His first contact in the Land of the Rising Sun was with the impermeability of the reasoning of faith. The Japanese are unique and different. But even for them, Christianity is the opportunity of a life with a more human face.
Rome (AsiaNews) - "Japan seemed so different to what I had imagined." This is the first vivid impression of Father Mario Bianchin, from Treviso, 76 years old, 45 of which spent in the Land of the Rising Sun, the last four as regional superior of Pime, a missionary life. He is in Europe for a few weeks, first in Rome, then in Ireland, accompanying a group of Japanese. Today he works in the diocese of Yokohama, a city that is now one with Tokyo's megalopolis. However, he has lived in rural areas for a long time: where he says that "ties" with tradition and between people "hold a little more". He discovered Japan after a period in Hong Kong. He crossed the Pacific Ocean to Asia after a degree in mass media in Los Angeles. He arrived there at just 20 years of age in 1961, "when John Fitzgerald Kennedy had just been elected president," he remembers.
Father Bianchin, in what sense did the Japanese appear different?
In their public life and at work they are western in all respects, but when they come home they wear traditional Japanese dress. It is as if they lived in two different worlds. Being in Japan, means finding yourself in a reality that evolves externally, but never changes its foundations.
Did you express a desire to go to Japan?
Yes, I did. In my day, you usually went to missions in the so-called underdeveloped countries. Japan was certainly a developed country, yet it was not Christian. I said to myself: why are they so educated and not Christians? This was a deep question for me. An unresolved issue.
So let's start from the beginning ...
I arrived in Japan in 1972. I did not speak Japanese. After a week I met a man who spoke a bit of English learned in Siberia where he was a prisoner of war. A normal conversation. He asked me what I has come to do there. When I explained, he objected to me: "You must know that we have a religion already. I thought you had come to teach English. " The reaction was unsettling.
How did you deal with this Japanese impermeability?
It questioned all my preconceived ideas. I soon learned that in the mission as in life what is good in one place or in one situation is not good in another. I remember, for example, that I was struck by the absence of the problem of fracture between faith and life. A cultural problem of that time that Pope Paul VI had faced in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam. It was called the "dichotomy" between faith and culture. However, I did not find anything in Japan. There, society worked on two levels, publi and the private, different from each other, but both were very concrete. There was no type of intellectual or religious speculation. A great interest in science and technology, in which the Japanese excel. But when I attempted to approach other topics, my interlocutors nodded, out of pure kindness, but I saw that they were not interested at all.
Why do you think this is so?
After many years I realized that in Japanese history there has never been a real social and religious affirmation of man, understood as a single person, as unique. We know that it is only in Christianity that the person takes on the extraordinary and unique dimension of being. We also know that the root of this problem is the understanding of God. Some Japanese say that they believe in a "little" God: it means that in their religious perception God is not "Something Other than oneself" who seeks a relationship with man. So they tend to be confused about who they are and who God is.
Why are conversions rare?
They are often excited about what they read in the Gospel. There is obvious correspondence with their heart. They are attracted to those ever-new values, they find them beautiful and moving, especially gratuitous love. However, the context is overwhelming. The converts find themselves alone and as they have no strong concept of the person it is more difficult for them to go on. So, when a heartfelt admiration for Christianity is usually followed by the phrase: it is not for me, or rather, for us.
Which path did you choose?
I chose to point to Heaven. Or God's voice ("I am the voice," says John the Baptist). The Japanese’ constant reference point is nature, the inevitability of nature, renewal, resurrection. Their perception is never abstract or intellectual, but phenomenological. It must be said that they are magnanimous in taking a snapshot of the phenomenon. The meaning of the ancient Haiku poems (for example, the famous one of Matsuo Basho "The old pond / frog jumps / drips into the water") is taken up just this way. I think they still match the Japanese soul. In art, in movies, in literature, in music (for example in Enka songs), form is already the content. There, feelings are very well relayed, and they believe that it is too much to attempt to translate into thoughts and deductions. All this continues to represent the nourishment of a common sensibility. However, if you do not see nature as God's providential work, there is no hope, but only fatalism.
Is this the cause of so many and serious social problems that exist in Japan?
This is the background. Take the tragic and emblematic case of many suicides. What I have always been impressed with in their deep analysis is the motivation, which I find superficial. Though they are dramatic when the perception of an omnipotent God is lacking. A young man who took his life wrote that he wanted to press the "reset" button. As if it were a computer. To restart everything. To erase the past.
The recently released book "The Vanished" says the Japanese are evaporating, disappearing, erasing their identities to make a clean break, exploiting the privacy law. They do it because they are tormented by the shame of losing work, a failed wedding or a debt ...
Every Japanese conceives himself in the role and in the place he has been assigned. If it does not work, he no longer feels worthy of being Japanese. It does not matter much about the prestige of the charge or role, but the pride is to be functional in the assigned place whatever it may be. Even in afflictions, for example, between husband and wife, this aspect of gratitude for the place assigned, the value of the bond, and the resistance to the difficulties of life are recorded. Functionality is the sign of the person's vitality. For many, it is considered a disgrace to have disabled member in the family. Among other things, it is the principle of trying to never become a burden for each other. The more one has strength and energy, the greater the honor. But you can not stand alone at all. And here it is understood how Christian faith is a great opportunity for many. Christian faith is not a culture. It makes culture, but it is not culture. It is Heaven. It is the voice of God that even the Japanese can see and hear.