Group Photos

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord.”   Psalm 77:11a

1888-Team-James-Hudson-Taylor-300x300    Long before the term “selfie” carved out a unique niche in our lexicons, the Japanese used an alternative word that eventually became a part of our personal vocabulary and history. It is called “kinen shashin” (記念写真) and it is roughly translated as “commemorative photograph.” Whenever a group assembles for a particular occasion, someone inevitably calls for a kinen shashin to be taken to commemorate the event. If you browse through our personal photo albums (back in the day when we collected physical photographs), you will discover quite a few of these kinen shashin scattered among other pictures portraying family and friends in various locations and activities.

A few of these kinen shashin are now framed and hang on our walls, or sit on our shelves, reminding us of days gone by and God’s grace in our lives. Such events may include baptisms, church anniversaries, a farewell of a coworker, training events, a church dedication, a wedding, an induction of a pastor, a graduation, conferences, the launching of a new church plant, a special concert or a group reunion. Each kinen shashin speaks volumes about God’s faithfulness throughout a jumble of times and circumstances as we walked through life and our paths crossed with those of many others.

But this is where the nuance of kinen shashin departs from our typical preoccupation with selfies. A selfie is generally photographic evidence that you did something, ate something, went somewhere or were with someone in particular. The focus is centered more on ME and things that are related to ME at the time the picture was taken. That is undoubtedly why the term “selfie” was coined to capture the essence of this particular form of photography. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this approach and we ourselves frequently take selfies. However, if given a choice, I would much rather be included in a kinen shashin, where my face may be lost in the crowd, but something much greater than me is being recorded as part of my ongoing faith journal.

In the days before the invention of cameras and cell phones, the psalmist testified “I will remember the deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 77:11a) which is how we are prompted to respond when we view some of the kinen shashin from our past that depict various people and ministries. When we take the time to peruse through such photos, they serve to remind us of the many “deeds of the Lord” that have transpired over the years, but may have slipped from our memories. We would do well to fondly remember such people and events with thankfulness, but also with expectation for the things yet to come that we can only see now through eyes of faith. While it is sometimes unwise to linger too long in the past, we should certainly learn from it and apply those lessons to new challenges ahead. Kinen shashin can serve such a purpose as they beckon us to focus on community and God, which a selfie often fails to capture.

Omotenashi*

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” I Peter 4:9

Omotenashi

Upon our arrival in Japan, we were initially surprised by the many small extras that were routinely extended to customers, reflecting a level of service and care we had previously not experienced in the States. For example, upon entering a large department store elevator, a perfectly coiffed woman in a smart uniform politely greeted us with a bow and pushed the button of the floor we wanted. Whenever we pulled into a gas station, attendants scurried around our car offering various forms of service and bowed in unison as we departed. When invited over for a meal, our hostess unfailingly laid out slippers for us and then proceeded to quietly turn our outdoor shoes around to easily step into in preparation for our departure.

All such efforts are part of what the Japanese loosely call “omotenashi,” a word usually translated as “hospitality.” However, such a simple summary does a huge injustice to the deep complexities that underlie the concept of omotenashi. The term itself is very unique in that different Chinese characters (kanji) are employed for the same word, adding subtly different nuances to the meaning. For this reason, omotenashi is most commonly written in the alphabetic hiragana as おもてなし, and avoids usage of the kanji. In its most basic translation, omotenashi means “not having two sides,” implying that one must be wholehearted and single-purposed when offering hospitality or a service to others. But “omote” can also refer to one’s public face or the way you present yourself to the world and “nashi” means “nothing.” This aspect of omotenashi then suggests that you are to serve others without public pretense, where ego doesn’t get in the way. This idea takes hospitality to a much higher level that goes beyond the expectations of the person being served and perhaps, even beyond the personal preferences of the one doing the serving. This form of omotenashi requires you to pay close attention to the needs of a guest or customer to the exclusion of your own.

