How long have you lived in Japan?
Tom: Seven years. Seven really short years. I’ve enjoyed my time here
and as they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” But I think and feel that
it is time to go, to start the next chapter of my life. But who knows…I might
come back someday.
TUC: What appeals most to you about Japan?
Tom: A good place always starts with good people and Japan is filled with
them. Related to the people, I also appreciate the relative safety, the personal
safety of course, but also travel and property safety. As a motorcyclist, I
find drivers here far more cognizant of the fact that they share the road with
motorcyclists. And as one U.S. colleague put it, “Driving in Japan doesn’t seem
to be a competitive sport.” And when I stop somewhere on the bike, there’s
minimal anxiety about making sure I get every last item locked down.
And I love the food or shall I say, the “diet.” I love
restaurant dinners in Japan comprised of a great variety of small, often
healthy, items, rather then one big pile of ‘what you ordered.’ My favorite
dish is the katsuo tataki which I first had in Shikoku. I believe a correct
description would be that it’s quickly seared bonito, smothered in a light
marinade with sliced onion and perhaps tomatoes. Finding it became a daily
mission during my motorcycle tour of Shikoku a few years ago.
And I don’t get started about the sheer bliss of soaking in
an onsen after a long ride on one of Japan’s countless curvy roads, or an
afternoon of splitting and stacking firewood. Thanks Joe!
TUC: What are the most challenging aspects of living
Tom: Physically, space. What I would have given for a garage, but of
course that’s mostly because of the motorcycle.
Psychologically, a customer, the inflexibility of business
procedures, is sometimes frustrating. While service is generally very good in
Japan, it’s often only good within the prescribed bounds of what the system has
been designed to provide. There’s often little authority or flexibility left to
the employee at the operating level to actually meet the customer’s needs.
A good example was the difficulty I had opening a bank
account without a hanko (personal stamp) when I first arrived. Of course, the
Japanese way of thinking often improves the timeliness of receiving a good or
service, something I sometimes miss when I’m back in the US where many people
expect to be specially accommodated, delaying everyone after them.
TUC: Tell us about your family and friends.
Tom: I don’t have any family members here with me, but friends at TUC
have become family as we’ve shared birthdays, weddings, hospitalizations,
prayers, struggles, decisions, holidays and travels.
My immediate family (mother, father, one brother with
family) all reside in California and Arizona. And not to imply that one family
member cares more than the others, but there’s one mom who is going to be very
happy to have me home.
TUC: What do you like most about TUC and are there
any things you would like to see changed?
Tom: I, like many, like the idea that we all come to TUC simply as
Christians, no modifiers, adjectives or explanations required. Yes, we bring
denominational (or non-denominational as the case may be) tradition and theology
with us, but the strength and depth lies first in simply being Christians. At
TUC there’s rarely a need to wrangle about issues distant from the core of the
gospel. It’s quite liberating.
See changed? Are we friendly or aren’t we? I’ve heard it
argued both ways. Perhaps it would be clearer to say we are very welcoming, but
it can be a little difficult to immediately connect with us. I think you have
to be intentional as a newcomer to get involved and become connected. Not to
make excuses, but the congregational turnover is very high, with many people
coming and going in 2-3 year cycles. Some people have been here many years and
it becomes more difficult to really invest in every new face. Many are still
feeling new and don’t know who else is new and here to stay for a while or just
passing through. And then there are the schedules that typical TUC members
keep, both professional and personal. It can leave a newcomer feeling like
their not being drawn into the flock. I see this as an ongoing are for
TUC: What spiritual gifts (or special skills) do you
think you bring to your secular job?
Tom: An ability to promote understanding between individuals and groups.
Sometimes our Japanese and US office will misunderstand each other, not only the
facts, but the motives and intentions. Through life experiences, both good and
bad, God’s given me the ability to listen past the facts to the intentions and
motives, and communicate them in a tactful, non-threatening way to both
parties. This coupled with a sense of the culture in which I’m living, has
allowed me to do something that gives me energy, bring people together, where
they may not have otherwise.
TUC: What do you like about your job?
Tom: Well, that’s a tougher question to answer now than a few years ago.
I work for a Japanese machine tool company and spent my first 5+ years here as a
liaison between our office here and our English speaking offices and
distributors in markets outside of Japan. Then, as our pre-sales engineering
backlog became particularly high, I was re-assigned to the pre-sales engineering
department. My gifts and talents are better suited to side of the business that
depends on communication rather than calculations. With that said, the thing I
like best about my current job is that I know this technical experience will
help me when I return to the marketing and sales side of the business.
