I have grown to like Shinjuku. It is one of 23 wards in Tokyo. However, it does not seem befitting to describe it as a ward when on its own Shinjuku carries the presence, energy and features of a big city. If Shinjuku is just one of the many wards, then Tokyo must be massive! My fondness of Shinjuku has been derived from a concoction of recent memories and reflections. So, here are a few that come to mind…
Jellies and Doughnuts
In our work trips, my colleagues and I usually reside at Citadines (if it isn’t fully booked), a small hotel, whose rates are reasonable in expensive Tokyo and is located in a quieter part of Shinjuku. And for those who take pride with Singapore brands, Citadines is owned by a company from the little red dot. The hotel has the availability of a convenience store adjacent to it. This is not uncommon since convenience stores like Seven-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson are into the tens of thousands across the land of the rising sun. They are a traveler’s constant companions. It is almost a ritual for me to visit this next door store in the evening to buy at least one cup of fruit jelly since consuming these gelatins is my way to end the day. These jelly cups are not only embedded with generous amount of fruit, they are refreshingly delicious without emitting the taste of preserved fruits.
Other must-haves are Freshness Burgers and Krispy Kreme Donuts. Although the latter does not originate from Japan, some have argued that the best Krispy donuts are found here. These doughnuts have the power to stir uncontainable cravings and though I hear that they will be in Singapore soon, I think the ones from the Shinjuku outlet for ingredient reasons will still be more savoringly appreciated. Chui is equally in love with these doughnuts but she is able to maintain her gastro-composure. She mocks at me for this one time when I slapped a doughnut on the floor because I did not have the patience to wait until we were back at the hotel, which apparently was only a short distance away. This took place within a few steps of gleefully leaving the Krispy Kreme store when I felt the intense need to eat now and in my greed to manoeuvre from bag to mouth, I dropped my precious lump of dough.
(No, I am not talking about the beloved founding father of Singapore, the one and only LKY!)
In helping with the emergence of a missional network in Tokyo, I got to meet an ex-colleague of a present colleague. Joanne An had introduced LKY to us, which was how she and her previous co-workers would address him, an acronym from romanizing his Chinese names. I can’t remember his full name but it would be impossible for a Singaporean to forget those initials. By the way, Joanne and her husband, Ming Tian, are leading a church in happening Shimokitazawa, and she blogs at ikenouerhythm.jp.
While on our way to visit his apartment in a newly developed area of Shinjuku, LKY told Ming Tian and I that Shinjuku is built on solid rock. He described with an emphasis. Seismically speaking, he was proclaiming that Shinjuku was the safest and stablest place in Tokyo. LKY had careered in Tokyo for something like 15 years, prospered, and invested in properties and who knows what. But it came to our understanding that he was returning to Singapore for good. He was leaving Shinjuku, the rock of Tokyo. Besides the concern of his mum’s health, the major factor troubling him was the uncertainly of Japan’s moving geography. LKY was haunted by both the past and future, the unpredictability of last year’s three-pronged disaster and the predictability of a coming big one hitting the Japanese capital. I wasn’t too sure how factual was LKY’s seismic information about Shinjuku but assuming it was true, it didn’t provide sufficient confidence for him to stay with the rock.
Jesus Christ parabolized about building our lives on the rock. He was speaking about the essentiality for mortals to build on foundation that could withstand the most unforgiving weather. That is, allowing his teachings to revolutionize our perspective and in so doing, transform the way we practice life. Amidst shakes and shifts, Jesus promises stability when we do life the way he taught and lived. This isn’t about investing in religion and receiving a guaranteed ROI that encapsulates provision, protection and presence in heaven. Investments are transactions. They are not experiences. Building on the rock is about experiencing the teachings of Christ as a way of life. Experiences are transformational. They transformed and not transact our lives. It is about being rock solid and not just buying rock status.
City on Our Knees
Shinjuku is known for its skyscrapers, shopping and sleaze. Talking about sleaze, my colleagues and I were once approached and offered ‘social’ services. We simply smiled and politely gestured our decline, and continued walking. We were then leading a team of volunteers exploring new missional journeys for our local church. Unlike other POR (Peacemakers on the Road) trips, this visit during the summer of 2010 did not possess much of an itinerary. We did lots of walking, at least 10km each day, exegeting the city and capturing the cultural vibes of people and places. We would gather in the morning to reflect on our journey, listening to the observations and insights of fellow peacemakers. We were participating in the preparatory stage of creating a community in Japan but other than knowing this purpose, we had many unanswered questions and missing puzzles. Which city? Who’s going? How with immigration? What approach?
Earlier in that same year, my friend Simon Chee, had given me an album by TobyMac and the track, City on Our Knees, stood out eminently for Chui and myself. The lyrics were like prophetic resonance, attesting and anticipating of what God had birthed in our hearts. Each time the track was played, our eyes would tear uncontrollably. It seemed that the song was cheering us on to “step across the line” and “sail across the sea” and to “start…now” and “start…here”. Prophetic direction always entail participative devotion. We continued to devote to the vision by not ceasing in participation, and despite the culmination of challenges, God’s Spirit intervened and led us to put the pieces together. On 1 May 2012, a missional network emerged: evangeltokyo.net.
The essence of TobyMac’s song is about the converging collision of two worlds, the worlds of “the sinners and the saints” merging into “a city with one king, a city on our knees”. This looks pretty much like Philippians 2 where “every knee should bow” to the one king. But not only in Philippians, these lyrics echo many of such depictions chronicled across the Bible. TobyMac had disclosed the song’s story to Christianity Today,
“‘City on Our Knees’ is really about a moment. A moment that we all come together to a place where there’s no judgment, but really love. And we choose to recognize one God together. And it’s really a reminder that that moment could be right now, tonight. And in that moment judgment falls by the wayside, we choose to step across the line, whatever side we’re on. Love fills in the cracks and makes up the difference.”
Shinjuku with all its presence, energy and features will one day proclaim the one king in that one city where “love will fall to the earth like a crashing wave”. But for today and tonight, and for now, I’m expecting and engaging to experience those City on Our Knees moments in cities across the earth, including Shinjuku.