18 January, 2018

Relatively pricey

When we first came to Japan in 2000 it was a significantly more expensive place to live compared to Australia. Since then prices haven't changed dramatically in Japan, but they have in Australia. 

Living away from Australia for large chunks of time puts the changes there into something like a time-capsule for us. When we return we notice the changes there more dramatically than those who have experienced them in small increments.

This last time we lived there (2014/15) we especially noticed how expensive going out to eat was compared to Japan. The fact that we now have much bigger boys who are much more hungry, doesn't help. But in Japan we can feed them a reasonable-size meal, not too unhealthy meal at a family-style restaurant for under 1,000 yen (or just over $11). I doubt that's possible in most places in Australia.

This article that the ABC published this week confirms what we know from experience: 
"So Australians have become richer, but Australia has become much more expensive. Japan has seen its income rise by far less, but prices haven't moved much at all."
So when we return in July, part of re-entry experience will be figuring out what a "good price" for common products are, as well as getting used to the fact that things just cost more. 

Yikes. I'm looking forward to shopping, yet I'm not looking forward to it either!

17 January, 2018

Counting the blessings

This is one of my all-time favourite camping memories—when I accidentally
caught this sunrise over Lake Biwa. I think that writing this blog
and getting into photography a bit has helped me seek out beauty and
things to share with you. It's a mindset that isn't so far away from having
a gratitude to my creator for even the smallest things.
This morning in the Our Daily Bread reading we were encouraged to be grateful for the small things. I realised that I do thank God most days for the small things. I'm grateful that God's given me a grateful heart.

Just now I'm feeling under pressure from a variety of angles, as you'll know from my recent posts. There's a lot going on. But I want to stop a moment and list some of the ways God is blessing us through his people. Whenever we do these big international moves we have more needs and are more dependent on others that we are used to. It is always a bit scary, and then we get these wonderful surprises and the joy of being blessed practically by people's generosity.

Here are some things that have happened recently or are currently in the works:
  • a friend to pick my son and I up from the airport in Brisbane on Feb 6
  • same friend who will help us get a phone and negotiate our way through phone plans for my son
  • same friend is seeking to get me a temporary phone I can use in Australia (my Japanese phone is locked, so it's not feasible to use it outside of WiFi in Australia)
  • friends organised accomodation and a car for me for the two weeks I'm in Brisbane
  • friends on both sides have offered help "with whatever"
  • three friends in two different "groups" are looking at organising small get-togethers with people while I'm in Australia
  • another special friend organising a get-away for her and me
  • some other very special friends are working on a way for our two families to meet in early July (they don't live near Brisbane)
  • we've got two meetings in churches already scheduled, personal contacts from leaders in the church who genuinely want to meet with us and hear how we are! Churches that have been with us for nearly two decades now.
  • lots of people want to know how we're doing, how our kids are
That's a lot of blessings, right there. 

I nearly was in tears over the texting conversation that resulted in the first three points here. I'd had these things on my heart that day and that evening our friend contacted me and said, "Is there anything I can do?" When I presented these needs to him his response was, "No worries!"

I'm not being lighthearted when I say that being more dependent on others is an opportunity to be blessed by God. It's the kind of neediness that we humans tend to try to avoid, but somehow missionary life puts us in that kind of position again and again. 

It's at times like those that I can say, almost wholeheartedly: "That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10 NIV).

16 January, 2018

Toilet scenes

I discovered this helpful sign in one of  the cubicles
at our snow camp. The toilet seat was heated (which made
you linger when faced with sub-zero temperatures outside).
However, I didn't linger long enough to do origami with
the end of the toilet paper.
As an aside, it is very common to find the end folded neatly
with the corners simply tucked under, generally, I think,
a sign that no one has used it since the cubicle was cleaned.
The Japanese toilet has a bit of an international reputation as being amazing. It's not an unfounded rumour. One facility at an expressway roadside stop that we visited last year had an amazing atmosphere: almost like a living room. There was subtle lighting, indoor plants, and TVs you could sit and watch. And that was even before you got into the cubicle. In the cubicle were lots of hooks and shelves for belongings as well as a sign telling you not to forget to take your belongings with you when you left. The cubicles were a complete room, with a roof and everything...or maybe that was another rest stop. I can't quite remember and alas, I didn't take photos.
Not all toilets in this land are amazing, some are dirty, some are traditional Asian squatty potties. We've seen drop-toilets, when we've been out camping. At some campsites we've been dodging the spiders or frogs. They are generally not as prudish about privacy, especially in public parks. In our second apartment in Sapporo we overlooked a park and could see straight into the men's loo from our verandah, there was no door. Thankfully we were a couple of floors up, but it wasn't what you'd see in Australia.

