Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Life is too short to be comfortable

I cannot believe a month has past since I last posted a blog. Where has the time gone?

During my days of preparation for this trip, it was always hard for me to swallow the idea that I was going to be gone for five months. It seemed like such a long time. Now I am here, three months in, less than two months left. Woah. Time has gone by so quickly.

I have certainly gone through several stages since my arrival here in Japan. I don't think I can assign labels to them, but I have felt myself transition into new phases, receiving new perspectives. This has been such a ride.

Ups and downs, huge boulders, open pathways, rain and thunder, clear skies and bright sun, tears, laughter; Imperfect, but so real, so worth it.

Living in Japan has been really hard at times, but it has never stopped being rewarding. There are things I really dislike about the culture and there are things I really love. I have wrestled with the following question: how can I stay true to who I know I am whilst absorbing the aspects of a country so rich in culture, so different in thought?

I think I came to Japan as a book that had already been written (in pen) and I was willing to share all it had inside, but I didn't leave any blank pages or have white out for any possible changes. My host mom woke me up to this idea one day. She had confronted me when I tried to make a phone call to my mom late at night and told her I'd go outside to do so. She explained to me (in a rather harsh tone) that this was 'weird' and not appropriate behavior in Japan. This seems like a little thing, but it led to a revelation. It allowed me to see that I had been attempting to bring my life (my way of doing things back home, how I had come to define "life" from my 19 years) to Japan. I wanted to be me, and all that comes with that, to Japan and learn how to live my life just in a different setting (does this make sense?). SO, this was a wake up call and a half. Since awakening to this reality, changes have been made and I have been learning more than I anticipated. It has been a more difficult path to walk, but I know I will come away from my time here much more aware of Japan, its people, its ideas, customs, sounds, smells than I would have otherwise. Some of the changes: no more headphones on my way to the train station every morning - its my time to listen and to observe; my host family and I are mainly speaking Japanese at home now (big change, but I'm learning so much); choosing the rice ball over the bagel, the Japanese tea house over Starbucks; spending more time with Japanese friends I made at school - they are wonderful and so insightful.

It would be so easy for me to live like I do in the U.S. There would be enough western style foods, movies, hotels, shops, and streets to keep me busy and entertained until it's time to leave here, but NO. I am here, in Tokyo, Japan, to experience the things unique to Tokyo, Japan. I always say "life is too short to be comfortable" and now I'm really trying to live up to that saying, because man, do I believe it!

Anywho, a quick update on the past couple weeks. Two weekends ago, I spent the weekend at a ryokan (Japanese inn) in Hakone, Japan with my host mom Kayo, baba (grandma), Hinako (lil sister), and Takuto (lil brother). It was beautiful - volcanoes everywhere, Lake Ashi, Mt. Fuji in the background, and onsens (hot springs). It was so relaxing. Kayo and I have been on a few trips together now and every time we go, we learn more about each other and we get closer. We have shared a lot with each other. She and I have become very good friends. I'm so grateful.

I have been working for Greenpeace three times a week since I started there. Right now I am working on two assignments. For the next month they are hosting a public t-shirt exebition, displaying t-shirts from Greenpeace offices all over the world from years back to present time. They have a website to go along with this event and that's where I come in. I am working on the descriptions of the different campaigns that go along with each t-shirt. Check it out when you have time: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gpjphoto/sets/72157619186149933/. My other assignment is working on the Greenpeace Japan English website. The website is going to be updated and we're going to put a video made my Greenpeace International about the whaling court case on the front page of the site. I wrote something to go along with the video to encourage those who visit the site, to take a stand, be a voice, and also to simply inform them of the case. It hasn't been updated yet, but either way, this is the GP Japan website: http://www.greenpeace.or.jp/index_en_html. I am always very busy when I go in the office, but I enjoy every second of it. I am so lucky to be working with such an organization. I have gotten really close with the people in the office. They're so lovely and so passionate. I have learned a lot about the mindset of the Japanese people whilst working with this court case, as well as the culture generally. It has been so interesting. There is so much more to say. I should designate a single blog entry just for a Greenpeace update. Greenpeace is my favorite part of this whole experience. Not just because of the friendships I've made, or the information I have learned about this whaling case and working for an NGO, but because I now have a platform to use my voice, to be heard by people that have the power to make change on a large scale. Greenpeace is my favorite part because, to me, what they stand for is what I believe we should all stand for - environmental sustainability, animal rights, human rights, peace, justice. The state of our planet is declining quickly and there's no time to question our responsibility. We each have to do our part.

