Sunday, May 27, 2012


A Visit From Neighbors Back Home!

This week we spent a day with some of our neighbors back home:  Roger and Barbara Ishino, their sons Zach and Nathan and friends Todd and Janet.  They were visiting Japan for a week and wanted to come to Sendai since it was Roger's old stomping grounds (mission) more than 30 years ago.  We met up with them at the train station and then took a bus to the city museum.  Here is Zach modeling a warrior helmet:

We were running short on time and decided to forego the rest of Sendai (the big city) and go to Matsushima (which we love of course!).  We got on the train once more and within 30 minutes we were there and hungry.  We introduced the Ishinos to our favorite "dive" restaurant.  This is Nathan (who just got off his mission to Korea) deciding what to order from the menu:

Well, so there is no real menu but the offerings and prices are written on pieces of paper on the wall!  It is kind of tricky for those of us who are "Japanese-challenged" but we have learned that there are two kinds of meals:  raw fish and fried food.  They both come with soup, rice, salad and a few other things which are all good.  The raw fish would include your choice of:  tuna, salmon, squid, fish eggs, steamed shrimp or octopus.  The fried would be:  chicken, pork, shrimp, oysters.  I generally go for the fried oysters.  Calvin likes the raw fish.  And for your information, the Ishinos pretty much chose one of each and shared.

Then it was off to the rest of Matsushima.  Unfortunately it was raining but not to worry--many of the places outdoor offer umbrellas!  The gardens of Entsuin which we went to last month were so much nicer--very green and lush.  Here are a few photos:

Zach and Nathan at the caves:

Us with Roger and Barb with beautiful Matsushima in the background:

Notice that Roger has on shorts!  And they think I am crazy for wearing short sleeves.  I think it was just wishful thinking on Roger's part.  It was actually pretty cool weather that day.  Anyway, it was fun spending a day with the neighbors and speaking ENGLISH!


We spent Wednesday doing service with the young missionaries (as opposed to us OLD missionaries).  We drove to Shichigahama about and hour and a half away and had an orientation of what we were to do:

After the orientation (which included tons of bows and applause for everyone who came), we did an exercise routine to music which apparently is really famous in Japan.  Like we needed exercise, when you see what we got ourselves into!  Then we donned rubber boots (it had rained a lot the day before) and gloves.  And went to our worksite:

Yes, it was a large field (the picture above makes it look pretty uncluttered but was really not) and we were to get rocks, debris, etc out of it.  It was really muddy so we were glad for the boots.  But it was a good time for us all and those young missionaries are amazing--never a word of complaint, in fact, they saw the big slabs of cement and rocks as a fun challenge!  We actually spent four hours cleaning up that field (2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon).  After putting the debris in piles (burnable and non-burnable) we put it into bags and took them to the side of the field to be picked up later:

Those bags were amazing.  I never saw one rip and we were filling them with large rocks!   And besides rocks and cement we also found wood, pipe, clothes, and pieces of tile plus a lot of other junk.  As you can see, we were in a lot of mud so we were glad for the boots. 

After lunch, the elders found a sumo wresting amphatheater (leave it to them!) and this is what happened:

After two hours of hard labor--there's always time for a little sumo wrestling!

Other Tidbits from the Week

***We began a new English class last week which was supposed to be billed as a "family English class" but has become a "children's English class" and is quite challenging!  We have around 10 kids ages 8-11 and a couple of adults.  It's quite the class since these kids know almost no English.  But we are learning to be creative.  We got a library card at the Ishinomaki library and checked out Green Eggs and Ham in English and Japanese and read that to them (in both languages!).  We also did a guess the number of candies in a jar type of game and have some crafts in mind for the future!

***A member made some rice (lightly sweetened I think) with whole chestnuts in it!  It was so good!  I may have to butter her up for more of that!

***I am trying to get better at making casseroles in the rice cooker so here was my first attempt:

Yes, it is rice with wakame! (and onions, chicken, mushrooms and soup base).  Not too bad for my first attempt but I think I need to reduce the amount of liquid.

***We went to stake leadership meeting in Sendai yesterday.  We rode with Brother Watanabe in our ward who must not like the freeway because we went the whole way on surface streets.  It was quite an adventure--saw places I've never seen before!  Anyway, I saw something different than I have seen before here.  His car was a stick shift and since the driver's side is on the right instead of the left, you use the stick with your LEFT hand!  It is still the same as far as where the gears are so you end up going closer to you as your go up in gears.  Way too hard for me!

