, so the walk from the train station was amusing.  It was a very welcome site to see it nestled in amongst the Japanese houses.  While the outside showed a plain small building with beautiful domes, the inside was just like any church I have ever been to.  I never had the chance to take a picture of the outside, though I should have.  Here are some of the inside. (Side note, on the diocese website there is a picture of the outside if you feel so inclined.)

Some of the iconostas that covered the walls
The entirety of the inside had icons on the walls, with extra stands for those that could not fit on the walls.  A few had historical significance that Okuba-san explained to me.  However, anyone who has ever spent anytime learning anything about the Orthodox churches knows that almost everyplace has something of historical significance.  Okuba-san was a wonderful woman who spoke very good English.  She was the widower of the former priest.  For the service we attended there were three priest wives and two priests.  The inside of the church followed the Old World tradition of being pew-less.  There were only chairs on the side for those who needed them.  No one used the head covering, save for one woman who I believe was of Russian/Slavic decent.

The service was amazing.  Having the liturgy more or less memorized made following along fairly easy.  John, who had been in contact with my parents prior, had apologized at one point to my mother for the choir being short a few harmonies.  And yet, they sounded wonderful.  It was beautiful to hear familiar melodies sung in harmony in a language I can only grasp.  My father was given a few lines, all of which he did in English.  The local priest like all Japanese, soft spoken.  His voice was never too large or loud, and thank to the wonders of architecture he could easily be heard.  I do believe dad startled some the old obaa-san in the church when he did his petitions.  I can only imagine what Father Ziton would have sounded like in there.

The church also had a large chandelier.  Beautifully lit and decorated with icons and carvings.  It also swings very well during an earthquake.  There was a small, ... er smaller one, that made the walls tremble for a moment and the chandeliers sway.  It lasted about a minute, but the chandelier made me feel as though the ground was swaying for much longer than that.

After the service, we went to the rectory and had a meal of a rice dish containing unidentified veggies.  It was very good.  By this point, mom had learned to handle chopsticks.  We sat in the fellowship and were updated as to the status of many churches in Tohoku area.  At this point there was only one priest missing and no contact with many families.  All the churches that could be contacted were standing, but nothing was known of Sendai.  As March 11, all priests have been found, Sendai church was wiped out, and
"Among 1.5 thousands parishioners in Tohoku area; seven were killed by tsunami, one died from shock of the earthquake. In coastal area many losts their houses and job. Countless people had damages on their houses, shops and offices. Diocese has not yet had clear grasp of their situation. "
If you can read Japanese, or feel like you want to Google translate a bunch, there are some more recent updates from the Bishop Seraphim.

All in all, it was wonderful time and place to be amidst the strife and confusion of the Earthquake and Tsunami.


1 comment:

  1. It must be nice to have some familiarities even though you are thousands of miles from home.

    When you mentioned Father Ziton I had a hilarious mental picture of little old ladies running in terror from his army-sergeant voice.