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How God taught me about Japan through hula dancing

In my first year in Japan, motivated by my desire to connect with my local neighbourhood, I enrolled in a hula dance class at my local community centre. I had never done hula dancing, but it was something that fitted well into my full-time language learning schedule at the time. So, without knowing what I had gotten myself into—and with almost no Japanese language—I began attending the weekly classes and continued for the next two years.

The class contained about 25 ladies ranging from their mid-50s to late 70s, all older than me! Half the ladies have been in this class for more than 25 years and the rest, at least 10 years. The same instructor had been teaching the class for 20 years. The group performed publicly on Culture Day (November 3) every year. They made new hula uniforms each year for this performance. They also attended various events their instructor was connected with. They went to Hawaii every two to three years to refine their skills.

This group did more than just teach me about hula dancing. Of greater value was that I observed the dynamics of Japanese community life.

Learning is a Japanese value

Learning and improving oneself is valued in Japanese society. Discipline, consistency, loyalty, and perseverance are highly regarded qualities and expected of members; especially in long-running groups like the one I joined.

I learnt that group decision making is important, though there usually is a leader within the group who directs decisions without seeming to. There are unwritten rules on how to behave and fit into a group, but no one talks about them. If one does not fit in, one would wait and leave the group quietly at the first plausible excuse.

I learnt about gracious Japanese hospitality. I learnt that it is appropriate for Japanese ladies, regardless of age, to let their hair down at year-end parties.

Teaching in Japan

Ten years after I arrived in Japan, as a result of this and other learning experiences, I became more open to taking on teaching roles. I teach English informally in the community (I am not a trained teacher), because many Japanese people like learning a foreign language. And I teach the Bible, because most people see this as learning about Christian history and culture. I have requests to teach English and run activities or events from time to time, to adults or children, more than I have time for. It is such a privilege.

Desiring to share my faith means that I need to meet people. God has opened doors and continues to open doors for me to meet people as a learner and as a teacher. I have had opportunities over the years to share the gospel (short and long) through having conversations with people I meet. I know God will continue open doors.

What sort of learning opportunities might you take up if you lived in Japan?

By an OMF missionary

Will you pray?

  • Pray for many gospel opportunities as missionaries learn and teach in Japan.
  • Pray that missionaries will continue to learn about the culture in Japan, no matter how long they’ve been there.
  • Pray about whether God is calling you to serve him in Japan.

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