Monday, 26 December 2011

Santa, Chants, & Talented Children

Last weekend I attended three Christmas parties. The first was a Christmas party for Mitsuba (the pre-k class). All of the kids came dressed in their best clothes and carrying the boxes that they made last month. In those boxes they collected money for the victims of the tsunami and earthquakes of last Spring. Once everyone arrived we had a Christmas pageant where the kids chose who they wanted to be in the Christmas story. There were several adorable angels, four stars, three wise men, three shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and even one sheep. While one of the teachers ready the story of Jesus’ birth, the other teachers held the children’s hands as they acted it out. They did a great job.Afterwards the priest for Mitsuba that day gave a sermon to the children. At the end of the party we had a visit from Santa! All of the kids were given the chance to take a picture with him. Of course there were several kids that burst into tears when they realized that they would have to stand by Santa. It doesn’t matter which country you are in there will always be a child scared of Santa’s presence.

Collection boxes from Mitsuba students

On Saturday we had the Christmas party for the English classes at the Youth Center. Since there are so many English classes they separated the classes into three different parties. Each party started with a candle service where we sang Christmas carols, gave an offering and were given a “Peace Message” (sermon) by Kei Ikezumi, director of the center. Once that finished we went onto the presentations. The kids have been practicing these presentations for weeks now so it was very exciting finally seeing it all come together. Each class had a story or chant that they memorized. Among those stories were the Little Gingerbread Man, the Little Red Hen, and Three Billy Goats Gruff. Of course many of the kids that usually shouted their lines became shy when they had to say them in front of all the parents. But they did so well, I felt like a proud mom watching them.

On Sunday was the Christmas Party for ELCC (the school for Filipino children). All the families brought food for potluck lunch. I officially LOVE Filipino food! After we gorged ourselves silly on the food, the kids gave their presentations that they too have been working on for months. The older girls (Anna and Annmoley) sang popular Japanese and Filipino songs. They also preformed a dance with their friends to a Korean hip hop song. The older kinder class and the two teenagers played some Christmas carols on hand bells. Last but not least the Kinder class danced to Justin Beiber’s song “Baby Baby.” They were overwhelmingly adorable dancing to the song. All of the parents and guests had their cameras out recording this cute scene. The party ended with a gift exchange.
That weekend was filled with so much love and joy. I am so glad I was able to participate in it the festivities.

God’s Peace and Merry Christmas,

Pearl Harbor, Change, & Peace

A few weeks back I woke up to reminders on Facebook of it being the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. For the rest of the day I couldn’t help thinking about how much the world has changed since then. Before I came to Japan an older woman I met at a church asked, “Have you thought about Pearl Harbor?” I wasn’t sure where she was going with this. I wanted to remind her about the atomic bombs we dropped on Japan and how we put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. Thankfully, I refrained from doing so. Needless to say both countries did a number on one another. But now 70 years later I am volunteering in Japan. I am teaching the children about my culture and language while they in return teach me so much more. 

On that Thursday, December 7th(US time), I went to Taki Dashi (the soup kitchen I help out at once a week) as usual. When I arrived I was greeted by a group of volunteers that I hadn’t met before. In English and broken Japanese I fumbled my way through explaining I was in Japan as a volunteer and not a student. The ladies were so sweet. One of them started talking about how our two countries have had a horrible relationship in the past. She went on to say how wonderful it is that the times have changed so much that I am able to come to Japan as a volunteer and friend. I don’t know if she knew that that day was a historical one for our countries. But of all the days we could have met, of all the days that we could have had that conversation, it was on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The following Sunday I looked around at all of the wonderful people I have come to know and love. People, whom I have laughed with, ate with, and prayed with, they would have been my enemy 70 years ago. It is hard for me to even conceive of that. Sometimes I struggle with the knowledge of that history and what it means for me here now. But for today I am thankful for the time that has passed and the reconciliation that has happened between our countries. I am thankful for the opportunity to know these amazing people, and I am thankful for the peace that we are constantly striving to obtain.

