This semester, my CIP experience was a little rough, so even though this was not officially my CIP, I would like to write about my experience attending mass at the local parish, Nagaoka Catholic Church. Almost every week since I moved into my host family’s house, I would attend mass in Japanese from 11 AM-12 PM, the only mass offered on Sundays. One of the nice things about being Catholic is that the general structure and content of the mass will be the same no matter what country, or what language, it is being given in. However, every culture brings its own nuances and traditions, so I was very fortunate this semester to observe several uniquely Japanese Catholic practices over the course of these past few months.
For example, there is a part of the mass where the priest lifts up the Sacramental bread. In America during this part, one usually kneels, or in the absence of kneelers, such as in this church, one stands and inclines their head. However, in Japan, we did a deep bow towards the altar for a few seconds instead. As we all know, the degree of a bow establishes hierarchy and demonstrates respect. The particular bow used in this part of the mass hovered between a 普通礼、a polite bow, and a 最敬礼、a deeply reverent bow. Outside of religious environments, a saikeirei bow is generally only used with the emperor or when being deeply apologetic, while a futsuurei is much more commonly used in every day life with superiors. I found it interesting to notice how deeply people bowed during this part, though I generally opted for the saikeirei myself.
Another interesting tradition took place around two weeks ago, since November is Shichi-Go-San month. A young mother brought her sons to the mass to be blessed; both boys looked around seven (not a traditional boy’s year). Instead of traditional kimonos, they wore collared white shirts and loose black slacks. The priest read a special prayer for them and sprinkled them with Holy Water. I was very surprised that there was also a version of 7/5/3 celebrated in Japanese Catholicism, since I had thought it to be a traditional Shinto activity. However, as anyone who has been to a shrine this month can see, it is a tradition widely celebrated in Japan. Since the purpose of 7/5/3 is to thank God for the health and safety of the child, the tradition can obviously be adapted rather easily to different religious environments.
Lastly, I would like to talk about some of the language used between parishioners. In October, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a church outing to the Kyoto Zoo. The priest offered to drive me and two older parishioners to the Zoo. While the elderly ladies always spoke to me, and between themselves, in casual form, they would switch suddenly to desu/masu form when talking to the priest, or when talking about the priest. Even though the priest was younger than them, because of his status as a priest, they spoke more politely to him. However, the priest would generally reply in regular, male, plain form, like 「知らね」. Using polite language with priests is the way it is back home as well, but usually a priest will also use polite language in reply, not casual. It was a little jarring to see how abruptly they could switch between speaking styles, so I was able to realize just how important it is to be able to distinguish between different social situations and how important it is to use desu/masu form or keigo with people of a higher social status.
Overall, as both a practicing Catholic and as a religion major, I was very fortunate to be able to find such a warm and welcoming Catholic community that allowed me to observe and participate in their Japanese Catholic traditions.