When Family Comes To Town…

When Family Comes To Town…

This is me not apologising for taking two weeks off from blogging.
Mostly because, turns out, this big ol’ world keeps right on spinning without my weekly internet contributions and that’s a good reality check for me.
But also because, SOMETIMES LIFE IS JUST TOO GOOD TO WRITE ABOUT IT INSTEAD OF LIVING IT.
So live it, we have. With gusto, joy & a lot of travelling. And now, back home in my beloved sitting/setting/sewing/only room with our tiny box tv where I can hook up our iPhone to play Blacklist on Netflix while I sort through 1,000 photos, I’m back to the keyboard. It’s nice to see the world…and it’s also nice to sleep past 6am. OAKIE DON’T PLAN NO RELAXING VACAYS Y’ALL.

Ahem. Anyway, as the title alludes, my mother-in-love, Jill, came to visit April 2nd-11th & it did this heart good. Homesickness is a funny thing. I very much feel like we are home here, but I do so miss the comfort of familiarity, family & friends. Seeing Mama Jill took the edge off that pain and for that I am eternally grateful!
Mostly, we caught up and chatted about life and drank coffee together in the mornings. It was amazing. But per Oakie’s MO, we also planned some fun things to go see & do. Amazingly, she kicked the jet-lag like a pro & we were ready to hit the town just two days after she landed!

First off, a City-rama Tour of Tokyo (isn’t that a fun name? I want to use that suffix for so many things now: Dinner-rama, coffee-rama, puppy-rama, sleeping-rama. Don’t you?).
We went to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, a Shinto shrine with beautiful grounds right in the middle of a huge city.

That large Tori gate in the top photo was made out of two humongous trees brought to Japan from Taiwan. Wowzers.

Pro-tip: If you ever want a closer look at any photos I post, simply clicking on them will bring up a slideshow version in a larger size & show any captions I might have attached.

Next up, we got to see the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. The Emperor was otherwise engaged, but his gardens were simply lovely.

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And lastly, we went to the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo; the oldest of the Buddhist temples in Tokyo. We were there at the height of cherry blossom season, so it was a treat to experience the festivities and scenery.

We covered a lot of Tokyo ground; I mean, we City-rama-ed that place.

The last weekend Mama Jill was visiting, Oakie planned a bullet train trip to Hiroshima! We had never been before so it was an exciting destination for all of us.
Also, bullet trains are the best. Better than planes as far as leg-room, open lavatories, and seeing the sites. Downside: No in-seat entertainment, but this girl was asleep the whole way there so whatevs.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel, the New Hiroden, in downtown Hiroshima, just a streetcar (named Desire, as Oakie kept saying) ride away from the Peace Memorial and A-Bomb Dome & Museum. It was charming and roomy. I especially loved how the in-house restaurant constantly had string instruments playing classic ’40s music. I felt like I should be wearing a dressing gown and commenting on the morning news to my husband. #moviestardreamsofthe1940s

Our first day we roamed a massive department store with shops like Chanel, Tiffany’s & Lacoste inside. It felt like you had to have a minimum $100 tag to get a spot in this place. Needless to say, this was mostly a window-shopping excursion, but I’m a window-shopper at heart so it was all good. I later found out, this was the department store in front of which Sadako Sasaki’s friends fund-raised for the present-day Children’s Peace Memorial at the Hiroshima Peace Park.

After that, we caught a ferry out to the famous Tori gate in the water on Miyajima Island. We explored the area, hiking the whole mountain (it felt like) & watched the sunset over the water. Probably my favourite part of the trip. Spring was in the air & being on that mountain was life-giving in a way nature hasn’t been for me before. Winter feels long in Japan. I heard that GA has already seen 80 degree weather, but here, we’re still waking up to 40 degree mornings IN APRIL. I know this is called “spring” in other places, but it is hard on this southern girl. Winter blues got me this year, but being in the sunshine with cherry blossoms & wild deer that let you feed them & warm air & wilderness was therapeutic.

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We spent most of Saturday exploring the Peace Park area, but we started with a walk through the Shukkei-en Garden. This was originally a castle garden in the 1600s, but was destroyed in the A-bomb. It was reconstructed and donated to the city. It is an oasis in this city and we easily spent two hours just roaming the grounds and breathing in the peace & beauty we found there.

We then headed to the Peace Park area. We had been advised to save this for last & I’m glad we did.
We started with the A-bomb Dome, one of the only remaining structures after the explosion because it was detonated almost directly overhead. This caused all the force outward leaving what was directly underneath standing.
When I was about 11, I was cast in a production called A Thousand Cranes. It is the story of Sadako Sasaki who was 2 when the A-bomb decimated Hiroshima. She & her family survived and everyone seemed healthy afterwards, but by the time she was about 11, she was showing symptoms that led a doctor to diagnose her with Leukaemia. She was a brave, strong-spirited girl & she fought with hope and joy, folding 1000 cranes in the hopes that the old tale was true: That if one could fold 1000 paper cranes, their wish would be granted. She folded well over 1000 & by the end of her life was folding them so small she needed a needle to complete them. She died at 12 having folded about 1400 cranes. We told this story as children, for children & it has forever impacted my life.
On this day, I travelled to her town. I saw the damage. I saw the cranes she folded and the notebooks in which her doctors tracked her decline. But I also saw the hope & regrowth she inspired in an entire country & today people from around the world come to read her story and remember. This was a sobering day; the museum made me nauseous. But I read something I will never forget: Scientists thought nothing could ever grow from that shattered earth again, but within a few months new life was growing where old life was gone. It was considered a miracle. It gave the people of Hiroshima hope.
Sadako’s story has circled the world. It made its way into mine. It humbled me and chastised my selfish heart. The atrocity of war must never be forgotten. For that reason I am grateful for places like this that remain to remind.

