Lenten Reflections: Celebrating Lent in Japan

This guest post is written by my friend Melissa Reed, who was in my MFA program. She currently lives in Japan, and you can read about her adventures there at her blog, There and Back Again. Here’s her bio:

I’m twenty-five years old and from Paducah, Kentucky. I graduated from Murray State University with a BA in English and Spanish and a Master of Fine Arts degree. During my undergrad degree, I went on four study abroad programs and really learned that I have a passion for traveling! I love learning about new cultures and visiting new places. Currently I’m living in Yunomae, Japan with my husband, Ian, and teaching English to elementary and junior high schoolers.

And here are some fun pictures of her in Japan:

Celebrating Lent In Japan

This year Lent is a bit different for me since I’m spending it in Japan.  Less than 5% of Japan’s total population is Christian, so not a lot of them understand the traditions of Lent.  (However, they do like Easter, even if they don’t really understand the meaning of it.  The Japanese like cutesy stuff, so they love sweet little baby bunnies, fluffy yellow chicks, and pastel painted Easter eggs.)  Luckily, we (my husband and I) live on the southern island of Kyushu, which has a larger percentage of Christians since this is where the Catholic missionaries came way back when.  Ian and I are Catholic, and luckily there is a Catholic church only about an hour away from us.  While we don’t understand the words, Catholic Masses are the same no matter where you go in the world, so we go at least once a month.

I usually give up sweets during Lent.  This is a really, really difficult thing for me to do since I probably have the biggest sweet tooth of anyone you’ll ever meet.  I made the same Lenten promise this year, but it’s a lot harder.  There are always new and different foods that I want to try.  In addition, teachers at the school sometimes offer me little sweet snacks, and if I don’t take them, it’s seen as culturally rude.  My Lenten promise was broken within a week, so I narrowed it down to just giving up chocolate and sugary drinks.  This is easier, but I still find myself slipping at times.

One way that we have found is fun to celebrate Lent is weekly fish fries with our friends.  It so happens that most of our American friends are Catholic here, so we all get together to NOT eat meat on Friday.  :)  The first Friday we did it at a friend’s house, and last week we crammed into my tiny house for a good old fashioned fish fry.  We deep fried fish and made homemade onion rings and french fries.  Last week we even made fried Oreos!  Our bodies aren’t used to eating all of that greasy food, so we all felt slightly sick afterwards, but it was worth it!  It’s always fun to have our friends over, but it’s even more fun now since we all gave up different things for Lent.  Melissa B. brought Coke, to which Mary and I longingly looked at it, Rachel fought the urge to give into a fried Oreo, and we couldn’t watch the latest episode of The Office together since David gave up TV.  We know that we’re all in this together, and we all agree that giving up things for Lent IS more difficult over here because we have to explain why we can’t eat/do _________.  It’s really nice to have each other as a support system.

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