Sunday, December 23, 2007

Out of order

For photos of the Christmas service and potluck that occurred on the 23 of December please click here for the blog post that was delayed until January.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Silent Night


Silent Night
(in Japanese characters)
清し この夜 星は光り
救いの御子(みこ)は 馬槽(まぶね)の中に
眠り給う いと安く

清し この夜 御告(みつ)げ受けし
牧人達は 御子の御前(みまえ)に
ぬかずきぬ かしこみて

清し この夜 御子の笑みに
恵みの御代(みよ)の 朝(あした)の光
輝けり ほがらかに

(The above verses in Roman Characters)
Kiyoshi kono yoru, hoshi wa hikari,
Sukui no Miko wa, mabune no naka ni,
Nemuri-tamo, ito yasuku.

Kiyoshi kono yoru, mitsuge ukeshi,
Maki-bito tachi wa, Miko no mimae ni,
Nukazukinu, kashikomite.

Kiyoshi kono yoru, Miko no emi ni,
Megumi no miyo no, ashita no hikari,
Kagayakeri, hogarakani.


Meri Kurisumasu, from me to you!
Tonight, will be family time -
starting a new Christmas tradition by eating sushi with my Japanese family,

tomorrow I'll celebrate with the Yurigaoka church
at a morning worship service followed-by a special potluck dinner.
Then off to Kyoto/Nara area via bullet train
to celebrate Christmas and welcome the New Year
with friends and fellow missionaries who live there.


A HUGE thank you to those of you who have sent cards, emails and care packages!
It really helps me feel connected to those I love and miss.
If you sent a family photo or a card -
it's been posted up on a wall in my room helping to make things look a bit more festive!

Hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Outreach



Sunday - Dec. 16 - at Yurigaoka church was the Children's Outreach Christmas Program. The Church members handed out 400 fliers at a local school earlier in the week and had 34 children show up for the program. (Only 3 children typically attend Sunday school)

Songs
Games
More Games

And Crepes! (I helped make crepes!)
The Kids watched a movie (in English I think it's called "You are Special") and Nozomu explained more about the meaning of Christmas, and the life of Jesus on Earth - including photos of Jesus death on the cross (see top photo).
Praying for these little ones to come to Jesus and embrace him.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Holy Lovely Story

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

Last here I posted some information about How Christmas is celebrated in Japan (click Here) this year I'm here and can give a first hand report about how people are celebrating. (Although the 25th is a working day in Japan - This year the 24th is a holiday - not for Christmas Eve - but because the Emperor's birthday (Dec. 23) falls on a Sunday this year - Monday is a holiday)

Here are some signs of the season around Tokyo.


In Shinjuku - Above - you see the hustle and bustle of Tokyo as people (typically dressed in black) rush to and from stores near Shinjuku train station. This station was used by an average of 3.31 million people per day in 2006, making it the busiest train station in the world in terms of number of passengers - I pass through this station 2 times a day as I go to language school and return home.

Shinjuku South Terrace - the tree's are covered with lights. Illumination displays are very popular in Japan and many homes are now putting up their own light displays. I helped my host mother put up Christmas lights at our Japanese church early in December. The stores advertise "Xmas Sales" - The Lumine department store billboard was interesting - "Lumine Christmas 2007 - A Holy Lovely Story" Hmmmm. . . .

In Ikebukuro - Tokyu Hands (a Do-It-Yourself type department store)- has Santa and his sled decorating the outside.
My Japanese host family has their potted evergreen tree decorated (by two 6 year olds) with ornaments from around the world and one strand of obnoxiously blinking lights, which is only turned on when the grand kids visit!While you can hear Christmas music in the stores - and see many images of Santa Claus (this photo is of my host mom, host brother and his son with a singing Santa at a restaurant.)
very few people here know the story of Jesus birth and the true reason we celebrate this holiday.
Being away from familiar setting has helped me to reflect a bit more - about my Christmas holiday traditions. I enjoy the light displays and shopping for just the right gift for someone - I'm looking forward to traveling to Nara/Kyoto to visit friends for the holiday - but I realize there are millions I pass each day in the train station - many who know nothing about Jesus.

