30 May, 2013

Bike parking

I've had a very flat day today. I think I'm running out of puff at the end of the school year. One of the things I did do, however, is go and buy some food for dinner. 

This isn't a shop I regularly use because the prices are high, but they have the bread rolls that I needed for dinner, so I rolled up there on my bike. As the shop is next to the station, they've become quite strict on bike parking recently. 

Tokyo is, in general, strict about bike parking near train stations. This has quite a bit to do with the amount of traffic that train stations see. It would be easy for bikes to clog up train station entrances, so you usually have to pay for parking your bike near a station.

So this store has installed these machines to park your bike in. Quite ingenious, really.

This sign says that you park free for the first two hours.

This is what it looks like outside the shop.

And here is my bike. I had a bit of an awkward time getting it up onto this and when I was done, it looked pretty precarious. I guess at least I could be fairly assured that the bike wouldn't be stolen.

After I did my little bit of shopping I came out and reminded myself what number slot my bike was parked in and then went to this machine. Plugged my number in and away I went. 

A later amendment: someone told me today that when you've been using these less than two  hours, you don't even need to enter your number. What what do you know? Not as much as I thought!

Japan Photo #35

In my isolation from the Western world, I have no idea whether people will know what this is or not. 

If you do, can you guess why I'm so excited about this little addition to our household?

29 May, 2013

Answer to the Australian English quiz

Thanks for all the great responses to this quiz. It was fun to see people giving it a go. You'll probably have guessed that these are all colloquial words. I've had fun looking them up and giving you meanings, as well as examples of some (actually it's been a serious time-waster this morning, but a fun one).

1. Bonzer    g. great

Eg2006, Philippa Todd, Dangerous Dating, page 110:
The sadness about his father left his face, and he smiled. He seemed pleased to have something positive to do. / 'That's bonzer, Annie. Thanks' he said. 'You're a good sort. And as for Ches, well, he's real bonzer too . . .
It's found in a variety of Australian literature, including Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, 1915. It is a little old fashioned now.
2. Chunder    j. vomit

There is a remarkable number of colloquial words for vomit in Australia, this is but one. I'll spare you any examples.

3. Bludge   h. not doing anything

Eg: "I took PE because I thought it would be a bit of a bludge. Turns out they expect you to run every day!"

4. Dunny  b. toilet, either the room or the fixture itself.

Eg. 2008, Judith L. McNeil, No One's Childpage 95,
There was one leaning dunny down the back and, if you stayed very quiet, on a very still day you could hear the white ants as they chewed the wood.The bottom boards were already eaten through, and I avoided using the dunny at all costs.
As an aside, would you believe that someone's made a toy called a "dunny"? Check it out here.

5. Flog  d. steal

This is a fascinating word to look up. When I was a kid "Did ya' flog that?" meant, "Did you steal it?"

6. Possie   k. position

Eg. 2009, Andrew Bain, Ethan Gelber, Cycling Australia, Lonely Planet, page 346,
It′s in a good people-watching possie and if you have an early dinner between 3pm and 7pm you get a 40% discount.

7. Ridgy-didge   a. genuine, original, honest

Aussie synonyms: fair dinkum, dinkum, true blue, for real, dinky-die

It also means "fine". 

Eg. 2001Bryce CourtenayFour Fires, Volume 1, 2010, Large print edition, page 278,
Sit them in the dam, wait for the fire to pass over, everything will be ridgy-didge.

8. Ropable  i. angry

Eg. 2009, Sean Dooley, Cooking with Bazpage 115,
The phone rang a couple of hours later and it was Di. I have never heard her more ropable in my life; it is the only tongue-lashing I ever remember getting from her and it was excoriating.

9. Sickie  e. malingering

It's a sick day you take when you don't feel like going to work or you've had too much to drink the night before. This is, in fact, a common word in the UK too. At this website I discovered that the first Monday in February is informally called the "National Sickie Day".

10. Tucker  c. food

"Ta for the tucker." Translates as, "Thanks for the food." Yes, "Ta" is another Australian slang word, though it's used frequently, possibly I'd use it more frequently than any of the rest of these words. "Thank you" is just too formal for Aussies much of the time.

11.  Yakka   l. hard work

Almost solely used as "hard yakka". We even have a clothing brand called, "Hard Yakka". According this this website, the word derives from an indigenous word from a tribe native to the Brisbane area.

12. Doovelackie (correct spelling according to The Macquarie Dictionary)   f. thing

This one caused the most comments from Australians. It has many synonyms: doover, whatchamacallit, whomajigger, hozza meebob, thingamajig, thing. 

Here is one place to look up these words (plus many others!). Compared to many of these sorts of resources, it's fairly clean (if you skim over the references to vomit by various names).

28 May, 2013

1,500th post

I can't believe it.

On the 2nd of March 2009, I wrote this as my first blog post:

Compelled to start

After weeks of debating with myself and others about starting a blog, I finally fell over the edge and decided to give it a go. After all, I will never know if I never try. Why "on the edge of ordinary"? As an Aussie in Japan, I never feel part of the main stream - neither here nor in Australia. However, our lives are full of the most ordinary things. For example, I am due to pick up my middle son from kindergarten right now. So...I'd better go and continue my new role as a blogger some other time.
I've been contemplating for a while how to celebrate this 1,500th post, or even what to say here. And I'm still no closer to an answer.

