Friday, June 5, 2009

Number 27

Japan Chronicle 27

I am now writing this final chronicle in the series almost a year and one half after we returned. Somehow, I never quite got around to getting it done. Every time I considered it, I felt homesick for Japan and just couldn’t do it. Now, as I sit here faced with the probability of returning in January 2003, it is much easier to think about. The only problem is that my memory is less than perfect, so I will do my best and consult the rest of our travelers for their recollections as well.
Picking up Dad and Mom at the airport went really smoothly. They weren’t as tired as I feared they might be. We had a simple dinner at home.

One of the things Dad had surprised me with was a request to meet some of our Japanese friends. I had not even considered that, but it turned out to be a fun event. Our apartment, while Japanese style, was not really set up to entertain, but I figured we could make do.

I invited our Japanese club over for lunch. I made tacos and they each brought Japanese dishes to go with them. Don’t ask what Japanese food goes with Mexican food, but it was fun. Tatsu was even able to join us for a couple of days. Dad had brought some of the new American quarters from the different states and gave them as gifts and some of our friends brought gifts for them.

Later that afternoon, we went and picked Dana up from his last day at work. When we arrived at Dana’s work, we were all treated to a tour of the facility complete with group photos and profound bows and good byes. It was really neat! Some of the men that Dana worked with had taken him out to lunch earlier that week, to say goodbye. While we were all anxious to go home, I think we were also sad to be leaving.

After the tour, we took Dana’s folks to Kai Ka Te for dinner. We had a nice dinner, but Mom didn’t think too much of the sashimi! We found other good things for her to enjoy. This was also our chance to say goodbye to Machiko-san.

Saturday was our trip to Tokyo. While there were several places we wanted to take Dana’s folks, the main place was the Imperial Palace. You see, Dana’s dad had been in Tokyo at the end of the Korean War and had taken a picture at the Imperial Palace. Unknowingly, Dana had taken a picture from the same spot in 1998 on his first trip to Japan. It seemed appropriate that we take a picture of the two of them in the same location in 2000!

We did do some shopping at the Oriental Bazaar and wandered around Shinjuku. It was nice to have Tatsu along as a translator. We found a great restaurant rather like a Benihannas for lunch. The steak was good and they made a neat fried ice cream dessert right on the grill in front of us!

The end of our day in Tokyo led us to say goodbye to Tatsu and then we drove back to Mito.

Sunday morning we went to Mass at the church in Mito and said our goodbyes there. Dad and Mom wandered around the Art Tower at the center of Mito and we had lunch afterwards. Our original plans were to travel to Nikko on this day, but there was just too much to do to pack up all our stuff and get out of the apartment.

Monday was spent packing, cleaning and everything connected with vacating our apartment. Dad took the kids to the park for a while and went for a walk around the neighborhood with Mom. We spent that night at the Holiday Inn in town.

Tuesday was Mom’s birthday and we celebrated the day by driving to the place she most wanted to see in Japan, Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately the weather was a lot less than accommodating and we couldn’t see much of the mountain. We did have a very nice Japanese dinner in the restaurant at the hotel that night.

Mt. Fuji was one of the other places Dana’s dad had been while he was in Japan in the 1950’s and we were even able to stay in the same hotel as he had then. From my perspective, this was probably his greatest disappointment about Japan. When he was there before, Tokyo was a busy city and although it had grown, it was still a busy city. Mt. Fuji and the area around it was very rural and more of a village. A quiet part of Japan, if you will. Well, Fuji is a tourist area in Japan and now has many resorts and homes. I think he had hoped it would not have changed as much as it did.

We did drive up the mountain as far as you could, where most people would begin their ascent---if it weren’t snowing! We took a few pictures and went into the stores then began down the road toward Nagoya.

On the way to Nagoya, we stopped at one of the roadside rests for lunch and a break. I’m not sure I have ever described these rest stops and since this was by far the nicest we had been to, it seems appropriate to do so. When you are traveling along a highway, the exits are few and far between. These highways also have tolls that must be paid based on how far you drive on them. Well, rather than make you get off the highway for a break, they have rest stops along them. The rest stops always have toilets, a place to get food like a convenience store and a gas station. Some of them have nice restaurants. This particular one that we stopped at had several restaurants and some shops, not to mention it was right along the ocean and had an exquisite view! It was a pleasant surprise.

