Sunday, August 30, 2009


" I cannot even imagine where I would be today
were it not for that handful of friends
who have given me a heart full of joy.
Let's face it, friends make life a lot more fun."
- Charles R. Swindoll

Had 2 phone calls this weekend from some very dear friends,
some plans, some secrets, some unexpected joys and reasons to smile!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Losing It

I'd like to share photos of my vacation but having technical difficulties with the photo downloads so I'll start at the end of the vacation and share a story with you.

May your plans all be frustrated
and come to nothing
so that God's plans
may be fully realized in your life."
- Brennen Manning

I had an adventure getting home from Tokyo - everything went really smoothly with my non-reserve seat ticket on the Shinkansen (bullet train). I made it through Kyoto station and then on an express train to my local station. As I walked from the station to my house I thought - how this place really has come to feel like HOME and it was a good feeling.

The problem came when I got to my house in Nara and couldn't find my house keys - anywhere! I was locked out of my house and not sure what to do. So the self-talk started - "Keep it together, Harms, this could have happened to anyone!" Problem was - I didn't know how to solve this problem in this culture. I prayed God would help me get in the house without losing my cool.

I dumped everything out of my bags and searched for the keys - no luck.
I tried all the windows and doors on the house that I could reach - I was relieved and yet frustrated to find they were all very securely locked. I thought of stopping by the neighbors but no one was home. I drove to the Home Center store but it was closed. I contemplated who I should call - or where I could spend the night if I wasn't able to get in. Not knowing what to do next I saw the neighbor's light on, I swallowed my pride and rang the doorbell.

They had been collecting my mail during the vacation so when the 17 year old daughter "M" came to the door she saw me and she ran back in and then gave me the mail. I gave her the omiyage (souvenir/gift) I'd gotten for them from Tokyo. And then I swallowed my pride and explained that I was locked out of my house. She was the only one at her house so she called her mom. Then she brought out a phone book and suggested I try calling a locksmith, even pointing to a few phone numbers to try. Inwardly, I was hoping M would do the calling for me, but I muddled through with my broken Japanese to explain the situation to the locksmith.

After calling 2 places I found one that would send someone over that night to unlock the door. I thanked M and reported that the locksmith would call back with their estimated time of arrival. She went in her house and I went to sit on my front step reading my mail while waiting for the locksmith. After 30 minutes (of the 2 hour wait) M came back over and invited me to wait in her house.

I was blown away - and almost laughed -how God used me losing my keys - getting locked out of my house to allow an opportunity for me to spend an hour and a half hanging out with my 17 year old neighbor. We watched TV together and I learned she'd spent last summer in Australia and was hoping to go to Canada this summer to study English but due to the threat of swine flu she didn't go.

Eventually the locksmith came - and it took me longer to fill out the paperwork than it did for him to pick the lock. A few thousand yen later I was able to get in the house. As the locksmith was leaving the mother and youngest daughter from next door arrived home. They apologized for my trouble while I poured out my appreciation for their family's assistance. By the end of our talk she gave me some grapes and an omiyage (mini apple pie) from a trip they had taken somewhere.

Made for a unique end to my vacation and left me thanking God for using my mistake to build a relationship with my neighbors. And thanking him for the fact I live next door to some very kind people!

(p.s. Yes, I have an extra set of keys so things are all safe and sound now.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Noise pollution or election preparation?

This is a video someone else took that I found on Youtube. Vans like this have been circling my neighborhood this week in preparation for elections. Elections are on August 30 - Sunday - and this is one of the ways that the candidates get their name "out there". Thankfully, unlike the city/district elections held earlier in July where 26 or 30 candidates were out campaigning, for national elections there are 4 seats in the house of representatives up for grabs for Nara.

JapanToday also had an article on the speaker van "bringing politics to the streets".

I would think that candidates could find a more effective (and quiet) means of advertising by using the web or cellphone technology. But I learned by reading this article once campaigning open Aug. 18 they were not allowed to update their websites or send out mass emails.

Although there are ways to post negative adds about opponents. Check out my friend Andrea's blog to see a Japanese political ad.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A glimpse at Religion in Nara

In one building this priest ^ was chanting before Buddhist idols,
and in the building below people were swinging a fabric rope to ring a bell, tossing coins for an offering, and lighting candles and incense and saying prayers.

If you look closely at the fabric hanging here you will see deer - a symbol of Nara.
Below is a video which shows a bit more of the surroundings. If you listen carefully you can hear the priest chanting in the small white and wood building visible 24 seconds into the video. You can see the ladies with their parasols to block the sun. (It was a VERY hot June day!) In the distance, you may be able to spot Kofukuji 5-story pagoda (built in 730) and the Kokufuji National Treasure Hall.


What do you want?

Now that I'm getting the hang of posting videos - I find myself wondering what would be interesting for you to see?

