Friday, November 14, 2014

One Month of Life in Japan

Greetings from Japan!
I have officially been in the country now for 4 weeks, and an update on my general well being is overdue. 
I arrived in one piece on 17 October, after a long flight from Toronto. I was able to sleep on the plane, and AirCanada served pretty decent food, so I was in relatively good shape when I landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport. Customs was a breeze, and I had no problems finding my bags. While waiting for my bus, a group of Japanese reporters bum-rushed me to ask me about why I was in Japan and I happily gave them what details I could. It would have been nice to see what my visage would have looked like on television with (what I imagine) a Japanese dub, but I then spent the next 3 hours on a bus slowly making my way through Tokyo traffic towards my first stop in Utsunomiya, the capital city of Tochigi prefecture. From there, I took a commuter rail (I have yet to be on one of the bullet trains) to the closest town to my farm, Nasushiobara. I finally made it to the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) around 10 pm where I found my room in the men's dormitory and quickly got to sleep.
I did not really struggle with jet lag luckily, and I was able to wake with the rooster's crowing and try to make sense of the place. Most of the people here are from South Asia and Africa, and all speak some English. Everyone was surprised to see me at the morning exercises (we do weak calisthenics every morning--they really are quite silly), but happy to have another pair of hands for working. On Saturdays, the farm work only goes from 7 to 8 AM, so I found myself with an entire day to explore after breakfast. ARI has chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, and 4 large kitchen gardens where the 2014 class (arrived in March 2014, leave in December) grow their vegetables. Surrounding the campus are larger fields which the entire community works on--rice paddies, soy beans, yams, corn, wheat--but the 27 "participants" from across the world grow the smaller things such as chilis, various lettuces, eggplant, leeks, etc. in these kitchen gardens, which we tend to twice daily. After the earthquake of 2011 and the nuclear disaster, the cows had to be disposed off because Chernobyl taught the world that cesium and other radioactive elements remain in milk. The land here, however, is radiation free and checked regularly. There are three regular meal services, all made with the organic vegetables grown here and meat slaughtered not far from campus as well.
I am still struggling with learning Japanese, but English is the main language spoken throughout campus, so I have been able to make some friends. Together, we have been out in town to a couple of bars and a ramen place. Most of the participants come from rural, poorer areas, so the people who invite me out are the Japanese and Westerners who are considered "volunteers" like myself. Nasushiobara is a small town, so I do get some stares, but most people are well aware of ARI and the many foreigners who live here. All in all, however, I have settled down pretty nicely.

Until next time,

Joey san

Monday, July 28, 2014

Baby Steps

I was born and raised in the Episcopal Church. I went to services every Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO, moved through Rite 13 and my confirmation, attended services throughout college, and found a pew at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and now Trinity Church here in Boston. Until recently, I thought that this was enough. I said my prayers, added to the collection plate, took in the Eucharist, and then went home. Two recent events, however, have changed my views on my relationship with God and my part in the larger community of faith within my parish and the world. These events have made me aware of a spiritual hunger, the depths of which I am only now beginning to explore.
The first event was my realization that after four years of working in a pharmacology lab at Northeastern University, something was missing. I graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in biology, and had been working in various laboratories since I moved to Boston in the fall of 2007. When I started at Northeastern in early 2010, I was excited to be working with animals and interested in how the chemists in my department would be creating the drugs I would be testing. I was doing “real” scientific work, and had myriads of opportunities to put my name on papers and explore the field of pharmacology. I quickly learned however, that despite the good intentions of the people in my department, the bottom line was to make compounds that would eventually go for further testing at large pharmaceutical companies and then go to market. This was not just a pursuit of knowledge and helping people in need, but rather an endless rush to make the “best” drug. To make matters worse, so many of my colleagues saw nothing wrong with the ways these big companies did their business. There was neither outcry over the possible dangers of over-medicating individuals, nor how these companies marketed certain compounds and to whom. No one cared whether a certain corporation was paying its taxes, or how it was involved in lobbying against stricter warnings on medication. I was becoming disillusioned, and my enthusiasm for science was fading as well.
The second event occurred shortly after I left my job at Northeastern. My brother in-law suggested I apply for the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), a mission group within the Episcopal Church. I was accepted, thankfully, and attended an orientation at the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY this past June. It was there that my eyes were opened to what I was missing in my faith. Despite growing up in the church and attending services as an adult, I was leaving God in the narthex as I walked to take the subway home every Sunday. At the YASC orientation I met 15 individuals (not to mention the orientation leaders and the wonderful monks at the monastery) who helped remind me that God is everywhere and in everything. In short, they helped me recall an eagerness for spiritual life. I realized that a spiritual community was not just the people who sat in the pews next to me on Sundays, but also in the relationships I had with my friends and family, the soil, plants, and various creatures in my garden, and everything around me.
I have a lot of work ahead of me if I am to make it to the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Nasushiobara, Japan. The fundraising aspects of this journey have me a little overwhelmed, to say the least. I am incredibly grateful, however, for the help (whether they know it or not) everyone at the Holy Cross Monastery gave me. My eyes have opened to new possibilities and working to foster this stronger, deeper spiritual relationship is my first step.