17 August, 2017

Missionary Identity

Here's another thing that I did early in the summer—write three guest blog posts for our UK office about different aspects of identity that missionaries struggle with. 

The OMF office in the UK follows my blog and asked me to write a post on this topic for them. But when I sat down to write, I found there was way too much to say to fit into just one post, so I asked if I could write a series of three, and they agreed. 

These were published over three weeks in July:

16 August, 2017

Wednesday Words

I've been having fun since early May by putting up a once-a-week Facebook status I've called Wednesday Words. 

This photo was taken at the women's retreat I went to in
March. It's an illustration of the international environment
I work in. Here we have people from Germany, Singapore,
Ireland, US, Canada, and Australia. And I'm pretty sure at
least one of these ladies wasn't born in the country that they
are a citizen of. Two of them are also married to men from
other countries (Japan and Cambodia).
Under that title, I've been asking people to comment with words from their English background, specifying a certain category each week. I started out quite broad, with topics like food, clothes, nouns, verbs, and prepositions. But recently have gotten more specific like real estate words, abbreviations, occupations. I've had a great time doing it and regularly get upwards of 70 comments on a post.

It's been great to have a safe place to exchange these without exchanging blows.

Here are just a few things I've learned:

  • snow peas (Aust) = Mange tout (UK)
  • My team is winning (US) = My team are winning (Commonwealth)
  • Clean your teeth twice a day (Commonwealth) = Brush your teeth twice a day (US)
  • He's in hospital (Commonwealth) = He's in the hospital (US) [Though this is a bit complex, I might say the latter if there were only one hospital.]
  • Crossing guard (US) = Lollypop lady (Commonwealth) = Scholar Patrol (South Africa)
  • Hospitalist (US for a doctor who specialises in the care of patients in hospital)
  • General Practitioner or GP (Commonwealth) = Primary Care Physician or PCP (US)
  • Professor (Australia) = Department Chair (US). [This one is also a bit complicated, in Australia a professor is a higher title than in the US.]
  • I'm free on Wednesday (Commonwealth) = I'm free Wednesday (US)
  • Meeting one-on-one (US/Aust) = Meeting on-to-one (British)
  • Outwith (Scottish?) = Outside of (every other form of English?)
  • Take a shower (US) = Have a shower (Australian)
  • I'm working 9 while 5 (Northern UK) = I'm working 9 till 5 or 9 to 5 (other English)
  • One step on (Commonwealth) = One step beyond (US)
There's quite a lot there, and some I'm still not that clear on. Many of the things that come up in these discussions I'm familiar with, but it's great to learn more of the subtle variations. I've also got friends from the UK and Northern Ireland who bring up a whole variety of very regional-specific vocabulary and usage points.

This is a good learning opportunity for me, as I regularly edit the written work of people from a variety of English backgrounds. Our editing policy is that we try to edit to the English background that the author comes from. So, for example, an Australian would not have to change their spelling to US spelling. However, we do try to use vocabulary that the majority of our international audience will know, so we don't allow a word such as "sparkie" (Australian slang for electrician).

I've been a little surprised at how much attention this particular Facebook status has received. I've had people tell me they go looking for this post on Wednesdays. Others who've suggested topics or brought it up in conversation. It works on my FB feed because I have friends from a variety of countries, though I haven't received many comments from Canadians, Singaporeans, New Zealanders or other English-background speakers. Mostly just US, UK, and Australians.

I'm happy to receive suggestions for topics for the future!

This week's Wednesday Word topic is children and parenting. For example, the other day I commented about a US/Japanese friend's new "pram". She was a little bit surprised, as no one had yet called it that, though she understood what I meant. "Stroller" I think, was her word, though other words you could use are "baby car", "buggy", "carriage", "pushchair", depending on what your local English preference is.

15 August, 2017

Japanese superfood?

Yesterday I received this from one of our neighbours across the street. I was about to leave the house to do some errands on my bike and she was coming out of her garden with two of these in her hand. I rarely see her, so when she asked, "Do you eat these?" I wasn't about to say, "No." I asked her how to cook them and she gave me a simple explanation, then asked if I'd like one. I said we'd give it a try, so now I'm committed!

It is called a Bitter Melon (Goya in Japanese). By the looks of it on Google, it is something of an acquired taste, but it is, apparently, a Japanese "superfood". Has anyone out there got a good recipe for this?

14 August, 2017

A new blog

One reason I've found it harder to write here in the last six or seven weeks (aside from being away on holidays and having my family in my "office" all the time) is that I've been in charge of starting a new blog for OMF Japan that links in with our new website. I've really enjoyed it. I do like blogging. But for this blog I'm the managing editor, rather than the writer, with the writers being missionaries serving in Japan with OMF. Although, to get things rolling early on, I've repurposed nine blog posts I wrote five years ago for "on the edge of ordinary", answering challenging questions about my life as a missionary and how I came to be doing what I'm doing.