***We are back to teaching our investigator Abe-san.  He works for a nursery and it has been so busy lately that he took a couple of weeks off.   It was so good to see him again (and he came to Church today).  He has had some heart problems lately and was really emotinal as he told us about them and began to cry.  Calvin told him about priesthood blessings and asked if he would like one.  He answered yes so President Onuma (our branch president) and Calvin gave him a blessing.  It was so wonderful.  The spirit was strong and afterwards he felt the peace he needed.  He is going to see a doctor in Sendai this Tuesday.

***A young girl in our ward who has her missionary papers in but hasn't received her call spoke in sacrament meeting today. She talked about missionary work and what she has been doing to prepare.  We took her to a zone conference a couple of weeks ago and then she went tracting with the sister missionaries afterwards.  She said she now realizes how hard it is.  She thought they would just go in houses and teach people and then found out that many people are not home or wouldn't let them in.  Also it was tiring and late into the night (they tracted until 8:00 p.m and it is dark here then).  We have become really close to her and see her several times a week at institute, English class, doing service, and she helps us and comes to our investigator discussions when she can).  But she also helped me to realize that being a missionary isn't always that easy and not what you expect.  But it is rewarding and an amazing experience!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


  Welcome to Ishinomaki in May!  The weather is gorgeous, or at least gorgeous every other day--you just have to be on the every and not the other day.  We are dreading the heat since 70 degrees here is plenty warm and with the high humidity you sweat like crazy.  But for now we can enjoy the weather (they tell us that rainy season is not far away!)

Thank You Ceremonies

So we went to the last of the thank you ceremonies (we think).  This past week we went to Omotehama, Tobu and Ogatsu (for those of you who are keeping track!).  On Thursday we went to Omotehama about an hour away.  The ceremony was outside of a building where the fishermen's coop have their offices:

The bottom floor of the building was completely wiped out by the tsunami (totally gone) but somehow they are using the second floor as office space!  The Church has the vision that they want to help the fishermen (the main livelihood on the coast cities) to get back to making a living.  So here they were able to donate many things, among them:  storage sheds, a buoy light, trucks, forklifts, rope, air conditioning units, and computers.  It is always amazing to see how much they need these things.  Then it was on to Tobu only 10 minutes away.  These are some of the things donated at Tobu:

It is wakame (remember the seaweed stalk?) equipment.   There were wakame washers, dryers, and presses.  Wakame seems to follow us wherever we go!  Anyway, the interesting story here was that the royalty in Tokyo will only order wakame from Tobu because it is supposedly the best wakame in Japan--who knew?!  The Church also donated three large warehouse buildings to this area and the fishermen were very grateful.  They just recently got their power restored (after a year!) and so they are very anxious to get back to work.  Apparently the wakame equipment is quite expensive and their old equipment was wiped out by the tsunami.

On Friday it was on to Ogatsu.  I was not prepared for this.  Ogatsu is a bay that is triangle in shape.  The base of the triangle would be where the bay begins, next to the ocean.  Then as you go in further the bay goes to almost nothing (the top of the triangle).  I think most of the homes and people were closer to the top point.  Anyway, when the tsunami hit, it began at the widest point but as the bay narrowed, the water force became stronger and higher due to the narrowing on the bay.  When it finally got to the end it was with such power and the water was up to 60 feet high.  EVERYTHING was destroyed  We saw about five building shells that were still standing (the large concrete ones).  The rest was just four-inch footings and foundations of buildings which were gone.  These are some of the only buildings we saw:

PLUS that is not just a blurry picture (above) but it was raining.  A lot.  And since there were no buildings we held the thank you ceremony outside under umbrellas.  The fishermen:

And the Church leaders being thanked:

It just seemed kind of fitting in a place with nothing.  We also heard that Japan has not yet decided what to do with Ogatsu, whether to help them or not because there is nothing to begin with.  But apparently the Church is still keeping an eye on the fishing industry hoping at least that the industry survives.  The lady above in the blue dress was the representative of the fishermen who conducted the ceremony.  This was the side of her car which says it all:


On Saturday we went with some members of the branch to do some service.  We ended up in Omotehama!  And Calvin ended up cutting the rope that the Church had donated to use in harvesting wakame!:

We actually met up with a Young Single Adult group from Tokyo who had come on a bus (around 65 of them).  Other activities included making soup for those in the temporary housing units:

And, of course, the ever-popular:  BINGO!

