02 January, 2013

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

We've had the best NYE and NY Day that I can remember. Often I end up forcing myself to stay up "just because" and feel like I'm just going through the motions. Then New Year's Day is just another day on the calendar. A bit dull, I know, but it is often not the most exciting day on my calendar. Probably because I'm too tired to appreciate it.

This year was a bit different, however. We headed over to OMF Japan Headquarters to the annual NYE party. With major hand-over of leadership in the last six month, we've been enjoying some different perspectives on the way things are done. This NYE party had a distinctive European flavour. Many at the party spoke German or Swiss German better than English. When we split up into preferred language groups for a reflective activity, we had German, English, and German.

Despite the language barriers (most spoke some English, though several spoke only Japanese or German), we managed to have an enjoyable, yet meaningful evening that didn't drag. We had time for food, fun, reflection, worship, sharing, and prayer. We watched "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" for the last two hours, stopping just towards the end to "pray the New Year in".

The reflective activity involved drawing things that stood out about 2012 and then talking in a small group about it. Though we did it separately, our whole family included the motorhome trip in our remembering. That trip was memorable, just as we imagined it would be!

I didn't get to sleep till about 2pm. I had trouble winding down at the end (this person who rarely makes it to midnight in an upright position and never did an all-nighter as a student).

Our first meal in 2013 was together with other missionaries who'd stayed the night at the Guest Home at JHQ. It gave the evening before a lovely conclusion, rather than everyone drifting off in their own direction.

Then, late in the morning (but not long after breakfast), we headed off for a very Japanese experience. A super-sento (see photos here)—a traditional Japanese bath, but much larger (here's a nice explanation of a Japanese public bath), with 38 different pools.

Inside the "shopping" area. Not a great
photo, but it was done up to look "old-world",
Japanese style.
I enjoyed being able to be with my husband (not so much the boys). This is unusual for a Japanese bath, usually sexes are segregated, and thankfully so. At this facility, however, there is mixed outside swimsuit area. Kind-of a combination between swimming pool and a Japanese bath. It looked like a rock garden, with shallow pools, nothing deep that you would swim in.

It was a relief to find other families there with kids who couldn't sit still, just like ours. These are places where Japanese go to relax, to have a mini holiday. The idea of our boys sitting quietly and relaxing is laughable, and we tend to feel we're causing problems for others when we go, so it isn't necessarily a relaxing experience for us.

Another reason we don't go often to Japanese baths is because David gets a bit of a raw deal. He has to have all the boys in the men's locker rooms. I get the easy deal! I get a relaxing bath, he gets the stress of active boys disturbing the peace of a Japanese onsen.

Relaxing, that's what it's all about.
Massage chairs, real masseurs,
relaxation room (that looked
like a huge first-class section
of an aeroplane with lying down seats,
blankets, and individual screens, etc.
But back to the outside baths. Yes, we were sitting naked or nearly naked outside in sub 10 degree temperatures! The water was generally around 40 degrees C and very pleasant, but standing up to move to another bath (and there were 38 throughout the entire complex) was a chilling experience. Still, it was quite something to sit and gaze up at the blue sky and enjoy total warmth in the middle of winter.

The whole experience was more than just a bath, though. When you entered, they gave you "room clothes" a simple kimono with 3/4 pants plus a locker key and two towels. You take your things to the locker and change into the "room clothes". The locker key had a bar code on it that allows you to purchase anything without money (a bit scary when you realise the boys had bar codes too). When you left they read the bar codes and charged us for our expenses.

So, when we were hungry, we went into the locker rooms and changed into our room clothes and met in the main shopping area and chose some food. After sufficient sustenance, we headed back to the outdoor mixed bathing area.

Collagen-infused bath.
Before we left from the treck back across town to our house we all had a proper bath in the segregated section (which also had many different baths, inside as well as outside).

I tried out a pink bath and asked the lady next to me what karaagen was (that was the label on the bath), she had trouble explaining. Later learned it is how they spell "Collagen"! She must have thought I was a bit stupid. But then, if someone asked me to explain what collagen was, I think I might have trouble explaining too.

We came away feeling pretty relaxed, despite the boys. Although they were a little more relaxed too, probably due to the lack of sleep the night before plus lots of warm water bathing. A lethal combination, but we managed to drive home without the driver falling asleep.

This explanation may be a bit confusing to you. It is something that needs to be experienced to truly understand. Usually I enjoy a Japanese bath these days (it took me a few years to get there), but I'm also very aware that my fluorescent white skin is all the more exposed when I'm without clothes, my different-ness is even more pronounced. Some people don't find that a bother, but I'd rather blend in with the crowd and be quietly different rather than in-your-face different. I also find it hard to totally relax while totally naked with others! I therefore enjoyed the mixed bathing section of this onsen. It was easier to relax when I was with my husband and decently covered up.

Can you spy Mt Fuji in the distance?
On the way home we were treated to a cityscape sunset. It was beautiful with the sun setting behind Mt Fuji and the new Sky Tree. Not as breathtaking as an outback sunset, but still enjoyable. As we were on an expressway, the only photos I got were from a speeding vehicle, still, they aren't bad.

Altogether it was a lovely 28 hours. A thoroughly enjoyable way to bring in the New Year.

One of the pieces of advice an American missionary to Australia gave us back in 2000 when we were preparing to leave for Japan has stuck with us: make sure you find things to enjoy that you wouldn't be able to do if you were in Australia. It is one way to counter homesickness. It's been good advice, and the last couple of days were good examples of how well it works.

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