Sunday, December 21, 2008

Little Drummer Boy: A Rock/Taiko Fusion

Continuing in our Christmas trend of posting videos rather than actually writing something, here is another Christmas video. But this time, it's an original. I was approached by my pastor last week, and he asked me if I would play Taiko in our church's Christmas Party. This included writing a new piece, since my group's pieces require a minimum of 10 people. I chose to fuse taiko with another style of music and play to a CD. It turned out so well that I played it at my school's Christmas Party too, which is where the video comes from.

The song is "Drummer Boy" as arranged by Jars of Clay on their 1995 album. I chose the song because I felt that the lyrics really conveyed my spirit and gave the message I was trying to give. Taiko is still seen as "suspect" in a lot of churches, but with this song, I hope that there is no doubt that taiko can be played to honor the King. As the last few lines say: "I played my drum for him; I played my best for him. Then he smiled at me--me and my drum."

Lyrics (thank you to Takatori Masakazu for the Japanese translation):

Come they told me (来て、って言われた。)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
A newborn king to see (新しい王が生まれたよ。)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
Our finest gifts we bring (最高のもてなしを持って)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
To lay before the king (王様の前に捧げて)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
rum pa pum pum (ランパパンパン)
rum pa pum pum (ランパパンパン)
So to honor Him (その方を称えるために)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
When we come (みんなで来るとき)

Little Baby (小さな赤ちゃん)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
I am a poor boy too (僕も貧しい男の子だよ)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
I have no gift to bring (おみやげなんかもっていけない)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
That’s fit to give a king (王様にはそれが一番いいかも)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
rum pa pum pum (ランパパンパン)
rum pa pum pum (ランパパンパン)
Shall I play for you (遊んであげようか)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
On my drum? (僕の太鼓で)

Mary nodded (マリアさんがうなずき)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
The ox and lamb kept time (雄牛と子羊がたわむれ)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
I played my drum for Him (僕の太鼓を奏でてあげて)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
I played my best for Him (僕の得意な曲を弾いてあげた。)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
rum pa pum pum (ランパパンパン)
rum pa pum pum (ランパパンパン)
Then He smiled at me (そしたら王様は僕に笑ってくれた)
Ba rum pa pum pum (バランパパンパン)
Me and my drum. (僕と僕の太鼓。)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Christmas Video by Sufjan Stevens

When Sufjan had a concert in Tokyo early this year this year a good friend of ours was in the show so my family got complimentary tickets; we all loved it. Rather quirky and a lot of fun, it was the first concert that my eleven year old daughter really enjoyed.

I want to wish readers a "Merry Christmas!" I hope you enjoy this delightful video by Sufjan.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Cheer

Japanese ingenuity will never cease to amaze me. Take, for example, turning your produce section into a wind ensemble. Enjoy this... unique... rendition of "Angels We Have Heard on High," and have a great Christmas season!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spiritual Bridges in Video Games - The World Ends With You

If you were to die today, do you know where you would go? Heaven? Hell? Shibuya? Well, according to the minds over at Square-Enix and Jupiter, the answer is c) Shibuya. The game is called "The World Ends With You" (Japanese title: Subarashiki Kono Sekai - It's a Wonderful World)--an RPG (Role-Playing Game) for the Nintendo DS released earlier this year. I (Scot) picked it up without any idea that I'd be writing a post on it; I simply wanted to play what I anticipated would be one of the greatest games of all times. [In that, I wasn't disappointed; this easily falls into the top 10 Nintendo DS games ever made, and it will be remembered long after the system becomes defunct.] What I wasn't anticipating was that the story would be an unintentional modern re-telling of the book of Job that directly deals with the pitfalls of Buddhism.

This came as a huge surprise to me, since I have been playing games by this development team for six years now. They are responsible primarily for the Kingdom Hearts franchise, though they have contributed to a half a dozen Final Fantasy titles too. Having played most of their games, and having even read the director's personal blog for a short stint, I can say with utmost confidence that this is not a Christian company. All of the spiritual bridges I am about to write about were not intended by the creators, but are simply evidence of God's law being written on every man's heart.

Before we begin, let me offer up a warning. I am going to go very far with the spoilers here, not only talking extensively about the ending, but also referencing things that are only unlockable on the second playthrough. If you have any desire to play this game, please stop reading right now and come back to this blog when you are finished. (For the unitinitiated, gamers are even touchier than movie-goers when it comes to spoiling the ending.) But also be warned, this is one of the most difficult games I have ever played, so I would ward off inexperienced gamers. With those warnings in place, let's begin.
The World Ends With You
(すばらしきこのせかい - It's a Wonderful World)
Developers: Square-Enix, Jupiter
System: Nintendo DS
English Adaptation: Square-Enix

The game begins as the protagonist, Neku Sakuraba, wakes up in the middle of the Shibuya crosswalk. Annoyed by people in general, he puts on his headphones and tries to get out of sight. Unfortunately, his headphones don't seem to be blocking out anything. Instead, Neku finds that he is not only able to hear people's words, but also their thoughts. Just what he needs. As he is trying to figure out why he has this ability, many things happen in rapid succession: he recieves an email on his broken cellphone that gives him a mission telling him to make it to the 104 building in 60 minutes or face "erasure", a timer painfully appears on his right hand, frog noise appear out of nowhere and start attacking him, and a cheerful young fashion designer named Shiki forms a pact with him that saves both of their lives. All of this, and the bystanders don't even bat an eye.

As events unfold, Neku slowly learns that he is involved in "The Reaper's Game", a sadistic underground game that takes place in a parallel dimension, allowing him to be invisible while reading and eventually making imprints on the thoughts of others. He and his partner, Shiki, are fighting towards the ultimate prize, which will be awarded to the winners at the end of seven days. Both of them gave up the thing most valuable to them in order to participate, which will be lost forever if they are erased. For Neku, it was all of his memories before waking up in the crosswalk, and, by inference, his identity. For Shiki, it was her appearance, as she now looks exactly like her best friend whom she had been jealous of for years. Oh, and one more thing: they're dead. The ultimate prize is none other than being restored to life.

Most of the missions include clearing areas of noise, which are the physical manifestations of negative emotions and distractions. Oftentimes these noise will be hindering a person's relationships or business. By clearing them, you are restoring friendships and helping people to succeed. In short, you're making the world a better place. But in the meantime, you are being hunted by reapers, who can survive only by erasing you.

Fast forward. Many events happen, and Neku and Shiki end up winning the game after Neku opens up and makes his first friend (Shiki). Shiki deals with her own jealousy, which had been eating her up. But there is a twist. Only one can be restored to life; the other must play again. Neku is forced to play again, and his entry fee is none other than his previous partner--the only person he had ever let inside his emotional walls.

Fast forward again. Neku ends up playing the game a total of three times, partnering second with a self-possessed boy named Joshua who entered the game illegally while still alive, and third with a hot-headed boy named Beat, who gave up his status as a reaper in order to help Neku proceed through what he percieved to be an increasingly unfair and malicious game. Both boys, Joshua and Beat, are obsessed with taking down and replacing a man named "The Composer"--the creator of Shibuya and the Reaper's Game. They see his creation as deeply flawed and in need of renewal. Neku, in addition to completing his missions, helps them on their quest, as he knows that he can't survive without them.

The story continues to progress, and we discover some startling things. Mainly, that the composer is absent, and the game is being run by his proxy, The Conductor. The Conductor has his own plans for "saving Shibuya," which include eliminating everyone's individuality and causing them to think alike. His missions have been slowly building to that crescendo, and Neku has been helping him reach that goal without realizing it.

