30 April, 2013

Golden Week in Japan

We're in the middle of Golden Week in Japan. This is a series of relatively unconnected holidays. I'm pretty ignorant of the reason for each of the holidays, so I thought I'd do a little research for you.

The week starts with April 29th, a day that used to be celebrated as the birthday of the Emperor Shōwa, but he died in 1989. These days is it used as a day to appreciate the Shōwa Era (1926-1989), as it is called. Apparently "The official purpose of the holiday is to reflect on Japan's Showa period when the nation recovered after the turbulent times, and to think about the country's future." (from here)


The next official holiday is the 3rd of May. It is Constitution Memorial Day, the day that the present constitution came into effect in 1947. 

The 4th of May is called Greenery Day or Arbour Day. This used to be the "in-between" holidays day, a non-holiday. But it finally was declared an official holiday in 2007. I've read that the Emperor and Empress attend a special ceremony on this day that includes tree planting and various presentations, sponsored primarily by the National Land Afforestation Promotion Organisation.

May 5 is Children's Day. Set aside to pray for the healthy growth and happiness of boys and girls.

KidsWeb website tells us that:

The word "Golden Week" was first used by movie companies to get people to take advantage of the "golden" opportunity to go see a film. The term gradually began being used by other people to refer to this string of holidays.

Many big factories close down for a week or even 10 days because it's inefficient to keep shutting them down and starting them back up when holidays and weekends are clustered together. Although offices tend to be open on days that are not holidays, many workers use their paid vacations to take an extended break from the daily routine.

Golden Week comes at a very pleasant time of the year in Japan; temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot. Many people thus travel to resort areas. In recent years, increasing numbers have been traveling to foreign destinations with their families.

The days in Golden Week don't seem to be particularly separated into their various meanings, but rather used as an annual extended break from work for a number of people. However retail hardly seems effected. All the shops seem to be open (my gym isn't, though). 

Travel on the roads around Tokyo isn't advisable at this time as they are jam-packed! Japan-Guide.com says this: "In 2013, weekends are placed in a way to create two separate holidays of three and four days. Travel activity is anticipated to peak on May 3 with people leaving the large urban centers and on May 5 and 6 in the opposite direction."

Not that it's a big deal for us at CAJ. CAJ has an interesting mixture of American, Japanese and religious holidays. But not all of any of them! As for Golden Week, we only get one of the days off, this Friday. And then on Saturday we have our middle schooler's Track Finals. We aren't going anywhere!

29 April, 2013

Party weekend

Well, no alcohol was consumed at either party on the weekend, nonetheless I'm still recovering. Maybe I am 40 after all?

My 40th party

What I valued most about my party was the time to hang out with friends. Asking others to do all the practical things about the party left me free to just interact with people, which is how I like it. I end up in a terrible tug-of-war if I'm responsible for practical details as well as an opportunity to socialise. Usually it is the practical that gets ditched and my conscientious side feels guilty later. So Saturday night was a perfect way to celebrate my birthday.

The only practical thing I did was after almost everyone had left: I vacuumed the room, then disposed of all the left-overs in our fridge and freezer.

Here are some photos:
Here's my best Japanese friend, Tako with her youngest daughter.
I met her seven years ago, when my middle son was at
Japanese kindergarten with her daughter.
The party was casual and relaxed.
Catching up with friends was the best part. In the red is my
friend Teresa who had us all laughing with some fun games
between mains and desert. 
We had a large range of ages.
I love this photo of one of the games. So nice to see busy,
often stressed missionaries, having fun. 
Games, just like the sort we used to play at church socials,
when I was a child.
This is a nice action shot. "Go Christine!" The detail I love about it is
our colleagues to the left of Christine: Tim with his hand on his wife's
leg. Sweet!
And of course, I had to give a little speech. It was very little, so small that
I forgot to thank the friends who made the party possible.
(Like Nancy, the lady on my left, who cooked all the food!)

Our youngest son's birthday party

Comparatively, the party we held the next day for our new eight year old, was very small and easy. He ended up with three guests (out of five invited), and we basically guided them in playing, outside and inside, and fed them cake and snacks. Our son had a "ten out of ten day". My most precious memory of it was his reaction when he first saw the cake we made and decorated for him. He was speechless for a time, which is unusual for him!
A gorgeous day allowed a good hour of outside play in nearby small parks. 
Here's the cake that I baked and David and I decorated together. It is a definite family tradition, and one that David and I enjoy doing together. Thankfully we had two eyes on the situation when the candles were lit, because one of the cones caught alight! We could have had a disastrous end to the party.

27 April, 2013

24 hrs of birthday parties

Well, that's not strictly correct. We're having two birthday parties within 24 hrs. Mine and my youngest son's. His, I'll write about next week, after I see how it goes!
Leaving Australia the second time for Japan, nearly
eight years ago to relocate to Tokyo, where we knew
practically no one.

For my 40th, I decided to be very Western and have a party with friends. Japanese people don't generally celebrate adult's birthdays much and especially not with a larger group of friends. I knew that I needed to organise it myself, but I didn't want to do all the work, so I've asked friends to do it for me. We'll pay for the food, for sure, but we're not the ones working today to organise it. However, it has turned out to be a weird feeling having people do all this for me. I don't usually look for so much attention, I don't know what it is going to feel like tonight.

