Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Christmas Looks Like in Japan

Recently some friends were asking us about our Kentucky Fried Chicken plans for Christmas. They had heard about this Japanese tradition and wondered if it was really true. So instead of a long Facebook reply, we are putting this on the blog because others may find this interesting, too. KFC ( known simply as Kentucky here in Japan), is THE place for your Christmas meal here in Japan. However, as far as we know, most people don't actually eat at the restaurant on Christmas.
This tradition appears to have started in the mid-seventies, when they started promoting Christmas meals apparently after some foreigners ended up at KFC on Christmas day when they couldn't find turkey in Japan (it is still hard to find turkey, but in recent years we are seeing it in a few more stores).
Christmas is not an actual holiday in Japan. Most people work on the 25th and in recent years the Japanese school year starts their winter break after Christmas. In Japan, New Years is the big family holiday. Everyone comes home for New Years. Christmas was often thought of as a romantic date night. It is still popular for couples today.
Young families began celebrating Christmas in the Western way (North American and UK). The image of Christmas is chicken and Christmas cake. (Subject of a whole other blog). An added bonus is that starting in December, the statues of the Colonel outside most KFC restaurants are dressed up like Santa.
KFC is now the standard for Christmas meals, offering a decorated bucket of chicken with salad, Christmas cake, biscuits, and a collectors plate. These buckets are so popular, you can begin making reservations early in December.
Since we moved to the town we are living in now and have a KFC less than a 5 minute bike ride away, we have started doing this tradition again. Our family likes KFC, but most of the year the meals are just chicken and fries (and a little pricy for fast food). So we reserved a bucket, and on Christmas day, at the appointed time, someone will bike over and pick it up.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Moving and Trusting God

When we returned to Japan after our summer in North America last year, we knew that the big house we were moving into was temporary and we would have to move out by mid July. So we kept our eyes open for places to live. This past January we found out that a missionary family that lived very close to the school was moving. We looked at the place and became very excited about the possibility of living there. It seemed perfect for our family, a good size, a minute from the school, three minutes from the train station and many of the conveniences of a western style house.

We asked about it right away, but they said they needed to decided what they were going to do with the place. In March we were told it was not available. I was disappointed I wanted to live like so many of the other missionaries I knew. I felt we had lived in a small Japanese apartment far from the school for too many years. The boys commuted 2 hours a day for three and a half years. I felt the boys deserved to live close to the school. I thought I was finally going to get my dream of having a washer and a dryer like so many of my expat friends. I asked about a few other missionary houses but we were told they were all unavailable.

It seemed nothing was available, so we began looking elsewhere for a place to live. We found a house that seemed promising and compared it to a few others that were available. There were things we liked and things we were worried about, but we decided to look into it. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation and things began happening faster than we wanted. We thought we were just expressing interest, but less than a week later we got a call saying we had the place and could move in by the next week. Our friends were a great help in getting us into this place. It went pretty smoothly but any move is challenging.

On Friday, May 1st, the last of our boxes and things were moved from the old place. It was a little overwhelming. There were boxes everywhere. It didn't seem like we would ever find a place to put all of our stuff. I went to bed exhausted. Terence came to bed a little later. He woke me up to share an e-mail he had just gotten. It was from the person in charge of the house we had wanted from January. The people who were going to move there had backed out and it was available if we wanted it. We really wanted that place, so I considered taking matters into my own hands and getting what I wanted no matter what the cost. We sent an e-mail to see how much it would cost to get out of the contract. I began to plan how to make it happen. We could just leave all of our boxes packed and have a moving company come move them. We could pay the money to get out of the contract. We could stay here for a few months and then move to the better place. As we began adding up all the costs involved, I had to admit that it was neither wise nor practical. I gave up moving but I didn't give up my desire yet.

I was very angry at God for a few days. I knew what I wanted, and God knew what I wanted. Why was God so mean? Not only did we have to settle for our second choice but then we had to know that the place we wanted was available and we still couldn't have it. It took me a few days to stop acting like a stubborn, spoiled child. I realized that God was wise and there must be a reason why we were where we were. I also realized that I had to trust God. I might never know God's plan but I know God's character so I can trust him. By trusting God I was able to give up my stubborn desire.

