Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vancouver Olympics Beef Stew

This is the soup I invented in Japan for OMF's student ministry, fmZERO's "Olympics Party." This party was the brainchild of myself, Keith, and Tre. We spent 3 1/2 years in Vancouver (and we'll return there in April), and Tre was born in Toronto, so we were all keen to have an opportunity to celebrate Canada and Vancouver and the Olympics with our friends. We didn't really end up talking about Canada all that much, but that's fitting, because Canada wouldn't want to put itself forward. ;) First some party pictures. Keith was in charge of the party games.

Mop hockey

Some people got really into the games...

Yuki got a bit too excited during "sock speed skating" and ended up on the (newly waxed) floor. Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen finishing the soup.

No definite winner this round... so things were decided with a match of jankenpon.

We were thinking about food for the party, and we thought it should probably be Canadian. But what's Canadian food? Most people think of BC salmon and maple syrup. Salmon is kind of out of the question (too expensive, and not really unique, since the salmon here is just as good), and Maple Syrup… really expensive and hard to get. Well, we tried, but the store selling it was closed the day I tried to buy it. Oh well, I saved 2500 yen (about $27) by making "missionary maple syrup" to eat with our pancakes, which, incidentally, are served for dessert in Japan. More on that later.

We decided on a beef stew inspired by the delicious stews at one of our favourite restaurants in Vancouver, Burgoo. Burgoo features good stews from all over the world, which is very appropriate to the character of Vancouver, where in the course of a day, you will probably hear three or four languages other than English being spoken. Our beef stew was not really particularly Canadian, other than the fact that the idea of this soup was imported from somewhere else.

"I think it's more British than Canadian," I mused to my Irish friend (John). "No," he said, smelling it, "definitely more continental." I pointed to the Italian herb mix and cooking wine, and he nodded. My English friend (Alaric) agreed that it was quite French given the presence of aubergine, and it would also be excellent with lamb. Thus some possible variations: maybe next time I'll use beer instead of wine, and more parsley. Then the next time, maybe lamb and lentils. Who knows?

Oh yeah… we are now known as the king and queen of cheap food. This was the cheapest party meal for an fmZERO party ever! For the most part, we used seasonal produce, and we have a great source of cheap onions and potatoes from a farm near our church.

Vancouver Olympics Beef Stew

  • Olive oil
  • 5 small onions, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 leek (or less, if you are not using the smallish Japanese variety), minced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • Oregano or Italian herb mix
  • a dash of cayenne pepper, if you like it spicy
  • 200 g stewing beef, diced (we used chuck roast)
  • 1 400 ml can peeled whole tomatoes and their juice, roughly diced
  • 2 cups beef broth (I used "Better than Bouillon" and used it to rinse out the tomato can)
  • 1/2 c red wine
  • Some kind of grain: barley would have been great, but I used the Japanese seed and been mixture which people add to rice to increase the nutritional value. I think I put in about 3 Tbsp.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 6 mushrooms, quartered (I used shiitake, since they're the cheapest here; use your favourite kind.)
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, quartered lengthwise and cut into bite-size pieces, then soaked in salt water for 20 minutes (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tomato paste, if you like it thicker, although it should already be fairly thick
  • 125 g frozen peas or green beans (cut into 2 cm segments)
  • 2 Tbsp minced parsley
  • To serve: rice or bread

In a frying pan, warm the olive oil. Sauté the onions over low heat until they are caramelized (about 20 minutes). Add garlic, onions, and leek, and sauté for a few minutes. Add oregano or Italian herb mix and cayenne (optional) and cook for another minute.

Meanwhile, brown the beef in a large, heavy-bottom soup pot. Add the tomatoes, beef broth, wine, grain of choice, and bay leaf. Add the onion mixture when it's ready and deglaze the pan with a little water or broth.

Add the carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms to the soup as you finish chopping them. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer at least until the potatoes and carrots are tender, about 45 minutes.

When the vegetables are tender, add the eggplant and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and thicken with tomato paste if necessary, in particular if you will be serving the stew over rice. Right before serving, add the frozen peas or beans and parsley.

Serve over rice or with bread.