So here's your chance - if you have a request for a video you want to see - send me an email or leave a comment with your request -we'll see if I can capture it before the rush of the school year starts.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Do you eat it or feed it?

I recently had a conversation about how foods we eat in some countries are considered strange in other countries. For example, in Japan "Unagi" or eel (most often served grilled with a bbq like sauce over rice) is common. But many Americans would cringe at the thought of eating eel. I surprised my Japanese friend by saying that its one of my favorite Japanese foods. (Of course, I should admit that I ate it and decided it was delicious, BEFORE I was told what type of fish I was eating. )

Then I was asked to name a food that Americans eat that Japanese people would cringe at. That was easy I said in Minnesota many people hunt, so eating deer meat is common.

In Nara, deer are considered sacred and it is a common tourist attraction to feed the deer in Nara Koen (Park). Here is a video of when Watanabe Sensei, Mihwa san and Bouen chan visited in June and we fed the deer rice crackers. As Mihwa-san is feeding the deer, her daughter is saying "kowai" = frightening! The deer can be pretty aggressive if they think you have food - one later jumped over the barrier to check Mihwa-san's pockets for more food.


So, how about you, in your corner of the world - do you feed deer or eat deer?
Would you try eel? I'd love to hear comments about your experiences with foods considered common in one place and strange in another depending on which country you live in?


In this second video, Bouen-chan builds up her courage to feed the deer. We had given them a stack of deer senbei (rice crackers) and learned that the paper wrapper for the senbei was edible too! Which cuts down on the litter in the park.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

In Season

Summer is a time for devouring whatever fruit is in season.

Very rarely do we have American grapes (Japanese grapes have tough skin and so to eat it you put a grape in your mouth eat the inside and spit out the skin. I think it's "mendokusai" or too much work for the reward). But my neighbors just gave me some red grapes as "omiyage" (souvenir) from a recent trip they took somewhere in Japan - I was excited to find that with this variety of grape I could eat the skin too!
My neighbor also gave me this ^ which grew on the tree near their house. She called it "aoi remon" 青いレモン。Which I thought was strange because I took it to mean "Blue lemon" but it looks green to me. I've also heard 青いバナナ ”aoi banana" which again I thought meant blue banana. But then realized "aoi" can also mean green to some Japanese. In fact traffic lights are considered red "aka" 赤,  黄色 "kiiro" yellow, and "aoi" 青い blue. There is another word みどり "midori" which means green.

So I was a bit confused and asked a Japanese friend about it. She said that in the case of "aoi remon" and "aoi banana", aoi can also be used to mean green. However, another meaning is "unripe". (immature and inexperienced are other interpretations of the word. Though I'm not sure if it can be used to describe people - Any Japanese speakers out there who can clarify?)

This ^ is "nashi" 、also known as Japanese pear, asian pear, sand pear or apple pear. It is a deliciously refreshing fruit! It is crisp like a honeycrisp apple but the flavor is closer to a pear. I peel it and slice it before eating. So good in the summer! (Shan - I ate this one in your honor! sorry you're missing nashi season!) According to a flier in the newspaper Nashi is on sale for 98yen. ($1=95 yen) so about $1.03 for one.

And here - the above photo (sorry sideways) and below photo show "momo"もも、 桃 I'm not a big fan of peaches in the states probably because my first introduction to a peach was the yellow peaches from a can. But this - white peach - is a staple for Japanese summers. In fact, there is a children's folk legend called "Momotaro" or "Peach Boy" about a boy who sprang from a giant peach and grew up to protect his village from ogres. (You can read the story with pictures on this site)

When you purchase "Momo" in the store they come wrapped in the protective white foam you see above. I usually peel the skin off the peach and slice it before eatting it. They're great plain, with ice cream, with yogurt and granola or in smoothies. According to the newspaper Momo is selling for 150 yen per peach. (US$1.58) Although price varies depending on the type of white peach.

The other fruit I see a lot of - is スイカ "suika" or watermelon. In stores I can find both red watermelon and yellow watermelon (both are green on the outside.). Watermelon in Japan tends to be much smaller and more expensive than the watermelon in USA.

They even sell square watermelon in some of the fancy department store groceries. But they are even more expensive like 10,000 yen for one. or US $106. In 2001, there was an article in the BBC news in 2001. If you think that's wierd - how about a 17 pound black watermelon for $6,100? Check it out!

At my host family's mountain house I learned a new trick of what to do if you find the watermelon you purchased is not very sweet. After it's cut into pieces - sprinkle some SALT on it. Not sure why but it makes it taste sweeter. Try it sometime!