I started this blog with a goals that still hold true:

  • To write about our lives as ordinary Australians who are living a little bit on the edge of what most people consider ordinary life. I wanted people to be able to see how not-super hero we really were.
My sub-goal became (I don't know if it was there in the beginning):
  • To get into the habit of writing daily. I call myself a writer, but I wasn't being very disciplined at actually writing (at the time I had 3, 6 and 9 year olds). My blog has helped my writing.
I don't think I anticipated how much I'd enjoy blogging. I can't say it's an obsession, but it certainly is a discipline, to think of something somewhat meaningful to write almost every day. Most of the time I love it, occasionally I struggle. 

It was a great tool for communication during the natural disaster of 2011. The number of people reading it went through the roof, but I appreciated the opportunity to just "shine" where I was planted. I wasn't doing anything but trying to live my ordinary life (I never went up to the disaster zone at the time), yet my words were helpful to others wondering about the situation in Japan.

Probably the most difficult thing about blogging is that at times there are things I want to write about our lives here, but it is inappropriate to do so (for various reasons). Learning to discern that has been a process (sometimes painful). Sometimes the things that I hesitate the most on putting up here are those that get the most positive feedback about. It isn't easy to know where the boundary lies.

One of the really fun things about blogging is the unexpected things that happen as a result. This post gives an example.

I'm wondering, do you have a favourite post that you've read here? I'd love you to share which one it was. I can't decide one for myself. 

27 May, 2013

Impacting Media

So many great links going around my Facebook feed at the moment, not junky ones, but insightful ones. It's too bad to just leave them on FB, I want to share them with you. Here are three of them:

This 15 minutes video is about the decreasing birth rate and increasing elderly population situation in Japan. Some insightful comments in interviews (and the reporter is Australian, which is another bonus).

This is a blog post about the impact the mobile lifestyle missionaries live has on our children's thoughts about relationships and the seeming inevitability of goodbyes. It has implications, not just for MKs (missionary kids), but all TCKs (including military kids who haven't left their home country), and adults who live this mobile lifestyle also.

This one is funny, but in a sad way. It is a humorous look at what must be a frustrating problem for those who have Asian looks, yet were born in America (or whatever Western country you'd like to name). Because I'm white, I don't know if this is as bad a problem in Australia. I certainly remember growing up with Asians and just accepting them as Australia, especially if they had an Australian accent. Are people really as rude as this?

  • Japan's decreasing birthrate coupled with a lack of desire to increase immigration.
  • Inevitable goodbyes and how that impacts our relationships
  • Judging a book by it's cover: making assumptions about people because of the way they look.
Which of these impacted you the most?

26 May, 2013

Australian English quiz

Okay, I've got my Aussie English hat on. Can you, non-Aussies, guess the meaning of these words?
  1. Bonzer
  2. Chunder
  3. Bludge
  4. Dunny
  5. Flog
  6. Possie
  7. Ridgy-didge
  8. Ropable
  9. Sickie
  10. Tucker
  11. Yakka
  12. Doo velacki
Here are the answers, can you match them up to the correct word?

a. genuine
b. toilet
c. food
d. steal
e. malingering 
f. thing
g. great
h. no doing anything
i. angry
j. vomit
k. position
l. hard work

Answers coming up in a couple of days.

25 May, 2013

New book by Joni

As a teenager I went through a phase of reading biographical books about people with disabilities and various medical conditions. Part of that interest was me heading towards studying Occupational Therapy.

One of the books I read at that time was Joni. That famous book about Joni Eareckson who broke her neck as a 17 y.o.. It's a good book, one I recommend to you, if you haven't read it.

The book I've just read, however, comes 37 years after her accident, and it's not just about her. This book, Joni and Ken, an Untold Love Story is focused on the relationship between Joni and her husband, Ken. It explores various themes, including the difficulty of living with someone famous as well as someone who has a severe disability. What comes through strongly is Ken's journey as a husband, especially relating to the book, Wild at Heart.

As a couple they've struggled, not just with Joni's quadriplegia, but in recent years chronic, unexplained pain and on top of that, breast cancer.

It isn't a "happily ever after" tale, but rather one that honestly shows them working through their struggles. It's an encouragement that you don't just have to give in when things get tough in a marriage. These two have not only stuck with their marriage, but the joy and satisfaction they're enjoying now, probably eclipses that of earlier in their marriage.

Joni's advice, "If I were sitting next to you this very moment . . . wherever you are . . . I know what I would say to you. I would say, 'Oh, please pray for your partner.' Hands down, it beats any how-to marriage manual or nationally renowned couples' conference."

The only negative thing I can say about the book is that it does skip around a lot, flitting across different times in their lives. Though these are clearly marked with dates, it is still difficult to keep a track of what's going on. Nonetheless, it is a book worth reading.

But there's one thing I especially treasure from the book. She writes, "Home is with him. Home is with Ken Tada. If you asked Ken, he'd say the same. Home is wherever we are together." I love this notion and it captures my feeling about my husband too. It is part of how we manage to cope living away from Australia, because home is when we're together.

Disclaimer: A complimentary electronic copy of this book was provided to me for review by Thomas Nelson Books http://BookSneeze.com. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

24 May, 2013

A blah day

I'm struggling to get down to any decent work today. It was an encouragement, this morning, to read this quote:
"It's normal to have days where you just can't work and days where you'll work 12 hours straight." Alain Paquin, Whatsnexx (from here)
As I ponder my "blaaah-ness" I've figured out something of where it's come from. That's not always possible, but I have some potential candidates for reasons right here:

  • "Home church" situation. I wrote about it last week here. We're communicating with various relevant people, finding out all sorts of information and opinions on what we should do. We Skyped with trusted friends about the situation last night.
  • Some days the complications of missionary life just
    make getting through a day feel like climbing a rock wall.
  • One of our boy's behaviour at school has had us meeting with teachers at various times over the last two years. We had another meeting yesterday. They're usually emotionally draining and yesterday's has left us with needing to make some decisions.
These are the two biggies that are straining my concentration on the tasks at hand. But there was one more today that is a classic story illustrating how difficult partially knowing the language of your host culture can be.