When the game reaches its final showdown between Neku and the Conductor, we are still in the dark about why all of this is taking place. Why is Neku in the game, and what is its true purpose? Upon defeating the Conductor, all of the loose ends are tied up. The Composer was disgusted by the depravity of his creation, and had plans to destroy it. The Conductor stepped in at this point and proposed that the two of them play a game to decide the fate of Shibuya. (The Conductor was playing for his own gain, as he really wanted to become Shibuya's Composer.) Each side had limitations placed on them. The Conductor had 30 days to complete his assignment, and the Composer was not allowed to play directly. He chose Neku to play as his proxy, knowing that Neku would go through untold suffering, but also knowing that Neku could win in the end. In the final moments, Neku finds out that the Composer was none other than his second partner, Joshua. Having won the game, he has given Joshua the right to destroy Shibuya. Worse yet, as his memory returns, he finds out that in order to make Neku his proxy, Joshua killed Neku in the real world. Everything, from a limited understanding, points at Joshua as the bad guy. Thankfully, Neku doesn't have that limited understanding, and he realizes that though Joshua was sometimes harsh, he always helped people whenever he could. Even his sharp demeanor was there to goad Neku into making the right decisions (Joshua confirms this in Mr. Hanekoma's secret journal entries). So, at the last moment, Neku realizes that he cannot be the Composer, and decides to trust Joshua, even if he doesn't fully understand. As the story wraps up, we discover that Joshua not only decides to sustain Shibuya, but also to restore people's individuality. As a parting gift, he restores Neku, Shiki, and Beat to life.

Phew. Compressing 20 hours of plot into one page is tough. I am scared that I've done nothing but make your head spin, rather than communicating the depth and humanity this story contains, much less its spiritual relevance. Those that have played the game will hopefully have their memory jogged by this synopsis. (My apologies for leaving out the subplot with Mr. Hanekoma and Sho Minamimoto, but adding in their "wild card" status would have made this post surely incomprehensible. Hopefully, I will be able to include Mr. Hanekoma in a future post about the role of the "sin-bearer" in anime, manga, and video games.)

The story borrows elements from many Biblical stories. Certainly you can see the presence of Abraham and Lot as they pleaded for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah. You may have even seen Moses pleading with God on top of Mt. Sinai to spare the Israelites. For me, it is Job who stands out most clearly. Job was a man in the Bible who suffered in untold ways for very unclear ends, only given the assurance in the end that God was sovereign and good. The whole time, he is told to curse God and die, but he remains faithful, and in the end, God restores his life in such a way that he has more than he did in the first place. It is a story about God's sovereignty, and his right to direct our lives not only for our own gain, but for the gain of everybody. This is reflected in the character of Neku, who suffers physical, mental, and emotional strain from three weeks straight of playing a game where he could be killed at any moment. He gives up his memories, his only friend, and even the potential of making more friends and allies, all for the purpose of proving the Composer's right to create and destroy as He pleases. In the second playthrough, Joshua, the Composer, explains that the purpose of taking away the things most valuable is not to make people suffer, but to free them from things they are hanging on to in order to mold them into better people. In the end, Neku chooses to trust the Composer rather than taking matters into his own hands, and the Composer not only restores everything he had previously, but gives him everything he gained during the struggle--mainly, the ability to feel, empathize, and have friends, which he had previously lacked.

On a more philosophical note, we have the intriguing character of the Conductor, who is more than a stand-in for the role of Satan. I find it extremely interesting that his idea of salvation was to "snuff out" individuality and make everyone part of the Universal One. It's intriguing because, at the heart of it, that is the goal of Buddhism, the main religion in Japan. Yet here, we have a story that portrays that idea as a half-measure compared to the real salvation. Whether the creators meant to put it in or not, the message is clear: loss of desire and individuality is not something to hope for, but something to be avoided.

Finally, we have the character of Joshua. The name in iteslf should be a dead giveaway of this spiritual bridge, as it has the same meaning as Yeshua (Jesus). His decision to make Neku a proxy caused Neku suffering, but Joshua didn't leave him to flounder for himself. He, in a sense, "incarnated" himself (he entered the Reaper's Game) to impart to Neku the knowledge that he needed (the existence of the Conductor and Composer, and where to find them), and to make sure that Neku wasn't alone. I'm am not partial to Joshua's portrayal as an apathetic and annoying individual, but the seed of truth is still there. I am very interested in the fact that after his "ascension" back to his original place, Joshua decides to show mercy and speaks as an advocate for the people that he met. Connect that with Hebrews chapters 4 and 5, which talks about how we have an advocate (High Priest) who can sympathize with us.

As you can see, the spiritual truths are abundant. They are unintentional, and a little bit murky, but they are there. And as this is one of the highest-rated games on the Nintendo DS, people who have played it will know what you are talking about. They will have something concrete to latch onto in order to understand the ideas of why suffering is necessary, and how God can still be good in those circumstances.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

View Mujo No Kaze Online Here

Mujo No Kaze (MNK) is the first film that I produced. It was an enriching experience that I enjoyed a lot. MNK was shot on location in Tokyo two years ago when Biola teacher Dean Yamada brought twelve students from Biola University as our production crew.

At this time, I am working on producing our second film with Biola; a group of fifteen will come in Jan 09 to shoot "Jitensha" on location here in Tokyo. It promises to be an excellent film.

Please let us know what you think about Mujo No Kaze:

Mujo No Kaze Movie from Studio Re: on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Japanese Black Gospel Choir & Taiko Troupe in a Music Video?

Almost all the singers in the 300+ member black gospel choir are Japanese; the director is Filipino, the three guest artists are Jamaican, American and Filipino. Then, after the intermission a taiko troupe (Japanese style drum team) joins the unusual choir for one number.

The camera crew is ready, the lights get bright, and with alternating strokes, the drummers pound as if harvesting the very tones. As the rhythm flows, other drums—smaller ones—join in. Suddenly the choir sings “RIDE ON KING JESUS! NO! MAN CANNOT HINDER ME!”

“Wait a moment,” you may ask. “Taiko and Gospel Music? Those two don’t go together.” And you would be right, because, to the best of our knowledge, nobody has ever done it before. But we believe the time is right. Both forms have similar roots, not among the upper-class, but among the lower-class. Both inhabit the world of pop culture. Wa-Daiko, or Group Taiko, is influenced by Jazz music, which grew out of gospel music. Most importantly, however, both forms are part of the folk/pop music culture of Japan.

Hard to imagine it? Then take a few moments to watch the following two videos

Video Below is of the Sendan Taiko troupe from Fukushima Ken, Japan (Scot Eaton, who writes for this blog, is playing the large drum on the left, in the back row)

Video Below is of the Hallelujah Gospel Family (HGF), based in Tokyo, this network of 30 choirs is lead by Ken Taylor. The soloist on this song is Ray Sidney from LA

The black gospel choir/taiko music video will be a fresh presentation of the gospel for Japan and show that Christianity is not just a Western import with no roots in the culture. That is the main reason we are making this music video; to demonstrate, not by preaching, but visually and musically that Jesus is indeed for Japan, as well as the rest of the world.