I announce with a smile that over time, I have whited out some of the ink on my pages, I have added many new sentences, and I have highlighted those parts of the text that keep me grounded and remind me of who I am (Christ, my family, my friends, the heart that pumps passion and the strong desire to be used for much needed change, and the heart that pumps love, love for the people, the animals, God's creation).

Old ideas modified or tossed, new ideas added, roots growing deeper and stronger.

Seven weeks left of transitions to experience, tears to cry, sites to see, whales to save, love to give, pictures to take, culture to learn, and friends to laugh with.

I'm excited.

Time to go to bed now. Early Japanese test in the morning!

Sayonara for now!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


The lens I've been looking through has come into focus.

About a week ago I hit a wall (not literally).

I had been feeling restless.

I chose to come to Japan. Why? I don't know, but God does. I chose Japan when I was flipping through a 'Study Abroad in Asia' book at school that listed all the options I could choose from. I made the decision and I was 100% certain that Japan was the country I was to go to. From the initial decision to the day I flew to Japan, everything fell divinely into place. God fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and reassured me time and time again that Japan was where He wanted me.

Since the day I arrived, I've been waiting. I've been waiting to answer the question, why am I here? I've been waiting for God to just hold a big banner in front of my eyes with the answer on it. I found, though, that this big question and my big expectations were clouding my vision. I became restless and dissatisfied with some areas of my life here in Japan. It became difficult for me to see what God was unfolding.

BUT then.

Pen to paper, I journaled. I wrote pages and pages. Suddenly an image appeared. The image: a single road leading up to a wall with two roads splitting off in different directions. I couldn't continue down the same path I was on. I had to choose a new path. Lightbulb! God doesn't want me to sit and wait, He wants me to live in active obedience. I was reminded of Noah. Scripture tells us that Noah was commanded by God to build an ark. There was no sign of a great storm in which it would be necessary for such a thing, but in active obedience, Noah built the ark anyway, trusting that God would bring the storm. When Noah finished, God sent the rain and those on the ark were saved. God called me here, He opened every door. Like Noah, I can't see the bigger purpose of this calling, but I trust that God's perfect plan will unfold. Noah didn't sit around and wait for the rain. He built the ark, he spent years on the ark. When I hit the metaphorical wall, I decided to go down the path of proactiveness. What I want to be a part of, I join, and what I don't, I don't. I have to listen to my heart because that's where God moves and speaks to me. His will be done - this is where I set my eyes upon.

Since that day, the fog has lifted. No more anxiety, but clarity. I made some big decisions and they have brought me to where I am right now.

Right here.

About one year ago, I began reading the blog of a BBC Environmental Correspondent, Richard Black. One such blog entry of his started me off on a journey I am still on today. This particular entry reported on the whaling industry here in Japan, focusing on a relevant court case between the whaling industry and Greenpeace Japan. In sum, two Greenpeace workers discovered boxes of whale meat sent by crew members of a whaling factory that were shipped as personal baggage and labelled as containing cardboard. Further investigation came to discover that crewmembers of the whaling ship, Nishin Maru, have been giving 10kg of whale meat to each crew member for more than 20 years. The Greenpeace workers exposed the scandal to the Tokyo Prosecutor's office but after one month of deliberation, the Greenpeace workers were arrested (!!!), citing trespass and theft of whale meat. Since then the two workers have been released, but are still under strict rules under the government until the case is fully resolved. The court case is still going on.

