Thursday, June 27, 2013


Today’s coffee: many cups from the hotel coffee machine, and a delicious cup of coffee at a café overlooking the river, enjoyed in the company of friends…

We’re at Jozankei Onsen for 5 days of OMF Japan Field Conference. The schedule is pretty packed, but I’ve found a quiet moment to write a bit.

Last weekend, I had ample opportunity to reflect on what it means to be the family of God in Japan. On Saturday, our church had its annual memorial service in which we remembered and thanked God for the lives of church members who have died. Eight of us made the trek to the other side of Sapporo where many of the area churches have their graves.

The small building in the foreground houses Wakaba's grave as well as those of three other local churches.
At the top: "Our citizenship is in heaven." Below, the names of the churches and of the deceased members are written on the wall.
Although some Christian families have their own family graves in the same area, there are many families in which only one or two are Christian. In order to be buried with the rest of their family, they would need to be buried according to Buddhist customs, which they no longer want to do—many Christians see funerals as an opportunity to proclaim their hope for eternal life with Jesus and together with each person who believes.

We have been taught that to a Japanese person, it is very important to know that one will be buried with the other members of one’s family, to not be forgotten or neglected by remaining family members, and to die with the hope of going where one’s ancestors are. Christian burial in Japan reflects the reality that in Christ, we have become family. We have been adopted as God’s children; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We do, in a sense, hope to go where our ancestors are—those who have gone before us in the faith. This practice isn’t limited to people who are the only Christian in their families; sometimes families are buried together in the church grave.

Now for something completely different (although not entirely unrelated)…

On Sunday, we had our first movie night with the middle and high school students at our church… and a couple of people who recently graduated from high school. I was expecting about 4 people, but we had 7, plus 2 adults who came to help with food. I’m thankful to have been so well supported by our pastor and church members in prayer and in practical ways.

It could have gone better, but it could have gone worse. The food was good. Since we picked Lilo and Stitch for the movie, we went with a Hawaiian theme for the food. I’m sure it wasn’t authentic, but we did our best with the ingredients we could get. (The menu was pineapple fried rice, pineapple salsa, and chicken and vegetable shish kebabs—maybe if I get really ambitious, I’ll try to post a couple of recipes later.)

Shish kebab team!
The movie discussion was… a little disappointing, but I’m thinking we may have set our expectations too high for the first time. I think we have some better ideas for how to get the discussion going, but we’ll have to keep experimenting. In our minds, the most important thing for this first time was to get to know these kids better and spend some time together outside of church in a relaxed atmosphere. If they feel comfortable, we hope they feel that a movie night is something safe to bring friends to.

The theme of “family” is one that comes up again and again in Lilo and Stitch as each of the characters struggles with loneliness and loss of family. Keith and I are far away from our families. One of the adults who came to help cook has just sent her daughter off to college—I caught a glimpse of her dabbing her eyes during the scene where “family” is defined as “never saying goodbye.” God knows that our families are sometimes far away, and that they are imperfect and even broken. I’m thankful that in Christ, I have family wherever I go, and “goodbye” is only temporary. I’m thankful for the people who are around me right now at our church, and I pray that we can become family to them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Producing our own food, and making friends at the garden

Today’s coffee(s): Ethiopia, East Timor

This is such a nice café. Do make a visit if you get a chance.

It’s been a busy week. Sunday was Keith’s first children’s-message-in-Japanese and a sushi party for the kids at church, and then on Monday (our day off) we went fishing. My hat fell in the water; thankfully our friend, Yanaoka-san fished it out for me… but by “fished out,” I mean literally, with a fishing pole, which still had the worms attached to it. Let’s just say I got sunburned after that.

Yanaoka-san with my hat
We caught some fish! The little flounder (カレイ in Japanese) we had for supper right away. It was good just as is, cooked in the fish grill that’s built into our stove. The ugui (don’t ask me what that is in English) we made into fish dumplings and had in a hotpot Wednesday night. Actually, Yanaoka-san sent us home with the whole catch—he caught a couple of ugui too. In order to make the fish dumplings, we had to first go out and buy a food processor. We tested it on yukari powder (pickled, then dried red shiso ground to a powder) and ice for kakigouri (snow cones). It works. But it didn’t grind up the fish bones quite as well as we would have liked… oops. Not the most successful of kitchen experiments, but fun and tasty all the same.

Is this one big enough to eat?
Keith's ugui
This morning I spent 3 hours at our vegetable garden. I’ve always wanted a vegetable garden, and I admit that I’ve coveted other people’s community garden plots… my mom might wonder about that statement, since I didn’t help out much in her garden at home… but I find that I’m remembering lots of random bits that I learned from her about gardening over the years.

Garden plot, 2 weeks ago
Last week
This morning I rode my bike to the vegetable garden. It takes about 10 minutes usually, but today it took a little longer, since I was trying not to spill the pepper and basil seedlings in my bike basket. We had a couple weeks of sun followed by quite a bit of rain, so there was quite a lot of weeding to do. I had a lesson in pruning tomato plants from our neighbour at the garden plot, Saitoh-san.

