Saturday, July 26, 2014

Redefining success

Today’s coffee: cold-brew iced coffee… but actually, it’s not all that hot today.

Today we had “parents’ movie event” in which we watched Spirited Away and talked about it. It was good to hear how they responded to the movie, and how they felt about their kids watching it, since it’s probably going to be the feature of our next movie night. The last time I watched Spirited Away was before we really spoke Japanese very well—over 3 years ago. I have to say it made a very different and powerful impression on me this time. The movie felt like a series of parables in which the filmmaker, Miyazaki brings to light problems in Japanese society; the lead character, Chihiro, has to struggle to overcome each challenge. I’m looking forward to watching it with our youth group, and I’ll probably write more about this later.

This week has been pretty busy. There was no post last week because of busy weekend: we found out K-san*, who recently started attending our church, plays shakuhachi, and invited us to his concert and supper. Then we went on an overnight retreat with our church, since Monday was a holiday. After the retreat ended, we climbed nearby Kamuishiri Mountain with Takahashi-sensei and his family—their first “real” hike, they said. It wasn’t a particularly easy hike; it was about 10km and over 600m of elevation gain. It was fun to see the kids’ excitement—K-kun and A-chan* would run ahead and then call back to their dad, “Look at this! Wow! Take a picture!” (K-kun is a long distance runner. We weighed him down with 6 liters of water, but he was still the fastest hiker by far.)

For me, hiking is an opportunity to enjoy God’s creation and to spend time with friends. I love that walking or even mountain climbing is also a way of describing our spiritual lives.

Recently, Takahashi-sensei said something that stuck with me and has been very encouraging: “Success is walking with God.” (He says lots of helpful things.  We’re blessed to be working alongside a wise and likeminded person!) Although I think that particular message was perhaps intended to correct a preoccupation with worldly success, I took it to mean that my primary calling and work is to walk with God—more important than keeping the house clean, practicing my cello, or even my work as a missionary. There’s a lot of stuff I try to do on my own (or feel like I should be doing on my own) that I don’t need to worry about at all. If I’m walking with God, I am not alone. I cannot begin to describe how freeing that is.

And… here’s some pictures of our hike! Enjoy!

*But first, a Japanese language note: “san,” “kun,” and “chan” are suffixes added to people’s names based on age, gender, and relationship—like our Mr., Mrs., and Miss. “San” is normal to use for adults other than family and close friends, “kun” is common for young boys, and “chan” for girls. Also, “sensei” literally means someone who has gone ahead in terms of life experience. We use it in place of “san” for pastors, doctors, teachers, etc.

The "before" picture. We look so energetic!
Datekanba tree--a kind of birch.

Last push to the peak, on the left!

The wind blew the bamboo grass so that it looked like waves.
Lunch break picture, at the peak! We had onigiri and hard-boiled eggs.
Hydrangea grows wild in Japan.
K-kun is still in the front, carrying 2 bags.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On work, entitlement, and keeping the house clean

Today’s Coffee: Papua New Guinea

This morning I went to the school festival of a high-schooler in our youth group. I had tea (as in tea ceremony), ate a bunch of stuff, and saw some class performances. Surprisingly enough, boys as well as girls participated in choreographed dance routines. I can’t imagine American high school boys doing that… and probably not too many girls, either, for that matter. I hear we have a number of popular boy bands to thank (?) for this phenomenon.

I returned home to find Keith hard at work with his Japanese teacher (affectionately known as Gan-chan-sensei) on his sermon for tomorrow. There was a time when Keith tried to finish sermons a week in advance to have ample time for checking. Last Sunday, Keith had to take a major Japanese language exam, so the several weeks before that he spent in frantic study mode, with no time even to think about impending sermon. The sermon is finished; he just sent it off to Takahashi-sensei for final checking. Next is practice.

With Keith being busy (and tired), it’s part of my “job” to feed him and to make sure the house is a hospitable place for him to work, and for any guests who come, such as Gan-chan-sensei. (I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing on this subject for a while now, but I didn’t really know how to write, and anything I tried to write came out wrong. There are a lot of threads to this flow of thought and a lot of fears and mixed feelings.)

I realized, not too long ago, during another time when Keith was really busy and tired, that if I didn’t clean the house, it wasn’t going to get cleaned. I realized that I am not “entitled” to having a clean house without putting in any effort. Both of us were expecting the other to do the housework; the diffusion of responsibility had to stop. So… I resolved to quit bugging Keith to do housework—when he helps out, I can be pleasantly surprised, rather than being upset when I feel like he’s not pulling his weight. This is about my attitude towards housework, not about how much Keith does. I resolved to do the housework cheerfully… but sometimes my resolution wavers. (Part of me wants to shout, “This was a practical decision! We are an egalitarian household!”)

On the other hand, if I consider housework to be part of my “job,” since we work at home and entertain colleagues and friends there, I feel bad that there are other working people, especially women, who come home tired from “work” and have to do the housework on top of all that. And is it really “work” if I mess up the kitchen with one of my crazy (technically unnecessary) cooking projects and then have to spend the time cleaning up after myself? Or should I call it “study”?

And then the rest of my time I spend attending church meetings and events, preparing for those meetings and events, practicing my instruments, and attending lessons and tea ceremony classes. With the exception of Takahashi-sensei, the others attending the meetings are there in their precious free time; some of them have very busy schedules at work. Music and lessons are also things other people do in their free time. “Do what you love, love what you do,” right? From the outside it might look like I’m living a Gen-Y paradise, that I do nothing but indulge in my hobbies and call it work, yet it is work, I have to do it, and it makes me tired, often with nothing to show for it. (On that note, pulling weeds and cleaning the house have a certain feel-good factor to them.)

I can’t say how many times someone has told me how lucky I am to do what I love. Most, I think, are referring to my cello career, although this could just as well refer to my missionary career—I get to read the Bible with friends, after all! I have also met lots of people who wonder why I get paid to do a job that I like.

Sometimes I like playing cello, and sometimes (often for long periods of time) I feel burned out, and I wish I had picked a “normal” job. I have to practice my instruments every day, whether I want to or not. Sometimes I really don’t want to practice, but I know from experience that “cramming” for concerts is not a good idea, so I practice anyway.

Sometimes I think it would be really nice to have someone else define what my “work” is and when I will do it—and then pay me overtime when I work more than 40 hours a week. I have no idea how many hours I work, because I’m not even sure which hours I would count.

Rather than using “do what you love, love what you do” or “follow your dreams” or some other cliché from a high school graduation speech to describe my attitude towards my work, I would say that God gave me these skills and the motivation to learn and grow as a musician and a missionary, so I want to use these gifts for his glory. This conviction gives me the motivation to keep practicing when I don’t want to, to persevere through culture shock and disappointments and exhaustion, to keep loving the work that everyone thinks I’m supposed to love. (I do love it, most of the time.)

Maybe I’m trying to defend my lifestyle; after all, here I am having my leisurely weekly blog time with coffee—I do this to communicate with friends and supporters, and simply because it’s good for my spiritual life. But I’m still trying to figure this whole “work” thing out for myself. I live in a country that is obsessed with work, so I suppose it’s appropriate that I give this a lot of serious thought. Please pray with me for a balanced life of work and rest, and for me to use my time wisely, for God’s glory.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Hiking at Shikotsuko and Toyako

Today's coffee... was a long time ago.

Today has been full of farming and cooking (of course those go together), and I realized as I was brainstorming for this week's post that I'm supposed to write a magazine article by Monday. Eek. I wasn't feeling particularly inspired to write either a blog post or a magazine article, but I'll do my best to write both.