Last week a trainer at Curves approached me and asked me (I thought), if I'd like to try the protein drink they're promoting. I figured there's no harm in that, so said yes. To my surprise she took me over to the counter and asked me when I was free in the coming week. She wanted to make an appointment with me! I thought that was a bit strange, but cooperated. When I left the gym, I promptly forgot about this appointment.

On Tuesday at around 11.45 I turned up for my workout and as I pulled my shoes out of my bag saw an unusual slip of paper at the bottom—it had my appointment time written on it, for 12.30 that day. As I worked my way around the circuit I watched a group of ladies in the corner—they were clearly being educated about the amazing powers of the protein drink. Far from a simple taste test, they were getting the full nine-yards: a 30-minute sales pitch. I began to panic, because I'd already run myself short of time that day with everything that needed to be accomplished and didn't have 30 minutes to spare. I spent most of my exercise time obsessing over what I should do and how I should do it, especially about how I should get out of this obligation.

In the end I tried to slip out of the gym just a few minutes before the appointment I'd made, but they caught me! Then I played my innocent, "Oh, I forgot! Actually I have something I have to do." (yakusoku - a very useful word in Japanese). It worked a treat. No one lost face and I made myself understood (rather than blathering around not knowing how to explain my situation).

However, it didn't all go my way. She didn't miss a beat before she had her calendar out rescheduling me for another time! Argghhh. This time I knew exactly what I was getting into, but I couldn't find an easy way to wiggle out of it.

Today was the day. I turned up at the required 12.00pm and sat through the sales pitch. Actually I was surprised at how much I understood. It was accompanied with some lovely diagrams and I followed along fairly well, especially when the presenter only required me to nod and smile nicely. A couple of the direct questions were a bit tricky.

But I'd spent the week being concerned about this and obviously this morning too. The biggest worry was how I could feign interest knowing that I'd not be buying the product (I'm not good at feigning interest). And then how I could wiggle out of buying the product. 

As it turns out feigning interest wasn't a problem: I had to concentrate hard to understand as much as I did and that looked sufficiently like interest. For wiggling out of buying it, Japanese as a language is good for this. It is sufficient, often, to give a vague answer and smile, and an apology or two thrown in never harms either.

So, in the end it wasn't worth the worry-work I'd put into it. It actually turned out to be good Japanese language listening practise, and I surprised myself at being able to cope.

But the end result of all this is that my concentration today is shot to pieces. I have lots of nitty gritty details to deal with for the magazine, but I'm clearly not up to it. I think most of them will just have to wait until Monday.

23 May, 2013

Christian Clichés that Grate

I have a problem with clichés Christian phrases like
When Christians pray, we tend to throw cliches around.
Disclaimer: this is just a photo of people praying, I'm not
pointing my finger at anyone of them.

  1. "God showed up"
  2. "God is good."
  3. And when praying, "God, be with that person..."

They roll off people's tongues easily, but they aren't really theologically correct. Now you don't often get me talking theology, but really these make me cringe.

  1. God's omnipresent: He's always there. This is an oxymoron.
  2. God is always good, even when bad things happen. I don't think it is right to say, "God is good," when something good happens. Maybe "God's blessed me." or "God's given me something really good today." would be more appropriate.
  3. Again God is never absent, He can't "be with someone" more than He already is. Perhaps we mean, "Help them to feel your presence." or "Strengthen them, give them your power/wisdom."?
Do you have Christian phrases which get on your nerves?

I talked to someone on Sunday who has problems with a church worship leader saying, "Today's going to be awesome." I mean, what if you're having a rotten day? What then?

What clichéd Christian phrase annoys you?

22 May, 2013

Exciting meeting

Yesterday I met with two Japanese friends for coffee. Doesn't sound too unusual, does it? But there's a lot of back story!

One friend, T*, I've known for seven years. We met as mums at our children's Japanese kindergarten. We've done many things together, and she's helped me with various bureaucratic things (get driver's licence, various errands at the city hall etc.). We ran an English club for mums at the kindergarten for three years. Now that we no longer see each other as we drop our children off to kindergarten, it takes a more deliberate effort to see one another, but she works near my hairdresser, so I usually drop by and see her at her stationery shop on those occasions. She also loves to come to CAJ's theatrical performances.

The other friend, M, is a newer friend. I got to know her because she married an Australian five years ago who supported us (though I'm still unsure how we met him). We've been meeting in the last couple of months, to "exchange language". So we talk in English for a while and then switch to Japanese. Both of us benefit! It's been really enjoyable too. Motivation to learn Japanese has always been a problem for me, but these conversations have piqued my interest in a way that no language lessons ever did.

It just so happens that the mid-way train station between M's house and mine is (approximately) Shin-Akitsu station. This is the station right by T's shop. Last time M and I met, I "ran into" T on my way back to the station! She wanted to know why I was in the area, of course, and I told her about my language exchange. A keen student of English, she immediately wanted to join in. M agreed and yesterday we met for the first time.

