Konnichiwa! Reflecting from Japan

 By Sister Jeannie Masterson

When I entered the convent 55 years ago at the age of 18, I assumed that I would teach elementary school in Cincinnati all my life. The furthest thing from my mind was that I would travel to Japan! Yet, in the past 9 years as a part of the Congregation Leadership Team (CLT), I have been to Japan 17 times – in fact, I’m in Japan as you read this! The delights are many, from coming to know our Japanese sisters to being introduced to an entirely different culture.


Our sisters have always gone where they are needed,
and in 1950, they went to Kyoto!

When in Japan, I am constantly challenged to open my mind and my heart to another way of thinking, speaking, living. I’ve learned how instinctively I assume that “my way” is the ONLY way, and how often I am dead wrong about that. I am by nature direct in my communication; Japanese are circular. I expect immediate decisions; Japanese need to mull thoughts over time. I think in terms of what I want; Japanese hardly have vocabulary for “I” as they focus on “we”. I have food preferences because of familiarity, for which there are no comparable options in the Japanese cuisine. I expect traffic delays, whether on the highway or at the airport; Japanese are extremely punctual and reliable – as a matter of fact, should a taxi not be at least 5 minutes early, the passenger will receive a phoned apology and a new arrival time!


I’m not sure where I was heading in this picture,
but I know I got there on time!

While in Japan, I find myself listening differently now than I did on my first visit: what’s beneath the words? What are the words for which our meanings are totally different without our realizing it? Where are the hidden assumptions, on both sides – those beliefs that are so ingrained that neither of us ever thinks to say out loud? How do I comprehend and appreciate those assumptions that refuse clear translation, when I’m never there for more than ten days?


We may have words with different meanings,
but we all agree that this building is beautiful!

The central value of the Congregation of St. Joseph is unity – Jesus prayed “that all may be one”. These exposures to Japanese culture invite me to pray more deeply to understand what “unity” means: surely it doesn’t mean blending so that neither culture is maintained. It brings me to the realization that our world contains hundreds of cultures, each unique and developed and cherished. How do I cultivate true respect for each, neither imposing my ways on them, nor fearing their influence on me? How can I continually be conscious of, and appreciate, their multiple gifts to the totality of the world?


We are all one! Whether from Japan,
the United States, or anywhere else in the world!

Going to Japan calls me to think global, to open myself to new understandings, to acknowledge that we Americans are not the center of the universe. We are part of a whole, and the more we work to bring the whole together – rather than divide it – the more amazing that whole will be.

In 1950, the Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita asked Sisters from our founding community of Wichita to establish a clinic for the poor in the Diocese of Kyoto, Japan. Since our first sisters arrived, our congregation has ministered to those in need through engaging in  healthcare, senior care, education, and retreat ministries in Japan. Sisters from our Congregational Leadership Team visit our sisters in Kyoto and Matsusaka twice a year.

About the Author

jeannies-picture-2015Sister Jeannie Masterson is currently serving her second term on the Congregation Leadership Team. Earlier she served in provincial leadership, teaching, high school administration, and as a pastoral associate for adult formation. Sister Jeannie was the founding and active director for eight years of Cincinnati’s Jordan Center, which brought health attention to uninsured working people and their families.

27 thoughts on “Konnichiwa! Reflecting from Japan

  1. Sallie Latkovich, CSJ says:

    Oh, Jeannie! What a wonderful blog post of your experience with our Sisters in Japan. Also wonderful how you have grown in relationship with them.


  2. Jeannie, you almost brought me to tears when you voiced one of the differences between a Japanese mindset and ours in the USA. They cannot think in other than “we” and most of us here (and in Europe) don’t think outside of “I”, Their way of thinking is the essence of solidarity, harmony, It’s what Africans mean when they say “I am because you are.” I better stop. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you/


  3. Jeannie, the depth of your own spirituality such a gift to us all! Your eyes that dance like stars and your smile speak a language for our Sisters in Japan that words fail to ever express. Thank you, for your short reflection which also gives me food to digest as we begin Lent. God bless you abundantly as your enhance our CSJ charism wherever you go and bring love to a world so in need of such..


  4. Cynthia Sabathier says:

    What a wonderful reflection!
    17 visits! I knew you went often but how remarkable this is. A moving reflection.
    In 1956 or 57, I a 16 (17) year old in New Orleans had a Japanese pen pal who lived in Kyoto, Yasuko Koizumi.
    I have tried to find her through Facebook,
    unsuccessfully. We corresponded for a few years possibly until I entered the convent in 1958. Thank you for including us on this precious journey.


  5. Joan says:

    What a blessing to walk into another culture, to respect its uniqueness and yet be drawn into communion because we recognize the strength in diversity! Thank you for the beautiful sharing!


  6. Kathleen Young says:

    Dear Sr. Jeannie,
    I so enjoyed your reflections. I first met the CSJs when I was a lay missionary in Kyoto and Tsu, Japan in 1985-86, and then returned to Tsu again to teach in 1989-90 with the JET (Teacher Exchange Program.) It is also where I became involved in working with the Deaf. When I returned home to Maryland I connected with the Albany CSJs to consider a religious vocation and later became an Associate while living in NY for 20 years. Now I’m back in Maryland and close to family and proud to continue being an Associate despite the distance. The memories and friendships I made in Japan have continued after 30 years!
    Kathleen Young, CSJA


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