The concept of omotenashi extends throughout Japanese society, including the manufacturing of cars. A great example of this is the circumstances that followed the launch in 1989 of the Lexus luxury vehicle model LS-400. After thousands of this particular car were rolled off of the assembly line and sold, Lexus received two very minor complaints from a couple of disgruntled customers. The company’s response? Lexus recalled all the cars and issued every owner a detailed letter of apology. In that letter, Lexus offered to come to every customer’s home, pick up their car, leave them a free loaner car, repair the car for free, wash it and then return it with a full tank of gas and an expensive gift. That’s omotenashi. Such incredible service closely aligns with the old Japanese proverb, “Okyakusama wa Kamisama,” which means, “the customer is god.”

While the values and practices of hospitality vary widely from culture to culture, we should remember that omotenashi is something all Christians are commanded to do. (Romans 12:13) On top of that, we must keep a close guard on our attitudes that accompany such acts of service as the Apostle Peter warns they are to be offered “without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9) Biblical hospitality is not driven solely by an absence of self, like omotenashi; rather, it is spurred by higher motives: love of God and love of others. For a good example of this, we need look no further than the precedent Jesus laid down for His disciples when He washed their feet shortly before He was taken away to be tortured and crucified. That is God’s version of omotenashi.

*The idea for this blog comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast “Go and See” on March 5, 2020.

Know Your Place

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28

sumo

America is generally, a land of informalities as evidenced by our dress, speech and lack of class distinctions. Therefore, the somewhat hierarchical nature of Japan was a new experience for us when we first arrived. This distinction became obvious once we commenced language study, where we learned that communication patterns in Japan vary according to one’s social position and the person with whom you are speaking. There are respectful language forms (sonkeigo 尊敬語), humble language patterns (kenjōgo 謙譲語), and polite language forms (teineigo 丁寧語), that, together, reflect a person’s social standing in relation to their conversational partner.

When we made our first visit to the city ward office, this tendency towards hierarchy was also conspicuous in the working world as we observed the unusual layout of the employees’ work places. In typical Japanese fashion, there were no partitions or cubicles, but instead, everyone’s desk was neatly positioned among rows of other desks facing the manager’s working area so he could easily monitor them. We also learned that it is common to use both name and title when addressing superiors within one’s company, where everyone knows their place. This ranges from the chairman, or the kaichō (会長), who is often an elderly figurehead, down to the lowest staff member known as a shain (社員). In between these two extremes, you have the president (shachō), general manager (buchō), section manager (kachō), team leader (kakarichō) and supervisor (shunin) with many additional sub categories. These positions are clearly indicated using nametags, desk name plates and personal business cards.

This proclivity towards ranking is particularly noticeable in the traditional sport of sumo. There are six divisions of sumo with multiple ranks within them. Life in the sumo world is akin to a commune where all the wrestlers live, work and eat together. However, there are huge distinctions in privileges and duties between higher and lower ranked wrestlers. The differences are evident in the clothing they are allowed to wear, free time allotted to them, required chores, the degree of privacy they enjoy and training opportunities. These distinctions reflect the general sense of senior (sempai) and junior (kohai) relationships that permeate all levels of Japanese society.

In ancient cultures and still in many countries, the tendency to draw lines between people based on factors such as economics, ethnicity, power, religion and gender is not unusual, and sometimes, it is even necessary. But it becomes a problem when individual rights are violated and those deemed to be at the top of this artificially constructed pyramid take advantage of those considered beneath them. Jesus came to break down such biased barriers that can disrupt relationships and lead to divisiveness. Of course, the greatest barrier of all is the one that existed between men and God, which Jesus broke down through His sacrificial death on the cross. In so doing, He also offers healing to the nations, the removal of prejudicial classifications and the redemption of damaged relationships. While it is important to know our place in this world, it is far more important to know our place in the world to come.

Dolls Festival

He [Jesus] sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”  Hebrews 7:27b

Girls Day2

Every year on March 3rd, countless girls across Japan celebrate Hina Matsuri (ひな祭り) which means literally “doll festival,” but is commonly referred to as “Girls’ Day.” The custom originated in the early 17th century, where usually a red, multi-tiered platform (hina dan) is set up and on it a collection of special dolls (hina ningyō) and related furniture are put on display prior to the hina matsuri. These ornamental dolls are typically clothed in the traditional court dress of the Heian Period (794-1185) and represent the emperor, empress, various court attendants and musicians. The dolls are not intended as items for play and many sets are actually quite expensive with a value of several thousand dollars for the more elaborate versions. Some hina matsuri collections are passed on from one generation to another as treasured heirlooms and are therefore handled with great care.