Serves 6-8

Enjoy the soup! Photo credits to Tre... thanks a lot!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

お正月--Celebrating the New Year in Japan

Last Saturday (well, now it's 2 weeks ago by the time I'm finishing this post), we had an impromptu Chinese New Year party. There were no Chinese people at this party. It just so happened that the day before, I mentioned to my friend, Rijke that I wanted to crash the Singaporean missionaries' party, but she suggested that we have our own party instead. So, we had a Chinese New Year party with one Canadian (Rijke), two American wannabe Canadians (us), and one Texan (Ellen). The menu? Gyoza (dumplings--also known as potstickers), nabe (Japanese hotpot), and oshiruko (Japanese sweet red bean and mochi soup). I guess what we ended up with was Japanese versions of Chinese New Year foods. おいしい!!!

But I digress. I'm supposed to be writing about Japanese New Year (お正月=oshougatsu), which is celebrated on January 1 along with the western world. The Chinese New Year party merely served to remind me that I am behind on my posting, so I need to get my act together.

My parents and brother came to Sapporo on December 28 to celebrate New Year's and generally have some family time. Thus I decided to explore as fully as possible the interesting Oshougatsu traditions and foods so we could all enjoy them together. In Japan, as in many other places in Asia, the New Year celebration is an important time for the extended family to gather together for feasting and fun. It isn't a wild party like it is in the US. In Japan, that's what Christmas is for. I am not making this up. ;)

On New Year's Eve, I spent most of the day preparing おせち (osechi), the traditional box of food which is eaten over the first three days of the new year. The idea is that the women of the house will then be able to rest from cooking. Whether or not it actually saves any time is another story... Most Japanese women who prepare osechi begin to prepare it several days in advance. On retrospect, this would have been a wiser choice. I cannot tell you how much my back hurt when I was finally finished... and I had a lot of help from Mom and Colin. By the way, when I explained to Japanese friends that I intended to prepare osechi, I was met with shocked looks: it's practically unheard of for a foreigner to do this. They were really excited to give me advice, though.

Consulting the cookbook... all in Japanese, but thankfully, there are lots of pictures.

All 3 burners going all day. It got pretty warm in the kitchen. Incidentally, I highly recommend cooking chopsticks and the otoshibuta method (that would be the parchment paper covered pot in the foreground).

For dinner that night, we had traditional New Year's soba noodle soup, the significance of the noodles being long noodles for long life. We also had gyoza, since that's what we eat for Chinese New Year, and I like making gyoza with Colin. It just seemed fitting.

  Gathered around the table for New Year's Soba

After dinner, we went upstairs to our neighbor's part of the house for our gaijin party, which ended up not being very wild. (Gaijin is the Japanese word for foreigner, by the way. In this case, the party-goers were my family and other OMF missionaries.) I was surprised that my family managed to stay up until midnight, including Dad, who "turns into a pumpkin at 11 p.m." It took me weeks to get to that point after we arrived in Japan.



On New Year's morning, we put the finishing touches on our New Year's card. Japanese people do not send Christmas cards. They send New Year's cards. Technically, we should have sent cards before Christmas, but with the Christmas concerts and all, there really wasn't time, so we opted for sending ours by email. Oddly enough, all the specially marked postcards mailed between December 15 and 25 anywhere in Japan are delivered the morning of January 1. People get really creative with these cards.

After breakfast, which was natto over brown rice (which, oddly enough, my whole family loved)...

 Really, they loved it!

...we went to church for a new year's service at Kibou no Oka church, where Keith teaches English, and where my January 3 concert was held. Going to church is not a typical Oshougatsu activity, as only 1 percent of the Japanese population is Christian.

 Posing in front of the church sign board, where my concert poster is displayed.

After the service, we participated in tea ceremony (お茶=ocha) and mochi pounding (餅つき=mochitsuki). Mochitsuki is a family activity which takes place around the new year. Like osechi, it is designed to "provide rest" to the women of the house, since no rice needs to be prepared during the three days of the Oshougatsu period. Cooked sticky rice is placed into a special wooden stand-bowl (see picture--I really don't know how to describe it) and then pounded to a paste with a huge wood hammer. Often this is done by a husband and wife--the husband operates the hammer while the wife kneads the dough and adds water between strokes.

Matcha with a red bean sweet

Even the kids drank matcha. I was surprised, because matcha is known for being bitter and not at all kid-friendly. The blond kid (Jonathan) drank it straight down, but the other two weren't so sure about it.

Colin helped out with mochitsuki. The kids provided moral support, and Watanabe-san, who is in charge of Keith's English classes and my concert, kneaded the dough between strokes.

What to do with mochi: use it like dumplings in ozouni soup... 

