3 months later. . .

I know it's been longer than that since I've posted on here, but I've kind of been counting time in regards to when I last saw Japan from my plane window and stepped onto Canadian soil (with a nice 20 hour "intermission" at the Chicago airport, but we won't go into that!!) Not sure either if anyone is still reading this, but it's a little like therapy, when you just need to share about something, get it out into that big vast open space. Funny how that works.

So, what has life "on this side" been like? It's been really good for me. It's been full of things to learn and feelings of loss, the joy of reconnection and moments of total confusion. Since I'm sure that's clarified things for you soo well, let me share a few specifics.

I think I've learned a lot about myself, and learned a lot from the people around me. I've had time to think (sometimes more than I want!!) and reflect on what it means to live in community with others. Life for me in Japan was pretty independent and pretty much consisted of things I wanted to do for myself. That's because for the most part, I loved all of the things I was doing there, and I had a lot of freedom. That was good, and I got to know a lot of really great people along the way. But I think it's good to learn how to live a little more interdependently. And now that I'm living with my family again, I've been taking a crash course. . . from some pretty great teachers! (This is "Canadian BBQ" I had with my students before I left)

Feelings of loss? Of a life that is more "normal" to me than anything in Canada. Of not knowing when I will reconnect with my church, students and friends out in Japan. Of a part of myself, to be honest. It's kind of like a grieving process, since you know things will never be the same. Everyone goes through it, many times in life, I'm sure. It's one of those bittersweet parts of life that makes moments and memories more special, because they are strength for the future.
(My 3 sweeties. . . love 'em like crazy!)

It has been awesome to "get to know" my family again. I haven't had too much time with friends yet, but I'm looking forward to that too. You don't even realize how disconnected you really are, when you aren't a part of "daily life". I have felt immense joy at seeing those who have been such a support to me during my time in Japan, at watching my niece grow in these 3 short months, talking and laughing with my dad and brother at meals inbetween shifts on the field, taking walks with my sister. . . There are so many little things that can bring joy when we seek them out. (My other little sweetie out here :-)

But this joy really goes much farther than that. . . as I learn how to reconnect with my Father. If you want to know about joy, He's absolutely full of it. I'm just trying to catch a little of what spills over. "Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. . . Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise. For the word of the Lord is right; and all His works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgement: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. . . Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee." Ps. 33 (KJV) (Ginko trees in autumn)

The moments of confusion are pretty natural, I guess, having experienced a complete shift in lifestyle, scenery, community, culture. . . and not knowing what's next, really. I don't worry about the future, but wonder more. It's exciting to think about, but a little harder when you're kind of unsure about who you are anymore -- Canadian? Japanese? neither? both? somewhere in the middle? (IKEA. . . in Japan -- thus begins the identity crisis! :-b)

I've come to the conclusion, though, that all of the things that we experience have a part in making us who we are. And, whether or not those around us understand exactly what those experiences were or not, we can be aware of and thankful for what they have shared with us, and their significance in our lives. It's easy to be focussed on myself, wanting to be heard and validated, but that's the same thing we all want.

What I'm saying is that, hopefully during the process, I will become more confident in who He is moudling me into, and able to recognize that work in others as well. God truly is at work all around, in hurting, carefree, anxious, caring and confused individuals. . . and isn't that all of us?! If it wasn't for hope. . .


it's beach time!!

I went to the ocean with my hairdresser and his family the other day. They are incredibly sweet and kind people. I don't see them that often, but they always go out of their way for others, and think of fun things to do together.
So, I actually didn't know what to expect, since they just said we were going to the "sea". . . I took my swimsuit. They brought pics for prying shells off of rocks! :-b It was my first experience of hunting for shells, as in, the full kind! Having grown up right along the sea, Misao (right) knows about everything in the sea (well, at least it seemed that way to me). . . what you can eat (which is pretty much everything), what it looks like (from a standing position -- I couldn't even find them half the time squatting down) and how to prepare it (most of them you just dump in a big pot at home and boil). This is me with Marie (another girl who goes to the salon and I met through Misao and her husband) and Misao.
Maybe it's just prairie girls like me, but the ocean is fascinating. Everything is alive!! Everywhere you step and everything you see is like a new adventure of something mysterious and unknown. I feel like I'll see the ocean in a new way next time I go, though! Oh, in addition to shells, we also got one crab and quite a few "clumps" of seaweed. We boiled that up at home as well. . . definitely a new perspective! Anyone for some algae from Killarney Lake?! ;-)

We also stopped at a fresh fish market on the way home. . . and picked up this specimen. It was my second attempt at making fish myself (first was a piece of salmon), and I honestly do not know why it took me so long. Good does not say enough. . . it was delectable!! ;-) (I know you're proud of me mom and dad!)

