Today's guest post is from one of my sweet friends (and fellow doula) Amy. She use to live just down the street from me but last year moved with her husband and two little kids to Japan. I was thrilled she was willing to talk about her experiences being a member of the LDS church there. She is lovely.
Our family belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Both my husband and I were born into the church to convert parents. We met at the church's private university, BYU, in Provo, Utah and have lived in Utah off and on the past 9 years. The LDS church is prevalent in Utah, which means that living there is quite a unique experience. There is a church on every block or two, it seems, and temples are abundant.
In January of this year, we moved from Utah to the smallest prefecture, Kagawa, on the smallest island, Shikoku, in Japan to teach English. This is our second time living here--something about the countryside of Japan is appealing to us. However, being LDS on a small Japanese island after living for years in the mecca of Mormonism is extremely different and something we are still getting used to.
Besides the language, the differences about the church here and the church in the U.S. are quite extreme. Let's start with the temple. When Fox and I moved from Logan, we attended the temple regularly. It was about a 5 minute drive from our house. Here, the closest temple is the Fukuoka temple, which opened in 2000. About every 4 months, our branch charters a bus on the day of a national holiday. The bus picks everyone up at midnight outside the branch building and treks the 8 hours to the temple. Once there, members go through two sessions and then clean the temple. The bus leaves in the afternoon to make the long journey back--the price for a bus ticket on the temple trip is about $120.
Even though we drive 45 minutes each way to our small branch building with only 60 active members on a good day (and our little Cosette is the only child in the nursery), the distance to the temple is what stings the most. There are some other noticeable differences, as well. Visiting teaching is done in groups of 6 and held after church, since most people have to travel a bit to the building. Members worthy to hold callings are few, so most worthy members have 2 or 3 callings. We are fortunate that we have 3 amazing translators in our ward who translate the Sunday talks into English for us. We also have about ten Americans in our branch (all from Utah!), so we have an English-speaking Sunday school, which is nice.
Culturally, we deal with a lot more Word of Wisdom issues than we have ever faced before when living in the United States. Most people here are Shinto--which is a cultural religion honoring the link between the past and the present, the earth and heaven--or Buddhist. There is a lot of tea drinking! We get the opportunity to explain why we don't drink tea quite often. Also, drinking alcohol with friends and colleagues is a huge part of the culture here. It is a sign of respect to get drunk in front of your coworkers. Luckily for us, our boss is the Young Men's president in our branch :) Unfortunately, pornography is rampant in Japan--adult video stores are everywhere. Pornography is openly displayed in every convenience store--which is quite a shock. The culture is very casual with nudity and adultery. This gives us an opportunity to constantly stand for what is right.
Lest you think that being LDS in Japan is all cons, there are some pros, as well. Missionary work here (we are in the Kobe mission) is doing amazing. We have been to several baptisms in the last 6 months! Our branch fellowships new and visiting members with amazing lunches held after church. The smallness of our branch breeds closeness--everyone is always smiling, shaking hands, and sharing any small excess from their harvest. Almost everyone is a first-generation convert and will tell you stories of how they rode 6 hours to church on their bike with their two children. Before our current branch building, built last year, members were attending church on the 2nd floor of a dilapidated building for thirty years--several classes held in the large room with just a divider between them.
|Our family in 2008 with a friend from church and her family|
|The closest LDS temple, Fukuoka, about an 8 hour drive|
|The closest Buddhist temple, about a 15 minute drive|
Perhaps the greatest blessing in being LDS so far from home in a country that knows very little of your religion is that you have to seek out the spiritual--it is not just a five minute drive to a temple; paying your tithing requires a long form and a trip to the post office. I think the challenges of living your beliefs in a place where it is difficult to do so brings about the greatest growth and blessings. We are very fortunately to live here with good missionaries, leaders, and a beautiful building. The rest is all just little stuff.
Thanks Amy! We sure miss you over here. Oh, and I am curious about how your tall husband manages over there. He must seem like a giant!