Sunday, February 26, 2012


This week we had a mission-wide conference.  I guess this is not all that common since it was the first one that our current mission president has had and he has been here since last July.  We had a visiting authority who was Elder Dallin Oaks, one of the Twelve Apostles in our Church.  (In the Church the top authority is our president/prophet, Thomas S. Monson and he has two counselors; next would be the Twelve Apostles, twelve men who act as a body as special witnesses of Jesus Christ.)  This was a great honor to have Elder Oaks come and not all that common.

Here are some pictures:

The first picture is of all of the missionaries in our mission (the visiting authorities sitting in the front).  The second picture is a closer view with us standing on the second row (!).  And the third we had to insert since it shows Calvin shaking hands with Elder Oaks.  Our mission president, President Rasmussen is standing to the left of Elder Oaks.  (Actually to Elder Oaks' right but to our left!)
The meeting actually began at 10:00 a.m. but we were there VERY early (by 8:00 a.m.) to practice singing a hymn that our zone sang during the meeting.  Also the pictures were actually taken before the conference meeting. 

The meeting (2 hours) went by rapidly and was really great.  One of the things that almost all of the speakers touched on was that our Heavenly Father loves us and knows us each personally.  The Lord loves His children in every nation and brings a message of hope and love.

One of the messages that I enjoyed most was begun when President Rasmussen said he had received a letter from one of missonaries recently that told of his week:  they had shoveled snow around the church, attended an early morning seminary class, mailed postcards to members with their favorite scripture, made an appearance at a young mens/young womens dance to show support of their youth program, gone to church early to help set up chairs, and done other service-oriented things.  The letter concluded that although their stats sheets (how many people they contacted, how many lessons they taught, etc) may not show it, they felt that they had a very successful week.

When Elder Oaks began his talk he said in response to President Rasmussen's comments: " The things we can't count are usually more important than those we can."  He then gave some examples such as:  We can count how many people go to church; but we can't count those who truly partake of the sacrament with a sincere heart.  We can count the number of missionaries we have; but we can't count how many of those missionaries have the real spirit of commitment and desire to do the work.  We can count that there are 14 million members of our Church; but we can't count how many have been truly converted to live the way Christ would have them live.

I thought of this and realized how true this is.  This week I got letters from two of my grandchildren.  It was report card time.  They both reported they got straight A's (stat).  But then they said that their teachers at parent-teacher conferences had said things like:  he adds a lot of personality to the class; he makes friends with everyone and everyone likes him, she is always helpful, she is respectful, she is a good student (things not on the stat sheet but probably count more).

How often do we look at the stats and not really see what is behind those numbers?  It seems like when we really get involved we see what is really important.


I do have to tell you that these missionaries we deal with are still mostly only 19-21 years old and sometimes I feel really old around them (like I could be their GRANDmother!)  With a visiting authority everyone was trying to be on their best behavior and sometimes we were reminded how youthful they are like:

Before the conference one of the district leaders (a missionary) got up and strongly suggested that this would be a good time to go the restroom and said maybe you should try even if you don't think you have to (can you hear his mother saying this to him?!)

When we were posing for our group picture before Elder Oaks came in, some of the missionaries were standing on chairs.  They were reminded:  when you get down, please DON'T jump!

And Elder Oaks said, "I just pray that you elders will go home and get married so you can have the adult supervision that you need!"


We went to our first 100 yen sushi restaurant.   You go in and there are these conveyor belts that bring your sushi to you.  You can order what you want (usually 2 on a plate) or take ones that are going around on the conveyor belt.  Each plate is 100 yen (about $1.25) which is pretty cheap around here.  When you order you use a touch screen with pictures and they also have soups, noodles and desserts.  Some cost a little more but most are 100 yen.  In Japan the sushi is mostly some rice with raw fish on top that you eat by dipping it into soysauce/wasabi/ginger whatever mix you want.  There are all kinds of fish.  And there some that don't have raw fish.  I think I saw some with tempura shrimp on it.  At the end you press a buzzer (like a doorbell) and the waitress comes and counts up your dishes and writes out your bill.  Calvin and I got through almost $20 worth of sushi but I ate way too much.  These places are all over so now we will have to try different ones!
The buzzer thing is at all restaurants.  When you want to order you press the buzzer.  If you need something you press the buzzer. 

Sorry if I'm ending with a bad taste in your mouth (raw fish).  But that's all for now!

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Yesterday we attended a baptism of an eight-year old in our branch (The youngest you can be baptized in our Church is 8 years old.  We believe that at that age a child begins to realize the significance of his baptism and that he can begin to be accountable for his actions.).  As in all the baptisms I have attended, it was a sweet time of commitment which actually only took a total of about 30 minutes.  This is a copy of the program we were given as we entered:

It may be a little hard to see this clearly but the amazing thing was this young eight-year hand wrote his own program and then his mother printed it.  The first page (top) gives the date and time of the baptism.  The next page on the right gives a few pictures of him and some captions he wrote next to it.  I think the top pictures was a baby picture and actually gave his birth height and weight.  The other pictures tell a little about him, where he goes to school and what he likes to do.

