30 January 2008

** snow **

Well, that was the word which described yesterday... "snow". Probably the snowiest day we've had this season, and might not get much snowier than that. A inch or two of snow piled up on cars last night, and a few roads got a bit mushy, icy, wet. Just small snow... nothing kind of super-special, but, was nice.

And, I didn't see the thermometer get about 2 degrees all day yesterday... except for at about 10pm when it "warmed up" to 3 degrees. I didn't really think I'd consider 8 or 10 degrees "warm", but, I do now :-) Haven't seen it warmer than 10 for about 2 weeks now. It's probably not going to get colder now. It'll probably stay about the same for another week or two, and then begin the slow (too slow!) warm up to spring. We'll be out of the cold about April... meanwhile, the kerosene heater works overtime, doors stay closed, I stay indoors, and the washing dries by the heater (instead of outside).

What else... hmmm... Badminiton was fun on Sunday. English teaching is till fun. It's time to decide whether to stay another year teaching at the Hiroshima SDA English School (any advice?) I'm enjoying mixing with the church members. Finally learned all my katakana (one of the 3 Japanese alphabets). Spending a good chunk of time learning Kanji (the hardest alphabet with thousands of characters). Preparations for the English School concert are going on now. Concert is in March and the topic is "Jesus Comes Back to Life!" Plenty of kids songs.

Going skiing (my first time) on 11 Feb. Should be great! Plenty of things on. Usually a combination of work, friends, church, meals, sport, learning Japanese, Bible study, cold, house chores and fun.

The aim? To know God, care for people, do my best, and enjoy it.

24 January 2008

One of those good days!

Yes, today is one of those great days!

Had a good rest last night, got up, good hearty, healthy breakfast, went to school and prepared a few English classes. Just before going to the Gr 2 class, I look out from the 3rd floor of the school and see this white stuff falling lightly down from above... snow! Only the second time I've seen snow fall, and, the first time I've seen it fall where I live!

Grade 2 and 1 classes went nicely, with a bit more variety than normal, fun games, kids behaving pretty well and enjoying class :-) The kids are nice... some come up to say good-bye after class, show me something or tell me some of the English they learnt.

Organised a bit of badminton for Sunday afternoon with some of the younger teachers at the school here... should be good! Then, headed outside to play with the kids outside during their school lunch break. Played "tag", played on the slides and other stuff there, had a lot of fun.

Rode my bike to 7-Eleven, grabbed a bit of salad, rice-thing, cheese roll to eat for lunch on the way home (only 2 mintes away). Ride back home, the snow continued to swirl around the streets making a nice scene.

I get home, look out the window, feel the sun streaming in the window, see the snow falling outside, notice the thermometer says 5 degrees, listen to good music and eat some lunch!

Five more English classes today... Thursdays are the busiest days. Friday is always a day off... time to relax, tidy up and get ready for a good weekend.

22 January 2008

Cold Weather, Bad Stock Market

Which is worse? I'm pretty sure you'll agree that you can put up with cold weather as long as the markets are doing well... but the past two weeks have brought both.

On Sunday it averaged about 3 degrees during the day, with a bit of snow on a nearby hill. Rain all day made it "fun" sloshing through puddles on my bike to get downtown to eat out with friends. The marathon runners here in Hiroshima (for a nation-wide annual event) braved the freezing weather to compete.

Who knows where the marekts will end up? Things look quite bleak. How is it going to affect people around the world? Where do we put our security? Do we put it in the stock market? Can we put it in our house or possession? Can we put it in our health? Our education or work? Our insurance? Our own life or family? Sickness, natural disasters, violence, bad economy,
random accidents... pretty much everything we have or are in life is at risk. Where do we find security?

Only in the God who made us. The only complete security we can have is to trust God. He is our Father, He loves us, He cares for us, He has a rescue plan for this earth (read about it in the Bible), He offers us eternal life. If you search for God with all your heart, you will find Him. This is where we can find security and peace.

Last night, spent some time teaching English and then learning Japanese with a friend. I think this will really help me learn Japanese. And, singing in church is a little easier now, than when I first arrived in Hiroshima. I can read the Hiragana quicker now, so I can join in singing most of the songs.