It certainly upped the level of Japanese conversation challenge for me! But it was a very enjoyable time. We had a number of things in common, not the least being Australia. T spent a year in Australia in her young adult days and M, is not only married to an Australian, but has spent a total of five years there at various times.

Wow, I came home really buoyed by this coffee meeting! The biggest thing I'm excited about is that we've been praying for T for seven years. She's not interested in the Bible or knowing about God. M is a keen Christian. Because we're exchanging language, there is no pressure. But I'm waiting to see how this interesting "God-incidence" (as opposed to a co-incidence) will progress.

*I've not told you their real names because I'd hate for them to be embarrassed by me telling this story.

21 May, 2013

Japan Photo #34 revealed

Phew, I'm back at my desk for a morning after nearly a week of "other" things claiming my time. I've kept an eye on email and dealt with urgent stuff, but the less-urgent things have piled up. It's going to take a few more days to get onto more of an even keel, I think!

The easiest thing today, then, is to reveal the mystery of the luggage rack!

On Friday I went over to our Japan headquarters for meetings with our leaders, the afternoon meeting was David and my two-year review interview. Which was much more fun than the lengthy form we filled out a few weeks ago.

After that we headed home, planning to stop somewhere for dinner (having engaged someone to watch our boys after school). We were tired and I had a nasty headache: it had been quite a week! We stumbled into an Italian restaurant on the 8th floor of the department store over Ikebukuro station, one of the largest railway stations in the world, and only 30 minutes from our house.

This is where we found the luggage rack: in a restaurant. A restaurant that was semi-fancy (it had linen serviettes). And we even used the rack. It so happens that we'd received a 4-person tent from other missionaries who don't want it any more and we were carting it back home with us (no, we don't need it personally, but are going camping with friends in a couple of months and they don't have a tent).

I've never before seen a luggage rack in a restaurant, I wonder if the fact that they have quite a lot of travellers coming through there would account for it? One diner couldn't fit her luggage on the rack, though, she had a double base propped up next to her table!

19 May, 2013

"Having eaten rice from the same pot"

It is something of a mysterious thing, the friendship shared by missionaries. For the most part they can be deep, despite having so many differences: of nationality, culture, background, gifting, age, etc.
This lady I've travelled with to missionary women events,
and I got us lost on one of them. There are many differences
between us, yet we share a friendship that's probably
gone deeper faster than it would have in different

I can feel a deep attachment to missionaries who I've only know for a short while, and know little "facts" about their life. How can this be?

This Japanese idiom holds part of the answer:

"Onaji kama no meshi o kutta"  
This literally means "having eaten rice from the same pot", the Japanese equivalent to "breaking bread together". Most often this is used in reaffirming a special relationship developed through shared experiences. (Michael L. Maynard and Senko K. Maynard, 101 Japanese idioms, p200-201)

Two of the ladies in this photo drove more than 10
hours in the car with me to and from the Writer's
Workshop, we had lots of time to talk!
I think this Japanese idiom captures the essence: we've shared a common experience, the experience of leaving behind everything and everyone familiar and coming to a foreign land because we feel God is calling us here.

There is more, of course, to this mystery:

  • Because change is frequent in this missionary life, we tend to dive deep in relationships faster. We don't have the luxury of seeing people week after week, month after month, before deciding to form a deep friendship.
  • Additionally, for most of us, loneliness is common, so, for the most part, we're all seeking friendship.
  • We're fairly "free agents" in terms of relationships. Because we've left family and long-term acquaintances behind, we have room, and indeed need for new friendships.
  • We don't have a lot of choice of friends, and because of the above mentioned factors, that makes one less choosy.
  • Missionary friends: sweet times!
  • In a foreign country we are needier than back home. And in the absence of family to lean on, we ask more of our friends on the field than we would back home, this breaks down walls that otherwise would be there in our "self sufficiency"
Can you suggest more reasons why missionaries (and to some extent expats in general) form deep relationships quickly?

18 May, 2013

Japan Photo #34

It's been a heavy week, so I'll give myself an easy blog post today.

We found this luggage rack in an unexpected place this week. Anyone care to guess where?

17 May, 2013

Boys Don't Smile

The ideal photo for this post would be a family photo,
but as I don't put the photos of my boys up here, this
will have to do! Are you smiling yet?
Here's a link to a blog I really enjoy. She's the mum of five boys, and then lately a girl. I can relate to a lot of her posts.

The one I've linked to above is about how hard it is to get a bunch of boys to all smile for the camera and how they hate it. Contrasting it with girls, many of whom appear to love to pose (I'm not talking from first-hand parenting experience here). She mentions how she always felt a little envious of all-girl families for this reason.

Our strategy for getting a family photo is generally to use the delay function (giving you 10 seconds to get in the picture) while we've been out hiking or some other physical activity. But she's right, you only get one (or maybe two) chances, then they're done.

The only other thing that has worked recently was a former professional photographer who is a family friend who took our photos late last year (thanks April). Again, we didn't make a huge deal out of it, but she was prepared to say words like, "Fart" in order to get them to smile. It worked too!

And as for those people who dress everyone in the same colour—I'm just not interested in that amount of fuss. So maybe crazy boys suit my style?

