Sumo Ring

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”  Psalm 77:19

yobidashi

If you ever watch or attend a sumo tournament, your attention will be naturally drawn to the behemoth wrestlers in the center of the ring. There, the two contestants skillfully grapple with one another until one wrestler loses by either stepping out of the ring or touches the dirt with any body part besides his feet. Often unnoticed in the midst of this exciting activity are assistants hovering attentively off to the side. These are the yobidashi (呼び出し), the handymen employed by the Japan Sumo Association to perform a number of key tasks essential to the success of every sumo event.

Among their many assigned chores, yobidashi play taiko drums outside to attract customers, display banners before the match, attend to the various needs of the wrestlers and judges, hand out prizes and make certain announcements. However, their chief responsibility entails the proper construction of the elevated sumo ring (dohyō) and they must diligently maintain it throughout the tournament. As part of the maintenance routine, the yobidashi frequently sweep the ring to remove all marks so the judges can readily determine if a wrestler has touched the dirt when the outcome of the contest is uncertain.

The term yobidashi means “to call, or to summon,” which can refer to their role of calling out the wrestlers for a match or to their position of being “on call” for various tasks associated with a sumo tournament. The yobidashi, like the wrestlers themselves, operate within a strict hierarchy, often entering their unique occupation as teenagers and steadily working their way up through the ranks. No more than 45 yobidashi are employed at any given time and they are carefully trained in their techniques with the goal of becoming almost invisible on the sideline as they carry out their duties.

Other sports around the world similarly employ an army of workers and tools for a variety of tasks related to sporting events. Consider the instant replay booth, which helps verify a wide range of actions that take place on the field of competition. Like marks left in a recently swept sumo ring, these technological advances provide additional evidence of what actually transpired, even when such actions escape notice of the human eye in real time. In the same way, the works of God and His activity in the affairs of the world around us, often remain unseen to us. This does not mean that God is not proactively engaged in the things that concern us, but rather, we often fail to perceive it. Therefore, we are instructed to “live by faith and not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7); evidence of God’s handiwork is often not readily apparent to us.

Sometimes, the absence of such “marks” can lead us to speculate as to what God may or may not be doing as we seek to faithfully fulfill His purposes here on Earth. But every once in a while, we are provided glimpses of God’s power and grace in our lives like a mark left in the sumo ring before the passing of time sweeps it away. Such “footprints” (Psalm 77:19) serve as reminders of God’s presence and power as we journey by faith in a world full of uncertainties.

New Year Money

“…though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” Luke 11:13a

Otoshidama2

Christmas was over for our children, but they soon reaped an unexpected, additional windfall with the onset of the Japanese new year. They would receive otoshidama. Over the next few days, several of our Japanese friends kindly gave our kids small envelopes of money that they were to use for themselves. This custom supposedly dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), when wealthy individuals gave mochi (rice cakes) to others at New Year’s and presented some as offerings at the local Shinto shrine. These treats were called “toshidama” (年玉), which meant literally “rice ball/treasure.” Over the course of time, these presents of mochi were replaced by small toys to children which eventually were substituted by cash gifts.

Otoshidama is typically given to school age children by immediate relatives, close family friends and in some cases, even neighbors. The amount of money generally varies upon the nature of the relationship with the child and the child’s age. For example, elementary children average ¥2-3,000 ($20-30) per envelope, junior high kids ¥5,000 and high school students ¥10,000. The money is traditionally placed in a miniature envelope called a puchibukuro that is decorated with a popular anime figure, cartoon character or an animal matching that year’s Chinese zodiac. Only new bills of money are included and it is neatly folded into thirds before being placed in the envelope.

Surveys indicate that most children use these monetary gifts to purchase video games, manga, or toys, but some set part of the money aside for future purposes. It is considered impolite for children to open the puchibukuro in front of others and the majority of parents carefully monitor the otoshidama to ensure it is spent appropriately. We certainly did so with our children as we helped guide them with purchases that were usually beyond our limited resources and we also encouraged them to save a portion of this special new year money.

In teaching His disciples about prayer, as recorded in Luke 11, Jesus used the simple analogy of a father giving good and appropriate gifts to his children to drive home an important point. Just as parents are eager to provide for their children, God delights in providing for us as His children. Therefore, we are to confidently approach our Heavenly Father to ask, because it will be given to us. To seek, and we will find. To knock, and the door will be opened to us (v.9). However, like children entrusted with sizable sums of cash, we are also obligated to use the bountiful gifts of God wisely, in line with His eternal purposes and life-giving guidelines. We may not get all the toys and trinkets that this world has to offer, but God places into each of our envelopes exactly what we need. Otoshidama come only once a year and end altogether when one reaches adulthood. But the gifts of God come unexpectedly in many forms and without limit. Every day is a new year with God.