Of course there is more to the story. We are settling into our second choice house. It is becoming home to us. It is really a good size for us, bigger than our apartment and smaller than the big house we were in. It is a two story duplex. We have the right side. It also has a parking space (for when friends visit) and a small backyard with trees. It is convenient for shopping. On the down side it is near a busy street and a gravel parking lot where people repair cars or pack work trucks at 6:00am. Also our neighbor is a serious smoker and sometimes the smoke comes in our open windows. It had a plumbing problem but we think that is fixed now. We are pretty much unpacked. A bit after we were settled God blessed us with information we never thought we would know. A friend of ours sent us a link to a blog. She found out who would be moving into the house we had wanted.

It turns out it was very important that the other family have a house near the school. They were praying about this situation. Shortly after the prayer they found out that the place we couldn't take was available. So they were able to take it. You can read their side of the story by following this link.

I am happy for this family. I look forward to getting to know them. I am thankful to have the opportunity to know a little of God's plan. I can see that their family needs that location more than we do. I am also excited about what God has in store for our family in this new neighborhood.

Maybe next time I won't be so stubborn and trust God sooner.

By the way this picture is our family on the second story balcony of our new house. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Big Picture

The boys weren't with me on this adventure, but I like the picture
I had an unexpected adventure today. I decided to blog about it because I learned something from it and because my husband gets to be compared to God in the story. I love my husband very much and think he has some great gifts, but it is not often I get to compare him to God. 
I started off this morning with plenty of time. I left nice and early because I decided to try a new way to work. Since we moved, the school that I go to on Tuesday is a challenge to get to. Terence goes there too, so we have been experimenting with different routes. Driving is the easiest option, but without traffic you can expect it to take an hour. And driving is really not an option for us because we have no license and no car. The train would be the next choice, but that is not easy either. There are several options but they take from a hour and a half to two hours with multiple transfers and walks between stations. So the option I was going to try today was biking. The ride was about 10.6 miles each way. With traffic, yes even on the sidewalks, and crossings and hills we figured it would take around an hour and a half. I reviewed the route on Google Maps and asked my dear husband to print it our for me in close-up sections so it would be easy for me to look at while biking. I did fine until page four. Page four had the difficult turn, the place where five roads intersect,. It was five miles into my journey. I got that segment of the map turned around. The segment was so small that the major train station I had just passed was not on the map for reference. I turned the wrong way. I followed that road for another 2 miles until Terence called me between classes to check on my progress. I was doing good. I had ridden seven and a half miles and had been biking less than an hour. 
Of course, that is not the end of the story. Terence had the big picture. He had the entire map pulled up on his computer. As I continued riding I tried to tell him the places and roads I passed. It wasn't long before he realized I wasn't doing so well. He finally figured out where I was. He discovered that the wrong road I took back at the difficult intersection actually was taking me back closer to home. I had made a big triangle. It would be another 9 miles of biking to get to school or I could take the train. Either way I was going to miss two of my three classes. I called the school and offered to come after lunch and nap time, figuring I surely could make it by then. Yet the head teacher kindly said I could just be absent today. 
So the moral of the story is, as much as you think you got all the details, as much as you think you are in control, it is the one who has the big picture who can help you when you are lost. This summer we shared in churches and we talked about how only God knows why we have to wait. Sometimes we must wait for answers; wait for results. I thought about how God has the big picture, yet sometimes we forget about our connection. 
When I was going along feeling good with no idea I was going in the opposite direction, it was then that Terence called me. He was concerned and decided to check on me. He stayed on the phone with me, following my path until a solution could be found. I was in constant contact with him. The day ended up ok. I didn't make it to work but I got to discover some places that will be useful in the future and I got to have a lunch date with my husband. Maybe that was part of the big picture. Today I was lost, but I was never in danger. I was not hurt and there is no lasting damage from my big adventure. 
My thoughts turn to my aunt, who is half a world away. She too is struggling with the big picture. Her questions are more significant. The pain she feels, the pain she sees, is real. She sees a baby boy who died of whooping cough. She sees a young mama who grieves his loss while holding tight to his twin sister. My aunt also sees seniors living out their last days with pain and suffering. She asks why. I don't know what to tell her. All I can say is that God sees the big picture. Life doesn't always make sense. It is unfair and it hurts. Yet, I want her to know that even when it is hard to see God working, she always has a connection. God will listen as she calls out questions and frustrations. God will walk this path right along with her through all the hard days and the easy days. Our God will be with her and bring her safely home. May she help bring God`s comfort and presence to all in need. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Not the Saturday I Was Hoping For

