24 June, 2017

Today's picnic

Part of our picnic mat. In Japan picnic mats are almost always plastic.
Today we dropped our youngest son off at an English summer camp for middle schoolers run by some local missionaries. It is the the third of the series of camps where our eldest son is a leader (US = counsellor). The camp is held at a campsite owned by SEND International and is towards the western tip of Tokyo. It's close to where we did our first two camping trips way back in 2011. There are 80 campers there until Thursday. We're praying for those tired leaders and cooks and maintenance staff!

This pink area is Tokyo "prefecture". We live at the purple arrow, we drove out
to the red arrow today.
Our son was due at camp at 2pm, so we decided to leave early and have a picnic at Tama River. It's the river that comes from Tama Dam, part of Tokyo's water supply. A gorgeous place that's not all that far from us (though it does take between 1 ½ to 2 hours to get there). The river runs very close to the campsite.
Alas, I forgot my "big" camera. But the iPhone isn't too bad. We went for a stroll after lunch, stopping at
promising spots to climb on rocks.

Middle son, foiling my attempt at taking his photo. He
has many good memories of this part of Tokyo, having
been to a few camps there himself.

As well as climbing, skipping rocks was a popular pastime for a bit.

On the way home we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at a coffee shop. It's nice to just have one boy at home for a bit, much less expensive. We're thinking it's be a little holiday-like here at home this week.

22 June, 2017

Sleep deprived nation

Japan is a sleep deprived nation. If you live here and travel around on trains, there's no need to look at a study to know that. Morning or night, people fall asleep in all sorts of public places. I don't normally like to take photos of people sleeping in public, but in the last week I've had two opportunities to do so without embarrassing anyone.

People often stop their cars or trucks (especially work vehicles) and sleep in them, often with the engines running. This gentleman was in a work vehicle, stopped next to a local park with a cloth over his face. The time was 6pm.

This lady, I presume, was having a cat-nap. It was at a local food court at 10.30 on Monday morning.

Many people, especially men, come home very late from work (8 is early). School children also often are doing cram classes or sports training late into the evening. It isn't unusual to see kids on the trains after 9pm. Indeed it seems that many pre-school kids are kept up late too. Having a 7/7.30 bedtime for our young boys seemed extraordinarily early to my Japanese friends. So exhaustion seems pervasive in the whole lifestyle here. It's no surprise people are sleeping any time they get the chance.

Napping in public is actually a sign of diligence in Japan, this article says. Indeed it seems to be quite the acceptable thing, as long as you don't sprawl. It's not uncommon to see people asleep on the train falling to one side or other. That isn't so acceptable.

But apparently lost sleep is costing Japanese economy billions. I'm not sure how they figured this out. But this article says:
[the researchers] tapped into government and large company data sets on sleep duration to estimate defined costs. It also predicted the future economic effects if the trend continued. Absenteeism (people not showing up for work), employees not working (people taking breaks), and presenteeism (people being present but working at a sub-optimal level) were the reasons traced for the unproductivity.
It is a significant problem, obviously, and not just for economic reasons. This Japan Times article gives an example of someone who ended up with clinical depression due to overwork. Death by overwork is recognised by society and if it can be proven then employer is in trouble.

But why is this such an ingrained part of the culture, you may ask? Well, people have written whole books on this, so this little blog post is barely going to touch the surface. 

One theory is that the culture has been formed by the rice-growing past. Growing rice is not only requires constant attention, but it also requires collective work, hence we've got a hard-working culture where it's hard to change individual habits. It is frowned upon to leave many workplaces exactly when your shift is over, in fact, leaving before the boss is a no-no in an office environment. I've never worked in a Japanese office, but this is what I've heard and read. (One article about the "rice theory": rice paddies and culture).

In any case. It's difficult to change culture, and that seems especially the case in Japan. So, though the government is trying to make changes, I'm not sure that we'll be seeing less public sleeping any time soon.

21 June, 2017

Kids newsletter

Our latest Kids newsletter for your enjoyment. You can contact me for a full-sized pdf version. Feel free to use it however you wish.

20 June, 2017

My weekend

This last weekend I spent about six hours on trains over two days. 

I travelled from our western Tokyo home to east of the capital for an OMF gathering that included some long-term missionaries, but mostly foreigners who aren't officially with OMF, but also have a heart for reaching Japanese. Most Our region of OMF has been trying to provide some support and encouragement for such folk and this three-hour worship, fellowship, and discussion time was part of that. I enjoyed it, but it remains true that our headquarters is a long way from home.

Then on Sunday I travelled from home to Yokohama, south of Tokyo. This was an equally long journey. Just like Saturday, it involved three of four trains and about one and a half hours.
We met our friend at the train station nearest where the
church was meeting and we found an attractive little
pizza restaurant nearby. This is the salad that came
with the pizza. Minimalist, but tasty.

I took a friend to Yokohama and we met another friend who lives down there for lunch, Bible study, and then church at 2.15. We joined with a small OMF church plant for their worship time. 

My intention was to introduce our friend, who's moved to Yokohama, to a church down there. It was also a good thing to do. It's not very often that we get to see what other OMF colleagues are doing. Seeing a young church plant reminded me to pray for our colleagues even more. It's tough, slow work in Japan!

I was pretty tired at the end of the weekend. But I'd been fairly tired to start the weekend. I've been dodging illness-bullets for some time now, but obviously not taking time-off over the weekend was all that was needed to end my winning streak and I ended up at the doctor with an infection yesterday afternoon. I was pretty wiped out from lunch on. Thankfully it's an easy-to-treat infection and I'm already feeling better.