But, the cold weather continues... maximums of 6 degrees are quite common now. So, we just keep the kerosene heaters at home going, while we wonder if it will snow today or tomorrow.

18 January 2008

Into the swing of things

The new year has almost lost its novelty. Most things are back to normal. Unlike Australia where the school year begins just before February (and uni starts early March), in Japan, kids were back at school on Monday 7th January. Schools here get a 2 to 3 weeks holiday over new year. In Japan, students start school (or move up a grade) in April.

So, after two weeks of work already, English school is back into routine, primary school English classes are going well. It's a down hill run to the end of March when I'll teach the last class for the grade 2 and 6 classes and probably a few students from the English school.

It's Friday, our day off. It's about 10 degrees outside at 1pm. The sun in streaming through the open doors of our apartment facing south (nice mix of cool air and warm sun), but it's quite noisy since it faces Route 2 (which is 8 lanes of traffic). Friday are good days to relax, do the washing, bit of shopping, write emails, catch up on things, plan a little, clean up the house for the weekend and get ready for a restful Sabbath.

Today is pretty much a typical Friday as described above.

I'm getting to know a few of the youth from the church here. Making good friends with them. Some are teachers at the primary school or kindergarten. Some work around town here. My Japanese is quite poor. They don't speak a lot of English either. Despite that, we have a good time. We've gone for onsens, eaten out together, done a bit of shopping, etc. They're good friends. Glad I have the chance to know them.

Also been making some friends at the Hiroshima International Center. Been eating out and will start learning some Japanese from them. I'll share some English with them also. Many (maybe most) Japanese people either know some basic English, would like to learn English, are learning more English, or know English. It's seems like they all would like to know it.

We have English Sabbath School 3 times each month on Saturday mornings. George and I lead out in that. Also, English Church once each month, which either George or I preach at. Friday night vespers programs are also on once a month, where we eat dinner, share a short Christian message, sing and pray.

Tomorrow night we're going ice skating with the English school... mostly kids and parents... it's going to be a lot of fun! Sounds like we might be having a few sports evenings coming up.

Hope to get to the snow for some skiing (which I've never done before) before it starts getting too warm again. Also, would like to visit Shikoku (the smallest of the 4 main islands of Japan, not far at all from Hiroshima). Cherry blossoms should be out in late March, early April, so it'll be a ncie time to look around Hiroshima. Golden week (late April, early May) I'll probably go to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara for about a week as a tourist. And, after 10 August, I hope to see a bit more of Tokyo, northern Honshu (north of Tokyo) and Hokkaido. We have a three week break in August.

But, who knows... haven't decided if I'll stay another year or not. If I finish up, I'll end in August. If not, I'll still be here!

Sabbath Peace to you all.

14 January 2008

20 years old?

In Japan, today is "Coming of Age" day. If you are 20 years old, today is a special day. When you turn 20, you can vote, drink, smoke, and are legally an adult. 20 year olds often dress up in traditional Japanese clothing. Here's one view of this day:

Here's a bit about my holidays:

Thu 3 Jan:
Caught 700 Series Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo.
Saw Kyoto, snow and Mt Fuji along the way.
Caught local train from Tokyo Station to Shinjuku Station.
Stayed with friends from Melbourne, Australia in Oakwood Apartments in Shinjuku.
Went shopping in Shinjuku.
Met friends at Hachiko Statue just outside Shibuya Station, near Shibuya Crossing.

Fri 4 Jan:
Went to Tsukiji fish market and Hamarikyu Gardens
Took a boat up Sumida River to Asakusa
At ramen, visited Sensō-ji Temple (as a tourist) and saw Kimono

Sat 5 Jan:
Worshipped at Tokyo Central International SDA Church in Harajuku
Relaxed at Yoyogi Park near Harajuku Station
Visited the Apple Store, shopped, ate out and in Ginza at night
Visited friends apartment with nice view of Tokyo Tower

Sun 6 Jan:
Caught N700 Series Shinkansen back to Hiroshima
Back to work at Hiroshima SDA English School

Tokyo Photos

03 January 2008

Kyushu Photos

Photos from Nagasaki and Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan:



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!