This wasn't the Saturday I was hoping for. First it was a school day for Xavier. An open school day, which means parents are invited (expected) to come and watch. So we all got to go to school on Saturday. We also got a message that a friend needed to go to see a doctor. They are new to Japan and have not found a doctor near them. We offered to help them see a doctor in our area, but they had to drive over an hour to get to our area. I called our doctor and found out that she closes at 12:00 on Saturday and we didn't think they would be able to get here in time. We got them there at a couple minutes after 12:00, but our doctor was still able to take them in, which saved a lot of time. Our plan B was to take him to the hospital, which would have been more complicated. After Terence successfully helped them at the doctor and the pharmacy, we went back to tackling the list of things we needed to do today.

Then at about 4:30 Xavier called to tell us Tai fell at the neighbourhood park. He said his arm was weak. After we got him home and looked at his wrist we knew we were going to have to go to the hospital. Willem used his boy scout skills and did some first aid. He made a splint out of a sushi roller and a couple of boy scout neckerchiefs. We called the nearest hospital and were told we had to call the special phone number to find out which hospital ER to go to. (There is a system where different ER's see different patients after hours). We had to deal with this last August when we took Willem to get stitches on his birthday. Turns out the ER for us was the one we called first, the one closest to our apartment. It is about a 15 minute walk from our house, or a five minute bike ride. So we called the ER and found out that he had to be there by 5:00, which gave us about 10 minutes to get him there. This is a time where bicycles as our only form of transportation prove an extra challenge.  There was not enough time for a taxi to come, and our friend with a car was working. So bicycle was our best option. He couldn't ride his own bike* with an injured wrist so he went on the back of one of our bikes and we headed down the hill.  We made it right at 5:00 and finished right at 6:00.

We were pretty impressed with what they got done in that hour. The nurse came to look at him and they took him back to see the doctor.  Then he got x-rays, went back to the doctor to put his dislocated wrist back in place, and had a quick cast put on.  Then it was back for follow-up x-rays, along with a back x-ray to check his back which he decided then to tell us also hurt.  We then discovered the wrist was still not exactly right so they gave him a CT scan.  After that it was back to doctor for results, a referral and a prescription for pain meds. We then paid the full amount (most will be refunded on Monday) and got the prescription filled from hospital pharmacy.

The results were that he had a dislocated wrist and small bone that was shattered. We go on Monday for a surgery consult as they think he needs a pin put in. The surgery might be that day, too. We are a little worried about the overnight situation at the hospital. If one of us stay overnight with him we have to get him a private room which we would have to pay a lot extra for. The problem is, he will not be in the pediatric ward. If he was there he would be ok having him stay by himself but none of us are comfortable with him being in a room with three other male patients. Pray that we can work something out.

*When Willem cut his head he had to take about 45 minutes worth of train to get home because it would have taken much longer for us to go get him. We planned to take him to the nearest hospital but found out he had to go to one in a neighbouring town because he couldn't make it by 5:00. So he had to ride his bike with us for 15 minutes to another train line and then take another train to the right hospital.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Missionary Fail

I got this.
When your ministry is with a small congregation in a country that does not experience rapid church growth, you are always looking for ways to invite and attract people to your church. I had been toying with an idea for months, actually. It is something that I had seen done by some of our sister congregations in Japan.

You see, the Japanese have a holiday in November. It is called Shichi-go-san or 7-5-3. When girls turn 3 or 7 and boys turn 3 or 5 they are dressed in elaborate kimonos or fancy western clothes and taken to visit a shrine. This is usually one of the times that formal portraits are made of the children.

So we decided to have a special service/celebration. We would combine the idea of a fall festival with a service of blessing for children. Our church members thought this sounded like a good idea. Our plan was to have fall festival games for the kids during Sunday School time. Our service would be kid friendly with easier songs and a more interactive message. During the service the children would be called up, blessed by the pastor (me) and given a small gift. After the service, the kids would make commemorative hand prints in a traditional Japanese style. Then everyone would enjoy a potluck lunch. A big event for our church, but nothing I couldn't handle. I got this.

We prepared posters and flyers to hang at the preschool and to give to English classes. The preschool was very supportive about helping us advertise. The weeks before the event found some of our regular members absent. No problem, people were stepping-up. One member donated the special cards for the handprints. Another member took them home and beautifully wrote the church name and date. Our translator would be back for the big service. We found out our worship leader and piano player would not be there, but we adapted.