God's Peace,

Friday, 9 December 2011

Expectations, Peacocks, & Tea

Lately I have read many articles and blogs about expectations. About how things are never as you expect them to be. Maybe we should enter every day or journey without expectations and see what comes of it. So on Sunday when plans were changed I welcomed it. I had planned on going to church, eating lunch, and then going back to my room to study Japanese for the rest of the day. I expected to have a day being very productive. But of course it seems that God had something else in mind. After lunch, one of the older parishioners, Mrs. Karube, invited Claire (the other missionary who is fluent in Japanese) and I to tea at her house. Claire was unable to go, which put a damper on communication. Thankfully, she let us barrow her electronic dictionary. 

We set out for Mrs. Karube’s house. She lives in a very traditional Japanese style house. She showed me to her guest room which is disguised as a tea room (or maybe even a living room to our standards). The floor had the traditional bamboo mat, there was a low set table, and Japanese style cushions for sitting. The doors and windows were made with traditional paper and bamboo frame. The room also faced out into the garden. 

After she made tea she told me about her daughter who is an artist for children books. She showed me some of her daughter’s books and explained some of the stories. Somehow in conversation I told her about the tea ceremony I went to last week. We talked about the various traditions that it entailed. She then left the room for a few minutes and came back with hot water, treats, and a box with traditional tea set for a tea ceremony. The box and many of the utensils inside were made by her grandfather. We then had a “home” tea ceremony.

One of the books that her daughter designed pictures for was a Chinese story of a peacock. Now Mrs. Karube does not speak much English. So with my very limited Japanese, her English, and the beautiful pictures her daughter created she read the story to me. She acted out most of the story and what I couldn’t understand, we looked up in the dictionary. It was wonderful. I felt like I was a child again listening to a great story teller. There was a moment when the sun was shining in through the window and she was in the middle of telling the story that I felt true sense of peace. It was like something out of a movie.

The afternoon went by with talking about all the places we have been. She showed me pictures of her trips to Canada and all the things she saw. We talked about my home back in the states and the differences of life here. While this day was not planned and we both expected an awkward afternoon of miscommunication and tea, it turned out to be one of the best days I have spent. It was perfect in every aspect even without the ability to completely understand one another. In fact I think that difficulty only made it better. It is amazing what will happen when you see past your expectations and see the beauty in the reality. I am so thankful for that afternoon and for her.

I hope that you are able to enter everyday without the complication of expectations; welcome whatever may come. You might be surprised at what you will receive in return.

God's Peace,


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Candles, Hello Kitty, & Glue

Last Saturday marked the first of many Christmas parties to come. About twenty children from the community came to the Youth Center to have a Christmas party. The festivities began with a candle light service. We lit the advent wreath and some of the kids held lit candles. We sang Christmas Carols and a story of Little Santa Claus was read. It was a simple but beautiful service.

After the service we split up into groups. In my group there were two other volunteers and four very talkative 8 year old girls. The craft for the day was to make stars of bamboo rods, paper, and lots of glue. The children were told to bring things that they could use to decorate the stars. So the girls in our group brought thousands of cutesy stickers, beads, and jewels. Before we even started making the stars the girls were trading their stickers with one another. One of the girls gave one of the volunteers and I some of her extras. I am now the owner of hello kitty stickers…woohoo! Gluing the paper onto the bamboo rods proved to be a bit difficult and very messy. There was glue everywhere; I even found some in my hair. While making the stars, I had a blast talking with the girls all about things they like and music they listen to. They were so cute and eager to speak English with me.

Once everything was said and done, the kids made some pretty awesome stars. Some of the kids had time to make extra ones. These extras were sent as gifts for people in the north effected by the natural disasters of last spring. The event was definitely a success. I can’t wait for the next one. I hope that you enjoy the Season of Advent.

God's Peace,

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Convection Ovens, Curry House &Thanksgiving

I love traditions. I especially love them during holidays. The one year that my Mom suggested that we have Mexican food instead of our traditional meal for Christmas I threw a fit. I know that was very immature and selfish of me but at the time I couldn’t handle another change. Also I am not at all opposed to Mexican food (in fact I crave it the most) I just didn’t want to skip all of the traditions. I love the foods, being surrounded by family and friends, I even love the stress that the holidays bring. With that being said I have been dreading being away from home during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I knew that it would be difficult not participating in all the festivities that my family was having. But I decided to make the best of the situation.