But for all those, you also see some pretty flash toilets in the city. Especially in hotels and shopping centres. But sometimes you are surprised at what they've decided to include, and that's when I want to stop and take a photo.

One of the big treats here in winter is heated toilet seats. We're lucky to have two of them in our own house. It really helps when the room is below 10 degrees for months on end.
But I have collected some photos and I'm happy to share them with you today.
This is our downstairs toilet and all its functions. I have occasionally used these, but mostly not. Mostly we're just happy that it heats. Here's a blog post with English explanations of how to use this.

This type of provision is becoming more common.

I discovered this in a toilet cubicle under a downtown shopping centre at New Years. I was surprised at its beauty because it was just off an underground car park. It had fancy coat hooks that swivelled.

And some interesting English!

This I found today at our local train station. So many hooks. Three double-hooks on this wall and you can just see on the left-hand wall an umbrella hook.

Outside the above cubicle in the hand-washing section were two basins, each with umbrella hooks and a shelf under the mirror (not pictured). 

Next to that was two "private" cubicles where you could fix your make-up/hair or whatever. They both had three shelves and an umbrella hook (with signs) too. Whoever fixed this bathroom up liked their umbrella hooks!

It is not uncommon in some places to find toilet slippers (at the gym, an hot springs, in hotels, even churches and homes). The idea is again, separation of the dirty and "clean", like changing your shoes at the front door. This was the hot springs that we used at our October camp for showers (there were none at the campsite). They've thoughtfully provided small slippers for children, though why they had blue slippers in the girl's loo I'm not sure.

15 January, 2018

Glasses—three pairs!

Nothing says your 40s like multiple pairs of glasses! But actually I've been juggling two pairs of glasses since my early adult years. I'm short sighted with astigmatism, so I've used glasses for distance since my late teens and had prescription sunglasses since I was 20. For decades I've been switching my glasses out the front of shops and other buildings as I move from outside to inside.

Only in the last couple of years have I needed transition lenses—lenses that allow me to read while I'm wearing my glasses. Now, it seems, I actually need reading glasses. I can read without them, but my eyes tire quickly. Even reading a book on my lap for a longer period with my transition lenses is hard, as there is only a small area where the print is completely clear.

For work on the computer, reading in bed, and for reading music, I use the ones on the left. The middle ones are my all-range glasses. Distance on top and reading on the bottom. The sunglasses lenses really need updating, they are for distance, but an old prescription. I can't read with them on, which is a pain when reading a map while in the car or my phone in bright sunshine.

I must say that I'm really enjoying the reading glasses. They make working on the computer and reading in bed a much better experience! Especially reading in bed. The frames are very thin and perfect for lying on my side on a pillow. Not as perfect as reading without glasses at all, but as close as you can get using glasses.

But it is a new challenge to change glasses when I change from working at the computer to doing other things. Turning away from the computer to look at someone across the room isn't great with reading glasses on. I understand the challenge that I've seen preachers deal with: reading their sermon with glasses on and having to take them off to look at the congregation. I haven't lost them yet, but I suspect that's probably in the works (and no, I'm not keen at all to hang them around my neck).

I've not really felt really "young" for quite some time now, but this really is a measurable step away from youth. There's quiet grief that underlies that—that I'm irreversibly moving away from a body that works as well as it was made to work. I guess, one of the blessings of older age (apart from growing in wisdom) could be that it is easier to be less attached to life here on this imperfect earth with an increasingly broken body? Easier to long for a perfect heaven with a perfect body?

