Sunday, November 25, 2012


Thanksgiving in Japan is nonexistent; I shouldn't be surprised since the Pilgrims never did make it to Japan I guess.  But it was our last Institute class on Tuesday so we had a party.  Our Branch President surprised us by saying it was close to Thanksgiving so he brought this:

It was a big plate of turkey!  And gravy to go with it.  I am not sure where or how he cooked it but it was really thoughtful and we were extremely THANKFUL!  And it was cooked really well--moist and tender.  As you can see we enjoyed it all:

Last Hurrah

As I am sure you are well aware, we have been basking in the autumn colors.  This past week we took the sisters to Matsushima and saw some more spectacular colors:

But alas (and maybe hurray in your mind!) this is the last of the fall photos because we also saw this:

Thankful People

During the past year we are thankful to have met so many people.   I thought I would highlight a few who are not by any means all but a few memorable ones:

Takie (and her sister on the right) is one person I have mentioned often.  She is a hairdresser and makes sure we are more than adequately fed.  She and her non-member husband take us out to dinner, feed us every time we drop by, and even brings us food to our apartment on occasion.  But even more important, she has a love for the Gospel and is always wanting to share it.  She says that feeding us (and doing my hair) is her way of serving the missionaries:

Brother Hirayama is over 90 years old and is at Church every week.   He is totally blind, lives by himself, and gives massages (he is a retired massage giver) after Church to anyone who wants them (and they line up, believe me!):

Sister Umehara has such a bad back that she is bent over and uses a walker to walk.  She lives in an apartment on the fourth floor (with no elevator, of course!) so it is amazing that she can even make it anywhere.  She knits, crochets, and draws amazing pictures.  She is the one that drew the picture of Ramona a while back:

The Onumas (President and Michan) are really amazing people.  President Onuma is our branch president and in addition teaches our institute class.  He is very knowledgeable in the gospel and fills in the extra minutes at sacrament meeting almost weekly.  We have seen many photos of him in the aftermath of the tsunami being a help and a support.  Through it all, their own apartment was inundated with water.  His wife, Michan is the Relief Society secretary and teacher.  She also works full-time and takes care of their family of boys.  She is always happy and optomistic.

The Saitos (Yuichi and Satomi) represent the young marrieds in our branch.  They were married last year.  Yuichi is in the branch presidency and Satomi is in the Primary and is the ward organist.  Satomi is from the Tokyo area so they go there often.  They might be considered the yuppies of our group since they own a Costco card!  Also Yuichi went on a mission to the U.S. (Oregon?) and is an English teacher:

These are only a few of the people we mingle with each week.  We are indeed THANKFUL for all of them.


I keep forgetting to tell you about our experience at our children's English class a few weeks ago.  While we were having class we had an earthquake (about 5.0 I think).  Anyway, as soon as the earthquake began, EVERY student quickly got under the tables they were sitting at (as instructed I am sure).  As soon as the earthquake stopped, most got back on their chairs but a few stayed for a while longer. 

THEN the man in charge of the community center where we were at got on the TV to check out the possibility of a tsunami (since we were right next to the ocean) and soon reassured us that everything was okay.  No tsunami.

AND THEN within FIVE MINUTES every parent of our children showed up in case they needed to rush them to higher ground!  It was a humbling reminder of what they had been through only the year before (they all live in temporary housing) and how they must feel everytime they feel the ground shaking.

And can I say, it is quite often that we feel earthquakes around here.  We had another 5.0 a couple of days ago (why are the bigger ones always in the middle of the night when we are in bed?!).  Lately it seems we feel them a few times a week.

Here Comes Santa Claus

So Japan may not know about Thanksgiving, but Christmas is another story.  The stores are rampant with Christmas.  You would think we were home.  The funny thing is that we think that the people get in the Christmas spirit but they don't really celebrate Christmas!  On Christmas day, it is business as usual, including school.  So we will keep you updated on what is happening. 

And sadly, we have seen a lot of Santa stuff, but not one mention of the birth of Jesus.  I have wanted a Nativity set with Japanese people (like on Temple Square) but even those in our Church say that they have never seen one of those.  (I heard for a price, a high price, you can find one on the internet.)  We have the DVD of the birth of the Savior.  I think we will be watching that more than once this year . . . .