The other things worthy of noting were the rows and rows of tea plants that we saw along the highway. At first we weren’t too sure of what they were, but after some careful deliberation and finding a postcard with them pictured on them, we learned what they were. They grow in rows rather like grape vines grow in California, but they are wider and are terraced up the sides of the mountains. It was quite beautiful to see.

Nagoya was the site of a beautiful castle and our first night in a Japanese style inn.

In the morning, we went to Denny’s for breakfast, the girls played in the park with Mom and Dad and then we headed for the Noritake factory. Most of you are probably familiar with Noritake porcelain. They have a large factory in Nagoya that also has a tour and museum. We all enjoyed seeing the entire process for making fine china. It was amazing to learn that some of their museum quality pieces take one person about 6 months to complete the painting.

From there, we went on to Nagoya Castle. Nagoya Castle: Built on the site of an older castle in 1610-14. It was destroyed in WWII and replaced in 1959 with a ferroconcrete replica. Look out for the three-meter-long replicas of the famous shachi-hoko, dolphin like sea creatures that stand at either end of the roof (and inside every souvenir shop in town). The interior houses a museum with armor and family treasures, which escaped the bombing.

After our time at the castle, we headed out for Kyoto. Kyoto wasn’t a very long drive, so it made for an easy day. That night, Thursday, we didn’t do much other than check-in to our inn and wander around the train station.

Friday we headed out of town to Arashiyama, where we took a train to Kameoka. In Kameoka we boarded a boat of sorts and took a ride down a section of the Hozu River. The boat was a cross between a gondola, a raft and a paddleboat. It was guided by a helmsman and when not powered by the current of the river, it was moved a long by a man using a stick and momentum to push us along. It was a great ride! As we neared the end of our trip, another boat the size of our except with a motor pulled up next to us to sell us food and drinks and then to help us pull into the dock.

We spent most of the rest of the afternoon in Arashiyama walking around the stores and enjoying the cherry blossoms. This was a great time to be there because all of the blossoms were at their peak. There were beautiful women walking around in their kimonos and the river made for an ideal setting.

In the morning, on our drive to Arashiyama, we had encountered some streets that were particularly narrow and busy---even for Japan! We decided to try to get some photos and videos of these streets so we could show them to people who didn’t quite understand what we were talking about. While we never ended up back on the same streets, we did get a few photos.

Our final stop as a tourist that day was something I had wanted to see--- a raked rock garden. It was beautiful and peaceful! It gives me some ideas for our own home. That night, Mom and Dad kept the girls for dinner and Dana and I went out for a quiet evening alone. We wandered the huge fancy train station and had a simple dinner.

Saturday, we went to the big temple nearby our inn, to the zoo and then to what was called an Arts and Crafts bazaar near another temple. At the bazaar, we were able to buy simple kimonos, called yakutas, for the girls and I to take home. We also bought a few other little goodies. We saw people doing wood block printing and several other Japanese style crafts.

Sunday, we went to Mass in Kyoto and then drove down to Kobe. Dad wanted to see how Kobe had been rebuilt after the earthquake a few years before. From the vantage point of someone who had never seen Kobe before, it was hard to tell where the damage had been and where things had been rebuilt.

From there we drove to Osaka for our last night in Japan. Our room was beautiful and had a view of the castle and surrounding grounds from the window. We wandered around from the hotel, relaxed a bit and pondered what the last seven months had meant to us and wondered if we would ever return!

Unfortunately, because I am writing this some 16 months later, I have probably missed some details; but hopefully, I have most of it accurate.

Number 26

Japan Chronicle 26 (ni-ju-roku)

Well, we are really in the end game now! This week we have 17 boxes headed for home. The appointments have been made to turn off utilities and vacate our apartment. Dana’s parents arrive 1 week from Thursday. Wow!

I need to back up a little and tell you about something I omitted from my last chronicle. (Senility!) The weekend before we went to Guam, we went to Kasama again. Kasama is the place where we were literally overwhelmed by photographers. This time we went with my Japanese teacher/English student and her family.