The movie "Maria" - called "The Nativity Story" in the states - Began showing in theaters throughout Japan Dec. 1, 2007. I wonder what the Japanese response will be to this movie. -Hopefully a desire to learn more.

This Christmas time - I'm thinking more about Jesus as God come to earth, a foreigner in this world, come as a baby - totally dependent on humans for care as he grows and develops. That's what I'm pondering right now - as a gaijin or foreigner in Japan - where I'm feel like a baby at times - dependent on other humans for care as I grow in my knowledge of the culture and language. Not yet able to tell the Holy lovely story in Japanese - I'm relating in new ways to this "Holy Lovely Story".

Monday, December 17, 2007

Student becomes a Teacher


Last weekend I had the chance to go to Christian Academy of Japan (CAJ) and enjoy their High School Music concert with my friend, fellow BGC missionary, and CAJ Middles School Teacher - Jane. (or Ms. Fischer - as the students call her). While I was at the concert I had the chance to meet up with the Turners. Their oldest daughter was a student of mine (in 4th and 5th grade) when I taught in the one room school house in Machida, Japan. (see above family photo). The below photo is of Me, Sarah and her sister, Katie. Sarah was back in Japan for the holidays - after completing her 1st semester in college in the States, where she is studying to be a teacher. YOU GO GIRL! So fun to catch up with Sarah and the Turner family - after 8 years apart! What a blessing! Thank you to the generous ministry partner of the Turners who paid for her ticket to Japan to spend Christmas at 'home'!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Guessing game

Kore nan desu ka?
is one of my favorite Japanese phrases which translates to - "What is this?

So for your entertainment and eduction of all things Japan - I've posted a photo below and now am asking for your best guess - What do you think this white thing below is? They are sold individually - although in this photo, taken at the 100 yen store (dollar store), there are multiples stacked high.

After a few guesses - I may post some clues.

Sorry - I didn't get back online to post clues. Many of you were close - in the fact that it is edible - and in a way its a form of a cake. But it is not sweet - like a traditional cake or marsh mellow. Congratulations to Dad - for getting this correct. It is called, mochi or o-mochi, the dictionary says it's "blocks or 'cakes' of pounded cooked rice". The cooked rice is pounded in to various shapes.

The New Year's mochi is called Kagami Mochi, literally "mirror rice cake". It's shape is 2 small circles - the bigger on the bottom. Looking a bit like a snowman. The circles are said to represent the old and new year. It is typically decorated with a mikan (small Japanese orange) and a leaf on top. It may be placed on the family Shinto alter (kamidana) in the home or in an alcove (tokonoma) in a Japanese style room, and eaten the 2nd Saturday or Sunday of Janurary. Click here to read more on Wikipedia.

My host family doesn't have a Kagami Mochi but they will likely be eating mochi (probably grilled then wrapped in nori (seaweed). I ate some for lunch today - I'm gradually getting used to the taste. - Actually the taste isn't very distinctive - it's the chewy texture that takes adjusting to! (They won't let the grandkids eat mochi due to the choking potential.)

Again from Wikipedia
Mochi is very sticky and somewhat tricky to eat. After each new year, it is reported in the Japanese media how many people die from choking on mochi. The victims are usually elderly. Because it is so sticky, it is difficult to dislodge via the Heimlich maneuver. In the Japanese comedy film Tampopo, a vacuum cleaner is used to suck it out (some lifesaving experts say that a vacuum cleaner is actually efficient for stuck mochi)!

Beautiful day in the Neighborhood

Last week as I walked to the station on my way to language school I took some photos of my neighborhood to share with you to give you a sense of where I live.