On Sunday, we had a free day so we rented electric bicycles and rode around the city, stopping at a park for a hike, eating dinner at a riverside cafe & seeing parts of Hiroshima most tourists don’t see…ok we got lost, but it was so worth it! I mean, if you haven’t tried biking with a motor to help you, you haven’t biked the best. It was awesome.

Our last task was one I needed to do, so we found some origami paper and we biked back to the Peace Park and we each folded a paper crane for peace. The skill fell back into my hands more easily than I had imagined it could after so many years laying dormant & I taught my husband & mother-in-law and we put our cranes in the memorial basket where they collect them. IMG_2970We folded them for Sadako. We folded them for peace. We folded them in hope.
This side of heaven is broken and falling under the crushing weight of something gone wrong. It is awakening in us a homesickness for something we’ve never known, for a peace & wholeness that can’t be found here. But it exists. God tells us it’s written on our hearts. It’s the reason we don’t feel quite right here. Home is coming for us. His name is Jesus. He came once to show us the way & He is coming again to make everything right. 1000 cranes won’t fix your life, but the idea of striving daily, hourly, minutely to see the ground-roots of His kingdom on earth, the small foretastes of what is coming, the hope that gets us up in the morning? That’s a life I want to live & through it I hope others see the substance behind this shadow, the sun that causes these rays, the God-man that gives me life: Jesus.

He is coming to fulfil the hope these memorials speak.
The hope of peace, harmony, loving-kindness.
He is coming to make all things right.

 

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Fuji Safari Park & Easter in Japan

Fuji Safari Park & Easter in Japan

Thanks to a society that prioritizes obeying the rules, there are places like the Fuji Safari Park in Japan where you can actually hand-feed lion & tigers & bears (say it with me now: OH MY!). There used to be places like this in American zoos but kids these days…this is why we can’t have nice things, AMERICA.

ANYWAY, I digress. We got to feed fruit to bears & meat to lions & thanks to my current re-reading  of The Chronicles of Narnia, the feeling of the lion’s breath on my face when it ROARED SIX INCHES AWAY FROM ME was accompanied by equal amounts terror/screaming & awe/wonder. And by equal parts, I mean all the terror/screaming & a dash of awe/wonder once we were far, far away.

Easter is not a holiday that most Japanese celebrate, which in a way is really nice because CAN WE JUST TALK ABOUT THE CRAZINESS THAT IS PUBLIX THE WEEK BEFORE EASTER?!
I shopped for Easter dinner ingredients on SATURDAY and all 12 of us at the commissary & Japanese grocery stores had plenty of room for our carts. #winning

This Easter was necessarily different for us because we’re, ya know, six thousand nine hundred & sixty two miles away from Columbus, GA & seven thousand two hundred & eighty seven from Winter Haven, FL making the trek impossible on a two-day weekend. So it was our first Easter just the two of us. Our pioneer Easter. But you know about pioneers, right? They simply never travel alone. And we didn’t either.

Our Easter was full of other pioneers, some of whom are home in Japan & some of whom are in the same transitory boat as us & it was beautiful.

First, my friend Ms. Judy (who has told me to just call her Judy, BUT I CANNOT DO IT), invited me to a cookie decorating class. I’d never done this before, but oh my goodness I’m now saving up to open up my own cookie bakery. It was the most fun I’ve had where food colouring was involved.

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*all photos of me with the cookies were taken by Oakie who would hereby like his photography to be known as PhotOAKraphy.

*this is not true. He is not even home right now. I made this up. But he did do a stellar job on those photos.

Secondly, every year on Easter, our church has their service in Kinuta Park, Tokyo, but this was the first year that it’s lined up perfectly with the cherry blossoms bloom, so we praised Jesus in Japanese & English under the blossoms and the blue sky.

And then we had a picnic. I don’t know if some of you had ever had an Osborne picnic, but we PIC.NIC. Mostly this is especially thanks to one of my all-time favourite Christmas gifts ever: Our Picnic Backpack. This is exactly what it sounds like. A backpack with everything you need for a picnic: pretty plates, silverware, cups & cloth napkins, salt & pepper shakers, a cutting board & cheese knife and of course a blanket. Hannah & Cody, three years in & we’re STILL loving it.

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We ended the day with an Easter dinner at our friends, the Thitte’s, home; complete with ham, asparagus, squash casserole, a killer asian salad, mac & cheese with Easter noodles, a chocolate cake (with homemade icing-GO ALLIE!) and lemon meringue pie. It was more then we deserved and better than I could have imagined.IMG_4999

Plus, I cracked the second twin-egg I’ve seen since we moved to Japan…so there’s that.IMG_6136

Jesus died to give us something of so much greater value than all the things I’ve written about: A restored relationship with the God of the universe, victory over death, hope for the future, adoption into the family of the Most High King.

