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.

04 July, 2017

What's been going on in our house this week?

It's been head-down for me here as I try to get everything vital done in my various roles before we go away on our summer holidays on Friday.
This time last year we'd already begun
our epic camping tour. This year's holiday
will include less camping, but we will,
Lord willing, get three nights under
canvas at a lake up north.

I've been:

  • doing final checking of the Summer issue of Japan Harvest magazine
  • working on content for the new OMF Japan website (due for launch August 4)
  • working on acquiring and producing blog posts that will feed content onto the above website (and you know how addicted I am to blogging—it's been a bit difficult to focus on anything else)
  • learning new software: Wordpress.org in order to do the above
  • editing articles for my writing critique group, and for the Autumn issue of Japan Harvest
  • chasing up articles that are late for the Autumn issue
  • editing my own writing for several different sources
So yes, really all text- and computer-based. My dream is that one day I might be able to ease into going away, rather than work to the last minute and pack with my head only half on what's to come, but mostly on what's not quite finished!

David's been at school for part of most days. He's been doing things at his desk, while simultaneously providing access to the robotics room so that some scouts can tidying it up before the new school year, a service project, I'm told.

The boys are all very relaxed, going to bed late and getting up late. Sometimes hanging out with friends, but generally quietly doing things at home. Really very different to when they were younger. This morning both David and I left before anyone got up. I went to a coffee shop to work and David to school. It's very different, this stage of not having to have someone at home to supervise every moment.

Last night we enjoyed hanging out over a BBQ with nearby friends before we each leave town on our respective summer holidays. It's real bliss to have the freedom to do that on a Monday night!

We've also had a heat-wave come through these last couple of days. Up till now the temperatures have been in the mid to high 20s (Celsius) most of the time. But since the weekend it's been low to mid 30s, with high humidity. It was 32C in our bedroom last night when we went to go to bed. I bailed and we slept on our air mattress in the air conditioned lounge (we don't have functional air con in the bedrooms). That was after a bad sleep on Sunday night. The night started out at 30C and was down to only 28C by the morning.

These temperatures this early in the season are unusual, but it won't be long before it gets that hot and stays that hot until late August or mid September. It's a dilemma as to whether I dislike a Tokyo summer or winter more.

Now, though, it's raining. I'm guessing that the heat has broken for the time being.

02 July, 2017

Shaming cleans up our city?

Tomorrow is the first day of a new system of rubbish collection in our city. Up till last October all rubbish was put out at community rubbish stations. Some of these were really badly positioned (like on the road). And some got quite messy, like the one below.

I took this photo today while on our way to church. It used to have green, blue, and pink bins in it like the photo below, but these were removed in October. Alas someone or some people aren't following the rules.
Last October our city (Higashi Kurume) began a transition to all rubbish being collected from in front of your house. Tomorrow is the first day that all rubbish (except milk cartons and styrofoam) are collected from in front of your house.

My curious boys wondered about this: "Why?" I asked a Japanese friend and she didn't hesitate before saying, "Shame." 

She went on to explain that if you put out the wrong rubbish or if the crows get into it, it is clear whose responsibility it is to clean it up. They also might be hoping to reduce the amount of rubbish put out by people. Tokyo, like most big cities, has the nightmare of rubbish disposal with little space. She also wondered, out loud, if people might be inclined not to drink so much as a pile of beer cans outside your house is also potentially embarrassing.
This is what a community rubbish disposal centre used to look like. These colour-coded bins are all gone now.
I wonder if Australians would yield to such tactics? 

I did show her a video of our wheelie bins and she was intrigued. Those get smelly too, but at least household rubbish is generally not strewn along the road as can happen here. Yes, I know, Japan has the reputation for being clean and tidy and not without reason, it generally is. Shame is a big motivating factor in keeping your little corner of the city clean.

There are two other changes in rubbish collection. They've reorganised the schedule, David kindly created a nice little chart for the side of our fridge.

From October rubbish disposal will cost us too, we'll have to buy three types of pre-printed  bags to put our rubbish in.

01 July, 2017

Job changes

It's unusual for me to spend most of Saturday at the computer, but that's exactly what I've done today. Thankfully we're going out this evening for a BBQ with American/Canadian friends, so I'll get plenty of social interaction there. And some cultural appreciation, apparently, they've been wanting to invite us over for months now, keen to show us how they do BBQs.

One of the things I did this morning was send out our prayer letter. If you'd like a copy, please email me. But here are some snippets from it that talk a little bit about how our jobs are changing (yes, the first section is written in third person, as is most of the newsletter, so that our readers don't think it is just my letter).

Mobilisation in mission
This lady, Heather, is visiting Japan from the UK OMF office.
She has professional experience in website design and using
social media to promote companies. I was at a meeting with
her all day on Wednesday as we sorted out details on this
new website and blog.
One of the jobs of an OMF missionary is mobilisation. All of us are expected to mobilise people to pray for mission (hence our prayer letters and deputation on home assignments), but also to mobilise people to be more involved in mission in other ways, including going as missionaries. OMF Japan has an initiative at present called 200 by 2020. We’re praying for 200 missionaries in Japan by 2020 (a mixture of long-term and medium-term missionaries). That’s about 50 or so more than we currently have, so obviously there’s work to be done.
Wendy has taken on the role of OMF Japan mobilisation content manager. Which means that she’s been acquiring and editing content for the new OMF Japan website (to be launched in mid-August). A big part of the content of the website will be an OMF Japan blog that Wendy is developing, managing, and editing. We’re hoping to have fresh material up at least once a week. Stay tuned for the details. If you’re a Facebook friend of Wendy or David you should see links to the new blog appearing there soon.
Over the past decade or so Wendy’s also produced a small Japan prayer calendar that OMF missionaries have used to mobilise prayer within their own support base. This year it has become cost prohibitive, so Wendy is now developing one or two other publications that missionaries can use for mobilisation.
Our field leader in mobilisation, the wife of our former field director, has been on compassionate leave since early April, so we’ve struggled to keep going, but thankfully we have regained some momentum. 
It’s a lot of work on top of what Wendy’s already doing, pray for wisdom in use of time, especially during these 11 weeks when boys are on holidays (her office is our living area).

Leadership is Learning (CAJ corner by David)
I am always learning something, whether it is a new piece of technology, or a new batch of student names, and all the personalities that go with them. This coming year will be spent learning more about leadership.
My new role at CAJ includes a large percentage of helping others do their jobs well. To do that, I will need to understand my colleagues better: what are their goals, what are their desires, fears, strengths, and shortcomings. 
Leadership in God’s kingdom centres on serving, rather than commanding. I have learnt over the years that this involves listening and seeking to understand. In Jesus’ grace I hope to do that well for the people under my care this year. Thankfully, will have others to help me, including my predecessor in this role.
Pray for the school as there a number of job shuffles. Nearly 20 of us are doing something a little different next year!