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Sometimes it seems like we are just on an extended vacation.  This week it looks like (from the photos) that all we do is have fun.  Actually that may not be far from the truth.

Giving out Blankets

We were able to go to a couple of nursing homes and hand out lap blankets this week.  It turned out to be a fun experience and reminiscent of my days in the Relief Society at the care center near our home.  The first facility was a critical care unit with many residents:

And then we visited this really nice facility and distributed the blankets to some of the day care patients.  They were all excited to get them, especially after they found out they didn't have to pay for them!

Lunch with the District

This week after district meeting we ate lunch at an Indian restaurant.  These places are quite popular in Japan and really tasty as I have told you before.  We usually have the big pieces of  "nam" which is like a huge piece of fry bread and a bowl of curry to dip them into.  They are usually served with a salad and a drink.  Here we are with our food:

Mock Stained Glass!

On Thursday at our children's English class we did a "mock" stained glass project.  These paints are labeled as "glass paint" at the dollar store and we did them on plastic sheets.  It was a fun project and they are doing a little nicer version of them in our branch for the upcoming Christmas party.  But here are the ones we made at English class:

And the some of the finished projects waiting to dry:

Climbing the Hills Above Ishinomaki

On Friday Sister Usui and her daughter Taeko asked us if we would like to go to a nearby mountain (really a big hill) and see the views from above the city.  We drove most of the way up (being the wimps that we are) but ended up with beautiful views on all sides.  Here we are at the top with more wind than we really want:

The beautiful river below:

Ishinomaki below us:

And finally going back down to the car:

Chusonji National Treasure

Then on Saturday we spent the morning with the Thomas'--a missionary couple who work in the mission home office.  They are leaving soon since their mission will be completed and we don't get to spend much time with them because their p-day is on Saturday and ours is on Monday.  But we had a rare Saturday with not much to do so we asked them if they would like to do something together.  They came up with this WONDERFUL idea to go to the Chusonji National Treasure about two hours from here.

There is a temple with lots of gold leaf (no cameras allowed), many shrines, and beautiful grounds.  There are also little shops along the paths and places to have a bite to eat here and there.  AND to make things even better, the fall leaves were out in full view everywhere.  It was really a treasure.  Here are some pictures:

Sister Thomas and I next to a small shrine:

A house with a roof of hundreds of flowers:

More fall foliage:

Three old men:

We took so many pictures because it was so beautiful!

A grove of bamboo.  The trunks are about 3-4 inches in diameter and they are so sturdy because they are thick and have a huge root system:

And the same grove looking up!

Me and the color:

And Calvin the wannabe samurai:

Japanese Pampas Grass

Last week I asked about a paint-brush like plant along-side the road.  Stephen Howells always comes up with great answers to my plant questions.  This time he identified it as Japanese Pampas Grass or "susuki" which means autumn in Japanese.  I also found out that this "weed" is used to make window shades when the tops and bottoms are cut off and the stems are sewn together.  It makes those shades that roll up and down.

Goodby Fall

Autumn is fast leaving Japan.  We had some high winds today that probably blew off most of the colorful leaves. The temperatures are dropping, and I am pretty sure winter is right around the corner! 

And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving to all!  We are thankful that you are reading this and want to keep in touch.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Another week and more tries at getting a Japanese driver's license.  Monday was try #1:  not successful.  Wednesday was try #2:  not successful.  But Calvin, ever the optimist, thought he was getting closer.  Friday was try #3 for the week:  SUCCESS!!!  Yes, Calvin came back from the driving test with the coveted blue ticket--symbol of a passing score! 

We decided to celebrate by going out to dinner.  We chose a nearby restaurant that we had been to a few weeks ago for lunch.  But this was dinner so we were interested to see what a few extra yen would give us.  We were not disappointed:

In addition to the regular buffet, we got shabu-shabu.  This was a large pan of water on a hotplate on our table.  We went to the buffet and got meat and veggies to cook in the water.  Then we got small bowls of sauces for our cooked food.  YUM!  This was in addition to the buffet:

This main buffet has a large selection of veggies, tempura, salads, pastas, sushi rice, noodles, salmon, etc. etc.  Then there is a smaller buffet of rices, soups, and curry.  And another is a dessert buffet (including ice cream) and your choice of many drinks.  Anyway, the whole thing is reasonably healthy but really tasty.  Many of the dishes are very Japanese-style.  We ate till we were stuffed.  Maybe worth the five tries at getting the license!