& then He gave us all these things beside.
He is a good, good Father.
Happy Easter! He is Risen!
Bonus Video: The Unexpected Letter

 

 

“There Is Only One Encounter”

“There Is Only One Encounter”

Oh Japan. How thou hast sweetly wooed this western heart…
(little too shakespeare-y? note taken. moving on.)

In my time in Japan, I’ve had my ideas of beauty radically shifted. I mean, I’ve always had a deep-seated wanderlust & I’ve intentionally set out to let seeing the world change me, but MAN. I just didn’t see this fool coming!
From the first day when 3 men helped us roll our bags to a waiting-on-us bus & we drove into a Tokyo sunset, I was awestruck. & it hasn’t stopped.

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“Send me the sunset I love the most…when I’m in Tokyo”

It’d probably be silly to make a List Of All The Japanese Things I Love The Most…
[1. little kids in matching caps
2. tiny coffee shops
3. vending machines with cold coffee
4. Starbucks on every corner & in every train station
5. coffee (too obvious?)
6. best everyday fashion I’ve ever seen (& I spent 5 weeks in Italy. Sorry, Japan wins.)
7. ALL THE RESTAURANTS: indian, ramen, yakiniku…ALL OF THEM.
8. walking & train-ing everywhere (thanks to Allie, for the verb-age)
9. mountain sunsets every day!
10. overwhelming societal kindness]
…right? Ok, good. Then I definitely won’t do THAT.

Recently, I’ve had what I deem to be more than my fair share of beauty in distinctly Japanese packaging. There is a saying at Japanese tea ceremonies, “There is only one encounter.” The meaning behind it is essentially that you should be motivated to serve your guest tea as if they were the only person you would ever serve tea, thus giving it your all every time. (& we thought we were being clever with our YOLO. HA. Japan’s had that on lock for CENTURIES.)

Isn’t that beautiful?
This day.
This moment.
There is only one encounter.
What about my life would change if I served others as if they were the only person I would get to serve?
There is only one encounter.
Would I go slower?
There is only one encounter.
Would I be so preoccupied with what’s coming next?
There is only one encounter.

The traditional tea ceremony takes over an hour.
An HOUR just to drink tea.
To take time to serve and be served.
To revel in the goodness of that warm cup & the kindness of your friend.
To demonstrate, in a tangible way, how much your guest means to you.
There is only one encounter.

Enjoying this day with Chieko-san & Mieko-san warmed my heart in a way that only lavish hospitality can. This welcome, this invitation, this lingering spoke of something we are all longing for: to belong to each other; to be welcomed into something greater than ourselves; to be given a place at the table.

At what table are you sitting today?
To what table can you invite the one who doesn’t belong?
To lavish on them the grace of hospitality? The welcome of a friend? The invitation?
I created another iMovie of our tea ceremony. It’s 6 hours long. SIKE! Less than 5 minutes. Please enjoy if you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like & let the simplicity encourage you to offer what you have to another.
It need not be elaborate; only enough.

Tea Ceremony Video

The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival:
(WARNING: I’m about to bomBARD you with cherry blossom pictures. If these are not your thing or might incline you to say, “I mean REHLLY, there are simply TOO many photographs!” in a British accent, please scroll.) (I would also like to point out that the spell check gave me the option of changing ‘British’ to ‘brutish’ and DAHLING, that REHLLY set me to LAUGHING!)

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There was a geyser that went off several times a day and we made it! #winning
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I. Love. Rainbows.
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when all the work trucks are matchy, but not TOO matchy…

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This tree hadn’t turned all the way and I liked it the best. The Almost Tree.

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Pinecones anyone? 3 for $10!
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I put a cherry blossom in my cherry blossom ice cream and was the talk of the town…I assume that’s what they were pointing and talking about…
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GUYS! I FOUND NANA FROM PETER PAN!
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This is a 1,000 year old tree…
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let that sink in…
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It’s customary at temples to leave all the trees untouched.
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Sections might die, but the tree grows around them & all the dead & broken parts become part of its beauty. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.
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More hina dolls!!!
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Oakie wanted this picture included because it has a tire in it & that reads redneck to him.
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Also, this hotel bus we passed as we stopped along the coast…

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Oh Captain, my Captain!

This day was as close to perfection as it maybe gets this side of heaven:
Perfect weather.
Beautiful cherry blossoms.
Ice cream that TASTED like cherry blossoms.
A walk by the sea.
1,000 year old trees.

…and I thought I’d seen beauty already.
It’s everywhere y’all.
Look for it today & if you don’t see it, create it.
Invite that friend or that almost-friend.
Watch their face light up when you ask them to tell you their story, their favorites, their bests.

There is only one encounter.