Here is my home - A 3 story apartment or Condo building. I live with my host family (host mom & dad) on the 3rd floor. My new home has 3 bedrooms, one office, a kitchen/living room space and bathroom. In the photo the closest corner window and balcony is my room.

Below are the buildings around it. (The closest white building on the far right is our apartment complex). Notice the close proximity of the homes and the use of almost every square inch (or should I say centimeter) for something - including a garden in the foreground.(I think they're growing spinach) The road to the train station is below. Yes - it is a 2-way street. The white lines on the edge of the road indicate the "sidewalk". Here are 2 of the 3 neighborhood shrines I pass during my 15 minute walk to the station. Thinking Vertically - a unique way to solve lack of parking space by a nearby apartment building. I haven't yet witnessed how one gets the car from the top row out of it's parking space. Might be a good video for another blog entry. Below is a photo of my local train just coming out of the train station.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Opposite of Difficult

Language School
Today was my first day of Japanese language school. For December I'll have private lessons 2 hours a day/3 days a week, down town Tokyo until the next semester starts in January. Today was a survival Japanese lesson. After 2 hours talking in English and Japanese about language, culture, customs and grammar. I had a one hour commute back to my host family's home. I was exhausted and realized just how taxing language learning can be. My 6 year old language helper
When I returned home (it really feels like home now that I'm unpacked) I was greeted by Mion-chan. My host family's granddaughter - age 6.(see photo) She was watching some Japanese children's programs (great practice for me!). Then we played a game of "memory" with the "Turampu" (trump) cards. When we flip over the cards we say the number in Japanese. She won the game without contest as my memory bank was too full to be much competition.

Simple Japanese:
I was writing flash cards in hiragana - a Japanese writing system of phoentic symbols, each representing one syllable - used to write Japanese words. All Japanese words written in "Kanji" - the chinese characters - may be phonetically spelled in hiragana. So hiragana is the writing system learned in preschool in Japan. (Children gradually add Kanji as they progress through school - a certain number each year until reaching 1900 or 2000 kanji - the amount needed for reading a newspaper - my goal is to read 1000 kanji in one year.)

When I was studying my vocabulary list and flash cards of adjectives, I came across the word "mu-zu-ka-shi-i" which means "difficult". In Japanese, I asked Mion, "What is the 'opposite' of muzukashii"? I expected her to say "Ya-sa-shi-i" (easy). Instead she looked at the word and said "i-shi-ka-zu-mu". Which is reading the word backwards - but doesn't make a Japanese word. She makes me smile!
I later realized that the word I used for 'opposite' (hantai) also has the meaning - backwards or reverse. Later we both practiced writing our 46 hiragana symbols.

Borrowed words:

Japanese language uses many words from other languages - they are written in a special writing system called katakana. Some words come from France, some Germany but many are borrowed English words. Borrowed Words like Pizza (pi-za), Hamburger (ha-mu-ba-ga), McDonald's (ma-ku-do-na-do) or names of foreign people (Lori = ro-ri) or places use katakana. Once you can read the phonetic katakana symbols it greatly expands your vocabulary. However, some pronunciations of the words are just different enough that they are "Mu-zu-ka-shi-i"
.

For example - Mion also told me that tomorrow she has a "dochi baru taikai" at preschool. I couldn't figure out what she meant. I used my dictionary to find "taikai" (in hiragana and kanji) is like a tournament. But "dochi baru" - was not in the dictionary. Thankfully with the help of my host mother acting it out and a picture drawn by Mion - I realized dochi baru is katakana which meant - - She has a "dodge ball tournament" tomorrow! - The universal game of kids (and adults) everywhere!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Japanese Road Trip