The day I read that article was the day I really felt the aching - the deep aching that comes from a combination of sadness, restlessness, and the strong motivation to do something. I have a voice. I want to be a voice for the voiceless. Prior to coming to Japan, I read numerous articles about the whaling industry here. Every article I read, every picture I saw, just intensified the aches. I got in touch with Greenpeace shortly after I arrived and sat down for a meeting with them just weeks later. At the meeting, I had to keep myself from crying. It was one of the first times in my life where I felt SO sure that I was meant to be exactly where I was, exactly when I was. It was an incredibly moving feeling. FINALLY I might be able to DO something for the whales, the animals, the Earth. At the meeting I got to share my heart with a lady named Mai, a Greenpeace worker so deeply passionate about what Greenpeace represents. It was beautiful. I left the meeting with such joy.

I had to wait a couple of weeks, until the holiday (Golden Week) was over and everyone was back to their regular schedules. I started feeling very antsy during this time. More days were going by when I wasn't using my voice. Doubtful thoughts came to my mind: "what if Greenpeace doesn't work out?" "what if they don't call me back?" I didn't know how to answer my own questions.

Luckily I didn't have to.

The day after Golden Week I received an email from Greenpeace informing me that I had been officially registered as a volunteer. Yes!! I was so excited, so ready.

My first official day as a volunteer was last Thursday. What an incredible day. I sat down with a couple of the Greenpeace workers and listened to them as they shared what they would like to have me do for them while I am here. I was asked to join the T2 Team - this is the group of Greenpeace workers focused on the whaling court case I referred to earlier. T2 stands for the Tokyo Two - the two Greenpeace workers that were arrested. As part of the T2 Team, I will be doing a lot of research and writing, as well as many other tasks that come up. I was also asked by the Greenpeace Director to help with their English website. Sounds like I will be starting my journalism career early by writing some articles to be posted on the site.

I spent over three hours in the office and the whole time I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I couldn't believe that I was finally here, finally in a place where change could happen in a big way. Greenpeace is exactly what I have been waiting for (not only since arriving in Japan).

As the feelings of excitement and anticipation overwhlem me, I have to bring myself back to the aching, to the source that causes the aching - whaling, man's inconsideration for wildlife. My work at Greenpeace is my protest against silence. Silence, selfishness, complacency - they can't continue. The forests are diminishing, the animals are being killed, the world is getting warmer, and WHY? because man is innately selfish. Man must fight the natural tendency to sit comfortably and ignore the injustices. Soon, very soon, it will be impossible to ignore them. We must choose to be informed, choose to act, choose to speak up. We were all given a beating heart, a heart that pumps not only blood through our system, but passion. We were all given a voice, a voice that needs to be heard. Follow your passion, speak up with your voice.

We can't do everything, but we can all DO SOMETHING.

This is where I am. This is where everyone can be. It's what God intends for His people, His Earth.

We must be the change we want to see in the world - Ghandi.


SO, no more big questions and worrying and waiting. God has met me where I'm at. He has blessed me with such a fantastic opportunity to work and speak through Greenpeace. I am taking it in and being honest with myself and Him. I am giving Greenpeace the majority of my time while I am here. I will be working for them three times a week. I quit the tennis team, so that I could give my full heart to the mission of the organization.

His will be done.

Sayonara for now!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

One month in

This update is long past due. The pace of my life cranked up about ten notches once I felt better and entered into the outside world again.

My busyness has kept me from reflecting on my time here during the past week or so. I'm so glad it's the weekend and I finally have time to do so.

Exactly one month ago today, I stepped off the plane at Narita Airport, officially marking the beginning of the biggest adventure of my life. What have I done? What have I felt? How have I changed? There have been times of sadness and homesickness, times of excitement and disbelief, times of joy and times of anger, but through all my ups and downs, I have had such a consistent feeling of gratitude. I am 19 years old and I'm living and studying in Tokyo, Japan by myself. Often there are times where this just hits me and I have to stop what I'm doing and just take it in, embracing the reality of the moment. I am reminded of how blessed I am to have this opportunity at such a young age. It's incredible.

From financial support to words of encouragement to open doors, there so many people in my life that deserve to be credited for the opportunity I have to be here right now. I will be thanking them forever.

Time to move on to a more recent and detailed reflection.