What fruit is in season where you live?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cookie & Cockroach Video

I'm back in Nara after my trip to Tateshina and Tokyo and will eventually post some photos but I just picked up Cookie from his caretakers so I thought I'd post a little doggie video.
Cookie trapped a cockroach in the kitchen. Had it flipped on its back and then was baffled as to what to do next. Earlier I posted pictures here but until now hadn't had a chance to upload the video.

Cockroach in Japanese is gokiburi.
And just for the record seeing cockroaches in the house is not a common occurrence for me. This is only cockroach I've seen in Japan in my house or apartment EVER!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nara Tokae (4)

Images from Nara National Museum
Each evening between Aug. 8-14 from 7-9:45pm
candles are lit around Nara Koen (Park) and Toidaiji Temple

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nara Tokae (3)

Images from Nara around Kasuganoenchi
Each evening between Aug. 8-14 from 7-9:45pm
candles are lit around Nara Koen (Park) and Toidaiji Temple

THANK YOU - to all the Candle lighting volunteers who worked behind the scenes!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nara Tokae (2)

Images from Nara around Ukimido
Each evening between Aug. 8-14 from 7-9:45pm
candles are lit around Nara Koen (Park) and Toidaiji Temple

There are two kinds of light

–the glow that illumines,

and the glare that obscures.

- James Thurber

Sunday, August 16, 2009


When on the mission field,
never underestimate the power of a woman filled with the spirit of God.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


That what my Japanese friends call "Universal Studios Japan".

I visited with my friend Lisa and enjoyed the rides, shows and entertainment!

We were greeted by Hello Kitty.
Followed the yellow brick road and saw part of the musical "Wicked" (sung in Japanese)

We passed up the lines at ET to go experience Shrek in 4D
Heard from the Sesame street gang that we should get exercise and eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies every day but eat Cookies only "tokidoki" (sometimes).
We went to the Hollywood Dreams rollercoaster, Spiderman ride, Back to the Future ride, Peter Pan show, and Monster's Rock & Roll Musical.
In the evening we enjoyed the Magical Starlight Parade . . .

For those of you from Minnesota - this is like the Holly-dazzle parade - only without the sub-zero conditions and threat of frostbite! Much more enjoyable!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nara Tokae

Images from Nara around Sarusawaike & Gojyunidan
Each evening between Aug. 8-14 from 7-9:45pm
candles are lit around Nara Koen (Park) and Toidaiji Temple

Girl eating kakigori - shaved syrup-flavored ice

Thursday, August 13, 2009

KCS school update

Went out to visit the school remodeling project as of end of July.

Here are some photos of KCS Heguri
Here it was in February . . .

The scaffolding from the photo in this post in July is down!

Left part of the photo is the Multipurpose Room
Upstairs window is the library & Computer lab

Looking from the future playground

High school & Middle school building is on the right,
Elementary building is on the left
Offices are on 1st floor of HS/MS building

Elementary building from the other side
Upstairs is 3rd/4th grade
Downstairs is 1st/2nd grade (eventually)

In the photo, I'm standing in the future 1st & 2nd grade classroom. Depending on funding and when the next phase of construction is completed, my class will either meet here or in a classroom in the middle school building.

View of the surrounding farm fields looking toward Heguri stationView of mountain in the distance

Wednesday, August 12, 2009



End of March: discussed needed appliances for new housing - new gas stove top in Kitchen and Air conditionaer/heating unit for living room. Met with contractor.

End of July: heat & Humidity becomes unbearable - decide a fan just isn't very effective.
Friday morning: Called Contractor to make an appointment for an Air Conditioner (called an "Air Con" in Japanese)
Saturday morning : Contractor came to the house to discuss make and model of potential Air Con and evaluate room size.
Monday: Agreed upon AirCon was ordered at 40% below catalog cost
Tuesday at 9 : AirCon was delivered
Tuesday at 10:30: Air Con was installed
Tuesday by 10:35: room was cool enough to need sweatshirts! tutorial on how to use remote control for Air Con began.
Thursday: payment was made in cash to the contractor.

Ah - the efficiency of buying an aircon in Japan!


Lisa and Cookie looking at the outside unit

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cookie & Cockroach

While I'm on vacation Cookie (the dog I'm dog-sitting for a year) is at a friends house enjoying the entertainment of a family with kids!

Before Cookie went to his new home I gave him a bath and he then displayed his annoyance with the hair dryer. He was so adorable I had to get a photo of the soggy doggy.