It was an eventful and fun day--and perfect weather.  I guess I need to add this comment:  Some things are the same no matter where you are.  Just before we left to go home I was thinking, "Now in America, we wouldn't just go home; we would stop for ice cream.  But too bad, we are in Japan."  As we pulled out of the parking lot, Sister Usui, our driver said, "Let's go get some ice cream!"  So we went to the nearest combini (convenience store) right around the corner and treated ourselves to ice cream!  Yum!

Sewing--Once Again!

Saturday night the Relief Society sisters met at the Church to sew curtain room dividers for those in the temporary housing units.  It is a project that the stake asked us to do.  Sewing seems to follow me around I must admit.  For those of you who don't know, I worked in a drapery workroom and have done a ton of sewing in my lifetime.  So far we have done three drapery-curtain projects at Church and also a bunch of other things I have been working on since the sisters want some projects to work on.  Here we are at the Church:

Things happen for a reason story:  About two years ago I made a bunch of small make-up type bags with zippers for pretty much everyone I knew.  I put little toiletries in them and other things and gave them away as Christmas gifts.  Calvin happened to bring his to Japan so I decided to make one up using his as a pattern.  I was thinking they would make good presents for the people in the temporary housing units.  Plus our Church has three large boxes of fabric that are perfect for this project.   Plus a ton of zippers!  WELL, this week our mission president's wife just HAPPENED to email me and ask if I would HAPPEN to have a use for some toiletry items she had saved from hotels when they traveled!  It was a humbling experience to know that these were just what I needed to fill my bags.  When we went to pick them up at the mission home this week there were three LARGE bags of combs, washcloths, toothbrushes, razors, etc.!  Who would have guessed that two years ago I was being prepared for this mission!

Wakame Again!

The wakame season is about over or so we are told.  But yesterday some of the young single adults were asked to help with the wakame so they did and they brought some back and gave it to us.  Here is Calvin with the perks of the day:  wakame and a new hat from the fishing coop!

And me at home washing the extremely slimey wakame.  I have been looking up recipes for wakame salad on the internet!

And Finally  . . .

For those of you who complain that there are never any pictures of me on the blog:

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Just thought I would wish all of you women a Happy Mother's Day.  Whether you have children or not, I am sure you are an example to someone who appreciates you.  My own daughters (and daughter-in-law) are all wonderful mothers.  And Happy Mother's Day to my own mother.  I love you all.  Here in Japan they advertise Mother's Day in the stores (trying to get you to buy flowers, candy etc) but they do not really celebrate it.  There was no mention of Mother's Day in Church today.  I hadn't really thought about it before, but all the missionaries call home on Mother's Day but it is pretty much the same as any other day here.  Kind of sad in a country that honors their ancestors and elders so much.


Friday we had what I guess you would call a multi-zone conference.  It wasn't the whole mission but most of the mission.  Elder Yamashita of the Seventy (Church authority) came and spent the whole day (from 10:00-4:00) teaching us how to better missionaries.  Can I just say, he gave the whole thing in English and has only spent 8 months in Utah and his English was remarkable!  Anyway, one of the main themes of the conference was "open your mouth"--meaning you need to open your mouth if anyone is going to know why we are here.  True to the theme and being in Japan, Sister Yamashita taught us how to make origami mouths that open and close!:

It was pretty funny when she taught us how to do it because it is a rather involved origami project and some of those young elders were definitely "origami challenged."  Yes, they can speak Japanese but they can't make an origami mouth!

