Friday, August 29, 2008

Ame onna - Rain Girl

It's August in Japan - typically one of the hottest times of the year. But recently Tokyo has cooled down with more than our normal share of thunderstorms, rain showers and flash flood warnings (at least I think that's what it's translated as!). 3 times in the last week I've been caught in a down pour on the way home from language school, or church. Seeing as I don't drive here (yet) it makes for interesting biking or a wet walk home! Needless to say I'm becoming more familiar with my local bus routes!

Often the morning will start out sunny and clear then in the evening ,I'll be surprised by the dark clouds and thunder. I've recently purchased 2 new umbrellas (giving me a total of 5!) as I had forgotten to bring one with me when the sun was shinning. Rainy season is usually in July - and typhoon season has yet to arrive (?September?) So I think I'll get good use out of all the umbrellas!

雨女 or あめ おんあ or ame onna (literally - rain girl) is the term given to a person who seems to always bring the rain with her when a picnic or outdoor celebration is planned. It seems my friend Mihwa and I have gained the reputation of being "雨女” .  

Cartoon from Japan Times Noodles by Gwen Muranaka

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Food on-a-stick

Well it's state fair time in MN (my other home). And the main reason to go to the fair is the FOOD! (I'd love to dig into a bucket of the sweet Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies!!)
The fair is especially known for food served on a stick. Japanese festivals have food on a stick at many of the summer festivals here too. (thus the above cartoon). The most common on a stick food here is grilled chicken on a stick (yaki tori) or grilled rice balls on a stick (Mochi). Here are some photos I took in Japan this spring of food on-a-stick . . . .

Grilled fish on-a-stick
Grilled Corn on-a-stick
Grilled Squid on -0-stick

Below is a sampling of what's available "on-a-stick" in Minnesota this year.

  • 1/3 lb slice of bacon fried and carmelized with maple syrup, served on a stick with dipping sauces
  • Macaroni and cheese on-a-stick
  • Tator tots (hash browns formed with cheddar cheese, bacon, green onion, sour cream) deep fried on-a-stick
  • Batter dipped, deep fried candy bars on-a-stick (Snickers, Milky Way, Three Musketeers, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups)
  • Scotch Eggs on-a-stick (hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried)
  • Porcupine meatballs on-a-stick (wild rice and ground pork)
  • Chocolate covered cheesecake on-a-stick
Cartoon from Japan Times Noodles by Gwen Muranaka

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Swifter, Higher, Stronger

We interrupt our regularly "scheduled" blogging to go back to language school (fall term started yesterday) and squeeze in as much Olympic viewing as possible. (Yep, I'm a bit of an Olympic freak!) I love watching the many people who have worked so hard to get to these games and joining all of the people and countries that participate in so many ways in these games. I must admit I love cheering for the underdog and while I'm a bit partial to US and Japan teams- I'll also be applauding those athletes that may not win a medal but are giving it their best shot just the same.

I'm watching gymnastics as I type (Gold medal for Shawn Johnson on Beam! - You go girl! and Jonathan Horton - Amazing stunts on the horizontal bar!). I enjoyed cheering for both USA and Japan during the woman's soccer game yesterday (US 4- Japan 2) putting the US women in the Gold medal game (against Brazil!!) and Japan will go for for Bronze (against Germany).

Earlier in the week, I watched swimming - lots of swimming - Japanese TV channels were just as interested in Micheal Phelps getting 8 gold medals as channels in the states. (Did you realize, as of this typing- only 5 countries have more Gold medals than Phelps for Beijing 08?! and at the start of the games 87 countries of the 204 participating this year had never had a medal winner!) But the hero in the pool for Japan was the first swimmer ever (from any country) to win both breaststroke events at consecutive Olympics - that is Kosuke Kitajima !

Coverage of the games from a Japanese perspective is giving me the opportunity to learn more about some sports I've never paid much attention to before - like judo (Japan won 7 medals) and table tennis (which has been dominated by China and South Korea). I've had the chance to see how a group oriented culture embraces its athletes and presents them to the public.
I enjoyed the opening ceremonies on 8/08/08 while talking with my parents via Skype video phone. Since they were in Minnesota - and their TV channel wouldn't be showing the event until later in the day - I pointed my camera toward the TV and we watched the parade of athletes together as we chatted. I heard later on the radio that 15% of the world was watching that one AMAZING event!

