pictured:A Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony
Tomoko is married to Nick and together, with their children Grace and Philip, they run Japanese Christian Fellowship (JCF) where they minister to a faithful community of Japanese believers. Yet it wasn’t until after they had married and moved to Australia, that Tomoko and Nick came to know Jesus themselves. Here, Tomoko shares her story and gives a glimpse into the heart she has for Japanese people and their culture.
Interview:Aimee Cowan Read:5-10mins
pictured:A Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony
You didn’t grow up in a Christian family, how did you come to know Jesus?
About 25 years ago, on 17 Jan 1995, I had big earthquake in my hometown in Japan. That night, I shouted to the Lord and even though I was a Buddhist, said to Him, ‘If you really are God, please help me’. My house was shaking, and I asked Him, if He was real, please would He keep me safe in the earthquake but also send me a good man to marry because I hadn’t found anyone yet!
Incredibly, I had no injuries and was so thankful to God for keeping me safe and I automatically repented for worshipping Buddha. I had been chanting every day at 6am and following the Buddhist practices, but I had been questioning why our family hadn’t been experiencing any blessings, despite our faithfulness. It was only during the earthquake that I turned to God instead, and He answered me and showed His mighty power!
My parents had been planning for me to marry a wealthy man in an arranged marriage, but I asked God to provide me the right man for a pure marriage instead of one based on money. God gave me such a peace after the earthquake, even though I had to move eight times during evacuation. I had a dream, where Jesus came to me and had a conversation with me by a stream where He gave me His peace. Ever since then, it’s as if Jesus has rebuilt me both in the physical sense with my house and belongings and in a spiritual sense with my faith.
How did you come to meet your husband, Nick?
I met Nick when I was 19, seven years before the earthquake. We were just friends – I didn’t like him! When the earthquake happened, Nick was studying his PhD in LA and began to wonder if I had survived. He apparently made a decision that if he could find me, he would marry me! Completely unaware of this, I was looking at the ground that had been destroyed and noticed my red phone out of a hole in the ground. I reached down through the asphalt and when I found it was still working, rang him to tell him I was alive and ok and asked him to tell other friends. He sent his brother to come and help me because he couldn’t come himself from America. His brother walked ten hours from his hometown to come and find me. Nick had told him that I always had animal print bags, so to look for that. On that particular day, I was sitting down thinking that I needed help and I could feel something was different. When I looked up, Nick’s brother was there to help me!
We were only together for three months before we got married, because not long after Nick proposed, my father became very ill with cancer. The doctors told us that my dad only had a month to live, so we got married three days after he asked me when he had come over on a trip from the USA to see my dad. There were only two churches open after the earthquake, so we went on the Friday to check, and they said they had a vacancy on the Monday to marry – which we took! Nick was a student, and we had no money, but I’m so thankful we got married when we did because exactly one month later, my father passed away.
We then stayed in Japan for the mourning period and lived with Nick’s parents. We had wanted to live in America, but God had other plans. Nick applied to study medicine and there were options to go to Canada, US or Australia. We were accepted to Australia and moved to Sydney! We lived there for three and a half years while he finished his degree and that’s when I really became a Christian.
How did you come to know Jesus?
There was such a spiritual battle when I became a Christian. My parents were against it, and it was two years before I was able to physically go to a church after I made that commitment during the earthquake.
When Grace was two, my friends invited me to a Playgroup at Macquarie Baptist Church. It was just before Easter, and while I was playing in the sandpit at Playgroup with Grace, I asked the lady next to me to explain the concept of Easter. It turns out she was a pastor at the church and has since become my best friend! She invited me to come to Christianity Explained the following week. Nick was not keen for me to go, until he realised it might be good for me to practice English!
I ended up going and she gave me a Japanese Bibles to read and began to explain the differences between Japanese views on God and what Christians believed. When she explained the concept of the trinity to me, it made so much sense and I knew I believed it to be true. I instantly received the Holy Spirit and God touched me.
The very next day, I had a bus accident with Grace and was badly injured. For two weeks I could not walk as a result and then Nick lost his degree. I was reading the Bible that she had given me and when I picked it up, read about how Jesus could heal, that He is truth, and without Him, we cannot see God. I knew that I had been searching for the truth for many years, and my tears started to come as I knew I needed to forgive the bus driver for the pain he had caused me.
As your beliefs changed, how did your perspective change about the Japanese heritage you had grown up with?
I had really grown up with a sense of shame in my culture, but God was reading my heart and prompting me to renew my mind compared to what I had learnt in my background. We were always taught to believe what people in authority said (my principal, the government, my father etc) but I really began to see, as I read my Bible, that God is love and how different what He had to say was from what I knew. I couldn’t believe God wanted to give me unlimited love all the time, not just when I had done something right!
How differently do you look at cultural traditions, like tea ceremonies, now that you know God?
After I came to know Jesus, I really felt God calling me to come back to my culture and forgive it for so many things. God showed me that there is an interesting Christian element behind Japanese tea ceremonies, because the wife of one of the great tea Grand Masters said to him. She said that the Bible talked about the difference between a wide and narrow gate and suggested to her husband that the tearoom needed to have a narrow entry, so that Samurai warriors couldn’t physically bring their swords into the tearoom. The Samurai were always fighting each other, and this narrow door would help them to come as equals into a holy place when they participated in a tea ceremony.
When I’m conducting a tea ceremony now, I make sure decorations like the Japanese calligraphy on the walls are prophetically declaring God’s truths. I learnt that some 500 years ago, there were actually Christian Grand Masters who were persecuted for bringing Christian elements into the tearoom. God encouraged me to keep going and not be afraid, because He would be with me. I just ask the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and discernment into who is in the room at the time. It’s such a small space to be in, that you can literally feel a person breathing. Many people have commented that when they’re in there with me, they can feel God’s presence and something different about the space. They ask to drink my tea, which considering I’m not as high up in the ranking as a Grand Master, is a miracle!
What helps you connect with God each day?
When I wake up each morning, I ask God straight away how much He loves me. I start by praying and putting on worship music, which is how my kids know I’ve woken up because they hear me singing! I really enjoy walking, so I listen to worship and pray while I do that too.
As a family, you are very involved in JCF. What motivates you to share with Japanese people with such passion?
Sharing about Jesus with them isn’t always easy, but they often come to realise that I believe in God when they sense His presence with me. They often challenge me about my beliefs, and they end up seeing how firm my foundation is in Him. I always offer to pray for them when I see them hurting or disappointed.
Thankfully, my brother became a Christian about 17 years ago when he came to stay with us in Australia. He had just been through a divorce and was staying with us while Philip was young. We were hosting a Japanese Christian Fellowship (JCF) meeting in our house, and he started asking what it was all about. He was so moved by the group that he accepted Jesus into his life during his stay. I had also been trying to witness to my mum for several years with no success. But when she saw the amazing change in my brother, she said, “Holy moly!” and she became a Christian too!
Now that you have raised both of your children, Grace and Philip, to know God, what would your greatest hope be for their future?
I’m so thankful to God for teaching me how to pray, because that’s the best thing I can do for them. I love to pray and ask God to help them to follow Him.
Jesus is the best brother I could ever have, and He is my salvation. He is with me every day, renewing my mind and soul and I’m so thankful to Him. My pray is that my children would feel the same way.
To watch a short video version of this interview, click here.