Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A "Tokyo Tour" with my girl!

Today I went on a "Tokyo Tour" with my daughter who is visiting for the Christmas-New Year Holidays.  She hasn't lived here for five years, and with us leaving Japan next year, we decided to catch a few sites that she hadn't seen before.  I'll share some of the photos, with a little text to go with them.

 We took off from our train station around 10:30 this morning. It was a windy day, with temps that got up to around 45F. It was a little cold, but we wore our layers, and managed.  By the time we got home it was closer to 30F...

Our first stop was to the trendy section of Tokyo called Harajuku. We walked through fairly quickly--there weren't that many things that caught either of our eyes, especially with the colder weather. So we headed from there to the Imperial Palace East Garden. She hadn't really been to the area except in middle school when her class had a Tokyo Tour which was a one-day whirlwind dash through the city. The Palace grounds are generally closed to the public, but there are a few gardens that are open. Once upon a time this was a working palace area, but the buildings were burned and rebuilt elsewhere.

These pictures were taken in the traditional Japanese garden.

I was pretty pleased with photos at this reflecting pool.

In the background is a traditional Japanese tea house. I don't know if or when it is ever open.

When we left the Palace Grounds we walked toward Tokyo Station.

The sign she is standing on says TOMARE (Stop), and she did... Isn't she fun?

When we got to the Tokyo station I introduced her to the Godiva Chocolate stand that Stan and I visited on my birthday. It tasted as good today as it did a few weeks ago!

Before our next adventure, I needed to stop and use the ladies' room.  Walking up I saw this electronic diagram. I have seen these in several newer restrooms. It is a guide to inform you of open stalls. Just thought I'd share the photo...

We went from Tokyo Station to see the Tokyo SkyTree. This communication tower was opened earlier this year. It is 630 meters tall--"the worlds tallest free standing broadcast tower."  Between 340 and 350 meters is a three-floor observation deck, and for an extra fee you can go up another 100 meters to a two-floor "Galleria."  For comparison purposes, the Eiffel Tower is 320 meters high and the Tokyo Tower is 330 meters. The main observation floor at the Tokyo Tower is at 150 meters. All that to say that this is pretty high up...

As with many things, they don't seem quite so big when you see them near.  Actually, we couldn't see it at all when we first stepped out of the train station, but as we came around the corner, there it was.  We got there around 4 p.m., hoping to see things with a little daylight left, go through sunset and then the night lights.  We hadn't quite expected the 70 minute wait in line to get our tickets. (My advice--get advanced tickets!). It felt a bit like a Disneyland wait, but gratefully we were inside for all of that.

We got up there just as the sun was setting over Mt. Fuji. Sadly, I didn't get a very good resolution photo, but if you look closely on the horizon on the right, you'll see the outline of Mt. Fuji.  The orange tower on the left is Tokyo Tower.

We had to get the self portraits to prove we were there!

Like most of these towers, this has the glass floor that you can walk on. I'm thinking that it would be rather disturbing to do in the daytime. I remember when we did this at the Tokyo Tower (remember, its less than half the distance we're standing at here...) it was unsettling.

We decided to stop for a curry supper at the Skytree Cafe. Not only were we hungry, and those crowds who were in line to come up were also in line to go down, but we also could see that the best views were from inside the cafe.  

I think this is lovely! 

We finally battled the crowds down, and worked our way back across Tokyo to home.  It was a bit colder on our way back--grateful that we didn't have to wait too long standing on train platforms, and Stan met us at our home station in the van to chauffeur us home. 

I loved being with my daughter, seeing  new sites, and playing tourist!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gifts from Jesus

This past Wednesday we had our last Ladies' Bible study for the year.  As I have done last year, and the year before, we "received" gifts from Jesus.

This year I took the original list I had been given and made some modifications-I replaced a few gifts that used "old language" and found verses that described each one. I also changed the directions, making them more instructive.  Each gift was printed on  3 x 3 inch rice paper, and wrapped in foil gift wrap. This is what it looked like:

When you open your gift 
1. Look up the Bible verse. 
2. Think of what this gift means to you 
3. Share how you might use this gift this year.  
Take this gift from Jesus and learn as much as you can about it… then use it to bless others this year.
Your gift from Jesus is: 
1 John 3:1

We have had a consistent attendance of 5 to 6 ladies all year. Several who were with us last year have started working and are unable to come on Wednesday mornings. Some of those women approached me at church on Sunday asking if they could get their gift.