A few weeks ago we saw Saitoh-san at the garden for the first time. We said the usual greetings (はじめまして—“it’s the first time we meet” and so on) and proceeded to talk about what kinds of vegetables we planned to grow. Somehow we got around to talking about melons—Saitoh-san is known to be good at growing them, and Keith wants to learn how. Saitoh-san offered to teach us. We bought a seedling, and he took it home with him to take care of until it got a bit bigger.

The next Sunday at church, we talked to our landlady, also named Saitoh, about gardening.

Landlady: I hear you’re interested in watermelon.
Me: Yes! There’s a nice man at the garden who is teaching us how to grow them. His name is Saitoh too.
Landlady: I know! (laughs) That’s my husband.
Me: … Ehhhhhh??? Well then, please say hi to your husband and our watermelon for us.

I had only seen our landlady together with her husband once—but still feeling slightly embarrassed that I didn’t recognize him.

Our watermelon, staying warm in a plastic tent
It looks like we’ll have some radishes soon, and we can start eating the lettuce any time. Hooray! One of the cucumber vines has produced a few flowers and some tiny cucumbers. We’re very excited about that too.

Baby cucumber... so cute!
In other food-related news, I’ve just started a second batch of umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), which smell like heaven. The ume plums for umeboshi have to be completely blemish-free, so Keith and I made ume syrup with the rejects. Ume syrup mixed with soda water is one of our favourite summer drinks. I also added red shiso and shin-shouga (new ginger) to the first batch of umeboshi. We’ve planted daikon, radishes, cucumber, and turnips in the garden, so we’re excited about the pickles we’re going to eat this summer and fall!

Tomatoes! They're in bags to protect them from the wind.
Keith checks out the kabocha squash
There’s a lot of waiting and hoping and praying involved in gardening… and also in making pickles! I’ll probably write more about that later.

As a bonus, here’s a few pictures from the sushi party.

Yokokawa-san, the MC for the party games... when he came out in this getup, I was laughing so hard that I cried...
Keith leads the "sea-seashore" game
Osaka-san, our resident sushi chef, explains how to make temakizushi. Art in the background is by Keith.
They've got expensive taste. The first thing to go was the crab. When I was a kid, I wouldn't have touched this stuff with a 10-foot pole. I had no idea what I was missing out on...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Friday blog posts, and Shiawase no pan

Today’s coffee(s): Kona blend, Peru (organic)

I’ve decided that I need to be more intentional about reflecting on our experiences. I find that if I don’t take some time to reflect on things, I tend not to remember them so well. For me, writing or talking to friends is the best way to process what I’m thinking. So, here we go. Friday morning posts from the local coffee shop, start!

Last Sunday we rented a movie called しあわせのパン (shiawase no pan—the bread of happiness). I wanted to watch it because of the gorgeous bread on the movie poster… and because it takes place in Hokkaido. I love Hokkaido. In the movie, a couple start a café and bakery. The movie tells three stories of customers at the café who find happiness and release from their troubles through food and fellowship. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but the three stories paint a beautiful picture (perhaps unintentionally) of various aspects of communion: fellowship, love, reconciliation, and life. I would love to watch this movie with friends, preferably after a good meal, and talk about the meaning of communion and the cross.

There was a loaf of bread like this one (which I made) on the movie poster. Keith kindly told me that he thought my bread looked better. :) Not sure if I agree, but he's very nice, isn't he?
 Actually, this movie isn’t available in English, so I don’t think any of my English speaking friends will be watching this anyway… so I guess I can feel free to “spoil” the plot. Japanese speaking friends, you really should watch this movie, so spoiler alert! You have been warned… :)

The scene that struck me the most was part of the story of an elderly couple who lost everything in “the earthquake” (I assume it was the March 2011 Tohoku quake, since this movie came out in 2012), and the wife was dying. The two attempt to leave the café in the middle of a snow storm to commit suicide together. The café owners stop them from leaving and somewhat forcibly bring them back into the café for a (gorgeous) meal. The wife, who professes to dislike bread, smells the fresh-baked bread and begins to eat it. Her husband then eats the bread with her as if they have been given the gift of life. Yes! The cross is the gift of life for all who will receive it. I want to watch this movie again and again and reflect on the goodness of God. Jesus is my bread of happiness! My explanation doesn't even begin to do justice to this movie.

On a different note, I would have loved to be an actor in this movie… they got to eat so much great stuff on camera… :)

I’ve decided to come to a local coffee shop on Friday mornings and write about whatever I feel like writing about. Today I ended up spending longer than usual at the café because another customer chatted with me for about an hour. I think if I hadn’t been here, she would have chatted with the employees. Maybe someday I will open a café of some sort—I want to provide a safe place for people to come and talk, whether it’s my house or somewhere else. There are so many things I would like to try in Japan, but I’m fairly sure I won’t get to all of them. I’m praying for the ability to use my time and resources wisely for God’s glory.