Sunday, August 26, 2012


I kind of like it when I can just tell about random things that happen to us during the week so again here are some random adventures (and plenty of photos!)

Calvin's B-day

Last Monday was Calvin's birthday.  On Sunday during the "shokujikai" which is the meal we have after Church on one Sunday of the month, everyone sang Happy Birthday to him.  Unfortunately, I didn't know about it so I did not capture it on film.  However, on Monday we went out with Takie and Marie for some goodies:

The girls had an ice cream dish that had hard ice cream on the bottom and soft ice cream on the top.  Calvin had a couple of things--a sorbet and a fruit cup.  If you look at Calvin's chair, that thing that looks like a piece of fabric is actually a piece of fabric that bulges out and it is where the ladies can put their purses.  Nifty idea!  This little bakery/ice cream shop has so many cute ideas.  I took a picture of one of the cakes that I thought was cute, and not so hard to make:

On Tuesday we had district meeting complete with cake and ice cream for Calvin and one of the sisters in our district.  This is our last time before transfers so we always have to have "one last picture":


Most mornings we go walking at 6:00 a.m.  We have a route that we follow pretty much all the time.  So one morning I took my camera to show you what we see:

First, you rarely see dogs or cats in Japan, but in the morning you see people walking their dogs.  The interesting thing is that the dogs are NEVER large.  This is the average size (sorry the photo is not so great but I was having a hard time nonchalantly taking photos of people without them wondering what I was doing!):

Many people in Japan have nice yards (you know--the beautiful Japanese garden-type yards) but you see almost everything--except lawns:

This place has TONS of petunias:

And almost all the yards have sunflowers!  Yes some are the large (sunflower seed-type) and others are basically the ones you see grow wild in the states, although they are meticulously planted:

Another thing that is EVERY neighborhood is a barber or hair salon business.  Most have the typical barber pole:

But this one is a little over the top for me (notice the TEN poles):

One of the most common things in all of Japan are the drink machines everywhere.  They are even in the middle of the country, with nothing else in sight.  And right next to them are often cigarette machines.  There are not tons of people using them, but they are fairly reasonably priced:  drinks range from $1 to $1.50 American dollars:

Becoming an Eagles' Fan

Calvin went to his second Eagles' baseball game.  This time he went with a member in our branch and the husband of a member in our branch.  They came home very excited because the Eagles were losing 0-1 until the bottom of the 9th inning and then they pulled ahead 2-1 and won.  It was quite the game:

Seventh inning stretch balloon launching:

And the grounds crew picking up the balloons afterwards!:

Lost and Found!!

While the guys were at the ball game, Takie and I went out shopping and out to eat (Chinese!).  When we got back to the apartment she let me off and we were getting my groceries out of her trunk.  I took my keys out of my purse but dropped them--right into the hole where the gutter is!!!!

Yes, my keys went into one of those slits in the cement!  Takie freaked out but luckily a man from a nearby apartment helped us move the concrete blocks and we rescued the keys.  And luckily there wasn't really any water there (I wondered if we would be looking into the sewer or something!)


These past two weeks have been rather wild and crazy.  Almost two weeks ago our soon-to-be missionary, Marie,  was proposed to!  It began with her deciding not to get her endowments (even though we were in Tokyo at the temple) because she didn't think she was going on a mission.  Then she started getting advice from ALMOST EVERYONE.    She has known this guy for a year when they were both EFY counselors in Tokyo and they have been interested in each other since then but then he had gone to BYU Idaho so their contact was limited.  Unfortunately, he does not live close so all of their contact was by phone or skype.  When Marie put her papers in she told us that what she really wanted was to marry him but things didn't seem to be working out between them so she was excited to be a missionary.  Well, as time got closer for him to go back to Idaho and for her to be a missionary, things began to really heat up.  They were talking and skyping daily.

When she announced that she was getting married it did not set well with many people, including her parents.  It was quite a shock to everyone.  We knew more than most.  Anyway, there seems to be a happy ending because Kazuya (the fiance) was able to visit here this week, meet the family, and then they are off to visit his family this week before he leaves for BYU-Idaho and they plan on being married next April:

We were able to spend quite a bit of time with them both this week and got to know Kazuya well. He is a great young man and they seem well suited for each other.  The parents like him a lot and so life for her seems to be heading in another direction.  I may have to keep you updated on this soap opera next week when she returns to Ishinomaki!