Further Information:
  • The shooting for this music video is planned for June 20, 2009 at Rune Kodiara (ルネ小平) hall in Tokyo, admission is free of charge.
  • The HGF choir is booked and we are in touch with a taiko troupe interested in participating.
  • This music video is a collaboration between HGF, CAN, and Studio Re:
  • Our goal is to produce a high quality music video. We are seeking a skilled music video director and $10,000 funding. If you know of anyone you think might be able to help, please write to the following eMail address: pnethercott (at) mac (dot) com
Related Posts on this blog:
  1. Impacting Japanese culture through redemptive films

  2. Mujo No Kaze Wins Inigo Film Festival Award

Thanks to Scot Eaton for contributing to this post.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Teresa Wilson's Response to "Mujo No Kaze"

"Mujo No Kaze" is a short film we made last year in collaboration with Biola University. I loaned a copy to Teresa Wilson (see photo), who lives near Tokyo and is a member of Mission to the World (MTW). Here is her response to the film:

"I'll tell you honestly, we started watching the film weeks and weeks ago and I had to stop because it elicited such strong emotions for me. It really made me remember so keenly some of the feelings I had when I was planning suicide myself, when I was so depressed during my 20's. And I can certainly say that it captured some of the grave, desperate feelings and just FUINKI (mood) of that desperate state. It (Mujo No Kaze) is very moving, very troubling, actually. It makes me want to share the hope of Christ more with people. Like I said, it did remind me so much of the desperate feelings I had at one time, and it's so very sad to think about so many people having that experience and having nowhere to turn. I can see how it can really elicit some great thought and conversations. Great job! Congratulations on such an excellent start! I pray God will continue to bless and use you all mightily as you use that film for good conversation and as you continue in future film-making projects. God bless you all for capturing such a gaping problem in Japan and spurring on many to think about the hope we can have in Christ. Drama is SO very powerful; it's wonderful to see you all using that powerful tool for the gospel. God bless your present and future work in bringing many, many more projects like this to fruition."

It is great to get feedback like this, very encouraging. Our vision is to make films that will touch the lives of Japanese, to make films that lead Japanese to discover that there is more to life, much more. Right now we have one short film in post-production, and two in pre-production. We also plan to make a taiko/black gospel music video in June of next year (Scot and I discussed this very exciting project this morning, we will be doing a detailed post on it soon but briefly it will feature the taiko troupe that Scot is a member of and Hallelujah Gospel Family --- a large network of black gospel choirs led by my good friend and colleague Ken Taylor).

As soon as I am done with this post, I am delivering a copy of Mujo No Kaze to a friend who teaches at a local Japanese school where a student committed suicide a few months ago

You can watch a trailer for Mujo No Kazw at

In the near future I think we will be posting the entire film online

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Missional Art - Lamp Post Graphic Novels

Welcome to a new series entitled "Missional Art." In May, Paul (along with a group of facebook friends) created an article that defined and demonstrated Missional Art. You can access it HERE. This series will be written by both authors of this blog, plus a few other writers. This series will include a diverse array of examples that illuminate how God creatively communicates his love for the world through art.

We're really excited about it -- if you are interested in participating (as a writer) let us know by leaving a comment on this post.

Three weeks ago, I, Scot, was contacted out-of-the-blue by Brett Burner, owner and chief writer of Lamp Post, Inc.--a publication company based in San Diego that specializes in e-books and graphic novels. Some of their graphic novels show stylistic influences from Japanese manga, and easily fit into a new category that has arisen in the past few years: OEL (Original English Language) Manga. Though mainstream publisher Tokyopop is the leader in OEL Manga, a few Christians have added their voice to the mix. That's not surprising. Christian media has a long history of imitating mainstream media, though it's usually a few years behind and is usually a pale imitation.

That's where Lamp Post is so different. Their works surpass the "Christianized Imitation" paradigm and raise the bar for a new generation of graphic novel creators. It is no exaggeration to say that their products are the best Christian graphic novels I have ever read, and believe me, I have read a fair share of them. I can easily see Lamp Post, and Brett Burner in particular, as being for the Christian graphic novel industry what D.C. Talk was for the Christian music industry: a good product with promise of even better things to come.

[Edit (9/27/08): After talking it over with Paul, we agreed that the term "Christian Graphic Novel" and "Christian Music" were vague and potentially misleading, since the sacred/secular divide is more of a fallacy than anything. In this article, whenever I use "Christian" in regards to media, I simply mean media that is marketed towards a Christian subculture, rather than a mainstream audience. There are many reasons that many Christians choose to do this--sometimes spiritual and sometimes financial. We won't go into that here, but just to clear it up, neither Paul nor I believe that anything except people can be "Christian" in the truest sense of the word.]

When Brett contacted me, it was in regards to licensing and translating Japanese Christian manga. After establishing that such a thing doesn't exist (aside from the already-published Manga Messiah series), the focus of our conversations shifted, and I am now interested in reversing the process and bringing his products over to Japan. I think that something like this could spark a lot of interest and ideas among Japanese Christian Youth, who have no access to anything like this. A few weeks ago I finally received some copies of the Japanese versions of Manga Messiah and Manga Metamorphosis, and put them in my English School's lending library. We haven't been able to keep them on the shelves, and both students and parents have exclaimed how they finally understand the story of Jesus. We have had a lot of people asking questions about faith recently. Praise God! We need more examples of this.

In the following paragraphs, I am going to highlight three of Lamp Posts works, all written by Brett Burner. Please think about the possibilties of bringing such things to Japanese shores.

Holy Scrolls - The Origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls

This is a charming 36-page graphic novel about a boy who is stuck all day in a musuem with his parents. As he is about to pass out from boredom, a quirky old man sits down next to him and tells him the unlikely story of the Dead Sea scrolls. He awakens a love for history in the boy and tells the truth about documents whose existence has been used to make many false claims against Christianity. It's a well-drawn and cleverly written collaboration between Diego Candia (artist) Brett Burner (writer) and Dr. Pam Fox Kuhlken, a well-respected Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. But don't take my word for it. Head to this website to read the e-book version:

This graphic novel series, currently up to Volume 4, details the portion of the Bible that tells of the Babylonian captivity through Nehemiah. Told through the point of view of the prophet Zechariah and his father and grandfather Berekiah and Iddo, it breathes life into a portion of the Bible that many people skip over. Of all of the graphic novels published by Lamp Post, it is the one that is closest to the Manga Messiah series, so those who liked Manga Messiah and Manga Metamorphosis should also be interested in this. I have included a video preview below:

Above anything else, I believe this to be the defining work of Lamp Post, and it is the one I am most interested in seeing brought over to Japan. The story is an incredibly engaging take on the Superhero genre. Throughout the Bible, the name "Morningstar" remains ambiguous. Sometimes it refers to Christ, though at other times it is used to refer to Satan. That ambiguity is at the heart of this series, as the concept of "hero" and "villain" get turned on end.

The series begins with a group called "Hand of the Morningstar" who have all been granted superpowers by "the Morningstar" in order to relieve suffering in the world and bring honor and glory to the name of the Morningstar. And they do many good things from healing overfarmed land to saving the president from terrorist attacks. In the course of the first book, they meet a superpowered eco-terrorist named "The Tempest," who uses the powers of a storm (rain, lightning, and wind) to violently attack oil rigs, deforestation projects, and other things around the world which exploit the earth. Nevermind that he often does more harm than good. Titan, the group leader of the Hand, defeats him and leaves him for dead. This, despite being at the end of Volume 1, is where the true story begins.