 ...or make daifuku--sweet red bean filled mochi balls. Yum!

Our next stop was the Hokkaido Shrine, which is located at the edge of Sapporo in a beautiful park. Most Japanese visit a shrine to offer prayers for the new year during the holiday period between January 1-3. This is called 初もうで (hatsumoude). I'm certainly no expert on Shinto religious practices, so I'll just make a few observations.

The shrine, as expected, was mobbed with people. However, also as expected, Japanese crowd control being the fine art that it is, everyone waited patiently for their turn to enter the shrine.


 Sign reads: "Please wait a little while." Everyone kindly obliged.

Once we were inside, we observed visitors buying fortune slips and amulets for protection and good fortune. People were praying in various ways: some wrote their wishes on small plaques and hung them on racks around special trees. Others threw their money offerings onto a big tarp laid out for that purpose as they said their prayers. Still others rang a bell or clapped their hands. According to our Japanese teacher, this is to alert the gods that you are about to start praying. We were also praying to the One True God on behalf of those gathered to worship other gods.

Wishes for the new year

Offering prayers and money

The courtyard of the shrine

On our way out, we were sorely tempted by all the delicious smelling food booths... but we already had a feast waiting at home!

When we got home, it was time to put the finishing touches on our osechi feast, which we then ate!! Hooray!

Arranging everything in pretty bento boxes. The ones for osechi have a specific name, but I can't remember what it is.

All done! Note pajama pants and tired expression.

 The bento boxes pose with the advent wreath for a culture shock moment.

Here's the menu. Most of the recipes came from my Japanese language osechi cookbook, which I managed thanks to the convenient pictures for each step of each recipe. There are a few recipes in English from my favorite Japanese cooking website, so I've linked to those.

Box 1:
煮物 (nimono=stewed vegetables): carrots, taro root, lotus root, peas, konnyaku (not exactly a vegetable)
昆布巻き (kombumaki=stewed kelp rolls)

Box 2:
餃子(gyouza--not exactly traditional)
鮭 (shake=salmon--sort of hidden underneath the shrimp)
えびぎんなん (ebiginnan=shrimp and ginkgo nut skewers, except I substituted edamame for the ginkgo nuts)

Box 3:
Chinese Tea eggs (again, not very traditional)
きんぴらごぼう (kinpiragobou=gobou/burdock root and carrot stir fry)
かまぼこ (kamaboko=pink and white fish cakes)
黒豆 (kuromame=sweet black beans)
栗きんとん (kurikinton=mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts)

Box 4: Mom's fun box of leftover bits that wouldn't fit in the other boxes. I did all the other boxes.

Box 5:
お赤飯 (osekihan=festive red beans and rice)

Okay, I'm finally finished! This post has taken hours... If you're not bored of oshougatsu yet, you can read my mom's take on it on her blog. I feel like I should end this post with "happy new year," but I won't, since it's a bit late for that. Happy almost spring? ;)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February Newsletter

And the Word Became Meat…

Before my first Christmas concert, Keith and I were practicing our Japanese and calming our nerves by reading the scripture I had chose for the evening (John 1:1-14), coached by Shino-san, my pianist. When we came to verse 14, both of us burst out laughing: “the word became 肉(niku)… meat?” The same character referring in the scriptures to the incarnation of Jesus appears on every package of meat in the supermarket. Perhaps this set the tone for a Christmas that was different from all the others.

We had an extremely busy December, followed by a visit from my family and some much needed down time. Now we are back in the groove of language study, student ministry, English teaching, and music ministry at church.

Christmas Concert Update
In the print version of the newsletter, I included an abridged version of my last post. Rather than re-post the whole thing, I thought it would be better if everyone just looked at the original...

Snow Vignettes
Keith’s observations about life in Sapporo during the winter

In Sapporo, it snows every other night, and there is very little space to put all the snow. Many roads have packed snow and ice on them 10 inches thick (which melts around the manholes leaving dangerous potholes here and there). When the snow finally came properly (it was late this winter), I thought there would be mass chaos. Pedestrians had to use the already narrow roads because many of the sidewalks were blocked with snow. Old men continued to ride their bikes slowly down the road. The cars went the same speed on dry roads as on snowy and icy roads. Maybe it's the Japanese anti-lock-braking, but somehow, it all works out, and I have managed to not get hit by a car (even when I ride my bike much to the groan of Celia. I did almost hit a van with my bike, but that’s another story).

