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Two Encounters on Two Islands

I had just emerged from the Tozai subway line into the area northwest of Sapporo. The change is immediately obvious: the streets are covered with even more snow (if that was even possible at this point), the buildings are smaller, and there is more open space on the horizon. I’m passing the time walking down the white sidewalks, grabbing icicles off street signs and using them for fake weapons, brushing my hand across the snow-covered electrical boxes, just to use the flakes to make snowballs. It’s everything I could imagine living in a place where winter is a reality, not just a season.

Turning the corner towards the Shiroi Koibito Park, with a snowball in my hand, I am happened upon by two studies in contrast: a Japanese man, covered from head to tow in warm clothing, with only the essentials of his face sticking out, and a caucasian (I later found out, an American), with condensation dripping down everywhere on his pudgy face.

"Konnichiwa!" He shouted at me.

"Konnichiwa," I said, not the least bit wary. After all, I have plenty of time, and I’m in a great mood; I have nothing against making conversation with whom I assumed were tourists.

An even better sign – all three of us converse in Japanese, not English; he asks me where I’m from, what I’m doing here, and of course I do the same. It’s all very casual, and I’m about to walk off when…

Something really should have ignited in my brain. A Japanese. An American. Both young, both traveling together, both willing to stop you in your tracks. Evangelicals. Christians. Of course…

I’ve had my share of experiences being told to seek salvation, from the Gideons at my university, to random encounters on the street. This is the latter. In Japan, a bilingual pair (though usually, they speak more than two languages) walk across the island in an attempt to save people from their horrible selves.

I knew it was coming before his mouth was open: "I’d like to talk to you about Jesus…"

Uhhh… what? Were we just having a semi-normal conversation, or were you just using that to promote your cause? This is even more ridiculous in a country like Japan. The native population is mostly Shinto or Buddhist, with a sparse number converting to the other worldly religions (about 2%); naturally, that still means hundreds of thousands of worshippers, and enough people to "necessitate" walking patrons. For your harassment.

Yes, harassment. If people want religion, they know where to find it. You don’t have to be as resilient as shop managers outside their store and promote Evangelicalism person-to-person. It is hassling someone, whether you choose to think so or not. I didn’t walk out the door of my hotel room that morning wanting to hear why my beliefs are wrong and how only you can save me; even if you don’t explicitly say this, you imply it just by identifying yourself; after all, doesn’t every religion in the world say it’s the right one for you?

Why in Japan? Why can’t I find peace on the streets of the land of the rising sun? Scientologists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Evangelical streetmongerers, stay home. Let us at least find some refuge in Japan without being hassled about religion. Leave your multilingual information pamphets securely in your pockets. Save your message of salvation from someone who approaches you, not the other way around.

"Ikana kereba naranai," I say quickly, and hurry off to an Ishiya chocolate feast.

Labels: foreigners in japan