This is a follow-up post from Dec 28, when I'd had the middle pair only a few days. This was my very first foray personally into the Japanese glasses scene. I'm definitely more used to my Japanese-transition glasses than I was, but they aren't yet 100% intuitive.

14 January, 2018

Our yesterday

There's lots going on here (a photo shoot, job-planning meetings, transition planning our son, schedule planning for Australia for Wendy, home assignment planning...actually lots of planning). 
Pinning one of his opponents.

But to pause for a moment and acknowledge what happened yesterday: we watched our youngest son begin his wrestling season for this year.

It's exciting to see how far he's come in the in the last two years. Yesterday he showed he wasn't a very beginner; he had more moves in his repertoire, and it looked good. He tried different moves, when one didn't work, he moved onto another. He also showed more resilience as he bounced back after a scare with his thumb in his second match (the ligament he partially tore last year is still causing some concern).

He's also now finally at the age that his eldest brother started wrestling. We found a video of that very first meet of his brother's and that made for an interesting comparison. Our youngest has basically grown up around wrestling, so knows what's going on, even if he has still to build up the muscle-memory and strategic thinking that goes with being better than a beginner. Our eldest was pretty clueless when he first stepped on that mat. 

Hey, we were clueless spectators at that point! The end of the video of our eldest's first wrestle was pretty funny. David was taping it with his phone (which made for some interesting video footage as he wobbled around with the action) and said nothing the whole match until the very end. At that point our son pinned his opponent and that was one of the few things David knew about the sport. Suddenly hearing him shout in triumph and utter, "A pin" in surprise, was hilarious.

I guess, being less clueless at this point, we know what we're probably in for . . . another five years of sitting in gyms on Saturdays watching wrestling. I am excited by that prospect (except for the exhaustion that comes with it).

Yesterday was also interesting because the CAJ team was almost entirely a Marshall affair. The team has three wrestlers, one was ill, so it was our son and one other. I went as a mum/spectator/video operator; David was the coach; and our eldest went as an unofficial assistant. The CAJ van on the way there was 80% Marshalls. It was 100% Marshalls on the way home as the other team member went home on the train with his family. Who could have imagined that in 2011 when this whole wrestling-saga began for us?

The middle-school season is short. Just two more tournaments and it's over. I'm looking forward to them (as usual). Probably nervous too. Yesterday I was more nervous at the start than I'd anticipated. I thought that a "mere" middle school meet would be easy after the drama of our eldest son's season last year, but obviously not!

Oh, did I mention that the US ambassador was there yesterday too? I guess when an ambassador has school-aged kids they have to go to school and why not send them to the American School in Japan! And, if they're sporty, why not go and watch their matches? The other CAJ wrestler's family brought a couple of missionary friends and one was chatting to this guy without knowing who he was. The inevitable question, "So what brings you to Japan?" was asked. Imagine being able to answer that with, "Oh, I'm your country's ambassador"?

12 January, 2018

Memory lane

Yesterday I took a different destination for a long ride. I had a language exchange meeting at our usual spot, but instead of taking the train two stops, I rode my bike. A 5.5k ride that took 24 minutes. It was a chilly start, but a beautiful blue-sky day with little wind.

After we chatted in Japanese and English for two hours we parted. I bought some lunch at a local convenience store (truly convenient and cheap—I spent less than AU$5) and rode to a place I used to know well: our old neighbourhood. We lived only 1.6k from the station, but I remember it was a long trek with three little boys.

You see we lived here from 2005 for four years, our youngest spent his babyhood and toddler years here. Our eldest finished kindergarten, started Japanese school, and transitioned to CAJ when we lived here. Our middle son completed all three years of Japanese kindergarten while living here. 
You can see our old house in the centre of the photo, the first place we lived in Tokyo. 
When we first moved here all the newer houses in the foreground (and another 30+ besides) weren't there. This was all a mini forest that we loved looking out upon. All our five main rooms looked out on green and we couldn't believe that this was Tokyo.

That all changed within a year when the owner of the "forest" died and his family redeveloped the land to build many houses. It was very sad, and a story that remains dear to our hearts.

