This week’s #asiaforlifepodcast is covering stories from the 2019 Japan March for Life. Listen to the podcast here:

LISTEN: Japan March for Life—Respect Your Elders

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I’m Joe Woodard and this is the Asia for Life podcast.

On July 15, I was in Tokyo for the Japan March for Life. I didn’t have any very big plans, except to join the March for Life, and then have some other meetings in Tokyo. Honestly, I wasn’t sure exactly what the outcome of the trip was going to be, but I had prayed about going for a few months. And basically the reason I went—it boiled down to a strong sense that I was just…supposed to be there. So I had to find a way to get there.

Thanks to some generous donations, I was just barely able to scrape together a ticket to get there. And when I arrived, I met with Pastor Kenzo Tsujioka, who was the one who started the Japan March for Life several years ago. It was very nice to see him, and I’m glad we got to visit. But I was very worried about him, too, because he looked not very well.

…it basically started with him and his wife taking babies into their home (00:53)

He started doing pro-life ministry in 1984—it basically started with him and his wife taking babies into their home and helping out the moms, or helping them find adoptive families. And other pro-life initiatives naturally sprung out of that. 35 years later, he’s now 86 years old, and he needs to retire. That’s what he said basically. He really wants to find a replacement, but it’s been hard to find someone who can carry the vision. Everyone respects what he’s doing, but nobody is willing to lead.

So, he started the March for Life in 2014, I think. It was originally a Protestant Christian event, then an ecumenical event, and now it’s almost entirely a Catholic event. And it’s a good thing that Catholics are doing this. But there’s no clear place for non-Catholics anymore, I’m afraid. And that, I think, will make it a challenge to grow a strong pro-life movement in Japan.

I want to share a story from that day. During the March for Life, Pastor Kenzo had to slow down, and nobody could find him. His granddaughter found him and walked with him to the end. But when they arrived, the group photos had already been taken, and a lot of people had already left. And later that day, he went to the hospital. I’m not sure what the diagnosis is—it might have been just exhaustion, or some more serious problem—I’m not sure yet. I think they’re still waiting to find out what’s going on.

This is a sad story. I have some more positive stories from the trip, but I want to start out with this one. Because it made me think about how we need to walk with our elders. Just in general, elders have opened the way for us to be where we are now. We need to honor them, and be willing to slow down for them.

We would carry him if we had to (02:57)

When we were eating lunch before the march, Pastor Kenzo said he wasn’t sure if he could do the entire walk. And I told him that we would carry him, if we had to. I was half-joking, but actually I was also holding back tears while I said it.

But this is what happened, actually. During the march, though, I got busy with something else. What happened is that I was actually talking with a Japanese guy who was asking me questions about American politics. And it was a very interesting conversation, but not—that conversation doesn’t feel very important now, now that I know that the founder of the March for Life almost had a stroke, or something, and apparently there was nobody around to take care of him.

So, that’s a pity. It made me think that I don’t want to be good at political analysis, if it means that I miss out on being good at carrying relationships.

At the beginning of the March for Life, I could tell Pastor Kenzo was tired. He actually goes by Pastor Ken, or just Ken. That’s what he asks people to call him. I don’t know…I feel very funny doing, especially in Japan, where they always use extra polite titles. They even actually conjugate their verbs differently to be polite to their elders, in Japanese.

Anyway, Pastor Ken…he looked tired, like he hadn’t slept much the night before. I forgot to mention that after we had lunch—before the March for Life, we had lunch—we joined a Catholic Mass, where two Japanese bishops and some priests, and some groups of nuns, and also a bunch of families joined. So, we sat through a long Mass. People couldn’t quite hear what the bishop was saying during Mass, so there was no point in me even asking someone to interpret. I don’t want to be rude, but it can be very tiring, if you have to strain to hear what someone’s saying for a long time, and can’t quite hear. I know there are unspoken rules of church decorum, but I think the bishop would have wanted someone to tell him to speak up, because he probably spent a lot of time to prepare that talk.

Anyway, after Mass, Pastor Ken spoke briefly before the march started. So after all that, he was exhausted, I think, before we even started walking.

I lost him (05:23)

And so I offered to carry Pastor Ken’s backpack, which was very nice of me, right? But, I lost him, and 30 or 40 minutes later, when some of us were looking for him, we tried calling his phone. I didn’t realize that his phone was in his bag, which I was carrying.

So, I was trying to call his phone, to make sure he was okay and everything. But, I shouldn’t have stopped walking with him in the first place. I feel like there’s a lesson in there, maybe—to respect the calling and the journey of the people who have walked before you. It’s not that they will always lead. They won’t always be setting the direction of a ministry or an organization or whatever. But they can’t be left behind, either. They should be honored, and included.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Respect your elders : )