We started reflecting on the gifts we had received last year. One woman who was dealing with marital issues had received "unconditional love" and talked about how important that had been to her. Another mentioned that she had received "encouragement" and had tried to encourage her daughters much more this past year. 

As we opened our gifts, we could clearly see in some situations why God had orchestrated these. One woman caring for older parents, and who has concerns for her own future  received "hope." Another who is facing some challenging situations, received "Courage." A mother, whose recently college-graduated-daughter is trying to figure out what she will do next, received "Encouragement."  Some of us found gifts that pointed out things we need to work on. "Patience" was given to a dear woman who smilingly said "I don't like patience." 

I've been mulling this one over, but one woman gave a verse and a word that wasn't on my list. It was good, and I assume its what she feels she needs now...or did Jesus change the print? I quickly glanced at my master list as she shared with us--and later studied it more closely to see whether I had missed it.

We closed our time together praying for the person on our right to use the gift as they had shared. I wasn't sure if they would be comfortable doing it--some have been pretty reluctant to pray in the group--but it went well.

My gift this year?  Giving.  "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is... giving, then give generously.." Romans 12:6, 8

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Santa Parade

Last Saturday we woke up to the news of the shootings at the elementary school in Connecticut.  That was shocking to read on the news feed as I picked up my iPhone...  A little while later I had some parenting "issues."  It was pretty obvious that it was going to be one tough day...

I headed off to Tokorozawa to go to the ladies' gym, thanks to Stan's encouragement that it might be what I needed (and it meant I met my personal target of 3 times a week).  I could tell while doing the circuit that I wasn't at my best emotionally or physically. When I finished up, I headed back down to the main entrance to make my way home.

To my surprise, I was met with this sight...

Directly across the street was a long line of Santa's waiting to come across.  While there isn't a photo of the group, a "gospel choir" was setting up to my left, getting ready to do a concert.

I was impressed that the Santas crossed at the pedestrian crossing...

I actually had to cross the street at that light, too, and so started walking toward the Santa's.  About 15 of them individually "high-fived" me and wished me a Merry Christmas as we walked past one another.

And then I discovered that I was fighting tears...  The painful emotions of the morning, and the celebratory cheer of these skinny Santa's with tacky beards were colliding in my heart.

I made it across the street and watched the whole entrance area of the department store fill up with these Santa's, while the Gospel Choir started belting a song about having "joy in my soul." I stayed to take it all in, still feeling those tears trying to find a way out. As the Choir moved on to "Santa Claus is comin' to town" I moved on toward home...

While Santa isn't my lead story for the Christmas season, I am thankful for these hundred or so Santa's who helped lift my spirits.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Celebrating Life

December birthday celebrations often get lost in the Christmas holiday season. This year, however, I determined to celebrate life.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the age I've just attained. It isn't one of those "biggies" in the over all scheme of things, but personally its a sign that I'm hoping to live longer than most of the women in my mother's family. When my Mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer she was a little younger than I am now. She died of metastasized breast cancer at age 65.   Her sister died of it at age 58.  Only one of the siblings (male and female) in the generation before them didn't have breast cancer...  We  made a choice twelve years ago for me to go through preventative surgery--not an easy choice, but one for which I am very grateful as I'm now living with a gift of time and I want to celebrate!

What's the craziest way to start to celebrate?

We went and took our routine annual physicals provided under the National Health Insurance... Since blood tests are part of the process, we had to fast. We expect our cholesterol tests to come out just fine. The doctor's office was a little we didn't leave there until around 11:30!

Mister Donuts is a few minutes walk from the doctor's office, so we headed over there for some donuts and coffee.  They have  "Blend Coffee" (as opposed to American Coffee which is some watery concoction) and I went for a couple of cups!  The donuts were okay..not spectacular, but since we hadn't eaten for a while, they helped to tide us over until we got back home and made a quick lunch for ourselves.

We then headed to Tokyo--Tokyo Station, in particular.  They have recently completed a restoration of the old station and station hotel, and I thought it would be fun to go see it. This is an old red brick building that has been restored to its 1914 "glory."

There are domes like this on both the north and south sides, and in between is a Station Hotel.  We walked through parts of the hotel--the rooms are a little out of our usual price range. (Rooms start at $350)

In a way, this part of the station serves as a facade to the very busy Japan Rail station behind it.