The main reason we went to Kasama the first time is because we had heard you could make pottery there. An instructor will take you through it and then your piece is left to be fired and you get it back in about a month. Well, we never managed to find one of these places. I had mentioned this to Gota-san and she said she knew where some were and we decided to make a day of it for both of our families. Gota-san even managed to find an instructor that spoke English! That made all of our lives easier.

We spent the morning at a pottery place, studio sounds a little funny given the surroundings. This place was more like a barn with open areas to work in downstairs and a bonfire going to help warm you. Our lesson was up in an attic like area of the barn. There was also a museum. This particular place has been a family run pottery business for 5 generations. It is all in rather a garden like area up a road that we thought sure was a bike path. They also have on display, the world largest vase. The current generations father made it; the son is of course now working on a larger one. I can’t remember the exact height, but it was well over 30 feet tall! Simply incredible for a small town!

After our pottery work, we went to a noodle house. Lunch was great and then we headed off for some shopping. It was a great day and we are anxious to see our work. I think it will be ready this week.

Guam was great too! We spent our first evening with the Lennon’s dining at Sizzler. We were all missing salad bars! Most of our time was spent enjoying the water park, but we did take some time to explore the island a little. We visited the a war museum and a place called Two Lovers Point for the two that tied their hair together and plunged to their death because they could not marry. I think we were all glad just to have warm weather.

We also decided to go on another dolphin watch. The boat ride was wonderful. Christina got to sit with the captain. He is famous for having studied and written a book on dolphins, so she was able to talk with him and ask questions. Dana and I even snorkeled off the back of the boat for a short time. The water is so clear and beautiful there. I could just float around and watch the fish for hours.
The only thing missing from our dolphin watch was the dolphins! I felt so bad for Christina, but she was great despite her disappointment. There had been a sighting of some Pilot Whales in the area and the Spinner dolphins hide when they are around. The captain felt so bad too! He gave us all a set of postcards with photos he had taken and gave Christina his business card and told her to keep in contact.

Since our return from Guam, it seems like most of our effort is focused on leaving. We are of course anxious to get home, but I don’t want to give the idea that we have not thoroughly enjoyed our time here. We have met some great friends and experienced something few people ever get too! Alas, it will be good to be home.

Well, I am going to close for now. Dana is having one of his late nights at work and I need to get some more work done. The late night is much more unusual now, but every once in awhile….

Blessings and prayers,

Number 25

Japan 25

Somehow, I think I have been at this point before. We are leaving for Guam on Thursday and Dana is bugging me to write another chronicle. Oh well, I know it has been a couple of weeks since I wrote, and it often seems like there is nothing to write about, but these last couple of weeks have been very busy. Let me see if I can sort it all out.

First, we have a homecoming date. We will be leaving Japan on April 10th and arrive in Los Angeles, before we leave Japan. (Time zones) We will spend a busy week in the Los Angles area, not the least of which will include Catherine making her First Communion and then return to Denver on the 17th. We are all anxious to get home. It is not that we have not enjoyed our time here; I think we just need to settle down for a while.

As I mentioned above, we leave for Guam on Thursday. We will be there for 5 days. We are all looking forward to warm weather. Our friends the Lennon’s are already there, and we will get to spend a few days having fun with them before they come home too!

A couple of weeks ago, we drove to Atsugi base again, so Dana could get a personal tour of Vic’s squadron. The drive turned out to be much longer than we thought it would because the traffic in Tokyo was horrible, but we had a great time. Dana really enjoyed getting to see the squadron operations up close.

In addition to making plans for our going home, I have also been working plans our last 10 days here. Dana’s parents arrive on the 30th, his last day of work is the 31st and then we are going to tour Japan with them. I am really looking forward to it. We have plans to go to Nikko, Mt. Fuji, Nagoya and then to spend a few days in Kyoto before flying out of Osaka. It turns out, we will all be on the same flight going home. I think that will be great for us, but I’m not too sure how they will feel after having spent all that time with us to them be cooped up on an airplane with the girls for 12 hours, but I guess we will find out! Oh well, they had 4 children of their own.