On the two year review questionnaire I did earlier this week there were some new questions (this is our sixth one, I think, you get to know the questions). These were about friends.
Describe the significant friendships in your life since your last review.
In what ways have you experienced support from these friends?
In what ways have you supported these friends?
In the light of my upcoming party, it was easier to think about how friends have supported me, than how I'd supported them. There is something about being a missionary that makes you more dependent on other people. It is a humbling experience. I'm a little less "needy" these days with the boys not demanding quite as much of me as they used to, but I still often feel quite "weak".

I struggled to bring to mind things that I do for my friends. But I gradually realised that I do do things for my friends, I just don't keep a tally of them for ready reckoning. And it's certainly not something that I'm used to listing out. 

But it does help me to accept their help when I think of how I'd react if the situation was reversed. If at all possible, I'd be doing the same for them if they needed my help.

The other emotion that tags along whenever we have any kind of group celebration these days, whether in Japan or in Australia, is sadness. Disappointment that there are people who are very special to us, but can't be with us.

So as I anticipate celebrating my birthday tonight with some of my friends, I'm thinking wider than those whose geographical locality make it possible for them to come to the party. It is will be a group that is symbolic of the friends that God gives me wherever we go. A thanksgiving to Him.

When we came to Japan over 12 years ago we knew no one here. Then we did it again when we relocated to Tokyo almost eight years ago. But I look around me now and see God's incredible blessings in the people He's surrounded me with. Awe inspiring.

I am thankful for the friends who will gather tonight. But I am more thankful to my Heavenly Father who is with me wherever I go and provides me with abundantly more than I ask for!

26 April, 2013

Let's review your life

Our mission organisation is not like a regular employer. One indicator of this is the two year review process we go through. I imagine that some employers do personnel reviews, but I'm pretty sure they aren't as thorough as what we do.
Reviewing my life in this broad way can feel like trying
to accurately describe a scene from far above with
broad generalisations.

Here are just some of the questions we have to answer:
What regular exercise to you take?
Do you have a day of rest each week?
What do you do to maintain your spiritual health?
In what ways has the Lord blessed you since your last two year review?
Here is a list of emotions (13 of them). From this list choose the emotions that have characterised your life since your last review. Feel free to add any that aren't listed.
What subjects have you thought about or studied since your last review?
In what ways has your marriage been under stress since your last review?
What are your challenges and encouragements concerning your children's education?
What encouragements have you experienced in your relationships with your family at home (meaning your home country)?
Describe significant friendships in your life since your last review.
How is your financial support? (I've paraphrased for brevity, but the question requires a percentage answer)
It goes on to ask about your language ability, your ministry, your relationship with your colleagues and supervisors, your goals for the future, your relationship with your home church, home assignment plans, relationship with the mission, retirement plans (for those over 55) etc.

Very thorough!!!
 
Why reviews are really good

they...

  • make you think about your life
  • help you count your blessings from God
  • motivating, eg. you know that you'll be asked about exercise, so you are more likely to exercise etc.
  • help pick up trouble areas
  • give you an outlet to talk about concerns in your life that may not be urgent or at the front of your thinking, but lurk there anyway
  • force you to think about what's happened and what's coming up
  • may highlight an area in your life that you've been neglecting
  • make you accountable, in a broad way


Why I struggle with them

  • I struggle with the broad generalisations. How can I accurately describe two years' worth of emotions in one broad stroke?
  • It is very thorough and I don't necessarily feel like being so thorough in thinking through my life (even though it is clearly necessary).
  • it depends on who is doing the review with you. You fill out this form, then sit down with someone to do an interview. I've had good and not-so-good interviews. A comment an interviewer wrote on the very first review I ever did still haunts me on bad days.
  • this time we don't have to do the language questions (we've been here long enough), but I always feel insecure in this area anyway. My Japanese level isn't what I, or OMF would ideally like. 
  • when my main role was as a mum at home with my kids, I felt somewhat judged by the process, as if my role wasn't as important as ministry (a high-up leader assured me this wasn't the case)
  • I believe the review process is changing so we have to set goals for ourselves. I'm not a big goal-setting person, so I know that if this is true, I'm not going to enjoy that either.
So, I've given you some insight into the internal workings of a mission and what we missionaries have to do. Have you ever done such a holistic review of your life? How did you feel about it?

25 April, 2013

Book Review: A Matter of Trust

A Matter of Trust is suspense mystery. Mia, a defence attorney is on the phone to her Colleen, her colleague and good friend when Colleen is shot. Mia, herself a new widow, is desperately trying to hold her family together. However, she feels driven to find out how murdered her friend. As it turns out, she, and the detective assigned to the case solve more than one murder as a result of investigating Colleen's murder.

This is the first book I read on my new Kindle and it was a page turner. But can I even use that cliche when it was an eBook? 

It's the first in a series, and I'm keen to read more. Mia is an realistic character that surely doesn't have her life all together. It'll be interesting to see how things develop for her down the track.