But yesterday I took time to sit in a tiny park created in the middle of that "new" development as I ate my lunch and pondered those years.

They were crazy years, we had a baby, 2 y.o. and 6 y.o. when we moved there. We knew almost no one in Tokyo and jumped straight into the Japanese schooling system without any foreigners nearby. CAJ, where my husband began working less than a month after we moved in, was a 6 km ride or 20 minutes drive away. We knew almost no one there too, and it took a long time for me to get to know people at CAJ because I got over there only infrequently.

As I mentioned above, our eldest son had a lot of change during those four years and it wasn't pretty. Getting to and from the kindergarten one kilometre away twice a day wasn't pretty, as I tried to walk at least once a day, but, well, I didn't have the most cooperative kids (and they were heavy, so I didn't try to ride or put them all in one stroller). Parenting wasn't pretty.

This is the place where I learned that I didn't really like teaching English, and none of us liked home schooling. It's where we battled through a singularly nasty gastro bug that took down not just all of us, but David's sister and new husband, all within 36 hours! Where I accepted the gift of a pack of toilet paper from a kindergarten mum who was concerned for us.

But there are many good memories from this time too. My best Japanese friend (who, incidentally, I'd just had coffee with that morning) I met at the kindergarten on our middle son's first day. She's been a gift from God!

During the four years of living here God took me from a place of not knowing why he called me to Japan, to seeing a light at the end of the tunnel (in the shape of writing and editing). This is the house where I started writing this blog.

And of course, we've got good memories of our kids from those four years. This is where two of them learned to ride bikes without trainer wheels. Where my eldest son said, "I love your costume," when I came down in a skirt after a long, cold winter. It's the place where we used to talk about "Guruguru Yama" (round and round mountain), a man-made hill in the nearby former leprosy colony where the local kids would play.

This is where we learnt so much about Japanese culture. And where I learnt more about depending on God when my human resources had petered out.

All these, and more, were the thoughts that I pondered yesterday as I sat and ate my lunch. It was a pleasant journey down memory lane. A thankful time. A time to remember what God has brought us through and how he shaped us for the next part of the journey.

This is a nearby baseball field. We used to go and play here when being inside
got to be too much. It is part of a much larger fenced-area that used to be a leprosy colony.
A few times we played cricket here, sometimes while baseball practise was going on at the
other end of the field, much to the bewilderment of the baseball players!

11 January, 2018

What's your ministry?

This was part of our presentation last time: my "hat story"
describing briefly some of my roles. I need to figure out another
creative way to do this this time...or maybe I should just do
hats again?
In preparing for home assignment, we have to pull out a whole lot of other tricks. Things that involve telling people about what we do and about Japan—both written information and spoken information. We also need to pull out our schedule coordinating skills!

In our January prayer letter we called for people to start scheduling us to speak at churches or other groups from July, and we've already had enquiries. One person asked for a short blurb about our ministries. So, because I like writing here so much, I decided to write a blurb here and get your feedback. What do you think? Is it sufficient for someone who doesn't know us, but might consider having us speak to their group? Honestly I do so many little bits and pieces it's hard not to find a nice middle ground (not too much or too little) in describing what I do. (Noting that, of course, the audience is Australians and that it will mostly be used after our son starts university.)

David and Wendy are Queenslanders who have been OMF missionaries in Japan since 2000.

Since 2005 David has worked at the Christian Academy in Japan, located in Tokyo. He's a maths and science teacher and an administrator at the school that supports many missionaries by educating their children. In 2017 he took on the role of Director of Teaching and Learning that includes overseeing curriculum and professional development and membership in the leadership team of the school.

Wendy is an editor and writer. She's the managing editor of a quarterly magazine by and for missionaries (Japan Harvest). She also is the manager and editor of OMF Japan's blog and social media content. Her role includes project management of various publications by OMF Japan. She's been a regular blogger about missionary life and ministry since 2009 at on the edge of ordinary.

We have three sporty teenage boys who are thriving. The youngest two are with us in Japan and at the school where David teaches. Our eldest has graduated and started studying at the University of Queensland this year.