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Tom Rudzinski, Membership Elder

 

TUC: 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 here?
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 improvement.

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 your life?
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 early.

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 be.

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 Japan?
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)

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