TUC: What’s most important to you about TUC?
Tom: The same thing that I look for in any church home. The sense of
community and connectedness with other believers -“to know and be known.” I’ve
received true support at critical periods over the last seven years, critical
periods both for me and my family. The kids are important to me. Several
families have allowed me become close to their children, allowing me to
partially experience (as a ingle) some of that joy of life. The opportunity to
serve, in every imaginable way, whether I had experience or not, whether I
initially succeeded or foundered was also very important.
TUC: Where has God been most noticeable to you in
Tom: In the way I’ve been transformed within; necessary transformations I
neither initially desired nor could have performed on my own. And in my
Christian relationships; the grace, forgiveness, loyalty, commitment and love
I’ve both experienced and, at times, had the capacity to give, could only have
come from God.
TUC: What is the most memorable thing that’s
happened to you in Japan?
Tom: It’s impossible to put one experience at the top of seven years of
wonderful memories: weekends in Nojiri-ko, church retreats, motorcycle tours,
long afternoons with friends under cherry blossoms, special relationships with
the youth, an all day birthday treasure hunt through Tokyo and countless moments
at TUC! But let me tell you one story that started out with the battery box on
an old Harley.
I was filling-up my bike at a gas station in Hokkaido and
noticed a small, rectangular reflection coming from a window across the street.
I immediately new what it was, the battery box on a vintage Harley. Upon
crossing the street, I found not one, but an entire shop full of vintage
motorcycles. The owner turned out to be an Ainu wood carver and, judging from
the pictures I saw of him receiving awards from government officials, a Japanese
national treasure. He sent me to see his personal collection at his store down
the road, where I met his wife and daughters. They in turn later helped me find
lodging at what is arguably Japan’s most beautiful lake, Onetto-ko.
Later that night, I had a lengthy talk with the woman
running the front desk of the onsen, which included a discussion over a map
regarding my tour around Hokkaido. During our talk she answered the phone and
mid-discussion turned to me and asked me if I liked kids. I was obviously
confused, so she repeated the question to which I answered that I did. She
said, “Good. Tomorrow night you will stay at my sisters.”
I met her sister at the gas station of a country road
intersection at the prearranged time. I followed her back to her house where
she served me tea and, with the help of her electronic dictionary, tried to
communicate. She lived there with her husband who was a department store
manager. He apparently worked nearly every day, coming home late and leaving
She later prepared a hot bath for me, after which I played
with her boy, Taka. Taka was in the depths of the terrible two’s, seemingly
having the run of the house. One fun game for him was to throw toys; like the
yellow bus that hit me in the back of the head. He was fun but a handful!
She prepared yaki-soba and other dishes on a large electric
frying pan she set on the low, living room table. We ate dinner and then she
shared her other joy, the blue-prints for the new house her husband was going to
have built. She used the electronic dictionary to explain what each room would
Se finally decided it was Taka’s bedtime, but he didn’t
agree. As she pulled off his pants to put on a sleeping diaper, he took off
running. Around and around the room they went. I got the feeling it was a
nightly ritual. He finally ducked into the next room, where a futon had been
prepared, presumably for me. Taka suddenly stopped running and took aim,
setting his bare little butt right down on my pillow. Shoganai.
Tired from riding, I also retired early, gently turning the
pillow over just before laying my head down.
The next morning I awoke early and prepared to leave. She
also was preparing to leave, apparently going to work at the onsen that day.
She made two bento boxes that day, one for me and one for here husband. I never
met even met him; I assume he looked in on me as I slept.
This is the type of experience I had in mind when I came to
Japan. And the people of Japan never disappointed me in this regard, helping me
countless times during my motorcycle journeys.
TUC: If you could, what would you change about
Tom: It often saddens me to see how little time a Japanese salaryman has
for pursuits outside of work, particularly in regards to the family. And of
course, to add more meaning to life beyond work, I’d like to see the spiritual
lives of my Japanese friends, and the society, awakened.
TUC: What would you be doing if you weren’t living in Japan?
Tom: It’s difficult to say; I probably would have found someone to pay me
to ride my motorcycle and write stories about it. Kidding aside, I have
colleagues at the office I’ll be returning to in the U.S. whom I have known
since college. It’s easy to think that my life would have continued in parallel
to theirs. But I’ve also often thought that if I were to try something
different, it would be seminary. Perhaps I might have taken that turn.
(Sadly, Tom who has been a familiar face at TUC over the last 7 years will be
leaving Japan at the end of May 2004 and will be touring Europe on his
motorcycle for 3 months before returning to the US with his present company)