In 1986, in an old house surrounded by mountains and rice fields, my mother finally told her parents that she wanted to be a Christian.
Her mother was deeply confused. She asked: “Does that mean you will leave this family and cannot be my daughter any more?” Her father was quite calm and simply said, “As long as you believe in a higher being, that is more than enough.”
This is how my story started. It also explains my name, Minori. It’s a common Japanese name for girls which means “fruitful”. But my mother chose special and uncommon Chinese characters (美祈) to spell my name, giving it the new meaning of “beautiful prayer”. People wouldn’t know I was a Christian just from hearing my name; but when they see it written, some begin to notice.
In all things, there is a bright side and a dark side. Throughout my 23 years of life, I’ve truly, painfully understood what it is like to live life as a Christian in Japan.
“So, do you believe in the Western God?”
“Christianity is such an immature religion.”
“You are so rude to worship your God instead of your ancestors’. Show some faith in them.”
“You should give up your faith.”
These are a few examples of the comments that I’ve had from my classmates, teachers, professors and relatives. Before I came to explain what I believe in with my own words, I learnt how painful it is to be insulted for loving Him, the one I love more than my own parents.
Before I learnt to sing songs of praise in front of people, I learnt to keep silence and smile. Although I was trying to ignore the pain, I knew that I was bleeding from deep inside.
These conflicts don’t only happen inside my own country. Outside of Japan, my appearance and nationality have worked as a barrier.
“Are you really a Christian? A Catholic? But you are Japanese!”
“Let me tell you how to read a Bible.”
“Is that really a Bible? The one you’re holding, written in Chinese?”
Once I believed there must be a utopia that I could belong to. Now I realise that we’re all strangers anywhere we go on the Earth until our souls rest in heaven.
As Catholic youths who were raised in Japanese society, we all ache. We all have experiences of being excluded and unconsciously discriminated against.
At the same time, we all know how we’re blessed. In the dark, the light shines even brighter. We can share in the experience of the first Christians, who were small and weak – and, for that reason, were so encouraged by the light of God’s glory.
For hundreds of years, the Japanese Hidden Christians lived in isolation, waiting for contact with the Church once again. When, after so many generations, they welcomed a priest – a French missionary – they famously told him: “Warera no mune, anata no mune to onaji.” (“Our heart is just the same as yours.”)
I have had many beautiful adventures in faith. Maybe I’ll tell you the story next time, face to face, somewhere in the world. Dear brothers and sisters overseas, I sincerely send you my greetings. May the peace of Christ be with you all!