Our schoolwork is coming along great. My bad back has turned out to be a mixed blessing of sorts because I simply cannot do too much. When I am tired, we sit down and do schoolwork. We have been doing lots of schoolwork. Christina has started to break the 5-minute barrier for 100 problems on some of her math facts. Daily drill seems to be working well for her. Catherine has even decided that she wants to do it too. We’ve set her goal a little lower, but she is doing well. It does amaze me how she can do 25 addition problems in 5 minutes for drill and then take an hour to do 5 of the same problems on her regular math, but I’m just the teacher. :+D We finished reading all the books of the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody that I have here. I think we all enjoyed the series, particularly since it begins on our home turf in Colorado. Now we are moving on to reading a biography of Mother Teresa.

Now, regarding Catherine’s First Communion. This is not exactly my idea of an appropriate invitation, I will try to get those out, but from here, I make no promises. We would like to invite any of you who can attend to Catherine’s First Communion on Saturday April 15th at 8:00am at Our Lady of Grace Church. A brunch/reception will follow at the home of Henry, Tere, Anthony and Marcus Castaneda. Please RSVP to me via email and I can give you directions, so we can get a count of how many are coming. One special request, please try to be there on time. This is happening at the regular daily mass and I don’t want to create a distraction for those that usually attend this mass. Thank you for understanding. I think this will be a great opportunity to celebrate and we are all looking forward to it.

I’m sure there is more I should mention, but I can’t think of what right now. It seems my efforts are going to packing boxes, filling out paperwork and cleaning; in other words, life as usual. I am taking my computer with us when we go to Guam, so if you need to reach us, email is still probably the best way. Looking forward to seeing many of you soon.

Blessings and prayers,

Number 24

Japan Chronicles 24 (ni-ju-yung)

Where to start? Well, I guess first of all is to let you know that we have set a departure date. We will be leaving Japan on April 10th. We will spend one week in the Los Angeles area and then return to Denver on April 17th. We are all very excited.

A week or so ago, someone asked me if I was tired of being in Japan. I had to think for a while, and I am not even sure what I answered. As I considered the question later, I realized that no, I am not tired of being in Japan, but I am tired of having our lives unsettled.

Japan is a wonderful place and we have enjoyed our time here and we will enjoy the remainder of our time here. People have been so generous and kind to us. But, I have learned something, that coming from America where our culture is such a melting pot, I had not realized. No matter how well I learn to speak Japanese or understand the culture or even how long we lived here, we will always be ‘foreigners’. I don’t mean that in any negative way at all. I just simply mean that looking like we do, we will always draw attention.

Before we return home, we will be ‘forced’ to spend another few days in Guam. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it! The great part is that our friends down in Ayase will be there at the same time, so it will be a two family vacation.

Then, for the last 10 days or so of our stay here, Dana will be on vacation. His parents are coming to Japan and we are going to spend the time touring Japan. I have been having fun making plans and arrangements for that time. We plan on seeing Nikko, Mount Fuji, and the Kyoto/Nara area. I am really looking forward to that, too!

This week has been one of rehabilitation. I mentioned in my last chronicle, that I was having some back problems, well, it turns out that I have a herniated disc. My Japanese teacher took me the ‘hospital’, which is really more of an orthopedic clinic, and acted as a translator. I appreciated her help so much. The doctor took x-rays and said basically that with 3 months of rehabilitation, I should be back to normal. This was a little longer in the recovery time than I had hoped for, but ah well!

Basically, I go to rehab, twice a week where they use lasers, magnets, heat, electricity and air to make my body heal. Not sure how it all works, and don’t know if it matters! After over 2 weeks of dealing with it, my back has slowly showed signs of improving. That is all I want. I do think this has eliminated any possibilities of going SCUBA diving in Guam, but oh well. I am going to do as much rehab here as possible, so hopefully by the time I return home, I will be doing pretty well.

Because of my back, we haven’t done much. On Sunday, we went to church and went to Oarai aquarium with some friends from church. I can’t remember if I mentioned them before, but they are from Slovakia. They have been living here for a few years now. They have a daughter who is Catherine’s age and looks an awful lot like Catherine, except her name is Kristina!

The aquarium is pretty small and has only a few short shows, but it was a perfect opportunity to get out for a short time and have a little fun. The girls and I had been to this aquarium before. It’s the one where they got to pet a dolphin. We showed Dana around and the girls also had fun being with Kristina. They didn’t get to pet the dolphin again, but everyone enjoyed the shows.