Nov. 23 - We chose to travel back from the Rengo Annual Meeting at Shizuoka, via the van of fellow BGC missionary Gil Zinke. Along the way we saw many tea plants/bushes (above photo), and a great view of Mt. Fuji. (below photo). We took the tollway and paid about $45 worth of tolls, seems expensive but is cheaper for multiple people traveling than the cost of a train ticket.
We stopped for lunch at a road side oasis. Although many road side stops have McDonald's in them this one was a bit more traditional. There was a convenience store and many bathrooms which you would expect at a "rest stop". But in Japan you can also get green tea, barley tea, or water for free. For lunch we had a choice between a sit down restaurant (with a 25 minute wait for a seat) or a vending machine restaurant. (I'm not sure what the Japanese name of it is but they are quite common.) It's Japanese fast food at it's best. The picture below shows the menu choice photos and below them is a ticket machine. You press the botton for the meal you want, pay the appropriate price, and get a ticket. Then you take the ticket to the counter where the cooks are ready to make your order and with in a couple of minutes you have lunch. For 700 yen (about $7) I ordered "unagi" which is barbecued eel on rice - one of my favorite Japanese dishes! When we got back into Tokyo - I was dropped off at our local train station and met my friend Lisa, who works as a TCK teacher in Okinawa, Japan -but was in Tokyo for her mission's Thanksgiving gathering. I enjoyed my time with her catching up on life and doing some Christmas (window) shopping. We ate dinner at TGI Fridays. (This is a new addition to the area since I was last in Japan!) I ate a rather large American style hamburger. Quite a range of food choices that day! Thanks, Lisa, for a great evening! Can't wait to see you at Christmas time!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rengo Annual Meeting

My second full day in Japan I traveled to Shizuoka, (a city west of Tokyo) via shinkansen (bullet train) to attend the 2 day Rengo Annual meeting. RENGO is the Japan Baptist church association with whom the Baptist General Conference partners. It's basically church pastors and lay leaders, and missionaries. They meet once a year and I was very privileged to be able to be in Japan in time to attend. I was able to meet many Japanese pastors and introduce myself (in broken Japanese) as the new BGC missionary in Japan. The above picture shows 10 of the Pastors who represent new church plants. (The guy on the far right is Jeff Chapman - who is planting a church near where I eventually will be teaching) At the meeting there was also an official recognition and Thank you of the 37 years of work Bob and Nancy Sorley have done as career missionaries in Japan. The picture above is of Pastor Yonai and Bob Sorley.My host Mom (Mrs. Kimura) was at the meetings representing her church which is currently without a pastor. It was so good to see her again! She quickly took me under her wing and began my official "Nihongo dake" (Japanese only) program. (Can you tell I'm happy to see her but not quite over jet lag in this photo?!) The meetings were held at the Yamaha resort (the Japanese music company). It's a huge complex and resort grounds complete with golf course and water park. The resort is also used by the Japanese Olympic equestrian and archery team. The photo is of the one of the hotels at the resort where we stayed.

Yakushiike Koen





While staying with fellow missionaries in western Tokyo, I had a chance to visit a local park, or koen. This park was within walking distance of where I taught and lived from 1998-2000 - And I remember enjoying the many seasons of Japan here (Spring - Iris Flowers, Summer -Lotus flowers, Autumn - maple trees, etc). Many Japanese people come to this park to paint or photograph the beautiful scenery. When I visited last week - we were able to enjoy the fall colors, with amazing Japanese maple trees at their peak. It's a great oasis in the midst of a crowded city.

You might be in Japan if . . .



  • The toilet seats are heated.
  • There is music or the sound of "running water" when you sit on the seat - to politely cover any other potentially embarrassing sounds.
  • There are special slippers for the "toilet room".
  • There are more buttons on the toilet seat control panel than on your cell phone!
(The TOTO product Washlet Zoe is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most sophisticated toilet with seven functions.) Though latest model has even more features! While the toilet looks like a Western-style toilet at first glance, there are a number of additional features, such as blow dryer, seat heating, massage options, water jet adjustments, automatic lid opening, flushing after use, wireless control panels, heating and air conditioning for the room, et cetera, included either as part of the toilet or in the seat. These features can be accessed by a control panel that is either attached to one side of the seat or on a wall nearby, often transmitting the commands wirelessly to the toilet seat.

