Monday, 23 April 2012

Sakura, Tears, & Clay

Well Easter came in a flash! On the Saturday before, many church members gathered at the church to prepare for Easter festivities. There was a group chopping vegetables, a group decorating boiled eggs with stickers, and a group setting up the church. It is always a good time when this group gets together so needless to say that there was a lot of laughing and singing. When we were finished one of the ladies in the church invited me to see the Cherry Blossoms. I cannot describe to you the sense of awe that you experience when you turn the corner and are suddenly surrounded by cherry blossoms. I now understand why they are so famous. When cherry blossoms are in blooms that is all anyone can talk about. I am sad that they only last a few weeks though.

Barbeque. Japanese style
On Easter morning we had a beautiful service. Afterwards we had a Japanese style barbeque. The weather was perfect for the first time in a long time so we were able to eat and cook in the garden. The food was of course delicious.  As an Eater gift the church gave the decorated eggs to everyone in attendance. That evening we also had an English service. There was a ton of left over eggs from our service that morning so we had an Easter egg hunt after the English service. There were only two kids so that family had enough boiled eggs to last them a long time.  Claire and I ended the day with my favorite dessert, zenzai, at a cute little coffee shop. Easter was a success.

The next day we started English classes. While I really enjoyed my Spring vacation it was nice to see those smiling faces again. With the new school year comes new kids to Mitsuba (the pre-k class at the center). This means that we have a room full of crying two year olds trying to adjust to being away from their mothers for the first time. After this experience I am not sure if my hearing will ever be the same again. On the Brightside even when the children are screaming at the top of their lungs they are still cute. All of you out there that have ever taken care of children bless you. I would also like to say thank you to those of you that put up with my tantrums as a child, you are truly angels. 

The next weekend I visited my friend Yuka’s hometown, Tokoname. That town is famous for pottery. We spent the morning walking around the old kilns and looking at the various shops. After lunch we went to a place that teaches you how to make pottery. Yuka and I had a bit of a hard time doing it. She had to start over twice and I had to start over three times. Luckily our teacher was very kind and patient.  In the end we completed the task. Her cup and my vase were awesome. We then went to Tokoname’s spring festival. I got to see traditional Japanese floats, we ate very unhealthy but very good street food, and she introduced me to everyone she knew.  What a lovely Saturday.

This past Saturday I got to go to my second Japanese wedding. One of the men that I worked with at ELCC got married. A group of us went to Osaka for the wedding. The wedding was in a church that is over a hundred years old. The service and the reception were beautiful, as were the bride and groom. 

That shell was HUGE!
My completed vase
Traditional Japanese float

Lake Biwa is the biggest Lake in Japan

Delicious Indian food with my friend Fumi.
First Karaoke experience in Japan with
friends from the office.

This Easter season has brought so much joy and life here in Japan. I hope that you all have a wonderful Easter season as well.

God's Peace,

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Final Part of trip to Sendai

delicious okonomiyaki
On the evening of Palm Sunday we returned to Sendai. I was to stay the night at the apartments where the other volunteers live. Along with the apartments, the church also owns an old convent that is being used as the volunteer men’s house. There, all the volunteers come together to share meals and enjoy one another's company. That night everyone was gathering for a dinner of okonomiyaki (my favorite meal). I loved sitting around the table with this group. It felt like a huge family gathering. Everyone was teasing and forcing each other to over eat. I didn’t want it to end.

On Monday morning JP, Ian, and I went to Iwaki city.  Along the way I learned tons about the politics, religion, food, and culture of the Philippines. In return I did my best to give them answers to their questions about the states. Once we arrived in Iwaki we met with three Filipino women Maria, Agnes, and Christina. These women lived anywhere from 7 to 20 kilometers from the nuclear reactor in Fukushima. Now they are living in temporary housing in Iwaki. The purpose of our trip was to see if they would like to take part in an English teachers training.

temporary housing
I was able to talk with Agnes a lot about her experiences from March 11, 2011 until now. She was in the factory when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake happened. Afterwards she and her husband went to pick up their daughter from school. On the way they heard that the tsunami was coming so they were forced to seek shelter. It took three hours before they reached their daughter. Once they picked her up they got word that the reactor had exploded and they were forced to evacuate. They stayed in two different places over the next four months before they were placed in Iwaki. They were not able to go back to their house and gather their belongings until three months after the disaster. Now Agnes and her family live in the small temporary housing and have nothing to do but worry. She worries about a job, worries about the safety of her child, and worries about the future. Many organizations provide activities at the temporary housing but that is only a brief relief from the emotional stress they are going through.