Shikoku. . . here we come!! :-)

. . . or went, as it is! (haha)
So, Chiaki and I left at 4 in the morning, and I thought we were making great time. . . that lasted until a little after 6, when we noticed the road had gotten "bumpy" really suddenly. . . and ended up standing out in the rain beside this emergency phone (ok, at least I had an excuse for not having an umbrella being "foreign", but you'd think that a Japanese would know better -- :-b) as we were warned it was too dangerous to sit in the car, while we waited for the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) truck to come. The guy who came felt sorry for us and let us sit in the truck, while we watched (and took pictures of) him changing the tire. . . aah, what a start to the trip!!
After we got all the tires replaced, and took a ferry over to the island (Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's 4 main islands -- and it literally means 4 countries, as there are 4 prefectures on the island), we were pretty excited to explore. It was fun (well, at least most of the time) to just go wherever we wanted and find lots of interesting places along the way (I think at least half of our trip was those spontaneous stops!)
We finally found the entrance to this quaint little old Japanese village. . . how inviting!
And once we got "inside", there were these old-style buildings -- white-washed walls, with darkened wood and stone covering the lower half. . . tiled rooves, and ornaments decorating the ridgepole to protect the house. (Ok, I don't even know if we use ridgepole anymore, or if it's even a word to be quite honest, but that's what Anne of Green Gables says, so I'm going with it. . .)
Spontaneous excursion into the rice paddies to take pictures with the hundreds of flying carp streamers for Boys' Day. The ones in the front were made of fabric and decorated by kids. How cute! :-)
Day 2, after we left the place where we stayed for night, we drove along this river, and were completely awestruck by how gorgeous it all was (we arrived in the dark the night before, so had no idea what we'd missed!) The picture can't possibly do it justice, but the fresh new green, and the blue-green of the water. . .
And, as we turned onto the main road, and left the mountain and stream we had so enjoyed, we caught sight of. . . the ocean!! I just had to run in it, and the bus wasn't coming for another 20 minutes, so we pulled in at the bus stop, and ran down to the water. . . I was drenched from waist down, but it felt so good!

This is a "guide book" stop -- a suspension bridge made entirely of vines, which you can see in the background, behind Chiaki. It was neat to see for ourselves but, being a tourist spot, there were a lot of people, so in the end, we opted to just watch everyone grasping the sides as they treaded across!
Aaa - aeaea - aaah!!
How would you put Tarzan's holler / call / trademark "sound" into words?!

Apparently the oldest hot springs in Japan, we had fun walking around by "Dogo-Onsen". The atmosphere definitely made it special. . . people walking around in yukatas and geta (the casual cotton kimono and sandals), outdoor concert, and lighting around this hundred-some year old building. It was like walking in history, imagining how the Emperor and his family used to come here, and be entertained in some of the upper rooms. . .
Shikoku is maybe most well-known for "O'Henro". This is a spiritual pilgrimage to 88 Buddhist temples on the island of Shikoku, which has been continued on for hundreds of years by those apparently seeking spiritual clarity and enlightenment. These days, instead of walking, many people take bus tours to representative temples among the 88, or work on it a little at a time. We saw quite a few of these white-clad pilgrimers, donning a straw hat, and walking stick, along our travels.

where to start?

Hey! Sorry. . . I do apologize for the lack of "communication" lately. I'll try and give you a quick idea of what I've been up to lately. It's definitely been a fun month, one of many opportunities, and a few realizations. So, here goes. . .
This is Sara and I. Sara is a British friend that I met when I lived in Osaka -- we went to a Bible study together at the International Church there, and I can't tell you how meaningful it has been to get to know her, and share together with her and Aya (a Japanese Canadian friend). It's amazing how God brings people together, and how you grow through / with each person you meet.
Having powdered green tea and sweets wrapped in leaves (you don't eat the leaf, at least this time ;-) while looking out onto the Japanese garden (sorry I don't have a shot of that for you!!)
I heard about this waterfall nearby, so we attempted to find it, asking people along the way, getting higher up into the mountains on skinnier and skinnier roads, and finally, there it was! :-) I'm sorry, but I do live in a very beautiful place here, I must say!
Carp streamers flying for Boys' Day on May 5th. Many families with boys put up these poles and string up these beautifully coloured windsocks. It's sometimes difficult to see them in the city, so it was neat to catch them flying here.
Isn't this neat? It was actually on our way to the waterfall. . . and I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of Japanese countryside, and the fact that there were surprises like this along the way. I have no idea what these buildings are used for, but the cliffs dropped into the river below, and it was so picturesque!


go team!