16 May, 2013

Yesterday afternoon got a bit wild

This was the plan I started the day with:

am Work at home on various projects
Before coming to Japan I had no idea what a privilege
it was to live in one's own country. No one needed to
give me permission to live there. Living overseas on
a visa has given me a new appreciation for the freedom
we experience in Australia!
11.30 Go to the gym
12.30 Come home via the fruit and veggie shop
1.30 Leave (in the car) for Tokyo's immigration office (usually about a 45 minute drive, even though it is only about 15 km) to apply for an extension of our visas, which run out next month.
2.30 Meet David at the train station nearest to the immigration office and go to immigration together.
5.00 Get home by this time so we could feed the younger boys before they left for karate at 5.40 on their bikes with their dad.

Here is what ended up happening:

I left about 15 minutes late in my drive to the immigration office. It's been a few years since I drove there and it isn't a simple drive. I took a couple of wrong turns along the way, but eventually got there at just before 3pm. I missed picking David up and he walked to the office.

When we walked into the immigration office we knew we were potentially in trouble. The place was overflowing like we'd never seen before. We took our number from the machine and realised that about 60 "units" (eg. we had one number, but were applying for five people) were ahead of us.

We sat around for half an hour trying to figure out what to do. Theoretically the office closes at 4pm. What did that mean? (It meant that they stopped giving out numbers.)

The reason we'd decided to do it yesterday afternoon was because David wanted to minimise the amount of time he takes off work. This week he's been attending a conference at OMF on the other side of Tokyo. Yesterday they had the afternoon off, so the plan was to use that time wisely!

We didn't reckon on a long line, though. Usually this immigration office has fairly short lines. No idea why, as we've heard bad stories about other offices in other parts of the country.

By 3.30 we'd decided to cut our losses. David stayed to at least apply for himself and the boys (only adults have to present themselves with their applications), and that would have his application out of the way. I headed home again (only taking one unwise turn this time), to get the evening proceedings underway at home.

Good thing we did, because David didn't get served until 7.30: 4 1/2 hours after we took our number!

When I arrived home at 4.30, the boys were all home and in the middle of what looked like a very long afternoon tea. I've no idea whether they would have stopped eating if I hadn't turned up! Thankfully some homework had been done, but I ditched any idea of getting piano practise done.

Thankfully, too, I'd planned hot dogs for dinner. Easy (though they didn't taste that great, the sausages were way too salty).

In the middle of this is another story, believe it or not. Our middle schooler is about to finish middle school and hence, "graduate" from his middle school Sunday-afternoon youth group. I've been hoping the youth group leaders would make a point of inviting the 8th graders to the high school youth group, hiBA (high schoolers born again) but it hasn't happened, as far as I could tell.

So I decided to take action and figured out during the day that one of our son's friends was going to the hiBA meeting last night and no, they hadn't talked about it. So I suggested our son ring his friend and ask him about it (yes, boys, they don't communicate all that well sometimes without prompting...)

To cut an even longer story short, after two phone calls to the same friend he figured out some of his friends were meeting for tea at McDonalds and then going to hiBA. So I encouraged him on his way (one less person to worry about for the evening).

Then the remaining three of us had a hurried dinner of hot dogs and veggies, and hopped on our bikes for a 20 minute ride. For the second time in three days I was accompanying my boys to Japanese sports clubs, and I had no idea where to go. They loved it that they were "in charge" of taking me there (David's gone with them in previous weeks).

We got home at 7.30.

David got home a bit after 8.

Our eldest got home a bit after 8.30.

I collapsed at 9pm.

What's happened to my quiet evenings? You know, the ones where everyone's home for dinner and we quietly go about our business, put everyone to bed, enjoy some adult-only time and then slip into bed ourselves. Wow, things are changing. I knew they would, I just wasn't expecting it to happen so fast.

The happy ending is that I went back this morning to make my own visa extension application. I made no wrong turns on the way there or the way back (considerable stress regarding this yesterday). Plus I only waited just over two hours, during which I got a start on another editing project. Yay!

15 May, 2013

Mt Fuji ascends to greater heights?

At church recently our pastor mentioned about this news article.
One photo I took of Mt. Fuji from our November campsite
"The United Nations cultural organization UNESCO is set to approve Mt. Fuji as a World Heritage site when it meets in June, Japan’s Cultural Affairs Agency said late Tuesday.
It is Japan's tallest mountain and is a "perfect" spherical shape. It is a sight that can be seen from Tokyo on a good day and it's a "wow, we can see Mt Fuji" moment when you do. Here's some tourist information that you might be interested in.
You can barely see Mt. Fuji here as the sun sets behind it.
 A bump to the right of Tokyo SkyTree. This was taken
from our van as we drove home on New Years Day.

This news from UNESCO has great significance for Japanese who regard Mt. Fuji as a national symbol.

It's taken a long time to get it recognised as by UNESCO, and the reasons for that include its easy access to tourists, and therefore the mess that tourists tend to create when they visit in the thousands: rubbish! Even human waste, because, of course, people tend to climb the mountain.

I don't have a desire to climb the mountain myself. The image one is given is of a huge long human conga line from bottom to top! That is how many people climb during the summer each day. I'd much rather go somewhere where there are hardly any other tourists and enjoy nature that way. I guess that makes me a party pooper? Or just perhaps an Australian who avoids crowds and lines whenever possible, and especially when recreating.

14 May, 2013

A different type of night-out

It is called "Figure Four Club", named
after a particularly painful and difficult
wrestling move!
Last night I accompanied my wrestler to a practise at his new club. It is a simple 45-minute two-train journey.

This was his third time there, and though we're accompanying him at the moment, the goal is for our son to be comfortable managing this whole thing on his own. On the previous two occasions David went with him, but I was on duty last night as David had already spent more than three hours on six trains and needed a quiet evening.