Foreign Holidays

“This is a day you are to commemorate;” Exodus 12:14a

Christmas in Japan

It was our first Christmas Day in Japan and everything felt wrong when I surveyed the world around me. Children were in school, the banks were open and the stores were full of customers. Besides the beautiful blanket of snow covering the ground, there was no visible evidence of Christmas. In the preceding weeks, we had managed to procure a Christmas tree, wrapped our collection of gifts and even tracked down a place that sold turkeys as part of our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ birth. But Christmas was obviously not a major event in Japan.

Many years later, Christmas is still not recognized as a national holiday in Japan, but it is certainly on the nation’s radar. For example, Christmas music is now commonly played in numerous venues. Christmas trees and decorations are sold everywhere. People are increasingly putting up Christmas lights on their homes and giant light displays known as “iruminēshon” (illumination) have become popular attractions. Christmas Eve is generally considered to be a romantic time for young couples in love who celebrate the occasion by going out for a special meal, exchanging gifts and visiting a local iruminēshon. Japanese have even developed their own genre of Christmas music composed and performed by famous artists. A sample of this is a song by Takeuchi Mariya called “Sutekina Kurisumasu” (“Lovely Christmas”). Local merchants are naturally very enthusiastic about anything that puts more money in their pockets, which also accounts for the increasing popularity of other foreign special days like Easter, Valentine’s Day and, more recently, Halloween. Tokyo Disneyland has particularly capitalized on these trends featuring special events, displays, menu items and merchandise that match these festive occasions.

Of course, Japan has its own standard holidays like Constitution Day, Sports Day, Children’s Day, Respect for the Elderly Day, the Emperor’s Birthday, Labor Day, Marine Day and Vernal Equinox, but these do not easily lend themselves to celebratory events. Churches throughout Japan are understandably keen to capitalize on people’s interest in Christmas, so they typically sponsor a variety of meetings designed to share the true meaning of Christmas and the wonder of God’s visitation to Earth.

Special days are often set aside around the world to commemorate significant historical events and this was also true of God’s people. Following the miraculous phenomenon associated with their liberation from Egyptian bondage, God instructed the Israelites to commemorate the penultimate plague, Passover, with a unique celebration that was to be observed on an annual basis (Exodus 12). As God continued on other occasions to intervene in history to deliver His people, additional festive events were instituted and observed by generations that followed. The stated purpose of these special days was to recall the mighty deeds of God as an act of worship. But God’s ultimate intervention in the affairs of man went unnoticed by all except for a handful of shepherds and a few faithful individuals who longed for His appearing. Unexpectedly, and inexplicably, God voluntarily took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and this arrival is the wondrous event we commemorate with every Christmas season. Immanuel. God is with us. Let us bow in worship.

Bicycles

“In those days it was not safe to travel about,” II Chronicles 15:5a

Long before the advent of the popular minivan and SUV, my wife adapted her bike to fill basically the same purposes, at a greatly reduced cost. Strapping a baby on her back, with our oldest son sitting behind her in a child seat and our middle child riding in another seat attached to the handlebars, she would head off to the local grocery store to do our shopping. She rode what is commonly called a mamachari, which is translated as a “mom bicycle,” getting its name from the slang terms for mother and bike.  A mamachari is a basic bike that typically comes equipped with a chain guard, fenders, a dynamo light, a basket, a simple lock and a rear rack. These inexpensive bikes are extremely practical for transporting small children and local purchases over short distances. They are popular not just with moms, but also with businessmen commuting to work, students heading to school and elderly people running local errands.

There are over 80 million bicycles (called jitensha—自転車) in Japan, which ranks among the top worldwide in bikes per capita. Oddly, though, Japan is not known as being a particularly bike-friendly nation. Bicycle lanes are almost non-existent, forcing pedestrians, bicyclists and cars to often share the same space. In addition, designated parking areas for bikes located near stations and shopping areas are often grossly inadequate. Even then, fees are routinely charged for such services and hefty fines levied for parking violations. Thievery is uncommon in Japan, but bikes seem to be an exception to this rule, with the majority of bikes stolen for reasons of convenience rather than profit. We learned this lesson the hard way many years ago when my wife’s newly purchased bike was swiped from a public parking lot in front of a large department store. To combat such crimes, everyone is now required to register their bike with the police for a one-time fee.