Hina matsuri is also associated with the initial blooming of peach blossoms in certain parts of Japan with the coming of spring and as such symbolically celebrates the health and happiness of girls within a family. According to custom, immediately following Girls’ Day, these special dolls are supposed to be put away immediately or parents risk inviting the bad luck of a late marriage for their daughter. The city of Konosu hosts the largest display of hina ningyō in Japan every year on a 23-foot (7 meter) pyramid with more than 1,800 exquisite dolls artfully arranged on 31 levels.

Another ceremony often connected with hina matsuri is nagashi bina, which is roughly translated as “doll floating.” Participants in this unusual rite make cheaper versions of the hina dolls from paper or straw and set them adrift on a river, regarding them as a sort of talisman that will remove their sins, impurities and any demonic influences.

The obvious intention of Girls’ Day is to provide families an annual opportunity to celebrate the lives of their girls while wishing for them to have health and happiness. But the older and deeper traditions associated with hina matsuri point to something far more important that is largely ignored in modern celebrations. What is conveniently overlooked is the universal problem of sin and our personal culpability before a Holy and Righteous God. While all parents understandably seek health and happiness for their children in this temporary world, there is nothing they can do to eradicate the eternal consequences of the sins and misdeeds of themselves and their children in the world to come. Recognizing this problem, previous generations of Japanese set dolls afloat on nearby rivers in a vain attempt to purge them and their loved ones of personal guilt. But such shallow efforts, no matter how well intended they may be, sunk ineffectively in deep waters along with the dolls as they drifted downstream. Another, more effective solution than floating dolls was needed and God Himself has provided the perfect substitute for our sins in the form of His Son. The author of Hebrews succinctly describes this amazing provision when he writes, “He [Jesus] sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (7:27b) This substitute is indeed an amazing treasure, not to be put on a shelf and casually admired, but to be fully embraced and celebrated daily. 

Disaster Kits

“Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?” Deuteronomy 31:17b

Emergency kit

Members of our mission organization typically receive a personal emergency evacuation backpack when they first arrive in Japan. This unusual item is a standard provision because a wide variety of natural disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides and floods frequently hit Japan and they often occur with minimal warning. These disaster kits are to be kept handy in the event of an emergency and we are frequently reminded by the government to periodically conduct an inventory of the contents to make sure batteries and other perishable items are kept up to date.

The recommended standard contents for an emergency bag would include such items as food and water for three days, a flashlight, a lighter, cash, a radio, a first aid kit, rope, toiletry items, extra batteries, a change of clothing, a multi-purpose tool, copies of important documents (passport, driver’s license, etc.) and essential medications. No one knows when a disaster will strike, so it is always good to be prepared. As part of that preparation, the Japanese government regularly conducts emergency drills in local communities, schools and places of business.

However, disasters, by their very definition, often occur without much warning and at irregular intervals so it is human nature to become lax in preparedness. The important emergency evacuation bag might get shoved to the back of a closet so its location easily slips from one’s memory. In addition, carefully stored food can become stale or spoiled, making it inedible. Batteries corrode over time and become useless. Copies of important documents can become out of date and fail to serve their intended purpose. The often-quoted proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind,” applies to this natural tendency to push recognized priorities aside while focusing on more immediate, visible matters.

The term “disaster,” actually covers a wide gamut of unexpected and unwelcome circumstances that can wreak havoc in our lives. The death of a loved one. The loss of employment. Financial ruin. A burned-out home. War. A pandemic. Failing health. A broken relationship. Food shortages. A natural emergency. Or as Texas recently experienced, a prolonged ice storm. It is during these times of extreme calamity where life seems overwhelming and we feel that we have lost all control over the events cascading around us. Such disasters generally interrupt our patterns of normalcy and many unfortunately, have life-long consequences. These unexpected catastrophes can either drive us to utter despair or to increased dependence on God who is somehow sovereign over all such occurrences.