I'd love it if you came over and had a look at the blog and the rest of the new OMF Japan website also (which isn't so much what I've been doing, although I did write or edit most of the content). Thankfully it isn't just my posts up there anymore, I've managed to get three other writers' stories up too. This is an ongoing project, with the aim to get at least one post up every Tuesday.

Hopefully we'll get some great posts that will give good insight into the lives and ministry of missionaries in Japan. I'll keep sharing the links to various posts here every now and then, perhaps you can continue to check them out and, if you like them, even share them with your friends.

12 August, 2017

An ordinary-type day

On the edge of ordinary. That's what this blog is called. Conceived by the idea that we feel like our lives are pretty ordinary, but understanding that others looking at us don't necessarily think that is so. My writing here is about our "ordinary" lives in an attempt to unveil the ordinariness of our lives to whomever might be interested in reading about it.

Today's been pretty ordinary day-off here. I woke up around 7, pretty usual time lately when we've had no school to send everyone off to.

I read for over an hour in bed, maybe closer to two, finishing off a novel I've been reading. When I went down to have breakfast, I was only the second person up. David, as usual, was the first. He'd made waffles. Two boys soon arrived. The third I woke at noon!

I lounged around after breakfast, playing card and word games on my phone and then picked up a non-fiction book about punctuation that I've been gradually making my way through.

We actually managed to gather everyone for lunch and have a bit of conversation. One bit was about the funeral David planned to attend in the afternoon. It was for the Japanese husband of one of the CAJ staff and father of one of the incoming seniors. A person none of us can recall having met.

After lunch I washed up and did some baking; then I vacuumed the house and cleaned the toilets.

Our eldest left early afternoon to weed at school. He's working on the maintenance team at school now. Something I'm very grateful for. Currently he's working a couple of hours most days.

At 1.45 David left in a black suit and tie for the funeral at our church. He arrived home about two hours later looking sober, but also hot and sweaty. Though the church is air conditioned, there were many people at this 50-year-old professor's funeral and the sanctuary wasn't so cool.

From 4.45 till 5.45 I applied increasing pressure on one boy to go out and get some exercise. He's barely left the house in ten days. Finally he left, but it was a long, tedious process. I'm grateful that I managed to do this without shouting at him, but I was tag-teaming it with David. The other two voluntarily went out for runs.

Until a few minutes ago I've been advising the boy who was making Honey Mustard Chicken for dinner and simultaneously aiding another boy with holiday-homework for Japanese. It looks like dinner will be closer to 7pm than I usually prefer, but that's the price you pay for teaching kids to cook.

Tonight will be a pretty ordinary stay-at-home evening for us. My prediction: I'll read to the boys after dinner while they eat our Saturday-night dessert (ice cream) and David washes up the dishes. Then I'll have a shower and herd the youngest into his bedroom and read the Bible and pray with him. After which I'll come back to the lounge room to watch a couple of episodes of M*A*S*H with David. Then I'll try to herd the other two boys to their bedroom before 10pm and go to bed myself, with a book.

11 August, 2017

My unusual week

I've had a full, but unusual week. Aside from Tuesday morning, this is the first time I've sat at my desk all week.

Almost all of the Japan Harvest magazine team was present for our meeting,
one key member joined us for six hours continuously on Skype!
Annual planning meeting for Japan Harvest magazine. Eleven of us (writers, editors, and advertising director/administration assistant/translator/office manager) gathered for the day. As I anticipated in my last post, it was an exciting day. It isn't easy to make decisions when there are that many people in a meeting, but we made progress in some areas.

What I always appreciate is hearing these people's passion for the magazine. They aren't doing this because they have to. It's not just a job to them, they own the mission. There is a genuine desire to do the best we can to support the mission community in Japan.

We made some progress in planning for my home assignment. We mostly need more editors from early next year, so that's something we're praying for. We also need an additional proofreader, but not because of my home assignment, because our excellent proofreader has taken on another job, so has less time than he used to have.

After lunch David and I took off for the Hakone area. It was a milestone adventure. Our goal was to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary (about six weeks early, but at a much more convenient time). It's the first time we've gone away overnight on our own for ten years (for pleasure, perhaps we've done it once or twice for work). 

This time, with a fairly responsible 18 y.o. in the house and everyone on holidays, we decided to leave the boys on their own. We left a safety net, with friends just down the road. The boys had dinner with them on both of the nights we were away. All went smoothly on that front.

Our accomodation, built on the side of a mountain.

We stayed at a modern Japanese-style hot spring hotel. It was small, only nine rooms. There were men's and women's baths as well as a private shower/tub in each room. Or should I say, "outside" each room: it was on the balcony!