Another day this week he was chasing something around the room. After investigatin I realized it was a cockroach. I was caught in a dilemma - do I grab a something to kill the cockroach with or grab the camera and capture the moment? I chose the camera and got a photo of Cookie wondering what to do with the bug now that it was on its back. Later after some more chasing by Cookie, I was able to kill the cockroach.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Going on Vacation

Over the summer I have had the privilege of hosting 7 friends at my house in Nara. My first Japanese house guest was my host mother who was visiting from Tokyo on her way to a school reunion in Osaka. She came on a Friday in early June. We went out to eat tonkatsu (photo left) then returned to the house. It was fun to have a mother/daughter weekend - even if it was for less than 24 hours. I was amazed how similar her personality is to my American Mom. She taught me how to make bread in the Japanese bread machine I own, she helped me determine the weeds from the flowers in my garden and we sat chatting (in Japanese) about church, family and friends in Tokyo. I think her trip helped reassure her that I'm doing ok living 'away from home'.

I've been so blessed to have been accepted as part of the Kimura family. So when they invited me to spend part of August (the hotteest/most humid month in Japan) with them at their mountain home - I jumped at the chance. My host father, the architect, designed a mountain home that saw the completion of construction this fall. I've been anticpating visiting this place in person (I've seen videos of the construction progress). I've stayed at their property in the mountain when I was a short-term missionary in Japan and was always amazed at the impact nature has spiritually. Nature is a refreshing reminder that "God Did It". A Truth you sometimes forget living in the concrete jungle of a city.

So while I spend 5 days in the mountains practicing my Japanese, eating some home cooked Japanese food and playing with my host family's grandkids. And a few days in Tokyo reconnecting with friends and co-workers. You can enjoy some preposted photos which will appear daily on the blog to while I'm gone.

Photos - My host mom, host sister, host sister's friend and I at Mt. Tateshina, Nagano ken in 1995.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Guest blogger:: Casualities

Just before I came on the Japan field a missionary in my mission resigned in her first term.
This summer I received news that a missionary couple - my co-workers - were resigning. While I'm not going to go into the background of their departures, they were friends and co-workers, so while I pray God's blessings upon them in this new chapter of their lives - they will be greatly missed here. With only 8 missionaries in our mission on the Japan field the need for prayer to help sustain us on the field, the need for fellow laborers to join us here and the renewed realization of the precious relationships with many on the field has hit.

At the end of July, I received a prayer email from my friend, Amy Cervone, about casualty rates among missionaries in Japan.
(Photo of Amy & I at Horyuji beginning of July 09) With her permission I'm posting part of her email below as a guest blogger for the day.

"According to Arthur Holland, a Japanese Evangelist, who undoubtedly got his information from another publication, Japan has one of the highest casualty rates amongst missionaries. “Casualty” means leaving for a reason other than retirement. Included, to my understanding, are those who change jobs and those who have to leave for physical or emotional reasons.

There are many theories as to why this may be. Some of it might be because of the slow going of the Gospel here in Japan. It seems to take years of pouring one’s heart out to see just one person accept Christ. Another reason might be the culture of Japan. There is no such thing as a good culture or a bad culture. God made all people in His image, and people make culture. Nonetheless Japanese culture is unique and, for some people, hard to live with. (I know two friends who currently live in Japan who have also lived in other countries including those in Asia and Africa. Both agree that Japan is the most different and hardest to adjust to.) For others, the difficulty of the language is too much. After a few years of trying and trying, they go home.

But the reality is plain. Japanese people still need to hear about God. Only if someone is willing to go and tell them will they hear. Those who can go, please come! Those who can’t, please pray! With struggles such as those listed above and with the history being stacked against God’s workers in Japan, we need your prayers.

I know you pray for me regularly, and I am so thankful. When I say that your prayers carry me through, it’s really true. Not only do your prayers help me with tasks that I am doing and with meeting new people, but they fill my heart with God’s joy and peace. Thank you!"


Photo: Horyuji - Buddhist temple founded in 607 AD. As one of the first Buddhist temples built in Japan, it contains many traces of the Chinese influence on this religions adaptation to Japan. Today - a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nara. The site still serves as a seminary as well as a monastery. The temple is said to have one of the oldest wooden buildings existing in the world. (BTW, there were no nails used in constructing the building.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nesting (part 4)

Assembling the bookshelves from IKEA last week (see previous posts- part 1,2,3 for background) was a ton of fun with Lisa helping. We started when we got home from IKEA and worked to finish the wall of shelves in one evening watching DVD's as we worked.
(The black bins in the picture are filled with books waiting to be shelved).Cookie tried to be of help but found it discouraging when he realized he didn't have thumbs.We finished about midnight and boy did it feel good!

This week I filled the shelves with books.
It was like unpacking memories as I put each book on a shelf.
The small book shelf on the left has children's books for my classroom on it.
The IKEA shelves consist mostly of non-fiction books - from my Master's program (InterCultural Studies), Japanese studies, Bible studies and Third Culture Kid resources.
Yes, I love reading books!

Which reminds me of a quote . . .
I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.
Jane Austen (1775 - 1817), Pride and Prejudice, 1811

My next project: trying to figure out how to recycle all the boxes that these bookshelves came in!