Japan is a country that has rules for many things and this also includes bikes. The use of cell phones, umbrellas and headphones while cycling is prohibited, as well as any kind of alcoholic consumption prior to bicycling, due to the safety risks these activities invite. Riding on sidewalks is also illegal, but these rules are often conveniently ignored by the general populace and usually overlooked by the police. In a safety-conscious country, it is interesting to observe that helmets are optional but their usage is gradually becoming more prevalent among school children. E-bikes (electric bikes) have been quite common for a number of years among young mothers who use them year-round to taxi their children to and from day care centers. I have been left in a trail of dust on many occasions by a mom or elderly woman zipping by me as I strenuously labored to climb a steep hill on my more conventional bike.

Travel takes many forms and each one is accompanied by its own set of risks. Each time a person ventures forth from his or her home via bike, bus, car, train or plane, they are entering into additional circumstances where many elements are beyond their control. King Asa of Judah was confronted by such perils during his tumultuous reign when it was said, “In those days it was not safe to travel about.” (II Chronicles 15:5a) Despite having at his disposal an army comprised of over half a million fighting men (II Chronicles 14:8) and having achieved many great victories, King Asa and his people continued to be vulnerable to a multitude of dangers. Although he undertook many additional measures to secure his kingdom and protect his subjects, King Asa is primarily praised for grasping the limitations of his power and leaning into God who can “help the powerless against the mighty.” (v.11) While it is common sense to take practical measures to protect ourselves while traveling, no helmet, safety belt or life preserver can provide the safeguard we really need.

Yakuza

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” Genesis 6:11

My first introduction to the world of yakuza was at a Japanese hot spring where a sign discreetly indicated that anyone with tattoos was prohibited from using the facility. This directive was a euphemistic way of saying that yakuza were not welcome. After all, it was easy to enforce such restrictions upon a certain dark segment of society who are readily identified by their rather unique and prominent tattoos known as “irezumi.” I soon learned that there were other means for picking out yakuza, or Japanese gangsters, in society. For example, they are sometimes missing a part of a finger and they often drove large foreign cars like Cadillacs, which were very scarce in Japan.

Yakuza are members of a large organized crime syndicate in Japan with its roots dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). Their criminal activities usually center around extortion, racketeering, human trafficking, drugs, gambling, questionable real estate practices and even arms smuggling. Different yakuza factions focus on different enterprises with some of these extending beyond the borders of Japan. The yakuza reached their zenith of influence in the 1960s with a membership of more than 200,000, but since then their numbers have significantly dropped. This decline is primarily due to the enactment of several laws restricting their activities and changes in market opportunities. The present number of yakuza is estimated to be roughly 28,000 members; the island of Kyushu has historically served as their prime recruiting ground. Approximately 60 percent of yakuza members come from burakumin, or members of the traditional outcast class, and 30 percent are recruited from Japanese-born Koreans.

The Japan film industry created a popular genre of movies centered on the yakuza world. Several manga series have also picked up on this theme and, together, they romanticize the underworld activities of these Japanese gangsters by emphasizing their strict codes of conduct and rigid hierarchical structure. Yakuza gangs tend to mimic the senior/junior (sempai-kōhai) relationship pattern common throughout Japan, but do so on an exaggerated scale as members are required to cut their family ties and transfer their loyalties to a gang boss. Sometimes this fealty is demonstrated through the partial or complete amputation of the left little finger in a ritual known as yubitsume, which is also used as a form of penance for any perceived failure. Some yakuza now wear prosthetic fingertips to hide this distinctive mark and avoid attention.

A propensity towards violence was one of the initial indicators of man’s fall and departure from godly behavior. The first crime recorded in scripture following man’s eviction from the Garden of Eden was Cain’s extreme violent act of murdering his own brother. Violence among mankind then escalated to such an extent that God felt it necessary to exercise judgment on the entire earth in the form of a flood because it “was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Genesis 6:11) Pride and violence are sometimes linked together in the Bible (Psalm 73:6) because a self-centered independence from God (pride) can potentially unleash horrific actions normally condemned in civilized societies. The yakuza are well-known as occupants of the dark underworld in Japan, but another form of darkness occupies the hearts of all mankind and it is only the grace of God that curbs its full manifestation.