Even though I couldn't understand all the commentary (My TV only broadcasts in Japanese) I was excited to see and recognize the Chinese character (also used in Japanese writing)that was created by the artists under the movable boxes.  pronounced "wa" in Japanese and meaning "harmony" in Japanese (and Chinese).

Now back to enjoying the last 5 days of the games before waiting another 4 years for the Summer Olympics. If you're looking for some spiritual application of the traits that Olympians possess, I recommend checking out and clicking on the podcasts on the right for the contenders series or finding it on iTunes. I just listened to "Determination" today while riding the train home from Japanese class and was greatly encouraged!

Photos from:

I'd love to hear from you - my readers - -

If you watch (are watching) the Olympics - what is the perspective like from where you live? What do you like best about the Olympics? What do you not like about it?
Who do you cheer for? and why?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vacation Tradition

Two years ago - I spent this week of August at a lake in Northern Minnesota. with a group of friends I've known since college.

One year ago, I was island hopping on a cruise in the Caribbean with 28 of my relatives.

This year I spent part of my vacation in Karuizawa, Japan, near Swan Lake and the other part - well it also has to do with water - but its further away - as I'm watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics (via TV)- where I'm seeing lots of swimming events (among others).

Reading Signs

This sign was found at the entrance to an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. It causes me to wonder if smoking seats cut down on the cases of lung cancer in Japan or if it adds to the problem of second hand smoke?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

K.Y. - How well do you read the air?

Did you know that Third Culture Kids (TCKs) exists in the Japanese community under another name? It's called "Kikokushijo" and the term was coined in the 1970's. According to a recent Japan Times article:

"Kikokushijo" are children of Japanese nationals who have spent a period of at least a few months abroad, usually because of a parent's job. They come not just from the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, but also Singapore, India, Brazil and Dubai. What they have in common is that they have been educated — usually in English — in Western school systems or international schools.
Kikokushijo (or Returnees) face similar challenges to Third Culture Kids growing up in other cultures around the globe with the added pressure of strong group pressure. K.Y. - kuki yomeru - is the ability to pick up on social cues and act/respond accordingly. After living outside of the Japanese culture Returnees are often not as quickly able to read the are and increasingly face struggles in their peer groups and with authority figures.

The Japan Times Article,

Schools aim to cultivate returnee students' 'second culture'

Talks about how one school is interacting with this group of students in Japan. It's interesting article to read to learn more about the challenge facing Japanese students when they return to their passport culture.

Dwayne Dixon, a Ph.D. student in cultural anthropology at Duke University, N.C., has been studying kikokushijo for two years, focusing on how their identities have been formed or transformed by their experiences in Tokyo and other major world cities. What he says surprised him most was the returnees' incredible resilience. He says that because of their ability to assimilate into both cultures they often act as go-betweens, or ambassadors, but that without support the opposite can happen: Returnees have the potential to be "the biggest deviants — or the heir apparents — of Japan, and it's all based on their ability to assimilate back into Japan," he says.

Take it one step further - After reading the article - think about how much more pressure there may be for students who become Christians while living outside of Japan. While there are some churches that are very visitor friendly and openly welcome kikokushijo (Returnees). There are other Japanese Christian Churches that place just as much pressure to conform to the group within the church as you may find in the school yard. Which is why I think groups like Japanese Christian Fellowship Network (JCFN) and Reaching Japanese for Christ (RJC) are so important!

If you know of a Japanese student in your community - JCFN and RJC have some valuable resources (and conferences) which may help you reach out as well as help connect them to Returnee friendly churches in Japan.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Art Gallery Photos

Here are the 3 photos I chose to display for the Karuizawa Rengo "Art Gallery" after the Photography class.

I took tons of photos of the lake, trees, birds, bugs, waterfall, flowers and a few of people -some using color, others in black and white. (I was the only one of the class to use black and white. )In the end, I chose 3 black and white photos to print, which in an odd sort of way, seemed (to me anyway) to fit together - though I probably couldn't express with words what that connection is.

