Friday, January 30, 2009

"Less than perfect" is okay with me

Living in Japan has made me much more conscious of fruit seasons--and we are still enjoying apple season right now. I am going to miss good Fuji apples when I go to America later this year. Honestly, I can't remember having an apple as delicious as the ones we get here in Japan.

Fruit here is always beautiful. The apples above are perfect--color is even, shape almost identical, and the cost you see is yen per apple. So the ones on the bottom are 95 yen per apple -- that's about $1.05. Most of the varieties here are the same price, though the top shelf apples are $1.60 a piece.

As much as I like the flavor, many years I've been held back from buying too many because of the price. And so this year, I was very excited when I saw--

-- bags of slightly less than perfect apples for sale. The sign on the bag tells us they are somewhat discolored or may have other cosmetic imperfections, but they still taste wonderful. I have seen bags of four to five apples over the course of the last couple of months. The bag is around $3, so the price per apple is obviously lower.

Here are the imperfections...slight scratches on the skin that affected the reddening, or on the top right, just one spot that isn't red!

I can attest they taste wonderful! I have not been holding back on apples this year!

I have been pondering on the "less than perfect" side of life as I've purchased these...and as I've thought about our wonderful church fellowship at the International Community Chapel of Saitama (ICCS).
  • Our worship hall isn't really "churchy" looking -- which has actually allowed some people to come and not feel threatened.
  • Our music isn't professional -- which has given church members the opportunity to try out their gifts in this area.
  • Our programs are not overly organized -- which fits with our transient congregation, many of whom don't have much experience in other churches.
  • Our people are not all believers -- which gives a great opportunity to encourage "belonging before believing"
  • Our people are not all healthy -- which means we can see the work of God in transforming their hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and whatever else needs His touch
  • Our services are not timed like clockwork -- which means we can have open sharing and people are able to minister to one another
  • Our people don't have Christian families in the area -- which means we can be family to one another
  • Our pastor forgets important things, like taking the offering -- which surprisingly results in people who seem more eager to give

In anticipating our one-year assignment in the States, I'm a little hesitant to leave this less than perfect congregation. There are lots of reasons, of course, but I'm thinking right now of the fears I have that most churches want people to look like the apples in the top picture -- and I'm from the bag of "less than perfect."

And I need to be true to my "less than perfect" status, because God is doing wonderful things on the inside.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Best-selling English Textbook in Japan

We saw a news story the other day on Japanese TV that we thought you might find interesting. President Obama's speeches are being used as text books for Japanese students studying English. The book comes with a CD, and we saw footage of people practicing some of the key lines. The complete printed news story is below.

We've seen other newstories comparing Prime Minister Aso's speeches (unfavorably) to President Obama's speeches. Politicians are taking note and wondering how to adapt their presentations to reflect similar rhetoric.

The one thing that stood out to me as I was watching the newstory and people quoting President Obama, was that they were moved by the vocabulary of HOPE. The lines they were repeating were not too unlike words of the Gospel of Hope that we have to offer. People were looking for something to give meaning, a view for the future, something better than what they have now.

We better take this as a cue--lets offer them the "GOD OF HOPE who fills you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may OVERFLOW WITH HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit." from Romans 15:13, emphasis mine.

TOKYO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama's speeches are proving a best-seller in Japan -- as an aid to learning English.

An English-language textbook, "The Speeches of Barack Obama," has sold more than 400,000 copies in two months, a big hit in a country where few hit novels sell more than a million copies a year.

Japanese have a fervor for learning English and many bookstores have a corner dedicated to dozens of journals in the language, many of them now featuring the new U.S. leader's face.

"Speeches by presidents and presidential candidates are excellent as listening tools to learn English, because their contents are good and their words are easy to catch," said Yuzo Yamamoto of Asahi Press, which produced the best-selling text book.

"Obama's is especially so. His speeches are so moving, and he also uses words such as 'yes, we can,' 'change' and 'hope' that even Japanese people can memorize," he said.

Speeches by President George W. Bush and former nominee John Kerry's four years ago did not have the same appeal, however, and nor do those made by Japanese politicians, Yamamoto said.

"In Japan, we don't have politicians who have such a positive influence. That's why we have to turn to a foreign president for someone in whom to place our hopes."

The 95-page paperback features Obama's speeches in English from the 2004 Democratic National Convention and during the Democratic Party primaries, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton. They are accompanied by Japanese translations.

The 1,050 yen ($12) book, which includes a CD of the speeches, tops the bestseller list on bookseller Amazon's Japanese Website,

"Readers have sent in postcards saying that when they heard the speeches, they were so moved and cried even though they don't understand English very well," Yamamoto said.

He said lawmakers from Japan's main opposition Democratic Party had bought the book to study Obama's speeches.

To be released 1/30/2009

Following Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, Asahi Press plans to issue a sequel that includes his inaugural address, as well as President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural speech. It will also feature a reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address of 1863.

By Yoko Kubota

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Changing shopping patterns -- or my trip to Costco in Iruma on Wednesday

When we came back to Japan in 2000, following our third home assignment, Costco had just opened its first store about two hours away from our home. We eagerly made the trek about once every four months, to fill shopping carts with lots of things that we hadn't seen in stores in Japan... The Japanese around us would have one of those huge carts with one or two small items, while we had piled our cart very high and hoped that we didn't need a second one and went into sticker shock at the check-out.

A few years later, Costco opened another store only one hour and 15 minutes away. Our trips were planned when the laundry detergent bottle started getting light enough to lift. I had managed to define better what we actually needed, and would go with a prescribed list of essentials (laundry detergent, salsa, peanut butter, bagels, etc.) I still didn't see the Japanese filling their carts, but mine was more manageable.

This spring, Costco opened in my neighboring city. It takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to get there. We can go several times a month, and take advantage of the meat sales, and sometimes fresh fruit and vegetables (if there's room in my frig). Last month we ordered 7 pizzas from the food court for our mission Christmas party.

Its not just a drop in experience, though. We have driven circles in the three floor parking lot trying to find parking on nearly every visit we've made. Pushing the cart through the store is like trying to negotiate Disney on a holiday. And there are lines--of Japanese--waiting for bags of the white rolls to be brought out. Nearly everyone leaves with at least one and maybe two of those bags! Trying to find a place to sit at the food court is worse than finding parking!

Yesterday I went to buy my monthly allotment of meat--definitely the best bargain of the whole store and one way we have been able to make our food budget stretch. I got there earlier than usual, and had a little easier time negotiating the aisles. And when I made it to the check out, I started looking at the cart of the Japanese family in front of looked like a normal family shopping cart -- some meat, an octopus, some squid, and no white rolls. I think people are beginning to adapt to Costco shopping.

I've worked out a formula for estimating the cost of my cart that is usually pretty close--and know that buying milk there is not cheaper than my local discount grocery up the street. In these somewhat challenging days financially, I really appreciate being able to be this close.

We cannot buy many things here that you would find at your US Costco...but we've adapted. At least they have peanut butter, salsa and chips, chocolate chips, cranberry juice, and Ziploc bags! Who could ask for more?

NOTE to those who go to Costco Iruma regularly--these photos were taken on our FIRST trip when we didn't know that you have to approach Costsco from the North on Route 16...and we ended up inching THROUGH the Mitsui Outlet mall until we got to the other side and could swing around in front of Costco. I clarify this, because my husband read the post and wondered where the pictures were taken...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Goodbye to Japan, Goodbye, Girls!

We have had a great three and one half weeks with our girls this spite of illness, and cramped quarters, it was good to be together. I think much of it had to do with the fact that life as we knew it is past tense -- next time we're all together, in Japan, will be at least 1 1/2 years, perhaps more like 2 years from now, and with young adult children that can mean many different changes.

Our last night together, we managed to get everyone together for a photo shoot. Not easy, but we have several to choose from for printed materials. This one is my favorite shot, but it is not clear enough for print--it will be good for the blog, however. Our boys have great smiles--somehow they gave up the sullen, cool teenager look for this photo!

On Friday morning, we helped the girls get things into their suitcases, and then headed to a family-style restaurant for our last meal with them before sending them off to the airport.

Stan and B demonstrated their common entertainment gene...

And also gave us one sweet photo.

Stan and I modeled our Christmas gifts along with the Vanguard student.

As we came to the end of the meal, we drove a few minutes to the Tokorozawa Train station to meet up with a bus that goes directly to Narita Airport. Since the girls were going back together, and are seasoned travelers, we opted to put them on the bus rather than drive them to Narita (one-way takes two hours + and a chunk of change in tolls).

Its always hard to say goodbye--but as we waved to them from outside the bus window, we were thankful for the time. We'll see them this summer when we go back to begin our one-year home assignment. But they will probably not be back to Japan for a long time.

They were somewhat sentimental about that--it was hard to extract B from the 100 yen shop on Thursday afternoon. And for some crazy reason she took dried squid strips with her for the airplane ride. (I am glad I wasn't sitting next to her!)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

An overnight get-away to Karuizawa

Sunday after church, we all piled into the van and FINALLY headed up to Karuizawa for the overnight get away that we had originally planned for Christmas week.