Since I last updated, much has happened, much has changed. Where to start... hmm well orientation finished with two very interesting site visits to Yomiuri Newspaper and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The Yomiuri Newspaper is the world's largest daily newspaper with a circulation exceeding 10 million daily! We were able to watch the newspapers being made and we were each given a freshly printed newspaper four hours before it was to hit the stands. We also heard about the company from its staff. With my strong interest in the news and in journalism, the opportunity to be at a professional newspaper headquarters in Tokyo was fascinating. The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) was an interesting visit as well, but definitely not as interesting. The one thing that I was surprised 'not' to see were hundreds of men and women on the floor shouting and yelling as they bid (I don't really understand how it works. Just from pictures and movies I've seen this image). All of the buying and selling is done on computers at the TSE, so it's very quiet and calm with a few people on computers supervising the exchanges online.

Once orientation activities were over, it was time for life as a student in Japan to start.

Before classes begin, there is what's called Freshman Week at Sophia. This is where hundreds of circles (what are clubs here) cover the campus and freshmen and exchange students walk around and decide which to join. This was a crazy experience! There were so many people! I knew that what circle I decided to join was a big deal because circles here are regarded as the center of ones social life as a student. I just wanted to make friends from Japan and other countries too. I am now in three circles: the Sophia University Tennis Team, SISEC which is an international student networking/communication organization, and KGK, a Christian student group.

The tennis team is by far my biggest committment, but I am loving it! I am the only exchange student on the team. A lot of the students speak English thank goodness, so that makes everything much easier for me. Everyone was so accepting of having me on the team and many of them were excited that they had someone to practice and learn English with. We practice every Tuesday and Wednesday for five hours. I decided I didn't want to take part in the weekend practices because I want that time to be for travel and hanging out with friends outside of tennis. It has been so interesting being an athlete here. There are quite a few differences compared to American sports teams. The biggest difference is the formality of the team structure. The Sophomore, Junior, and Senior students are what are called the sempais (the elders/leaders) and all the freshmen, including me, are the cohais. When a sempai is speaking or critiquing us, we have to zip up our tops, take off our hats, take off any sunglasses, put our hands behind our backs, and put our razquets on the ground. They are spoken to as "Sempai ____(name)." Intense, huh? The Japanese culture is so strong and evident on the team. I'm enjoying learning from the perspective of a regular student and athlete.

As for classes, I am taking Japanese Language (everyday for 1.5 hrs!), Japanese Literature, Japanese Art, and Issues in Japanese Thought. So, I will be quite the expert on Japan when I get home, haha. Classes aren't too exciting or interesting, but I'm enjoying meeting the other students in my classes. Since my classes are in the FLA (faculty of liberal arts) Department and all my classes are in English and many of the students are international, they don't differ radically from classes in the U.S. The only big difference compared to Hope thus far (in terms of the classroom structure specifically) is that professors don't encourage discussion here (besides my Japanese Language course). They actually prefer it if you keep your thoughts to yourself unless the professor asks for input. Lecture is the main way of teaching. I'm going to have to get used to that. American students actually have a bad reputation here for talking up in class just to talk and make themselves heard, serving no real purpose for the learning environment. Lots of students and faculty have expressed their frustration about this. I can understand what they are saying because I too have had similar frustrations with students in the past and currently, but I definitely think that engaging students in discussion in class is a far better learning environment than just listening to a professor speak for an hour and a half. I will continue to observe the classroom and keep note of the differences when I notice them. I'm sure there are many more I haven't experienced yet.

I have made three great friends so far from school. One of them is Kelly and she is an exchange student from Montreal, Canada. She's a lot of fun. We've been hanging out everyday together. I enjoy talking about Canada with her and learning about the Canadian perspective on the U.S. from her perspective. Another friend is Ai and she's a freshman here at Sophia. She is Japanese, but she lived in London for seven years, so when she speaks English, she has an English accent. She is so sweet and kind. Today she's taking me shopping! It'll be fun. The other friend I've met is Valentin and he is from Vienna, Austria, but he studies in Switzerland. He's straight out of a catalogue and his accent is fantastic! Haha. European men are much different than American men. I've thoroughly enjoyed conversations with him. He's very entertaining. Last night Kelly, Valentin, and I went out to an English pub together in Shinjuku. I look forward to getting to know both of them more. We have a great time together.