 

 

27 Things I Learned About Japan This Week

 * I gave myself a week off from blogging so I could get our new digs (hello 70s lingo; where’d you come from?) all ready to be lived in and stuff. It was well worth the break. Thank you, retroactively, for your patience. *
This week found us in a classroom for 40 hours participating in a Japanese Crash Course, not to be confused with a very similar class, the Japanese How NOT To Crash Course where I earned my driver’s license—which I have used four entire times all by myself…without crashing! *self-five*
From this experience, I have narrowed down the gems I came away with to this simple list. Consider it your crash course in Japan. You’re welcome.
1.    Just as there is a stereotype about all Japanese people being either samurais or ninjas, there is also an on-going stereotype that all Americans are gunslingers or sharp shooters. In the words of our sensei, Mitsuo-san, “Not all American carry gun! I was shock!”
(*all future quotes belong to Mitsuo-san unless otherwise noted*)
2.    Speaking of samurais, did you know that many of the Japanese customs and/or mannerisms were born of samurai defense tactics? For instance, the whole chopsticks-in-noodles and drinking-from-your bowl things are simply more effective ways to eat when you constantly have to watch your back for enemy samurais! If you were bending over your bowl, they could “chop your neck off!” Anther example is the bow vs. handshake. A handshake could easily be a trick to pull you in and “chop your neck off”, but a bow can be as short or as deep as your trust in the other person.
Little trust = little bow.
Deep trust = deep bow.
3.    In order to explain this to us even further, our 2nd teacher, Takahashi-san compared it to how the biblical Gideon found his 300 soldiers. How they drank at the river showed their aptitude for alertness and battle readiness. Those who knelt to drink and brought the water to their mouths versus those on their bellies drinking straight from the river like dogs. Obviously, the kneeling soldiers were better ready for attack, but God had Gideon choose the lappers for His team. He chose the weak to defeat the strong so He could come through for them without them thinking they did it on their own. This is the beauty of the upside down kingdom of God…in other words, if you’re in Japan and you have noodles in broth, PICK YO BOWL UP FOOL!

4.    Japanese people can tell Americans from other foreigners/Japanese because our dryer sheets smell so good. Most local families hang their clothes to dry, depriving them of the fresh Mountain Clear scent we’ve all come to know and love.

5.    Remember that Georgia vending machine I snapped a shot of for my last blog post? Turns out, it is in fact owned by Coca Cola for distribution in Japan and the name is a nod to my good ol’ hometown where Coca Cola was invented: Columbus. TAKE THAT ATLANTA! Also, fascinating fact, the vending machines here serve cold and hot drinks. If you order a coffee in a can and the price is in red, it will be hot; blue will be cold. What is this world?

6.    I was told in class that COSTCO stands for Chinese Off Shore Trading Company and was in China & Japan before it ever hit the states. I was floored! Our Costco? Our beacon of warehouse shopping experiences a la Sam’s Club started in China?? Turns out, after a quick verification search on the ever-reliable SNOPES,this was just our teachers pulling our legs/lying to us. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

7.    Along with thinking we’re all pioneers in buckskins, the Japanese are also in complete awe of our steaks’ sizes calling them “sandal-sized’ and “way better” than the famed Japanese Kobe beef, as far as bang-for-your-buck. I mean, since we all have a herd of cattle on our ranch outback, we might as well enjoy the steak, ammiright, pard?

8.    In the morning and evening there are trains to Tokyo designated for Women Only. The trains here can get VERY crowded, so this is an option provided for women’s safety and comfort on their commute to work. #girlpower #yesallwomen #taylorswift (ok, you gotta give me that one. It totally worked…)

9.    In the Japanese language, the numbers 4 (shi), 7 (shi-chi) and 9 (ku) rhyme with words that mean ‘death’, ‘death-place’ & ‘suffering’ respectively, so these are considered unlucky numbers and were all given alternate names (yon, nana & kyuu). I would say something clever about this, but I mean, come on. You can’t make this stuff up…

10. On a happier note, ‘puppy’ (a stand-alone cute word on its own) is ‘wan-chan’ in Japanese and that’s just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. So now, you get a wan-chan picture. You’re welcome. [
Ok, FINE. You get two. 

But we HAVE to move on now. P.S. It’s called a pomsky and I won’t judge you for squealing with pure delight at the height of adorableness.

11.  And speaking of cute, those tamagotchi’s from the 90’s? The ones you had your friends babysit when you had to go to the bathroom for 5 minutes? Yeah, those. Tamagotchi means ‘cute little egg’ in Japanese. 

*small epiphany causes your mind to be blown* 
yeah…me too.

12. ‘Shabu shabu’ is a delicious style of food where you cook meat in hot broth.
‘Shabu’ alone is slang for heroin.
So be careful out there, kids.

13.  And speaking of illegal drugs, the mafia here is alive and well and goes by Yakusa. Because of their gangs, tattoos are very taboo here and can get you banned from most hot springs & beaches. Glad I held off on those barbed wire arm rings…and you can stop pressuring me to make my love for you permanent, MOM.

14. In related news, if you get in bad with the mafia, they won’t kill you or blow you up (mostly because they can’t get their hands on any guns or explosives due to stricter laws), they’ll just start showing up at your place of business, ordering food and not paying for it and scaring the other customers off (who then tell all their friends not to go there anymore). Next thing you know, you’re closed down. Simple, yet effective. Moral of the story…pay for your food…or something like that.

15.  Still want more on the mafia? May I recommend Black Rain? Please note, I haven’t seen it and it’s rated R for violence and language. It was recommended in class as a good example of how their mafia works, but if it doesn’t sound like your thing, please refrain from watching it, horrified, and then sending me hate mail.

16. Colors in Japan are not associated with gender. Pink and purple are abundant and are enjoyed for their beauty no matter the gender. #somanypinkcars

17.  Ironically, here’s a story about how safe Japan was known to be about 50 years ago. Mitsuo-san told us a story of a man who owned a solid gold watch. He stopped one day to sit on a bench and wait for the bus. It was warm that day so he removed his wristwatch and jacket and laid them on the bench. Later, he grabbed his jacket, but left the watch. Not remembering where he lost it, he forgot about it. A few years later, he happened back by that part of the country and there on the very same bench was his watch in a plastic container, still keeping time because someone had protected it and then continued to wind it each day until its owner returned. 
*jaw on floor* 
#safetyfirst 
#dontyoukindofwanttofindawatchnow?

