Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mion!

Mion (age 3)
Happy 7th Birthday, Mion!
When I first met Mion - she was 3 years old.
On April 12th, Mion turned 7!
We celebrated on the 11th with homemade birthday cake.
My host mom made the cake, Mion and her aunt Tomo (my host sister
visiting from New York), decorated the cake with strawberries, mikan and frosting.

Mion, you have become like a niece to me.
Seeing your smile always brings joy to my day!
I'm so thankful for all the times we got to hang out!

Since my move, I have missed seeing you 3 or 4 times a week
- but I was thrilled to get to celebrate your birthday with you and your family.
I pray that you will soon understand God's love for you,
a love that never ends.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stone Faced Neighbors

While out exploring my neighborhood by bike, enjoying the spring blossoms, I found these stone statues at a local temple. There are an abundance of temples and shrines in my neighborhood (as is common in most places in Japan). I haven't learned the proper names of each place yet so I've given them nicknames - like the fox temple, the shopping shrines (one in front and one behind my local grocery store), the corner shrine, the forest shrine, etc.. The frequent sightings of temples/shrines are a stark reminder that I am in the religious minority here and a frequent prayer prompt. When I found these stone faced statues - I smiled - and nicknamed this place the "Smiley Temple".

Each statue had been carve
d with a different facial expression - which made me wonder about the story behind each one. Were these statues created by the same artist? What purpose do they serve here? Are their stories related? - For example is the "grumpy buddha" mad at the "smiley deer" in front of him? Why are their earlobes so big?
It also causes me to ponder - what makes the Japanese people smile - what gives them hope?
We've all been created by the same creator, and our stories are interrelated yet so many people here in Japan don't know their creator, many seem to have no purpose other than to work hard to gather more stuff, many seem without hope, without a reason to smile.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy Endings and New Beginnings

Happy Endings
First semester ended April 4th. For our final "test" we each gave a short presentation on the topic of our choice in front of our classmates, the intermediate class and 3 of our teachers. We were given a week to prepare and had support in class and individual lessons to polish up the rough spots. Mihwa's presentation was on a tourist spot in Korea, David focused on Aspen, Colorado, Zach taught us about
Manga (Japanese comics), and I talked about Dai san bunka no kodomotachi to Kikokushijo. (Basically: Third Culture Kids and Japanese Children who live abroad then return to Japan). I enjoyed learning about the Japanese terms and researching this topic - but in the end, I wish I would have picked a more concrete and less abstract topic.

After our presentations, Takahashi- Sensei treated us all to cake - which we devoured. We took a group photo (see above - students on left, on teachers right).

Afterwards Zach, Mihwa, David and I decided to celebrate the end of a successful semester with lunch at Kua Aina's - the Hawaiian hamburger place were we first went out to lunch as a class at the beginning of the semester. It was fun to talk in Japanese and reflect on our memories of the semester and how different our first conversation was with our limited vocabulary.

New Beginnings

Second semester started April 14, we're 2 weeks into the semester. We have 3 students in class, (Zach, Mihwa and I). We miss David's humorous story telling abilities! This semester we've added reading and writing of essays, and will try to learn 300 Kanji by the end of the 12 weeks. (Last semester we covered 80 kanji, I will need to learn 2000 kanji if I hope to be able to read a newspaper in Japanese!). Each Kanji character typically has one main meaning (for example: "eat") but has more than one reading depending on the context (for example: "eat" can be read ta or shoku, in words like taberu = to eat, or tabemono = food, or shokudo = dining room, or shokuji suru = to have a meal, or shokuryohin = groceries.

We have a Kanji quizzes every Monday morning.
So you'll have to excuse me now as I sign out and get back to studying.