Well I am off to get ready for the day. I have another picnic in the park to attend, this time with SISEC, then off to shopping. I haven't been taking many pictures lately.. not good. I will include some in my next update for sure.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sakura, Sickness, and Sleep

The sun is out, the air is warm, the cherry blossoms have bloomed, and I'm inside on my bed, with an ear infection in both ears. Not fun.

Last Friday, I paid my first visit to a Japanese hospital. The name of it was Sanno Hospital and it is known to be one of the nicest hospitals in Tokyo. It sure was! I felt like I was in a hotel. I went there after a week or so of pain and swelling in my left foot. Well, after two and a half hours and lots of yen handed across the counter, I had some medicated bandages to wear and a guilty and relieved consious. So much money spent, but luckily nothing seriously wrong with my foot.

After my hospital visit, I was in the mood for some American food. As I wandered along the clean and classy streets of Roppongi, passing Japanese gardens and hearing accents from an array of countries (10% of the population of Roppongi are from a different country), I spotted 'New York Bagels' and headed towards it. It was so nice to sit outside, relax, and enjoy some comfort foods: a bagel, a coke, and a salad. Whenever I get to drink a coke, eat a pizza, some Italian pasta, I feel immediately soothed by the familiarity. It's nice. I drink atleast three cups of my British tea a day. Yes, I just have to. Mmmm.. Well, after lunch, it was time to meet up with some friends at my school for some socializing under the sakura trees. The weather was so warm Friday afternoon. We all just sat under the cherry blossoms, enjoying each other's company, as well as the company of the many people around us participating in the same activities. We listened to a Japanese man and his friend play some Beatles songs on their guitars and sing, we watched some students make origami out of newspaper, we enjoyed the attention from the people as they waived to us and giggled (we were some of the very few foreigners in the area). It was a very nice afternoon. Once day became night, we all headed to a welcome party for all the international students hosted by our school. It wasn't too long. We had some dinner, met some other international students, watched some performances, then headed out for the night. We just went to a small bar/restaurant in Shibuya for a couple hours then went home.

It was late Friday night that I noticed my hearing was going a little bit. I didn't think much of it. I have had a cold for about a week, so I knew it was just part of the head cold. But, as the night progressed, the pain in both of my ears got worse and worse. I was scared. I looked up some home remedies online, tried one of them out, and finally got to sleep at 3 am. Not a good night. I woke up the next morning with my hearing still gone, but the pain was no longer. I went about my day just fine, even enjoyed a dinner out with the family for Hinako's 4th birthday and a late night at a local hot spring with Kayo. Sunday was a different story. I couldn't drink a sip of a water or walk a step without being sick. It was horrible. I was so nauseous. Kayo took me to an emergency clinic where the doctor told me I have deep ear infections in both of my ears and that I have to stay in bed for two to three days. He put me on five different pills. So far, so good. Sunday afternoon and night were bad, but yesterday and today, I feel better. The nausea seems to be gone, but the congestion and the ear pressure are still present unfortunately. I had to miss out on a trip to Kamakura yesterday where the Great Buddha statue is and I can't go in to school today either.

I wish I had a more positive update to share, but this is life, right? No matter where you go, if it's Holland, Michigan or Tokyo, Japan, life is still life and you just have to go with it. Now that I'm not feeling nauseous, I'm not minding this time off to just relax, organize my thoughts, slow down a bit. I feel like everything has been happening so fast lately. I can't believe I've been living here for three weeks already. I need to just live here, in the present. I want to feel like a resident, not a tourist.

Well, the kids and Takashi just got home from the park. I think I'll go say hi to them. The kids are so refreshing to be around. They make me laugh. Hopefully next time I write, my health will be all better! Classes start next Monday. I'm looking forward to them very much. I haven't formally studied since December and I'm missing it.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

My weekend in Nagano

Nagano - what a place.

Snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, thousands of tall green pine trees, rock formations, flowers, winding roads.. beauty.

I couldn't believe my eyes. We only drove two and a half hours from Tokyo and ended in this location. Unreal.

Friday morning, Kayo, Takuto, and I were picked up by Kayo's friend from college Hanako and her son Tomo. Hanako doesn't speak much English, so Kayo had the role of translating for us when we wanted to say something to each other. She did great. I was impressed.