I thought I read somewhere that this is Christian fiction, but I can hardly see that, based on this one book. Perhaps later in the series? In any case, if Christian fiction turns you off, then you needn't worry, this book is not gooey or preachy. And, though things seem to be going better for Mia at the end of the book, she's not had a dramatic conversion or fallen in love with her perfect man.

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.

American soldiers wrote Japan's constitution

I am not very politically minded, but it seems to me strange for Japan to have a constitution written by US soldiers (in under 10 days). I don't know what it will mean for this nation, but Japan's current Prime Minister wants to revise his nation's post-war constitution.

Added a few hours later:

I posted a link to this post on my Facebook page and a friend and colleague (who was a lawyer, now a missionary in Japan) added this link with far more information. This article tells us that the constitution went through many drafts and did have input from the Japanese government and people.

Here I quote from the article:
MacArthur invited Japanese review and revision of the constitution between 1948 and 1949 to insure that it reflected the free will of the Japanese people. Constitutional scholar Shoichi Koseki has noted that there was little response, despite vocalized concern over foreign authorship. . . . According to Koseki, the fact that the Japanese government and people disregarded the opportunity to change the constitution when invited to do so, indicates an early level of support that renders the claim of foreign imposition moot.
The constitution has never been altered since it was adopted in 1947. It will be interesting to see if the current Prime Minister manages to get some revision done.

24 April, 2013

Creative projects help

A few years ago I wrote about how I started cross stitching as a result of a psychologist "prescribing" something that would help me "stop a while".

I've been doing little cross-stitch projects recently, actually for many months, but they aren't as satisfying as a large project. In recent weeks I've begun a larger project and I'm so happy about it! It will probably take me many months, but I'm so happy to have this to look forward to in the evenings.

A long time ago a friend gave me a book called, "Affliction" by Edith Schaeffer. It is a book you should definitely not read while in the midst of affliction! I actually found it quite difficult to get through (she rambles around quite a bit), but there are some great gems in there that have helped form my own "theology of suffering". One of the more unusual pieces of advice she gives is having a creative project always on the go.
"(Write a) list for things that are not absolutely necessary to be done that day, but that are creative projects. . . Painting? Dressmaking? Knitting? Gardening? Writing? Exercising carefully for your back, or to get two inches off your waistline? Always have some projects in progress, even if you have to neglect them. It is quite a different thing to feel that you have neglected cutting out your new dress, or the leather animal you are designing or the wooden tray you are decorating with an electric needle, than to have nothing concrete to have 'neglected.' It is psychologically very different." p237-8

She says, of those who are too tired after the essentials of life are done,
"...energy also diminishes when there is not enough incentive, and beginning a creative work, some sort of project you can watch take shape, can often carry with it a fresh supply of energy. I have had a short two-month period of being hemmed in by two rooms, caring for Grandmother Schaeffer after her stroke . . . I didn't leave the two rooms except to run—and I do mean run—to the corner store and back. . . (she longed to be back with her husband and children at L'Abri) Then I suddenly realized that I was begin given time to do some of the things I could never do any other time without feeling guilty. So I set out to make doll clothes." p239
I agree with her. While I'm not currently in the midst of "affliction", this idea of having a project on the go is a sound one. It certainly helps me keep a good balance in my life. Other things that help me in this way are books and our more recent hobby of camping. Having these to look forward to really helps. I particularly noticed that back in 2011, after I had suffered some serious "affliction" in conflict on top of watching disasters in both Australia and Japan. Planning camping trips was therapeutic at that time.

When I wrote about this back in 2010, Ken added an interesting comment to my post:
"Everyone needs a hobby to balance out their life. It should be something which has no consequences attached to it. Except perhaps something decorative or useful at odd times. It should also be a hobby which is not co-optable. There is a great pressure today to force everything into some kind of useful cost/benefit mould.

I discovered making latchhook rugs after the kids left home and we were restoring order in the pantry. I wondered about the little tool and all the balls of thick yarn. I also had a book of Roman tile floor designs at the time. So I put the two together and began work on a rug using the leftover bits. Nothing to do with work, nothing to do with satisfying demands of other people, nothing to do with justifying my existence in the world. About 8 months later I had a large rug, which I then gave away. I mght start another one or I might not. Not many activities in our live today give us that kind of freedom."
Do you have a hobby that helps you get through those tough days? What do you look forward to?

23 April, 2013

What are your summer plans?

Seven weeks until school finishes here. Wow! Where has the year gone?

I can say the same about the fact that my youngest turns eight this week! And that I'm walking around as a 40 year old. How do these things happen so fast?

From GoogleMaps. The blue "pins" are where
we've camped so far in Japan. In our trip in
June-July we'll add several pins in the far north
and east of Japan.
So now we're "working hard" to prepare for our holidays. This year we're staying put in
Japan, but we're not staying in Tokyo the whole time.

At the end of June, OMF, our organisation, has its national conference in Hokkaido, the big island at the top of Japan. So, we're headed north. However, instead of just going up for the week and then coming back again, we've decided to take the ferry with our car and camping gear and make the most of visiting this more rural island. It is the place we first called home in Japan, yet because we had very young children and were generally exhausted throughout the four years we worked and studied up there, we saw little of the place outside of Sapporo, the big smoke.