When I was critiqued by the teacher I received good marks. He especially liked the last photo. The way the light seems to spotlight the man, how I caught him in sort of mid step, and the fact that it doesn't need cropping or trimming - it could be printed just as is. He also thought that because this photo was taken in black and white rather than in color - it seems to have a timeless quality to it. Then he said some other things - which unfortunately I couldn't understand - and which didn't get translated.

The middle photo - a closeup of the waterfall received good marks from the young ladies at the camp - "It looks like it could be a postcard," one said. (which was high praise from her as she had earlier said she loves postcards and the photos she took were very modern, containing cool graphic elements)

And the top photo - got high marks from those at camp who themselves were moms and dads.

I'd love to hear what you think of the photos. - So please leave a comment!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Photography Class

One of my favorite activities from the Church Conference - was the elective session. I chose the Photography Class which was taught by a professional photographer. We were given instruction to take LOTS of photos - from different angles and positions and told that after 2 hours at the park (Swan Lake) we were to return to the camp and the teacher would critic our work and give tips on how to improve. We also had the opportunity to have a few of our best photos printed and put on display for the rest of camp to see. But were warned that there would be no trimming or editing of the photo before it was printed.

(Check tomorrow's post for the photos I chose to have printed and displayed.)About the photos in this post:
Top: Makoto (Yurigoaka church) and a Lady from Tamagawa church are trying to decide which photo to print.
Middle: Makita-san (Yurigoaka church) plays around with his son's (Makoto) sunglasses while behind him the professional photographer (in the white shirt) looks at the photos being displayed on the wall.
Below: Just 4 of the over 300 photos I took, that didn't make it to print. (Hey - I know 300 is a lot but in my defense the teacher did said to take at least 3-5 shots of every subject! And besides -the beauty of digital is I can erase the ones I don't like!)


Sunday evening I returned from a 3 day camp/conference for the Tokyo area churches in the Japanese Baptist Church Association. It took place in Karuizawa, - the websites describe it as "Lying at the foot of Mount Asama (2560m), at the border of Nagano and Gunma prefectures, Karuizawa is a mountain resort town favored by Tokyo residents wanting to escape the heat of summer." - They fail to mention that it's also a great way to get away from the concrete and skyscrapers!

I'm so thankful for your prayers - what follows is a description of how God answered.

Prayers for patient and graceful interaction with the language, culture, and relationships . . .
  • I had numerous conversations in Japanese with various camp attenders. I'm very thankful for the patience that was exhibited by so many as they tried to understand what I was saying and was thrilled when I could follow (some) of the conversations. In one of the meetings I was officially introduced and gave a greeting in Japanese. I shared a room with 8 other Japanese women from various churches and ate with a different group of people at each meal.
  • A big thanks goes to the Yurigaoka church members who not only gave me a ride there but helped me by answering my questions, correcting my grammar, and notifying me when my pronunciation was off - (obaasan and obasan) - Yep - one syllable makes a big difference when it means you just called someone an old woman/grandma rather than a middle aged woman/aunt. ;0)
Prayers for endurance, energy and encouragement for myself- and for other camp attendees . . .
  • We arrived at the conference site hours before it was to begin and I enjoyed a relaxing cup of coffee and deep conversation with Takahashi Sensei, Pastor of Yurigaoka church. It's refreshing for me to have the opportunity to speak her at this length- (as we usually only see each other at church 1 or 2x a month). And also great to speak with her at this depth -I don't have many relationships at this depth here - and most of my conversations lately have been very "surfacy" due to language limits. But we talked about cultural adjustment, language learning, church growth, expectations for the weekend, and what God has been teaching us lately. (using English and Japanese)
  • The theme of this years camp was Numbers 13: 30 - Certainly we can do it! - What an encouragement to be reminded of God, the one who promises, as well as what he promises. It reminded life should not be about whether I can do it or not - but am I with God on this or not. If I am with God - "Certainly we can do it!"
  • The first night I enjoyed 8 hours of sleep! Great for energy levels, staying awake during sermons, and a full day of Japanese interaction. The 2nd night - only 5 hours of sleep (thanks in part to a pillow filled with beans!)- but I did enjoy a 2 hour nap in the car ride home.
Prayers for refreshment and time to simply BE with God amid the meetings and language barriers, while away from the city . . .
  • I enjoyed a walk by myself in the woods on Saturday afternoon and early Sunday morning had time to just BE with God in nature - while the fog still lingered over Swan lake.