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Being Witnesses in Japan

April 7, 2009

Greetings from Japan!  The news at the dawn of this New Year were all too bleak – the effects of the failing economy in the US and beyond, and the violence in the Middle East. Japan too has had its share of despair in recent months. Japan is now experiencing poverty among its own population like it has not seen since the post war period. A rise in unemployment and the number of homeless and working poor are reaching unprecedented levels. So much so, that the government provided emergency shelter in one of its buildings so that the homeless could spend the New Year at least with a roof over their heads.

When I first came to Doshisha University twelve years ago, homelessness was an issue that did not make it in the news. Most people did not recognize it as a social problem, in this country at least. Now things have changed. You see homeless sleeping in makeshift tents in the parks, along the riverbanks, and in underground passages. Up until now, most homeless in Japan were likely to be middle aged men laid off from their company job and trying to make ends meet by day labor. Now there are more young people and women. Even social problems are beginning to look like the US.

I serve as the advisor to the Habitat for Humanity group on campus. The students go on work camps abroad, (countries like the Philippines and Thailand, India, Bangladesh) to build houses together with the poor. There is, however, a subgroup of students who participate in an outreach project to provide support to homeless people right here in Kyoto. This outreach project is an ecumenical effort by Protestant and Catholic Church members. They make the rounds and offer help in hooking people up to social support offered by the government that they might qualify for. But, another valuable part of the outreach is to show that there are people who care, to call them by name, take time to talk, and offer a hot cup of tea. These young Japanese students are living out the Christian witness to love our neighbors.

My prayer is for economic justice around the world and in Japan too – that those without food and shelter, those who are lonely, and dejected, will be supported by society.   

In Christ,

Martha Mensendiek

Martha serves at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan through the Council on Cooperative Mission.  Martha is a Teacher of social welfare. 


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