They do put some of the snow to good use. Every year thousands of foreigners come to Sapporo in February to see its雪まつり (yukimatsuri=snow festival). They have hundreds of snow and ice sculptures, some 50 feet high. A few of my favorites were Homer Simpson, Michael Jackson, and the huge gorilla. I found myself enjoying people watching more than anything else. The crowd control wearing flashing vests were there to make sure the white people did not try to jaywalk or walk the wrong way around the park (I must have heard the “walk counter-clockwise” announcement 20 times over the loudspeaker).

Since it is a rare sight to see bare concrete in the winter here (aside from the person next door to us who has continuously been watering his parking lot), Sapporians have developed winter means of carrying their children, dogs, and groceries. They use sleds. It makes sense, but it is fairly amusing all the same to see the brightly coloured plastic sleds lined up outside the super markets where the bike racks used to be. I have enjoyed watching people tote their children with their groceries, and one time I saw an old guy pulling a sled laden with a 20 kg bag of rice and a 24 pack of Sapporo beer. Celia saw one sled with a kid and a dog mixed up with the groceries.

Behind our church there is a park with a huge snow mound perfect for sledding. One Sunday afternoon, Celia and I were asked to babysit the 10 or so children after church. Problem: Celia and I have learned more formal Japanese, and the children use more plain Japanese, so half the time we have no idea what they are saying. Solution: we just go sledding and therefore there is no need to facilitate conversation. Problem: there are no sleds. Solution: we use a big green tarp, which could fit the dozen of us. Problem: bloody nose. Solution: bring child inside, apply Kleenex. Problem: all the children follow, and we can’t explain to them to stay outside and keep playing. Solution: drink, snack, and movie time. Problem: vomit. Solution: carry child off of carpet. Problem: vomit again, this time on Keith. Solution: give child to father, change shirt, clean up vomit on carpet. Fortunately the church meeting finished before the movie did, thus ending one of our less successful child care attempts.

Language Corner
“Speechi”: Keith reflects on the dangers of public speaking in Japanese

My first real Japanese public speaking happened on the January 3rd at one of Celia’s concerts. In Japan, the 司会 (shikai=master of ceremonies) is a very important role, and I took on the task with no idea what I had gotten into. It took weeks to get my Japanese presentable, and even then I only half knew what I was saying. Although it was all scripted, I got really nervous the day of the concert; it was Celia’s largest concert with over a hundred attendees. The first half went okay, and that was the hard part with all of the introductions and whatnot. I relaxed my guard and started to enjoy the music, but when I went up to announce the intermission my mind blanked and I felt as though I was babbling like a baby: “ku… kuke… ke…” Of course all the nice Japanese ladies came up to me afterwards and told me how good my Japanese was. Perhaps the most truthful comment came the day after when a 5-year-old missionary kid told me that my Japanese had sounded “mechanical.” I did wonder where this little girl picked up such terminology, but granted that her Japanese was better than mine, I sought to liven up my Japanese for the next speech that I gave. Its title was “初めてのデート” (my first date). I will spare you the details of the speech…suffice it to say it ended with me puking out of Celia’s car. The speech itself went well, and I have a recording for anyone keen to hear me slaughter some Japanese. My crowning mistake in it was actually the pronunciation of my name. There is no “th” in Japanese, so my name changes from Keith to キース (Keesu). Unfortunately there is another borrowed word that sounds very similar, namely キス (kisu=kiss). So while I was explaining how Celia declared her fondness for me, I said, “Celia likes kissing,” not “Celia likes Keith.” On a side note, one of the teachers asked when our first kiss actually was, and I ended up saying it lasted for 3 months.

 Mikiko-san and Yuugo-kun help Keith put the finishing touches on his speech.

Celia’s Cooking Corner
Recipe Contest Results

That’s right, we have winners! First place goes to Tora Klassen for Hot and Sour Soup. Honourable mention goes to Ronna Husby for Tonjiru. We love both of these soups—they make good use of Japanese wintertime ingredients, they are cheap and easy to prepare… and they are extremely tasty! Pictures and recipes will be posted shortly on our blog. Thanks very much to all of you who sent us your recipes and suggestions. We now have many new soups in our repertoire. It was fun to try all of them!

 The crowning achievement of Celia's Japanese cooking career: a Japanese new year's feast (おせち=osechi), prepared with help from Mom and Colin.