The Tempest, aka Michael Tempe, washes up on the coast of Argentina, near-dead and powerless, or so he thinks. He is nursed back to health by a missionary and his daughter, and in the process becomes a follower of Christ. During a hurricane, he rediscovers his powers and starts using them for good.

The thing that makes this series so good and so relevant is the two portrayals of "good." One, used by the Hand of the Morningstar, embodies countless Christian stereotypes. This is juxtaposed with the vey real and personal faith of Michael Tempe, and it makes for a striking contrast. The following is an excerpt from an interview that Burner did with The Christian Manifesto:

Mike [the artist] says, “We need a BibleMan!” I said, “No! We need the opposite!” Whenever I see a “Christian-Superhero” story, the premise is always (I will say “typically”, but to date I have never seen otherwise) that the main character is somehow endowed with super powers by God and sent off on a mission of righteousness with these powers. My view is that we ALL are given this mission—“…to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God,” Micah 6:8. So how does that translate to a superhero such as Spiderman, the Hulk, or the Fantastic Four? Take a guy that happens to have super powers, then make him a Christian. How does he act?

And the results are great. I cannot recomment it highly enough. It has honesty, it has humanity, and it has hook. This is a perfect example of Missional Art, and I look forward to more. The Hand of the Morningstar is currently 5/8 of the way through publication. Brett assures me that the climax of the story will cover the majority of books 6-8, which will be published within the next two years. Personally, I can't wait.

Below is another video promotional. If you follow the link above to the Christian Manifesto, you can also see some high-quality images from Volume 5. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stephen Shores Explains How to Join mixi

We have a couple of posts on this blog that refer to mixi (the huge Japanese social networking site) and we have offered to send an invitation to those who asked for one (mixi requires an invitation to join).

Well, there have been many requests but those living outside of Japan are having a very difficult time getting a mixi account set up. My friend Stephen recently wrote an excellent post on his blog explaining how it can be done. Click on the following title to read Stephen's post:

How I Got On Mixi, and The Only Methods I Know For Non-Japanese To Get On Mixi


edit: Stephen here. I found out that Mixi now requires a Japanese cell phone number for any email address, so getting in to Mixi requires a friend in Japan who's willing to let you use his cell phone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Japanese Pop Culture: The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge

Scot's good article several months ago "The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge" received several great comments and just got another one today. I realized that they deserve to be featured in a post so will re-post the original article and include the comments at the end.

Please leave your comments, adding value to this post. And, I invite you to go to the bottom of the column on the right and subscribe by email. It is VERY easy, just put in your email address and hit "subscribe." Your email address will never be made public. When you subscribe, new posts will automatically go to your email account.

Original Post <><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

I (Scot) am in the midst of preparing the next "Spiritual Bridges" entry on Eureka seveN--a series released roughly two years ago which unfortunately was never really given its due (I suspect it will only grow in popularity as people discover it in DVD form). Anyway, one of the bridges I was going to write about was the presence of a strong icon in the anime: a tree of knowledge. However, I also recently finished the incredible Gonzo anime Romeo x Juliet (*very* loosely based on Shakespeare's original play) where there were two trees named "Escalus" which held the sky continent of Neo Verona (I said it was loose) in the air. Which in turn got me thinking about Miyazaki's "Laputa - Castle in the Sky" which had the presence of a similar tree. As I started reflecting, I realized that the concept of a special "centralized" tree is present in a LOT of Japanese media. Oftentimes, this tree can represent life or centralized knowledge. Here is a quick list off the top of my head of places I have seen this symbol (feel free to add more in the comments section):

*Eureka seveN (anime series) - the collective consciousness of the Coralians is represented as a tree (knowledge).
*Romeo x Juliet (anime series) - the twin trees of Escalus hold the sky continent in place and give it life (knowledge and life).
*Laputa: the Castle in the Sky (anime movie) - the mythical city of Laputa is built on the foundation of a tree (life).
*The Twelve Kingdoms (Juuni Kokuki) (anime and light novel series) - children, animals, and grasses are all borne from the fruit of white trees, not from mothers' wombs (life).
*Final Fantasy IX (video game) - the Lifa tree. Self explanatory (life).
*Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime series, anime movies) - among other randomly placed symbolism is the tree of knowledge covering a huge section of Ikari Gendo's office (knowledge).
*Okami (video game) - in each region, you must restore life to a Sakura tree. Doing so restores life to the entire region (life).
*Death Note (anime series, manga series, movie series) - though the trees are not present, the apple has very strong symbolic meaning, representing Light's ambition to become a God (knowledge).

And the list escapes me. I have never really watched for this particular symbol before, so though I have vague memories of it popping up elsewhere, the details are hazy. Even so, it seems that the "tree" has a very important place in Japanese spirituality.

Anyway, I am wondering where the basis for this is. Is it a symbol contained in Japanese folklore, or has it crept in along with other Christianized things?

If this is contained in Japanese folklore, I can see a potentially strong opportunity to use this as a bridge in more than just media-based conversations. I myself have been intrigued in the past year or so to see how often the symbolism of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life show up throughout the Bible. I'm also intrigued by the fact that according to Revelation, the Tree of Life will be in the center of New Jerusalem, and it will grow on either side of the River of Life. [I tend to take the Bible literally whenever possible, so I really do believe in a New Heaven and a New Earth, and I take the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life to be more than just symbols; I take them as history. Feel free to disagree with me on this.] What intrigues me most, though, is that Adam and Eve's choice between life and knowledge was not simply a face-value decision, but a decision of whom they would worship. More on that later...

For now, I'm asking from comments from the hundreds of people who come through this site without ever leaving any. Where else have you seen this symbol emerge? For those of you more versed in Japanese folklore, is there a basis for this symbolism aside from Western influence? What strengths and weaknesses do you see arising from using this symbol as a spiritual bridge? Thanks in advance, and sorry for my rambling in this post.

Yu Shibuya said... Thanks for investigating a fascinating symbol! Here are some random notes to add to your research:
  • The tree in "Okami" is a reference to "Hanasaka-Jiisan," a famous Japanese fairytale. More here:
  • Two more games that feature the World Tree are: "Seiken Densetsu" and "Sekaiju no Meikyu."
  • I agree that the image repeats in Japanese media, but I'm not sure if it's our own. The obvious one that comes to mind is Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, and perhaps its assigning of mystical energy to a tree resonates with the Japanese Shinto belief of worshiping nature.
  • Ultimately, I think any tree in mythology is man's rendition of Eden, since mythology is, for the most part, man's attempt to rewrite scripture, whether he knows it or not.
Blogger Robin said... Have you guys ever heard the theory that the Japanese are descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel? Or that the Jews at least visited Japan long long ago? There are a number of other parallels between Japanese religion and Judaism. I wonder if this could be one of them.

Blogger Jose Gabriel said... Hey Scott...
I wonder if its better to use "cultural bridges" instead of "spiritual bridges". I am actually doing a research on Islam and I am using the concept of spiritual bridges to propose an evangelistic approach...
Just in case... you can see the use of spiritual bridges in the Bible when Paul talks in Athens quoting Greek poems originally applied to Zeus, or when Jesus talks to the Samaritan about the Taheb (Samaritan mesiah) and the living water (that was one of the mayor doctrinal believes of samariatan people). "Living water" was not a common concept in Jewish terminology...
Great work...
God bless...

