I am most privileged to be married to a girl from the Aichi prefecture of Japan. Her great uncle started a well-known tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant in Nagoya. He was one of the first to serve this type of food in a Japanese style. He sliced the cutlets and served them up to be eaten with chopsticks. His restaurant specialized in making a great bacon salad with the leftover parts of the pork. And they also used Nagoya’s famous miso to make a sauce for the tonkatsu and served miso tonkatsu or miso-katsu, as it is known now. The restaurant became so successful that several of the employees moved on and started their own shops based on the same menu and style of food. Of course, each branch had their differences and reflected the personality of the individual owners, but they all had the same basic menu and most of them even used the same name.
In Japan, when a new restaurant starts with he cooperation of the existing establishment it is called norenwake – literally a “dividing of the noren”. The noren is the traditional Japanese fabric curtain which is hung in front of the entrance way of the restaurant. It usually has the name and logo of the establishment printed on it. When sending a former employee out to start his own shop, the owner will often make him a new noren to hang in front that shows the same name as the old place so he can build on the brand loyalty for the shop. He will also give him a portion of the restaurant’s sauce to use as starter for a new batch. My wife’s uncle repeated this process several times and through his leadership and guidance many new shops sprung up around the city of Nagoya. When I lived in Nagoya about 20 years ago, I got a chance to eat at one of these norenwake restaurants. The original restaurant that my wife’s uncle had built was long out of business by this time. But I still remember how good my first plate of Nagoya misokatsu was.
Our church in Yokosuka was planted this way and I believe that in the future we will also have the privilege of sending our own “chefs” out to start their own norenwake churches. We are a part of a spiritual family in Japan that has a shared mission and calling. We have the same name, the same basic “recipe” and the same “sauce” for what we serve to the people in our community who need to be fed. In fact the Holy Spirit has been sending out church planters since the first century with the same name and the same mission. Each nation and church has their own cultural distinctive and flavors. But our job is to offer that same “menu” to new believers in Japan so that, even though the churches listed in the New Testament have long since closed their doors, anyone who seeks for truth in Japan can come and “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8; 1 Peter 2:2-3) at our norenwake church.