When I got to the school on Monday at about 12:30 p.m., the thermostat on the heater registered a frigid 4 degrees. Celcius, that is. Just barely above freezing. The first thing I did when I got in the door was turn on the two kerosene-powered heaters that warm the room during the winter months. I didn't even take off my gloves or my coat until about 20 minutes later when things had warmed up slightly.
One of the little-known idosyncrecies of Japan is that very few homes and apartment buildings have central heat and air. They are not well insulated, either. Which means that we swelter in the summer and get frostbite in the winter. I don't know -- in a country that has about a three-year jump on America as far as technology is concerned, this seems a little strange to me. But then again, this is also a country where it is common to see elementary school boys walking back and forth to school in shorts year-round, and where high school girls continue to hike their skirts up well past their knees, even in the dead of winter. From a very young age, Japanese children are taught to "gambare," a Japanese word which basically means, "Suck it up, you pansy!" They learn early on not to complain about such minor things as extreme heat and cold -- it is a sign of weakness. As adults, this translates into a mentality which places less value on one's "personal physical comfort."
It strikes me that we Americans could stand to learn a lesson or two from the Japanese. Now, I am not advocating bare-legged winter walks to school or getting rid of central heating. I love central heating. It's great to come home to a warm house, to not have to bother with refilling the kerosene heater every 2-3 days (one of Rusty's LEAST favorite chores), to not have to smell those nasty fumes when it kicks on and off. What I AM suggesting is that many of us could stand to de-emphasize the importance of being comfortable. When we determine, "I could never do [insert task here]," because it takes us too far out of our comfort-zone, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, it is my belief that we have set up an idol to "comfort" and begun to worship it.
In some small way, I feel that my unpleasant experiences with Japanese winters have helped me learn an important truth: God calls us to be faithful, not comfortable.