I think our son will manage the journey okay, even though it means changing trains at one of the largest railway stations in the world (Ikebukuro). The biggest challenge is not the trains or the wrestling, but the Japanese conversation: eg. introducing your mum, saying when you're ready to leave (we've asked him to leave at 9, not 9.30 on a school night) etc.

I am happy that he's getting plenty of Japanese listening practise. The coach instructs in Japanese and so our son's learning all sorts of new vocab. Last night we both learnt "touritsu", which means handstand. I'll leave you to imagine what sort of wrestling move requires someone to do an handstand! It was pretty impressive. I saw first-hand how quickly my son picks up new moves, even when they're explained in Japanese. That too was impressive.

This is our wrester pinning anther middle
schooler. And you can see it was nearly
9.15pm we had trouble leaving—
it really is quite addictive. I love watching
people do things that they're passionate
about, this is a good example of that.
Our son was a tiny bit reluctant to attend last
night's practise as he felt a bit tired. Afterwards he was
glad I'd persuaded him to go as he felt very
They train in a tiny room in a basement that I'm guessing is not much bigger than 7 x 5 metres. Really, like not that far removed from wresting in our lounge room, except this room is covered from wall to wall (and part-way up the wall) with wrestling mats. A boy's paradise!

I didn't hang around in the tiny, sweaty room for long, I basically "delivered" him and then went and read at McDonalds down the street. I came back a few minutes before 9pm and got to see the last 20 minutes or so before we finally left (before everyone else). The only place to "be" in the room was on the floor next to the door, so I did feel like a bit of an intrusion (a woman, at that). Two of the wrestlers nearly landed on me at one point!

It is nearly 14 years since I first entered into parenting and I could never have imagined that I'd spend a night with my son doing this!

By the way, travelling on public transport or walking in our quiet suburban streets at 10pm isn't dangerous here, so we're not too worried about him on that front. But hopefully soon he'll be able to do this on his own. Though we enjoy the one-on-one time with him and seeing him enjoy training like this, I'd much rather spend those 3 1/2 hours at home and get to bed a bit earlier.

13 May, 2013

Yesterday was a historic, but unsettling, day

Yesterday was a historic day in the life of the church that we've called our "home church" ever since we came to Japan. It is the church my husband has attended since his university days and the church I "married into" back in '97.

Over the years they've had their struggles, many of them while we've been away in Japan, so it's been hard to feel a part of what's gone on.

In our first term there were some serious leadership issues that caused a diaspora of many of our friends from the church. When we came back on home assignment in 2004, the church was much reduced in numbers, and met in a different location (they've never owned a church building).

Then we left for another four year term and when we came back the church had again lost numbers (down to less than 50 people), they had a different pastor, another location, a different name, and only met in the evening, not the morning. During our second home assignment, they changed location and meeting times once more, starting over in a new suburb.

This was our last day at our "home" church before we
set out on the adventure of missionary life. These were
just a few close friends at the church. Only one of those
 pictured (aside from us) is still a member of the church,
and he is also overseas, but only for a year.
To say that all this change has been unsettling for us, is an understatement. We hardly recognise the church. We don't know many in it any more, though there are a handful of faithful friends still there, and it is probably their friendships that have kept us with the church. Mind you, I can't omit to mention that the church has been faithful financial supporters, not large supporters, but commensurate with their size.

Yesterday another huge change, possibly bigger than all the rest, was voted on. The church, which has struggled to survive in recent years, has voted unanimously to merge with another church from different (larger) denomination. Meaning another location and name change.

I think it is the denomination change that seems the most drastic, even though they are both Presbyterian, given that they've shifted and changed their names in the past, but in the past they've always remained a semi-autonomous group.

The denomination they have been a part of is a small denomination in Australia. The Westminster Presbyterian Church (of Australia). It was started in Western Australia in 1970 with the help of some missionaries from the US. Our church began in the '80s.

I'm not certain of this, but it seemed to me, back in the late '90s when we were preparing to come to Japan, that the denomination hadn't "sent" any of its members as overseas missionaries before. Whether or not that is the case, we made a point of visiting as many of the churches within the denomination as we could (and back then that was more than a dozen). Over the years we've kept in contact with and visited these churches as often as we could, even the ones in WA and NSW/ACT. Many of them have been faithful in praying and supporting us.

But our "home" church has now voted to leave the denomination (but not because of any disagreement with the denomination, as far as I know). Where does that leave us?

We're grateful that we've been kept somewhat "in the loop" for this one. Change like this is unsettling at the best of time, but a lack of communication about it is even worse.

We're still not sure where we stand. At this point we still hold membership in this church. Should we stick with them? Should we skip over to another church within the original denomination?

Membership in a church that you rarely attend (because you're rarely in the country) is a strange thing. Before I came to Japan, I had all these wonderful, vague dreams of what a supporting church would be like. The reality hasn't matched my somewhat naive dreams. And it's been an uneasy journey for me. Can you pray for us as we wonder what the future holds for us in terms of a "home" church?

But most of all we're praying, and have always prayed regularly, for our home church(es). What they've decided to do is a huge change for them (and the congregation they're joining). We're praying that God's name will be glorified as they join together and look to the future.

12 May, 2013

What is a typical missionary?

Two main answers that people might think, come quickly to mind:

  • they are evangelists and start churches
    Living as one "called' encompasses all of
    life, even and including the mundane,
    the extraordinary, the fun, and the drudgery.
  • they live in poor countries and do relief work
But most Christians I know, if they dig a little deeper, will be able to come up with many more answers than this.