On the left side is the program:  Opening hymn, prayer, 2 talks, 2 songs by the other Primary (children's organization) children, the actual baptism, short remarks and thank you from him, the closing hymn, and prayer). 

Several of the people attending gave Yuuta (this young boy's name) a small gift in congratulations.  Yuuta and his brothers (ages 4 and 11) had baked cookies and put them in little bags and then when someone gave Yuuta a gift, he thanked them and gave them a cookie as additional thanks.  The whole thing was so amazing because this mother had taken the time to make Yuuta a real part of his baptism. 

I look back and think that I tried to involve my children in the special events of their lives but maybe I didn't do as good a job as I could have.  I am not advocating that every child handwrite his own program but maybe we lose patience and just do everything ourselves.  This was such a learning opportunity.  I guess there is a time for not giving them that opportunity (a surprise party?) but there are so many times that we can show our children and grandchildren what a wonderful accomplishment they have made by involving them in the celebration.

NEXT:  Driving in Japan

I thought I would tell you a little about driving in Japan:

1.  I already mentioned that you drive on the left side of the road and not the right side.

2.  The roads are narrow and wind a lot.

3.  One of the main ways to tell if cars are coming when you turn is to look at the big round mirrors in front of you which are pointing to both sides of where the traffic is coming.  It is impossible to tell if there are cars coming (on the side streets) from either direction because the buildings are too close to the road.  So you TOTALLY depend on the mirrors!

4.  There are tons of bicycles and pedestrians.

5.  When you park, you BACK into the space! 

6.  The turn signal and windshield wiper lever are on opposite sides than we are used to so you are
always turning on the windshield wipers instead of your turn signal.

7.  Because of number 1 above,  a left turn is easier than a right turn.

8.  There is no road rage (we have only been passed once) and the drivers are usually very polite and let you in if there is a long line of cars and you need to turn.

9.  There is a lot of traffic and the traffic signals are pretty long.

10.  After a month and a half of being here,  we saw our FIRST car accident yesterday.  It was basically a bad fender bender.

Hope your week is good.  We are looking forward to a great one!

Sunday, February 12, 2012



I thought I would begin this post with a quiz.  The Japanese often give their businesses an American name but those names are often a little far-fetched.  Try to guess what types of businesses these are (answers at the end of the blog): 
1.  Gleam House
2.  2nd Street
3.  Sun R Us
4.  Soft Bank
5.  Joy Park
6 . Joyfull
7.  Homac

For the past few weeks, as you know, we have been visiting members and non-members of our Church.  We have gotten into about ten homes and visited outside with about the same number.  I thought I would give you a glimpse of our visits.

All of the places we went into have one thing in common.  They all have a small area--3 or 4 feet square--right after you enter.  This is where you are to remove your shoes.  The trick is that there is a step up to the main area of the house and you must remove your shoes and step up without your stockingfeet ever touching the bottom area.  This is very hard(impossible?) if you are wearing boots!  It is not actually that easy if you are wearing slip-on shoes.  Anyway, I have pretty much given up wearing boots when we visit.

Once in the house you are led to a livingroom area.  Of the ten houses (most are actually apartments) only two had western style living areas.  One had a sofa and a baby grand piano (they are very into music) and the other home had a family-type room with a large dining table and a large hutch and a flatscreen TV.  All of the other livingrooms were small rooms with a square low-to-the-ground table with cushions surrounding it to kneel on.  Yes, this can get pretty excruciating after sitting for 30 or 40 minutes but at least these people know we are Americans so they don't get too upset if we squirm or adjust our position.  In fact, at least three of the places had tables with blankets on top of them that hung to the ground.  Under the table was a heater so you are supposed to put your legs under the table to keep warm. 

Which brings me to the next point:  No house or apartment has central heating!  Our apartment has a heater in the main livingroom-kitchen area which we turn off when we leave and at night.  The bedrooms and bathrooms are never heated (they are closed off with a door) and that means they get pretty cold.  Right now our computer says that Ishinomaki is 30 degrees but feels like 17!  So as we visit, the rooms are cold and as we enter, they turn on a small heater that will hopefully warm up the room a bit.

Usually we are offered a small refreshment, a hot drink, rice crackers, cookies, etc.

Then we begin talking and getting to know the people.  These are some of their stories:

One man is 91 years old and has been blind since he was 30.  He has a picture of Christ on his wall and happily points to it just knowing it is there.  He cooks, cleans, and does his own laundry.  His wife has died and his entire apartment is probably about 10X30 (bedroom, livingroom, kitchen) plus a bathroom I imagine.  His apartment is very cold.  He loves talking to us.  He used to give massages for a living and now comes to church and gives massages after church for free.  And he is good.

One lady is older and can hardly walk.  She lives in an apartment on the 4th floor with no elevator.

One family has a daughter who is mentally unstable.  She is suicidal (age 20-25) and has tried numerous ways to end her life.  She is in and out of mental hospitals.  We met her and she is nice but we can tell she knows she has problems.

