31 July, 2017

Camping obsession

We've moved into another level of our camping obsession. In six years we've worn out the first tent we owned and have now purchased a replacement tent.

In the photo you can see the sad remains of our old tent on the left. Some of it has already gone in the rubbish collection, what remains will (hopefully) be accepted in the next couple of weeks by our kerbside rubbish collectors. On the right is our new (second-hand) tent plus a soft floor-insert. Both bought from a local second hand shop.

It's quite a bit smaller than the enormous 10-man tent we had before (allegedly 10-man, though we never slept more than six in it). But we've got our eyes on the future. With boys gradually moving away we won't need such a large tent. However we've got a spare 2-man tent someone gave us that we can also use if we do camp with all five of us again.

Actually, we're looking at the school calendar and trying to figure out if we can try out this new tent before we go back to Australia on home assignment next June. 

Yes, we definitely have a camping obsession!

29 July, 2017

Struggles missionaries have with identity Part 1

I'm a guest blogger on our OMF UK blog today (and the next two Saturdays). I've written three posts about the challenges missionaries have with identity. Here is the first one.

28 July, 2017

Staying at Crane Hill

During our holidays we stopped at a town called Tsuruoka, or "Crane hill". We spent the night in a famous area for hot springs called Yutagawa. As far as David could understand, the village has had hot spring baths for 1,300 years! We stayed in a traditional-style Japanese inn. After a discussion with a couple of Japanese friends today I'm not sure whether it was a full 旅館 (ryokan) or a smaller 民宿 (minshuku).

These were the beautiful decorations in our room.

We stayed in the Takasago Room (named, I think, after a particular traditional Noh play) at a traditional Japanese inn.  The boys were across the hall in the Crane Room.

 Our traditional room.

We walked to a nearby field to see fireflies. First time I've ever seen them! Of course it's hard to take a photo. These are three that our youngest son picked up. They were glowing, but of course you can't see it here!

Like many places in Japan, they have their own designs on the man hole covers.

This was our inn. Our room was the top left, the boys top right. Of course we enjoyed the baths before retiring to our beds. A quintessential Japanese experience.

The view from where we did our laundry before heading to our campsite.

27 July, 2017

Only partial restriction on smoking in Japan

Japanese restaurants and cafes often are not smoke-free. These days many of them have smoking areas, but they aren't sealed off from the rest of the restaurant. There was a push to have that changed by 2020 when the Olympics come to Tokyo, but it seems that it's not going to happen due to political pressure. 

The article says:
The ministry estimates that about 15,000 people die annually in Japan from passive smoking, which is known to cause heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. With no law to ban public smoking, Japan was among the countries in the lowest-graded group out of four in the World Health Organization’s 2015 report on the global tobacco epidemic.
After the WHO and the International Olympic Committee agreed in 2010 to promote tobacco-free Olympic Games, all countries hosting the Olympics have implemented anti-tobacco regulations that include punishment, according to the ministry.
Smokers still make up a big percentage of the community. In 2009 the rate was 25% of adults! (Wikipedia citing data from the OECD Health Data) Compared to around 13% of Australians over the age of 13 (from here).

Wikipedia verifies our experience by saying this about Japan:
Cigarettes can be bought in tobacco stores and at vending machines, and public ashtrays dot sidewalks and train platforms. The number of cigarette vending machines in Japan is estimated at 500,000 in 2002.
Now I'm not saying that Australia is the perfect place to live and Japan the opposite, but it does seem that in the area of smoking, Japan is a less healthy place to live.

26 July, 2017

Curious cabins

There is a curious story behind the place where we stayed for the last ten nights of our holidays. It it located about 300km north of Tokyo on the coast, near the city of Sendai. According to the Brief Historical Sketch you'll see in the photo below, the area was "discovered" by a missionary on a hunting trip in 1889. At that time Japan had only been open to foreigners for a few decades. I don't know a lot about missions in Japan in the 1800s, but my understanding is that the first Protestant missionaries arrived somewhere around 1859.

In any case, what we have today stems back to 1889. Three knobs of land poke up above sandy beaches and two were leased by a collective group of missionaries in the 1890s. On these knobs cabins have been built. Though really many of them are more substantial than a mere cabin. Most of these cabins/houses are holiday houses, just a handful are used all the year round as residences. I don't think I'd heard of the concept of leasing land that you can build on before I came to Japan, but it seems to be not uncommon here.