I’ve been giving the idea of organization in Japan, so thought and so now, I’ll try to share a few of those thoughts. Since space is at a premium here, it must be used efficiently. There are all sorts of contraptions to organize anything. I think I’ll just try to share a few ideas.

Shoes have always been an issue in our home! As you probably already know we don’t wear shoes in the house in Japan. What this means is that near the front door, there must be a place to store shoes for the entire household. Most of the time this just takes the form of a cabinet with shelves that are spaced so there is enough height to put a pair of shoes. The cabinet generally has doors on it, so the area looks neat.

For us, this shoe idea has had its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, we don’t spend as much time searching for shoes under children’s beds. On the minus side, they usually don’t make it into the cupboard and instead remain on the floor of the entryway. I think this idea has some potential, but one thing I think is a must for this is a decent size entryway and a bench where your family can sit down and put your shoes on.

Moving on, don’t just throw something in a drawer when you can separate it and make it look neat. The object of course isn’t just to make your drawers look neat, but to enable you to find what you want quicker. Everything has its place and if it doesn’t get rid of something else or don’t get it!

A cute idea that I have seen for storing belts is to us a piece of corrugated cardboard that is about as tall as the belt is wide and maybe 10 inches long. Join the ends to make a circle and roll your belt and put it in the ring. Belts stay neat in their places.
ow about an office with walls paneled in pegboard? Paint it a color you like and you can hook anything you want onto the wall and move it whenever you like.
Children have a bunk bed? Build a box on rollers to go under the bed. You can store toys or clothes or whatever. When you want to find something you can just slide the drawer out.

A little rail above a shelf will help keep things from falling off a shelf. At least in a low magnitude earthquake!

Don’t forget that wasted space under a sink, above the toilet, under a shelf or even in between the support beams for your wall! It is all fair game if you can figure out how to utilize it.

Well, I am going to stop there. Those of you that know me well also know that I am the ultimate in organizer and that you would never know this by my home!

We have our first snowfall in Japan, so I am going to enjoy! It will probably be melted in a couple of hours! Here’s to a snowball fight!

Blessings and prayers,

Number 23

Japan Chronicles 23 (ni-ju-san)

It has been rather a boring week in terms of travel. The furthest we went was our Japanese class on Wednesday and we walked home from there. Dana needs to take the car to work or if I want it I need to take him and pick him up. It is about 45 minutes one way to his office so I don’t plan on doing that very often. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get this done. I have injured my back somehow and it is very painful to sit up for very long.

I signed up for a grocery delivery service. The prices are as good as the store and I don’t have to make that trip with three children. We will get our first delivery on Monday. This is my idea of shopping—from home!

We have been working hard on our schoolwork around here and I am trying to bring a little more order to our lives and therefore create a peaceful atmosphere. Okay, I’m delusional, but I’m trying. I signed up for this email list for Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE’s) and this mentor emails me my chores and encouragement throughout the day. I really like it and I think the apartment is looking better every day.

I was talking with someone the other day, and they were asking about how the Japanese organize their homes. After giving it some thought, I think this might be a fun topic that that I know I could use the clarity. I have some magazines that I bought here a couple of months ago on the very subject, so I thought I’d go through them and see what ideas I could come up with, along with the other neat things I have picked up a long the way. I also realize that not all Japanese homes look like the ones in magazines, but there are some legitimate space issues here and I have seen some creative ways of addressing them. By the way, wouldn’t it be nice if all American homes looked like the ones in the magazine of our choosing?

Someone had mentioned this idea of fung shei or however it’s spelt, but I thought that was more of a Chinese thing rather than a Japanese thing. If I am wrong, I am sure someone or several someone’s’ will email me the proof of my error, but I haven’t heard it mentioned here. So on to space saving and organizing. If your not interested, just hit the delete key. I won’t be offended and I probably won’t know! Let me mention a disclaimer, I don’t think I can be violating any copyright laws because I can’t read what is written, but I am ever so thankful for good pictures!

I think I will start off with a few features of a Japanese home that I have found very convenient. (They won’t be the kitchens!) If I can, I am going to include a few pictures otherwise; I will try to get them on the web site that I have been promising.

