A water closet in Japan is different. It gives you a feeling of approaching a computer, and of size more like a copy machine. There is a very interesting control panel where you can decide the heat of the seat, the strength and also direction of water going in different ways and solving very different challenges. Then of course you can decide the sound you want to hear when you flush. I must admit that all of this makes a visit to the small room a much richer and interesting experience than what I am used to. I see now that there are needs and expectations, which I was never aware of, and I am seriously considering renewing the facilities at our John R. Mott House.
While dealing with water I must share with you one of the absolute highlights of my visit to Japan. Outside of Sendai in the North East of Japan we visited famous hot springs and participated in a traditional Japanese bath. It was cleaning both the body and the soul and following all the prescribed rituals we eventually found ourselves outside surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden in a natural pool with water keeping 42,5 degrees. It is an absolute purifying and very comfortable experience. After the bath we dressed in traditional yukatas, a kind of kimono look-a-like, what people used to dress in after work.
As I understand this is no longer in daily use, and seemed to be a part of a traditional hotel experience, a reminiscence of days gone by. So we probably looked like a group of people from the last century when we assembled around the low table to start another traditional dinner with lots of raw fish in rich varieties.
Before this visit to Japan I must admit that I was not very experienced in eating raw fish, but I enjoyed it very much and it tasted well and felt good, like healthy!
But let me start with the beginning. After having spent a very white night studying the geography of Siberia from 33 000 feet heights we land at Tokyo International Airport, Narita, and we are warmly and friendly met by Kazuki YAMANE, the International Secretary of Japanese YMCA, and taken to the International School at Tokyo YMCA, where they have graduation day this Friday morning. I speak with the kids and congratulate them and their parents and tell them a little bit about the great movement they belong to. I get to know that Yamada San, or Kohei, as I like to call him, founded this International School sometimes in the early nineties. He is the present Area Secretary of APAY in Hong Kong, and my very good friend. Kohei – I visited your school at graduation day!
In a comfortable and air-conditioned Honda we glide through the traffic of Tokyo on our way to the west side of the island to Tozanso, the National Conference Centre of Japan YMCA. This is a centre where John R. Mott walked in the corridors and talked with young people from the Student YMCA in Japan many years ago. I could still feel his spirit there. Amazing!
President of National Council of YMCAs, Mr Yoshihiro NAKAGAWA and General Secretary of NCY, Mr Shigeru SHIMADA.
The National Meeting of YMCAs in Japan is very interesting, since they are in the middle of a huge change process, leading to a much more participative process and for the first time each of the 34 local YMCAs had to be represented by three people, a volunteer leader, a staff person, in most cases the General Secretary and then a young person.
That is why the hall was really well filled with young people, and when I gave my speech about Youth Empowerment and Change Agents I felt that my words found resonance both among young people as among the grey hairs.
SHIMIZU, Koichi, Board Member from Sendai YMCA and a very hospitable host.
We had very active discussions in small groups and the question and answer session after my speech went on for a long time with very good comments and feed back.
After the conclusion of the National Meeting the local General Secretaries met for two days together with Shigeru Shimada San, the National Secretary and the staff of the National office. I was impressed with the conversation among my colleagues, and I enjoyed the evenings together with them so much, it was a friendly, inclusive atmosphere and I learnt a lot about the Japanese YMCA in Yokohama, in Sendai, in Kobe, in Hiroshima and in Tokyo and all the other local communities.
Hiroshima is of course the peace city of the world, and the Mayor of Hiroshima is leading a peace network of 250 mayors around the globe – quite amazing and very impressive.
The National Meeting had decided to establish a system of Japanese Change Agents, 30-40 of them, to support the work of the three global CAs. Now I discussed the content of this programme with the General Secretaries. It was all very encouraging.
Next day gave us a few hours to visit a National Park in the volcanic landscape at the foot of Fuji San, the majestic national mountain of Japan. It was immensely beautiful, even if parts of the National Park were called Hell Valley.
Smoke and damp were released from the hot soil and water was running in hot rivers where we boiled eggs, which became black from the minerals in the hot springs. The mountain itself, Fuji San, is extremely shy, and was hiding behind clouds all day. The last morning with the General Secretaries Ingunn and I were invited to join them for morning devotion in the meditation house with panorama windows to Fuji San.
At seven thirty in the morning we were singing Japanese hymns and praying together. And all of a sudden the clouds disappeared and Fuji San showed itself to us in all its majestic beauty. It lasted only a few minutes, but it was another highlight of beauty and Japanese splendour, in the fellowship of praying YMCA friends.
Again I felt enormously privileged to be in the blessed job I have. And it gave me a strong feeling of being in a God given context, it was like God himself pushed the clouds gently aside and smiled to us from Fuji San.
Look at this photo of the local General Secretaries in Japan. With people of this calibre I can only see very positive future perspectives for the YMCA movement in Japan.
We left Tozanso behind and set the course back to Tokyo for more adventures.