We actually came in from a subway line that cut across town. Going out the New Marinouchi Building exit, (basement floor) we were trying to figure out where to go next, when we looked to the left and saw---

The Godiva chocolate stand...

Stan suggested I might want something , and since its my birthday, I couldn't think of any reason to argue...

I did say that perhaps we could share a cone. Instead, my dear, wise husband asked for two cones. It was WONDERFUL!  (And for those in Japan who know how I follow the Belgian Chocolate seasons at MiniStop--this was far better.)

We finished the cone as we went up the escalator to the ground floor, where we could see the renovated Tokyo Station from across the street.

We walked around, snapped a few more photos and then headed to Starbucks to decide where to go next. In searching our iPhone for the Hawaiian Hamburger place, we ran across the link to another Hawaiian place.

Back in 1984, when we first moved to Karuizawa for language study, there was an Eggs 'n Things on the machi (town center) where we would go for a taste of America. They served ...eggs and things that go with eggs.  It closed down within the year, and we were so disappointed.

When we saw the link it clinched it for us--that's where we were going for dinner.  It also brought back good memories of those early years in Japan and the other missionary couple we hung out with--Bob and Harriet.

It took us a little while to find it, no thanks to the Apple map mess. (I am so thankful that Google released their map app as a birthday gift to me!)  But when we walked up, we were surprised to see a fairly long line of people.  We stood there watching the host with a clip board talk to people, some of whom walked away afterward. Just before he got to us he must have gone back to the restaurant to find someone to speak English (this is an area frequented by lots of foreigners, so his assumption must have been that we wouldn't speak Japanese). The less than fluent substitute told us that there was a waiting time, and we could put our name on a list for one hour later.  If it wasn't that I understood the instructions in Japanese that the first host was giving to the people behind us, I think we would have actually missed the message. So we took off for an hour, window shopping nearby--an easy thing to do in Harajuku.

We returned at the appointed time--which gave us permission to stay in line. Stan is directly under the light. We must have stood another 45 minutes or so, and during that time, there were two women working the line.  We chatted a little with one of them, and Stan "just happened" to mention it was my birthday. I noticed that her pencil moved to the clipboard at that time.

She returned a little while later to find out my name--even asking how to spell it... wonder what she's doing?

Finally it was time for us to get our table. We placed our order and enjoyed the bright, inviting atmosphere. They brought most of the meal to us, and we enjoyed our eggs, potatoes, bacon and earl gray tea.

This was the second time in one week that we have been at restaurants where the guests have predominately been young adults.  It has been enjoyable to sit back and watch them interact. (I think we're going to miss this...)

Finally, the last part of our meal came out...

They had taken Stan's order of pancakes and "dressed it up a bit" with strawberries and whipped cream. And written me a birthday wish!

As we left, I wanted to be sure we got a photo of the young lady who had initiated the birthday greeting.

We left here, walked through a terrace with lots of Christmas lights, and then took the express train home.

To the many who sent Facebook greetings, I say, thank you.

I am determined to celebrate life this year, and trust it will continue to be a theme as I go forward.

"And cultivate thankfulness." 
Colossians 3:15b (MSG)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Interesting Christmas expressions

I find it interesting to see how Christmas is "expressed" in Japan.  As we've been reading the accounts of "Holiday trees" and other secularization in the United States, here in we still have sacred music proclaiming Christ's birth as background tracks in department stores and coffee shops. It doesn't mean that the Japanese have it figured out, though...

I saw this Christmas card while shopping today. Usually these two images aren't displayed together.  Granted, Santa Claus's fore-bearer, St. Nicholas, was a Bishop, so I'm sure he was quite comfortable in church--though it probably didn't look quite like this.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Curves "Christmas Music" track...and I was dreading listening to "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" and "Feliz Navidad" every time I went to work out this month. Sure enough, the first day I went in December, guess what was playing...  Thankfully they have been playing other music tracks since then--today I was able to listen to music from my junior high school years--"yummy, yummy, yummy I've got love in my tummy."

On the wall of the gym they have some cute little cut outs of Santa and Snow Men each with a Merry Christmas sign.  What stands out to me is not the cute characters, but the way the sign is displayed. While I haven't had my phone with me to take photos at the gym, I found a banner from the same series at a 100 Yen Shop nearby. 

 Is it just me, or does the word CHRIST stand out to you here?