The entryway of the home is a different material than the rest of the floors. It is the one area in the house where outside shoes touch the floor. From what I understand, it is actually considered outside. This is where you remove your shoes on entering the house. Usually, there are slippers for guests to put on while they are in your home. One size fits none! :+) There is a cupboard to put the family’s shoes in right in this area. I have actually found this very helpful because we don’t have to go hunting for shoes if they don’t make it out of the entryway. Ideally, this area should be large enough to fit the entire family getting on the shoes at the same time to avoid the traffic jam. Ours is about 2’x2’. I like the idea of no shoes in the house ‘cause it saves dirt inside.

The way ceiling lighting fixtures are installed is rather convenient. You plug them in much like an electrical outlet and twist. All done! Most of them have three settings; the lowest is a nightlight and the others offer more light.
I have already mentioned the “bath” room in one of my first chronicles, but since the list of people receiving these, grows almost daily now, I think it is worth mentioning again. The “bath”room in Japan should not be confused with the room where the toilet is located. Our version of this is a little small, but I can see how enlarged to fit a western person it could be very nice. The bathroom is just that, a room with a bath. The bath is deep, so you can soak up to your shoulders. I’m going to take advantage of that with my back. However, the bath is not for bathing. There is a shower outside the tub and usually a little seat to sit on while you wash yourself. It is there, that you use soap, shave and get yourself clean. Once you are clean, you can soak in the tub. When you are finished soaking in the tub, you put the cover back on it for the next person. Practically speaking, we haven’t adopted whole idea, but the best part of this all is that there is a drain in the floor, outside the tub. When the kids are in the tub splashing around or spraying each other with the sprayer, the water is not going to damage the room, but simply flow out through the drain. This mother’s dream!

Outside of this bathroom is usually a sink, with hot water and the laundry area. I think it is particularly convenient to be able to undress right where the clothes are washed. It makes it more difficult for the children to miss the laundry basket if the room is really small too! Most people don’t have clothes dryers, but hang their laundry out to dry. After managing to rent a dryer here, I can understand why, the dryers are small and take about 2 hours to dry half a load of clothes.

The toilet is in a separate room and after you flush the toilet, water runs through a faucet on the lid into the tank so you can wash your hands. This saves water, but the drawback is that it is only cold water. One feature of this room that I think is cool is the toilet paper holder. No more trying to squeeze that little spindle into the whole and have it pop out. To insert a new roll of toilet paper, you simply slide it up from the bottom and the pieces that hold it in place flip into the center of the roll. I’m bringing a couple of these home to install in our house! No one has an excuse for not replacing the roll. They also have these little cute covers that go over them and hold an extra roll of toilet paper.
It is a strange balance between simplicity and hi-tech that is achieved in Japanese homes. On one hand, you have a tearoom with tatami mats, a table and a simple flower arrangement. On the other hand, is the HD TV with all the stereo equipment and the cute little things that they have accumulated. I don’t even pretend to understand how that balance is achieved.

Space is important here. Most homes are small by western standards, so space must be utilized efficiently. There are special plates for this and pans only used for certain dishes. Although, a western style bed is becoming more common, futons are still used and in most homes are stored in the closet during the day, so the room can be used for other purposes.

At this point, I have decided to save the storage ideas for next time. I want to have some more time to think about them and how best to share them. I will try not to make it so long before I get it done.

Blessings and prayers,

Number 22

Japan 22

Well, Sunday was a very long day, but we had a nice time. We left our apartment at 4:30 am, drove to our friends in Ayase. This time it only took two hours instead of six when I went to get the turkey. Amazing what a little thing like a map will do! Anyway, we left the girls with Ginny, Vic, Axton and Vanessa while Dana and I ventured by train into Tokyo for the Sumo tournament!

Back in December when the tickets for this sumo tournament when on sale, we had one of the Japanese guys get us tickets. The tickets we got are very hard to get because the seats are held by tea houses and they usually only sell these tickets to members who have a history with their tea house. I’m still not sure how he did it, but we had box seats.

