03 January 2008

Happy New Year!

We're on the train going back to Hiroshima. Andy and I spent some time in Hayato, a small town near Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, Japan. Had the nice opportunity to spend New Years with a Japanese family.

Finished work on 20 December. Relaxed over the next few days. Christmas Eve we had a special Christmas program at night. Was able to sing Japanese Christmas songs in the church choir (after much practice!) and enjoyed the evening with many of the teachers from the SDA primary school, students from the nearby high school, some students I teach and friends from church and other places.

Headed up into the mountains for a one-day bus trip for Christmas day, hoping to see some snow and have a white Christmas! There was no snow, and felt a little travel sick, but enjoyed the onsen (hot spring) in the mountains and ate some soba noodles for Christmas lunch. Christmas Day is not a big thing in Japan... all the shops are open, people go to work, and some of my friends didn't know which day was Christmas. Kind of felt like Christmas a little bit, but not really. Missed family on Christmas day, as we usually are all together with family, grandma and pa, relatives etc on a hot Australian Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas was the start of the Kyushu trip. Spent most of the day on local trains (slow, but cheap using Seishun 18 Kippu) and arrived in Nagasaki, Kyushu. Met a few Australians, Japanese and Taiwanese travelling around Japan and had a nice time catching up. Visited the main Cathedral Church there (the oldest Christian church in Japan), and is a symbol to indicate the place where Christianity was introduced to Japan a few hundred years ago. Saw Glover Garden and went up the ropeway to the mountain viewing area at night, both of which I recommend.

There are lots of European buildings in Nagasaki. Japan was mostly isolated from the outside world for a period of a couple of hundred years before the 1860's, except for a small part of Nagasaki. Here, many Europeans and Chinese people lived, and many products were imported and exported through this gateway city to the outside world.

While in Nagasaki, I had the chance to visit the peace park, in memorial of the people affected by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. Visiting these places just fills me with sadness, solemness, and a huge hate for war and hurt. Hard to imagine what it must have been like for people involved. I actually met an elderly Japanese man near the park, who was 10 years old in when the bomb was dropped. Both his parents were killed instantly. He was about 10 km away when the bomb exploded, and he said it was very loud and bright. It also flattened the house he was in. He showed me a scar on his hand from the injury. May we look forward to a time when wars will cease!

After Wednesday night and Thursday in Nagasaki, I woke early on Friday morning to catch about another 8 slow local trains to Hayato, Kagoshima. Japanese trains are extremely punctual! Of the 20 or more trains I've caught this past week, they have all arrived and departed on the minute which the timetable indicated. It's Japanese style... on time, reliable, dependable, exctpected. Arrived in Hayato about sunset time, just in time to rest for Sabbath.

I was kindly invited to stay with Andy's friends who life in Hayato. The family there was very kind and have become excellent friends over the few days I was there. We went to church on Saturday, ate lunch, chatted, shared a nice dinner and then stayed the night in Kagoshima with a friend who my previous work colleague in Melbourne knew!

Sunday we visited the Kamikaze museum in Chiran. This showed the history and story of the Japanese warplanes which flew into warships during World War II. One picture is stuck in my head... it shows a few young boys (in their late teens) smiling, laughing and playing together with a young puppy. This photo was taken the day before these same boys flew airplanes into warships and dying. It also showed ltters written by boys to their mothers before the went on their missions. It revealed to me the horrible attributes of war. There are many things we don't understand, but one thing we understand, is that war hurts people.

After the museum, we were treated to a lovely Japanese meal. It was a very cold day, but the warm restaurant, the tasty noodles and rice, made for a nice time together. We visited the Sumarai houses in Chiran, and saw the old-style homes and gardens they used to live in. Again, it was very cold! On the way home, I got some nice pictures of Sakurajima, a high volcano across the bay from Kagoshima.

Monday, December 31, would be a hard day to match. Hiromi and Megumi (from the family we stayed with) with Andy and I drove up into the mountains of Kirishima (near Hayato). We stopped by and made some pottery from some spinning clay... that was fun! After, we saw a little bit of snow falling! It was my first time to see snow and was quite excited! We kept driving and the snow kept getting heavier and heavier. We stopped to put chains on the car wheels and saw some friendly deer on the side of the road!

We arrived at the ice-skating place, and enjoyed outdoor ice skating with the snow falling and swirling around, another thing I had not seen or experienced before. It was a lot of fun, even though it was about -5 degrees and I forgot to bring my beanie (head warmer). So, my hair got stuck together from the snow and ice!

