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Korean Salesian in Tokyo - warm invitation for Japan mission

By Fr. Andrew Chang Seongpil, SDB
from the Salesian Bulletin KOR n. 146 – September 2017

Tokyo, Japan, 1 September 2017 -- One day, deeply touched by God’s call one young Salesian priest answered to this call to leave for near and in the same time far way mission land. Like other 3 young Salesian priests from Timor Leste and Vietnam, Fr. Andrew is committed since 2016 in Japan with a mutual agreement between the provinces.

Good morning in Tokyo

The alarm bell ring woke me up. Although I was tired after late night language study hours I’m rushing for the morning Eucharist. Although my Japanese language is not yet very good, it’s enough for ordinary daily life conversation. In Korea I used to listen to our senior missionaries that the language and culture abroad are the two most difficult challenges. Only now I can understand 100% what does it mean – how difficult it was for them!

After the Eucharist I’m leaving at 7:40 for the language school. The subway in Tokyo is double crowded that the one in Seoul. On the way large crowds of people are coming in and until Shinjuku (city center) where is the last station, there is relief! However in this busy crowds you would never feel that somebody is pushing or making difficult for the others. This is one of the Japanese characteristics. In this city for past 500 years all citizens are accustomed to move carefully. Then I enter my language school near Shinjuku walking through the most modern city streets.

Until mastering well the Japanese language

I have reached last February 2016 Chofu community (Tokyo). Already through the regular Quinquennium meeting of Japan – Korean priests I reflected about a great need of Salesians in Japan especially after a talk of the Japan vice-provincial I start to discern about a possible missionary commitment. After return to Korea I have approached carefully my provincial and asked him to send me to Japan. Immediately the generous permission was granted!

However after this decision started my worries. Although Japan is our neighbor country the language, climate and culture is different – could I adapt easily to this environment? From Fr. Mario Yamanouchi (provincial of Japan) I got very specific indications how to prepare myself. I start to prepare my visa, start the Japanese language study in Seoul and read many books in order to understand Japan. However after my arrival in Tokyo I woke up as a completely deaf person.

Japanese Salesians knowing English better than me, didn’t use English in the daily conversations. Only that I understand a strong advice of Fr. Provincial to study Japanese before my coming in Korea! However I was able to progress in the Japanese conversation ability rather fast. The sentence structure is identical, there are many similar idiomatic expressions so I was able to ‘master’ some kind of Japanese conversation rather fast. After one year and half daily conversations are much more easy! Since the Chinese letters (kan-ji, han-ja) are not mastered so easily still my reading speed of books is slow and Japanese books are still looking like ‘Braile books’ for the blind! For me still to master the language is the first task, I’m going to the language institute five times a week!

Little missionary invitations

Due to my limits of language, school timetable at the moment I’m not able to commit for more ministries. However as a Salesian Priest I’m able to celebrate the Eucharist every month more than 20 times in Japanese (2nd Eucharistic prayer almost learnt by heart!) To prepare my short homily in Japanese still requires some time. Twice a month I travel by subway to Mikawashima (Salesian) parish to celebrate the Eucharist for the Korean Catholics. After one full day of Oratory, confession, interaction I feel really tired. In our Chofu parish community there is a vibrant Sunday school, after the Jesuit parish of St. Ignatius (Yotsuya, city center) the second largest Sunday school in Tokyo. For our parish youth I’m still a ‘fellow foreigner’ and some Korean-Japanese parishioners are helping me with the Korean language studies. Beside the ordinary commitment I’m invited 3-4 times a year to Sendai (North Japan) by the small Korean Catholic community and also here and there I’m accompanying young adult Catholic groups.

However a missionary

Only few months after arrival to Japan I realized through the Korean provincial circular that I’m here as a ‘temporary missionary’. Usually the missio ad gentes is a life-long commitment. However our Rector Major has encouraged this 3-5 years missionary commitment. But the ‘short term’ missionary does not sound pretty well. Also in our home province there are assignments or obedience given for 3-6 year period. Whatever, by obedience or by personal initiative, I was sent and live here as a missionary and now I contribute to the evangelization here.

And also as the missionary destination, Japan is a frontline mission in need of many life-long or temporary commitment missionaries. In the province of Japan every year the number of aspirants is dropping down and also this year are sent by the Rector Major two new missionary ad gentes to Tokyo. Also the average age of the Salesians here is growing up, during last year nine Salesian Priest and Brothers passed away and number of confreres is decreasing. For this reason we need a special attention from the other EAO (East Asia – Oceania) provinces.

Especially Pope Francis during his 2014 visit to Korea requested a special interest and generous contribution to the mission in other East Asian countries. Korea is the closest neighbor to Japan and has many cultural and other heritage in common in spite of the painful historical experience. Since the missionary love of Korean Catholics is reaching as far as Africa, there is no obstacle to reach out to the faithful and youth in the closest neighbor country of Japan.

Related news:


Korean catholic community of Sendai


In the Yokohama diocesan parish Korean missionary in Japan Fr. Lee and parish youth


With the Japanese language course students


Chofu community hard working - house cleaning confreres


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