Thank you for your prayers for me - and my classmates and teachers as we navigate this language learning journey.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sakura blossoms

Here are a few black and white photos
from the Sakura blossom
viewing time.


o-hanami --- o = honorific, hana= flower, mi= view/watch therefore -
ohanami= viewing the honorfic flowers (activity done during cherry blossom season)
Back row John & Zach,
front row, Me, Mihwa, Yamamoto Senei and Watanabe Sensei
(David was behind the camera)

My Japanese class, the intermediate class, and our teachers - planned to go view Cherry blossoms at their peak of March 31. (They are only in bloom for about a week which is part of the appeal.) The day started out with pouring rain, but after our indoor picnic in the classroom the clouds left and we enjoyed a tour of Ueno Park, which is a short train ride from where our school is. We weren't the only ones viewing the amazing blooming trees - it was a crowded park with students, salary men, couples, and families picnicking under the trees, boating on the pond and taking a zillion photos. I really enjoyed the day! And since it was planned the Monday after I moved into my new house it was a great distraction from the chaos of boxes at home.
Mihwa & I with the blue tarps of picnickers behind us
and a roof of blossoms above.
John & David , Yamamoto Sensei & Watanabe Sensei

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

Many things in life cause us to move out of our comfort zones. Living in Japan, moving to a new home and getting to know a new language have been a few stretching things for me lately. Some days, the learning curve seems so steep I feel as if I'm sliding back down the curve and need to relearn it all.

Today was one of those days where stretching happened relationally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. But in the end this unusually busy day was not only stretching and at times painful but fun.

Relationally - Spiritually
For the past 2 days I've been hosting my friend Junko (Japanese who has lived in Minnesota) and her friend April (American who has lived in Japan). They are my first overnight house guests and I really enjoyed getting to know these ladies better. Having them here also allowed me to try out some favorite recipes (pesto chicken pasta, taco rice, and flinsin (or Crepes for you non-Germans!). My favorite part of their visit was our discussion (in English) during breakfast about following God, working in areas of our passion and meeting the needs of others.

Mentally - and spiritually
After breakfast, as my guests headed to Narita airport, I rushed to Japanese class where the first half was spent listening and discussing my teacher's vision for this semester and the next. While I was encouraged by his discussion of our potential, I was also amazed/overwhelmed that he thinks we can achieve that goal this year.

The second half of class covered terms for the characteristics of God, like eien= eternal, fuhen= never changing, sei = holy, zenno = omnipotent, zenchi = omniscient. When we started talking about the Trinity I was stretched beyond my lingusitic (and theological) comfort zone. I was relieved when in our 3 hour of class the discussion was diverted to coffee.

More spiritual input -
I left class and returned straight home where my colleague, Elaine, was waiting on my door step, for our bi-monthly mentorship/bible study time. Today's topic was on "repentance". Although we were speaking in English - I don't think it took Elaine very long to realize I was operating on very few functional brain cells. My thinking power had already been drained.

This evening I rode my bike to a local Japanese school where I joined a group of ladies for a 2 hour volleyball practice. A few weeks ago I found out about "Mama-san Volley" which is a local volleyball team that practices on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The women range in age from mid 20's to mid 60's and they are quite competitive! There are Mama-san volleyball teams all across Japan with regional and national tournaments each spring and fall. I find it is not only a great way to stretch my muscles and get exercise playing a game I love - but I'm interacting with other Japanese women and learning some new vocabulary. Some of the rules are different (9 per side, with 4 or 5 in the front row, a lower net, etc.) and I'm put in a new position each time (my favorite is front row attacker!) but today my stumbling point was just trying to count out loud to 30 in Japanese with the group during warm-ups.

Life is like that sometimes
In life as well as in volleyball, if I get on the court and want to play the game there will likely be bruises. I don't enjoy making mistakes or having others correct my mistakes, but I need be open to learning. Sitting on the sidelines and learning by observation doesn't get me as far as learning through repeated trial and error, and more trial and more error, and more trial and eventually success.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Neighborhood rituals

One of the first things one does in Japan after moving into a new place (apartment or house) is to introduce yourself to the neighbors. At the time of introduction the person who just moved in should also present a small gift to whomever she is greeting.

Knowing of this custom before moving, I gathered information from various sources on how this ritual was to be done.
  • What type of gifts were appropriate? noodles, soap, towel, gift card to nearby store, candy, something about $5 to $8 in value
  • How should they be wrapped ? very carefully - usually by the store where the gift is purchased
  • How should they be labeled? - with the name of the person who had just moved in (me) so they will have a way to remember my name - certain stores will print these on special papers for you
  • And to whom should the gifts be given? any house positioned in front, beside or behind your house or basically every neighbor who shares the same garbage collection site or whoever you may have to apologize to later for being too loud - so if you live in an apartment it would include the apartment above and below you
I live on a cul-de-sac, my home is one of 7 homes in this section, It was suggested I buy gifts for all 7. Plus one more house around the corner. The back of my house is an apartment building parking lot, they have their own garbage collection site - so no need to give gifts to all of them.