Chess Pie
Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks for the blessings you have in your life. In honor of that holiday I wanted to show my thanks for the wonderful people I work with here. Also being a girl from Texas I know that the best way to show your appreciation for people is to cook food, i.e. desserts.  Of all the delicious food that we eat on Thanksgiving, apple and chess pies are my favorites. I don’t have an oven in my apartment but they let me use youth center’s oven. So now the task was to get the ingredients. Grocery stores and I don’t have a very good track record (a few weeks ago I was in search vegetable oil I accidently bought three different types of vinegar). With that knowledge I made sure I knew exactly how to say each ingredient I needed in Japanese. After visiting three different stores I gathered everything I needed. 

Apple Pie
On Tuesday night my friend Phiene, from Laos, helped me baked these scrumptious pies. As I should have known from before convection ovens bake things differently than the ovens I am used to. But forgetting my previous trial with this oven I baked everything according to the recipe. Well this made two of my four pies burnt. Luckily that did not ruin the taste…too much.

I went to a tea ceremony
When Thursday came I took one chess pie and one apple pie to the office. They were a hit. They made sure to save enough for all of the other teachers and women not present that day. On Thursdays I work with the homeless food service (it’s a soup kitchen of sorts). I took the other two pies with me. I made sure to give a piece (or two) to everyone I that I worked with that day. After the actual food service I was able to feast on curry and pies with some of the volunteers. Those volunteers have become some of my dearest friends here so I was happy to share the tradition with them. I celebrated the wonderful holiday with true awareness of  all my blessings in my life.  I am truly thankful for everyone here as well as my family and friends back home in my life. 

Lunch with the teachers

Kimi (works in the Youth Center) got married!
Some of the lovely ladies I work with!

I am with some of the teachers before the tea ceremony

Thank you for you constant support and prayers. I know I am almost two weeks late but I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!

God’s Peace,

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Paul Newman, Smiles, and Music

I have now been in Japan for a little over two months. It has been nine wonderful and challenging weeks. Even though I have been here for that long I only officially learned how to introduce myself a week ago. Just so you don’t think that I have been completely hopeless in learning the language I would like to tell you that I know the names of several different animals, foods, how to say look, stop that, excuse me and many other very random bits of vocabulary. Most days I am surrounded by Japanese. This means that I spend a lot of time being quiet and watching others interact.
 One time I wanted to ask someone about Bonsai trees. I used the word bonzai which as it turns out is not a word. Banzai means raise your hands (or some version of that) while bonsai is the type of tree. It only took two days, a terrible attempt to draw a tree and three different people to finally understand what I was talking about. Sometimes I cause a lot of chaos over a simple word...I can't help it. Afterwards the famous quote from Cool Hand Luke came to my mind, "what we have here is a failure to communicate."
Being the talkative person that I am, I am always trying to figure out ways to communicate. Thankfully my excessive way of talking with my hands has finally become useful. When they say that eighty percent of communication is through body language, they are not lying (although that other twenty percent comes in handy). It's truly amazing how much a person can communicate with very few words. I love it! Just a knowing nod or smile from other foreigners passing by on the sidewalk makes my day. With that small gesture we recognize that we are both in the same boat. It doesn’t matter that we might not speak the same language or even be from the same country; we are foreign and therefor understand each other. That simple gesture says so much without a word being spoken. 
Today I went to a charity concert for the Let's Walk Together Project. This project helps those who have been affect by the tsunami and earthquake of last spring. The first hour they talked about the program and it's various activities. All of it was in Japanese.  I was disconnected from what was going on. But the moment that they started playing music I was involved. I was connected. Music is a way of communicating  that is for everyone. It has a way of speaking to you no matter the setting, the culture, or the language that it is in.    

Western Wear store

Osu Kannon Temple

Communication is such a  funny thing sometimes. Thanks for tuning in. Go out, enjoy some music, and another person's company.

God's Peace,