For another look at Japan at Christmas, you can read my blog from 2008 "The New Christmas Color."

Friday, December 07, 2012


In an earlier post I said I wouldn't be writing a lot about "the last time" for this or that. On the other hand...maybe I will.  It is part of my processing and reflecting on our ministry and life for the past 28+ years in Japan.

Yesterday afternoon, Stan and I went to ICCS to get the place decorated for Christmas.  We had talked about having people decorate after church last Sunday, but honestly, people just seemed really tired.  

I connected my iphone to one of the speakers and started playing my Christmas music collection. After fixing one string of lights, and giving up on half of another, we got the decorations started.  Last year Stan picked up several cases of decorations from someone who had left the country.  I think there are enough balls there to trim 2 or 3 trees...  I chose the bigger red ones for this year's tree.

In addition, we have years of "novelty" decorations collected at the church.  And this is where the nostalgia begins to take over.  Some had dates on them with children's names--now young adults, possibly with children of their own. A lot may have looked good when they were donated, but after the years have started to look pretty bad. And I'm left wondering if its okay for me to dispose of them when we pack everything up after Christmas.

About 8 years ago, I bought a "nativity set" of Christmas ornaments.  It has become a personal tradition to hang those in a central place on the tree.  I actually moved the Baby Jesus up higher this year--most years I don't think people even knew the set was there until I drew their attention to it.

The set has three "wise guys", a shepherd carrying his sheep, Joseph and Mary as well as a camel and a cow. In addition to the manger scene, I've tried to create opportunities to talk about Christmas being a time when gifts are given, with brightly colored box ornaments.  We've got angels, and then there is "snow" including some lovely hand made lace ornaments. Since there are non-believers who come through for various events, it is always nice to have the tree provide a springboard to talk about Christ, so I've tried to minimize other "themes" in the church tree.

Now granted, my interpretation of Christmas decorations is strongly influenced by my Scandinavian/North American heritage.  When our Singaporean friends came to do Christmas events the past few years, they had different ideas of how to decorate.  And even in conversations with my daughter in the UK, we are learning differences in how they observe the holidays.  

Since we are an international church, having a globe seems to be a most appropriate ornament. I noticed as I put it up that the printed paper shell has cracked.  The thought crossed my mind that it didn't look too unlike the illustrations of the ring of fire, where earthquakes occur regularly.  

Having stepped away from decorating, and cleaned up around the tree, I was in the kitchen with a curling iron, straightening out ribbons on a wreath, when a loud shrieking alarm went off on my phone.  I had never heard it before.  Heading over to look at it, I saw in Japanese that it was an earthquake warning alarm...and sure enough, within 30 seconds everything started moving.  It turned out to be a 7.3 magnitude aftershock of the 03/2011 quake.

As we left the worship hall, with the tree decorated, garland up in several places, wreaths placed around, I wondered if anyone will care next year.  It will probably be done differently.  And that will be okay.  Because Jesus didn't come to earth so we could have pretty Christmas trees..."I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  from John 10:10.  My prayer is that when we leave, people are established in that life with Jesus.  That's what will really count.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Living in the line of fire...

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

This has been a week where we have become very aware of the battle in the spiritual world.  We know that many people have struggles similar to those we experience. But when we collectively encounter them as a mission community at a time when the opportunities to share the Gospel appear to be increasing, we especially take notice. There are weeks, like this one, where it feels like we're walking around with these targets painted on us.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 

When faced with hardships, illness or injury, with bad news, with personal grief or sadness, with discouragements, rejections, we need to stop and check our armor.  Being suited up doesn't mean we avoid the encounter with the enemy, but we are prepared for it.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

I appreciate how Paul tells us to be prepared, but then also encourages all of us to join together in being alert and to pray earnestly for one another. And then he asks for prayer to continue proclaiming the Gospel...even though he's in a restricted situation.

So if you are in the habit of praying for us or other missionaries, please pray that we (collectively) will be diligent to wear our armor, Pray that we will be alert, that we will pray for one another, and that we will continue to proclaim the Gospel even in less than ideal circumstances.

You may remember that much of our work as pastor and missionary care personnel deals in the realm of personal and confidential. Therefore I am not free to expand on the situations that have come our way, except on this one--the two-year old son of one of our missionary families was diagnosed with Leukemia on Monday, and their lives have been turned upside down. Please pray for the Clark family as they begin this walk through chemo and extended hospitalization with this little boy.