Words I don’t know in Japanese


Recently I had a conversation about a lot of things that have happened in my life. The where, when, why and with whom don’t matter, the things we talked about aren’t what really matter. But one of the thoughts that remained with me was a word I heard for the first time that evening. Or probably I should say, the not knowing a word I heard for the first time that evening has remained with me.

The word is uragiri, 裏切り (うらぎり) and means betrayal. You can see a kind of primer of different calligraphic styles at the top of this post. It’s a compound of 裏 (うら, meaning ‘back’ or ‘behind’ ) and 切る (きる, meaning ‘cut’).

I told someone about a relationship I had had a long time ago, a relationship that had been very important in my life, a person whom I had loved very much. It was a long, convoluted story, it was messy and probably not such an unusual situation. I was explaining my part in it, what remained for me, and their reaction was this word, in Japanese. That it had been a betrayal of me, of my trust and my feelings, and I suppose it was, but I had not framed it as that. I suppose by the end of it all I knew what I was dealing with and it was more a matter of scale than the naming of the treachery itself.

My reaction to their reaction was two things:

I thought, hmmm, I have never wanted to roll over and be the victim here, the person who was betrayed, because I knew I had known I was being lied to and I had continued. The scale of it was unknown to me, but the basic dynamic was not. I chose to trust, even when, with hindsight, I can see that it was not the smartest thing to do. I knew better for a long time, I have to admit that. I learned a lot about myself, about other people, and at the time I did not want to, and now I do not want to give another person an acknowledgement of such power in my life. No. I was complicit in this, and I choose to frame it as such.

But at the same time I thought, gosh, I have lived in Japan for over twenty years. I started learning Chinese and Japanese over half (ahem, almost two thirds) of my life ago, and I have never heard this word before. I love learning new words. I find the etymology of words fascinating. Whether it’s the Latin root of an English word or the meaning of the kanji in a Chinese or Japanese compound, I like to know. I like to break it down, look at it from different angles, see how it’s used.

In this instance, though, I didn’t know the word, I had never heard it before, and the not knowing for so long made me happy, grateful. I don’t think it’s a word I use in English, and I didn’t think I could tell you the word in French, Spanish, Latin, Chinese . . . I checked and all the words were new to me, though I think if I had seen the European ones in context I would have been able to take a guess.

What a gift, to not know a word like that, and what a gift, also, to have a conversation which showed me that. And now that I know it?

I won’t be using it any time soon.


Spirit of adoption

open door

‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.’ Romans 8:15

I was adopted as a baby, and what this means in my life is something I have always thought about. For a number of years I was blessed in Tokyo with a very good friend who is both Christian and was adopted herself, and we often talked about our experiences. I have to say, all of my experiences grouped together fall under the category of ‘a good adoption’, as social workers refer to such things. That doesn’t mean everything has been easy, or always good, but all things considered, ‘a good adoption’.

However, being bloody-minded, something I consider to be a much under-rated virtue, I decided a few years ago that if there was a file somewhere in the system about me then I wanted it. Through social workers in London, where my brother was living at the time, I obtained first my birth certificate, and then, several months later after the perseverance of my social worker paid off, copies of everything in the file that was kept on me in my first year of life. I was quite shocked at the time to feel a real connection to my mother, even though I have never met her, and at this point in my life am not trying to find her. What amazed me the most was the one direct quote from her; it is about the importance of faith to life. Since my parents have never encouraged me in my faith, I was amazed to see her words reaching across all that time to me. It was such a shock that I didn’t know what to do with the information – rather like not having a folder in your computer for a document and needing to create a new one. That is what I had to do, and the information I got from the file, including the quote, ended up in a folder in my mind titled, ‘I am my mother’s daughter’.

And yet – my parents are my parents. No one has ever challenged me – ‘They can’t be your parents, you look nothing like them!’ If you met my parents you would not see anything other than a daughter with her parents. I love them as much as any daughter loves her parents. My brother is my brother (but not biologically). From talking to other people who were adopted I have discovered we share a kind of ‘sheep pig’ quality. (‘The Sheep Pig’ is the title of the book which became the film, Babe, about the piglet raised by sheep which believes itself to be the same as the animals it saw around it.) By that I mean, you identify with who you see around you. You appropriate the things that seem to fit.  I always identified with my mother’s mother, who was Welsh. I have always felt the pull of Celtic things; from what I know of my roots, my mother’s side of the family was Celtic. Music has always been important; my Dad was a church organist, studied music at university and taught me a lot, even though we disagreed as often as we  agreed on many things. Now I have more information I know that my mother also had a lot of music in her life.

What does it mean to be adopted?

Before it was clear who you were going to become, someone loved you, took you into their family, raised you as their own. Never asked questions, and gave you everything they had. And what do you do, as an adopted person? You identify with what you see around you, you make it your own, while remaining true to the person you are.

When water was poured on our heads at baptism, God adopted us. We are now children of God and heirs of God’s world, God’s kingdom.We have been adopted by God and become members of Christ.

Christ was the first, He did the hard work for us. He stood up for the oppressed, the marginalised, the things He saw in society that were unjust. All we need to do is accept the love God has for us, look at the example Christ set for us, and identify with it, appropriate His concerns and stand up with Him. He already did the hard part, He did it before us, He still stands there and all we need to do is stand up with Him and say, ‘Me too’.

June 4th 1989


Tian An Men Square, June 4th 1989.

‘How could all be well, given the great harm that has been done to humankind by sin?’         – Chapter 29, Revelations Of Divine Love

Twenty-four years ago, the pro-democracy movement in China was brought to a violent and bloody end. How many died? No one knows. Hundreds? Thousands? I remember them today, I remember their optimism, their sacrifice. A generation who hoped things could change, who had something to say, even if it was only half thought-out and naive.

I pray that we can all have such optimism. I pray that we can all have the courage to speak truth to power.

I pray for all the people who lost someone they loved that day. For the hearts that ache and the minds that still spin trying to make sense of what happened, because someone is missing, for the ones who were lost who have no grave, no full stop at the end of the sentence describing their life.

I pray for the next generation, and the next, and the next. I believe in the people of China, in their love for their country and for each other, in their shared history.

I believe that it shall be well, it shall all be well.