Our room was at the top on in the middle of the photo.
Green viewing from all angles!
It's a mountainous area and our little abode was built on a slope, indeed, only one or two rooms per level. So peaceful. But not just the hotel, the fact that we had no one else to consult about anything. No one to console, or cajole, or manipulate connive to execute a plan. So blissful.
Our personal Japanese hot tub and shower (on the right).
You clean up before you hop in the tub.

We live up near the yellow star and were staying at
the red "pin".

Japanese-style breakfast. Rice, fish, miso soup and seaweed.
With a cold, slightly boiled egg and small accompaniments.

After a Japanese-style breakfast at our lodgings we hiked up the road (aka the side of a mountain) for a kilometre to get to the rope-way that would take us to the local lake. Neither of us are mountain hikers and you surely could tell!

The view from the rope-way was wonderful and well worth the trip. We headed over the top of a ridge (and saw an area where sulphur fumes bubble to the surface of this active volcano) and down to Lake Ashi. We were deposited on its shore and caught a ferry to the other end of the lake where we found a variety of touristy things: shops, museums, and more shops.
From the ropeway down to Lake Ashi. This is part of what seems to have been a huge volcano
or several volcanoes long ago. The lake is a caldron lake, like the one we camped at in July, but
nowhere near as deep (max depth about 45m).

We went and learnt about the history of the area as a major security checkpoint for 250 years. It was a place that the main road (Tōkaido) between Edo (modern day Tokyo), Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka to the west (there were four other roads, but this was the busiest) passed through. Guarded by inhospitable mountains all around, it was hard to travel through this area without going past this checkpoint. What were they checking for? Arms going into Edo and women leaving. Apparently the shogun kept the wives of various area lords captive in Edo. It was a way to ensure that the lords behaved themselves and visited regularly.
Looking out one of the checkpoint gates from inside.

My wonderful husband with our noodle lunch.
We enjoyed a traditional cold-noodle lunch then shaved ice (it was a hot day). And then, after some souvenir shopping, we sipped ice coffee/cocoa while waiting for the next ferry. 

The lake was beautiful and very calm, it hardly felt like we were on the water at all.

Our plan was to go back on the rope-way (we had return tickets), but it closed due to excess fumes, so instead we had to catch a couple of buses.

Oh the bliss of a cool shower on our private balcony when we returned, all hot and sticky! Then another meal, just the two of us. Just as we're not used to going away on our own, we're also not used to multiple meals on our own or out at restaurants. After just a day of it we were craving more veggies and less carbs!

After another Japanese breakfast we headed on our way home, via another lake. We were in no rush to go home, so we drove to the afore mentioned area atop the local ridge with its sulphur fumes. It was open and we wandered around there in a museum for a bit. Learning more about the geography of the area. There wasn't much to see outside, because a fog or low-cloud had descended over the whole area, I'm thankful for the photos I snapped from the rope-way the day before.
The steam emerging out of the volcano. The smell of sulphur was quite strong.
This is where the area sources its hot water for a huge hot springs (onsen) industry.

I love this little sign at the information/ticket window.
I was amazed throughout our couple of days posing as tourists at how much English was available and how many spoke in English to us. This museum was no different, there was a lot of information on the exhibits in English. This really is a different Japan to the one we live in, in our everyday lives.

After this we took a side-trip to another lake, Yamanaka, for lunch and then headed back to Tokyo, stopping for coffee/hot cocoa at a road-side parking area for afternoon tea.

All in all it was a leisurely day and the end of a delightful couple of days away. I could do it again in a heartbeat, though you quickly realise how expensive it is to eat out every meal! Camping takes more energy, but it is much more economical.

05 August, 2017

Exciting magazine gathering

Five years ago we had the first annual planning meeting for the Japan Harvest magazine that I manage. On Monday we'll have the fourth planning meeting (we skipped a couple of years when I went on home assignment).

Our team meeting last year.
At the first meeting we had three people, at the second one we had four people. Last year had six people present in person the whole time and two part-time on Skype. This year we've got ten people lined up to be there in person and one part-time on Skype. I'm astounded. 

That's a huge proportion of our team. There's only two others who might have come, but they are both overseas and don't have big roles in the preparation of the magazine. Praise God that he's provided so many committed people to this ongoing project and that the timing works so well. 

You have to note that four of those who'll (Lord willing) be there on Monday live in Kansai, several hours away. For various reasons they've all be able to coordinate a visit to the nation's capital with this meeting. I'm so thankful. It's hard to run a team that almost never has all-team meetings. Almost everyone on the team have significant other ministries/jobs that they do, which means that often it's really hard to get even two of us together at the same time. Though I try to meet periodically with the key team members one-on-one.