Post Script

Hopefully we will get new sister missionaries here in Ishinomaki this week.  This is transfer week and we think we found an apartment for them.  Stay tuned for that as well!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Well, this was obon week.  Basically that meant that everyone was gone visiting relatives' gravesites and so you stay off the roads because they are really crazy.  Also it means that everyone is on vacation someplace.  And if you are lucky, like we were, you find a festival and have some fun!

Matsushima Festival

On our way home from district meeting last week (we had nachos with fresh salsa--and I had actually FORGOTTEN that I LOVE fresh salsa) oops, I digress, we were on our way home from district meeting and tried the road through Matsushima (remember the beautiful islands?).  Anyway, they were having a festival and it looked REALLY fun so we decided to make a day of it the next day to check it out.

The next day we left around 9:15 to try to avoid the busy roads and the festival crowds.  We picked up Brittney Phelps and Tatiana Taylor who teach English nearby.  They are both from the states.  Brittney is going home this week and Tatiana is taking her place.  Anyway, they were off for the week because of Obon.  We were excited that the long bridge to Fukuura Island is now open and so we headed there first.  The entrance fee is only 200 yen ($2.25) and well worth it!

Here are the three of us:

After exploring the island (it was a hot, humid day but cloudy so that helped), we stopped at a food stand and bought caramel tapioca drinks (at least Brittney and I did), an ice cream cone for Tatiana, and a whole pickled cucumber on a stick for Calvin.  Sorry didn't get a picture of that!

Then we headed off for shopping and more sightseeing.  We visited Entsuin Gardens again (we have to see it in every season!) and it didn't disappoint us.  It's always fun to see the plants and what is growing.

Tatiana is a real camera bug so she found plenty of photo ops for us.  There is actually a cemetary inside the gardens (we keep saying the people must be rich to afford to be buried there) and with it being obon week, the gravesites were all decorated with fresh flowers and the favorite food and drinks of the dead:

Then it was off to our favorite restaurant with the menus written on the wall and your choice of "raw" or "fried."

By the time we finish our mission, you will be so familiar with this food, that you will want to come just to have it!

One of the most interesting things we saw this time around was at a couple of local doll shops.  The kokeshi dolls are wooden dolls and here in our area there is a certain type that has a round head and is painted.  Well, the day we were there, there was an old man carving these dolls.  He had been doing this for the past 60 years:

There was also an area in the store that you could paint your own dolls:

And in another store, we saw a man painting the dolls to sell:

And finally, the finished products on the shelves:

These dolls are beautiful and they are actually made by these people!  And they are not really that expensive ($10 on up).  For sure, I'll be going back to get some before we leave!

Indoor BBQ and Hand Massages

Saturday we were invited to a BBQ that was first going to be at a park a ways away but the weather didn't cooperate so it was moved to the Church--inside the Church:

If you added up all the meat I have eaten in the past 8 months it might not add up to how much I ate last Saturday!  We had every kind of meat and lots of it!

And at the same time as the BBQ in the Church, another group of Church members were having a hand massage activity that we were also invited to join:

It is called a "hand" massage but it is really a "hand and arm" massage.  And the Japanese love these.  I learned how to do it quite a while ago.  You use an oil and give a good massage to the arm and hands!

What Comes Around Goes Around

So when we were at Matsushima, my hair was driving me crazy.  I basically just pulled it back over my ears and it was so long in the back I was thinking of putting it in little ponytails!  Plus the dye job I had a while back had faded so much that my hair was quite brown, not at all black.

I kept wondering how I was going to get Takie to notice but I didn't have to wait for long.  The day after we went to Matsushima she called and asked if I could go with her to run some errands.  She took one look at my hair and said maybe she should cut it that afternoon!

So after a perm (yes a SOFT perm--only on the sides and in the back--NOT on the top!), a cut, a dye job, and then more cutting this is what it looked like:

Yes, I love it!  And why not?!  It is basically the same cut I have had for the past 20 years!  A little longer and with more body but really close.  And she made my hair black again (she REALLY wanted me to go brown/red but I said NO).  And I am getting used to not having salt and pepper too.  It was such a change that Brittney (who always notices how people look) didn't recognize me at first when she saw me at Church!

