Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Today’s coffee… I mean tea: some really old tea that spent a year in storage. Waste not, want not…

This month, we’ve been focusing on catching up on various things and doing house projects. The bar counter is finished!! Half of the painting in the bedroom is finished, and Keith is currently putting the second coat on the other side. In just a few days we will be able to move some furniture that goes in the other half of the bedroom out of the dining room, so maybe we can start work there next… replacing rotten tatami with wood floor and flaking wallpaper with the traditional plaster wall that tea rooms have! One step at a time… there are many other projects too.

This is the talented Mr. Inoue who built the bar counter and helped us and advised us in many other ways.
All done!!
We’ve also been enjoying lovely early-fall weather by working in the garden. Keith invited a friend from church for a “concrete party” to break up a slab of concrete that was unfortunately slanted towards the house. He used some of the broken concrete chunks to make a path, where before there was only weeds and mud.

Concrete-bashing relieves stress.

I have spent most of my outdoor hours weeding. Although we have been somewhat successful removing weeds from the front of the garden, the back of the garden, where there are a lot of trees and shrubs, has been a challenge… untangling the roots of persistent weeds from the roots of plants we actually want growing there.

I thought at first that the bamboo grass would be the hardest weed to get rid of, but now I don’t think so any more. Our entire garden is infested with dokudami (Houttuynia cordata, which is sometimes known as chameleon plant in English). When we started digging beneath the surface to pull them out, we discovered an thick web of roots. “It looks like medusa down there,” Keith commented. Leave even a tiny bit of dokudami root in the soil, and it will grow right back.

Dokudami roots growing through a random block of styrofoam we found buried in our garden
But the funny thing is, dokudami isn’t really a weed. It’s a very pretty plant, with deep green heart-shaped leaves tinged with red, with lovely cross-shaped white flowers in July. It’s also an herb, prized as a detox-tea in China and Japan. I heard recently that if you rub the leaves on a mosquito bite, the itching goes away. Dokudami also keeps your compost from stinking… but we’ve found that the composting process doesn’t kill the roots… yikes.

See all those cute white flowers? That's them...
In the hours and hours I’ve spent carefully removing dokudami and bamboo grass roots from my around rhododendrons, I started to think of weeding dokudami as very similar to what is going on in my life right now. I have two jobs--I work at Wakaba Church, and I am also a musician with dreams of starting an arts ministry. There are many very worthy tasks and ministries and causes that I could be spending my time on, but if I tried to do everything, I think I would burn out very quickly. I need to make space in my life for the most important things--the things God has specifically given me to do. It’s just difficult sometimes to discern what those things are. Which “weeds” (which are actually very nice plants) in my life do I need to say “no” to in order to make room for other “plants”?

Please pray with us… we have some big decisions to make… and we need to make them soon!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Three typhoons and a camping trip

Today’s coffee: Costa Rica

Yes, you read that correctly. Three typhoons. Typhoons don’t usually come to Hokkaido; we often get the outer fringes, but not direct hits. This year at the end of August, we got three direct hits in one week… global warming? Actually, Sapporo wasn’t right in the middle. Eastern Hokkaido got the worst of it, with torrential rain and landslides and flooding. In Sapporo we just got heavy rain.

View from our campsite. Katoributa (anti-mosquito-incense-pig) hangs from the canopy.
But Keith and I had our heart set on a camping trip to eastern Hokkaido. Great hikes, gorgeous caldera lakes, delicious food… not to mention “Sunayu” (砂湯): the beach on Lake Kussharo (I’m going to call it “Kussharoko,” since “Lake Kussharo” sounds weird) where you can dig a hole in the sand and ONSEN WATER FILLS THE HOLE. We had to try it. Bad weather kept us from our Kussharoko camping trip early last summer, so we weren’t giving up this time, even though the typhoons had done a fair bit of damage to the area…

Keith is eyeing the debris piles for potential firewood. The shore of the lake should be behind the fence in the background...
Oh no! Sunayu!
… for example, Kussharoko’s water level was rather high, which meant that the famous Sunayu beach was completely underwater… sad face. Some parts of the campground were flooded. To get to the toilets, we had to cross three streams. I gave up keeping my feet dry, and wore flip-flops at all times. We won’t mention the number of bug bites I had on my feet.