So now we can look forward to getting reimbursed the $300 it cost to get the license!

Still Fall

We can't help but notice that in the States it looks like winter has set in (albeit a little early).  What with hurricanes, nor-easters, and snowstorms it certainly looks like winter.  But here in Ishinomaki it is still fall.  The temps are generally in the low 60's or upper 50's but the lows are only about ten degrees lower.  It has rained quite a bit lately but even the rain is not all that cold.  No sign of frost yet.

All around us, we see that things have changed from the deep greens of summer to the muted colors of autumn.  And there are even a few brilliant colors around:

And a pomegranate tree nearby:

And why do Chrysanthemums always look so much better in the fall?:

Also, along the roadside there are these small paintbrush-looking plants everywhere.  Any ideas what they are?:

And finally, a fall craft project we did in English class.  I looked all over for paper lunch sacks and finally BEGGED the cashier at the local grocery store for some of the ones they used that were under the counter!:

From Fall to Christmas

As I said, it is still fall, but our Relief Society is in the Christmas spirit.  Yesterday we had an activity making angels and Christmas wreaths.  Here is what we did:


Up close view of these wreath made of styrofoam rings and small squares of fabric:

Actually a really fun time was had by all.  The wreaths are not that big (eight inches or so) but a great project. 

Lesson Learned

One lesson I learned from the projects we have been doing lately is that we are all different.  When we did the paper sack puppets, I had cut out all of the pieces and had the kids glue the pieces onto the sacks.  Yet, every puppet turned out different.  Each had it's own personality (one even used the hair as a beard!) but each turned out great.

Then when we did the angels in Relief Society, the same thing happened.  Every angel was different.  And the wreaths:  so different as you can see.  Yet we began with the same materials.  The first (sample) wreath was rather plain--just green fabric but from there everyone had their own ideas of what to do. 

So maybe that is how it is with life.  We are all different.  Not better.  Just different.  We all have our own personalities.  Yet a wise Father in Heaven knows us all.  Our children are not the same.  They are each different.  We have a set of twins (about 11 years old) in our children's English class.  They look a lot alike but they are definitely different.  They wear different clothes; they wear their hair different; they have different personalities.

I also have started buying some kokeshi dolls here in Japan.  They are only made in this region of Japan but each is carved individually and hand painted so each one is different.  They are not terribly expensive because they are abundant but each is unique in its own right. 

We had a lesson in Relief Society today about being kind to one another.  In the lesson it talked about judging others.  I began thinking about how funny it is that we sometimes judge others when we are all different.  How unfair it is to judge when we are not on equal ground.  And how wonderful it is that we are NOT the same. 

Blanket Update

Just thought I'd let you know about the blanket project.  All 50 of the large blankets are finished or are being finished (actually there are very few that have not been finished I think).  In addition, there were about 50 smaller lap blankets done.  Everyone was excited to see the project so successful and some even were a little disappointed that there weren't more blankets remaining. 

There are only about ten larger blankets that are finished that don't have homes yet but we are hoping to give those out during the Christmas season.  Also the smaller lap blankets are in the process of going to nursing homes. 

It was a great project. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012


So here is an update on last week's "to be continued."  Otherwise entitled, "Two out of Three Ain't Bad!"

Relief Society Activity

So this week we had our Relief Society fleece blanket activity.  I would label it a big success!  On Wednesday we had a great turnout:

For a Relief Society who only sees a turnout of 8-10 sisters per week, we had about 10 show up!  A few were not members or less actives which made it all the more sweet.   We each worked about an hour and a half on our own blankets and then several of the ladies took home more to work on and give to others who could use some uplift.

At the end of an hour and a half, this is how it looked:

Later in the day a couple of more ladies came to learn and pick up some blankets and then on Friday evening we also scheduled a time but only one person showed up.  But even at that, she was able to complete two blankets by today and took two more.  Also at Relief Society today (Sunday), several others took blankets to crochet and having begun with 50, we are now down to just twelve!  And several of the sisters are planning on doing more so this should be easily finished! 