I decided to buy lemon and honey scented homemade soaps at a place called "LUSH". They were wrapped by the store and I made my own name cards with my name in both English and katakana (Japanese script).

The day I moved in I went with the missionaries who formerly lived in this neighborhood and we made introductions to 4 of my 8 neighbors. Over the next couple days I introduced myself to the others as the "hikkoshite kita Lori desu - "Lori who just moved in". It was an interesting process - they all said basically - "Are you living in that house alone? - oh- well, this is a good neighborhood with good neighbors." The neighbor directly to my north apologized for the loud noises of her children the neighbor on the other side of my house apologized for the barking of his dog, "Genki", (who is 19 years old and not so "genki" or healthy)

3 of the 8 neighbors sent me home with a gift from them. Rice crackers, a pint of strawberries and the gift box above. The neighbor who gave me the gift box pictured above had also moved into the neighborhood recently - she said she came to my house earlier but I had not yet moved in - so the photo above was her "introduction gift" with her name on it. An example of "how it should be done" What's inside? A towel.

Interesting fact - the address number for my house is the same number as all 8 of my neighbors - apparently the land all belonged to one person in the past (that "one house around the corner").- The job of postal worker - is not one I would want in Japan. But apparently the system works - since I have been getting mail.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Got Gas?

After moving into my new home I couldn't get the gas line to work, which meant no gas for the stove top and no hot water (my water heater is powered by the gas). Of course this challenge was discovered on the day of the move in - AFTER I returned from eating out with fellow missionaries and it was late - about 10pm. So it was dark outside where the gas meter was. After searching through several boxes for a flashlight and the right size batteries, eventually I was able to see the gas meter. I thought perhaps fixing the problem would just require me figuring out which button or combination of buttons to press.

So I tried to read the Japanese directions and followed the diagrams on the meter - but had no luck. Since I was exhausted from the busy day of moving, I decided to give up and try the next day. My reasoning went like this - stove - yeah I can live without that for a while -(I have bread and Peanut butter). Hot water - well - I would mainly want the hot water to take a shower. Since I would be cleaning the next day I would get even more dirty and could delay the shower.

The next morning, I called the missionaries who had previously lived in this house and got directions on how to fix the problem. (Directions: Press the button on the meter outside, hold it for 3 seconds, then go inside wait 3 minutes, then try the stove and see if you have a flame. If this doesn't work, repeat until it works.) And wouldn't you know it on the first try, I found it worked - there were flames on the stove.

Problem solved - OR SO I THOUGHT.

An hour later when I went to turn on the hot water to start cleaning the layer of dirt that had accumulated in the house while unoccupied for past several months- I found only cold water. I tried the button pushing method again and had no success. After a few more tries, a few more phone calls. The other missionary decided we should call the gas company and see if they needed to do something with the pipe or meter.

A call was made at about 3:30pm on a Saturday and the company promised to "send someone out" between 5 and 7pm that evening. Since my Japanese is at a very beginning level the missionary who made the appointment was going to come by at 5 and help if there was any translation needed.

Problem solved - OR SO I THOUGHT

The gas company guy showed up at 4:30pm. While I was thrilled with his quick response time I was a bit uncertain about my Japanese abilities. While the gas guy was outside working on the meter, I quickly called the missionary who was going to do the translating - Gave him a heads up - "He's already here!" - We both realized the gas guy would be finished before the missionary could drive to my place, so he suggested I do my best with my limited Japanese and if I hit a communication wall to call him and he could - via phone- translate for me.

The gas guy worked on the meter for some time, then checked the gas lines in the house for leaks, plugged a pipe (formerly used for a gas oven - but I currently have no oven), and went through some basic safety procedures. (aka what to do if you suspect a gas leak, what to do if there is a major earthquake, etc). He tested the stove, he tested for hot water then I signed a form and that was it.

