Tag Archives: travel

Japan workers; shokunin

When I travel I am always interested in the working people. In Japan the word is shokunin.

Above a busy street in Kobe I found this very quite shop.




Ticket checker on train.










This ferry worker has the gulls trained to eat of his hand!








The Japanese version of a Salvation Army Bell Ringer in Kyoto at Christmas.






On a bike ride I came across this friendly lady. No she is not threatening me with her tool! If you tour Japan I suggest getting away from the big cities and you will find the country people very happy to meet visitors.

Finding help in Japan

When you are really in need of help in Japan, ask an elderly lady. If she cannot help you herself she will find someone who can!

I resorted to this method more than once but one time in particular I remember very well. My Japanese is just good enough to get me in trouble. I can ask for directions but I don’t understand the answer. I was going from Nagoya out to Ise, a remote area with a national shrine and other tourist attractions. At the Nagoya station I was not sure I got the right instructions for the right train. I had in my mind the direction we might go but we seemed to be heading past. The train was crowded with commuters and people seem to deliberately ignore strange Americans. It was getting dark and starting to rain I was feeling disoriented. I could not get anyone to exchange a friendly glance to open a conversation. I spotted an old lady “obasan” or to be sweet “oba chan” chan being like miss young lady. I approached her several rows away, pointing at my map saying wa doko deska- where is it? In half a New York minute she had a group of helpers around translating and assuring me my stop was coming soon.

When I got to my stop it was raining like crazy. I was planning to walk about a mile to a temple/hostel. I was soaking wet real quick and spotting a cafe I dropped in. As I pulled of my pack and wet jacket the folks at the bar all turned around and stared like a seen out of an old cowboy movie. I sat down and ordered and they all resumed. I asked the waitress about my destination and again she summoned help. I ended up sitting for a long time with those folks and the temple sent a driver for me. I have found the most incredibly friendly people in Japan mostly by getting away from Tokyo and the big cities.

Obasan or Obachan-happy lady




friendly teens also



Me with Shinkansen

India, women workers

In construction brick laying the person who mixes the mud/mortar has one of the hardest jobs, we call this worker a hody. In Southern India, Tamil Nadu these ladies are mixing the mud and carrying it to the men. The bring the water up from the well. They make about $1- per day.















Carpenters in India

The industrial revolution accomplished advantages for carpenters in most areas of the world. But there are some places where the work is done in amazing simple ways. Look at the carpenters on this project milling logs into boards for a roof framing project. First a load of logs was dropped into the shade and then in about 3 days these men without any electricity carved out fairly straight boards. First a paste line, same principle as a chalk line, is used to establish two lines which become the planed surfaces through much wielding of the axe. The axes or ads were sharpened by hand on a wheel nearby.

When the boards were complete trusses were built and erected onto the block walls in the same manner that and crew of western carpenters would frame a roof.





The first time I saw a construction worker in bare feet, I was both shocked and ashamed. I have been a carpenter for most of my adult life so I am familiar with hard work, but I have never had to work in bare feet. Actually my first winter of carpentry labor in 1972 was one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record in Utah and all I had was some cheap cowboy boots for work. My feet froze! I was quick to learn the essentials of proper clothes for working outside.

India; first impressions

Every American should visit India. The cultural contrast is so powerful that it is life transforming. No one can go to India and come back home the same.

I don’t think there are any atheists in India. The whole culture embraces spirituality, divinity and the existence of gods. There would never be an attempt to amputate the spiritual aspect of life out of personal life or social or political life. So westerners may be shocked, amazed or intrigued by this cultural contrast.

Also there may be a cultural time warp when entering India. The area I visited was southern India, Tamil Nadu. I felt I had entered the pages of the Bible stories, of Abraham and Sarah and their flocks of animals, of women carrying water from the well, of bare feet and open sewers. When I thought on the story of Jesus washing the feet of his friends, I understood the context better. I understood why in most ancient cultures removing shoes when coming into the house is crucial for cleanliness.

