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Pope in Japan Feature: A Conversation With Tokyo (Zenit is on Papal Flight)

«I Think He Will Want to Come Back to Tokyo’ – Impressions of Those on the Streets

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Seventeen-year-old student, Mana Kamiya, is still in high school in Tokyo, but was struck already by the Pope’s visit to her country.

While acknowledging one does not see around the Japanese capital anything about his arrival, and noting she is personally indifferent toward religion, she notes: “His strong statement on nuclear weapons struck the people.”

She was speaking to ZENIT, whose Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, is following the Pope’s 32nd Apostolic Trip abroad to Japan and Thailand, Nov. 19-26, from the Papal Flight, in a populated intersection of Tokyo. She didn’t seem to mind the ambush as she was returning from school.

“On our news, they say how yesterday in Hiroshima he called use and possession of nuclear weapons immoral and a crime, and after the tragedies which have hit our country, even if before my time, this is very significant. I was glad to see the news reporting this all around.»

“We are glad he recognized the dangers of nuclear weapons. Many people here want a stop to them”

Despite her atheism and youth, I still ask: «But what do you think of a Catholic Pope?»

“I think he is the greatest,” she said to my surprise, “everyone welcomes him.” She noted that in the news she saw today he was going to meet the Emperor Naruhito and would meet with the Prime Minister.

“When he goes back to France [she likely meant Rome], I think he will probably plan another trip to Tokyo.”

She also reflected a bit on being a young person in Japan, noting that while school is very intense and rather competitive, she added: “However, my friends help me always and all the time, and that makes it a lot better. I want to be a veterinarian.”

“I think he probably liked Tokyo and will come back again soon,” she said.

By chance, I came across a lovely family who spoke English, Juan and Maria Barriera, and their little boy Santiago, who enthusiastically with a big smile announced to me he was three, and Amelia, six, who must have switched places with her younger brother in the stroller.

Living in Houston, but by chance, originally from Argentina, they noted that they were in Japan for three days, but were disappointed that they had not known or realized the Pope was going to be in the country.

“We love him,” they told me. When asked if their being Argentinian had any influence on their view, they smiled and said, «no, not only for that,» laughing.

“I like Franciscans,” Santiago said, “their humility, lack of dependence on material things, their care for the environment, and simpleness, in my opinion, really show a holy, good life, and example.”

“Pope Francis,” he said, “is bringing in a fresh air.”

When I recalled how today there is the Mass at the Tokyo Dome, they frustratingly said: “We could have gone if we knew!”

“We happened to be in New York when Pope Benedict came the last time,” he recalled, noting: “there was no way anyone could have missed that. It was all over the place. Here, we really had no idea.”

While in a very busy intersection in Shibuya Crossings, near the metro, I tried to speak to some other individuals. Yet it seemed most people were rushing so much that they deliberately told me they didn’t speak English, even if some of them, I observed, did.

There was, however, a 44-year-old producer at Warner Music Japan, who was traveling from work, was willing to stop a second and gave me his thoughts.

He grew up in a Shinto family, and went to Christian schools, but “my religion is my heart,” he says.

When asked how a Pope or Christianity is viewed in the country, he said: “We like other religions. We are peaceful. We like Buddhists, Catholics. I have Christian friends. We appreciate Christianity. The sexual harassment is a shame, but we like Christianity. We are open.»

“We are soft,» he continued, adding: «we are not like some Muslim countries. Shinto, Buddhist, or indifferent toward the faith, we sort of like different things and celebrate different holidays. We like Christmas and other festivals. We have no borders for religions.”

“And the Pope?” I ask him.

“Yes, we like him. He seems to be a great person, who wants peace.”

«Did you know it was his dream as a young Jesuit to be a missionary in Japan, but then his superiors had other plans for him and he didn’t come until now…?» I asked him.

“No, I had no idea. That’s great,” he responded.

When asked about the challenges in society, especially the high suicide rates, particular of the young, he observed: «Asians tend to be closed. They stay in their heart…They are secret.»

On competition in Japan, he noted: «I think this is more of an Asian thing, than it is a Japanese thing. It is widespread.»

Reflecting on how Japanese view Chinese people, he recalled the influence of China on Japanese history, and observed: «Now they are becoming much bigger and advancing.»

«We are sort of jealous of that…»

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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