Karuizawa is in the shadow of a volcano--Mount Asama. It took us about two hours to get there from our house on the toll road. The toll was about $35 each way.

While I got things set up, some of the kids and Stan played Uno Spin--one of the three or four variations of Uno we've gotten as gifts over the years. We had a nice dinner, and the kids actually returned to the table for conversation afterwards!

Stan brought his computer along--and the kids played a few games that were on it. (I actually confiscated it from one boy at 1:30 a.m.). On Monday morning, Stan and this boy were on it playing something.

I had to go around to this side to see what the game was--apparently quite a game of chess.

The cabin we stayed at is on a camp facility owned by a German mission group. The cabins are imported Italian log cabins--well kept, and comfortable. When our kids were little we used to come up for several days at a time. Of course, the fees were less because of their age--this time we had six adults to pay for! But it was still well worth it for us to have the time together, going "down memory lane" and getting away from Tokyo.

It was fun to go out walking on Monday morning--though it was a bit cool! We needed our scarves and gloves. We were grateful there was no snow, however!

The girls enjoyed time on the playing field where they used to run as little ones. At one time there was an old fire truck and a house boat that were on the grounds--but those are gone.

The camp has a chapel (on the left), a two floor cabin that sleeps 10 (on the right) and four other cabins like the one we were in (up the hill).

It also has a large selection of bicycles that can be taken out--when the boys brought out the tandem, Stan got so excited!

We had a great time playing outside that morning. Then we finished our packing and loading of the car, and headed into town to a restaurant where we have long-time connections.

When we first came to Japan as a married couple, Stan and I went to language school in Karuizawa. The Cowboy House Restaurant was a fun place to go for an "American atmosphere" and we would try to get there as often as our budget allowed. Stan and another missionary started holding Bible studies for some of the staff, and some of the guys indicated an interest in Christ. Stan and our coworker, Bob, started DJ-ing for a small radio station that the Cowboy House had back then, as well.

There have been lots of changes in the past 25 years--Cowboy House ownership has changed and their location has changed. We don't know if these guys still have an interest in Christ or not. We do know that they felt ostracized by some in the missionary community because they continued to serve beer at the restaurant...which probably put a stop to their exploration of Christianity.

We do try to stop in there when we can--usually once a year. So, when we left the camp, we headed to Cowboy House for lunch. After lunch we wanted a photo with the guys. Shin-san (on the right in white) and Yasu-san (on the left in white) are the two originals from our language school days. They went and pulled the kitchen staff out plus the serving staff for this photo! We felt very special!

It was a great way to wrap up this little get away. After giving the girls 3o minutes in the downtown shopping strip, we headed back down the mountain and home to Tokorozawa because the boys started school on Tuesday.

Even though we missed out on doing this after Christmas, we are so glad we didn't miss it all together. And when everyone wished we had one more night, that was a very positive indication that they enjoyed it! With four kids at very different stages in their lives, that is a real relief!

A New Year's Baptism

On Sunday, January 4, we had a baptism at the International Community Chapel of Saitama (ICCS).

Reiko shared her testimony with us. She first heard of Christ as a high school student who was on a home stay in America. Her home stay family were believers, and made her feel loved and safe. She said eating with them was the first time she ever felt safe and relaxed at a meal! Throughout college she kept in touch with them. She's had a series of challenges and setbacks, and at one point managed to make her way back to America to this same family's home, where she was again welcomed, loved, and led to Christ.

Reiko has been attending ICCS for a little more than a year now, and we are grateful that she chose to be baptized at our church. It was a great way for her and for us to begin 2009! We had a full house that morning, too--including several new families.

Its going to be a good year!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year 2009

We want to wish you all a Happy New Year from Tokorozawa, Japan. May you find the Grace and Peace of Christ to be your strength and joy as you enter this new year.

As we look ahead to this year, it promises to be one of much change for us and our family. Its hard to believe, but we have less than 6 months left before we are packed and heading back to America for our next (5th!) one-year home assignment. There is much that needs to be completed before we go--and many questions that are still unanswered in preparation for that time.

We look to our friends and ministry partners for their prayer support and encouragement as we go through these next transitions. Even though we've got "experience" with home assignment, and we look forward to spending time with our ministry partners, friends and family, the process doesn't get any easier--maybe even a little harder as we get older.

Meanwhile, we have a baptism scheduled for Sunday at ICCS, and then hope to get away for our family overnight in the mountains. Our girls return to the US on Friday, January 9.
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