Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Japanese government has restricted the entry of foreign nationals, making it impossible for many international students to enter Japan. On the other hand, some young people from overseas, who had left their home countries before the restrictions came into place, are currently studying Japanese and the teachings and engaging in hinokishin at the Home of the Parent as students of Tenrikyo Language Institute. What is on their minds as they endeavor to acquire the language and learn about the path under the current circumstances? Four students from the Oyasato Fusekomi Department—Thanapat Vimonkittirak (Thailand), Gyugyeong Kim (South Korea), Megan Sae Omoto (the United States), and Yoshinobu Alex Imai (Brazil)—recently shared their thoughts.
—How is your country affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus? What changes did you go through in your life?
Megan: I went back home to Seattle after graduating from the Japanese Department of TLI in early March. Most public facilities and stores were closed, and the government was restricting non-essential outings. At that time, I happened to learn that I might not be able to reenter Japan, so I purchased a flight ticket right away and managed to come back on March 31. In addition to the spread of the virus, there are protests against racial discrimination going on. I’m worried about the situation in the United States.
Thanapat: The same goes for me. When I went back home, the number of infections was rapidly increasing in Thailand. I could not even meet with my friends. My parents and my sister were the only three people I met during my stay. During the two months between my reentry to Japan and TLI’s reopening, I performed a prayer service by dancing to the twelve songs every morning at my grand church. I hope that this pandemic will be over as soon as possible.
Yoshinobu: In Brazil, many people were going out without wearing a mask even after restrictions on non-essential outings were imposed. Although confirmed cases have exceeded two million, there are many people who still don’t take this pandemic seriously. The situation is complicated by political issues.
Gyugyeong: In my case, I was planning to return home with my Korean friend for a short period of time, but I was advised to stay in Jiba by my family and my head minister, who were worried about the situation. I stayed in Japan and spent three months at my upper church and followers dormitory until TLI’s reopening. During the period, I went to the morning service of Church Headquarters every day and, while doing hinokishin, I was praying for this situation to be settled as soon as possible. Looking back, I feel that God the Parent guided me to stay in Japan.
—What are your thoughts about studying in this situation? What is it that you want to achieve in the future?
Thanapat: My parents are Buddhists, but they are not opposed to my studying at the Home of the Parent. They said to me: “You should live life according to your own choices. Just try your best.” I have volunteer experience in teaching math to children from poor families in Thailand. One of my goals is to study Japanese and the teachings of this path so that I can teach them to such children.
Megan: I’m so glad we had an opportunity to do rice-planting hinokishin the other day. I have always enjoyed experiencing various types of hinokishin ever since I was a Japanese Department student at TLI. Although we are currently in a difficult situation, I’m grateful for my good health. While studying at TLI, I want to do my best to put into practice missionary work and hinokishin so that I can maintain the attitude of hinokishin even after going back to the United States. I will try to help keep my town as clean as possible by picking up trash. I hope that this effort will give people an idea of what Tenrikyo is about.
Yoshinobu: I’m planning to delve deeper into the teachings at Tenri Graduate Seminary after graduating from TLI. After that, I will serve as a live-in missionary trainee at the Mission Headquarters in Brazil. At this point, there are many things I need to learn about the teachings of this path. My family in Brazil is going through a lot of difficulties, but what I ought to do right now is to work hard to do whatever is in front of me. I want to do the best I can to learn the teachings so that my family may have peace of mind.
Gyugyeong: I feel that the number of young followers of the path is decreasing these days. By making full use of my learning experiences in Jiba, I hope to explore a new form of missionary work—that is, I’m thinking of holding the kind of event young people may be interested in such as a cooking event with an opportunity to get to know the teachings. What I think is important now is to perform the service while being conscious of our daily use of the mind. On behalf of all newly enrolled students who were unable to come to study at the Home of the Parent this time, I would like to pray in Jiba for the wellness and happiness of their families and all people in the world.