I'm thankful too that my job is fairly flexible and it isn't usually too hard to take things easy if I need to. The trick that I haven't yet found is how to avoid these situations altogether. I don't think I'm terrible at managing my time, but somehow I get over busy and I periodically get physical reminders like this, that I need to take some time to rest.. Probably it's a great blessing that these are relatively small things, gauges to help me see when I'm getting too worn out.

At this point I'm looking forward to our holidays. We're going away for a while in July. The rest is much needed and much anticipated. For three of the nights we'll be camping at Lake Tazawa (check out the lakeside campsite) towards the north of this island, with other venues planned either side of that. I'm looking forward to new experiences and stepping away from most of my responsibilities for a bit.

16 June, 2017

Life's been a bit topsy-turvy this week

Feeding the family continues. I made these brownies from
scratch yesterday and some are already gone. That's a
good sign! It's the first time I've made brownies from scratch.
Probably they're healthier than the packet-mix ones, they're
certainly lighter in texture.
It's time for a "what's been going on in our neck of the woods" type post.

This has been a topsy-turvy type week, as is usual in our house, the first week that students are on summer holidays, with the usual schedules all out the window.

Monday to Wednesday David was at school full-time participating/leading various compulsory meetings and finishing off his responsibilities for the school year. The boys were "full-time" at home.

Well, that's not quite true. Our eldest went off on a two-night hiking/camping trip in the mountains west of here with more than a dozen of his friends. You might think it is crazy to let a bunch of teenagers do that, but it's safe in Japan and looking at the character of this group of kids, we had no concerns at all. Oh, and one of them was a scout while another has exceptional orienteering skills. So our son was gone from Sunday lunch time till late on Tuesday, then Wednesday was a recovery day.

Our youngest son hung out most of the time with a classmate who lives nearby and has both parents as teachers. The boys spent most mornings outside and afternoons upstairs in his bedroom here.

Our middle son was home almost full-time. The most extreme introvert of the family, he's enjoyed being a homebody and having few people to interact with.

Thursday and Friday David's been at school part-time, doing preparation for next week (summer school) and next year (handing over some of his classes).

Our youngest and middle sons continued a similar schedule to the above. 

Our eldest son had training at school yesterday for the two weeks he's left for today as a summer camp "leader" (Americans call it "counselor"). During those two weeks they have three camps coming through, first one is grades 1 and 2! Then 3–5 and finally from next Saturday is 6–8. They're going to be busy and have a lot of fun. But it also is a paid gig!

There's no doubt about it, having older boys is definitely a different parenting lifestyle. But I like it.

My week?
And through all the above? Aside from Monday morning, I've mostly been at home trying to catch up on what has been put on the back-burner over the last month as I dealt with a senior graduating and parents visiting. I'm finally feeling a little more on top of things again. 

Oh, as well as mopping up the final things from the events that I helped coordinate for the seniors over the last ten months. I'm so glad that that is almost completely done. I don't think I'll be volunteering to such an extent for our younger two sons classes!

I also went out with a couple of friends for dinner on Wednesday night and that was a lot of fun.

This morning I did one of my least favourite chores: a starving blood test as part of an annual check-up provided by the Japanese medical system. 

I'm a little peeved, though. From my experience trying to get a blood test for an OMF medical last year, I knew that in Japan you can't get health maintenance checks at the "wrong" time of the year. But I'm due (according to Australian recommendations) for a couple of female-health tests. However it seems that I'm the wrong age. You can only have these two particular tests at a certain time of the year and only if you're 41, 43, or 45 (you get the idea, an "odd" age). But next year, when I'll be the "right" age, the tests will be in the second half of the year (as best as I understand the schedule) and by then I'll be back in Australia for a year! 

Sigh. As I'm not particularly worried about anything, I guess I'll have to wait another seven months till I'm in Australia settling out eldest son into university in February, to get those particular tests done. It's going to be a great visit to Australia (sarcasm intended!), but at least I'll be able to do it all in English.

So, in a summary, in the last twelve days we've gone from seven people in the house, to five, to four, back to five, (with an extra boy in there for several afternoons, but not for meals) and now four for the next eight days. Then, from the 24th, we'll have six days of three of us in the house, when our youngest goes away to summer camp himself. My meal planning and grocery shopping has taken a bit of a hit. Not to mention my sense of "normal". I remind myself occasionally that it's okay to feel a little off-balance.

15 June, 2017

Share my world #3

Camping and photography combined last summer!
Taken at sunrise at Lake Biwa.
I slipped off the wagon with this one. It's been a month since I last responded to the prompt. Here are this week's questions and answers:

What do you do when you’re not working?
I could write an essay on this, but my simple answer is: Read, watch DVD episodes, play word or card or other simple games on my phone, crafting, coffee with friends, riding my bike, photography, camping.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
I don't play the lottery, but if someone gave me a significant amount of money above and beyond what we needed, I might buy my first house or apartment in Australia. I'd probably also use some to support other missionaries.
What makes you laugh the most?
Yikes, that's hard. Possibly irony?
What is your biggest pet peeve with modern technology?
That I don't understand it well enough to fearlessly fix it myself when things go wrong with something like email that I use on a daily basis for my work.
Optional Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I'm grateful that the regular school year has finished for everyone now. 
I'm doing something unusual on Sunday, taking a couple of friends to visit a church plant run by OMF colleagues in Yokohama.

This prompt comes from Cee's Photography blog. 

14 June, 2017

Summer holidays guidelines (2017 edition)

Last year around this time I posted about our family's "Summer Holiday Guidelines". It worked fairly well last year, so we're doing it again. Hopefully now they're one year older we'll see an even better response.

Here are our revised guidelines: