31 May, 2016

All-you-can-eat restaurants

This all-you-can-eat restaurant includes the Japanese
treat of Yakiniku (cook your own meat at your table).
There seems to have been a growth in all-you-can-eat restaurants in Japan. I like the Japanese terms for this type of restaurant, they roll off the tongue faster: tabehoudai or baikingu.

Or maybe it is just that we're at a stage in life when those kinds of restaurants are particularly suitable to our needs. Our boys can eat a lot and at these restaurants we sure do get our money's worth. On the weekend we had a birthday celebration at a local Indian restaurant with a small buffet. It cost about AU$12.40 per person!

Last month we celebrated two birthdays, both also at all-you-can-eat restaurants. Mine was a pizza restaurant and our youngest son's at a local Japanese restaurant. Both were a little more expensive than the above, but it was worth it.
This is some of the fare at a
local Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant.

They're very popular with families with younger children, especially the last one I mentioned above. I really understand that: when you eat off a buffet you get a lot more choice for your money and fussy kids aren't such a problem.

And dessert at the same restaurant as above:
including make-your-own waffles.

This is the dining room at the conference hotel we'll be at
in three weeks.
I'm very thankful to be in a place where we have so much choice. It's easy to dwell on the negatives of living where we do, but much better to think about, and be thankful, for the great things about it.

We don't actually eat out very often as a family, but we do eat out more often here than we do in Australia, simply because it's cheaper here. How often do we eat out at a proper restaurant (not counting when we're grabbing a meal before/during/after a sporting meet)? Maybe once or sometimes twice a month?

I'm looking forward to our mission's national conference in Hokkaido next month. We're there for five days with all the breakfasts and dinners all-you-can-eat meals. Understandably it's quite popular with the teens! In fact it is the largest buffet-style restaurant I've ever been too, it is a little mind boggling. We were at the same hotel three years ago (the hotel has "faded grandeur" which is why our budget-conscious mission goes there, we get great rates). In addition to great food is a water park in the basement and a large choice of Japanese baths in the basement and at the top of the building. Oh, we will be doing some work too, but there'll be an element of fun too, I can't wait.

30 May, 2016

Surprising history of Christians in Japan

Christianity in Japan has an interesting history. Did you know the first Christians in Japan were Catholics? And that there have been martyrs here too?
The usual dating of Japan's first contact with Christianity is 1549 when Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest, arrived in Japan. His stamina, zeal, and willingness to suffer resulted in thousands of conversions in just two years. By 1600, there were about half a million baptised Christians in Japan. However, a period of intense persecutions where thousands of Japanese Christians were martyred followed. Christianity was banned and Japan entered a period of national isolation from 1639—1854. Japan reopened its doors in 1854 and the ban on Christianity was lifted in 1873 (but not until more persecution had been carried out). After 1873 many Anglo-American Protestant missionaries arrived in Japan. 
During WW2 the church was again persecuted as the state sought to control it. After the war ended, there was an influx of evangelical missionaries, with a strong emphasis on evangelism and church planting. It was during this post-war period that OMF (our organisation) began work in Japan, in 1951. (Adapted from OMF International's 31 Days of Prayer 2015, an internally circulated book.)
During the sermon at our church yesterday we heard some more history:
Twenty-six Christians were martyred in Nagasaki in 1597 and as result many Christians went into hiding. These Christians and their descendants continued to practice their faith secretly. Two and a half centuries later missionaries discovered a large number of these hidden Christians in Nagasaki in a place called Urakami.*
A large church, the largest Catholic church in all of East Asia at that time (1925) was built in Urakami after that ban was lifted. The area became the centre of Christianity in Japan. The church apparently had 12,000 members in 1945 and about 8,000 of them died when the atomic bomb dropped in that city exploded only 500m from where many of the members were gathered for mass that day.

The church has been rebuilt and is again a church with many members. Fascinatingly we were told yesterday that the Archbishop of the church is a direct descendent of the hidden Christians and was also a survivor of the bombing in 1945. Amazing.