The box seats have a low rail around them and 4 cushions in them so your group can sit Japanese style. These tickets have to be purchased in blocks of four, so the person who made all the phone calls for them was going to go with us; however, a few weeks ago, he found out he would be going on his first business trip to America and not be here during that time. After he gave the tickets to another coworker, of course, his trip was postponed! The result was that we went with Tagowa-san and he was supposed to bring his girlfriend.

Here’s what actually happened; Tagowa-san ended up bringing his English instructor from Ibaraki University. Duane is an American who has been living in Japan for 12 years and has married a Japanese woman. Duane likes to drink beer. During the course of the afternoon, Duane drank at least 12 cans of beer and after he made friends with the people sitting behind us, he had a couple of glasses of sake. All I can say here is that I am glad that Duane is a happy drunk not a belligerent one.
As for the match, that was pretty cool. First of all, there are rikishi running around the hall. Okay, maybe running isn’t the best word; I probably should say wandering around. By the way, rikishi is the name for the guys who wrestle. You get to see the matches at the lower levels before the guys are actually paid. Skinny guys, for the most part and their hair isn’t long enough for a the fancy hairdo, nor have they earned it. We bought a couple of books on sumo before we went, so we had an easier time understanding what was going on. We knew who the better wrestlers were and could cheer for whomever we wanted.

The emperor and his wife even came to that days match. Dana made the comment that was the second time this month that we had seen them. I told him that if there were a third time, the emperor would have to introduce himself! It was neat to see the respect that was shown to them. Usually, at the end of the last match, people have their hands on their bags and leave as the wrestler hits the floor and don’t bother to stay for the closing ceremony, but because it would be rude to leave before the emperor, everyone stayed in their places and watched the closing. After the emperor left, the cattle drive started.

Seeing a sumo match in Japan is like seeing a baseball game in America. I guess you have to do it. I haven’t done the baseball game, but I enjoyed the sumo match. There is such a sense of tradition and respect within the sport that despite the fact that these huge guys are wrestling in virtually nothing, you know that this is a serious thing for them. They are not playing games when they step in the ring. One thing that particularly struck me is that once the match is over, the conflict is finished. They don’t parade around or lord their win over the opponent. If one has fallen, it is not unusual for the other to help them up. I even noticed that when they are pushing the other guy out of the ring, they stop as soon as they are sure they have gone far enough to win, they will back off, so as not to risk injuring the other rikishi by pushing him to the ground. Suppose American wrestlers could learn a lesson?

After the match, Dana and I got back on the train for Ayase, grabbed a bite to eat on the way and picked up the girls and drove home. We arrived home about midnight, very tired. The girls had a great time with the Lennon’s and are anxious to see them again. I hope that will happen soon too!

This week the classes we have been taking resumed. Monday, I took Christina to Etegame while the other girls and I went to the bank. Wednesday, it was back to Japanese class and Thursday was Ikebana. In between all of that, we were doing schoolwork. It was a busy week, but fun.

Thursday afternoon, my Ikebana teacher, Seki-san, brought her 10-year-old daughter over to play with Christina. They went to the park for a while and then we all sat at the table and folded origami. We learned a couple of new shapes and had a nice visit. Seki-san, speaks English pretty well, so that did make it a little easier.

Beginning next Tuesday, I am going to be teaching my Japanese teacher, Goto-san, English. Her English is also pretty good, but she would like to practice. Like many Japanese, she can read it much easier than she can speak it. I think it will be a good experience for us both.

I don’t think I have mentioned one other person before, but I wouldn’t want to leave her out of my memories of Japan. Her name is Goda-san. Our nickname for her is ‘the grandma’. Every time we see her, she has some little present for the girls. At first I was very uncomfortable with it, but I am learning that it is often just the Japanese way. During my Japanese lessons, she plays with Charlene and Catherine. Sometimes they fold origami or play Jenga (of course, it is a Hello Kitty set). I think she enjoys being with little ones. She is very quiet and very sweet. She always has a smile and a cute little laugh when she gets embarrassed.

The other person the girls have grown quite fond of is the gate guard at Dana’s office. We don’t even know his name, but the girls would salute him as we entered or left. They learned the saluting from the gate guard at the other site. Anyway, at first, he didn’t pay much attention, but then, he started saluting them back. Now, when I drive up and he recognizes us, he gets a big smile on his face and waves to us all. Every once in a while, he has tangerines for the girls and we have brought him some of our stash of American candy. The next time I get up there, I want to remember to get a picture of the girls with him.