Pest Preventatives

“’I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 3:11

Carrion crow on a trash bag, Germany, Europe

Japan has an ongoing battle with crows who seem doggedly intent upon opening and spilling out the contents of trash bags across the country. As a result, local residents have taken up arms to thwart these annoying and unsanitary activities. Although this conflict continues to rage back and forth, it has reached a stalemate in many areas as various measures known as “karasu yo-ke” (カラス除・stop crows) have been implemented to frustrate the objectionable deeds of the crow population. Such innovative efforts typically involve placing bags of garbage securely under nets or in sturdy cages and in addition, limiting the hours when residents are allowed to put their trash out for pickup. But the crows, who are quite clever, continue to offer resistance and repeatedly find ways to circumvent such advanced tactics.

Crows are not the only unwelcome pests in Japan. A wide variety of repellents known as “yoke” have been developed to ward off the possible activities or presence of other unwanted creatures. Topping this list of offenders would probably be mosquitos, as evidenced by the vast array of products for sale that advertise themselves as “mushi yoke,” or insect repellents. Mice repellents (nezumi yoke), snake repellents (hebi yoke), deer repellents (shika yoke) and wild boar repellents (inoshishi yoke) are available in various forms promising positive results if properly applied.

We encountered our most interesting form of yoke while we were camping in a remote area of northern Japan. Our sleep was interrupted several times that particular night by a loud “BOOM!” that continued like clockwork every fifteen minutes. When we groggily talked to fellow campers the following morning about this strange occurrence, we were informed that the noise was a “kuma yoke,” or bear repellent, that was designed to scare intruding bears away. However, a more bizarre form of yoke is the strategic placement of clear water bottles in many people’s gardens that theoretically serve as neko yoke, or cat repellent. According to popular belief, sunlight reflecting off of these bottles will discourage cats from using the garden as their personal restroom facility. Whether this is truly an effective deterrent, or just an urban legend, is not clear, but the intended objective is obvious: to keep cats out.

Unwanted pests are certainly not a modern phenomenon, but clearly date back to ancient times as mankind struggles to tame and rule over the physical world that God entrusted to his care. (Genesis 2:15) Elements of that struggle were undoubtedly intensified following mankind’s initial fall into sin and the consequential curse upon the created world (Genesis 3:17-9; Romans 8:20-22) Some might even argue that mosquitos were part of the original curse, and if true, I would be tempted to include crows among the chief offenders in the aftermath of the Fall!

But other scriptural passages point to the absence of such destructive pests as evidence of God’s blessing upon a certain individual or people group. Just the opposite occurred when God utilized various pests (frogs, gnats, flies, locusts) among the infamous ten plagues to punish Egypt for its disobedience. In contrast to this, the prophet Malachi exhorted the Israelites to offer up their full obedience, and in return, God promised to bless them by thwarting the destructive activities of pests upon their crops (Malachi 3:11). While mankind strives to develop various forms of yoke to control unwanted creatures, none can compare with the power of God who provides the protection we really need. This is no urban legend.

Robots

“He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:7

  Robot Hotel  Opened in 2015, the Henn Na Hotel chain in Japan (translated “Weird Hotel”) is largely staffed by robots. Upon entering this unique hotel, guests are initially greeted in the lobby by a female-faced android, followed by a multilingual dinosaur proceeding to check them in. Another robot soon appears to transport the guest’s luggage to their assigned room and a face recognition system conveniently unlocks the door. An assortment of other robots fill various work roles in this impressive semi-automated lodging. However, half of the robotic labor force was recently “laid off” as some of the robots tended to create more work rather than reduce it. Innovation to improve the efficiency and capacity of robots continues to progress, not just within this hotel chain, but throughout Japan where robots are increasingly utilized.

The general purpose of robots, which are called “robotto” (ロボット) in Japanese, is to free up humans from difficult or mundane tasks while vastly improving productivity. This purpose explains why the industrial usage of robots has skyrocketed, with Japan ranking among the world leaders in robotic technology along with South Korea, Germany, Singapore and Taiwan.  Many experts think that the solution to Japan’s chronic shortage of labor, due to population decline, is automation, not immigration. This accounts for the country’s heavy reliance on robot labor. Japan’s love affair with robots is somewhat rooted in its past, echoing back to karakuri ningyo, or mechanical dolls that were developed in the 17th century using imported European clock-making technology. Such ingenious developments eventually led to the creation in 1928 of a robot called “Gakutensoku” by Nishimura Makoto. This robotto could make facial expressions and perform a few rudimentary actions. It was the first of its kind in all of Asia.