After scheduling a weekend for the English Teachers training at the temporary housing, we visited with Juliet Ando. She is another Filipino living in Iwaki. About five years ago she set up a restaurant for Filipino seamen. It is open once a month when they come into port. Due to legalities when they port in Iwaki they are only allowed to go a certain distance into the city. So Juliet opened this restaurant where they can eat homemade Filipino food and give them a place to hangout. We visited her so that the Filipino women that are interested in the teachers training could contact her. She was kind enough to make us delicious Filipino food.
Daito, Hattori, and Ian
Once our bellies were full, we left for the Iwaki Project’s base. We were greeted by two very friendly volunteers Daito San from Kobe and Hattori Kiyoshi Kyoto. We talked for a long time about our lives and all that we saw in Iwaki. They then showed us to our rooms and we called it a night. The next day, we had Morning Prayer bright and early. Daito made us a wonderful breakfast and we continued our conversations from the night before. Once we said our goodbyes we met up again with Juliet. We showed took her to the church and the temporary housing so that she would know how to give the directions to the trainings.

My traveling companions JP and Ian.
After lunch we returned to Sendai. There was a horrible storm coming into town so everyone was in a panic. Luckily my bus back to Nagoya was not delayed. That trip was an eye-opening experience. The entire time I have been in Japan I have heard all about the project and what the victims are still going through. Yeah I will never know completely what was like that March day, nor all that they have gone through since then. Finally getting to witness it myself gave me a true understanding. It also made me realize the realities of the disaster at a more personal level. I was no longer hearing stories of people far away. I was hearing stories of people I met. I felt the emotions they went through as they shared their stories. 

God's Peace,

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Eastern Japan part 2

As I stated in my last post I spent a week traveling all over Eastern Japan with the Let’s Walk Together Project. Each city where there was damage or where people have been displaced they have a base run by volunteers.

On Saturday afternoon my boss Kay Ikezumi and I left the English Teachers Training in Ofunato early. We left to meet with Bishop Kato in Kamaishi. Kamaishi suffered the most from the tsunami and earthquake. Once we arrived we went straight to the project’s base. We were greeted by some of the local volunteers. The base is filled with donated clothes, a big table full of treats, tea and coffee. Many victims will come to the base for clothes and end up staying for tea and company. After a few minutes of chatting with the volunteers a youth group from Hokaido (the northern island of Japan) returned from visiting the temporary houses. Their bellies were full of tea and sweets that one of the women forced them to eat. It was nice to be around so many youth. They were all laughing and joking with one another. It reminded me of all the mission trips I went on with my youth group in high school and in college. I was so excited when we got to join them for dinner. We traded random facts/stories about our lives. At one point there was a long discussion about how to properly hold chopsticks. I loved hanging out with them. 

After dinner Bishop Kato, Fr. Nobuyuki Tamitsu, Kay and I were invited to participate in their compline and reflections of the day. While the youth were writing down their experiences from the day, Bishop Kato showed me a book of photographs from the disaster. He pointed out a picture where a woman had found her child dead in a car after the tsunami. I can’t even begin to imagine what that woman felt. The picture alone was terrible. He also showed me a picture where people wrote on the ground that they needed a hundred blankets. They were completely secluded. They had to depended on the helicopters to see their message and fulfill their needs. These pictures made me realize the magnitude of what they went through. Once the youth shared their stories of the day they asked for our reflections as well. I was able to share about my time in Ofunato and the impression I had of the area. 

Kamaishi Church. You might not be
able see the giant Pokemon characters
guarding the altar but they are there.
The next day was Palm Sunday. Before taking us to church, Fr. Tamitsu drove us around to look at some of the damage. Our hotel was right on the edge of the destroyed section. I don’t think pictures can even begin to describe the way the place looked. He pointed out places where the water went over houses and wiped out sections of the huge cement walls that were protecting the city. After the brief tour we were taken to the church. It is a very small church that doubles as a kinder school during the week (hence the pokemon monsters guarding the altar). Luckily, the church was in another part of town that did not suffer badly from the disaster. The Hokaido youth group, Kay and I outnumbered the church members by nine. We had a beautiful Palm Sunday service. 