Blogger Scot Eaton said... Jose, Actually, the moniker "Spiritual Bridges" was very intentional. I have little interest in bridging the gap between two cultures, such as Japan and Midwest America. I DO, however, have a rather large interest in bridging the gap between God and man using cultural forms that are already existent.

Too much "Missionary Culture" has been transmitted in the past here in Japan, and I feel the aftereffects of that every time I go to church. I would like to see what happens when God is understood within Japanese culture and expressed through it.

So, "Spiritual Bridges" was chosen. Actually, it was from a book on Islam (which you are probably reading) that I originally got the term.

Anonymous said... The idea of a "world tree" is found in many cultures, mostly in pagan myths that tell of a "world tree" or "cosmic tree" in the middle of the earth that connects to the underworld with its roots, to the earth with its trunk, and to the heavens with its branches, and is seen as a pathway between earth and heaven.

Also, the "tree of life" is central in the teachings of the Kabbalah, which has a very gnostic and occult worldview. Just as we see pagan and secular stories about gardens reflecting a long-past knowledge of the loss of the Garden of Eden, so we see these trees in non-Christian stories as possible echoes of the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


In the comments to Paul's post on iMissions, I left a comment about webcam Bible Studies. My motivation is this: a lot of Japanese young people move to the cities in their 20's for college and jobs, and they encounter Christ there. However, when they move back to the countryside, they become spiritually isolated, living in an area where there either is no church, or the church is completely different from what they experienced in the city. In some extreme cases, they move back into a family system that is hostile to Christianity, and their parents actively prevent them from going to church. They become Spiritually Isolated Christians, and where they could be a light to their community, they instead drift into survival mode.

I have lived through this first-hand, and right now I personally know no less than 4 friends who are going through spiritual isolation right now (3 American, 1 Japanese). In addition, I know 2 Japanese men from my church who are separated from their local congregation (and families) 5 out of 7 days a week because of jobs that require them to work and live in a different prefecture. And for all 6 of these people, I see the strain that it causes. The fact is that God never meant for us to live the Christian life alone, and yet in this age of fast-paced travel and rapid relocations, that is exactly what is happening.

However, this age has also equipped us with new tools to deal with the faster pace. Namely, the Internet. It is now possible to hold conference calls with 10 people in 10 countries for no charge at all. Some programs even allow video to go along with this.

So, my vision is simple: set up a network of Bible studies that spiritually isolated Japanese Christians can plug into for mutual support and encouragement. It can also be a great help to city churches, as the flow of ideas in city churches tends to be five times faster than their rural counterparts. It can connect urban Japanese with the countryside so that they have a greater understanding of how much impact their new ideas are having on the greater whole.

Now, the reason for this post: I am starting this idea with myself. Though I attend a wonderful church in Fukushima prefecture, my level of Japanese doesn't currently allow me to hold any conversations of real depth. I also have a friend and fellow missionary living in another country who is about as spiritually isolated as one can get. So, starting in 3 days I will be doing a test-run of my "iDiscipleship" International Internet Bible Study, hopefully working out some of the glitches and bugs that will inevitably come up. The Bible Study will run for a period of 13 weeks, and at the end, I will post about my experiences here. Please pray for me and my friends as we try this out with one another.

Also, if you are interested in being involved as a Bible Study facilitator, or you know someone who might be, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Looking For a Fun Way to Learn Japanese?

Learning Japanese often feels like an unending marathon with lots of effort but little to show for it. Over the years I have found that comic relief is essential and really does help with learning the language.

Here is a clip that we usually watch when we have visitors from outside Japan, if you have studied Japanese at least a little you will probably get a lot of enjoyment out of it:

A Group of Cats Learning Japanese (you will need flash installed to view this clip)
SHIMBASHI - The Yamanote Line
CHIBA - Japanese Prefectures (Thanks to Stephen Shores for the tip)

[Scot's note: these are both done by the comedy duo "The Ramens", who also did the video series I posted a little while ago]

If you have found a fun way to learn Japanese that works for you, please leave a comment.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Great Communion Celebration -- an example from TEAM mission meeting in Japan

One of Nancy Nethercott’s passions is celebrating Christian communion… she also thrives on planning communion services for both large and small groups. Below is Nancy’s description of the Christ-centered communion service she recently planned for our mission here in Japan.

We had a wonderful morning (final session) on Saturday of our mission annual conference, celebrating communion in a way that made it fresh and memorable. Our theme for the week was from John 10:10 " the Full." So, I had ordered large loaves of light rye bread from the local bakery (Asanoya) which Tom & Nancy Edwards cut it into large chunks. Tom and Nancy also prepared much larger than usual glasses of juice. After a time of worship through music and Scripture, Steve Baughn shared a short devotional. The people came down the center aisle of the chapel to receive the elements and then fanned out around the outer edge of the chapel in a circle holding the elements until we were all served (there were around seventy people in attendance).

Then, Steve broke a large loaf of bread as he said, “The body of Christ given for you;” and poured juice from a large pitcher into a clear glass as he said, “the blood of Christ shed for you; remembering the lavish sacrifice of Christ, partake with thankfulness in your hearts.” We ate and drank for an extended time savoring the "abundance,” and "fullness" of the provision of Jesus Christ - it was quite special. We closed with singing the traditional “Doxology.”

I got many comments afterwards about how meaningful this time of communion was. People entered into singing the songs and seemed to appreciate the "Scripture Tapestry" reading that Karyn, Gerald, and I presented. It was a Scripture reading focusing on Christ (from John 1) with related verses woven in (this reading is from Reformed Worship magazine June 2008 issue, pages 32-33). The larger than usual servings were a visual reminder of just how big and lavish the love of Jesus is.

Instruments included two guitars and one piano -- Mike Gray and Paul Nethercott played guitar with Tim Johnson and Rita Schellenberg taking turns on the piano. Nancy Nethercott, Angie Carter, and Tim Johnson were the lead singers.

Communion Service for TEAM Japan Annual Conference
Karuizawa, Japan August 16, 2008

Order of worship:

Song: Lord, Reign in Me (by Brenton Brown)

Song: Jesus, Hope of the Nations (by Brian Doerksen)

Scripture Tapestry: Read by Nancy Nethercott, Karyn Zaayenga and Gerald May
(This group practiced several times, they were well prepared which was an important aspect of the effectiveness of this reading)

Song: Here I am to worship (by Tim Hughes)

Recognition and prayer for several members of TEAM (this took about 40 minutes)

Song: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us (by Stuart Townend)

Prayer from “The Worship Sourcebook” (based on 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Peter 2:24)

All pray:
Awesome and compassionate God,
you have loved us with unfailing, self-giving mercy,
but we have not loved you.
You constantly call us, but we do not listen.
You ask us to love, but we walk away from neighbors in need,
wrapped in our own concerns.
We condone evil, prejudice, warfare, and greed.
God of grace, as you come to us in mercy,
we repent in spirit and in truth,
admit our sin, and gratefully receive your forgiveness
through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.

Silent Prayer

Hear the good news:
This saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
He himself bore our sins
in his body on the cross,
that we might be dead to sin,
and alive to all that is good.
I affirm to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
you are forgiven.

All: Thanks be to God.