Problem solved.

I moved in by 5 on Friday and by about 5 on Saturday I had a working gas line and hot water. - I saw it as a one day "camping trip" in my own house. The "false flame" on the stove was probably just some residual that was left in the pipe line. The gas company had to actually come and reconnect service. The other missionaries apologized for my troubles and were sorry they didn't have the gas company set it all up earlier.

But I wasn't complaining. Besides a roof over my head, I had a clean water supply, electricity, heat (through an electric heater, kerosene heater and heated toilet seats), access to a mobile phone and internet. (Rather POSH "camping" facilities - eh!) I had recently received emails from a missionary friend in Nigeria, Africa, who was experiencing frequent power outages and water shortages. I have a friend in Sudan who is working to provide a sustainable water treatment and delivery system. It was one of those days were I was thankful God had called me to Japan, with all it's marvelous and dependable services. It was a day I was happy I had gas.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Move

As I begin my second semester of Japanese study (Spring/Summer Term) I realize there is a lot of "catching up" to do with this blog. So much has happened in the last 2 weeks! It's been a steep learning curve -a time of big adjustments and time of deep awareness of God's presence. I have so appreciated your prayers and want to share with you what's been happening and the ways I've seen God at work here.
Starting with THE MOVE . . .

The Crew -
"The Mehn" moving company came to pick me up at my host family's home. (Tim & John are pictured in the back row - Elaine is behind the camera).
The Car
After packing all of my things into the back of their car we waved good-bye to my host family. As we left the parking lot my host family's grandson -Ta-chan (aka Prince Charming) started crying as he realized what was going on. It made saying good-bye harder - but I was thankful we had set a date for me to come back to visit 2 weeks later.

The Storage Stuff-
John drove about 2 hours (from a Southwestern suburb of Tokyo to a Northwestern suburb) to my new place. We unloaded the car, then went to the Missionary storage shed (15 minutes from my house) and proceeded to load 2 vans of stuff that was left by other missionaries. Things like a refrigerator, washing machine, bed, table, chairs, dresser, rocking chair, etc.
After about 4 or 5 van loads we had it all moved.
The Blessings
I was so thankful for the sunny weather during the move, the heavy lifting done by Tim & John, the driving by Norene and John, the fix-it skills by the guys and the decorating wisdom from Norene and Elaine. The Mehn's lived in this house previously so they were so helpful in orientating me to the bus stop, bike repair shop, grocery store, train station, etc.
After we had it all unloaded in the house the "crew" went to work setting things up - putting my new bed together, hooking up the washing machine, hanging curtains. By the time we finished and went out to eat supper it was raining - what great timing!

It was such a blessing at the end of the day to come back to the house and find that someone had (unbeknownst to me) not only screwed the bed pieces together but had put sheets and blankets on the bed - ready for my weary body to crawl in.
My New Home
My house is a mission owned house. (John is locking the front door above.) In Japan its considered a 4LDK. Which means 4 bedrooms, a Living/Dining/Kitchen area. It is a 2 story house with a parking space just out the front door (It also has 2 toilet rooms, one ofuro/bath/shower room). It's on a cul-de-sac or dead end street, which in Japanese I think is called
ikidomari. Literally meaning "go, stop = iki=go, tomari= stop". This is the place were I'll live during my formal language study (for about 1 year) and then I'll move to another city where I'll start teaching at an international Christian school.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Think about it

Thank you for waiting patiently for an update on my move.
Here's the quick update -
  • I moved. Had no gas or hot water for 24 hours.
  • I found my way to the local train station by myself.
  • Met 6 of my 8 neighbors.
  • Went on a field trip with classmates.
  • Now I am in the midst of unpacking, cleaning and my last week of Japanese class for this semester.
  • And I still miss my host family something fierce.
Since I'm in the process of preparing a final presentation for my semester final you'll need to hang on a bit more for more pictures and more detailed update.

While you wait - I'll post a question my Japanese teacher asked yesterday. It's something to think about . . .

What is the most important job of a Christian missionary?
(Comments are welcome! - BTW would your answer be different if you knew it was asked by a non-Christian?)