Robotic technology now dominates the industrial sector of Japan and android robots are becoming increasingly common, performing a variety of duties in social, medical, security, entertainment, senior care, food service and educational circles. It is not uncommon to discover a robot in airports, places of business or hospitals greeting people and performing some kind of basic service. Aibo, the first mass-produced commercial robotic dog sold on the market by Sony, became the precursor of other robotic inventions designed primarily for entertainment. Life-like robots that perform certain religious functions at temples and shrines have also been deployed and used on a limited basis. The city of Yokohama recently put on display the world’s largest robotto which stands 60 feet in height (18 meters), weighs over 25 tons and is modeled after the Gundam robot from the famous anime series.

The advancements in robotic technology are very impressive as robots continue to improve in their imitation of human skills, intelligence and appearance. However, all such developments pale in comparison to the greatest transformation of all, where God took on full human form to redeem mankind (Philippians 2:6-8). This was no poor imitation like a robot, but rather, God fully submitted Himself to take on all the frailties of human flesh to such a degree that He hungered (Mark 11:12), grew tired (John 4:7) and most telling of all, He wept (John 11:35). As the writer of Hebrews so aptly put it: “He too shared in their humanity so that He might break the power of him who holds the power of death.” (Hebrews 2:14a)

Story Telling

“Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll.” Psalm 40:7

Manga

Perhaps you can guess what the following titles have in common: Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, Sailor Moon, Death Note, Nausicaä and My Hero Academia. If you haven’t guessed already, these are all famous Japanese manga series. Manga (漫画) are Japanese comics or graphic novels and the word means literally “whimsical or impromptu pictures.” Although the concept of manga is centuries old, the present form originated in the 19th century and is now available in a variety of genres, including adventure, comedy, drama, history, science fiction, mystery, sports and fantasy. The popularity of these Japanese comics exploded in post-war Japan and the early series of Astro Boy and Sazae-san were the initial best sellers in a rapidly expanding market. People of all ages now read these graphic novels as an increasing variety of manga series are written to appeal to diverse demographic groups.

The popularity of such simple pictorial stories has given rise to the establishment of manga cafes throughout Japan where customers leisurely sip on their drinks and enjoy the vast inventory of mangas provided for their reading pleasure. These Japanese comics are typically printed in black and white on low quality paper to make them more affordable and range from 200 to 800 pages in length. The more popular manga series are often animated into TV shows or full-length movies and several have worldwide appeal. The term “manga” is now fully incorporated into the English language to describe this unique genre of Japanese literature.

A prevalent theme in many manga is that of a hero who overcomes incredible obstacles and challenges to achieve some noteworthy objective. This common heroic motif often found in manga recently served to spur a Japanese Christian publisher to develop and produce a pictorial Bible series based on the life of Christ, entitled “Manga Messiah.”

Many hints of God’s coming Chosen One are scattered throughout another written record now familiarly known to us as the Bible. In one of Jesus’ early public appearances in his hometown of Nazareth, we are told that he stood up in the local synagogue and deliberately selected and then proceeded to read a well-known messianic prophecy recorded in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Upon the completion of this reading, Jesus handed the scroll back to the synagogue official and shockingly announced to the assembled audience that, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (v.21)

Jesus’ journey from that point on was marked by triumph and trials and at first glance, his story seemed to end in tragedy as he followed the lonely path ordained for him by his Heavenly Father. Though recognized by few and reviled by many, Jesus heroically conquered death and sin through His selfless sacrifice on the cross. In so doing, this became the greatest story ever told that ended not at a cross, but with an empty tomb. Even better, this is no mere fanciful tale recorded by a creative mind for a new manga series. In this story, God is both the author and the principal character who achieved the supreme goal for all mankind–forgiveness of sins. That’s a story worth retelling.

Counting Cars

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”  Isaiah 40:26

Counting Cars

One day, while making our way to our office in Tokyo, I noticed a man oddly sitting in a chair beside a busy intersection engaged in some mysterious activity. As I looked up, I spotted another person seated on the opposite corner who seemed to be equally preoccupied with the same task. Having witnessed this oddity before, I had a pretty good idea as to what these people were doing. They were manually counting the cars that passed by in order to determine the volume of traffic at that particular intersection. Over the next few days as we bicycled along the same route, we noticed different teams of people engaged in the same exercise at numerous major intersections. This practice always strikes me as a very labor-intensive method to gather knowledge and, on top of that, it is often performed in adverse weather conditions. Hopefully, someone will use that painstakingly collected data to make well-informed decisions that will later improve the flow of traffic in those respective areas.