So, here we are, the "cheerleading squad" for Shigeo Tsuzuki's election campaign. One of my students, Kenji, asked if I wanted to come and help out, and there was no question in my mind that it would be a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience. . . The student I'm with here is actually Kohey, one of Kenji's good friends.
I think this is such a classic picture -- makes me think of royalty, or Evita, or some other great address. . . the background is a little ironic, though. . .
Seriously, it's almost as deserted as the prairies. . . we got so excited when we actually saw someone outside that everyone started waving and Shigeo would go over, shake their hands, do a little PR, he even started playing catch with a little boy (what a guy!) Had to put this one in so you would catch the "sash" idea.
This is our group on a street corner, one guy reading out the campaign philosophy about how Shigeo is going to make this community a safer and better place for families, the sound pumping out of the little portable speaker (they had to do the announcement twice at this "intersection" to catch both directions ;-), and us yelling "Thank you for your support" in response to the little speech.
Making some connections -- just to justify the picture quality issue here. It wasn't really a "picture-taking" atmosphere, so these were all taken as I "inconspicuously" held my camera around my waist and tried to catch what was going on. . . :-s

Quite the experience, I must say -- the headbands have "Certain Win" written on them. They let me keep the band, not the jacket. . . Thanks for the memories Kenji, Kenji's dad, Kohey, and everyone else. . . and congratulations on making it as a Toyota city councillor. . . yours truly, the hippie in neon.


what's been happening these days

So I couldn't resist -- the cherry blossoms are amazing!! I think they're "officially over" now, though, since it rained yesterday.
One of my students took me to this gorgeous "sakura-lined" road. . . walking under the veil of pink-flushed blossoms, and being showered on by the petals. It looked just like snow!
On Saturday I took a day trip with some students (my 2 Tuesday night classes). In Fall, we went to see some temples in Nara, and this time we headed out to Kyoto. This is a picture of us in front of the Byoudoin bridge, on the front of the Japanese 10 yen coin (see below).

So, for those of you who have seen "Sayuri" or heard of a Geisha, this is the young version (teenage girls), called "Maiko-san". The woman in front of the shop (where they do kimono dyeing) told us that we could have our picture taken with a "real Maiko". (I didn't really believe her, but after seeing the Maiko's wig, one of my students told me that the real ones always use their own hair -- obviously this is just some girl's part-time job!! :-b But, whatever, it's still pretty fun I think!)
And this was probably one of, if not the coolest part of the day -- we got to take a boat ride down the river. The area we went to is called "Arashiyama" and famous for the beautiful mountainsides and colours in Autumn. Being Spring, we didn't see any of the Fall leaves, but the mountains were still pretty with the bright green and little dashes of pink everywhere!
This is what we looked like!! :-D (ok, I don't even feel like it was real looking at this picture now.)
I'm still here until July just in case any of you have changed your minds about coming to visit! ;-)
The five of us -- me, Kimie, Kenji, Kohey (sorry :-s), and Junko.
I thought this was such a pretty scene that incorporates so many uniquely Japanese things. . . the tiles lining the edges of the rock garden, neatly raked rows of pebbles, the larger rocks and finely manicured pine trees set in to symbolize moutains and a mini "nature scene", and then bamboo and even a cherry blossom tree in the background.
We walked down a few streets from the river to find this bamboo trail. . .
It was kind of funny, because there were actually a lot of people on the trail, but there was kind of an unspoken "let's stop and take pictures" moment, where I got this shot! :-)
And, after all that walking. . . we took some time out at the "foot bath". It felt really good. . . kind of weird when you think about it, a bunch of people just start taking off their socks and shoes, sit down on the benches, and plunge their feet in to soak. But, a good custom none-the-less (a little less intimidating than the full body perhaps?!)
There is one other thing that I've wanted to share with all of you. I've mentioned about Kinuyo in several of my previous posts (we went for a picnic together a couple of weeks ago). Well, recently she came to the seminar that we had at church, and it seemed like there was something that really resonated with her inside (the Holy Spirit, no doubt), and since then she has been really interested in learning more about the Bible. It's something that has been a great encouragement to me, not that I've done anything, but about how God is maybe just reminding me to trust that He knows what He's doing. May God be glorified!!!
I will fill you in more next time I send out a letter to all of you. Have a lovely day!


will I never learn?!??

