This Week's Comment from Network 7 News 

Edition 374 – August 28, 2004.  

 This weeks  was written by AWR's  English Language Service Director, Victor Hulbert.  The full programme can be heard in Real Audio on our web-site.

Peace in the centre of the storm 

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It’s a peaceful spot in the midst of noise and bustle.  I noted it from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Office building’s south tower.  A large patch of green a little to the south.  Patches of green are needed in Tokyo.  The view from the 45th floor of the south tower is spectacular, particularly on a clear day when you can see the hills and Mt Fuji to the west of the city.  But between the tower and the hills, and more or less as far the eye can see in all directions, you see buildings.  Skyscrapers, factories, offices, homes and shops in a hodgepodge pattern that makes home and work for some 30 million people in the greater Tokyo area, and means that roads, buses, trains and the famous metro are all extremely busy.

 So in the midst of all that busyness there is a need for peace.  A place to pause and mediate.  A place for reflection.  And it’s right here, in the heart of Tokyo, at the Meiji Jingu shrine.  I have to give it to the priests of the Shinto faith, they knew what they were doing.  From the train station you take a leisurely 10 minute stroll through cool and pleasant woodland – though with the always present sound of the cicadas.  Then you turn a corner and the shrine is in front of you.  Ceremonial washing on your left.  Racks with hand written prayer requests on your right, and the shrine rebuild in 1958 following it’s destruction during the second world war, right in front – a large structure of natural wood with areas for prayer and meditation, and on special occasions, religious dance.

 Now you may well be asking why I, as a Christian, am extolling the virtues of a Shinto shrine.  It’s not that I’m changing my faith or world view, but it is very much the fact that in a world of hustle and bustle, stress and pressure, Shinto shrines are places across Japan where people can pull back for a short period of quietness and refreshing.  And that’s something we all need.

Life is fun in Japan.  The streets are safe.  Crime is very low.  Public transport is excellent, if a little crowded.  The food is . . . interesting! And you never know what is around the corner.  In this case as we left Meiji Jingu it was a surprise.  The area around Harajuku station outside the park is where young people like to hang-out at the weekend.  No ordinary young people these.  They are out to be noticed.  Dressed mainly in black with dashes of red, and with faces and sometimes bodies painted in various black designs, these are youth making a statement, wanting to be noticed, and happy to pose for the tourist cameras.  It may be the excesses of adolescence, but if I were a parent of one of those girls, I think I would be worried. 

I’d be excited though by the next group of young people I met.  In the station entrance they were putting on a high energy performance.  A somewhat contemporary re-mixing of traditional yosakoi dance.  High tempo.  High energy.  Legs kicking high into the air.  Robes swirling.  Lots of shouts and jumping.  It was fascinating.  The skill was impressive, and the boys and girls involved in it were obviously enjoying themselves.  Something I personally think is important in sport and exercise.

 Which brings me around nicely, I guess, to the Olympics.  I’m sure there’s a lot of enjoyment going on their in Athens at the moment – and a lot of national spirit – most of it well intentioned.  I’m reading the English Edition of the Japan Times with the main headline “Japanese athletes pile up more medals in Athens”.  Well done to my Japanese hosts this week.  I checked the web for England’s results and they’re a little further down the table.  Maybe they’ll do better in Beijing in four years time where an article on page 12 tells me that “Beijing will be flushed with Olympic pride”  when it’s turn comes around as they are already on a drive to upgrade the cities public toilets into 21st century works of art with all the latest facilities.  Even if your country doesn’t win gold, you’ll be able to freshen up nicely in the “rest-rooms”.

 Rest.  We need it.  The Japan Times, along with all major papers, is full of stories of Iraq, Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, troubles in Sudan – and, of course, local crisis.  Much like our lives.  And in these troubles we need peace.  A breathing space.  We need a temple.  A shrine in the midst of our lives.  A place of peace.

 I’ve found that, not in a physical building or a park – though those may contribute to it – but in a period of time.  A twenty-four hour period that God set up right at the beginning of this earth’s creation – and called it good.  The word “Sabbath” actually means rest.  A time to stand aside and breathe more slowly.

 Isaiah calls the day a delight.  A time when you can find joy in the Lord (Isa 58:13-14)  All I can say is, why not give it a try!

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