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Share house conversations in Japan

Friday dinner with share house mates

The sound of early summer rain and Japanese news filled the background as we savored gyoza, sashimi, grilled vegetables, and miso soup together. It was one of those dinners where silence lasted longer than dialogues, and dialogues roamed around with occasional comments about the food. Silence is usually awkward in a group. But this silence reminded me of my family when we do something together. Sometimes, there is no need for words.

After dinner, I washed dishes with two share house mates. One smiled giddily at the other, like a teenager in love. Curiously, I asked what was going on and got the full story from her—ah, so now everyone else in the share house has a boyfriend.

With twinkling eyes, they stole my straightforward questions and threw them back in my face, asking me about my love life. “Sadly boring,” I said, and described the lack since high school, blaming busyness and lack of opportunity. Well it’s not like you tried to create opportunities for yourself either—I sighed internally at my ongoing ambivalence about love and marriage.

Suddenly, one of them asked, “I heard Christians can’t have sex before marriage. Why is that?”

“Ah—” I gulped and stared at her curious gaze, mind racing. Oh God, how do I explain the covenantal nature of marriage, its reflection of Jesus and the church, and your perspective of sexuality—all in Japanese—to my housemate who has no Biblical concepts in her frame of understanding? Theology swarmed in my mind like dizzying whirlwind.

I gulped again and took a plunge in, and with the limited Japanese vocabulary repertoire in my hands, attempted to explain the relational nature of Christianity and marriage. The explanation unfolded clumsily, and after a few oh’s and I see’s, the conversation eventually moved on to my type of guy and thoughts on pornography.

In the end, my housemates walked away concluding that Japan has a weird fantasy world and men do not treat women with respect. I walked away slapping myself for a lack of preparedness in answering their questions and for what I perceived as a lousy invitation to further conversations about God. Thus concluded my first spiritual conversation in the share house.

Another evening

My share house mate’s eyes dropped from my gaze and stayed on the cup as she searched for courage to put her pain into words. She spoke quietly about her argument with her boyfriend, of current fears and future anxieties. The silence between words filled the kitchen counter between us. She looked up, and I saw in her glistening eyes the invitation to vulnerability and the courage to trust me with it.

My feet took me to her side and my arms wrapped around her shoulders. I felt her trembling as tears traced their way down her cheek. Uncertain of how to be with her in her pain, with thoughts of—is this culturally appropriate, should I remain silent or speak, is she going to feel awkward afterwards, and will this change our relationship as housemates swarming—I banked on the universal nature of empathy and spoke quietly. If she can risk, I can too.

I live in a share house where I am given the opportunity to do life alongside of Japanese women and a glimpse into their experiences and thoughts. Moments of connection open up in ways and times I don’t expect. They are precious to me and I thank God for giving me the privilege to share in their lives.

By J, an OMF missionary

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