Yes, this is Karis. . . the freaking GIANT!! :-s I get so used to the height difference that I don't really notice until I look at the pictures afterwards. . . Hopefully this will be a lesson for next time (to get as far away from the camera as possible!!) This is in a Japanese garden I went to with one of my classes last week.
And this is our lunch. . . notice the "menu" on the plate. There were about 20 different kinds of food (albeit mostly "bite-sized" or smaller), each with it's own distinct flavour, texture, and arranged artistically using tiny little ceramic dishes, a long wooden tray, and accentuated by these coloured "wire cords" in the middle. It was the "special dish" for Girls' Day (you're probably vaguely remembering me mentioning this in a previous post -- this time it's according to the lunar calendar. . . making the most of it!!). . . and they "sucked us in" by saying that it was the only day they were serving this fancy lunch. How lucky! ;-) I have never eaten such elaborate and refined cuisine in my whole life as in this country! (It was not only beautiful-looking, but delicious too!)
Everything is NEW!!! A Japanese maple in the garden, it's branches emerging with fresh green!
A couple of pictures from the Kids' Easter party at church last Saturday afternoon. It was mostly the kids from church, and 2 of my students came with their little sister. It was fun to hang out, sing some songs, play games (musical chairs :-), have an egg hunt, and talk about the love that Jesus came to give us. . . the "missing piece" if we don't have Him in our hearts.
Amazing how you end up seeing things in a new way, or realizing something simple you'd never thought about before when you get the chance (or have to ;-) teach it. I always think it would be great if something that I said might stick in the kids' hearts and stay with them no matter what the future has to hold or the experiences they will encounter. But, really, maybe the one I need to remember is me, that I will let those simple truths just soak into my being. . .


Easter reflections. . .

Two of my young students (5 year old girl and her 7 year old brother) lost their grandmother a couple of weeks ago. I have also gotten to know their mother, through talking after English class and meeting at the cooking group, so I decided to attend the “wake”, a service held the evening before the funeral. It was the first time I had been to a Buddhist ceremony, and it was quite an experience for me. I had never met Mrs. Kobabayashi, but seeing her picture at the front of the room, surrounded by nearly 30 huge vases full of colourful flowers, impressed on me the sadness this family must be experiencing, and especially the mom of my two students, who had cared for her mother continuously over the past 6 months. She was only 58 years old.
The wake consisted primarily of a Buddhist priest reading chants out of the Buddhist scriptures (o’kyou) and those in attendance each taking a turn bowing to the family, the deceased and offering small incense beads into the ashes held in several containers at the front of the hall. The priest also gave a short address, talking about how Mrs. Kobayashi had now joined the “anscestors”, whom are to be revered, appeased and “worshipped” in Japanese society. He said that if those who are left are faithful in living a “good” life, and show respect for the anscestors by "praying" before their household altars, that these anscestors who are watching from a “higher” place will watch over and provide for them.

Today in church, a woman who used to be a Buddhist nun gave the message. She devoted her life to learning about the Buddhist scriptures and working towards "enlightenment". When she was in her 40s, problems in her marriage led her to seek out the church nearby, and it was when she first read the Bible that she realized that there was no certainty in any of the things that she had learned in Buddhism. It is a constant desiring after humanly conceived ideals, and there is no reassurance of anything. Only in the Bible did she find a certainty of God's love, salvation and the promise of One who would walk beside her through anything.

What an awesome story God has given us -- knowledge of the Truth, and a hope that goes beyond just today. . .

Today and forever may we celebrate our God. . . who LIVES. . . in us!!


for your viewing pleasure. . .

A few pieces of English I found in the train station on my way back from Osaka this weekend. . . in case you're wondering, no, there is no "trick" to "getting" the English. . . it's supposed to not make sense?!?
I basically consider it a "fun bonus" for foreigners here. . . you know, on those days when the culture is really "getting to" you. . . and just need something to lighten things up. . . works every time!
This is not my order, by the way -- visited a little town along the ocean with a friend, and when you're by the ocean, there's nothing better than. . . raw fish, fish eggs, seaweed and other random things from the sea on rice, right?!
A train (ie. regular city train -- basically like our "buses" if you can dare compare the two) I was on in Osaka this weekend -- TV screens in the middle telling you exactly where you are, and advertising mascara or something like that on the right. . . (I keep trying to "fool" the ticket machine at the gates, by putting in my train card upside down or backwards, but it always manages to figure things out and correctly prints out the amount I have left on the card -- the price from station to station is different for almost every stop and this is automatically calculated by electronic info on the ticket or card and printed in a matter of nanoseconds. . .) This country never ceases to amaze and boggle me!