Well, the installation for Dana’s work finished today. Starting Monday, he is on a normal schedule. I am really looking forward to that. Dana said things went well. They all went out for a celebratory dinner after work.

There have been a couple of changes back in Denver at Dana’s work, but we aren’t sure how it will affect Dana. For now, Dana is committed to training her through the end of March, but it is possible that we will actually be here until the end of April, with a different aspect of the job. We will deal with the rest later.

Well, I guess that is about all for now. My clock just changed to midnight and we all know what happens to princesses at midnight…

Blessings and prayers,

Number 21

Japan 21 (ni-ju-ichi)

Well, our schedule had to be revised a bit, but I think we are off to a good start on our schoolwork. I am really please with Seton as a homeschool curriculum. Some things we are able to go through a little quicker, but when we need to we take our time.

I wanted to ask you to remember the family of Max Wilkerson who passed away recently, in your prayers. Mr. Wilkerson is the father of Bishop Jerry Wilkerson. Bishop Wilkerson also lost his mother less than a year ago. Our prayers are with you Bishop Jerry.

I think I mentioned some time ago that we were going to have a Japanese student come over during her winter vacation so she could practice her English before she goes to America in August. This young lady is named Mizuho. She is 17 years old. Her English is good although because she has only practiced with Japanese people she will still have some adjusting to do when she gets to America.

The girls had lots of fun with Mizuho. Some days they would go to the park and other days we would all stay in and do our school work. She would bring her English work to do while she was here so I could help her if she needed it. We had some great talks about some of the questions that she had about life in America. I did have a laugh when she asked me what sort of dress she should wear to American school party. I pointed out that perhaps I wasn’t the best to consult in the teenage fashion department and that she should ask an American friend who she likes the way they dress to help her make such a selection. I did emphasize for her to make nice friends. Mizuho returns to school tomorrow, but we hope to see her again when she comes to see her parents.

Sunday, Tatsu came up to see us and Monday was a National Holiday. Monday we were supposed to go to Yokohama for a couple of days for Dana’s work. The girls and I decided to tag along and see our friends that live nearby. We had planned to take Tatsu back to Yokohama, he lives near there, but when our plans delayed, the girls and I took him to a park we really like instead.

The park we went to is really fun. It has a slide that is 875 meters long. You sit on a little sled-like thing with a pull brake and you can zip down the hill. It even tows you back to the top afterwards! Charlene rode with me and Catherine rode with Tatsu. Christina was old enough to do it on her own. I think it was a great way to just relax and have fun.

Well, the trip was delayed several times, but we finally left for Yokohama Wednesday night, in the rain. It was rather a long drive, but we made it there safely and had no difficulties finding our hotel. The hotel was very nice and was located in the tallest building in all of Japan called the Landmark Tower. It is 70 stories high and our room was on the 58th floor. It was funny to be totally socked in by the clouds and not be able to see a thing out the huge window in the room. I managed to take a few pictures, but they aren’t anything spectacular because the sky never really cleared.

Thursday was Christina’s 10th birthday. The girls and I met Ginny, Axton and Vanessa. We went to the amusement park nearby, an import mall and explored the Yokohama train station stores. That evening, we went to dinner at a restaurant that Christina picked. We purchased a banana cream pie with strawberries on top. They put a chocolate kanji sign that said Happy Birthday on it and gave us candles. We ate it later in our hotel room out of teacups. It was really good!

A side note, I don’t have an explanation as to why there are so many strawberries in the stores at this time of year, but they are the best I have ever had. Of course, they aren’t cheap either.

Friday, Dana anticipated finishing work around noon. It didn’t work that way, but the girls and I spent the day shopping in the rows and rows of stores. Dana got to us around 5pm; we grabbed some dinner and headed home. We made good time through Tokyo and were home by 7:30, I think.

Today, I am trying to catch up on housework and laundry, do some grocery shopping and get ready to start back to schoolwork on Monday. Sound exciting?

I think that is all for now. I haven’t had much time to work on the web site, so I’ll let you know when I get it together.

Blessings and prayers,