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.
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.


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.


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.


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.



*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.



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.

“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!)


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


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


Pinecones anyone? 3 for $10!
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…
This is a 1,000 year old tree…
let that sink in…
It’s customary at temples to leave all the trees untouched.
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.
More hina dolls!!!
Oakie wanted this picture included because it has a tire in it & that reads redneck to him.
Also, this hotel bus we passed as we stopped along the coast…


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.