Prayer Points
Looking back, we are thankful for…
  • The organ at Kibou no Oka church: it is a huge blessing which raises Keith’s spirits.
  • A visit from Celia’s family. They had been uncertain that they would be able to come, because of Grandma Grace’s poor health, but other family members offered to take care of her while they were away. Grandma passed away while they were here, but other family members took care of everything, so they didn’t need to rush home. We are thankful for Grandma’s life, in particular the wonderful example she set of generosity and perseverance in suffering.
  • The success of the concerts in many ways, including building friendships with musicians, establishing relations with churches, and musical excellence! A number of people attending had never been in a church or heard the Gospel before.
  • Our friends. In particular, we are thankful for our conversation partners, Tomoaki-san and Mikiko-san.
Looking forward, we are praying for…
  • Our final concert: Shino-san and I just started rehearsing again for our next concert, which will be March 21 at Tooei Church. We’re very excited about this concert—it will take place at Shino-san’s church, so many of her friends and family will be there. Please pray for our rehearsals and that the concert will be an encouragement to the church members, and a good opportunity to invite new people to come to church.
  • Our Japanese studies: we feel like we are on a plateau. We are learning many new forms, but haven’t had much opportunity to practice them. Our reading and writing skills are far stronger than our conversational skills. Please pray that we will make good use of opportunities to practice Japanese conversation.
  • Our church, Satsunae Lighthouse Church: a number of missionaries and key members will be leaving the church soon. Susan will finish language school and start work at Oomagari church, the Widmer-Kunioka family will leave for home assignment, the Kimura family will start work at Nanae church, and we will be returning to Vancouver. In addition, the church is still slowly looking for a pastor. Please pray for a smooth transition for our church and for each person who is leaving, and that God would provide workers from among the remaining church members and elsewhere, to carry on with the work which needs to be done.
  • The Amoyaw family: our friend, Mikiko-san’s husband, Curtis recently returned to university in Russia. Please pray for strength and patience for the two of them and their son, Yuugo as they wait to be reunited in the summer.
  • Keith’s English classes: interest is waning especially in the cold weather. Most of the regular attendees are already church members, but the point of the class is outreach to the community. Please pray that the people who have stopped coming will return to the classes.
  • Our many different areas of service: we’re feeling like we’re spread a little thin, since we’re working in so many different areas, even as we are thankful for the opportunity to participate in so many different aspects of OMF’s work. Please pray for us to finish well in all our different tasks.
  • Our plans for the future: we’re going home sometime in April, but there are still a lot of details to be worked out. We are returning to Vancouver, but we don’t have a home or a job. Please pray for the faith to trust in God even in a time of uncertainty.
  • We’ve sown lots of seeds, and nurtured seeds that others have sown. Please pray that God would provide others to continue the work we started in our time here.
We can’t believe it, but we’re almost done! We’ll write our next letter after we return to Vancouver, but we will continue to update our blog. Thanks so much for your prayers and support.

Love, Keith and Celia

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Christmas Concert Report

I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since my last concert! It’s about time for an update. I’m a little behind on updates, since I think I spent most of last month hibernating… or rather, curled up at home doing my Japanese homework.

Around the end of November, I started rehearsing with my pianist, Shino Inoue. I chose three sonatas that I had been thinking about, which I thought were appropriate for Christmas—to me they represent the joy of Christ’s incarnation. The pieces were Brahms’ F Major sonata, Beethoven’s F Major sonata, and Bach’s G Major viola da gamba sonata. I had worked on the Beethoven sonata before, but never performed it. The Bach sonata I had performed several times on the viola da gamba, but never on the cello. The Brahms sonata was entirely new. All three pieces were new for Shino-san—she had her hands full learning 3 sonatas by 3 gifted keyboard players. There were moments during rehearsal when the two of us just looked at each other and laughed nervously, wondering if we would be able to make it on time.

We rehearsed once or twice a week until the week before the concert, when we rehearsed Monday, Wednesday-Saturday, then Monday again, for at least 3 hours each day. The day before the first concert, which was Tuesday, December 22, the Brahms was still a little scary. Brahms likes complex rhythms: 2 against 3, 3 against 4, back and forth, and where’s the downbeat in all this confusion? Suffice to say, it wasn’t easy to put it together, especially when adding “will we make it before the concert tomorrow?” nerves into the mixture. Shino-san’s mom took good care of us throughout the rehearsal period. Every hour or so, she brought us tea and snacks so we could have a short rest and some sustenance. I am now completely addicted to yuzucha (citrus tea) and oshiruko (sweet red bean and mochi soup).

