Focus 2005

Japan - GIA01-03-2005

Project: Salesio Gakuin (Salesian Aspirantates)
Date of foundation: 1994/1995
Place: Yokohama e Yokkaichi
Province: GIA - S.Francesco Saverio

It is quite an irony that minor aspirantates have survived in Japan. Even if those aspirantates in the west have disappeared many, many years ago, Japan still holds on to the value of forming young candidates to the religious life. Those who consider aspirantate formation to be antiquated are asked to stop for a while and glimpse at what this modern country can do. Aspirantates may be considered taboo and unagreeable to certain societies. Not in Japan. Not with the Salesians.

The Salesian Minor Aspirantate in Japan saw its place in different localities around the country during its 79-year history.. It started in Miyazaki, the place where the Venerable Cimatti and the first group of Salesians started to work. From here several of the salesians who are now shoudering the main services in the province were formed.Then, there was also the aspirantate in Suginami, Tokyo, connected to the present Ikuei Polytechnic School. A new aspirantate was built in Osaka in 1966, but unfortunately it was closed, for lack of aspirants, in 1971. Afterwards in 1973 the aspirantate was started again in the salesian school of Kawasaki. It was here where vocations grew to as much as 50 or more aspirants in the 1980’s, ironically, the peak of the Japanese economy. The number of 35-50 aspirants was kept till the middle of the nineties.

Aside from the fact that the Salesian Middle and High School in Kawasaki had to be transferred to Yokohama, the aspirantate had to be divided into two places to meet both demands of vocation care and study. Thus, the present set-up of the aspirantate in Japan. Half of the present 30 aspirants stay in Yokohama, where they go to school in the Salesian Middle and High School, transferred in the early 90s. The other half stay in Yokkaichi and attend the school of the Piarist Fathers. (In fact, the place where the aspirants stay also belongs to the Piarist Fathers.) The Yokohama school’s level of study is quite high, owing to the fact that there are many of them who are able to enter good universities later on. But for an aspirant who is on the average, but cannot catch up with the standards of Yokohama, the Yokkaichi aspirantate was put up. In the end, it is the care of vocations that matters. And, if a candidate is academically gifted, he is asked to maximize that gift while undergoing formation.

Fr. John Kojima was a newly ordained priest when he was asked to be in-charge of the minor aspirants in Yokohama. To these minor aspirants, ranging from Middle School to High School students, Fr. John was aware that he was formator, assistant, parent and big brother, all at the same time, for all of them. Now that Fr. Kojima has been transferred to his new work and community in Ikuei Salesian Polytechnic, he shares how work and apostolate in the aspirantate was.
As formator, Fr. John had to give a weekly conference and weekly catechism classes to the aspirants. He also made sure that the Salesian traditional rendiconto was faithfully carried out. Respecting the Japanese character - where one cannot just open oneself very easily to someone - he changed the way the rendiconto was done every month. Sometimes, it was done individually. At other times, it would be by groups, e.g., by age group or year level.

As assistant, he would stay with them all the time, even staying up late at night with the Senior students who had to study for their university entrance examinations.

As guardian of these aspirants, Fr. John also had to represent them in the school. However, he was also convinced that maintaining the cooperation of their parents through contacts, meetings and other school activities were vital to the growth and formation of a teenage aspirant. Parents gather for a serious meeting and sharing at the start of the school year and also at the end. Fr. John also made it a point to send their report cards home. And as for the aspirants maintaining contact with their parents, Fr. John encouraged them to do so by phone, mail or letters. However, since not all of the aspirants come from the region around Yokohama, he did not encourage parents to just visit their sons without any good reason.

For Fr. Kojima, the focus of formation for young aspirants would be PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. As they are growing up, they are trained to assume some work in the house and take responsibility for whatever they do, be it work, play or study. Having its focus on the human formation of the candidate, the aspirant is highly encouraged to join school clubs and other activities of the school. This would entail joining in inter-school competitions or school trips, and would thus expose the aspirant to some unpredictable things. In this matter, Fr. Kojima believes that every choice is not left for the teenage aspirant alone. DIALOGUE and communication are keys to the deepening of one’s personal responsibility.

To have 30 aspirants in Japan at present is noteworthy. Vocations have been going down these years, but it is the other way around with the Salesians. The Province of Japan conducts a yearly Summer Bible Camp for young vocations. It is from these camps that many of our present young salesians came from. Boys, as young as 10 to as old as 18 come from all over the country and spend some days of fun, recreation, community life and reflection together in the Salesian Campsite at Lake Nojiri in Nagano. These days, it is not enough to go to the parishes and just “fish” for vocations. The Salesian Vocation Team, respecting the authority of the parish priest in their territories, offers or is invited to give their services to the different parishes in conducting youth activities. The team considers this stage as the “incubation” of the vocation in many of them. It is from these “planting the seed” activities that applicants come. Aspirants (from Grade 9 above) also help in the camp as group leaders. In the same way that they participate in the different activities of the Province and their local church, they also show this concern by working hard in these camps.

It is not only the Salesians who have an aspirantate for teenagers. Other congregations, too, share in the conviction that in order to ensure and preserve the formation of their young candidates, a non-Christian country like Japan must necessarily keep them in a place where they could study both what their society and what their congregation requires. If other countries see that aspirantates make young candidates lose a lot about themselves, in Japan, aspirantates make young candidates gain more in growing in the consciousness of their vocation. And specifically for the Salesians, whose formation for adult vocations is not yet well established, a formation for budding vocations among the younger generation is, indeed, indispensable.

If there is anything that would guarantee the preservation of the aspirantate in Japan, it would be the full support of the Province as a whole. Fr. Kojima believes, as in all the exhortations made by many formators, that vocation work is not just the work of a Province Vocation Team. It is the work of all Salesians. It affects all Salesians. It assures the future of all Salesians.

Address: Salesian Aspirantate
Oiwake 1-8-26
510-0882 Mie-Ken
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