So, we've been busy searching for camp sites, and figuring out a schedule. It's going to be about two weeks of camping in about seven different places, plus staying in someone's house, and then at the end, a few days (to recover) in a cabin by the beach near Sendai. We'll be going to the far north and far eastern points of the island (and hence, Japan). It's been so exciting, looking at camp sites online—the scenery is amazing.

It's going to be an entirely different looking holiday to last year's trip to the centre of Australia! And although it was winter in Australia and will be summer here, I think that we might be colder here (at least in the middle of the day) than we were in Australia! But we'll get back just in time for the worst of a Tokyo summer, so I guess that will make up for it.

On top of that we're planning a much shorter camping trip in August with some friends of our to this campsite, our favourite (and the cheapest) campsite.

Other summer plans? The younger two have a week-long camp not long after school finishes. They're both very excited about that.

Our eldest is hoping to join a Japanese wrestling club from mid-May to continue through the summer. It will be a boost to his skills, and give him the opportunity to satisfy that craving for more opportunities to wrestle people his own weight. We're still seeking the right club for him, but hopefully will settle this in the next couple of weeks. I'm excited to see him pursuing a passion and getting some exercise during those long 11 weeks of holidays. Hopefully it will be a boost to his Japanese skills and confidence too.

David is planning to go to a work conference in Hong Kong at the end of July for four days (or five, once you add in travelling). This is preparation for a new course in statistics that he's teaching next school year.

So, they're our basic big-picture summer plans. In the midst of that I'll have a magazine to get out and another one to continue to edit. We're hoping to have our annual editorial planning meeting in August too, not because we'll be bored, but because one of our editors lives in Kyoto and isn't up this way very often, but she will be in August.

So, those are our plans. Do you have some big plans for later in the year? Do share!

22 April, 2013

Guitars and drums—Thrift Shop livens up our house

I have a tonne of stuff waiting for me to do, but I'm struggling to get into it all after the craziness of the last week. So, I'll knock some easier things off my list, including this blog post.

There are two other significant purchases that we made at Thrift Shop.

First we bought a drum! Joan, our awesome Thrift Shop coordinator saw me buying this and questioned my sanity. She told me I had to blog about it too! So, here it is. The reason behind this is that our middle son wants to take up percussion next year. We figured he might as well have a bone fide drum to practise on! We'll have to wait and see whether I need to go and buy some ear plugs too!


The other purchase relates to our eldest son who's shown no musical inclinations at all till recently. But now, he'd like to learn the guitar. A colleague suggested YouTube would be a good tool for teaching himself, but I found this book with some basics to start with. Trouble is, we're lacking a guitar. We didn't find one at Thrift Shop. Is there anyone around this area with one they don't want anymore?

21 April, 2013

Thrift Shop take-homes

Sooooo, Thrift Shop is over for another year.

Some random thoughts:
  1. I feel satisfied in many ways, that I've helped the school out as much as I could during this big fundraising event. 
  2. I had plenty of time getting to know people. The joy and challenge of Thrift Shop is the randomness of it. You never know who you'll end up working with and almost always meet new people. At the end of Friday I was exhausted with talking to people. The extrovert part of me is strong enough that I can't just sit and look at someone I'm paired up to work with, if the opportunity is there, I'll try to talk with them. The time I find most productive for meeting new people is working the registers on Friday, when there is often quite a bit of time waiting around for customers. The introvert side of me gets exhausted by all of that and I'll be enjoying some alone time in the coming days to recharge.
  3. One person I met and worked with is the mother of another wrestler. She's Japanese and not a Christian as far as we know. I'm sure it must have been a Holy Spirit inspired moment when I heard the name of her Grade 10 son and connected him with wrestling. I don't normally do that well with Japanese names! We had a good time connecting. It is not often that I get to talk with mums of other boys who Love wrestling. She introduced me to a new Japanese word (slang): gachinko. It refers to "competing in earnest" and especially in relation to sumo and wrestling.
  4. I got to use a power drill to disassemble clothing racks yesterday afternoon. It was a little scary how much I enjoyed having a power drill in my hands. I guess I've grown up with tools, my dad's an electrician and always had a shed full of tools. 
  5. We also got some "stuff" bargains. I've heard that some of you enjoy hearing about our bargains, so I've snuck around our house and photographed some of them. Apologies that some aren't the best photographs.
A new thing for me this year was that I stayed after the shop closed on Saturday to clean up the gym. David had all the boys at a Track Meet (in freezing cold rain), so I was free to help out in the clean up. The reward for helping clean up is that they give the helpers 1/2 an hour free shopping before everything gets either thrown out or recycled (all the clothes and shoes went to a charity who sends them to another needy country).

These books and turtle-neck long sleeve shirt were freebies.


As were these brown pants. Amazingly, I picked them out of a huge pile of pants and didn't try them on! They fit me perfectly.

A spare lunch-box (with free wet-wipes and plastic container). This one wasn't free.

I bought me a spare umbrella in my favourite colour.

A free new Christmas hat that looks new—free.

Two frames for cross-stitches I've done and a free CD.

Our youngest son's our big shopper. He bought this pink snake!