This truth points to the reality that there are often deeper elements or purposes behind many of the calamities that alter our lives. Some are self-inflicted, and the resultant consequence was often rightly perceived in the Old Testament as a form of punishment from God for willful disobedience. (Deuteronomy 31:17b) But other disasters seem to come out of nowhere and devastate both the wicked and the godly with impartiality. While such things are difficult to comprehend and even harder to embrace, they serve as a critical reminder to turn to the only emergency kit that will suffice in such adverse circumstances. That is God Himself. “Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  (Psalm 46:2) “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster is passed.” (Psalm 57:1b) This is the true emergency evacuation bag we must keep close at hand to sustain us in times of trouble.

Capsule Hotels

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6b

Capsule hotel

In observing a capsule hotel in Japan, one’s initial impressions may be that the capsules resemble drawers designed to store corpses in a morgue or appear to be a collection of human cryogenic vaults depicted in a science fiction movie. Called “kapuseru hoteru” (カプセルホテル) in Japanese, the capsule hotel concept started in Osaka in 1979 before spreading to major cities in Japan and eventually to other parts of the world. Around 300 such hotels now exist in Japan, servicing weary customers who are looking for simple, inexpensive lodging for the night.

Kapuseru hoteru come in various sizes with some hosting up to 700 sleeping units. Each compartment is approximately the size of a single bed with a height of about one meter, allowing sufficient space for the guest to crawl into the chamber and sit up. They are usually made out of plastic, but other materials are also utilized. Amenities in the capsule ordinarily include air conditioning, adjustable lighting, a small TV, WIFI and an electric socket. Upgraded versions are a bit larger, with added perks, and many incorporate a miniature workspace. Toilets, bathing facilities, dining and lounge areas are communally shared like a hostel. Other services, like restaurants, bars and a pool, are provided in the more upscale capsule hotel complexes.

When guests check into a kapuseru hoteru, they usually store their belongings, including their clothing, in lockers and are provided with a yukata (Japanese robe) and slippers. Such hotels routinely cater to Japanese businessmen, who may have missed the last available commuter train from work or were too intoxicated to return home safely. The prices average around ¥2000–4000 ($20-40) a night and they are not recommended for individuals who struggle with claustrophobia. A frequent complaint regarding the older models is that the walls tend to be so thin that noise from neighboring capsules, like snoring, carries easily and may disrupt sleep. One writer, following his first stay in a kapuseru hoteru, wrote in his review: “I’d give this Pillbox Hilton four stars for cleanliness, three stars for efficiency and one meteorite for comfort.” (Mark Schreiber The Japan Times January 16, 2001).

Capsule hotels are obviously, just a temporary and minimal provision for those needing some kind of housing on short notice and working with a limited budget. Comfort, space and other elements that are typically part of a normal residence are either non-existent or are a far cry from one’s usual expectations. But even the most opulent and grandeur lodging available here on earth cannot compare to what awaits us in our eternal home in heaven. The Bible provides some vivid descriptions of what our heavenly “house of the Lord” might look like, but far more important than appearances and creature comforts is what we stand to gain from being in the presence of the Lord. The author of Revelation, in his review of heaven, described such housing in the following manner: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:3-4) That sounds like a great place to get a good night’s sleep and much, much more.

Car Names

“and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  Genesis 2:19b

Car Names

A few years ago, we bought a used two cylinder, 660cc Honda mini car to match our new Tokyo lifestyle.  (Imagine a classic VW Beetle and think smaller.)  The name of our car, N-One, initially puzzled us, but we soon learned that the “N” stood for “New,” “Next,” “Nippon” (“Japan”) and “Norimono” (“vehicle”).  Apparently, we were driving a car with an identity crisis!  We didn’t mind the intriguing name as it was a great car that served us well for several years. We soon nicknamed it “Panda” as the color scheme reminded us of a giant panda. A few years later, I discovered that there are actually websites to help owners come up with nicknames for their cars as they become like members of our families.

Car names in Japan have actually been a continuous source of humor among foreign residents.  We couldn’t help but chuckle sometimes when we pulled up behind a Dunk (Honda), a Scat (Daihatsu) a Lettuce (Mitsubishi), a Homy (Nissan), a Bongo (Mazda), a Joypop (Suzuki), a Noah (Toyota) a That’s (Honda), a Scrum Wagon (Mazda), a Charade (Daihatsu) and the prize-winning, Naked (Daihatsu). I’m sure there were many good reasons for selecting these particular names and the attributes they supposedly represented, but not all such choices successfully stand the test of time.

For a few years we owned a Subaru (スバル) and wondered about the symbolism of its logo on the back of the car. Someone eventually informed us that “Subaru” is the Japanese name for the constellation Pleiades, which is cleverly represented by the six stars in the Subaru logo. A little further investigation into the name origin of various Japanese car companies reveals the following:

  • The Toyota (トヨタ) Company was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda, whose slightly modified surname was used for his new car company founded in 1937. Toyoda means literally “fertile farm field.”
  • The Nissan (日産) name comes from the combination of two Japanese kanji. The first one, 日 (ni), meaning “sun,” is also the first character for Nihon (日本), which means “” The second kanji, 産 (san), means “production.” Taken together, Nissan translates to “made in Japan,” a very appropriate name.
  • Honda (ホンダ) is less interesting as its name is derived from its founder, Soichiro Honda.
  • Mitsubishi (三菱) Motors is actually a collection of companies, which explains why the word “mitsu,” meaning “three,” is incorporated in the name and stylistically represented by the three red diamond Mitsubishi logo.

The power of name giving was one of the first responsibilities God entrusted to Adam when all the animals were brought to him in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:19). This ritual symbolized the authority that mankind was granted over all of God’s creation and man’s supreme position, as he alone was created in the image of God. The pattern of name giving is particularly highlighted in the Book of Genesis as each generation gave way to the next one with many of the names steeped in symbolism or prophetic significance. But the unparalleled name of God, “I AM,” first revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14), stands out among them all. This name is described as “holy,” “majestic,” “powerful,” “glorious,” “praiseworthy,” “awesome,” “fearsome,” “merciful” and “good.” It is a Name we would do well to remember, and to revere.

Personal Seal

“A good name is more desirable than great riches;” Proverbs 22:1a

hanko

Shortly after our initial arrival in Japan many years ago, we visited a local shop to have our personal seal or “hanko” (判子) made. We had been informed that a simple signature would no longer suffice to open bank accounts or enter into any contractual relationship, but instead, a personal seal was required for all such transactions in Japan. Once it was decided how our name would be written in Japanese, a hanko was ordered and we were soon ready for business. We used that same seal for 34 years to sign for deliveries, purchase cars, register for health insurance, enter into cell phone contracts, withdraw cash from the bank and sign rental agreements.

Each hanko, like a signature, is unique and they can be made of wood, plastic, ivory or stone. The cheaper ones cost $10-20 USD, but more expensive versions sell for a few hundred dollars. The word inkan (印鑑) is often used interchangeably with hanko, but technically an inkan is the actual stamp on the paper whereas a hanko is the physical object used to make the stamp. Only red ink is used with the hanko and businesses or local government offices generally provide the stamp pad when you are requested to affix your seal to a document. These personal seals are usually protected in specially designed cases and it is important to register your hanko with the local municipal office. The government officials will in turn provide a document called an “inkanshomeisho” (印鑑証明書) required for important transactions, as it serves to verify that is your legal seal.

All businesses, organizations and even churches have their own official seals which are carefully protected due to legal liabilities if they are misused. As the representative of our mission organization, I was required to use a specially designed square hanko to authorize certain official documents. However, our religious registration as a mission changed, which called for the creation of a new hanko that was supposed to be round in shape. This anomaly confirmed what I had long suspected… I was a square peg placed in a round hole!

The author of Proverbs highlights the importance of maintaining a good name (Proverbs 22:1) in reference to our character or reputation. A hanko is designed to represent its owner, but how do our actions, words and attitudes represent us? This is a critical question we must periodically ask ourselves since the possession of a good name is far more valuable than great riches, power or influence. A good name can last well beyond our short existence here on earth and it potentially puts us in a position to in turn, have a meaningful impact on the lives of others. In contrast to this, a person with a bad name, who manifests an ignoble character, is not only judged by men, but by God Himself who alone can accurately evaluate such matters. A hanko serves to represent us legally, but a good heart is the best indicator that we are healthy spiritually. “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3,4)

Pounding Rice

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” Genesis 3:19a

Mochitsuki   We watched with admiration at the efficiency and precision of two people engaged in the Japanese tradition of making mochi. Mochi is a rice cake made from a particular strain of rice and it is customary to eat it with the coming of the new year. The traditional method for making it is called mochitsuki (餅つき), where one individual rhythmically beats the rice placed in a large mortar (usu) with a two-handed wooden mallet (kine) while the other person deftly turns the rice anticipating the next blow.