In any case, the cabin we stayed in has been around for a long time. OMF has owned it since some time in the '60s, but there is evidence that it existed in the 1920s. On the pole below people (mostly kids I suspect) have written their heights and the year. One is 1925 and another says 1933, we think.

Thankfully OMF has renovated the two cabins it owns in the last couple of years because when we stayed in it four years ago it did look as though they were rather old. Now the cabin is beautiful, but if you look closely you can see other evidence of its age. Can you see how much the wall is leaning in this photo (the door and its frame are new and presumably square)?

It's not only been beautifully renovated, but there has been a thoughtful person, with a budget, who's decorated it too. Blue and white predominate, with touches of red. The three bedrooms with single beds have pink, blue, and green touches.

Most of the 50 or so cabins are owned by families who usually vacation there each year. David and I look at the amount of upkeep required and don't feel tempted at all to do that. Just keeping the "jungle" at bay is hard work in itself. Though owning one of these cabins is very suitable for those who find working with their hands on fix-it-up projects relaxing.

The community that gathers here for only a few weeks a year (mostly the last week of July for four weeks) must been very thankful for the foresight of that missionary long ago and all who've worked hard to keep this a beautiful place to holiday.
This is part of the base of the Takayama "nob".
The Toyama "nob", our cabin is hidden by trees a little to the right of centre. 
Another portion of the base of Takayama. The guys have fun climbing on the
sandstone here.

25 July, 2017

New rhythms

This week we've quickly gotten into a new temporary rhythm.
Another photo to help me remember our time away...

  • The boys have swapped their household chores. We do things a little differently around here. Boys have jobs they do for years at a time. So a change is significant. Thankfully they all seem to be happy with the change.
    • To mark moving into high school our middle son is now in charge of his own washing, he's also taken over the job his big brother had of hanging up all the washing for the family through the week.
    • Our youngest has taken on his big brother's job too: breakfast washing during the week.
    • Our eldest is moving in to new territory. He will be helping more with meal preparation. He also suggested that I could consider him a "house-elf", which apparently is something from Harry Potter. We'll see how that all works out.
  • Speaking of Harry Potter, we've embarked on a seven-day marathon of Harry Potter movie watching. Tonight is number two.
  • All three need to work on their fitness, so David proposed that they could all go for a run at 5pm. That worked yesterday, then this afternoon we had a thunderstorm that put them all off kilter and no running happened at all. Hopefully they'll be able to get into a rhythm with this.
  • This week David and our eldest are in charge of menu and meals. David's a good cook, so there's no concerns there. Our son is quite adequate at following a recipe, but he's a little inexperienced when it comes to main meals. Last night we ended up eating quite late as a result.

And I'm sitting at my computer working. I'm glad to be back at work, actually, as holidays were getting boring. But I'm feeling a bit frustrated this evening. I'm plodding along at a pace that doesn't seem to be making too many inroads into what needs to be done. Indeed my To Do list is growing faster than I can cross things off on it.

The weather doesn't help me a lot. It's hot and humid. We typically try to live economically, which means without air con as much as possible. At this time of year that translates to turning it on some time during the morning or early afternoon when I'm sick of coping in the heat (David seems to be much more tolerant, maybe because he grew up in a hotter climate than I). I lasted until 2pm today. Nights are challenging too. We have no air con in our bedrooms. For me, going to sleep when my room is 30C+ and no breeze is hard. We have a floor fan and I use an "ice pillow" (like a slow-melting ice pack), but when I woke to use the toilet at 2.30 the ice pillow was already room temperature. To get back to sleep I wet my t-shirt and hair, which worked.

Tomorrow I'm determined to get up earlier (I've been lazy, still on holiday-mode these last couple of days) and get more done!

24 July, 2017

Photos from our two-week holiday

It's been quiet here over the last couple of weeks because I've been away with my family on our summer holidays. In contrast to last year we didn't go to numerous camping sites, so I had less to blog about. In addition to technological difficulties making blogging hard, I decided to take a complete break. It was nice, though I have to admit I was feeling a bit bored by the end of the time.

I've hit the ground running today as I've tried to gather up the threads of various responsibilities that I let go during our time away. But I'll share a some photos from our holidays with you as a means of getting started again. These are all unedited photos from my "big" camera.