18. Japanese read vertically and left to right. Oh yeah, and it’s all in kanji. Which looks like this: 


本雜誌印法,旁行上左,並用西文句讀點之,以便插寫算術及物理化學諸程式,非故好新奇,讀者諒之。

19.  Roads are so twisting in Japan that GPS devices are known for their faulty directions. Here is Mitsuo-san explaining this: “I cross bridge. It says turn left. I say, I will die.”

20.  In related news, another quote from Mitsuo-san, “American straight roads are dream for Japanese!”

21. American coffee is considered weak in Japan. Therefore on most automatic coffee machines, you have the options: Blend Coffee & Weak Coffee.  I guess they’ve never had Mr. Ron coffee………………

22.  Japanese people never say, “I love you” after they are married. They just show each other and stay together.

23.  And on the topic of love, on Valentine’s Day, the girl gives the guy chocolate & on Wives’ Day (March 14th), the guys give the girls the normal American Valentine’s Day gifts, jewelry, roses, chocolate, etc.

24.  Japanese weddings are paid for by the wedding guests via monetary gifts at the wedding. Then the couple, in turn, donates to another young couple’s wedding down the road.

25.  Don’t put business cards in your back pocket, as they interpret the proximity to your…ahem, behind…quite insulting.

26.  “Sake is considered a holy liquid here. Except when you drink too much…”-Takahashi-san

27. Japanese people have a phobia of western foreigners speaking English to them (even though most people learn it in school). They’ll go so far as to move away from you if you sit next to them on a train. They’re afraid their English will be too broken, too elementary. Y’all. Don’t I just feel their pain? But a simple ‘sumimasen’ (excuse me) will put them right at ease. If you are willing to speak broken Japanese, they are willing to speak broken English and we meet halfway ’round the world at the halfway point. Thank you, Lord, for language classes that teach me more than how to say, “I don’t understand you.”
This week’s Holiday Headlines brought to you by Home Depot:
“You can do it. We can help.”
WE GOT OUR FIRST EVER CHRISTMAS TREE THIS YEAR AND I LOVE ALL 4 FEET OF ITS ARTIFICIAL GLORY!
The Great Christmas Tree Hunt Of 2015 was a rousing affair complete with a three-hour round trip search for a real live, needle-dropping, forest-smelling Douglas Fir. We explored the nearby Naval Air Base (Atsugi), the nearby IKEA, and the (actually) nearby PX, only to realize that there just weren’t any left. I’ve always been a live tree kinda girl, but this year, the love I feel for my little baby artificial Christmas tree with the douglas fir candle burning next to it, is off the charts.

beautiful, isn’t it?
SIKE!
Here she is…

And my first ever batch of gingerbread (oakie’s fave)…
This is a year of firsts for me.
First Christmas tree of my marriage.
First artificial tree.
First time in Japan.
First time weekly blogging.
First time making gingerbread cookies.
First time HANGING CURTAINS ON OUR EVERLOVING WINDOWS.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.

::thank you Jesus for this big and wonderful world::

It’s All Japanese To Me!

* Disclaimer: This post is long. Sorry not sorry. *
Here in Japan-land (I assume the locals just call it Japan, but I’m not there yet), we’ve entered the season of Thanksgiving & Christmas—holidays that have been adopted by the Japanese post-WWII.  So we’ve been exploring the surrounding area in search for the perfect Japanese gifties (is that a word? sure it is.) for our family. This quest has taken us to nooks and crannies of our local community, Sagamihara, as well as the bustling metropolis of Tokyo proper. Therefore, this post will reflect the adventures we encountered along with way with a brief detour into the Gospel Chapel service we attended on Sunday and the lack of Wi-Fi availability in our hotel.
But first, a call back to my last post:

Apparently, the library agrees with me, as I found this in the children’s section of books.
Thanksgiving Time
We had the pleasure of being invited to our future neighbors’ for a thanksgiving dinner this week and it was wonderful. I had a more Northern version of this holiday than I’m used to (there was stuffing instead of dressing and they stirred the cranberry sauce so it lost the shape of the can it came out of…or I just realized…MAYBE THEY MADE IT FROM SCRATCH…witchcraft…) and every bite was delicious. Thank you, Renz family for your hospitality and for taking a chance on the random people the Army put next to you in the duplex. We promise we’ll return the favor soon, but no promises on the cranberry sauce…
Toilet Time
If you’re thinking this is a clever title for a segment on something deep, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is literally about the various toilets I’ve encountered in Japan; so, if that’s a little bit TMI for you, feel free to skip to the next section.

Y’all.

The toilets here are mini-masterpieces of bathroom finery. Here are a few pictures of what I’ve seen while visiting different restrooms:


That’s right, there was a CONTROL PANEL with an instruction manual in one and a small child’s seat in one and almost all of them WARMLY WELCOME YOU WITH HEATED SEATS. I even saw one that made a urinating sound FOR you if you wanted so you wouldn’t have to be embarrassed. (What? I TOLD you to keep moving if this was too much!)

THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
I’m never leaving this magical place.
OR I can only be enticed to visit if you plan to have these installed in your home because, come on, heated seats.
Tidbits Time
The One About the WiFi
There is only wifi in the lobby of our hotel so we were given an Ethernet cord so we could access the hardwire internet on our computer, but this limits us to about 18 inches from the desk when using it. 

TRANSLATION: We can’t watch Netflix in our bed.

Now before you go all #firstworldproblems on me, IT GETS WORSE. We were using our new phones and we saw an open wifi connection labeled JED that we were able to connect to no problem. BONUS. We used it on the computer and enjoyed bedtime Netflix-ing for all of 3 days before the owner of JED’s network got wise and PASSWORD PROTECTED IT. See? I told you it got worse…so…yeah. Now we don’t have JED anymore and we miss him and the phrase “Thanks a lot, JED!” is now common in our hotel room since the not-so-convenient pop-up wifi window always reminds us of his complete and total disconnect from us. I think I understand how the Breaking Amish people feel…
The One About IKEA
So we found an IKEA (praise!) and we’ve been readying ourselves for the new place, which we move into in T-Minus 3 days (confession time: I’ve never understood what “T-minus” means though I assume it’s about spacecraft so if anyone wants to enlighten me to its origins please see the comment section). We will have a Christmas tree for the first time EVER in our marriage and I couldn’t be more excited. Like I’m at the top level of excitement accessible to humans. So I turned to IKEA for all of my tree decorating needs and it was AWESOME. Hello white and gold themed tree! We also found killer deals on a new couch-turned-double-bed so BRING ON THE VISTORS!!!! We are ready for YOU! I mean, not yet…we still have the t-minusing action and then the moving action and then the clearing the boxes action, but then we are ready for YOU!
The One About the Church Service
We recently visited the SHA Chapel on our housing area and enjoyed a very friendly/energetic/three-songs-for-forty-minutes worship service about Thanksgiving. (praise!) And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, there was a SURPRISE WEDDING. You read that right…there was a SURPRISE WEDDING at the end of the service. And since we were visitors, we obviously sat in the second row…and now we’re in the background of their wedding pictures for all of eternity. (praise!)
Tokyo Time
We headed to Tokyo via train bright & early Saturday morning (which in Caroline language means we left after breakfast at 10am). It was slated to take about an hour one-way so I came prepared with a backpack containing A Book Written In The Year I Was Born (Number The Stars by Lois Lowry) and an Easy Monday Crossword Puzzles book that I’ve been steadily cheating my way through since we left America. I’m happy to say that out of the 45 completed puzzles I’ve solved 10 without looking in the back…* self five. * It’s the little things…

P.S. For those aware of mine & Oakie’s & Katie’s & Ben’s 2015 Book Challenge (53 books in a year in categories like A Book Over 100 yrs. old and A Book Your Mom Loves), I’ve completed 40 and have COMPLETE CONFIDENCE that I will finish by the end of the year.

Once in Tokyo we were ready for some food and wandered around following Google Earth’s directions to a noodle shop for about an hour ending up in a ghost town of a train stop where all the businesses were closed including—you guessed it—the noodle shop. So then we winged it and ended up in an alley of restaurants (which looked exactly how you imagine that) and chose one at random. It was small (seating about 25) and the pictures on the menu outside looked good + they had noodles. Oakie is really into noodles right now; I, however, went for the item on the menu that most closely resembled my beloved Mongolian Beef from Chef Lee’s (the best Chinese food in Columbus, GA). When we ordered in confident English, the server responded to my pointing by saying, “Riba! Riba!” very urgently while pointing to his torso. He looked concerned for me. I smiled and said, “Oh yes! Ribs. I love ribs!” Don’t all Americans? He repeated the number, but I just smiled and nodded and he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. When he came back with our dishes, mine looked very much like the picture at which I pointed and I took that first bite with Mongolian expectations that were dashed on the rocks of the chalky aftertaste we’ve all come to know as LIVER.
RIBA = LIVER.
*face-palm*
But don’t worry, my husband is a saint who will trade you noodles for liver any day and eat every bite and then trade your dish back so it looks like you really did likethe RIBA that came out and then your “arigato gozaimasu” is sincere and smiley as you leave.
Moments like that always make me rethink the magnitude of the event that happened at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9 if you’d like a refresher). The confusion of the languages must’ve caused more of a blow than that short text can really tell us. Mine is a small, comical example, but acute nonetheless. The fear and frustration that must’ve been instantly instilled when they first realized they couldn’t understand each other any more had to have been earth-shattering. And don’t we feel the ripples of that all these centuries later? The tightness in my chest when I ask, “Do you speak English?” and they answer with a bewildered smile is deep-seated and REAL. They are human and are flesh and blood like me, but when we look into each other’s eyes, we know there is an invisible barrier we cannot knock down. So we smile and are kind in the other ways we know and we challenge each other to learn. And these people, y’all, these people are chart-toppers in kindness. 
Times Square Time
There is a place in Tokyo that comes up any time you Google image “downtown Tokyo”  that is sometimes called the Times Square Equivalent and after we wandered around the Emperor’s Palace and an 8 floor shopping mall for a few hours we walked outside to the realization that we had just stumbled onto one of the most iconic places in Tokyo: The diagonal crosswalk in the middle of town aka the Times Square Equivalent. 