We arrived at an old Japanese inn tucked away in the middle of the mountains, thousands of feet above sea level. It was just how I pictured it would be. We were greeted by the staff who were dressed in traditional kimonos and other attire. After enjoying some green tea and biscuits we were led to our room - tatami floors, a tea set, a table with pillows and wooden chairs, beautiful view - it was perfect. After some relaxing, it was time for the hot spring. We put on our kimonos and our sandals and walked under a bamboo canopy to the spring. Just looking at the steam coming off the water, the apples floating, and the hot water pouring out of a fountain, was enough to relax me. The fountain was retrieving water from hundreds of feet below us. The water was hot, just as hot as a hot tub, but it was natural. I left the spring feeling rejuvenated, fresh, and healthy. My skin felt so soft. We enjoyed the rest of our evening eating a traditional Japanese dinner consisting of about thirteen dishes (I thought I was going to lose weight while I'm here. I think the opposite may occur! haha), resting in the room drinking some green tea and chatting, taking another dip in the hot spring, then eating three desserts (Oishkata! -- they tasted good!). The next morning at 7 we went in the hot spring one last time (the perfect way to wake up and start the day), then went downstairs to the restaurant to have breakfast (many dishes here too..my favorite was the white fish). We left the inn after talking with the owner (a lovely older lady named Yoku dressed in a beautiful kimono), petting the goats, and taking in the scenery around us.

We spent the rest of our Saturday in Karuizawa, a very expensive area in Nagano surrounded by woods and mountains. This is where many wealthy Japanese people have vacation homes. The architecture of the homes were similar to homes in the U.S. We did some shopping at the biggest outlet mall in Japan, had lunch at a great restaurant where we had freshly hand-made soba noodles (Nagano is where Soba noodles were created), and drove around looking at the area. It was very very cold! I was not prepared for the frigid weather, wearing just a thin jacket and few layers.

It was a great little trip and I am so thankful that I already got to experience a place outside of Tokyo. I definitely deem Nagano as a must-see in Japan. Pictures can't capture the beauty.

There are hot springs all over Japan. There's one even fifteen minutes from where I live. I think I'll make it my new hobby!

The time with Kayo was wonderful ofcourse. She deserves time away from the busyness of motherhood, so I was glad I got to relax with her. We had many great conversations, lots of laughs too! We've both told each other that we feel like we've known each other a long time. I can't believe I met her only a week ago! We already have a close friendship. Her friend Hanako was so sweet as well. Even though we couldn't really talk to each other verbally, we communicated in other ways. She is so sweet!

I am doing very well. Like I said earlier, life here feels very normal already. I miss home, my family, my friends, everything being written and spoken in English, all that is familiar, but I am in Japan and I have to embrace the differences and the challenges. I am only here four more months and I'll be back to what's comfortable again. By far the biggest challenge is that I don't know the language well. It's really hard because I want to be able to talk to people around me and have conversations with them (more than just "Nice to meet you and how are you?"). It is such a motivation to learn Japanese!

Nice day planned for today. Lunch and socializing with family friends under the cherry blossom trees (sakura).

Bai bai for now! Hope you enjoy some of the pictures I have taken.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One week in

Time for a new post I think. It's 10:00 am here in Tokyo and I just finished babysitting my baby brother, Takuto, while Kayo and Takashi ran some errands. I've never had a baby brother before. I love just being able to hold him and play with him whenever I want to. He's beautiful.

I have been in Japan for one week now. What a week! How I feel now differs greatly from how I felt the first couple days of the trip. In my journal this morning, I was writing about how surprised I am at how comfortable and normal life feels here already. For the past few days I've been commuting to my school for orientation activities all by myself! I have to take two train lines and it's about a one hour journey in total. My first day of traveling to school was quite hectic, but very funny to look back on. I think I approached about ten different people and first asked if they spoke English (in English), most of them replied with "a little," and then I proceeded to ask them for instructions on how to get to where I needed to be. I'm glad I'm outgoing, otherwise I probably would have ended up in some remote village hours away! Hah! The train is a bit stressful though. When I change lines, I have to hop on a train that is known to be one of the busiest train lines in Tokyo! Great! One man's job is to push people onto the train..literally shove them in! AH! Not fun, but quite the experience.