Two big topics on the agenda are:

  • planning topics for the coming issues
  • planning for my home assignment
The latter is harder than the former. Especially when there's no one stepping up to take my job. All the editors we have are too busy to take on my managing role, but I also do a fair amount of the article editing for the magazine. It will be interesting to hear what ideas people have for helping this work. This is a creative bunch of people, I hope that we can come up with some good possibilities. Last time I gave the whole role away while I was gone and it didn't work very well. This time I'm thinking that I'll have to keep doing the managing part, at least.

I'm excited about this meeting and not nearly so nervous as I was last year. A curious fact about the group is that six are Aussies, four are Americans, and one is Japanese. Not such a diverse team...

PS. A day later I realise that I missed out a whole piece of explanation here: that this magazine is run on a shoe-string and that everyone, including me, is a volunteer. No one gets paid travel expenses to come from Kansai, no one gets paid to come to this meaning at all!

04 August, 2017

Stage three of rubbish reform

Back in July I posted about the changes in the rubbish collection procedures in our city. This October we're moving into stage three: plastic bags that we have to pay for to dispose our rubbish in.

Today we received an information packet and four sample bags. Different colours for different types of rubbish. From the left: 
  • Plastic rubbish (except hard, thick plastic), 
  • Burnable rubbish (
  • Unburnable rubbish (most of the stuff that doesn't go in the other two like aerosol cans, 
  • Smaller version (5L) of the burnable rubbish bags.
Other rubbish apparently doesn't go in bags, like tins, PET bottles, batteries, glass. I'll have to get clarification on those. Clean paper rubbish goes out in paper bags, it doesn't look like we have to use special ones for it.

The bags won't be very expensive. With a large, hungry household, the most expensive two below are probably the ones we'll use the most: 40L bags for plastic and burnable rubbish. 80 yen and 40 yen per bag respectively. They'll be bought in rolls of 10.

It all came with a list of all the stores where these rolls could be bought. A lot of stores! Interestingly, though, we can't see our main grocery store on the list.

03 August, 2017

Short update post

I'm out of time to blog decently today. But I have to report that my blog post from Tuesday had an immediate response. I got a message from a teacher friend who I haven't been out to coffee with for a long time. We ended up having a lengthy lunch today and it was fabulous.

Yesterday we took our boys and another family with three boys on an outing to a large park (the one I took my parents to in May). It was fun, but of course we weren't looking at pretty sights, we were hanging out at the play areas (though most of our boys are too old for that now they still had fun). Here are some photos from our day: 

This cute building housed two picnic tables upstairs. No one was using them, so we ate our picnic there. 
I love moss...can you tell?
Love the green!
The rainbow hammock. Our boys played here for a bit. It was supposed to only be for 12 year olds and younger, which cut out four of the six boys with us, but they played until they got kicked off.
The mist! 
Seems as though it is supposed to drift over to these hills, but it never made it before the mist-creation stopped (it only creates it for a minute or so).
And the curious mosaic dragons!
Closeup of one of the dragon eyes.
The day was full of adventures, as four of the boys rode their bikes 20km or so to the park. One fell on the trip in and they needed to stop for first aid supplies to patch up his knee and two hand-heels. Another got a flat on the way home and they had to stop for bike repair supplies! Both these boys were Marshalls. One of them got badly burnt, despite the fact that they were riding in a light rain a good portion of the time.

01 August, 2017

Sluggish summer

Today I've been struggling in a way that's hard to explain. There are a few subtle things going on, but I think one element that I'm missing is time with girlfriends. 

I love my guys, but conversation isn't always easy, nor always to my liking. I find myself working hard (actually I usually always do) to get decent conversation going around the lunch and dinner table, but it doesn't always work and gets tiring doing that meal after meal. 

We've been watching the Harry Potter series over the last eight nights and that's been a fun way to connect with the boys, but at least one of them gets frustrated at my ignorance (I haven't read the books) and there are other things I'd like to talk about other than Harry Potter...

One obvious way to fix this problem is to go out for coffee with a friend. But the reality is that a lot of my local missionary friends are overseas or away on holidays right now. A quick count puts at least a dozen of my local friends who are overseas at present. Thankfully some of them start to trickle back in the next week. I'm looking forward to catching up with some of them. But not all of them are coming back, and that's an underlying grief that also sits with me at this time of year.

This time of year for us equates to late December-early January in Australia. Temperature-wise as well as schedule-wise. School's out, many people are away on holidays or with family, and the busy-ness of life is often quieter, especially when you have teenagers who don't like leaving the house and you don't have travel planned. The next two "summers" we'll be doing international travel ourselves as we first fly to Australia and then back, so I should be enjoying this stationary, low-stress season. But there's an element in it that I'm not finding enjoyable at all.

Thankfully tomorrow we have an all-day outing planned with one of the few families remaining in our area. We are banding together to get our six boys out and about. The exercise will be good for us all, we've been very lazy and I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of my subdued mood. We're planning to go to the park I took my parents to in June, so hopefully I'll have some nice photos to show you.

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.