Boasting

“In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”   Psalm 44:8

Boasting   Soon after our initial arrival in Japan, we were a little bewildered by some things we observed when we joined a Japanese family who had kindly invited us over for a meal. Before we even sat down to eat, the husband proceeded to demean his wife’s efforts in cooking and house cleaning. Unlike the typical American domicile, we didn’t notice any family photos capturing activities of the children or anything commemorating their individual achievements. Little mention was actually made of the children outside of our hosts’ minimal responses to our polite inquiries. We also thought it odd when they referred to their son as a “baka musuko” (stupid son). We went home that evening rather puzzled by our experience, but later learned that it is considered socially taboo to praise one’s own family.

This experience certainly cut across the grain of what we had been taught to do within Christian circles in the West, where praise and encouragement of family members is actively promoted. While it may be acceptable to directly compliment people you are close to, in Japan, it is perceived as boasting when you make such comments to others outside of your personal circle. One may have a beautiful wife, who’s a great cook, and intelligent children who excel in many activities, but it would be interpreted as bragging or arrogant to express such sentiments to others. This explains why many Japanese adopt a self-depreciating attitude and communication pattern when it comes to the accomplishments of one’s family and even employer.

This tendency to avoid self-promotion is enhanced by humble Japanese language patterns that are routinely used in certain social settings and one is expected to downplay any personal action that might have benefited others. It is quite common in Japan to give a gift when someone has done something for you, but we soon learned the appropriate phrases to be said when presenting such items are: “tsumaranai mono desu ga…” (“this is a boring, uninteresting item…”) or “sasayakana mono desu ga…” (“this is something very meager…”). There is obviously a very fine line between truth telling and false humility, but in Japan, we learned it is better to err on the latter end of the spectrum when communicating with others.

Boasting is usually associated with pride, which is frowned upon in most cultures and certainly condemned in the Bible. For example, boasting is an identifying characteristic of the beast (Daniel 7:11) who is the antithesis of all that God represents. When the Apostle Paul succinctly defines the nature of love in I Corinthians 13, he used a number of negative behaviors to describe what love is not, and among them is a propensity to boast (v. 4). Boasting about one’s own righteousness to claim good standing before a holy God is equally castigated (Romans 3:27-28) as we all stand impoverished in the presence of God because of our sinfulness.

The root motivation behind an inclination to boast is self-promotion, but there is another form of boasting that is actually encouraged in the Scriptures: the promotion of God instead of self. In taking up the topic of boasting again in the 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, Paul advises: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (10:17) Such boasting is another form of praise as we ascribe credit to God for all His works and gifts on our behalf, instead of claiming anything for ourselves. This is not false humility, but rather, an honest declaration of who we are and what we have been given before a gracious and generous God.

Saving Face

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed.”

II Timothy 2:15

Saving Face

Like many men, I am not inclined to linger long in front of a mirror for visual inspections. However, during the long, cold winters in northern Japan when I often let my beard grow, I became more preoccupied with my face as it required more attention. Most Japanese give a lot of attention to another kind of “face” that is sociological in nature. In this usage, “face” represents the honor, dignity, status or reputation of an individual that one strives to protect or maintain at all costs. This concept is somewhat similar to what we refer to as “having a good name” in western culture.

In Japan, one can save face (menboku o tomatsu—面目を保つ), lose face (menboku o ushinau—面目を失う), give face, show face, fix face and even loan face. All of these variations are centered on the personal goal of maintaining respect or the opposite incentive of avoiding shame and humiliation. Japan’s shame culture, which is also prevalent in other parts of Asia, is perhaps the main driving force that prompts this extensive preoccupation with one’s “face.” No one wants to lose face or be embarrassed in front of others, which also motivates people to be careful to maintain the face of others. Therefore, public disagreements are often avoided as someone could lose face in such an encounter. One might refrain from asking direct questions or making requests that may inconvenience the other person. It is also generally considered socially unacceptable to publicly declare someone has made a mistake. Personal relationships and social harmony are considered to be the bedrock of Japanese society, so great care is usually taken to protect each other’s face.

Such a concern for others is commendable in many regards, but taken too far, this kind of superficial interaction can lead to potential misunderstandings and fractured relationships. In the famous song “Eleanor Rigby,” the Beatles sang of a woman who “wore a face in a jar that she kept by the door,” that somewhat reflects the common practice in Japan to put on different faces for different situations. One’s “face” then, is not just what other’s see, but what we want them to see. This projected face may not be in true alignment with the feelings and thoughts that lie underneath, which in turn, makes the art of saving face and maintaining relationships in Japan a rather complex endeavor.

Behind the efforts to save one’s personal face or reputation is often a latent desire to earn the approval of others which can unwittingly invite other negative, or even sinful outcomes. While it is good to be considerate of others, taking into account their opinions and feelings, we must be careful as to who and to what extent we empower with such control over our lives. Our efforts to save face, or not to lose face, can lead us down a dangerous path where the approval of others becomes more important than the approval of our Creator. As the Apostle Paul reminds his young protégé Timothy, there is no shame if we have the approval of God (II Timothy 2:15). This “face” requires our utmost attention and should never be placed in a jar by the door.

Bamboo

“The life of mortals is like grass.”  Psalm 103:15a   

Bamboo

My first experience with bamboo was when I learned to fish as a child using a long cane pole. I will probably continue to associate bamboo with happy memories of fishing, but the Japanese have many more applications for this unusual plant. Called “ta-ke” (竹) in Japanese, bamboo was traditionally used for housing construction, weapons, utensils, musical instruments, various handicrafts, charms, furniture and food (the bamboo shoot, takenoko, serves as a staple in the Japanese diet).

There are approximately 1,400 species of bamboo in the world and although many varieties can grow as tall as a tree, it is actually classified as a grass. Bamboo is among the fastest growing plants on Earth and some species may grow as much as a yard (meter) within a 24-hour period, depending on local soil and climate conditions. The taller versions of ta-ke may reach thirty yards in height, with a diameter of eight inches. The stem of the bamboo, known as a culm, begins as a shoot from an underground network of roots that can be quite aggressive and difficult to control. This is why bamboo is considered an unwanted invasive plant in many parts of the world and measures are often taken to restrict its cultivation. However, the tensile strength of bamboo, combined with its light weight, makes it a popular building material throughout Asia. Although bamboo is a common and well-known plant, scientists remain baffled by its unique flowering patterns. The flowering intervals of bamboo are very unpredictable, occurring anywhere from every 60 to 130 years, which is usually followed by a massive die off of that particular bamboo grove.

There are many religious overtones to ta-ke in Japan and it is quite common for bamboo forests to be located near Shinto shrines, as they superstitiously serve as a barrier against evil. Bamboo is widely utilized in various religious festivals as it represents prosperity and good fortune. At the annual summer Tanabata festival, many Japanese write prayers on strips of paper and attach them to bamboo.

Grass is often used in the Old Testament as a sign of God’s blessing or on other occasions, to depict the temporal nature of life. For example, an abundance of grass to feed cattle and sheep is evidence of God’s blessing upon those who worship Him and follow His ways (Deuteronomy 11:15). Sometimes grass is used symbolically to represent God’s promise to an individual to bless him with many descendants like the grass of the field (Job 5:25), or more commonly, like sand on a seashore. Conversely, a shortage of grass or the withering of grass can be interpreted as a sign of God’s judgment or punishment (Isaiah 40:7).

Perhaps the most graphic and startling allusion to grass in the Bible centers on the temporary nature of man, and his life on earth, when compared to eternity. Like bamboo that can grow at phenomenal rates but eventually dies and rots, man’s physical existence is short-lived. Wise is the person who keeps this reality in mind. In the eternal scheme of things, we are like grass, which should prompt us to turn our thoughts to the unchanging God of eternity. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

Minister of Loneliness

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”   Psalm 25:16

Loneliness

Japan has a parliamentary form of government where the chief executive, known as the Prime Minister, appoints ministers to assist him in his various responsibilities. These important officials traditionally include the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Health and other well-known positions. However, on February 12, 2021, the media announced the surprise appointment of Tetsushi Sakamoto to fill a newly created cabinet position in response to recent troubling trends. In an attempt to reduce widespread loneliness, social isolation and increased suicide rates accelerated by the restrictions of COVID-19, Mr. Sakamoto now serves as the official Minister of Loneliness.

This new position is called kodoku mondai tantō kokumu daijin in Japanese, which is a rather lengthy title, but the key words in it are “kodoku” and “mondai.” Together, they mean “loneliness problem,” which is admittedly, an unusual title for a government official, but these are unusual times. Loneliness had already been identified as a growing problem among the Japanese populace in previous years, but the extreme measures recently taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 only served to hasten this harmful trend. For the first time in eleven years, there has been a rise in the number of suicides in Japan after several years of decline due to various public campaigns. In fact, more people died from suicide in one month than the total number of deaths associated with COVID-19 in all of Japan in 2020. Loneliness has also been linked to other serious health issues such as heart disease, eating disorders and mental instability to name a few. Women and the elderly have been particularly affected by recent job losses and the implementation of draconian social limitations. The prolonged depression of the Japanese economy and an alarming decline in birthrate are symptomatic of related social dysfunctions that seem to be eating away at the heart of the country. It can be said that loneliness is one of many elements contributing to these negative patterns.

While innovative government initiatives to reverse this destructive trend of loneliness are commendable, a sustainable and truly effective solution to such a deep-rooted problem lies well beyond the authority and power of political leaders. From the very beginning of time, when God created man in His own image as a relational being, He declared that “it is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Recognizing this inherent need for relationship, God created the first woman to fill Adam’s social, physical and emotional needs and through them, mankind continued to expand while living in community.

However, such communities were chronically dysfunctional because of man’s fallen state which gave way to broken and imperfect relationships. Even though mankind was created for fellowship and relationship with others, the presence or risk of pain has prompted many to withdraw and restrict their social contacts with the purpose of self-preservation. For many, this withdrawal is a deliberate choice, but for countless others, such a response has been forced upon them by circumstances not of their choosing. The end result is loneliness, which if left unaddressed, can lead to a destructive, downward spiral in other critical areas. While there are no simple remedies for such heartaches, we would be wise, like the psalmist, to turn to the Creator of man’s heart when such burdens seem too heavy to carry alone. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:16)

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.