That being said, I'm finally going to post hiking pictures. Hokkaido is a great place to go hiking. While we were on holiday a few weeks ago, we went on a whole bunch of hikes. 

The first hike was Eniwa Dake (Dake means peak, and it's pronounced dahkay.) It was shady for much of the way, with lots of wildflowers. Keith got rather eaten by bugs, but I was fine. It was rather strenuous for the first hike of the season... elevation gain of over 1000 meters.

The obligatory picture of the sign at the peak.
Who says you can't have shade at a sunny viewpoint? Why have I never thought of this before?
View over Shikotsuko (the "ko" at the end means lake)
Keith airing out his shirt... it was hot.
View from the peak
The peak. We couldn't actually go there, though, since it was dangerous, the sign said.
We named these "frog flowers."
When they actually bloom, they look like this.
Trillium flowers are actually rather common in Hokkaido.
There are brown ones too.
I was surprised and delighted to find wild sakura (cherry) blooming even into June!
Our second hike was Tarumaezan. It's an active volcano. Actually, so was Eniwa dake, but this one is a lot more obviously active. It wasn't a difficult hike, but very interesting!

Once again, the sign at the peak...
Backtracking a bit, this was on the way up. Shikotsuko is in the background; we're on the opposite side of the lake from Eniwa dake.
Made it to the top! That's a lava dome in the background.
We decided to go have a look at the lava dome. Very interesting... but we don't recommend it. Although we were following a marked path, we were chased out of the crater area by some guys wearing helmets and big backpacks. Apparently the lava dome likes to spew large rocks from time to time. If we had circled the crater in the opposite direction, we would have seen the "do not enter" signs...
Yep. Right next to the lava dome. Stinky steam all around.
The whole area was covered by beautiful rhododendrons--some sort of small mountain variety.
Here's a few of those rocks the lava dome spewed out.
From the other side, just before we got kicked out of the crater...
The next day we moved on to Toyako (once again "ko" means lake), and hiked around the rim of another volcano, Usuzan. We cannot figure out why there is a resort at the foot of a volcano that erupts every 25 years or so. Well, we sort of can. There's ONSEN. But still. We took the ropeway up the mountain (I think we call those aerial trams in America), but you can hike it.

Next to Usuzan is Showa Shinzan (that means Showa period new mountain). It grew up between 1943 and 1945. Crazy. (Seriously, why is there a resort here? And a tram up a volcano??)
Volcano on left, top of tram on right. Toyako is in the background.
Usuzan crater
There are so many small peaks as part of Usuzan (from old eruptions) that I can't remember which one is which. Yoteizan is in the background.
Yoteizan. Sometimes I'm amazed how close things are together in Hokkaido.
From Usuzan we could see out over the beautiful Hokkaido coastline.
There were lots of stairs.
Showa Shinzan
Toyako, with several islands in the middle. Did I mention that Shikotsuko and Toyako are both caldera lakes?
The next day we headed over to those islands in the middle of the lake. The largest is called Oshima. That means "large island." Very descriptive. We walked across the island then back along the shore.

We had to ride this boat over to the island. Really, bubble-era Japan, what were you thinking?
Yep. Here I am on the silly castle boat. The islands are in the background.
We had a nice view of Showa Shinzan from the boat.
By the way, we were staying in one of these houses. OMF colleagues, can you figure out which one?
Once again, we had a nice view of Yoteizan.
On the island, there was lots of this very interesting Mamushisou (viper grass). I love green flowers... I wanted to bring some home with me...
Wild azaleas grew here and there.
Not sure what kind of flower this is, but check out that spider!
Almost to the other side!
Yoteizan peeking through the clouds...
Of course we brought our picnic tea set. We didn't even try to do things "properly," as it was starting to rain. Oh well.

Last, we went on a walk to see some craters and ruins from the most recent eruption.

Guess what? This crater formed on my 19th birthday. Happy birthday to me??
Let us know if you want other hiking recommendations! Hokkaido is awesome.