The point of the sermon was about "kingdom reversals" where what we expect is often not how things turn out in God's way of doing things (see here for a bit more explanation of that term).

From the above it does seem that Christianity should have been stamped out in Japan. But God had other plans, plans that even involved someone whose ancestors continued to be faithful to God despite incredibly trying circumstances (e.g. can you imagine being in a church of 12,000 people and having 75% of them die at once?).

I'm reading a fantasy novel to my family at the moment, it isn't my genre of choice, but I have to admit that it's shed some light on my faith. I never expected that such a genre would help me understand God and my faith better, but it has! It's easy to live in this world and get a set idea of the way things should work, but in the end our creator has more than one paradigm, many more dimensions that he works with. We should anticipate being surprised at how he choses to work.

*Here's a bit more detail on the late 1600s and early 1700s in Japanese Christianity if you're interested:
In 1587, in an era of European colonization and Christianization of the nearby Philippines, Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued an edict banning missionaries from the country due to the religion's growing power, intolerant behavior towards Shinto and Buddhism, and involvement in the sale of Japanese people as slaves overseas. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious banning edict and executed 26 Christians in Nagasaki as a warning.
Intent to bring Japan under complete control, the succeeding Tokugawa Shogunate further hardened the country's anti-Christian stance, accusing the religion of obstructing the authorities, antisocial behavior and intolerance towards the established religions. After a rebellion on the Shimabara Peninsula that involved many Christians in the late 1630s, thousands of rebels were executed and a full ban on Christianity became strictly enforced. Only small pockets of Christians, known as the "Hidden Christians", continued practicing their religion in secret. (This is from here).

28 May, 2016

Tokyo real estate anyone?

Interested in real estate in Tokyo? This brochure landed in our mailbox a few weeks ago, selling houses, apartments new and old as well as blocks of land. The price units are 10,000 yen, so the top left house for 3,180 万円 is actually 3,180 plus four zeros: 31,800,000 yen, or 400,830 Australian dollars. The block of land it is on is 65m square and the floor area of the house is about the same (two floors).

The penthouse apartment down the bottom right, however, is enormous, but also 5½ times the price. 

The next one has a photo of what a new house most often looks like (top left). No yard to speak of, but somewhere to park a car or even three. It is a little bigger than the first one I mentioned above with 86.67 metres square of floor space. Three bedrooms, two toilets, one bath, and a small kitchen.

This webpage gives a nice guide to reading Japanese floor plans plus some nice photos of inside Japanese apartments.
Nope, we're not interested in moving, nor buying. We can see ourselves in our current old  rented house for many years to come. But it is interesting to look at what people are living in and buying in our area. 

27 May, 2016

School sports day

3.30pm I'm sitting at home quietly quivering. 

I've just spent the day at our youngest son's Elementary Field Day. A bit like an Australian school sports day but with much less emphasis on Olympic-type sports. They do individual events like a sprint and a longer run but also events like obstacle course, soccer dribble, skipping rope, and ball throw. They would have done long jump too except it was a wet day, so this all happened indoors today. Hence my quiet quivering. It isn't a large school (I'm guessing about 130-150 kids in elementary), but they sure made a lot of noise. 

The afternoon was team games like tug of war, running relay, ball games, and other relay events (egg and spoon type events). Again all in the gym. My ears are still ringing. 

It's my last elementary sports day (see photos from the outside field day two years ago here). Middle school now has a similar but down-scaled half-day event and high school doesn't have any such thing. In fact there is very little within-school sport (Americans call it intermural I believe). From now on it's all interschool sports on weekends (and occasional week nights). 

A few (silent) photos: the cup stacking. 

Tug of war

Distance run, really only about 600m but having it inside made it seem longer, it also made it very difficult to pass people in front of you.  (Sorry for the poor photo.)

7pm. I'm now fairly recovered from the day. My headache is gone and I'm no longer quivering. All in all the day went fairly well. The teacher who coordinated the event is very experienced and did a superb job. He had the 11th graders as his helpers (which helps to explain why they couldn't postpone the event until a later date because of the rain, not to mention that we've only got five full school days left!).