In reality what a typical missionary is or does, is almost as varied as what a typical Christian is. That's what this blog is about, really, that we're just ordinary people. Ordinary people who've been called to live a little bit on the edge of the ordinary.

This weekend I've been reminded by a sermon and by a book, that we are all called, all called to live our ordinary lives with an eternal, called-perspective. All of us who are Christians are called, though much of that calling is worked out in what looks very much like ordinary living. Yet God uses us ordinary folk as we just go about living our ordinary lives.

I've been reminded recently that God has gifted each one of us and we're to seek to serve him with the gifts in the realm he puts us into.

For my husband, that is as a father, a husband, a teacher, and a mentor etc.
For me, that is as a wife, a mum, a writer, an editor, a friend, a language learner, etc.

For another of my friends in Japan, that is as a movie producer! Yes, believe it or not, a missionary can produce movies. Not just lovely Christian movies rated G, either. He is currently producing a movie he hopes will make it into mainstream Japanese theatres and will probably be rated R. It is about hope in the midst of organised crime (Japanese mafia or yakuza). See the testimonies here and here of the former yakuza men the movie will be based on.

Today I went to a pre-production promotional lunch. They are seeking support to fund this two-hour feature movie. I sat at the same table as a former yakuza, now passionate Christian man. His story is dramatic and inspirational. The sort of testimony we love to parade out demonstrating God's power.

Earlier this week I heard another testimony. One that lacked drama, but majored on faithfulness. One that lacked violence and horror, but overflowed with the loveliness of God and godliness.

Now, just because the first testimony is better movie-fodder than the second one, doesn't make it more valuable.

Just because I've been called to serve in Japan, and live a more dramatically different life doesn't make my life more valuable than a Christian who's been called to remain in their country of birth.

So, the point of this rambling is? We're all called, and that looks different for each person. None are more or less valuable. Let's celebrate our great God who isn't fazed by our frailty, our disabilities, our fallibility. And let's follow him with all that we have and all that we are.

11 May, 2013

Six Saturday (Sizeable) Snippets

1. Excitement at a new shopping centre

When we lived in Sapporo, we had one of these large shopping
centres (same company: Aeon) close to us. After dropping
our eldest off at the kindy bus, I used to spend some
time sitting in my car in its large car park reading my Bible.
This day, back in 2003/4 I got to see them clearing
the car park of a bit of snow.
A new large shopping centre has been built in our city (our "city" equates more to a large suburb in an Australian city), only about 2.5km from here. We've been hearing talk about it and decided it definitely needed checking out. It would have been a nice bike ride, but the rain came tumbling down not long before we were going to leave this  morning, so it became a car trip.

After only 10 minutes by car through tiny back streets, we arrived, at the very large (by Japanese standards) shopping centre (Americans would call it a mall) with a five storey car park! The excitement is basically because Japan doesn't really have shopping centres, not in the way that Australia does. In the seven years we've lived in Tokyo, we've basically lived without shopping centres, rather utilising small local shops most of the time.

The time I really miss shopping centres is when I'm not sure what I want to buy, like when I'm shopping for presents. Then, a shopping centre is so valuable. Today, when walking from the car park into the shopping centre, the comment was, "Feels like an airport!" I guess that is where we most often experience that much internal space!

This shopping centre brings Subway to within easy distance of our place. That's also a first for us! And there are a number of other shops there I'd like to explore at my leisure sometime, but today, with all the boys in tow, wasn't the day. It was mostly a scouting trip, with a few small purchases.

2. Word of mouth is important in a foreign country. 

In your own country, you figure out where to buy most things over time, either from advertising, or by looking things up in the Yellow Pages, or just by experience. In a foreign country it is much harder to figure things out. We often rely on word-of-mouth from our foreign colleagues and friends. In the early days after someone's arrival it is common to hear conversations including, "Such and such is a great place to buy XYZ." Even better is if someone actually takes you there.

We'd been in this city for some time before someone actually told me were a certain meat store was. I wish I'd known earlier, but no one could ever describe it (most roads don't have names, which makes it hard to give directions in Japan).

So, after hearing many good things about this shopping centre, like the number of food stores (our hungry teenager relayed this one to us), it was definitely time to check it out. We were particularly looking for things that we find hard to get. Things like a craft store, large-sized shoes, and foreign food stuffs like ice cream cones, and golden syrup.

3. It has a music store!

That was one thing we'd heard. We don't have one of those in our city. This has especially become important because our teenager has shown an interest in learning the guitar recently. We've managed to borrow a guitar, but it needs some strings. This was the nearest and cheapest place to get them, along with some picks. Otherwise one of us would have probably had to travel to an inner-city store, that would have cost about AU$9 in train fares alone.

Some of us had these onigiri (rice "sandwiches" for
lunch. They are our staple when we eat take-away
lunches from supermarkets or convenience stores here.
The shop had ukeleles too (for those of my friends who are into ukes). I was tempted to buy the Les Miserables CD that was for sale...They had some cute music merchandise too: bags, stationary, etc.

4.  Liver

Two of our sons tried liver today. We didn't anticipate being still at the shopping centre at lunch time, but time ran away from us and we found that we needed to eat before going home. The boys begged for Subway, but, being the missionaries we are, we decided to go for a cheaper and easier lunch (ordering Subway in Japanese for the five of us is quite a task).

