Instruments of Christ

Izumi and Mina are two 20-year-olds of Hodogaya Parish Church, Yokohama. Here they are in traditional kimono as they celebrate "Coming of Age Day."  This is a Japanese national holiday celebrated on the second Monday of January. This celebration of adulthood at 20 comes from a custom that started in the year 714 when the young Imperial Prince of 20 donned a new style robe and hairstyle. This custom gradually broadened until today it embraces all.

Young men usually wear a suit and tie for the occasion and only a few wear traditional male kimono. On the other hand most young women dress up in colourful kimono with long sleeves, with a special obi and zori sandals. A visit to the hairdresser is usual. We at the Church have a special blessing for the new adults on Sunday. We pray that they receive help and strength from the Holy Spirit and that they grow in wisdom, courage and knowledge of God. The priest lays hands on them and gives them a gift from the Church.

On Monday they go to the city hall to be feted. They often meet classmates that they have not seen since grade school. A talk is usually given by the mayor on the rights, privileges and responsibilities of adults. From 20 they can legally, vote, drink and smoke.

This year (2013) the media frequently talks about the grim future for these new adults. One published survey said that 80% of 20-year-olds have a gloomy view of Japan's future. They see poor prospects for a job for life. Another 75.6% said they expect little or nothing from politicians. This gloom is topped off by a fear that permeates all Japan since the earthquake and tsunami and consequent nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. Almost every day the media tells us of a new earthquake fault found, of the scant protection available and the thousands projected dead. On top of this the deteriorating condition between Japan and China sounds ominous.

These young adults now live in a Japan where an insidious mist of uncertainty and anxiety permeates society. Hope for the future is at a low ebb. But in this atmosphere of darkness we have our two 20-year-olds from Hodogaya. Izumi is in second year university to become a school teacher. She already helps her mother in the church Sunday School. Mina is in her second year of a six year course at Pharmacy University. Mina is active in the deanery Catholic Youth Group and in the Diocesan Catholic Students' Guild.

Jesus asks his followers to be lights shining in the gloom, and tasty salt giving society flavour. Izumi and Mina are just that. They exude the joy of faith. They have smiles which bring light to those they meet. Mother Teresa said, "A smile is the beginning of peace."

In an interview, the Japanese Nobel Laureate (Literature) said of his own people, "We Japanese … a crisis. We are a people without hope." Izumi and Mina are missionaries in their own milieu. They are instruments of Christ's light, joy and hope.

Columban Fr Barry Cairns has been a missionary in Japan since 1956.


LISTEN TO: Instruments of Christ
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Read more from The Far East, April 2013