But on the flipside, camping right next to the lake! Sunsets! Morning fog! Birds! (And crows. Stupid crows…)

Sunset over Kussharoko
I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to hike because of landslides or downed trees, but the trails were clear and dry (except the flooded part next to Kussharoko). The biggest problem was fog over the peaks. The locals said the fog hadn’t lifted since the last typhoon. But the fog made for some interesting and dramatic scenery.

Our first hike was Mokotoyama. The fog lifted for a bit right when we got to the peak. We couldn’t see the lake, but we saw the sea of clouds covering the lake. We enjoyed watching a large number of hawks soaring around the peak.

Almost at the peak, and the fog lifted!
Under the clouds, there's this really big lake...
There were probably 15 hawks circling the peak. (Do hawks eat bugs?)
The second hike was around the rim of Mashuuko (Lake Mashuu) to the peak of Mashuudake (Mt. Mashuu). It was a lovely, pleasant hike… it’s just that the peak was so swarming with bugs that we couldn’t stay there more than the 15 seconds it took to snap a picture of the sign as is my custom. Also, it was foggy. I’d love to do this one again on a day with less fog (and bugs).

Late-season wildflowers!

Peak obscured by fog (and trees)
Yeah. Not much point in staying here... possibly an all-time low for summit experiences.
A bit of an autumn feeling...
Finally can see the lake!

Finished! Our destination is in the background (still obscured by fog)
Camping culture is in some ways quite different than in the US. It’s rare for anyone to stay more than one night in the same campground. A lot of people travel alone by motorcycle, go to sleep when it gets dark, and leave as soon as it gets light, around 4 a.m.These sorts are pretty quiet and keep to themselves. But over the weekend… lots of families and big groups and loud parties. The campground was packed. I was glad to have earplugs. But it was nice to see families enjoying time together.

One group of guys occupied the space next to us for two nights. The first night they were up late… taking pictures of their kayaks by lamplight. I am not making this up.

Keith engages in his favorite hobby: making campfires.
Our campsite. The nearest onsen is right on the lake at the foot of the hill on the left.
Kussharoko, being a caldera with an active volcano on one side, has lots of little onsen all along the lake, in addition to Sunayu. We could see one of them from our campsite. Unfortunately, we were not able to bathe in that particular onsen, because it was barely obscured from public view by a hedge, and even then it wouldn’t matter… because it was a mixed bath. We’re not quite that bold. Thankfully there was another onsen nearby--a rustic outdoor bath in the middle of the forest, with perfect temperature.

Foot bath in Kawayu Onsen town. So nice after a hike!
Mt. Iou volcanic area
The sign in English reads "Hot Spring!" (Yay! Let's get right in!) but the Japanese reads "Beware of burns." Hmmm...
I’m happy to say that by the last day of our camping trip, the lake water had gone down somewhat, and we were able to dig our own onsen at Sunayu beach. I think most people just dig a bit, put their feet in the water, say “Sugoi! (Wow!)”, take their pictures, and get back on the tour bus. (Boring!) We, however, put on swimsuits and dug a hole big enough for both of us to sit in. Keith got all the way in. And we got some weird looks from the tour-bus crowd--two adult gaijin playing in the muddy water in the rain. “Metcha yogoreteiru!” (“That’s so dirty!”) said one. Lots of snarky replies went through my head, but I ignored her and pretended not to notice…

Yep. Water: very hot. No pictures of us sitting in the water, since my camera would have gotten dirty.
Eastern Hokkaido is a magical place for food. Did you know that Hokkaido is the only prefecture in Japan that is self-sufficient for food and even exports to the rest of Japan? We ate many delicious foods, but I think my favorites were butadon while passing through Obihiro and the pizza with soba (buckwheat) flour crust.

Soba crust pizza with fresh local vegetables! I'm getting hungry again just looking at this picture...
On Saturday night, we were in a bit of a bind. Missionaries don’t skip church, even when they are on vacation. After frantic searching on Google, we realized that the closest church was about 45 minutes away, over a mountain pass in Bihoro… and that our friends were serving in that church. And surprise! We got to witness their newborn daughter’s dedication! We headed back to their place a few days later for food and fellowship, including breakfast out in their favorite cafe, which a church member runs. I went home with an omiyage (souvenir) of two coffee seedlings.

I could eat this breakfast every day!
I named them Kona and Sharon.
All in all, I would highly recommend Kussharoko. Great place, lots of fun! But maybe don’t go right after three typhoons.

Did you know that there are horses in Hokkaido? (Our Japanese textbook constantly reminded us.) Keith is riding a "Dosanko," which is a breed of horses from Hokkaido!