Raw sun: Tsuchiura village

Raw sun: Tsuchiura village

We broke our fast with a bountiful buffet at our elegant hotel. The view from our window lured us into an exquisitely arranged garden, a tiny oasis separating the guests from a divided highway just beyond. The subtle infinity loop design deceived the eye; we wandered it happily, retracing our steps without feeling enclosed.

Our hostess invited us to a barbecue — a birthday barbecue, as it transpired. The man of honor grilled an an extravaganza that you could never find on a restaurant menu: colorful vegetables, bamboo rice, slices of steak and pork, chunks of chicken. Then came out the jumbo king prawns and clamshells the size of my palm.

Mixing English and Japanese, we made the acquaintance of her increasingly impressive family. Her father became the first Christian in his village, after study abroad in Iowa. His mother followed suit; now the entire family worships and serves at a bustling church founded by missionaries in the late 1940s.

To ready our stomachs for the dessert course, our friend conducted us on a tour of her family seat: a tiny village, now in decline with its most youthful occupants aged 80. Beyond the gated homes, rice fields ran away to the mountain slopes. A bamboo forest shaded the village cemetary. They had just harvested the newest sprouts, she told us, to chop into the rice.

Their family had courted controversy by insisting on Christian burials and weddings in a village under the jurisdiction of a particular Buddhist monastery. Their pastor had negotiated with their neighbors long past midnight, they recalled, and they kept close to their grandmother in the days following for fear of retribution. Undaunted, the father has invited Campus Crusade to his English classes, included evensong on his trips with students to Oxford, and hosted Bible studies in this very village.

It is strawberry season in Japan, so a platter of ruby red berries accompanied a parade of gourmet cakes from the city’s most famous bakery. My sister sampled the chestnut cream, while I exulted in a mango tart. They thanked us for joining their celebration, as if we had done them a favor, then packed us rice balls with pickled plums in case we later felt peckish.

Tomorrow we join this exceptional family for worship at their church. Doubly exciting, the service offers English translation!

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