One family lives in poverty.  They have five adults living in a small apartment but only one is capable of holding down a job and he lost his job when the tsunami hit.  He was working for a fishing company which no longer exists.  They have two pictures of relatives they lost in the tsunami sitting near us.  One is of a young child.  We ask how old she is.  They tell us 50:  there are no other pictures left of her because the tsunami destroyed everything.  The man who is looking for a job goes everyday to employment places but there are many without jobs.  In the evenings he often goes with us visiting.  He never complains, in fact, feels he is blessed and needs to help us.  He is always upbeat and happy.

One lady lives in an area where the tsunami hit hard.  The water was up to the second story level but somehow her house was restorable.  Many people helped her to get her house liveable again.  She lost both of her parents in the tsunami.  They drowned in 3 feet of water because the mother could not walk well enough to get to the stairs and the father was trying to help her. 

The amazing thing is that not one of these people were complaining or were wallowing in self-pity.  They all try not to look back but look forward.  I am sure there are times when things are very hard but they refuse to give up.  The last lady I told you about is a beautician.  She has a shop in her home and is having a grand "re-opening."  She also has several photos on her wall of the volunteers who helped restore her house.  She is so thankful for them.


Answers to the quiz:  1.  Gleam House is a barber shop:  2.  2nd Street is a 2nd hand store:  3.  Sun R Us is convenience store like 7-11:  4.  Soft Bank is a cell phone store ("soft" ware?) :  5.  Joy Park is a casino and gambling hall:  6.  Joyfull is a restaurant (had enough to eat?):  7.  Homac is a store like Home Depot or Lowes.  All except the first one are chain stores or businesses.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


So last week my writing was struggling or at least I didn't say everything I wanted to say.  So I thought I would clarify somethings about our daily schedule.  I didn't want anyone to think we NEVER have a chance to break from the daily grind!

First, since we are senior couple missionaries we are not under the same rules as the younger missionaries.   We are able to e-mail, Skype and keep in touch with others regularly (like daily).  Since our Church places great importance on the family, they realize that we need to keep in touch and have communication with them.  If you are reading this, we realize that there is a reason you want to keep in touch also and we are excited to have you as part of our family!  We have loved hearing from you and in many ways it keeps us going.  Please continue to read and keep in touch (we gladly accept e-mail!). 

Second, we do have a schedule most of the week but it is flexible.  Also on Mondays we have what we call preparation day or p-day.  On that day we try to get things done like getting major letter writing done, go shopping, do some cleaning of the apartment, and getting out and seeing the city or doing some sort of activity (if the weather ever clears up!). 

Third, we have started exercising daily--stretching and strength exercises from a book and rubber exercise band we were given-- and walking.  Actually the walking has been a little difficult lately because of the bad weather but we have hopes for the spring to come!

So having said that, the rest of our blog this week is going to be dedicated to things "unmissionary-like" that we have done:

Last week we went to the Aeon Mall here in Ishinomaki.  The Aeon store is a huge department store and the mall (shown in the first picture) is also large. On the second floor there is a food court with lots of Japanese places to eat (ramen in all varieties, noodles, tempura, etc) and also a McDonalds (see second picture) and a KFC and a Baskin Robbins.  The McDonalds even had a dollar menu (actually more like $1.50 US but that was not bad).  We had some ramen that was really good.  I had a spicy ramen that was great!  Also had some gyoza and fried rice.  Both good.  There was also a bakery that was to die for!  I got a loaf of bread for a reasonable cost that tasted like croissants only was a round loaf of bread.  This is definitely a place we need to explore again!

This is a typical grocery store (above).  The carts are the small ones like you find at our Sunflower Market at home.  They are little carts and then you put a grocery basket on top.  No worries, all the food in Japan is packed so small you don't usually fill up the basket!  The interesting things about the grocery stores:  sometimes they are not heated so you get pretty cold if you are not wearing a coat;  there are maybe 3-4 different kinds of cold cereals but there are 3-4 AISLES of snack foods!

American foods are in short supply (this is Japan you realize!).

Finally, this is our homemaking activitiy we had this past week with the Relief Society (church women's group).  We made Kleenex box covers!  It was a fun time to get together with the other ladies and one of the highlights was when they looked at my fabric and oohed and awed and said, "where did you get your fabric?  from Ameria?"  I laughed and said, "No the dollar store!"  They all laughed because I was the foreigner and they had all gone out and paid top dollar at the fabric store and I went to the dollar store and got my fabric for so cheap!

Well that's pretty much it for this week.  I just wanted to close by telling you that we are in Ishinomaki which has a population of about 160,000.  We live pretty much in the center and whichever way we drive we only have to go 2-3 miles before hitting the end of the city.  It was one of the hardest hit areas of the tsunami.  About 3000 people were killed here in Ishinomaki but the people are amazing. There is NO rubble or visible remains or debris.  It has been all cleared away.  In its place are vacant lots where everything has been neatly cleared away and sometimes shells of homes or buildings that I assume have hopes of being rebuilt.  We are beginning to love this place and its people.