Orientation is going well. The other students and I have discussed how we think it could be shortened. We still have two more weeks until classes start! But, I will not complain too much because they have planned some fun and very interesting activities for us. Yesterday we went on a bus tour of Tokyo, which was fantastic. They let us off at a few stops to look around. We took a walk around the Imperial Palace, where the Japanese royal family lives. It is beautiful there. It is surrounded by a brick wall dating back to the palace's origin and a moat miles wide. The royal family is much more private here than the royal family in Great Britain, but their roles in society are similar. They say the princess here is often compared to Princess Diana. I am interested in learning more about them. The tour also took us to a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine in Asakusa. Japan is the only country where Buddhism is intertwined with another religion, Shintoism. I spent much of my time there observing the Japanese people as they either prayed or drank from the holy water or covered themselves in incense to make them smarter or prettier or heal an ache. I have been learning a lot about the overlapping of culture and religion. Many customs experienced here are argued as purely a cultural exercise, rather than religious. This is why Christianity in Japan is much different than in the United States. Many people cling on to both the traditions of their culture (such as praying to their ancestors) as well as the teachings of the Bible. I am finding this to be an area of conflict for the Christian people. I plan on learning much more about this. Kayo is teaching me a lot. Back to the tour, the tour allowed us all to see the areas around school, including Ginza, the up-scale shopping area, Akihabara, the technology center, and all of the political buildings around. Sophia University is located in a very governmental area. It is very nice. Something that has taken me by surprise here is how much Tokyo reminds of London. Maybe it's just my way of finding comfort in an unfamiliar place, but I've noticed many things, such as the respectful demeanor of the people, the trains, the lines on the roads, the smallness of buildings, stores, and cars, the English pubs, and many other random things that I see. Funny, huh?

So, one week in and I am doing very well. Tokyo is very westernized and I definitely credit that as a source of comfort for me. Japan has the second most McDonald's restaurants after the United States (and Japan is smaller than the state of California!). I am noticing that American culture is very popular here. Many Japanese people love McDonald's, KFC, 7-Eleven, Starbucks, American movies, American clothing (just shirts that have English on them are popular and many times what they say doesn't make sense), and so on. Something else I have noticed is just how fascinated Japanese people are with other cultures. I have heard that rascism is not common because foreign lifestyles are viewed as interesting, not bothersome or threatening (this statement is not as true for the older population of Japan, who for example, can view the American culture as threatening the traditional "real" Japan). In my opinion, because our world has become so interconnected since WWII, it is impossible to avoid foreign influence and westernization, especially in cities. Holding on to traditional values and customs is much more difficult than ever before. One of the many reasons Japan is so intriguing though is that the old and the new live together in one place. For example, there are Buddhist temples right in the middle of the urban Tokyo. I love it.

Well I must go get ready for another busy day. I have to hop on the train in an hour. Today orientation is covering class registration. Exciting! haha. Commuting today should be much easier seeing that I am going at a much later time! Thank goodness.

Bai bai! (bye bye in Japanese romaji)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Beginning

I am writing this from my bedroom in Ehara-cho, Nakano-ku, Tokyo, Japan. It is 5:45 a.m on Sunday morning. This is the latest I've woken up since being here!

I arrived in Japan last Wednesday evening around 4:00 p.m after a very long and cramped direct flight from Chicago (13 hours!). I arrived very excited and nervous, but also very tired. My first two days were an emotional roller coaster for me. I found myself surrounded by students who had all taken at least one year of Japanese and were here first and foremost to become fluent in Japanese. My motivation to come here differed from theirs and I was frustrated. I questioned why I was here, why I chose to be so far away from all that was familiar. I was sad, homesick, and had a major case of culture shock. For the first time in my life I honestly felt like I was in a dream. Nothing was real. I couldn't relax, I couldn't eat, I was waiting to wake up. This suddenly changed when I met Rory, a student from Notre Dame who is a vegetarian and doesn't know much Japanese either. Talking with her eased my apprehension and made Japan more of a reality for me. I'm not crazy! Yay! Later I found out that there are several students in my position. Hallelujah! I received the most clarity and peace though after speaking with the Lord one night, when He reminded me of the reasons why I chose to come here and all the doors He had opened for me. I am here to speak, love, and learn from and to the people of Japan. I am here to learn about the world from a new perspective and learn Japanese along the way. I am here to help people learn English, which is a major need here. I am here to shine the light of Christ to a nation of unbelievers (according to statistics, only 1% of Japanese are Christians) and to the students in my classes and in my program. I am also here to just live and be used by God however He needs me. I am available.