I'm looking forward to another sleep-in tomorrow. It's been hard all week to get out of bed. I think a full relaxing weekend last weekend pulled the plug a little on our energy and now we're just hanging out for the summer holidays.

26 May, 2016

Today's park excursion

I rode to the park today. I can't tell you how nice it is to just walk out of the house in shorts and a t-shirt and ride. I grew up in a place where shorts and t-shirts are what I wore a lot of the year (when I wasn't at school or church). They are my comfort zone!

I spotted these gorgeous blooms along one of the paths I rode getting to the park. Anyone know what they're called?

I sat on my bike next to this park here while waiting for a set of lights to change. It's a typical little Japanese urban park that my kids outgrew really quickly. What you can see is pretty much all there is. But someone's taken the trouble to make it very green and keep it neat. That "hedge" across the back is all hydrangeas, that are getting ready for a riotous season of blooms.

This is one section of Koganei park (the name of the big park). In fact it is almost the only part we knew about when our kids were little. The playground. A bit unique because of that hill. There are slides on two sides of the hill and the rest of the hill is covered in bushes. So much so that our family called this park "the tunnel park" for ages, because children have been playing in amongst those bushes for many years and there are "tunnels" between them that adults generally don't go down. The kids love it.

Here's one section of "tunnel" bushes.

And a closer look at tunnels in a different part of the park.

This wasn't a busy day. On weekends and in the holidays there are hundreds of bikes here along with many people.

Azaleas are out in bloom everywhere. They're a popular hedge in Tokyo.

Just so green!

Here are the seats. I didn't sit here today, I found a more secluded corner.

Poppies. I can't help wonder if I'd missed the best of them, though, there was a lot of green without many flowers in this large flower bed.

My ride back included a stretch along the river that is about 150m behind our house. It too is gorgeous.

Some houses butt onto the walkway. Some of the locals tend gardens along the path beside the river, it makes for a very pleasant long-skinny recreational area in our corner of Tokyo, we often ride to and from things along here and appreciate the beauty we've got.

The river is very shallow here and only about 50m from this spot is a flat bank-area where people picnic and wade. More adventurous kids come up this far. A great, free activity for the hot weather. I don't fully comprehend, but my boys have never been super interested in playing here.

I'm so thankful my schedule allowed this today (and the weather was cooperative too, we've had some strong winds  recently and then it's probably going to rain tomorrow). I'm also thankful that we live in a place that has so much beauty to find. Tokyo was not on my list of places I ever wanted to live, but this isn't such a bad corner of this big city.

25 May, 2016

Japanese women's joy

Two older ladies approached one another at the station, left hands raised up as if to give one another high fives. Their cheerful greetings rang out as they closed the several metres between them. They ended up not clapping hands but clasping hands in the same way that Australian female friends might hug one another. 
Later, across the carriage from me two ladies in their 50s or 60s carried on a relaxed happy conversation. 

I've been out on the trains today. Travelling around during the day on trains in Tokyo is not the lonely experience it can be in Brisbane. There are still plenty of people around and you still often don't get a seat, but there's also plenty of space between those standing. It's more casual than the rush and squish hours. I find it particularly delightful to watch friends enjoy one another, to see the joy in relationships that you don't always connect to Japan. Sure, some of it is not heartfelt, but often it seems safe to assume these older ladies have known each other a long time and are very comfortable in each other's company. 

Yesterday I read an article about Japanese women, portraying the older generation especially in a different light to how you might imagine. I read a book about Japanese women back in 2009 and pulled out some points in a blogpost that are remarkably similar to what's in this article. Especially, 
(Japanese) Women have had considerable freedom. With their husbands earning the wage that supports the household and being away most of the time (for example 6am to 9 or 10 pm hasn't been unusual), their wives have the freedom to do what they want with their time.
I'm still happy to be an Australian woman with a husband who comes home by about 5pm and with whom I have a mutual, loving relationship. However it's good to have some more insight into the lives that the Japanese women around me lead, especially the joy they have in relationships with one another.