This was a free light-weight wind-breaker. Puma brand. Free!

Another freebie. A larger charcoal BBQ for use when we're camping, especially when we go camping with another family, like we're planning to in August. This was free.

A new spaghetti container. It looked grotty, but washed up well.

Do you Aussies know what this is? I had to check with an American friend to be sure.

I bought this game of Risk for 50 yen. Over the last few months, our eldest has been making an Australian version of Risk, but has been wondering how to do the itty bitty playing pieces. He's planning to use the  "new" game's pieces.

A poor picture, but this is my school ID. They all come complete with a yellow strap. I'm tired of my yellow strap, so I've been looking out for a good replacement. At Thrift Shop I found some Cookie Monster shoe laces and used one to replace my yellow strap. My disappointment: not one person commented on it. Maybe I've shocked people into silence?

Here was my youngest son's favourite haul: some collectable cards.

I found a pair of shorts for my teenager. There were very few pickings in the boys clothes side for his size, compared to the girls. That's pretty standard, but always disappointing!

This was a bargain: 20 new Hot Wheels cars for 500 yen (AU$5), that's 25 yen each. Huge bargain for boys who enjoy racing them down ramps that we own.

Another poor photo: a green hardly-worn polo shirt for my husband and another pair of great ear muffs for bike riding in winter.

The dictionary on the left was still there at the end of Thrift Shop, the one on the right is the one my parents bought for me when I finished high school. I snagged it for free for our teenager's library. The Macquarie is an Australian dictionary. Our eldest son is sitting behind. He's enjoying his new dictionary! He also enjoyed his post-Thrift Shop youth group this afternoon. It is a tradition in the group to wear crazy clothes they found at Thrift Shop. This shirt was our find!

That isn't all we hauled home, but that's enough to put here. 

20 April, 2013

Japan Photo #32 Answer

So, it looks like I gave you a pretty easy photo to guess yesterday.

The first guess by "Anonymous" was spot on:
 It looks like some type of grinder item. If it was in Australia I'd suggest it's for making snow cones, put ice in the top, turn the handle around to grind the ice and it falls into the cup below. Add some strong cordial and you're good to go for summer!
No one guessed what the cup underneath is for. It is for freezing the ice so it is the right shape, including the four grooves for the grinder to get hold of the ice with.

I had no idea what they called shaved ice in Australia. Is it really "Snow cones"? That is the term Americans know. Japanese call it kakikouri. It is a very popular summer treat here. We've bought it when out, but never made it ourselves. So, for 100 yen, we're going to give it a go this summer!

What surprised me about the answers is that a friend, Karen, who lives in Cambodia, didn't know what it was. Karen, I think we'll have to buy one next Thrift Shop and post it to you, you could really use some ice where you live!

19 April, 2013

Japan Photo #32

Today is crazy at CAJ's Thrift Shop, and we've got guests this evening too (here for Thrift Shop). So, seeing as Thrift Shop has brought so much busyness into my life these few days, I thought it could bring you our next Japan Photo too.

I bought this yesterday for 100 yen. What do you think it is? Those who've resided in Japan should find this easy, but please hold back and see if others can guess.

18 April, 2013

Rare encouragement

I've been working at CAJ's giant garage sale (aka Thrift Shop) all day today, so I'm not going to be on the computer for long tonight.

But I did want to tell you about a short exchange just before dinner.

David cooked dinner (tuna & cheese quesadillas) so that I could get to the doctor to get more asthma medicine (I ran out earlier this week). I got back just in time to help with serving dinner. Our 10 y.o. was in the kitchen as he was on table setting duty. I said to him, "Your dad's awesome, did you know?"
He didn't blink before replying,
"You're both awesome!"

Love it! This is rare praise from him. He used to be a great "cheerleader" and encourager as a young child, but that's been missing in recent years as his analytical side's come out. Maybe he's getting back to being an encourager? I hope so.

17 April, 2013

Surprised by an infection

So, here's a little bit about my crazy week.

On Monday afternoons from 4-5 our two younger boys go to swimming at the swimming school across the road from our house. This week, at the same time, we had a meeting with the teachers of one of our boys about his behaviour. David's phone rang in the middle of the meeting, but he didn't answer it.

It turns out it was from the swimming pool. When we arrived home we found one boy had had to sit out the whole lesson, the other one part of the lesson. They weren't very happy. They didn't understand and neither did we. David returned the call and it seems they were concerned about our boys' skin, that they were infectious.

A few weeks back I mentioned that our middle son had been diagnosed with dermatitis. A couple of weeks later our youngest was also diagnosed with dermatitis (thankfully we have easy access to a dermatologist). So they were both diligently putting their cream on and taking the medication. Just recently I noticed small raised fluid-filled blisters, but I assumed that was just a part of the dermatitis. Turns out it wasn't.

Yesterday I spent all day on the other side of the metropolis at our monthly OMF prayer meeting/fellowship time. Not knowing how late I'd be home, David volunteered to take them both to the dermatologist again.

He found out both boys also have an infection of molluscum contagiosum virus, or Water Warts. Unrelated to usual warts, but nonetheless contagious, which is why the swimming instructors were concerned.