After the conference a few of us couple missionaries went out to eat at a great restaurant.  It was a buffet (more like the Hotel Utah/Joseph Smith Bldg. version rather than the Chuck-a-Rama version of the word "buffet").  Anyway, we ate SO much and I can't even begin to tell you what we ate.  They even had onsen eggs (remember the soft-boiled eggs?) and sushi.  Plus a soft ice cream dispenser which the Japanese think you have died and gone to heaven when there is one of those!  Here we are at the restaurant:

Before I leave this part of the blog may I just say that one thing I wasn't expecting in Japan was to be in so much contact with General Authorities of the Church.  We were with Elder Yamashita at some of the thank you ceremonies so he knows us and then there was this conference.  Then there is Elder Nishihara who is an area Seventy who has also been to the thank you ceremonies, plus we saw him on Friday at the conference, PLUS he showed up to our branch today!  And he spoke and stayed afterwards to our meal and since it was the men's turn to host the meal, at the end they announced, "all of the brothers, help clean up" AND there was Elder Nishihara wiping down tables!  And of course, we had Elder Oaks and Elder Hallstrom a couple of months ago.  Plus we are in contact with Elder Halvorson, director of Humanitarian Services in this area quite often.  I am so impressed that the Church takes care of its members wherever you are.

Museum in Oku Matsushima

We took a little drive to Oku Matsushima where we will be teaching English in a community center next week.  I am a little apprehensive since we are told we have around 10 students to start with but they think the class will grow.  It is a "family English class" meaning there are children and their parents.  The children are around 10 years old.  So we have NO idea what they know as far as English goes.  Anyway, we visited a museum next to the community center.  It was about the Jomon people who lived many years ago.  It was pretty interesting but we didn't have much in the way of English translation so it left quite a bit to our imagination.

But, we did get this picture because I have a nephew who LOVES antler sheds and fishing.  Yes, Doug, this picture is for you.  I expect you to make a fish hook out of antlers and catch a fish by the time we get back:

Apparently these people made fishhooks out of antlers and did really well with them!  Who would have thought?!  Actually, we really do take things for granted.  These people made clothes out of tree bark and made clay pots of course.  Use what you have!

More Outrageous Prices

I guess I can never get over the price of some items in Japan.  Or maybe I just don't understand the logic of them.  Anyway, I wanted to make chicken salad sandwiches for the meal after Church and I really wanted some celery.  I had been warned that it was going to be expensive and they only sold it by the RIB.  I didn't even remember seeing celery at the store but this is what we bought:

Yes, it was only one rib, although a pretty good-sized one.  I was kind of disappointed because it tasted a little bitter to me (maybe that is why the Japanese don't really eat celery much!) and the cost?:  $2.50.

And I had to have Calvin take a picture of the cantaloupe and honeydew at the store.  I remember coming to Japan 20 years ago and seeing cantaloupe for $40 (not a misprint).  I don't think times have changed that much:

The containers of cantaloupe have two SMALL pieces in them.  They sell for about $3.50.  The honeydew are about $4.50.  I have never seen such small pieces.  And wouldn't you know it?!  Today after Church, a member rushed up to our car as we were leaving and handed us half of a good-sized honeydew melon!

Changes in Leadership

Today in Church they changed some of our branch women's leadership.  Since we only have around 30 people who come each week, the Relief Socity presidency, Young Women's presidency, and Primary presidency were released and basically everyone just switches!  Actually it wasn't quite that drastic because we no longer have any Young Women but it was pretty interesting.  The new Relief Society president has been in the branch for over 35 years.  I asked her how many times she had been Relief Society president.  She said at least 4-5 times!  And yet, she was still nervous about being called again!  Or maybe that is why she is nervous  . . .

Elder Kim, Part 2

If you read last week's blog you may remember Elder Kim who happened on an elderly woman who said she had met with the missionaries 34 years ago.  TWO DAYS after I posted the blog I received an e-mail from Stephen Howells that said, "I read your blog and I am the Elder Howells that you talked about in your blog!"  He remembered the lady without me even telling him her name:  Ishihara san.

Last week, I said you might not know who you are influencing.  Well, I found that out pretty fast.  Todd Oogard who is the webmaster for the Sendai Alumni site, unbeknownst to me, reads my blog faithfully.  When he read about Elder Kim, he e-mailed Stephen Howells and alerted him about what I had said about Elder Kim.

That has brought about several e-mails back and forth and some trips down memory lane for many of us.  Brother Howells sent an old photo of several of the branch members and there are still several active members in that photo.  We took the photo to Church and everyone enjoyed them.  In fact, I think they were humbled to know that the previous missionaries still thought about them and cared about them.