Song: Great is Thy Faithfulness (traditional)

Steve Baughn: Communion Devotional (about ten minutes)

Communion Ceremony

Closing Song: The Doxology (traditional)

NOTE: We used a Power Point presentation that included several photos, the service was on the long side, but it did not seem too long, as everyone in attendance was invested in the TEAM related presentation/prayer for members.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Anime/Manga 101: A "What's What" and "How To" Guide from a Christian Perspective - Manga Formats

In the last entry to this series, we looked at Anime Formats, where we talked about anime movies, OVAs, and TV Series. In this entry, we are going to look at Manga Formats. The series is going to be reordered and renamed to the following:

Anime/Manga 101 - A "What's What" and "How To" Guide From a Christian Perspective
I. Anime Formats
II. Manga Formats
III. Genres
IV. Vocabulary
V. Common Themes

The previous entry to this series has been updated accordingly.

2. Manga Formats

Manga is a printed media, rather than its audiovisual counterpart, anime. Therefore, it doesn't suffer from the same time constraints. Though anime always has to be 23 minutes long and broken into chunks of 13, manga can really be as long or short as it needs to be. So, as we talk about manga formats, understand that the numbers are much more approximate than the numbers we used last time.

Manga exists in four major formats pertaining to when and how the manga is published. Most manga exists first in a magazine that can be bought at a convenience store. They are phonebook-sized, quite heavy, and very cheap (from 250-600 Yen apiece for a 300-700 page magazine). The ink that is used is low quality, and the paper is akin to newspaper. After a certain number of chapters are published, they will be collected into a tankoubon (aka. Trade Paperback, volume), which uses acid-free paper and high-quality ink. The number of chapters in each paperback depends on the publishing format. Let's take a look.

Unserialized/ Volumes
- This is the rarest type of (popular) manga. It is not serialized in a magazine at all, but is released in whole volumes. Sometimes, these have chapters, and sometimes they just read straight through. Many non-Japanese manga (specifically Original English Language [OEL] manga from Tokyopop) use this format. New Life League Japan's manga series also uses this format.

There is a subsection of this format called doujinshi, or self-published works. This is a wide category that can include fan works from pre-existing series (akin to fan fiction), original manga from popular artists that they don't want to sell in the mainstream, and original works from non-professional authors. However, be careful searching for the word "doujinshi" on the internet. Though it isn't the case in the actual world, a majority of internet doujinshi that's posted is pornographic in nature.

How to Read: in general, series that are published this way tend to be much shorter, often less than five volumes. However, these volumes tend to be spaced very far apart; often up to a year or more. Therefore, it is good to read the volumes as they come out and then re-read the previous one before you move onto the new one. For me, a manga volume takes a little over an hour to read. I often read it in multiple sittings.

Monthly Mangas - These manga, as the title suggests, are published monthly. Many monthly manga magazines exist in Japan, including Shounen Ace, Shounen Gangan, and Jump S.Q. Monthly magazines, because of their release schedule, tend to have much longer chapters than weekly manga. Oftentimes, a chapter is between 30 and 50 pages, though I have seen some that go up to 60. This also means that there are less chapters in each paperback volume. Paperbacks from monthly mangas range between 4 and 6 chapters per volume, and are generally released about 2 months after the last chapter is finished, meaning that the magazines are often 6 months ahead of the books.

Similar to monthly mangas, but much rarer, are bi-monthly mangas. These are exactly the same except for their release schedule.

How to Read:
unlike the mangas published in volumes, it is a little bit easier to remember the story from month to month. I would suggest reading these chapters as they come out, and then once every six months or once a year, re-read everything again.

Weekly Mangas - These are manga series that are published every week, with the exception of certain holiday weeks. Some of the most famous manga in history are weekly mangas, including Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Slam Dunk, Death Note, and far too many more to list. Many weekly magazines exist, but none of them come close to Weekly Shonen Jump, which sells 3 million copies a week in Japan, and is even published in America. Because of their frequent releases, weekly manga tend to be much shorter; usually 15-20 pages. This also means that in their bound form, there are more chapters per volume. Each trade paperback has about 8-12 chapters in it, and they are released much more frequently than the tankoubon for monthly mangas.

How to Read: Read these as they come out. There should be little reason to go back and re-read chapters, as the weekly releases keep your memory fresh. Even if you are only reading these in trade paperback format, the more frequent release schedule makes things much easier. Also, because of the frequent releases, weekly manga tend to be less "dense" in terms of story (with some notable exceptions).

One-Shots - One shots are manga stories that are contained within a single chapter. They appear in both weekly and monthly magazines on a regular basis, usually when one of the regular artists is taking a break. One-shot mangas sometimes operate as a standalone story, and sometimes they are simply pilot-chapters that an artist uses to sell a new idea; if it gets good ratings, they may get an offer to turn it into a series. One-shots are usually a first step into the business for young artists, though establish artists are also known to try out new ideas in this format. Some magazines even hold one-shot competitions. Unlike the other three formats, one-shots rarely make it into trade paperbacks, because of their size.

How to Read:
Read it straight through. If you like it, you may want to physically cut it out of the magazine you read it from and keep it in a file.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Looking for Great Photos of Japan?

Photos of Japan are easy to come by; good photos of Japan are a little bit rarer. I have spent time slogging through different websites out there looking for great photos of Japan, and have found some gems -- several that belong to friends of mine. So, enjoy browsing through their sites. If you use any of these pictures, please give credit to the photographer!

Andy Gray
- Japan Window (Various) : Andy has a tremendous collection of very good photos on his site -- this is a rich resource for photos of Japan AND for commentary on life in Japan. Andy and his family (he has three cute little girls, two of which are twins) lived next door to me for a couple of years. At that he was just getting his web site established but now, he has almost one thousand photos, organized in easy to navigate categories. A number of Andy's photos feature one or more of his daughters. []

Andy Gray just sent me the following wonderful photo, and wrote "these days I'm posting more at rather than at

For several more amazing people photos by Andy go HERE

Tim Crowson
- Tim Crowson Photography (Scenery and Black Gospel Concert): During the two years Tim lived in Japan he took some exceptional photos. Many of his scenery shots are stunning, and he also has an album of photos he took at a black gospel choir concert (with mostly Japanese singers!). []

Robin White - Outlook on Japan (City Shots/Everyday Life): Robin lives in Nagoya, so he has lots of opportunities to get shots of people going about their daily business. []

Here are a few more options from people that I don't know:

TREK EARTH Trek Earth (Locations): a huge collection of photos organized by location. If you are looking for shots of a particular place in Japan, this is a great place to start. []

Chuck Neel
(aka Slug) - Japan Photo Gallery by Slug (People): Lots of people shots, primarily in and around Tokyo. []

Eric Lafforgue's Flickr Page (Close Ups of People): a good site for closeups of people of all fashions (ancient and modern) and ages. You'll find everything from standard to sumo to kabuki to the street fashions of Shibuya and Harajuku. []

"ENGRISH" Site (Humor): is a classic site chronicling badly used English in advertisements, signs, and translated media. Not all of it is from Japan, but a good portion is. This site is great for a laugh. []

I hope you enjoy these pictures. Do you know of any more great sites? Do you want to put in a plug for your own photos of Japan? Leave a comment!

Thanks to Scot Eaton for his excellent editing help on this post.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Anime/Manga 101 - A "What's What" and "How To" Guide From a Christian Perspective: Anime Formats

In conjunction with the Spiritual Bridges series, I've decided to give a little introduction to the Japanese mediums of Anime and Manga. Why? Because Spiritual Bridges is not simply meant for people who are already fans of anime and manga; it's meant for people who are actively sharing Christ's Gospel with Japanese youth. So some of the people I am targeting with this series might not know how to approach these mediums. I don't know exactly how many entries there will be to the Anime/Manga 101 series, since I plan to alter it based on feedback, but here is what I am envisioning right now:

I. Anime Formats
II. Manga Formats
III. Genres
IV. Vocabulary
V. Common Themes

Let's begin.