This is hard to get rid of, the natural course of doing nothing would take about two years. Two years of no swimming! Alternatives include pinching off the warts with tweezers (which sounds horrible) or freezing them off. With some persuasion, they chose the freezing route.

And now they have to go back in a few weeks to check their progress. The swimming pool won't let them back without authority from the doctor, understandably. But it was hard to figure out on Monday afternoon, I just felt indignant. Another piece of cultural/language misunderstanding.

This could mean the end of swimming lessons, though. Both of them were waning in enthusiasm and this might be the nail in the coffin, so to speak.

I tried to clear this week of extraneous things so that I'd be free to volunteer at Thrift Shop, but a few things such as this have popped up. That's meant I don't have the energy to volunteer quite as much as I might have. But as Georgia commented on my Facebook page about my last post, I need to drop some plates and focus on taking care of me and my family first. So, I'm trying!

A crazy week...but no time to stop to tell you about it

Lucky for you, I lost the long-winded whinge-of-a-blog post that I was going to put up here.

This is a crazy week for our family, and me particularly, who seems to be the glue that holds things together. When I'm starting to get a bit stringy, things start to fall apart.

I wish I looked as graceful at this:


But usually it looks more like this (at least this guy drops a couple):


But usually it feels more like a minor disaster, the worst casualty being my sanity. In any case, I'm wasting valuable time here.


15 April, 2013

Incredibly moving video

Yesterday I watched a video recommended by missionaries in Japan about Suicide in Japan. It is by an Irishman who's "declared war" on suicide here. It is a 50 minute video. That may be too long for you, so I've outlined some of the things I learned yesterday (or was reminded of) when I watched it.

“Saving 10,000 details a compendium of outrages tolerated and even encouraged by society that have kept Japan a world leader in suicide. Incredibly moving.
— Sam Jameson – Former Tokyo Bureau Chief of LA Times and Chicago Tribune.



30,000 people die every year from suicide in Japan. It is a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. It is a subject that is glorified in the society, and equally, avoided. An absolute tragedy.

I was particularly touched by the story right at the end. A Japanese man, whose job used to include going out in his boat and collecting the bodies of people who'd jumped off some famous suicide cliffs in his local town. After he retired he went back to that town and set up a coffee shop near the cliffs, and developed a network of people who patrol the three areas along the cliffs where people can jump. They simply talk to people who are sitting there, possibly contemplating taking their own lives. 

He said that back some time ago when Japan's national traffic accident death toll was something like 12,000 people a year, the government took responsibility and have now reduced it to something like 5,000 a year. But no one has taken responsibility for reducing the suicide rate, which sits much higher than 12,000 a year!

This man and his volunteers have saved nearly 300 people in the last few years by their patrols and listening ears. Amazing!

The video talks about some of the different risk groups for suicide:

  • students (suicide is very high among university students, bullying is a significant issue in schools)
  • elderly (1/3 of suicides are by people over 60)
  • mental illness (but getting inadequate care, see below)
  • Shinjuku area (many young girls who come in from the country and are looking for hope, but end up in the sex industry)
  • retirees
  • loneliness kills many people in Japan
  • authors (a large number of well-known Japanese authors have committed suicide)
Mental health
I knew that this area was somewhat deficient in Japan, but didn't realise how badly. The video explained that very little is done for people who aren't suffering from psychosis. Depression and all those other mental health issues are barely touched. The system doesn't have much in the way of other options, such as counselling or support groups. In many cases, people present to the ER with self-inflicted injuries or suicide attempts, are patched up and sent home without any support.

Economic
Life insurance pays out for suicides in Japan, after something like a three year wait. Unbelievable!

Alcoholism
Isn't recognised as an issue in Japan.

Gambling
Is illegal, but Pachinko (gaming machines) centres are very common.

Honourable solution
Suicide is viewed romantically in literature and film here. It has long been considered an honourable solution. It isn't uncommon to hear of someone in leadership in Japan committing suicide, especially if the group they lead has been involved in some kind of scandal.

You can watch the whole video above, or you can go to the website and watch the trailers: http://www.saving10000.com/

Here are some other times I've mentioned suicide in Japan on this blog:


14 April, 2013

Shoe sizes

This week I realised we're teetering on the edge of a ravine, a large-shoe ravine. We bought our soon-to-be 14 year old a pair of size 28 shoes.

You're probably aware that different countries measure their shoes differently. Wikipedia makes that very clear (and very muddied, I came away feeling very confused from this article.) Here's a chart that shows how vastly different shoe sizes are.

In Japan they're measured by the most logical method: length of foot. Shoe sizes equal the length of your foot in centimetres. So a size 28 shoe is about a men's size 10 or 10.5 in Australia.

The reason why we're on the edge of ravine is that this is the largest commonly-found men's shoe size in Japan. After 28 you aren't guaranteed to find your size in the store. You have to work harder to find them, or import!

Our son's feet have been large since he was a little tucker. When he began to walk at 10 months of age, he'd already outgrown all those soft-soled "new walker" shoes in the shop. We had to buy him slippers as his first walking shoes. He's not ever been extra-ordinarily tall for his age, though. He's currently only 162cm, but growing!