The preparation of mochi actually begins the previous day by soaking the rice for several hours before steaming it. Then, the ritual pounding begins, usually taking place in a festive atmosphere at schools or neighborhood gatherings. When the rice has reached the right consistency and no individual grains remain, it is finally removed and divided into edible portions. This ancient form of preparation is usually associated with the new year, but mochi is actually eaten year-round and modern machinery has for the most part replaced the more traditional, labor-intensive process. Hundreds of years ago, mochi was offered as a special food to the gods in Shinto rituals and the practice still continues today in many homes and shrines.

Mochi is often eaten as a form of dessert, along with a sweet red bean paste (anko) and various confectionary powders are typically added. One of the most famous variations is the sakuramochi, or “cherry blossom” mochi, sold in the spring with the onset of cherry blossom season. Because of its thick consistency, mochi presents a potential choking hazard, so it is not uncommon to hear of fatalities connected to its consumption.

The general activity of eating seems to be an important theme at the outset of human history as indicated in the early chapters of Genesis. For example, the first created humans, Adam and Eve, were told by God that they were “free to eat from any tree in the garden” (2:16) but then an additional instruction warned them that they “must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (2:17) After their disobedience, the serpent who tempted them, is cursed and is doomed to eat dust” for the remainder of its existence. (3:14) Following that, the ground itself is cursed because of the man and woman’s disregard for God’s command and it is only “through painful toil [they] will eat food from it.” (3:17) Before they are cast out of the Garden of Eden they are told once again: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” (3:19)

Anyone who watches the traditional process of mochitsuki will certainly take away the impression that considerable toil is a prerequisite to actually eating it. Since that initial sin in the Garden, the same is essentially true for everything we consume, as it is only through our labor that we have money to purchase food or the physical labor of others to produce and prepare it. Taken in this light, our daily consumption of food and other necessities in life serves as a subtle reminder of the consequences of sin and how the choices we make can reverberate for eternity. Sadly, every year, some people will die from eating mochi and much more sadly, many  more will perish because of their utter disregard for God’s truth.

Lucky Bags

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8:32

Lucky BagsJapan has a popular New Year’s custom where stores offer sealed bags filled with random contents and sell them for a substantial discount. These special bags, known as “fukubukuro” (福袋) or “lucky bags,” are eagerly snatched up by customers who flock to the stores on New Year’s Day looking for a bargain. This established promotion is actually a clever means by which merchants unload excess or unwanted merchandise from the previous year. Obviously, this practice serves the dual purpose of attracting customers into the store to hopefully make additional purchases. The fukubukuro tradition also loosely ties into the Japanese superstition of starting the year with a clean slate as it clears the store of a number of unwanted items.

These goodie bags can contain a variety of items, but in major department stores, the contents are usually restricted to things sold in the specific department in which the bags are located. Prices for fukubukuro vary widely, depending on the store and the quality of the items they contain. The contents may include anything ranging from food, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, jewelry and miscellaneous household goods. It is essentially a form of gambling as some bags may prove to be duds while others may be an excellent bargain. Hence, they are called “lucky bags” and are widely used as gifts to family members and friends.

 As one would expect, the contents of a fukubukuro can be hit or miss, and even Santa’s legendary bag can leave many recipients dissatisfied come Christmas morning. However, there is nothing insufficient or inadequate in what God provided for us on that first Christmas. From His infinite storehouse of treasures, God spared nothing and gave us, not His leftovers, but the greatest gift of all—His Son. This is why the Japanese character for “lucky” (福) is also used as part of the very important biblical word “fukuin” (福音) which means “good news” or the “gospel.” It is, however, critical to understand that the good news of eternal salvation has nothing to do with our traditional concept of luck, but rather, is rooted entirely in the grace and goodness of God. The gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins is a “lucky bag” that God alone can provide and its value far exceeds anything else this world has to offer. Best of all, the purchase price has already been paid by God at the cross. This is indeed fukuin, or good news.