Our first two nights were spent with a friends who live on the west coast of Japan. They took us to a park where we wandered around for an hour or two.

 Walking. The temperature was perfect, high 20s (Celsius).

One of the ferns in the park.

From there we drove north along the coast to a small, historical town. We stayed in an old ryokan (Japanese inn). The area has had hot spring baths for 1,300 years! It was everything I imagined an old ryokan would be: poky (building), intimate, friendly hostess.

The next day we continued driving north for a while. It's usually hard to find places to stop to see the Japanese coastline, but this day we happened upon one and I made an impulsive decision to stop the car. We all got out and went for a ramble on a track along the coast.

Then we turned inland to find Lake Tazawa and our campsite.

We were not lake-side but had a spectacular secluded spot up the hill a little. You can just spy the lake on the left of this photo of one of our sunsets.

This campsite was amazing. Usually campsites in Japan don't have grass sites.

The lake-side beach. We enjoyed several hours over two days at this inland beach.

A rather fat bug. Caterpillar?

The green was fantastic. I found this wall a bit further round the lake.

We hired bikes and rode round the lake. David and our eldest did the whole lake: 20km. The younger two chose to ride a shorter distance, but we still covered 13km along this road. So gorgeous.

The campsite had two pet rabbits. They are called "Jumbo" and apparently are a traditional type of rabbit for the area. There is an annual Jumbo Rabbit festival for them in the prefecture!

Dragon fly on the tent fly rope!

Then we drove east, then south, then east again, finally arriving at the east coast.

Here we stayed ten nights at a recently renovated OMF cabin. We were very lazy!

You didn't have to look hard to see evidence of the giant tsunami from 6 ½ years ago. Just down the hill they are rebuilding a large wall to prevent future tsunamis from invading the land.

This is the nob of land that we were perched on. The tsunami didn't reach up to the various cabins perched up there. In a later post I'll explain how it came to be that more than 50 cabins belonging to missionaries are on this and the nearby nob.

Enough of a view to see the ocean. It was a very peaceful place to spend the second half of our holidays. Though I missed the exhilaration of camping, the peace we enjoyed with our teens was probably worth it. We played hours and hours of board games (no WiFi or TV or DVD player). We can't remember the last time we spent 10 days of a holiday in one place, so it was probably very good for us. 

09 July, 2017

What's this Japanese object?

I haven't posted a photo like this for a long time. Can you guess what this white Japanese household item is used for? The ordinary-sized coat hanger is included for size comparison. (If you live, or have lived in Japan, let's wait and see what guesses other people come up with.)

06 July, 2017

Moving from overwhelming to simple

Note the "overwhelming price" here. It was everywhere
in the store. I'm not sure that that's what they meant!
I was initially amused, though, by the thought of a
swimming melon!
I finished the most pressing items on my work's to-do-before-holidays list. At times the last couple of weeks have been a bit like this store I visited yesterday: overwhelming. I'm really happy to be walking away now for a couple of weeks.

Wall mural I spotted at a McDonalds restaurant.
Soon I'll be "Enjoying the simple things in life", like time with family, campfires, reading, etc.

I'm not sure how much I'll be posting here in the coming weeks. Especially as I won't have a computer and as the mobile app for Blogger has not been updated by the developer for a long time, it is getting harder and harder to post from my phone.

05 July, 2017

Today, very different to yesterday

Yesterday I spent looking at a computer screen. Today I've hardly been home. I met up with a friend and we went riding to my favourite ride-to park, then we rode another couple of kilometres further to a cafe for lunch. Later in the afternoon was self-maintenance, including a hair cut and then a video call with my life-long friend, Melina in Australia.

It was such a good counterbalance to yesterday and tomorrow. I've now got one more day of computer work, then I can walk away for 16 days and pretend I have no responsibilities beyond my immediate family.
The hydrangeas were still out at the park.
We had the edge of typhoon sweep through last night and this is a post-typhoon sky. All washed-clean. The air was
still humid and sticky, but the heat wasn't as intense as earlier in the week.
I love the moss! In the background is the dog-run.
Never enough hydrangea photos at this time of year!
We found some flowers that we don't know. Anyone?
Yummy lunch and non-stop conversation. I love investing time
with friends, especially here where you don't know how long you'll
have them for.