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Valentines and Lent in Japan: A season of obligation or a time to be loved freely?

It’s Valentines Day in Japan and so this week I’ve enjoyed getting chocolate. Yup, in Japan girls give guys chocolates for Valentines day. And what’s even better is the concept of ‘giri choco’ – I guess ‘obligation chocolate’ — whereby you don’t even have to love someone to give them chocolate. The general bond of friendship or just being a work colleague is enough.

So for me(n) it’s been a good few days. But then in a month’s time it’s my turn to repay the favour. It’s called ‘White Day’ and is when men are expected to return chocolate to anyone they received from on Valentines Day. Girls say, ‘Oh, you don’t need to give me anything back.’ But I’ve lived as a man long enough to know what that means. I feel the obligation.

Speaking of which, it’s also the start of Lent and in Japan that means pretty much nothing. Surprisingly for a country that perfected the art of self-restraint, Lent hasn’t taken on here, even in the church. Maybe it’s an intentional pushback against the typical links that self-denial has with buddhism, or possibly missionaries have quietly decided against importing this idea into Japan.

Either way, this year presents me — as a single missionary in Japan — with a unique opportunity. Or rather an important choice. I can either enjoy the ‘obligation chocolate’ albeit with a sense of duty to repay the favour next month, and then carry that spirit into Lent and deny myself something for the next forty days in a general sense of obligation to God. Or I can use these next six weeks to focus on the absolute-not-obligatory love of God that was poured out for me on that Easter weekend. And if it costs me a commitment to abstain from Netflix/YouTube in order to do that, then I pay it gladly.

Levi Booth

Will you pray for Japan?  

Pray for Levi and all missionaries in Japan – whatever our marital status – serving in Japan this Valentines/Lent season.

Pray that this would be a time of revival in our hearts: for us to have the strength to know the love of God in all it’s wondrous freely-given, freedom-giving glory.

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