The really funny thing is that I did NOT tell Takie to cut it that way, she just decided I looked better with my hair short!

Sunday Concert

After Church we had "linger longer" which means we had great food to eat.  I am always amazed what I learn at these things.  Who knew you could have pickled flowers?  Then after the luncheon, we had a two-hour concert!

These are three of the singers doing their Peter, Paul, and Mary imitation of Puff the Magic Dragon:

And another photo of the singers during their last number:

It was all good and everyone loved it.  We had about 40 people in attendance and many non-members which was really good. Our neighbor downstairs came and had a great time.


A couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of a flower and asked for identification.  Many people actually answered, most saying it was a lily.  But the real winner was Stephen Howells.  His reply was that it was a mountain lily called yamayuri with the scientific name of Lilium auratum and related to the tiger lily!

Brother Howells, I definitely owe you a plate of cookies--but believe me you will want to wait until we get back home because I have no oven here and my attempts at cookies have been pretty bad at best!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


It's true, we have traveled much this week--or so it seems!  August is the month of festivals and vacations and we seem to be in the middle of it all.

Sendai and Tanabata

On Monday we went to District Meeting in Sendai and afterwards we had a good time going to the "Tanabata Festival."  Originally I have heard that this is the Japanese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, a couple who could only see each other once a year.  But I guess now it is a festival of these huge hanging decorations lined up one after another in this indoor mall, which goes on for three blocks and then extends down the street further!  Some of these decorations are amazingly intricate.  There are many with a lot of origami on them or other tedious ornaments.   Here are a couple of pictures of the decorations:

We were with the young missionaries and they NEVER pass up an opportunity to do a little missionary work so as we worked our way through the mall we met some Americans and Japanese who were doing some volunteer work in the area (helping with the tsunami aftermath).  They saw our missionary tags and were impressed because they were also Christians.

The guy in the wheelchair had hurt his leg the day before so was only temporarily disabled.  Then a little further down the mall, we were singled out by the NHK radio station wanting our opinion on the festival.  They were especially excited to see that some of the missionaries were Americans.  So we were on the airwaves:

The funny thing was that the one person they singled out to ask a lot of questions to was an elder who has been here only three weeks (shown on the left of this photo) and his Japanese is not very good. So as the lady was interviewing him and asking him questions, the others were whispering to him the translation and hoping he could answer in Japanese!

But it was fun and a good time was had by all:

Back in Ishinomaki

So Tuesday and Wednesday found us back home in Ishinomaki.  Tuesday was English class and I have been wanting to post something about the shirts that people wear around here that have English words written on them but don't make much sense.  I just haven't figured out how to go up to people and ask them if I can take a picture of their shirt!  But one of our students was wearing a shirt to our English class that I thought was a classic of that genre:

Enough said.  On Wednesday we had our lesson with Abe san, our investigator, and it was exciting to hear that he is going to talk to his daughters about being baptized soon.  They live away from here and he wants to talk to them before he gets baptized.  At first we think this was a convenient excuse but now he really does want to be baptized and thinks that the Church and the gospel are wonderful.  He wants to let them know his feelings especially since they have been Buddhists all their lives and now he is changing.


Our English class in Miyato (about 45 minutes away) was on Thursday.  We were happy to see their latest wall hanging:

It is one of our Helping Hands vests.  These are the vests  that our members wear when they are doing volunteer work.  Several (as in around 200 members) had been there recently and done a lot of volunteer work.  The people in this area have become very receptive to our Church's help and also to our teaching English there.  We are excited to help and also to have our Church's name have a positive image.


Friday and Saturday we were in Tokyo.  First we stopped at Costco (of course) and then went to the Tokyo Temple.  We decided we needed this picture of Marie:

This is a photo of the Usui family at the temple:

It is always good to be at the temple.  But we learned that you never drive to Tokyo in August.  All the people are out vacationing, going to festivals, and also visiting family gravesites.  Our usual 5 hour drive home took 9 hours!

We continue to meet many people with connections to our home in Utah.  One sister is the wife of the area psychologist and grew up in Bennion (where we are from).   Although we didn't know each other in the past, we know almost all of the same people who lived there years ago.  Her father was Calvin Smith, the man that the elementary school in Taylorsville is named after and 4 of our grandchildren are going or have been to.  Another temple worker lived in Bennion and knew my parents.  Another temple worker lives in Walden Glen just below our Church on 13th West and she knows many people we know from Murray.  We seem to run into these people regularly and always feel a sense of connection and peace with them.