Japanese supermarkets are great places for a cheap take away lunch. Today we spent 1,170 yen for a small Japanese-style lunch for the five of us, including a small drink. That's about AU$11.50! The boys know the drill and we let them loose to find some things they wanted. They chose some BBQ meat on sticks called Yakitori, unfortunately one of those was liver.

It led to an interesting discussion, however, about how buying foods that you've never tried and don't know if you'll like isn't necessarily a waste of money, it is the way to learn about what you like. It is also something that you need to be prepared to do if you decide to travel to another country.

5. Japanese sports clubs

One of our son's wrestling victories earlier in the year.
This is the year for joining Japanese sports clubs! The latest one is a Japanese wrestling club. Earlier this year during a wrestling meet I chatted with another parent. He mentioned that his high school aged son had joined a Japanese wrestling club during the long CAJ summer break.

It sounded like a good idea, especially considering that our teenager was so disappointed at the end of his first season of wrestling, disappointed that the "fun" had ended so soon. At the end of this year he sighed, "It's sooo long until I can wrestle someone my own size again." Wrestling through the summer seemed like a perfect use of the summer. Especially as the level of competition will shift up to a whole new level in December as he'll be in the High school league! Getting more strength, moves, and experience is definitely a good thing.

So this week, with the recommendation of one of the wrestling coaches, our nearly 14 y.o. has checked out, and joined a wrestling club called FFC (Figure Four Club). Unfortunately it is a 45 minute train journey away and meets until 9/9.30 in the evening, but it will provide a much needed physical outlet for our wrestling-crazy son.

6. Yep, it's spring

It's still very much spring here. Yesterday I made a "Welcome to Summer BBQ" dinner (cooking on our stove inside, not outside), including beetroot (pickled beets
for those of your who know them as this). Yesterday it was in the mid to high 20s and it seemed just perfect.

Today with the rain the temperature has dipped down again and the rare roast dinner I'd planned seemed all too appropriate.

Ah well, all too soon all our temperatures, day and night, will be above 25 degrees. I'll do my best to be content with this topsy-turvy weather.

10 May, 2013

Teeth and warts

I've finally found myself a new dentist. In March last year I had a bit of a dental "emergency" and ended up with being told by our usual dentist to, "not come back without my Japanese husband" (a common assumption here). 

The dentist we've been going to the whole time we've lived in Tokyo (seven years) is apparently only good if we have my husband with us, and that doesn't work well if I need to go by myself (usually we have gone as a family for one mass check-up). They also didn't do a great job with my tooth last year and I ended up having to have it removed while we were in Australia. So that Practice really lost my confidence.

So today I took myself off, all alone, to another dentist who reputedly spoke some English. Turns out he doesn't speak much English, but by the time we combined his bad English and my bad Japanese, we managed to communicate enough to get by. And the plus is that he didn't tell me to, "come back with my Japanese husband".

The other good news is that I have no cavities. Yay!

Yes, dealing with medical stuff in another country can be a challenge! Thankfully we're all fairly healthy.

The warts situation from March is gradually clearing up. One boy (the one who is better at looking after himself and putting moisturiser on twice daily) was declared clear yesterday, but he doesn't want to go back to swimming. The other one (who is the opposite in terms of self-care) isn't better yet. The doctor didn't have much sympathy for him. I don't either. The dr froze more warts and basically said, "It's in your hands." From what the doctor said, the water wart virus likes the rough skin that dermatitis presents. That's why putting moisturiser on regularly helps with the healing process. 

So it doesn't look like we'll be going back to swimming. Time to gracefully pull out, I reckon. I'm not too disappointed. With the two of them now doing karate on Wednesdays, I think we can safely drop one extra-curricular activity. They'll pick up swimming again at school in Australia next year.

Only one more medical thing to deal with today, the rest of the family are going to the dentist after school (my old dentist). I'm going along as an assistant boy-tamer, not as a translator!

09 May, 2013

Adult adoption in Japan

Did you know that adult adoption is a practise in Japan? I think I may have had an inkling, but this article says it's not uncommon. Interestingly enough, it is a foreign-born former American who did the adopting in this case (he's recently become a Japanese citizen, which is not terribly common among foreigners*).

Wikipedia (I know, a less than reliable source) has a lengthy entry on "Japanese adult adoption", and cites this astounding fact about Japanese adoption:
Over 90% of the 81,000 people adopted in Japan in 2011 were adult males in their 20s and 30s.
The main reason for these adoptions is to secure an heir and carry on the family business. The Economist (you have to go and check out the article, if only to see the witty cartoon) writes this:
Toyota and Suzuki, both carmakers, Canon, an electronics firm, and Kajima, a construction company, have all adopted sons to manage them.
The BBC have also written on this topic, giving as an example the oldest business in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records).

*You might be interested to know that Japan accepts only about 15,000 naturalised citizens each year (about 0.011% of their population). That is much less than Australia who welcomed 84,183 new citizens in 2011-2012 (about 2.8% of the population).

08 May, 2013

Japan Photo #33 Answer

We had some great guesses for this photo question.

They ARE packets of tissues. More specifically they are advertisements on the backs of packets of tissues. These are often given out at train stations or on busy city streets for the purpose of advertising a product/company/event etc.

Yes you can use them for toilet tissue and I have, when caught short. But most Japanese toilets have toilet paper supplied.

This pack was given to me just yesterday.
These are super handy, especially when you have kids! I always carry some around with me. When I run out of freebies, I have to actually buy some. No worries, you can buy several packets for 100 yen at a 100 yen shop.