Japan is beautiful. During the day, the weather is sunny and in the 70s. At night it gets a bit cooler and it's windy. Though I am in Tokyo, tropical plants and cherry blossoms are all around. The cherry blossom trees are expected to bloom in about a week or so. I can't wait! The weather and the greenery of Japan gives me such calmness.

I moved in with my family about two days ago. I couldn't have asked for a more loving and fun family to live with. They are the Yamano family. My host father, Takashi, is an Economics Professor at a Graduate school here in Tokyo. He is well-traveled, very insightful, and a great father to his kids. My host mother, Kayo, is on maternity leave right now after having son Takuto only three months ago. She told me she wants to be my friend, not my mother. She's only 35, so she's young, cute, and loves to do girly things. We really click. She and her friends are taking me to a traditional Japanese inn and to a hot spring next Friday night. I'm looking forward to that! The three children are Hinako, 4 years, Wataru, 2 years, and Takuto, 3 months. They are such beautiful children. They don't speak a word of English, so we communicate in other ways. I am teaching Hinako how to say eye, nose, lip, chin, hair, and tooth and she has it almost completely down. She's a quick learner. She is teaching me Japanese. She is a strict teacher, but a very good one. Takashi and Kayo are fluent English speakers. Takashi more so than Kayo though. Takashi received his PhD from Michigan State actually and lived in the U.S. for awhile. He also teaches all of his classes here in English. Kayo lived in Toronto, Canada for ten years to learn English. I am helping her with her fluency. I am enjoying my time here with the family very much. I already feel like I have been here awhile. They have made me feel so comfortable. One of the biggest blessings here is that Kayo is a Christian! God had His hand in this completely. The odds of having a parent that was a believer were very slim. She is actually taking me to church today. She hasn't been able to go to church in awhile, so she is so glad that now she has a chance to go with someone! There is a nearby English-speaking Protestant church that was founded by an American missionary. Hopefully I can meet her today. I look forward to experiencing the fellowship of Christ's followers here in Japan so so much!

I could go on and on about all of the blessings I have received just in this short time. I can honestly say, without a single doubt, there is no way I would be able to leave my family, live in Japan for almost five months, live with a Japanese family, and have the strength to wake up every morning, if it wasn't for God's faithfulness and strong presence. He is here. I feel Him. I don't need to worry, I don't need to be sad. He will use me here. I am ready. I praise Him for comforting me, for loving me so much I feel it everywhere I go.

I am so excited to be here. I love Japan and its people. I am living on the fifth floor of a condo building and it looks out to the skyline of Shinjuku, the capital of Tokyo. It's fantastic.

Quickly before I go, here are some fun Japan facts that may be of some entertainment to you:

- Many people wear face masks here, either to prevent getting sick or to not spread their sickness to other people -- health is a top priority for the Japanese people
- Slurping is considered very polite
- You must wear slippers in the homes (I had to go buy some yesterday)
- Tokyo is so clean! I was walking down the street the other day and a man in a uniform had a bucket of soap and a sponge was cleaning a hand rail. There are many more examples.
- Taxi drivers wear gloves
- It is so safe here. I could walk outside by myself at midnight and the likelihood of something happening to me is soo slim. I won't try it, but it's great to know. I've decided that Tokyo is the opposite to Chicago. Guns are illegal here.
- It is considered rude to tip a waiter or anyone for that matter. They will give you the extra money back. Their mentality is that their good service is their job and should be expected of them.
- Tax is included in all prices
- and more and more and more... save them for the next update

I need to go get ready for the day.