The water was over went over this
two story house.
After church we spoke with two of the members, one of which was the principal of the kinder school. She shared her story of the disaster. She said that after the huge earthquake they took all of the children to another school up the road. There they were to wait for the parents but then the tsunami came. The parents were unable to get to the children. Due to the destruction of the earthquake and tsunami some had to walk for three days before they were able to make it to the school. In the meantime the teachers did their best to take care of the kids and ease their fears. Three days the parents didn’t know about the condition of their children, the teachers didn’t know the condition of the parents, and the children didn’t understand what was going on. As terrible as that experience was, the teacher was able to tell the story with somewhat of a smile. She even laughed when she spoke about the kids running all over the school when the teachers weren’t looking. She is now able to look towards the future. The horrors of last year are mostly behind her.  Soon they will be renovating the building and welcoming new children.

Rows of temporary housing
A little while later, we were taken to lunch and a tour of the city. Our driver showed us about eight different sets of temporary housing, each varying in size. One hosted twelve families while another hosted 85. Since that area is filled with mountains, they have a difficult time finding flat spaces to build the temporary houses. In order for the Let’s Walk Together project to fulfill the needs of the victims they must first build relationships. A woman in Tokyo made many zafutons (big pillows for sitting) for the victims. Volunteers go around to the temporary houses to ask the families if they want one. On the second visit they return with the pillows. They then go back to the houses a third time to see how the families are doing. Each trip they are building a relationship. The donated futons are just scratching the surface to the mission work that is being done. Through the relationships being built they are able to offer support in whatever way is needed. One of the communities is having a cherry blossom festival which the program is helping with.

This area was filled with houses.

front doors of the temporary houses

Please keep Japan in your prayers. There is still a lot of rebuilding to be done not only of the cities but also of people's lives. There are still more stories to come. Stay tuned.

God's Peace,

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Trip to Eastern Japan part 1

These pictures of the people in temporary
encouraging everyone to stay strong.
We just finished Spring break so school is back in session. But for a week during the break I traveled around Eastern Japan, visiting various programs of the Let’s Walk Together Project. This Anglican project supports victims of last year's tsunami and earthquake get back on their feet. Within the project, they have several different programs.

After taking a ten hour bus ride the night before, I arrived in Sendai (where the headquarters for the project are) on Thursday morning. The next day we got up very early to go to Ofunato. On this trip to Eastern Japan I helped mainly with the program that minister to foreigners who have been in Japan along time. They have had workshops where they teach the language needed to become care takers. And recently they started a training seminar to become English teachers. After the natural disaster many people lost their jobs. Many of these were foreigners who originally moved to Japan in search of work. Similar to the US, many migrant workers are looked down upon by the society. Therefor this project is not only helping them recover financially but they are also trying to improve the society’s view of them.

In Ofunato the project hosted one of these English Teacher Trainings for 11 Filipino and 1 Chilean woman. All of these women were affected in one way or another by the natural disasters. Ian, a study abroad student from the Philippines, and I were “in charge” of watching the children while their mothers were in the workshop. Ian speaks more Japanese than me but neither of us are fluent by any means. Of course the children speak only Japanese. While we thought that we were the ones the leaders of the group, in reality the kids were the ones calling the shots. They told us what we were going to do. They would start walking out to a park and we were obliged to follow. At the same time it was a blast interacting with these kiddos. Even though there was a HUGE language barrier we somehow were able to communicate. I taught them some American games and they put a Japanese twist to them. We had giant games of hide and seek. We went on walks and they showed us great views of the mountains. It was wonderful.

The next morning, I spoke with Hortencia, the Chilean in the program. She told me about how she was still in shock from the disasters of last year. While she wanted to talk about it with someone it was difficult. Most of her friends lived far away. Also talking about emotions and seeking counseling is not very normal in Japan. She wants so badly to feel normal again but it is difficult to move on. It has been more than a year since the incident but it might as well have happened yesterday. You can see the disaster not only by all of the empty plots of land where buildings used to be but also on the faces of those there. Driving in the area I could hardly believe I was still in Japan. It was a completely different place. Some buildings look as if you touch them they would crumble to the ground.

I would like to ask you to pray for Japan. As I said it has been over a year since last year’s tragedy but it still is affecting many people’s lives. During this trip I went to four different cities in six days. I met many people and heard many stories. So please stay tuned, I have so much more to share. I promise to have more pictures on the next post.

God's Peace,