When Americans or people of other wealthy countries meet real poverty face to face it must sow the seeds of change. We see people that walk everywhere, and yet are content. For thousands of years humanity walked, and as they walked they prayed, sang a song or talked. I saw school kids who had dirt floors and no running water in their houses, but yet their loving mothers made sure they had clean uniforms and aromatic flowers for their beautiful hair. This must force me to examine my American obsessions.


See more photos in gallery listed to right>>>>>>>>>

Change is coming to Japan

Change is inevitable for this island country, which has a history of isolation, of taking just what it wants from the outside world. But this time it cannot avoid the change that is coming. For many centuries foreigners were rarely allowed into Japan. The Japanese were very independent and unique even among other Asian countries. They opened their doors to trade for a while with the west and the Jesuit missionaries came along. The missionaries actually had great success until the ruling Japanese nobles started to feel a loss of control, like change too rapidly. So they exterminated the Christians. Literally thousands lost their lives. The doors to trade were again closed until 1800’s when the Americans and British “persuaded” them to re-open. Today it would be very difficult for the Japanese to return to isolation.  Their economy is tied to the rest of the world. Today, “no man is an island”, especially Japan. However Japanese opinion seems torn between wanting out of their shell of isolation embracing a brave new world, and trying to return to the good old days where people were under the control of social expectations.

But if I were Japanese looking at the changes so rapidly happening in my country I would close the doors as fast as possible to western influence. The young people once so courteous are becoming rebellious, arrogant, brats, (welcome to the US). Western music, movies and sports, are everywhere. They are attracted to our western freedom, but what they are catching is our insanity.

In traditional Japanese society individuals find life direction more on a closed system without interference from God. Their values are based on allegiance to their society, work and family. It is a system that has worked for them for centuries. The idea of the individual asserting his individuality has been looked down upon, the needs of the society were traditionally more important. In Japan they have a saying regarding individuality, “The nail that sticks up must be hit down.” Sometimes I think they have a self imposed wall like communism around them, and I’m standing outside the wall with a note tied to a rock that says “you’re free!” Should I throw the rock in? Is it what they are looking for? Is my so-called “freedom” any better than theirs?

Many of us in the west do not appreciate the freedom and self-respect that was given to us as a Bible heritage. Where ever the Bible has a strong influence, it has taught that mans first allegiance is to God, and second to people. That is why we only bow to God, if we bow at all, and we greet people as equals. This has some great benefits; we are all equal before one higher being, we are free to be all that God has created us to be, no man can stand in judgment of me if God has accepted me. You can see how this principal has permeated our thinking. However on the negative side of this freedom coin is that if God is taken out of the picture, or distorted, then I become a slave to my self-imposed ideas. Instead of respecting God first and loving my neighbor as my equal, I just serve myself.  The true freedom the Creator designed us for is this; knowing our place before God, we respect our neighbor as our self.  I believe that the Japanese heart is hungry for some of this godly freedom, without the western insanity.

In some previous generations it was profitable and popular to package western technology and culture along with the gospel. People in developing countries could see the lack in their society and were anxious to advance. But the great danger of packaging our culture along with God’s message is that it is a perversion of the truth. It becomes “our” gospel, rather than God’s truth. There is inevitably a negative reaction to a cultural gospel, in spite of some success, because the remainder of the people recognizes the cultural ties and rejects the foreign culture. Many, many people in Japan will not consider a foreign religion because they consider it a betrayal of family heritage. And they really cannot be blamed for this. It is true that Jesus calls us all to go beyond our family heritage into his heritage, but it also true that Jesus is not American more than Japanese. And coming into Christ’s heritage does not mean switching from Japanese to American. We must be very clear on what we present– that it is the truth.

On my trip to Japan I was honored to visit a junior high school with our pastor. In an art display there was a picture, an etching of superb quality. It was of a person all bound up like with ropes, a very dark image, with the English caption “TO REACH OUT FOR ETERNITY”.  I saw that “God has put eternity into the heart”, (Ecclesiastes 3:11), of one Japanese young person, and that there is a true spiritual need there. I was able to meet this young artist and she gave me the etching to bring home.

East/west culture icons