Virtual teams assignment

Today I'm waiting on a bunch of other people. I'm waiting for writers to write, editors to edit, designers to design, consultants to consult etc. Yep, a whole lot of people have something from me on their desk and I'm waiting for them to get back to me. So, after consulting the stick-it list of "things that need working on" beside my computer, I decided to spend a lot of my day working on a follow-up assignment for the workshop I did in Bangkok in February.

Interesting assignment. There's no word limit, no structure given at all, except that it must be related to the course content.

So I wrote nearly 1,800 words about Geographically distant teams (or virtual teams). I don't think I realised how common they are. They weren't mentioned much in the week-long workshop about teams. It frustrated me, because my teams are pretty much all virtual (except my family, I guess). My main team puts together Japan Harvest, and so that's what I've focused on.

After doing a bit of research (actually, not that much, not compared to doing a History Assignment, for example), I discovered there are many types of virtual teams doing many different things in different ways. The variation is stunning. Actually within mission we have many virtual teams, especially in an international mission as large as ours working across East Asia with many sending countries too. It's a pity that the course didn't at least touch on some of the specific challenges of virtual teams.

The strengths relate to cost saving as well as being able to have the best people on the team. They are also more flexible in nature and can make decisions faster. 

Weaknesses include difficulties with trust building, collaboration and even difficulties with conflict. This type of team suits some personalities better than others. You definitely need to be more self motivated and conscientious to work well in a team like this.

Do you or have you work or worked in a virtual team? How do/did you find it?

I quite enjoy the freedom it gives. No commuting is great (except when everyone's home and I have work to do), but I think my favourite part is the flexibility. I don't have someone watching me, I can organise my time how I want or need to. 

23 May, 2016

Buying confusion

We aren't avid news watchers/readers. Not in Japan or in Australia. In fact most news we see these days comes via Facebook or email or blog threads (for example I get an email with news headlines from Brisbane's main newspaper but don't often close CAJ on them).

So I admit we're not necessarily up to date with what's going on. Frequently we look on as distant observers in confusion or amusement or with lack of interest. After all most has no daily relevance to us. 
I did "buy Australian" today, at least one of my grocery items. Rare Australian
seedless grapes. Usually the only affordable grapes we can buy are small
Delaware grapes, not the big juice seedless ones that are staple for many
months in Australia.

I have to admit that our experience with the media during Japan's triple disaster five years ago only added to my cynicism about the factuality of the news we see. And with the advent of so much news on the internet, many news sites have resorted to the tactic of exaggerating or pretty much lying about the content of the piece, just to get people to click on the link to the article.

One particular theme of news gives me mixed feelings, that is "what should responsible shoppers buy"?

The Australian press tells us many things (some of which change over time):

  • buy certain brands
  • buy Australian
  • don't buy clothes made in Bangladesh/Vietnam etc.
  • buy preservative-free
  • buy local
  • buy gluten-free
  • buy artificial-colour-free
  • don't buy MSG
  • don't buy chemicals (this one gets my goat)
  • only buy stuff that "remembers" where it came from
  • don't buy food from Vietnam/China/Thailand etc.
  • buy low-fat, don't buy low-fat
  • buy margarine not butter, buy butter not margarine
  • buy Fair Trade
  • buy Halal/don't buy Halal
  • buy low-sodium, don't...

The list goes on and on and it is thoroughly confusing. Even more so for someone who doesn't even live in the country. 

In Japan the labels are nowhere near as clear (even if I could read Japanese well). Labelling standards aren't so strict. Additionally choices for me are more limited, especially if I'm buying Western-style ingredients. Stores tend to be smaller (at least the ones where I shop are) than the giant grocery stores in Australia and other Western nations, so, for example, there are only two types of margarine in my regular shop. Buying butter has become unaffordable, so I generally don't except for special baking.