And I guess I'll finish with this one last message for Stephen Howells:  ISHIHARA SAN CAME TO CHURCH TODAY!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


This week hasn't had any BIG events (but the next couple of weeks have more excitement in store!) so I thought I would write a few random things that I have been thinking about talking about but didn't know how to incorporate into the blog. 

Golden Week and Boys Day

This past week was called "Golden Week."  I am not sure of all the details but last weekend was a three day holiday weekend (Monday was a holiday commemorating past emporor Showa).  Then Thursday was Constitution Day, Friday was Greenery Day (dedicated to environment and nature) and Saturday was Boys Day.  So basically it is a big holiday week (actually 10 days) where many businesses and schools close.  It was kind of sad because everyone was so excited about it and then it RAINED like crazy most of the actual holidays.  We had three straight days of pouring rain and then yesterday and today we had partly cloudy skies and then a LOT of rain in the afternoon and evening.  However, the malls and stores are packed with people and everyone was excited to rest and relax a bit.  Here are some of our Boys Day pictures (they fly carp kites in honor of the boys).

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

(Remember Peter, Paul and Mary?)  Anyway, last week I wrote about Sakura--the cherry blossoms.  Then it rained and rained and rained.  Sad day for the sakura;  they are all on the ground:

Relief Society Hymn

In Relief Society today we sang a hymn I have NEVER sung before.  This is not a complaint, just a cultural observation, I guess.  This hymn is in the Japanese hymnbook.  The title is written at the top of the page in Japanese and then beneath it is the English translation: 

                                           "Oh, I Had Such a Pretty Dream, Mama"

Convenience Stores

I have been tempted to write about the plethora of convenience stores in Japan (7-11, Lawson, Sun R Us, Family Mart).  Here they are called "combini" (if you say it out loud it sounds like "convenience" without the s sound) and there are TONS of them everywhere.  And there are always quite a few cars and people at these convenience stores.  I never knew what the draw was to these stores (just like out 7-11's at home) but today I think I figured it out.

We were talking in Relief Society and in the lesson it talked about how in Brigham Young's day the sisters were counseled to "reform their eating and housekeeping patterns."  Suddenly the ladies in Relief Society began talking about the "combinis" and laughing.  Apparently the combinis are like our fast food places!  People go to them for a quick bite to eat (bentos--meals with rice and meat) or a quick breakfast. They have fruit, pastries, drinks, hot dogs, and other easy-to-eat food.  On the other hand, except for 2 McDonalds in Ishinomaki, there are NO fast food places.

Member-Leadership Support

When we were called to this mission we were called as "member-leadership support" missionaries.  I always thought that meant that we were to support the members and leadership of the Church in our area.  But then one night last week it hit me.  We were trying to be a support to the members and leadership in our branch BUT the members and leadership in turn were supporting us!  We have been inundated with food, invitations to restaurants, people finding and taking us to service projects, people taking us to less active members' homes, the branch president inviting us to eat in his home, being invited to leadership meetings, making sure we are invited and know about every activity, and just being friendly and kind to us.  I realized that in order for the Church to grow and progress that member-leadership support had to go both ways. 

Sewing--It Follows Me Around!

From the first week we were here, the sisters have begged me to come up with some sewing/craft projects that we can do.  Then a few weeks ago the branch president asked the Relief Society to hem some drapes in the front of the chapel that were about four inches too long.  Thanks to a member's Bernina sewing machine, that was done in record time (it helped that I worked at a drapery workroom!).  Then today the branch president asked if we could make a small curtain for a storage room.  So we did it again--made a curtain in record time for that small window.  THEN in two weeks we have a project that the stake sent to us:  make divider-type curtains as a service project for the temporary housing units.  The sisters are so excited that I sew!  They keep saying, we will iron, cut, and mark where to sew, you just do the sewing!

A couple of weeks ago we met one of the men in charge of welfare services here in Japan.  He asked if there was anything he could help us with (he shouldn't have asked!).  Anyway, I said I had been trying to think of things the sisters in our branch could do as sewing projects and wondered if we could crochet around fleece blankets and give them to the temporary housing units as a service.  The ladies here are so wanting to learn a skill and help others.  They could also use some cheering up and things to take their minds off of all the hardships around here.  Anyway, after Elder Halvorson heard what I had to say he said, no problem, just submit the plan to him and he would make sure we were funded!  So I have been trying to sew a few things to show the sisters in two weeks as ideas of what we can do (we also have 3 large boxes of fabric at the Church!). Here are a few of the things I have done:

It's going to take a little work to get the granny squares into a small afghan and I have a few more ideas on the back burner but I have discovered that you use whatever you have EVER done in
your life when you are on a mission!   I am convinced that nothing is a coincidence.  Things are planned ahead even when we are not planning.

