I was looking through some old pictures and videos on my Toshiba Satellite C855D and I came across a folder of pics and vids from October 2008. Among the pile was a series of photos from what looked like a festival from my Tokyo days. A look through Triumphs & Tribulations IX revealed just that…an autumn festival in Fussa. It was the Fussa Citizen’s Culture Festival and my church had been invited to perform in one of the music sets. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Fussa Citizen’s Culture Festival.
How I first came across this moment? It all started at the beginning of that October…the first Sunday. In the announcements, the senior pastor mentioned that we had been invited by the City of Fussa to perform at an upcoming festival the week following. He didn’t exactly say “all hands on deck” but he gave a strong indication that was the way he was leaning. Being a tight-knit church, almost everybody showed great enthusiasm in participating. In addition to the quintet that formed our praise and worship team, about 20 others—mostly our youth—joined in and just like that, we had an entire choir. We had quite a couple lively practices on the Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon before our Sunday performance. When Sunday, October 12th came, church let out about 45 minutes earlier than usual so that we could be in place and ready to go for our 1PM time slot. We were to follow a Japanese rap group that had mannerisms consistent with something I saw often in 90s West Coast rap. When we got up there and started singing, all of the locals that had convened around the Fussa Station area were into it. We opened with our version of Martha Munizzi’s “Glorious” in which our praise and worship leader got everybody—the crowd and the performers alike—pumped up. As I was working sound that day, I could see the Japanese rap group that performed before us nodding and bouncing along with the flow of the song. We followed that up with Israel Houghton’s “Lord, You Are Good” and Hillsong’s “Mighty To Save” before closing with Carlton Pearson’s “Mighty God”. For that last song, I actually left my partner in the booth to join in with the choir in my lone career appearance.
What it meant to me then? In the immediate moment, it was community outreach. Earlier in the year, the pastor had put it out there that he had a vision to reach the 127 million residents of Japan, including the 66000 in Fussa alone. Me and 2 of my co-best friends reached a small number through our Cold Stone Sundays initiative but our performance that day reached the community at-large. Our performance in the public setting and the rousing applause we received showed me that contemporary gospel music was very much accepted in Japanese culture.
What it means to me now? Looking back on it some 6 years later through words, pictures, and videos, I’m still in amazement of the occasion. The excitement of the local Tokyoites still resonates. It was a great moment. The church got a nice thank you letter from the City of Fussa and it actually opened the door for our youngsters to start their singing performances on Youth Sunday, highlighting the musical talent of a certain few. Most importantly, it taught me the lesson that it’s OK to introduce pieces of my own culture into the cultures of other countries and regions around the world.