As for "buying Australian", well that's pretty difficult here, understandably. In fact Japanese are similarly urged to buy Japanese. I have particularly mixed feelings when I see "don't buy certain brands because they come from such and such a place where there's poor standards". I don't really know where most of my food comes from. 

When it comes down to it I buy what I can find for a reasonable price. As for health, our family is pretty healthy. We have no allergies or food sensitivities. So I don't pay much attention to the current trends in "what good or not good" food-wise because what we've been doing up till now seems to work. All of us are within good limits for weight etc. All the food fads in Australia just don't hit here at the same time, or never hit here, so I don't bother entertaining them.

As for the current discussion about "don't buy Coles or Woolworths cheap milk" debate. That's understandably an issue that seems a long way away from us. What shocks me, though, is that once again it seems as though we've been told a lie. This ABC documentary tells us that it doesn't matter which milk we buy, the dairy farmers get the same price? And once again, the news stories we've seen are incorrect, a whole lot of hype that's raised the issue of what our farmers are paid but not enabled consumers to do much about it.

The whole thing is difficult. What does a conscientious person do? A conscientious person who lives on a somewhat-tight budget?

I want quality food and clothes. But I also don't want to blow my budget paying for them. The way things stand, it doesn't seem clear that even if I pay more for my good and clothing that it goes to the right place. So what do I do?

This has been a bit of a rant and a rave. Can you see how being overseas  gives us a different slant on the news?

Frequently we also don't know what will be important to know or not to know when we get back to Australia. 

Will it be important to pay attention to the news on politics? I don't know, I tend not to, it is not in my face. I will not be voting (we've excused ourselves off the electoral role because we live overseas and it's harder to be up-to-date on what's the right local choice).

Even if there's important news that will impact our lives when we get back to Australia, we frequently don't pick up on that until later. Like the changeover of Brisbane trains from tickets to Go Cards. It wasn't till we got back that we realised it had happened and was important to figure out how and where to buy the cards, how to recharge them, then how to use them.

Ah, not a super cohesive post, but I hope it is somewhat understandable.

22 May, 2016

Stories of Japanese people meeting Jesus

Here is a six minute video with many Japanese and other Asians telling briefly how they met Jesus (most are between 20 and 30 seconds long).

21 May, 2016

Different measuring systems

Today is the first Saturday in many that we've not gone to a sporting event early on Saturday morning and remained there almost all day. I do love being a sporting mum (yep I've grown, this morning I saw this post I wrote five years ago where I was struggling with this exact issue). 

I love that it gives me connecting and conversation points with my now-big boys. I love seeing them be challenged and learn from their successes and failures. I also love it that it is tonnes of non-screen time for them. It also helps fulfill my "extrovert" needs as we travel too and fro and spend the whole day with other parents who've become friends. However I do struggle with the all-Saturday commitment and the tiredness that brings. 

But today, and for quite a few more Saturdays in the coming months, we don't have live sporting events to attend (next one is early September). So I slept in, laid in, and then have been baking ever since. Ah, the luxury. 

I wanted to add a slight twist on the baking for you today. I've written before about how I make substitutions here a lot for things that are hard to get, or expensive. 

There's another challenge to baking/cooking. Many of you will be aware that Australian measurements differ from other countries. These days I use recipes from Australia, as well as recipes from international friends and even, as many of you do I'm sure, recipes from the internet. It isn't uncommon to be baking stuff with different measurements. I cope by using a Japanese cup (200ml, same as the US) as well as my Australian cup measure (250ml). I also have both Australian and Japanese tablespoons (20 & 15ml). My scales are Japanese and in grams, so I have a chart on the side of my fridge that helps with ounces etc. Actually this whole challenge isn't that foreign. Many of the recipes I grew up making with my mum were in ounces too. 

What I'm wondering now, is what do Australians in Australia cope with the different measurements they encounter in recipes sourced off the internet?

Editor's note: since this was published (yes, just a few minutes ago) an American friend told me that American cups are 8oz or 236ml! Arggh!