Japan was my first love. I moved here for the first time when I was a 22-year-old atheist, and spent three years in a traditional fishing village teaching English to the local schoolchildren.
To give you some idea of what that was like, there was no supermarket in my village (although you could buy live fish from the fishermen at the beach–yes, I learned how to gut a fish). I had to hike 45 minutes up a mountain to reach one of the schools, which had a beautiful old-fashioned wooden school building and a student population of around 30 who cleaned the whole place themselves every day. The pace of village life was slow–the train only passed through about once every two hours. More than moving clear across the world, I felt as if I’d traveled back in time.
Something about that simple lifestyle and the gracious hospitality of my hosts healed my heart. By the time I moved back to America, I knew I couldn’t be an atheist anymore. I also knew I wanted to go back to Japan.
I moved to Japan for the second time when I was 28. This time I lived in a big city and worked as a translator. And one night at an Italian restaurant I was having a conversation about Buddhism with the higher-ups in my organization when one of them said to me:
“But you’re Christian, aren’t you?”
Somehow, looking at the grave but kind face of this man old enough to be my father, I got the feeling he wasn’t the one asking me the question. And I found myself answering, “Well, yes, I guess–” despite the fact that I’d comfortably belonged to a New Age religion for years. I then spent the rest of the night sweating to field questions about Christianity, which I hadn’t thought about in a decade.
It turned out to be a prophetic question, as around a month later I returned to the Catholic Church of my early childhood.
Welcome to my blog. This is where I will attempt to make sense of my past and my future and answer the question, “What has Japan got to do with the Catholic Church?”