I have no shame in being a tourist sometimes, especially when I have NO HOPE of blending in with the natives, ammiright? 
#bangsandsunglassesarenotenough 
#maybeifiwasonabikewiththreekids 
#taylorswift (seriously, T-Swift, this is getting out of hand…)
So as I rode home on the sardine-packed train with my nose crushed against Oakie’s arm and another 7 humans within 6 inches of my face, I smiled. Because isn’t it all just grace that we get to see the things we do? Visit the places we do? Eat the livers we do? No journey is without its respective livers and I hope I never forget how sweet they make the noodles. And that I’m never too proud to wave that camera around in genuine awe of the diversity of His creation. Thank you, Tokyo, for the reminder of how small I am and thank you, Lord, for Your bigness that makes my smallness a delight.
BONUS VIDEO/PICTURES:

Oakie drinking tea while gazing pensively out the window (his words).

Our new car!

The island of Enoshima

And the obligatory Hello Kitty store there…

…on my mind.

 The largest hawk I’ve ever seen…
OH, now I get it.

 Strolling in the gardens of the shrines…

Replica of the Liberty Bell in Tokyo

Tokyo when you give Oakie the camera…

And my first Starbucks of the move.
Thank you, Lord, for Starbucks being an international company that understands “caramel macchiato” everywhere you go…




Until, next time…

Don’t Worry; It’s Japan-easy…

HEADS UP: I AM NOT “GOOD” AT BLOGGING SO PLEASE FORGIVE THE INEVITABLE FORMAT CHANGES FROM POST TO POST AS I FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS THING…


As we venture into the beginning of our second full week in Japan, I’ve reflected on the feelings/opinions/expectations I’ve realised (yes, I just spelled it like I live in Britain; leave me alone) in my time here.

But first it’s time for a little game called NAME THAT JAPANESE STEREOTYPE in which I address stereotypes that I’ve encountered and attempt to prove them one way or the other. Please see my previous post if this doesn’t seem PC enough for you…


Stereotype #6: Japanese people are technologically advanced and have crazy tech inventions for everyday things. Truth. We’ve eaten at two sushi places so far and they have both had conveyor belts for sushi that just travel around the restaurant offering plates of sushi for you to grab. Then they keep track of your tab by the colour-coded (seriously, just shut up about the way I spell things…) plates (blue is 108¥; red is 230¥; etc.). It’s efficient and way cool. We also dined at a restaurant where you order from a vending machine, get a ticket which you give to the server who then brings you the food. Cool part is you’ve already paid at the vending machine so when you’re done, you just leave! And then there was THIS magic:


Stereotype #7: The Japanese style is very modern with clean, uncluttered lines, therefore Japan is very modern with clean, uncluttered lines. False. The design elements of houses may lean in that direction, but on the whole Japan is an efficiently crowded place with loud, bold, and colourful (…let it go) designs that belie a chaotic, sometimes unfocused theme in the more rural areas. ‘Exploratory’ might be a kind way to say this. It doesn’t seem that any sections of town are ruled by the regulated design standards that you might find in areas of NYC, Boston or even downtown Columbus, GA. Don’t misunderstand me: I love it. The chaos is charming and the colours enchanting…it just shatters the Mulan village motif I had in my head. Thanks, Obama. 
(disclaimer: I’ve been in ONE Japanese town so this is clearly an overgeneralisation to which I will happily find exceptions later)

Stereotype #8: Japanese people love Hello Kitty. Truth. I’ve already visited two stores dedicated to this classic Japanese character. #childhoodmemories #grabbags #taylorswift (Tay, we have to stop meeting like this…)

Stereotype #9: Japanese gardens are world-renowned so every Japanese person has a meticulously tended landscape. False. Maybe they would if they had yards (!!!), but there’s simply no room. Some people have lovely balcony gardens, but mostly there are just concrete areas for cars and then some communal parks in the centre of town. I will attempt to remedy this tragedy by having the best garden I can cultivate in 2 years and 5 square feet. (Pictures to come).

Stereotype #10: Japanese/Asian people are bad drivers. Don’t you DARE judge me for putting that one out there. You’ve been wondering when someone would put this to rest, once and for all, SINCE YOU WERE SIXTEEN!! 
As a brand new driver in Japan, I feel I finally have a platform for this incredibly important topic. That’s right, I’m a card-carrying member of the Japanese Driving Club. (disclaimer: this is not a real club. or if it is, it probably has something to do with golf…golf is HUGE here.) After taking the drivers’ ed class (and flashing back to my 15-year-old self for a morning) I learned a few things.

1. Japanese pedestrians and cyclists have the right-of-way 100% of the time. 
It is NEVER their fault if they get hit. 
2. Japanese pedestrians and cyclists do not feel the need to obey standard precautionary practices such as looking both ways before entering an intersection, changing lanes or crossing the street. 
They just raise their hand and go. 
No hesitation. 
No looking.
3. Japanese pedestrians and cyclists are missing the part of their brain that registers fear…ok, so that’s not true, but it’s seriously fascinating the trust they have in the drivers on the road. 
4. As a driver, you must CONSTANTLY be scanning for erratic behaviour among the Pedestrian and Cyclist Community. 
5. As a driver, you must experience all the fear that the Pedestrian and Cyclist Community is not BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS TO FEAR FOR THEIR LIFE IN THIS SITUATION. 

