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Japan is a largely non-religious country, with many people claiming no religious affiliation whatsoever. The majority of those that are religious practice a mix of Buddhism and Shintoism. Most Japanese people participate in a variety of Shinto and Buddhist rituals, regardless of how actively religious they are – for example, most Japanese funerals follow Buddhist traditions and are performed by Buddhist priests.
The Church is still growing in Sendai. There is one stake containing ten wards and three districts which are divided into branches. The people are willing to listen, and you will see success as you work hard and trust in the Lord. There are also many less active members that can be brought back to the fold.
In Japan, rice is the staple food and is served with practically all meals. Also, miso soup is a common supporting dish. Sendai, in particular, is located near several main fishing ports. In addition to a rich palette of seafood, you can count on experiencing other delicious foods including tofu, sushi, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki. And you will eat it all with chopsticks! If you do not finish all the food you are given, it is considered rude.
Although there is public transportation, your main mode of traveling will be bicycling and walking.
Despite the potential of natural disasters, Sendai is one of the safest cities in the world. It has seen lots of growth in the last few decades, populated with many universities and urban areas.
The Japanese people are extremely polite. Bowing is a common aspect of introductions and is also used for many other occasions. Their language uses humble, honorific terms to show respect and to show one’s place in society. There is also a formal and informal way of talking, somewhat comparable to 19th century England (think Pride and Prejudice). Everyone is very conscious of their social position.
apan has a very unique culture, as manifested in traditional paintings, sculptures, woodblock prints, and architecture. In modern pop culture, video games, manga, and anime are all extremely popular. Performing karaoke is also quite popular. Japan’s national sport is sumo, though the martial art forms of karate, kendo, and judo are also widely practiced. Baseball is one of Japan’s most popular sports, though soccer also has a following. Many modern schools require students to take classes in English.
Depending on which area you serve in, you will come across different dialects. However, this is nothing to worry about or attempt to anticipate. Your companions, the members and the Lord will help you pick it up if you serve in one of those areas.
Be sure to come prepared with a seasonal wardrobe, emphasizing clothes for winter! Also, once you arrive in Japan and while you are with your trainer, consider buying an electronic dictionary.
What items were hard to get or not available?
“Toothpaste with fluoride, western style deodorant, tampons with plastic applicator, western make-up and many food items (such as peanut butter, tortillas, bagels, most Mexican food; and dairy was expensive so you are limited to cheese/milk, etc).”
“Beef jerky, pudding, most American candy.”
What did you eat the most of?
“Japanese curry & rice/ stir fry veggies with rice.” –Katelyn
“Rice, boiled wheat, curry, chicken, pork, fruits and vegetables.”
“A lot of soup and curry rice.”
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Natto (fermented soybeans).” –Katelyn
“Pig intestine, whale steak, canned horse meat”
“I ate things like octopus, squid and fish eggs, but the grossest thing to me was an entire block of tofu covered in olive oil and tomatoes.”
What was most surprising about the culture?
“I was definitely surprised by how different their viewpoints are from my traditional Western experience. Many people view truth as relative for different individuals or that each path is acceptable because we’re all different (I heard it described once like this: ‘Just as God has made many different hobbies and activities that different people prefer, He has made many different paths (religions) that lead back to Him because we are all different’). Most Western ideas focus on one truth, while Eastern ideas are not concerned about that.
“I was also surprised by how sensitive people are. In America, we just say what we are thinking and feeling. In Japan, they really think and care about each other’s feelings and beat around the bush or keep it all in. This can be frustrating for an American at first, because we just want everyone to be straightforward. However, it is a very important part of learning the language and culture to learn to really be thoughtful about the things you say so as not to unintentionally offend or hurt people.”
What advice would you give to someone going to this Mission?
“Love the people with all your heart! You will have the time of your life! Paul taught us that when he was with the Jews, he became as a Jew and when he was with the Gentiles, he became as a Gentile. When you are with the Japanese, become as they are! The Japanese people are a wonderful, kind people. As far as I’m concerned, you have been called to the best mission on Earth!”
“Learn to love the people and embrace the culture.”
What do you wish you had known before you served?
“To forgive yourself! The Atonement is there for you to use. The best way to repent is to just get back to work. I believe too many missionaries waste so much time being depressed about the time they have wasted! If you waste time or do something else that was not 100% obedient, repent and keep working! The Lord loves you and wants you to be happy! Missionaries who use and believe in the Atonement are happy and effective missionaries.”
“How to study.”