Today in Church we were reminded of the importance of the temple and I realized that any sacrifice is pretty much worth it when it comes to going to the temple.  Since work for the dead cannot be done in the temples for at least a year after a death, I hadn't realized that many Church members' thoughts are turned to those who died in the tsunami a little over a year ago.  Temple work has a new meaning for them--a very personal meaning.

Saturday, August 4, 2012



August in Japan begins a month-long celebration of different festivals.  This past week Ishinomaki had their Matsuri festival.  I think Matsuri just means "festival" so kind of redundant but you get the picture!   Tomorrow we will be going to the Sendai festival and then next week to the Miyato festival so we should be pros at this in a couple of weeks!

Where we live in Ishinomaki, they had a parade down mainstreet at noon.  We were excited to find out what a Japanese parade was like.  Well -- we soon found out!  We watched an hour and a half of elementary and junior high school marching bands -- and that was it!  We stayed for the whole thing (luckily it was shaded) because we were with some members and their kids were marching and, of course, were one of the last bands to march!  This is part of what we saw:

Does anyone know what these instruments are?  There were many of them especially in the elementary-age bands.  You blow into them but have a small keyboard on them that you can't see because they are facing the other direction:

So we think the REAL festival experience is about the millions of food booths around the city and also there are tons of booths selling things, especially for kids,  just like our fairs and festivals at home.  BUT as you might expect the food might not be so recognizable to some of you:

First we have octopus balls (small piece of octopus and a few veggies in a ball kind of like a popover) and yaki soba (noodles):

Next, the more traditional, skewers of meat and corn on the cob:

And finally, the most interesting, teriyaki grilled squid (quite chewy):

In the evening we went with a young couple (the Saitos) in the branch to the fireworks.  They were dressed in traditional dress (like many of the people at the festival):

One really nice thing is that it gets dark really early in Japan so the fireworks begin at 7:30 p.m.  (The sun rises at 4:00 a.m.!)


We teach a family English class in a town called Miyato.  It is located on a small but beautiful bay.  They have been trying to do some fun activities especially for those so badly affected by the tsunami so this year they had a "family" campout.  What really happens is that the families drop off their kids and the kids camp out.  But that is what they expect and there are plenty of camp counselors and supervisors around so no problem.  We were invited to come to the Saturday afternoon activities and BBQ.  This was our first view of the campout:

Really it was a gorgeous view of the bay with some islands nearby to enhance the view!

One of the first activities that we saw was so interesting that I had to get a few pictures.  They were teaching the kids to make rice in a (empty) beer can! 

Basically, the top can has the rice and water in it and the bottom can you put some charcoal in it and it is the "stove."  This is a picture of putting in the rice:

And then they stand the can in some sand, light a fire, and hope that they will have a can of rice in an hour or two!

We didn't actually see the finished products of these cans but we did see a sample of one that had been cooked previously.  It was pretty slick!  It brought back memories of those Young Women campouts of boiling water in a paper cup or making omelettes in a ziploc bag!

The BBQ part of the evening was quite a process.  There were about 50 kids and they were all involved in cooking.  They loved it!  First they cut veggies:

Then they got the fires going in the ten or so campstoves (no propane for these campers!).  One of the most important elements of keeping the fire going is the fan:

Seriously, there were fans everywhere.  Then the real cooking begins:

They had all kinds of meat and every vegetable you could imagine:

Plus a giant squash that I don't ever think really got cooked to my satisfaction:

And finally this huge pot of soup that I never did see the bottom of:

All in all, it was a lot of fun and the kids were having a great time.

This has been a interesting week of learning culture.  Even though parades, festivals, campouts and BBQ's seem pretty American, there is always that reminder that we are not in Kansas anymore.  The festival food, people in kimonos, campouts with rice in beer cans, a huge vat of Japanese soup, chopsticks (no forks or knives), NO napkins (so Japanese), eda mame at a BBQ, and Japanese BBQ sauce (not at all like the American version), all remind us that this is a great cultural experience.


These are the flowers we now see growing wild along the roadside.  Anyone know what they are?