1. Anime Formats

Anime exists in three basic formats: Movies, OVAs (Original Video Animations), and Television Shows. Each of these formats is paced differently and needs to be approached differently, just as you would read a short story and a novel in different ways.

Movies - These are the most easily accessible format for anime newcomers. Movies sometimes are released in Japanese theaters, and they always come to DVD. These movies have similar pacing to Western movies; all of the characters and plot points are introduced, developed, and resolved within one to two and a half hours. There are many famous anime movies in existence. Studio Ghibli is the most famous anime movie producer by far, having given us films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea. Other famous anime films include Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, Beyond the Clouds - The Promised Place, Evangelion 1.0 - You Are (not) Alone, and most recently, Paprika and Tekonkinkreet.

Some anime movies are not as they seem though. Oftentimes, a movie is tied to a television show. Sometimes the movie is a prequel or sequel, sometimes the movie is a gaiden (side story that takes place during the timeframe of the original), and sometimes the movie is an abridged retelling of the show. For the prequels, sequels, and gaidens, you will probably not understand the movie without seeing the original work first. The abridged retellings, though rare, are a good way to preview a series.

How to Watch: Watch anime movies in one sitting. Pay special attention to any flashbacks that are shown, as they almost always are directly related to the conclusion.

OVAs (Original Video Animations) - sometimes called OAVs (Original Animated Videos). These are short series of an undefined number of episodes that are meant to tell a story. However, rather than a movie, which tells the story at the same time, the OVAs are released incrementaly. They often include higher production values than television anime, and they are often much shorter. These are also fairly accessible, since the episode format allows you to take the story in small sections. Recently, there have been some variant and hybrid formats that would fall under the category of OVA. The first is the ONA, or Original Net Animation, which is a series of short episodes streamed online. The second is is a hybrid between the movie format and the OVA format where a series of movies are released to theaters, each following the previous one. Kara no Kyoukai is one example of this. It is a series of 7 hour-long movies that is currently about halfway finished in the Japanese cinemas.

I also want to give a special note here. Oftentimes, OVAs include material that is inappropriate for television, including gratuitous violence and sex. This is not true for all OVAs, as it is simply a format, not a genre, but do be careful when renting OVAs, as it is the preferred format for "adult" series.

And, as before, OVAs are sometimes a prequel or a sequel to a television series. This isn't true for most OVAs, but there are rare exceptions. You should be able to tell these from the back of the box.

How to Watch: It depends on the OVA. If it is a 3-6 episode standalone story, I'd suggest watching one episode a day for 3-6 days. If it is only three episodes, you may even want to watch it all at once. If you are watching the OVA as it is currently being published, your timeframe will obviously be determined by the release schedule.

Television Shows - this comprises the main "meat" of the anime industry. Of the four Spritual Bridges posts that have been done so far, three are from television shows. Anime shows are not like sitcoms or American cartoons, where each episode is separate and can be viewed in any order. Instead, anime shows follow a continuous story from their first episode to their last. When the story finishes, so does the anime (unless a sequel is made). There are benefits and disadvantages to this. The main disadvantage is that anime shows MUST be viewed in order; skipping an episode or two will likely make the story incomprehensible. It would be the same as skipping a chapter or two in a novel. As a compensation, many anime will have recap episodes where a character will review all of the recent events and give their personal interpretation of them. This can help greatly if you happen to miss an episode.

Despite the disadvantages, this format gives a lot of benefits. The reason anime is so popular and powerful is that it becomes like a visual book, with each episode serving as a chapter. Rather than movies, where everything is resolved rather quickly, you may see a character slowly develop in a specific area over the course of ten or twelve episodes. This allows you to really get into their heads and feel each event with them. This relaxed pace makes it so that character development rarely feels rushed. It also allows the directors to throw in small details that create a fleshed-out world.

Television shows, which are aired weekly for their original broadcasts, vary greatly in their length, but there is usually a mathematical format that they follow. Everything is broken down into seasons and half-seasons. A full season is somewhere between 24 and 26 episodes. This is half a year, and allows for one or two breaks so that the network can be flexible with the schedule. Some anime comprise only a half season with 12-13 episodes. Still others go for two seasons, which is 48-52 episodes. Usually, the half-season and season markers (ie - Episode 13, 26, 39) are special episodes with a climax. These episodes also have higher production values, much like a "Season Finale" in the West. Also, if there are any recap episodes, they are likely to occur in the episode after the half-season or season finale (ie - Episode 14 or 27). It's helpful to keep this in mind in case you miss an episode or two. Then, when the final episode rolls around, you know that the storyline is finished. In contrast to American shows, where the show is only really "finished" if it is cancelled, anime usually has it's endpoint in mind from the very beginning of the production.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. I like to call these exceptions "Interminable Anime", or anime which seem like they will never end. Famous examples of this include Pokémon, Detective Conan (aka. Case Closed), Dragonball, One Piece, Bleach, Inuyasha, and Naruto. For example, at the time that I am writing this, Naruto has 287 episodes, 4 OVAs, and 5 movies. The story isn't anywhere close to being finished yet. (Special Note: I will probably never cover an Interminable Anime in Spiritual Bridges. I just don't like dealing with them)

That being said, many great anime exist in Television Show format. DVDs usually include 2-4 episodes, though in America, boxsets are becoming increasingly popular.

How to Watch: It really depends on the show, whether you are watching it as it is aired or whether you are watching it on DVD, and how long the show is. If you are watching it as it airs, then you will obviously watch one episode every week. If you are watching it on DVD, approach it like you would approach a book. Very few people that I know read a book through in one sitting, or even in a few dedicated sittings. They usually take a chapter at a time and slowly work through the book until they are at the end. Treat anime the same way. Watch an episode (23 minutes long) and then go about the rest of your day. Over time, you'll eventually get to the end. If it helps, think of half-seasons like novels in a series. Watch 13 episodes, move on to something else for a while, and then come back. Unless your viewings are so far apart that you can't remember the previous episode, the more time you spend with an anime, the more you'll grow to appreciate it.

[With Interminable Anime, you really have to watch it as it comes out. Otherwise, your backlog becomes too large.]

That's all for today. In our next episode we'll look at genres (update: this will be part 3). I'll help you to understand why one show has pink cat-dogs and the next has 20-meter-tall robots hacking at each other with swords.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"The Luminous Sky" Japan Tour

The band has traveling extensively through Europe, Central America, Asia, New Zealand, Australia and the USA, playing at churches, youth events, high schools, conferences, music festivals, cafes, bars and more. The bands original songs carry relevant messages for this generation with the use of impacting visual media behind each song. Natalie, the lead singer, is an accomplished singer, songwriter, speaker, author and model. They are passionate about God and giving him opportunity to impact this generation internationally and would love to partner with you in your vision for your city.

Dates: 17 September - 13 October 2008
Location: Tokyo (and surrounding areas)
Band Press Kit Link:
Promotion Clip:

Please contact me about possible bookings (for the Japan Tour) as soon as possible!

