There are several reasons that I like the original Karate Kid, but one of them relates directly to today’s Key City: Kanuma.
Ever seen one of these?
I remember Mr. Miyagi slowly, carefully pruning and training this strange little plant, and I was hooked. Thank you Japan for another awesome addition to my life! Ok, back to the story…
Bonsai trees don’t have what’s known as a taproot. That’s the deep root most plants have that gets down to the really important nutrients and water in the ground. Basically, this means that bonsai trees can’t grow in most places, because the soil isn’t good enough. That’s where Kanuma comes in.
Kanuma has a very special type of soil called Kanumatsuchi. A nearby volcano, Mt. Akagi, erupted and rained ash all over the region. Over the years, it mixed with the local soil and became something new and valuable. The soil from this region is more than twice as good as other cultivated soils at absorbing air and water, with better permeability and drainage.
People from all over the world buy bags of dirt from this city because of its “good ground.” We think that there is some good spiritual ground there, too. When we take the gospel to these people, the Word of God will find some “good ground” and bear fruit. Pray with us that among the more than 100,000 people in Kanuma City, we will find a fertile place to plant the seed of God’s Word.
Key City: Shibata is another example of a city that prospered and grew around a castle. The castle was founded in the 1590’s by Mizoguchi Hidekatsu, but it wasn’t completed until the mid 1600’s by his great-grandson. At the height of its power, the castle was made up of 11 keeps and 5 gatehouses. By all accounts it was a sight to behold.
This type of castle was constructed of wood and usually built next to a lake or surrounded by a moat. If you visit the castle today, you can walk through the
remaining gatehouse, but visitors aren’t allowed to cross the moat.
At that time, one of the greatest threats to large structures was fire. They didn’t have access to reliable fire-prevention methods or fire extinguishers, so if a wooden building caught fire, it had to be dealt with quickly or the building was surely lost. Imagine constructing a castle complex like Shibata all made of wood. You’d be worried too!
If you look at the top of the castle in these pictures, you’ll notice there are three points sticking up on the roof. If you look really close, you’ll see that they are three fish-like creatures, called Shachihoko (or Shachi for short). A literal translation would be something like “killer whale.” They have faces like lions with long teeth and the bodies of big fish. Weird decoration, you think?
There is actually some rationale behind it. In the country of India, the god of water supposedly rode on similar creatures, and when Buddhism made its way into China and eventually Japan, it brought this symbolism with it. Mizoguchi Hidekatsu followed the common practice of his day by placing these figures on the roof of his castle in the hope that this god would protect him from fire. In fact, Shibata Castle is the only one known to have three Shachi per roof instead of two. He really wanted to protect his life’s work.
Not to be too heavy-handed with this, but can’t you see the spiritual lessons to this story? If only there had been someone to say, “Let me introduce you to the God who can protect you from fire for all eternity!” Will you pray for Shibata, a city with over 100,000 people destined for a fiery eternity?
I don’t even know where to start with today’s Key City: Sanjo. My editor might have to rein me in if I get too wordy!
Sanjo is long and relatively skinny, running east to west and is basically cut in half by the Ikarashi River, which forms a “T” with Japan’s most famous river Shinano on the city’s western border. These great rivers help make the land very fertile, and farming has been the way of life for the people for millennia. To the east are dense forests and snow-capped mountains, lending the area great beauty.
Of everything I’ve learned about Sanjo, though, nothing is more amazing to me than its blacksmithing tradition. In 1625 the governor of the area,, found a way to help his
citizens survive the destructive flood season each year. He paid for blacksmiths from Edo (modern Tokyo) to come and teach his farmers how to make nails while their farmlands were underwater.
Today, you can visit the Sanjo Blacksmith Dojo, which still trains its students to work metal in a traditional way. Tourists can even take classes on building a fire, quenching, forging, grinding and sharpening.
Seibei Ootani knew his people could not survive as things were going, and that sentiment is still true in Sanjo. The people there do not know the Gospel, and they cannot survive as they are. They need the Savior!
Pray for us that we can plant churches that will still be training men to preach the Gospel after 400 years of saving lives!