Lunch was quite late (5pm) but was a nice tamago don (egg and rice). Then found a really nice (probably one of the best in Hayato) onsens and relaxed, letting all of the years worries drain away. After some dinner, we watched the New Years Eve concert on NHK TV on the hours leading up to midnight.

New Years is the biggest family time in Japan, when everyone comes home or visits family. It is typically not celebrated with fireworks or large parties, but most people are at home with their families, gathered together keeping warm from the winter cold. The concert finished at 11:45 pm, and the 108 bells were chimed at hundreds of temples all around Japan.

Before midnight, it's Japanese culture to eat soba noodles before midnight. (Soba noodles are used because they are easy to prepare, after so much work has been done to clean and prepare for the new year). Mikan (mandarines, the fruit) is eaten usually during this time and tea is common also. So, together with Hiromi, Megumi, their mum and dad, Andy and I, we welcomed in the new year of 2008!

After a good nights rest, we woke up to eat some mochi (a very thick, sticky, rice dish), which is done on New Years Day for breakfast. Sweet bean soup is also eaten New Years Day. We then went to church for a New Years message. Since temples are usually visted on New Years Day (most important time of year to go), many churches are also open for New Years service. We heard a message about Abraham offering Isaac (Genesis, Holy Bible), and had a small meal together.

The rest of the day we relaxed, watched a bit of TV, I tidied up my room, went for a walk, went up the Hayato lookout and enjoyed a bit of time at home. Usually on New Years Day the whole family is at home, mostly stays inside (becuase it's cold outside), everything has been cleaned for the New Year and so it's Japanese culture to not have a bath or shower on New Years Day! I found that really intesting! Nevertheless, we went for another onsen (yes, natural hot spring water!), went into the sauna at 87 degrees C (which had a TV in it!) and refreshed ourselves. After sweating a lot and getting nice and clean, you feel really good after an onsen.

When we got home we met Hiromi and Megumi's brother, his wife and 3 kids. Had a lot of fun just spending time in the lounge room until late. It was a memorable time. After a few hours sleep, Andy and I got up early to catch the 6:19 am train which left Hayato. We've been travelling since and will arrive at Hiroshima at 8:45 pm after a day of trains. We met a lot of nice people on the trains. You just need to step out, say "Hi", start talking in the limited Japanese you know, and make friends!

New Year is a good chance for me to think about life, about the previous year, about the new year and about the future in genearl. I have to appreciate what 2007 brought. I began the year 2007 leaving home to live in Melbourne and do volunteer work with my church. During my 6 months in Melbourne, I went through some challenging experiences, but it was through these experiences, that I learnt to trust in and believe in God. I want to thank Him (with all I am) for revealing Himself to me. Although I never have seen God (with my eyes) or heard God (with my ears), I know He is real, because He made me, my family, everyone, this world and everything in it. He is worthy of my worship, so I have given' myself to Him, to live for Him and servie Him. Thank-you God, for 2007.

After 6 months in Melbourne, I spent about 4 weeks back at work at USQ as a computer systems administrator before coming to Japan in late August to teach English and Bible for 12 months at the SDA Kindergarten, Prmary School and English School in Hiroshima Japan.

This year, I want to do my best as an English & Bible teacher, love God and people more, put my best effort into learning Japanese while I'm here, seek to understand different cultures and peoples (Japanese), and travel parts of Japan during my stay here.

After a short sleep at home tonight, I'll be up about 5am to catch the first shinkansen from Hiroshima bound for Tokyo. Frinds from Melbourne will be in Tokyo and it's going to be nice to catch up with them. I'll also see one of my friends from Tokyo, be a tourist in Tokyo for a few days (haven't really seen Tokyo yet), and worship God in the Tokyo Central International SDA Church. We're expecting fine cold weather, which I think will be quite nice! Last time I was in Tokyo, it was very hot, humid, sticky, smoggy and not so nice, but am expecting a nice change.

Early Sundy morning I'll be catching the first shinkansen for the week bound for Hiroshima (Nozomi 1, fastest shinkansen in Japan). It travels at speeds of up to 300 km/h, and goes from Tokyo to Hiroshima (890 km, with about 7 stops) in 3 hours 47 minutes. I arrive at Hiroshima Station 9:47 am Sunday morning. Then I'll jump on my bike, ride to work to begin another year of work at 10:15am with my adult English class. Life will then take on some kind of normality again :-)

But... it was all worth it! Happy New Year!

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