I have also been able to do several lap blankets and so that is even more rewarding.  Everyone seems in the spirit of giving. 


Today was Abe san's baptism and it seemed perfect in every way!  Our day began early when Calvin picked up Elders Watanabe Kan and Van De Graff from the bus station at 6:30 a.m.  They are the missionaries that first taught Abe san in Yokohama.  We were so excited because Elder Watanabe Kan is eighty years old and a legendary missionary in Japan and Elder Van De Graff is serving in the Tokyo Mission and got special permission to come and perform the baptism which he started on last January!  Abe san really wanted them to be present and somehow this miracle came to pass.  They rode the "overnight bus" (which I swore I'd never ride again!) to get here!

Anyway, we went to Church and every meeting seemed so wonderful.  In fast and testimony meeting everyone was talking about their own baptisms and how wonderful it was that Abe san was getting baptized.  About an hour after Church we left for Tagajo, an hour away, where we were to have the baptism at 4:00 p.m.  This is Abe san and Elder Van De Graff before the baptism:

Here we are (all the missionaries) with Abe san and his sister-in-law who came from Tokyo for the baptism:

I may have mentioned this before but his sister-in-law is actually his deceased wife's sister.  She is a member and in fact her husband was a member of the 2nd Quorum of Seventy a while back.  She spoke after the baptism and it was fun to hear her side of the story since she was instrumental in getting Abe san to listen to the lessons.  She said that he was visiting them and was pretty upset (nine months after losing his wife in the tsunami) wondering what his purpose in life was.  That's when she got him to listen to the missionaries.

The members of the branch are fantastic.  We usually have 30-35 attending sacrament meeting.  The baptism was an hour away and there were about twenty at the baptism!  Even the members of the stake presidency were astounded I think.

At the close of the baptism, they asked Abe san to say a few words.  He gave a wonderful account of his conversion and his testimony.  Maybe too good.  The stake president asked him to speak in stake conference in two weeks!
Afterwards we came back to the Church and a few of us ate dinner:

It was so fun to just sit and talk and we also listened to Brother Watanabe in our branch sing.  He has a wonderful voice and it was a treat to listen.  All in all what a great day!

Drivers' License Still to Be Continued

Yes, unfortunately Calvin went back to the driving test and FAILED again!  But apparently this is fairly normal.  Some of the people there said it was their sixth of seventh time taking the driving test!  Stay tuned.  Next try:  tomorrow!

Other Random Happenings

Yesterday we were able to go to Onegawa about a half hour away and help our branch president.  He now works for the Church as an employment specialist and they were participating in a arts and crafts type of festival in Onegawa where he works.  This is a city hit hard by the tsunami and the booth they had had nothing to do with employment but "herbs"!  Basically it is getting their faces out there and showing that they want to be part of the community I think.   We helped serve some herb tea and crackers with a pesto sauce on it.  But here are some pictures from the festival.  First, the opening exercises (kids on drums):

And ribbon cutting:

And some of the arts and crafts:

This picture made by a student made of SMALL pieces of paper glued together to make a picture:

A young person's depiction of before and after the tsunami:

And Calvin next to some HUGE chrysanthemums:

Next some playdoh sculptures that our English class kids made of different foods:

I mostly wanted to show you this picture because it includes such things as sushi with fish eggs on top, onigiri (rice balls), snail, and a few other interesting edibles!

And finally this picture:

When we came to Church this morning (9:00 a.m.) this man was up in this tree pruning the tree.  After Church he was still working on it (1:00 p.m.).  Many trees in Japan are immaculately trimmed and this was FOUR HOURS later!  Then as I went by him I noticed two things:  one) there was quite a bit of trimmings on the ground, and two) as far as I could tell, he was ONLY using his hands (gloves on) to trim the tree.  Maybe there were some scissors or something somewhere but not when I was looking.  No electric devices or large loppers, not even small devices or small loppers!  This is when I realized that I would NEVER made a good gardener!

Well, enough said for this week.  We are tired but very happy.