So we're wondering if he's ever going to "grow into his feet" as one person put it. It isn't really a case that his feet have had an early growth spurt, but maybe they'll stop growing before the rest of him? I hope so. We have at least three more years of living with him in Japan, it's going to be a challenge to keep providing him with shoes!

I posted about this on Facebook the other day and someone asked me today after church about whether we found some, which ended up in a larger-scale shoe discussion. It's quite a challenge for foreigners with large or unusually sized feet living in Japan. Many only buy shoes when they're "home" and bring them back to Japan with them.

Thankfully David and I are both just within the bounds of being able to buy shoes here, even if they're labelled LL (for my size 24.5/25 cm — Australian sized 8 shoes). But it seems as though we've begat at least one child that isn't going to be able to say the same.



13 April, 2013

A cool book of memories

Ever since we came back from our epic motorhome trip to the centre of Australia, I've been wondering how best to put our memories, especially our photos, into some kind of viewable format. Having them as digital images on the computer, wasn't quite my idea of how they should be.

So when my friend April wrote on Facebook about a free photo book being offered (by MyPublisher), I jumped at the chance. Especially because April is the designer of the magazine I manage and I know that she wouldn't be promoting a dodgy website.

One spread from our book.
This is what we've ended up with: a 20 page professional-looking book with our own photos. I'm stoked. We all love it, actually!

Most of our memories are in our heads, but it is very special to have something we can hold and even show others. It is a physical reminder that we did have a very special trip last July, one that we will probably never forget.

12 April, 2013

"Darby and Joan"

I used this phrase in American company the other day and came up with a blank. Is it only a U.K. origin thing? This webpage seems to indicate so.

For any who don't know this phrase, it means a devoted old couple leading a contented, if a somewhat boring life.

Taken 10 years ago. A long way from being
"Darby and Joan" yet.
Generally I've heard it used in a slightly negative, yet perhaps nostalgic fashion about oneself. "Ah, look at us, Darby and Joan." According to Wikipedia, Ruth Rendell wrote this in The Best Man to Die (1981), "My father called my mother darling once or twice and there was a kind of Darby and Joan air about them." I found a lovely blog post by an Australian here, using the phrase in the way I'd use it (it also includes the words of a song called "Darby and Joan".

As I looked it up online, I was surprised at how many literary and musical references there are. Here are some other uses of the phrase:

So, tell us, where has this phrase ended up? Have some Americans heard of it?


11 April, 2013

The Lord is a mighty tower

I missed a post on the Women of the Harvest blog a couple of weeks ago (no surprise, it was during our Spring Break). They posted a photo like this for their Picture Praise :
Photo by richard_b from http://www.morguefile.com/
They coupled it with the verse from Proverbs: "The Lord is a mighty tower
where his people can run for safety" (18:10, CEV). 

Or you might know the "strong tower" version better:

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (ESV).

I've loved this verse for a long time, ever since I heard it preached on during the difficult year between my going to Indonesia for a short-term trip, and graduating from university.

He still is my strong and mighty tower and I've run to Him many times for safety. I hope you do too.



10 April, 2013

Emotions and boys

On Monday I went to a one-day Kanto Plains OMF ladies retreat. It was a lovely day! We not only got to catch up with one another, but we heard three talks from three of our own about health: physical, spiritual, and emotional. I think of myself as fairly healthy in general, but it was good to review these areas and think about them from different angles.

One thing that I found particularly helpful was in the "Emotional Health" segment. Our speaker spoke about how important it is to name our emotions. That is something that I do quite naturally, especially when I find myself feeling out-of-sorts, I'll think and think until I've traced the source of the unease. Once I've done that I can usually name the feeling and, hopefully, do something about it.

But I realised that there are others in our house that aren't so good at this. In fact probably everyone else except me. Is that a male thing? I learnt a long time ago not to ask my husband how he's feeling unless he's been ill. I usually get a confused and slightly panicked look from him!

My boys are each quite different in emotional responses. We have one drama king. We have another who's passionate and explosive and a third who's generally very calm, but when frustrated can dissolve into tears.

I described one emotional incident of one of our non-teenagers to the mother of a teenage girl and she was amazed, "Sounds like a teenager to me!" she declared. This same boy is very resistant to talking about his feelings. Not just unable or reluctant, but often down-right hostile. If he's in a good mood it's okay, but that is probably the exception.

So, given this poor emotional awareness in my family, I was pondering how I could help my guys with naming their emotions.

Our speaker gave us a page with lists of emotions. As I pondered and prayed over this dilemma, I realised that my boys love words. And one of them, the explosive one, loves lists of words. We have many little notebooks around the house that have lists of things he's begun (like lists of names, or of materials you can make things from, or of aliens). So I began to think that a list of emotion-words might be something of interest, rather than scorn.  I only managed to get one of the pages from our speaker (there were more than one), so I went Googling yesterday.

And I found this amazing page called Vocabulary of Emotions. I haven't counted the words on it, but there's more than two hundred words on this one page. There are some great words like: crestfallen, zippy, tickled pink, invalid, huggy, goose-bumpy.