Kind Regards, Beck Waye (manager)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Spiritual Bridges in Anime - Eureka seveN

Good day to you all. After a long hiatus, Spiritual Bridges is back in full force. We were pleased to have Robin White’s excellent post on “Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea” last month, and we look forward to including more guest writers in the future. Please let me begin by writing a note about the name of this series. The series name is “Spiritual Bridges,” not “Spiritual Bridges in Anime.” So far, we have covered only anime shows, but future projects may cover manga, light novels, and even live-action movies. I was also recently asked why I didn’t name it “Cultural Bridges.” The answer is that I am not trying to bridge any cultures. I could care less about bridging Japanese culture with Western culture. There has been far too much of that already, which is one of the reasons why people are confusing the message of Christianity with elements of Western culture. For example, look at how Christianity is portrayed in anime. Most of the examples I can think of are either from the vampire genre or include demon-hunting catholic priests/nuns. This is what results when spiritual bridges are confused with cultural bridges. So bridging cultures is pretty low on my list of things to do. Rather, I seek to highlight elements that already exist in Japanese culture to bridge the gap between them and God. A lot of Western anime fans will find things in this series that apply to them, and that’s great. However, that is a secondary goal, not the main one. My main goal is to spark dialogue between Japanese youth and Christ’s ambassadors.

I have been very pleased at the number of positive responses this series has been getting. A little while ago, Paul informed me that we were linked on the Adult Swim forums for the show Death Note. [note: Adult Swim is the late-night block of time on the American Cartoon Network where Death Note is currently airing.] Praise God!

Today, we will be looking at another anime that recently aired on Adult Swim (the original run was in 2007). I first saw this series when I lived in Korea. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but when I read that it was scripted by Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain) and animated by BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, RahXephon, Escaflowne), I decided that I would at least give it a shot. Well, in the end, I watched all 50 episodes in a matter of two weeks, and I currently list this anime as my favorite anime of all time. So, please excuse me if my love for this series gushes forth.


Psalms of Planets: Eureka seveN (交響詩篇 エウレカセブ)

Series Composition and Direction: Dai Sato (佐藤大) and Tomoki Kyoda ()

Animation Company: BONES

English Licensor: Bandai Entertainment

So, what is Eureka seveN? It’s a 50-episode anime series in the Mecha genre. However, it has multiple spinoff projects, including a 6-volume manga series that re-tells the story in a different way, two Playstation 2 video games that operate as a prequel story (and have two manga volumes themselves), and a movie which was recently announced in the Japanese Newtype Magazine. It has also won 8 awards at some fairly prestigious conventions.

Though the name of the story is taken from the female heroine Eureka (pronounced e-u-re-ka, not yu-ri-ka), the main character is 14-year-old Renton Thurston. When he was a young boy, his father sacrificed himself to save the world, and his sister, who was convinced that their father was still alive, disappeared while looking for him. So Renton has grown up with his grandfather, while everyone expects him to act the hero, just like his father. That’s not his dream though. His dream is to join a professional sports group known as Gekko State and become a famous lifter. [Lifting being an offshoot of surfing where the rider reflects off of concentrations of “transparent light particles” in the air. As a special note, there are no oceans on this world.] Then, in the middle of the night, Eureka literally crashes into his house. She has been sent from Gekko State to have Renton’s grandfather repair her giant mecha (LFOs in this series), known as the Nirvash typeZERO. The machine is missing a vital component, and has ceased responding to her. She and Gekko State think that the missing part is a special piece that Renton’s father created; however, they soon discover that the missing part is actually Renton himself. So Renton’s dream comes true, and he is officially invited to join Gekko State.

What follows is a classic coming-of-age story. Renton quickly learns that his dream of joining Gekko State is a mixed blessing at best, as he spends the first part of the series as an errand/shop boy aboard the ship. In this time, he also learns that people are not always as they appear, and he begins to see the flawed people around him in an adult manner; he sees all of their flaws, but learns to love them for who they are. In return, people discover that Renton has a very special ability: He can make people smile, and he can disarm even the grouchiest and bitter people he comes across. He even manages to break open the shell of Eureka’s emotions, which she has never been taught how to express.

In one very powerful scene in the first half of the series, Renton learns from Eureka that she was trained as a child soldier, and that she has killed many people. Renton, having no idea what to do, simply accepts her for who she is and doesn’t hold her past against her. This freedom allows Eureka to weep for what is presumably the first time in her life, and emotional healing begins in her life. With this emotional healing comes the ability to think for herself and make her own decisions. This becomes our first unlooked for spiritual bridge: the power of confession for healing. Confession is not a very popular subject in Protestant Christianity, as it brings to mind the very penance and indulgence system that Protestants tried so hard to break away from. However, confession is a very Biblical principle, and it almost always leads to healing.

Now, let’s look at Renton’s ability a little bit more. Renton’s ability stems from what I consider the main spiritual bridge of this series: unconditional love. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he talks extensively about love. He says the following: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Never have I seen this so clearly portrayed in any modern medium. Renton loves and forgives everyone around him, but no one more than Eureka. This series does what I have never seen an anime series do before: partway through the series, the beautiful female lead is injured very badly, and she becomes rather ugly. She has scars all over her face, her eyebrows have fallen out, and her hair has been lost. Throughout all of this, Renton continues to love her. Even after he learns that she isn’t completely human (more on that later), it doesn’t change the way he looks at her. His love extends even to his enemies, as later in the series he devises a way to fight his enemies and disarm them without harming them. Because of all of this, Renton provides a very unique role model in the world of anime. Though he makes mistakes while learning to love unconditionally, he learns from them and grows.

Let me give one more note about the love portrayed in this series. It is distinctly split into two parts. In the first half of the series, Renton and Eureka are in the process of falling in love and going through all of the growing pains associated with that. However, when the credits roll for episode 26, that thread of the story is resolved; Renton and Eureka are together. Happily ever after, right? Not quite. The second half of the series depicts how they learn to live with each other; how they argue and reconcile; how they learn to think and live as one. As they do so, they slowly uncover a way to save the world, but it requires both of them to give up their pride and themselves. It is a beautiful depiction of some of the elements that I believe Godly relationships are built upon.

There are many, many more spiritual bridges in this anime, but I’m only going to mention one more: the character of Eureka. As I mentioned before, Eureka is not entirely human. On the planet where this takes place, there are two main forms of sentient life: humans and Coralians—a kind of living coral. The Coralians have a hive mentality, where one thought is shared amongst them all, essentially making Coralians one personality. Humans are trying to destroy the Coralians, but the Coralians are simply trying to understand the humans and form a relationship with them. As a result, they fashion a Coralian with a human body, Eureka, and give her a distinct personality. She is to learn all that she can about the humans and then rejoin the Coralian entity. She is likened to a “blank page” that humans can write anything that they want on. Depending on what is written on her “page”, the Coralians will either sacrifice themselves to support human life, or they will destroy the humans to save themselves. Though it is not a perfect bridge by any means, this can lead the way into a discussion about Christ from the book of Hebrews, where He is presented as High Priest and Mediator, being our perfect advocate before God because He understands everything that we have gone through. Though Eureka is not perfect, she represents the hope associated with incarnation, and it is powerful.

As I said, there is a lot more to cover. This series also touches on racism, the importance of father figures, facing problems instead of running away from them, disciplining in love, and much more. It is not my favorite anime for no reason. How can you get ahold of it? In Japan, it should be available in pretty much every rental store in the country. In America, it stands a high chance of being in rental stores, though Netflix is always sure to have it. Unfortunately, no box sets have become available yet, so the price for purchasing it is still really high. Still, I doubt you will be disappointed.

Here is a trailer from the series, made by a fan.