Our Investigator Introduces us to Yogurt!

We have been teaching a really great man for the past several weeks.  He is very interested in joining the Church and is just an all-around great person.  This past week he surprised us by giving us and the other member that usually joins us for the lessons with two kinds of yogurt for each of us:  a drinkable yogurt and a semi sweet yogurt.  Both of those things are sold in a store where he works.  THEY ARE INCREDIBLE AND DELICIOUS!  The drinkable is lightly sweetened and so good.  The semi sweet yogurt has a taste but I can't really tell what it is but is the closest thing to Greek yogurt I have found in Japan.  I think he has made a believer out of me!

Ups and Downs

We have been here for four months now.  It seems like we have been here forever but at the same time it seems like the days go by faster than I want them to.  Calvin and I were talking about our experiences here and the ups and downs we have had. 

As for Calvin, he said he felt his hardest times were when we were first here.  After one day in Japan, we were dropped off at this apartment with two keys:  one to the car and one to the apartment.  That evening we met with the branch president and hardly could understand him.  Then on Sunday (four days later) we met in a branch presidency meeting and Calvin didn't understand a word of what was being said (of course neither did I).  It was reality slapping us in the face.  But Calvin said his most unexpected blessing has been the love and support of the members.  They always look after us and support us.  We have become life-long friends.  The worst thing that we have both encountered is the affect the earthquake and tsunami has had on the people.  We cannot imagine the horrors they saw and felt.  They all lost loved ones.  It is a greater tragedy than I could have ever thought of.  Everyone has been affected to such a huge degree it is unexplainable.

For me, I have had the hardest time feeling comfortable with the language.  I have spent many hours in tears trying to figure out how to become more fluent in the language.  I felt like I was a failure.  Then today (it was fast Sunday so I went fasting) when we were at Church I decided I would do a test to see how much I really understood.  To my surprise, I did understand a fair amount of what was being said.  In addition, I was talking to some ladies and one of the ladies who speaks some English was translating for me, and another sister interrupted and said, "you don't need to interpret, she understands."  She was right I did understand.  It was such an eye-opener for me.  For the past month or so it has been the joke that Calvin can SPEAK Japanese but I can UNDERSTAND better than he can.  I still struggle speaking but I have realized that I do understand and I am trying a new plan to get my vocabulary better!

One of the best things that has happened on our mission is that I have had time to actually study the gospel and read the Book of Mormon, Church magazines, and other scriptures.  I have loved going to institute (scripture study) and studying for the classes in advance.  I feel so much more grounded in what I should do in my life.

Elder Kim's Story

I almost forgot one more thing:   Elder Kim's story.  Elder Kim is a new elder in our district.  He told us this story at district meeting.  He and his companion were handing out English class flyers at the entrance to a mall.  An older lady (in her 80's and seeming pretty old) came up to them.  At first Elder Kim kind of rolled his eyes and thought nothing would come of talking to her.  Then she began to tell him her story (Elder Kim is from California but his Japanese is incredible!).  Thirty-four years ago she lived in Ishinomaki (where we live) and she was taking the missionary discussions from the elders.  Their names were Elder Howard and Elder Woodward.  She took the lessons for four months and then decided not to join.  She moved to Sendai and had been looking for those elders for 34 years!  She had had a change of heart and wanted to hear more.  Elder Kim explained that he and his companion had the same message and would be glad to talk to her.  She was very excited and set up an appointment to hear them!!

The younger elders cannot go on the internet except to email home so I volunteered to try to find out about the two elders this lady was talking about.  When we got home, I found a site for the Sendai Mission Alumni.  It was so easy to find those two elders!  One was actually Elder Howells and sure enough he was companion with Elder Woodward and they were in Ishinomaki together.  I called Elder Kim to tell him the news and he was elated!

We never know how something we do will affect the lives of others even years from now.