It was all coming together. The projector was arranged, the message was done (ahead of schedule even). The perfect gifts were found, small Bible story picture books. The cupcakes for the Sunday School party were baked. I was feeling good about the whole thing. I got this.

At nine o'clock pm the night before I got a call from a church member. “Are we starting an hour early,” she asked? “No,” I said. “Why would we?” That was when we discovered our error. Somehow we totally messed up the time on the posters and flyers. We had the event starting an hour early and, perhaps even worse, we had the worship scheduled for an hour and a half. Now for some of you an hour and a half of worship every Sunday morning might be a part of your normal routine, but keep in mind that these are people who have probably never attended a service before, and they are expected to sit through it with their children.

I was so frustrated. I felt like such a failure as a missionary and a pastor. I didn't have this at all. What would we do? We barely make it in time for Sunday School as it is. We were going to be gone all day for various events. Now we had to get there an hour earlier and plan to fill an extra hour in case someone came at 9:00. We couldn't just start the event earlier because our church families would not be there until the regular time. Then I was frustrated because I was sure all the extra work I did would see no results. The church would be frustrated and not willing to try something like this again. I so did not have this. I was frustrated with myself because I knew I hadn't put much prayer into my event planning.

After my moment of panic, peace set in. I remembered I serve a great and mighty God who can do great things in spite of my inadequacies. Yes, I was frustrated with myself, but now I was excited. I knew that whatever good came from that day would be all God. I didn't have it, because at that moment I gave it away. I should have given it to God from the beginning. How thankful I am for God's grace.

So what happened? No one came at 9:00am. A girl in our Sunday School came at 9:30 with a guest who had visited before. Then, close to ten another church family came with two friends who had never been to church before. Then, in walked a boy who has been a few times, and both of his parents were with him. Usually just one brings him. We had plenty of activities to keep the kids busy. We ended up with twelve kids, a good biblical number. The service was about 40 minutes and all the kids participated. All the church members helped in many ways. Lunch was delicious and there was plenty of it. The very best part was when I got to put my hands on the heads of twelve precious children of God and bless them. Especially the little boy, who giggled and giggled the whole time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Things We See

"When you go out into the world it is best to hold hands and stick together." - Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

In an effort to be more active on our blog, we are going to try to post a new picture more often.

This picture was taken just after Xavier's school entrance ceremony in April. I love this picture because when we told them to get ready for the picture they instinctively held hands. The two girls are Christy's former students, the only two from their preschool going to this elementary school.  The two boys are Xavier and his new buddy, whom he just met that day, but discovered they are the only English speakers in their class (possibly the school).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rajio Taiso (Radio Exercies)

Willem and Tai are back in school this week, but Xavier is still on summer holidays until the beginning of September.  But one thing I am discovering about the Japanese schools system is just because you are on summer break doesn't mean you don't go to school.

We didn't sign him up for summer school (which appears to put him in a minority.  Most kids go to summer classes at school), but his school did provide times when they could come and swim in the pool, which he did participate in.

And now, for the past three mornings, Xavier and I have rushed the 200 yards to his school to join other parents and kids in the traditional Japanese experience of rajio taiso, or radio exercises. This was not a required event from the school, so when I saw that it started at 7:00 am I wondered just how many people would be there.  It was less difficult for me because I was already up getting Willem and Tai ready to go to school.  I don't know if I would have crawled out of bed for it if they were still on their summer break. But sure enough, as Xavier and I arrived a minute or two after 7 (fashionably late?) there were already about 150 kids and parents spread out on the field in front of a raised platform and PA system. I guess the fact that everyone from the school lives within walking distance of the school probably was a factor in how many people came.

The familiar tinkling piano music that everyone in Japan knows as the rajio taiso music was just starting and one of the teachers was up on the platform leading everyone in the stretches and jumping.  After that song came the Shioryama taiso - (Shiroyama is the name of the elementary school).  This was the school's special taiso music and stretching routine. As an added bonus on the second day they had a special sports mascot visit and lead the kids in exercises, too.

As soon as the music was done all the kids rushed for the tables to the left of the platform.  There, parent volunteers were handing out stamp cards that the kids could bring each day to be stamped.  They also got a little gift each day, a piece of candy, some stickers or a pencil.

As the children and parents drifted off the field to their homes it was clear that everyone had enjoyed themselves, and now that everyone and done their exercises they were full of energy and ready for whatever they day would bring.