Check out this Wikipedia article for more - about the Japanese electronic throne.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Amazing Race

The last 24 hours in America (Nov. 18 & 19) seemed like an episode on reality TV show -
the Amazing race.

I had my bags ready to go, had directions and plane tickets to the pit stop (Tokyo, Japan). But the night before my d-day, I was moving my computer from one side of the room to another and when I went to plug in the cord again- I saw sparks, heard a sizzle and a loud pop.

Thankfully my cord was not connected to my computer yet - so my computer was fine, and I wasn't hurt - but I had one blown fuse and burn marks on both ends of the cord. Not sure how what the cause was but I did know I had 7 minutes of battery power on my laptop and no working cord. With stores closed there was nothing I could do to fix it that evening.


The next day I called my computer company (ordered a new cord) and then called the IT guy for my mission (got instructions on where to get a temporary cord).









So Tuesday, morning with the knowledge that I should be at the airport at 11am for the 1pm international flight - I made a detour to Best Buy at 10am to buy a cord, and had the "Geek Squad" test it to make sure it worked before I flew with it halfway across the world. I came in the store with my "camera crew" and teammates and left with the goods within 10 minutes.


Once we got to the airport we had some time to relax, take pictures, have a bite to eat and take more pictures.



As God planned it - Pastor Jonathan and Lois Larson (North Isanti Baptist Church, MN, a partnering church of mine) were on the same flight as I was, just 3 rows apart. They were on their way to the Philippines. Great to have some familiar faces on the flight and friends to talk with!

The flight went really well - filled with lots of great views, no motion sickness and the blessing of an empty seat right next to me providing both a window and an aisle seat!

Lakes of Minnesota


(Maybe near Brainerd? Any fishermen out there recognize those waters?)


The Alaska Mountain Range



What looks to me to be Icebergs off the coast of Alaska or Russia.



When I landed my first pit stop was John & Elaine Mehn's home, Machida, Japan, (Western Tokyo.) Left at 1pm Nov. 19, arrived 4:30 pm Nov. 20 - a 13 + hour flight. (Ahh, the joys of losing a day crossing the International dateline.) Then about 45 minutes going through Immigrations, baggage claim & customs (no problems!). This was followed by a 3 hour car ride from eastern Tokyo to Western Tokyo to my temporary "home".

Stayed at Mehn's for one week (actually 6 nights). With various orientation tasks, detours and meetings before moving on to my next pit stop with my Japanese homestay family, also in western Tokyo. I'll be here until March and then see where the next clue leads me. Stay tuned for the next episode.

Pack, Ship, Save

If you were to move overseas for the next - oh say, 35 years - and you knew for the first 9 months you would only be able take with you what could be contained in 2 suitcases, and a carry-on case - What would you take? What would you leave behind? If you had a homestay opportunity for the first 4 or 5 months would it change how you pack knowing you have one bedroom and very little, if any, storage space.

Friday, Nov. 16, after hours of sorting, packing, running errands deciding needs to go in two suitcases, and what to leave behind - my brain was fried! Thankfully, my sister, Lisa, and my mom were there to help me sort through things. Basically we divide things into 5 piles.

  1. Pack in my suitcases now
  2. Ship to Japan when I have my own place
  3. Save in America until it's known if needed
  4. Give away to a friend/church/goodwill
  5. Throw away


Basically all of my things were either in bins, boxes, trash bags or suitcases. Getting from room to room in the house was like walking an obstacle course.

I needed frequent breaks, so -Friday morning I enjoyed going out to breakfast at Swede Hollow Cafe with my mom on last time. After taxing my brain with so many decision all week long - I enjoyed a night out with Lisa at the Univ. of Minnesota Gopher Women's Basketball game, out for Coffee and then a drive through St. Paul at night to see the sights and beginning of the Christmas lights.


Saturday more packing - Sunday evening was our "last super" out as family, before my departure - it was a fun time trying some great food at a local restaurant!