Needless to say, I’ve come to believe that maybe Asian drivers aren’t so bad, they’re just scarred from a terrifying horrifying PTSD-inducing high-pressure driving environment in their home country. So go easy on those Asian drivers. You don’t know what they’ve been through.

This concludes our game of NAME THAT JAPANESE STEREOTYPE, but we hope you’ll join us next time. And now a word from our sponsors… HA. Sponsors. Good one.

Shout out to my sister, Sarah Ann (SA), for this next segment: 

Questions From Family & Friends Who Are Wondering What Life Is Like In Japan & Finally Know Someone Who Lives There So They Can Ask Them Anything They Want 
(working title)
Please feel free to ask questions about life here in the comments or to my personal email: caroline.ceg@gmail.com and I will do my best to find out the answers and share them with you here. It encourages me to explore AND satisfies those burning queries about Japan you’ve been harbouring for all these years.

Question: What is one thing you’ve seen in Japan that made you think, “Man! I can’t believe this isn’t in America yet!”?
Answer: Probably, the all-matching school uniforms with different coloured caps depending on the age. How has this cuteness escaped the Department of Education all this time?! 
18 children in bright yellow hats walking to the playground?!? 
Um…..yes.

Confession Time: Sometimes I hear Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York in my head, but it’s Welcome to Japan and I’m ok with that. 

Weird Fact: You are not allowed to disable the camera shutter sound on your iPhone in Japan. It’s a privacy issue. Here’s to obnoxious sounds every time I take a picture for the next two years!

I typed ‘cardboard’ in my Japanese iPhone the other day and it auto-corrected to ‘catboats’. 
WHAT DON’T WE KNOW?

On a slightly more serious note, God has been abundantly gracious with me the past week and I am feeling the grace of the prayers being sent up on my behalf. A sincere thank you to those of you praying for Oakie and me as we transition. You are our family and we love you.


Welcome To Japan

We arrived in the Tokyo Airport almost two days ago.

So far, I’ve seen: 

Mountains every time I look to the west and I. Love. Mountains.
Groups of small children in matching school uniforms (heart in a puddle due to the cuteness level).
Cherry trees with the promise of explosive blooming come spring.
Sushi restaurants with conveyor belts of sushi (wut.)
And pine trees trained as bonsai trees that grow in crazy shapes (which if you’ve ever seen a pine tree, you know this is a huge improvement).
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As soon as we got off the plane I was bombarded with the reality of Japanese stereotypes.

So to start things off today, I will address a few of these.

Welcome to today’s Episode of NAME THAT JAPANESE STEREOTYPE where I will attempt to debunk 5 stereotypes I have encountered recently. (*disclaimer: If this sounds like something that will offend you, may I refer you to my OTHER blog www.iswearilovejesus.com) (*disclaimer’s disclaimer: that is not a real blog)  


Stereotype #1: Japanese people wear masks all the time. Truth. I guess THIS is how they maintain their “Rabies-Free” status.


Stereotype #2: Japanese people tend to be stylish. Truth. Several outfits made me want to ask “where’d you get that, girl?! I mean…kon’ichiwa.”


Stereotype #3: Japanese people like cats. Truth. On the bus to Camp Zama I saw a building whose logo was a yellow oval with a black cartoon cat carrying another smaller black cartoon cat in its mouth. I can’t even START to imagine what that company does… #cats #japan #taylorswift (whaaa? How’d that one get in there?) Also, maybe they’re just partial, but this animal hospital looks a little discriminatory…



Stereotype #4: Japanese people have been into bangs WAY longer than Americans. Yesssssss. And they’re still incredibly popular. I’ll fit in just fine here.

Stereotype #5: Japanese people are very polite/nice. HA. Boy is THAT a load of………………………………….truth. 

Y’all. 

Oakie and I landed in Tokyo at 3:30pm local time knowing that we had one shot at making the 4pm bus to Camp Zama or we would be stuck there till the 7pm bus rolled through. By the time we got through customs we had 10 minutes to make the bus. We asked the officer at customs and he pointed us in the right direction which was just outside, but Step One nonetheless. Oakie then leaves to ask around and 5 minutes later I see him pass me without a glance, laughing and chatting with a lovely Asian lady he seems to have just FOUND inside. He follows her across the street and they disappear into the crowd. 

By this point, I’ve been bumped into and apologized to no less than half a dozen times, we have 4 minutes to catch the bus and still no sign of Oakie. And then, just how you’d imagine it’d happen he comes sprinting through the crowd, tells me he found the bus, we’re late, but they’ll wait.

Insert a word problem math equation (looking at you Lindsay Lage):

Oakie & Caroline need to catch a bus in 3 minutes, but have 8 bags between them, 3 of which weigh over 65lbs. Considering time constraints and travel stress, what are the odds that they will catch the bus without murdering one another?

That’s right! You got it! If you add 3 kind Japanese men to the equation, each rolling one 65lb. bag; 1000 thank you’s and 1 patient bus driver, Oakie & Caroline make the bus alive, with no time to spare and a remainder of 1 good story.

Confession Time: There we were, Oakie, myself and three full-grown Japanese men, caravanning (defined in the dictionary as: a group of travelers, as merchants or pilgrims, journeying together for safety in passing through deserts, hostile territory, etc.)  through the Great Unknown of Tokyo’s bus system and I was just giggling smiling to myself at the sheer enormity of the ridiculous kindness they were showing us.


Welcome to Japan.