Japan’s penchant for organization and details never ceases to amaze me, but I am still surprised whenever I wander through a city park or stroll along a sidewalk and note that every public tree is numbered. This phenomenon indicates that somewhere in the bowels of local Japanese government bureaucracies, someone is tracking each of these individual trees, just like counting cars. I suppose such information could be useful when it comes to identifying and locating a particular tree that needs attention or to be removed. However, the sheer logistics of maintaining this extensive database of knowledge and making it available for practical purposes is rather mind numbing. This practice indicates that some civil servant, or more likely, a team of government employees, are apparently charged with counting, marking and recording each one of those trees. In some aspects, it is a rather impressive undertaking when one pauses to reflect on this overarching objective.

However, much more impressive is the fact that God’s knowledge is unlimited by time and encompasses our most individual, intricate details, extending to the furthest expanse of the heavenly hosts. (Isaiah 40:26) God not only counts His creation, He amazingly cares for it, which is a tremendously comforting thought. Some days, the traffic of our lives seems to be moving by so fast with such volume that we cannot begin to count the endless stream of cars that whiz by as we strive to keep up and deal with the many demands of life. Perhaps this is why Moses prayed that God would “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) This verse is a great reminder that true wisdom comes not from counting our activities, but by counting the quality of our lives as we strive to align our days with God’s purposes. No matter how much we count or what we count, the numbers only make sense when we include God in our mathematical equation.

Bushidō

“The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.” Exodus 15:3

Samurai

When I was a member of Boy Scouts, part of the routine of our weekly meetings was to stand at attention and recite the Boy Scout Oath. The oath was basically a list of virtues that we aspired to implement in our lives. Although bushido is far more complex and historically much older, it roughly served the same purpose for several centuries in Japan among the warrior class. Bushidō (武士道) is translated literally as the “way of the warrior” and it is a vaguely defined ethical code for samurai that instructed them on how to live lives characterized by honor and virtue. It has many parallels with the more familiar concept of chivalry, which was common among European knights in the Middle Ages.

Going far beyond the normal fighting skills typically demanded of a warrior, bushidō is essentially an unwritten moral code of conduct that seeks to inspire a samurai to aspire to something much higher in his actions and attitudes. Bushidō has religious undertones as it draws influence from three major schools of thoughts associated with Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism. The earliest written record of the term “bushidō” appears in 1616. Over the centuries, variations of what it actually means have been propagated by its adherents. A common list of the virtues normally associated with bushidō includes righteousness, courage, compassion, respect, honesty, honor, loyalty and self-control.

The Edo Period (1603-1867), which was characterized as a time of peace, stability and economic growth in Japan, created an atmosphere that fostered the advancement of bushidō among the warrior class and refined many of its tenets. Following this, the Meiji restoration (1868-1912) brought an end to the military rule of the shogunate and with it, the abolishment of the samurai. However, the precepts of bushidō survived in the new geopolitical conditions and continue to manifest themselves in corporate, political and military behavior even to this day. When the military reemerged with even greater influence on the political landscape prior to World War Two, bushidō was overtly encouraged with special emphasis given to the virtues of loyalty and self-sacrifice for the empire.

Many of the historical events recorded in the Old Testament center around warfare, a theme that has largely fallen out of favor in modern societies that often value peace above all else. According to this overly simplified line of thinking, warfare is frequently equated with barbarism, brutality, inhumanity and violence so it should be rejected in all forms. However, such a simplistic approach tends to naively ignore the biblical metanarrative of the conflict between good and evil in both earthly and spiritual domains. While it is good to seek peace and other virtues, such worthwhile goals are often not obtained without struggle and even bloodshed. Nothing illustrates this clearer than the Cross, where evil was conquered through great sacrifice and personal conflict. This truth is why God is repeatedly described as a “Warrior” (Zephaniah 3:17) who fights on our behalf and why the deeds of “mighty men” who stand against evil forces and authorities are highly extolled (I Chronicles 11). God does call us to engage in battles in the spiritual realm and sometimes, even in the physical realm, but thankfully He goes before us, equips us (Ephesians 6:10-17) and ultimately, leads us to victory. “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”