I was right. This paper has been welcomed and discussed. I'm home on my own with our teenager right now (the others are at karate). While I washed up, we had a discussion about emotions. It was an issue for him when he was wrestling. A disappointment or surprise affected his emotional stability and ability to focus. So I asked him to name the emotions he had, particularly at those key moments that he remembers well: a loss that took him by surprise, a win that he didn't expect, etc. He was able to name lots of emotions using this chart. As I've typed, he's even used the list to help him with his homework (he's writing a narrative poem English about learning to ride a bike).

The page is posted on the wall beside the dining room table. I'm hoping that I'll be able to initiate many more discussions on emotions in the weeks and months ahead.

How do you teach these things at your house? Or is it something that's come naturally to your family?

09 April, 2013

Gales of laughter

I've been reading funny stories to the boys out of a book written nearly 40 years ago. The book's called "Japan: It's not all raw fish" by Don Maloney, an American businessman who has quite a flair for writing humour. The book is a compilation of a weekly column that he Japan Times, an English-language newspaper.
wrote for

Though his stories of Japan are a bit dated, there is enough in them for us to really enjoy them.

We're still laughing over the story about eating on the Shinkansen (bullet train). One time he was offered for lunch, "among other things — a 'mixed sandwich' (that means 90% bread, 1 % ham, 9% cucumber". Then one time he went for breakfast just after the "breakfast" in the dining car closed at 8.30 and was offered "Beef Stew, Curry Rice, or Mixed Pizza. "I almost decided on the Mixed Pizza — 8.30 or not — but then remembered that, in Japan, 'Mixed' is a translation of 'cucumber'..."

Every now and then someone will mentioned "mixed" and much laughter will ensue.

The most recent story I read produced wails of laugher at one point also. But first I need to explain a little. The author couldn't understand why taxi drivers didn't respond to his clear instructions in Japanese. Then one day his secretary witnessed an interaction in a taxi and gave him this advice,
"Please understand, your Japanese is fine. It's just that taxi drivers – and many other Japanese, too — make up their minds when they see you that you speak a foreign language, not Japanese. So, even when you speak Japanese, they're all tuned to hear a foreign language and that's what it sounds like. Try warming them up first," she advised, "with an "Ano ne," or with a "Sumimasen" (Japanese attention getters) repeated a couple of times. That will tune them back to Japanese and you'll be okay."
We've experienced this phenomenon ourselves. The most memorable being when I was pregnant with our second son and attending a large university hospital for a pre-natal checkup. For some reason I had to go to the in-hospital pharmacy to have a script filled. The pharmacy had a little hole-in-the-wall for outpatients, so we fronted up there. This tiny young came to the counter to serve us. We started to talk in Japanese to her and she fled. She just ran away leaving us wondering what we'd done. She went to get someone else braver, someone she thought would manage these scary foreigners better!

Back to the story in the book, the author tried his secretary's advice one night and this is what happened:
"We were rolling along at the usual 80 km/h, and about five or six blocks from the traffic light [where we needed to turn] I leaned forward an gave him my opening 'Ano ne'. Completely shocked, he hit the brake with both feet. As the tires squealed like a mailman's bicycle, I went over the back of the front seat and was standing on my head next to the driver."
At this point in the story, it took a long time for everyone to regain composure and quieten down enough for me to finish the story, relaying the satisfying news that the taxi driver did indeed follow the author's instructions, to the letter, after this.

No doubt there are many other foreigners out there with their stories. We've heard stories of experience foreign looking missionaries who were accompanying fresh Asian-looking recruits and have had conversations with a Japanese person looking only at the Asian-appearing person. Yes, how you look is important!

P.S. It isn't a book I'd give to the boys to read because there is language that dishonours God in it, plus there are numerous references to things that they simply wouldn't understand. I do my best to edit those out as I read. Even so, we often struggle to get through a story without repeated interruptions from our youngest asking for clarification.


08 April, 2013

Update on my birthday month

It's one week into my birthday month. It was my actually birthday last week so I had some interesting days.

My Kindle, with it's green cover.
My big birthday present was a Kindle. Not really a surprise, but it was great nonetheless.I didn't know that my husband would also give me a beautiful green cover for it! It feels delicious.

I also received some surprise flowers delivered to my door. . . All the way from Australia. I didn't know you could do international flower delivery! It was sweet indeed.

Mum and Dad rang me on Skype before everyone came home and we talked for nearly an hour. That was very special too.

I went to the gym on my birthday and they gave me a present too (face washer, US=wash cloth?). The average age at Curves is early 60s, I think. So I definitely feel young there! It was a good thing to do, deliberately celebrate my "youth" with the exercise that gives me energy.

On Saturday a parcel arrived from one of my sisters, as well as emails and eCards during the week. Not to mention lots of god wishes on Facebook. Makes me ashamed of how infrequently I wish people happy birthday on Facebook.

But we did make a mistake. Next year I'll plan to celebrate my birthday not on a school night. We went put to a restaurant one night and it nearly turned disaster outs. Hungry, tired kids in car in Tokyo traffic on a weekday evening equals trouble. The restaurant was great, but I wish we'd chosen to go on Friday night!

I'm glad I chose the "celebrate" route to turning 40, not the "hide under my bed and pretend it isn't happening".