Our first concert was in Asahikawa, an hour and a half north of Sapporo by train, at Midori ga Oka Church, in the middle of a snow storm. It was a tiny building, and the crowd wasn’t too big (about 20 people), which was good for our nerves. “Everyone here is our friend, and everyone wants us to play well,” I told myself and Shino-san before the concert started, in very bad Japanese.

 Outside the church after the concert with Pastor Ruth Dueck, who is also an OMF missionary

The concert wasn’t just a concert—in keeping with the structure of my Arts Thesis project at Regent, there were scripture readings and congregational songs. I also gave my testimony, in which I told the story of learning to depend on God’s love at a time when I was very lonely. God became human at Christmas, so he knows what is to be rejected and alone. Overall, the concert went well. We were encouraged by the feedback we received from those who attended the concert, especially from the children.

Somehow, Keith got roped into being the page-turner. He was almost as nervous as we were. During the concert, he also became the “protector of the pianist from candle-wax” when Shino-san’s expressive playing caused the candles on top of the piano to drip onto her fingers. Luckily the wax cooled a bit on the way down… and luckily Keith managed to brush it off without dropping any wax between the keys, and without Shino-san missing a single note.

The second concert took place on Christmas Eve at Chitose Church, just south of Sapporo. We were playing as part of the church’s Christmas Eve Candlelight service, so we played only about half of our program. The pastor, Kimura-sensei, was a friend of a friend, so we were eager to meet him. As we were eating dinner together before the concert, Kimura-sensei said something very interesting: “Our church consists mainly of elderly people, but because of the concert, we are expecting many young people to come.” And they did. In fact, one mom was so anxious for her shy 13-year-old daughter to talk to me in English after the concert that she literally pushed her forward, and told her in Japanese (most of which I understood) what to say. The whole situation felt odd, but I tried to placate the mother and encourage the daughter.

Warming up for Concert 2

 At Chitose Church with Kimura-Sensei

By this time, we were both exhausted, physically and emotionally. Neither of us felt as good about our playing as at the previous concert. Shino-san told me afterwards that while she was playing, she kept thinking, “I really need to practice more before the next concert.” Still, I think God was able to use our playing and my testimony to encourage the people who came to the concert. Kimura-sensei told me later that 60 people came to the Candlelight service, 4 times as many as last year.

After a few days of celebration and hibernation, we resumed rehearsals. My parents and brother came to visit on the December 28th, so I had an excuse to go out and do some fun things too. As a result, by the time of the third concert on January 3, we were relaxed and ready to enjoy ourselves. This third concert, which we called a “New Year’s Concert,” was held at Kibou no Oka Church, where Keith has been teaching English. This concert was particularly exciting for us, since we were able to invite our friends and family… and Kibou no Oka church has a fabulous organ on which Shino-san played the Bach and the two hymns! Playing for our important people in a wonderful place was truly delightful, and Keith and I think it may have been my best concert ever.

We actually have pictures of this concert, since my dad and brother were there...

 Waiting in the organ loft for the second half of the concert with Naho-san, who turned pages for Shino-san

Keith was the concert’s “Shikai,” or master of ceremonies. For weeks he practiced ultra-formal Japanese which we haven’t learned yet. At least he managed to get out of turning the pages… but I think he was more relieved than I was when the concert was over.

After the concert, I talked to a lot of people. There were about 100 people at the concert, which was more that we had expected, since many people were gone for the New Year’s holiday. It was exciting to see people from our church and from Keith’s English class, missionaries, university students, and family all coming together to enjoy the concert. It seems that my testimony was very encouraging to many, especially the young people. I also heard later that someone who came to the concert has now started attending church.

During the concert, I was filled with a sense of belonging with these people in this place. Now I really don’t want to go home!

In this whole process, I have been so thankful for the musicians I have been able to collaborate with now and in the past. For me, what makes being a cellist most worthwhile is not the long practice sessions or the joy of conquering a difficult piece of music, but the collaboration with other musicians who have become very important to me.

Shino-san and I just started rehearsing again for our next concert (March 21 at Tooei Church). We’re keeping some of the same music (Bach and Beethoven) and adding 2 pieces by Fauré (Elegie and Apres un Reve). We’re very excited about this concert—it will take place at Shino-san’s church, so many of her friends and family will be there. Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare!