Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Japan!

First and foremost, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! We had a very eventful week leading up to an awesome Christmas. There was supposed to be a blizzard, but it looks like the weather held out. The crazy snow should start sometime tonight! We took lots of pictures and some videos that I'm sure will tell our experiences this week better than I could. To fit everything in one sentence, Emily took the GRE, we spent a day in Tokyo Disneyland, went to the Tokyo Temple, went to a neighborhood Christmas party, had our own Branch Christmas party, went to a baptism, and opened lots of fun presents on Christmas day.

This is the building in Tokyo that Emily took the GRE at. She was up on the 15th floor . I am just glad that there wasn't any major earthquake.
For some reason, Japanese people think of fried chicken during Christmas time and KFC is  where they go to get it.  Colonel Sanders stands at the front of most KFC's here in Japan and is often wearing the Santa suit during this festive time of year to remind people to get their fried chicken.
This is what "Main Street" in Tokyo Disneyland looks like during the Christmas season!
There were tons of decorations everywhere, but I thought that  among them, Goofy's house in ToonTown looked especially awesome.

Us in front of Cinderella's castle. I think it's Cinderella's at least...

Every time we go to Disneyland, we get a certain number of "cultural treats." We had stayed with Diliana and Chihiro, some friends from BYU-Hawaii, the night before and Diliana told us we had to get the turkey leg. I have to say that the turkey was moist and yummy and would suggest it to anyone who likes meat!

We spent all day in Disneyland and we were so blessed to have great weather. It wasn't what I would call warm, but there was no snow and a whole lot warmer than Aizu!
The picture is a little dark, but we had some pretty fun decorations at our Branch Christmas party. We had to get special permission to have decorations in the cultural hall type area, because it doubles up as the chapel. We spent all morning cooking and decorating the room with all sorts of things.

Last week we talked about how much fun we had going to Costco. We had bought a bunch of stuff for this Christmas party including Christmas plates, napkins, and cups. The Church members wanted to wash everything and save them for next year. I told them to just throw stuff away because it wasn't that expensive. I was asked to plan the whole Christmas party event maybe 2 months ago and of course that meant that Emily and I were going to be planning it together. I also told the Branch that this year was going to be different, that the Branch Presidency would take care of the meat. In the end, Emily ended up making a type of shoyu chicken that we put over rice. It was really yummy, but after eating it before the party when we were testing recipes, eating it at the party, and then taking home left overs, we were pretty much done with shoyu chicken for a while. All the other members brought desserts, salads, soups, and of course sushi.

We invited a group to come and do a little puppet like show. They had come the past 3 years for our Branch Christmas party so I just thought that they would be doing a Christmas puppet show. However, it was a bunch of random stories. It was really funny and they were awesome even though it didn't exactly fit the whole Christmas theme.
The group also had some sing/dance along time. It was pretty funny.
 This is Hiroyuki Haga, the husband of the Relief Society President. I knew him when I served my mission and asked him if he would play a couple songs on the sax. The kids loved it!
We asked the Primary to act out the Nativity and it was so cute! They did such a great job! It is kind of hard to tell in this picture, but they asked the missionaries to dress up and be the wise men (they are the ones with their backs to the camera kneeling down). In the back is Sister Kuwahara, the Primary President, holding a stick with a star attached to the end. Just before taking this picture, the star was being run all over the stage with the wise men trying to follow it to find the Christ child.

Emily pretty much did everything for the party including cooking the meat, making some of the decorations, and played the piano during the activity. We sang Christmas songs in between the kids' acting.
Here is Joseph, Mary, and 2 of the shepherds with their canes. 

We also had Santa time... Unfortunately, Santa got sick the day before and couldn't make it. We had to make due with Santa's friend "Santa." In this video, Santa is asking Yuho (she was the angel in the Nativity) what she wants for Christmas. When she told him some kind of game, he told her to get it from her parents... lol. It was a lot of fun!
This is our cute little Christmas tree Christmas morning. We had fun opening up some packages and presents. Most of our presents revolved around clothing items to help keep us warm for the rest of the winter and various games to have fun with!

This was our Christmas breakfast feast. We cooked hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, bacon, and corn fritters. Super yummy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

White Christmas

It looks like we might have a white Christmas around here after all. James and I opened our door this morning to find about four inches of snow on the ground and beautiful snowflakes falling from the sky. The snow makes everything so much more festive!

That said, we are actually praying that it doesn't snow tomorrow morning because we are leaving on the 6:30 a.m. bus to Tokyo. I am taking the GRE (yikes!) tomorrow, then Disneyland (yay!) the next day, and finally the temple (enter appropriate exclamation here!) on Wednesday. I'm not sure about the GRE, but Disneyland and the temple seem like the perfect way to start off our Christmas week. 

This week was another exciting and busy one. Highlights included watching the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, Christmas lessons with our classes, homemade Mexican food with some friends, dinner with the missionaries, watching Christmas movies, and a trip to Costco. As always, here are a few pictures we snapped along the way:

Costco was about three hours away, but it was definitely worth the trip, just for this pizza. There were a few differences between Japanese Costco and American Costco (like an entire aisle devoted to ramen, clean trash cans, etc.), but they still had huge shopping carts and free samples, so we were happy.

Lunch. Yum.

English Club activity of the week.

This is the most loyal English Club student I have. She is amazing. This was her first time making a gingerbread house, and when I told her that we don't usually eat them, she was horrified at my wasteful habits. She insisted that we eat the house, and she wouldn't let me put anything on it that she didn't think was "oishii."

This zoo is actually the Primary room. The kids have decided to participate in our Christmas party Nativity program. They are letting me play the piano for the program, so I got to snap a few pictures of today's rehearsal.

I'll try and take some video of the actual performance for next week. I'm pretty sure it's going to be hilarious. 
Love to all of our family and friends. Have a wonderful Christmas week! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Starting a New Job

I can't believe that Christmas is only 2 weeks away!!! Time sure is flying! It's hard to believe that we have been over here in Japan for four months already. It's even harder to imagine that we were praying for cold weather to come not more than 2 months ago... Well, we asked for it. You may have noticed in the past few posts how cold we said it is getting. It finally snowed this week here in the city; just enough to be really wet and slushy as we rode around on our bikes. Most of the snow has all melted though and isn't supposed to snow again until next weekend.

Some of the cool things that happened this week:

1. I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 2 last Sunday. I had to travel to Fukushima which was about an hour and a half away to take it at the University there. I did some studying for it but maybe not as much as I should have. I'm not saying that I completely bombed it, but at the same time, not saying I left with the feeling "wow, that was easy." Just to give you an idea, the JLPT tests foreigners' Japanese ability in reading and listening including the reading of various Chinese characters (Kanji) and lots and lots of vocabulary. There are five levels with Level 1 being for fluent speakers and Level 5 being for beginners. Needless to say, the test was pretty intense lasting almost 4 hours with a 20 minute break.

2. This week Emily and LaNae helped the sisters in the branch for a cookie making activity. I decided to head over for the activity too and found that the missionaries and some other brethren had shown up for the activity as well (somebody must have told them there were cookies...). Both Emily and LaNae made a few batches of cookies before the activity and made one batch with the sisters so that they would know how to make them. They also made some simple frosting to go on top, wrapped them up, and took them to friends and other members of the Church to invite them to the Christmas party we are having on the 23rd. It was a lot of fun making and decorating the sugar cookies.

3. We were able to have dinner at Steve and LaNae's apartment tonight. We made Japanese curry with chicken katsu. It was way yummy and had fun visiting with them.

It was a busy week, but next week is going to be even more busy. The Aizu Wakamatsu International Association (one of my employers) has asked me to teach at another school called Aizu Bange 2nd Junior High School. I'm excited because I haven't really taught the junior high school aged kids yet. It's another experience that will broaden my skills as a teacher as I am now teaching in grades 3-6, college aged, older people (through private lessons), and now junior high school.

I hope that everyone has a great week and that you are all enjoying the holiday season! Love you all lots and appreciate your love and support.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tis the Season

Happy December everyone! Isn't it a wonderful feeling to be guilt-free about listening to Christmas music? James and I set up our tiny Christmas tree and simple dollar-store decorations this week and we are ready to celebrate! 

As I write, James is on his way home from Fukushima City, where he went early this morning to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. He took the level two test (one is the highest), and I'm sure he did great on it, so we will be celebrating that achievement later tonight with some yummy brownies! On December 19, I am taking the GRE in Tokyo so I can apply for grad school. Then, either to celebrate the end of the test season, or to drown our sorrows over bad scores, we are going to Tokyo Disneyland! Stay tuned and we will share all of the fun adventures in the next couple weeks of posts.

Below are some of the fun snapshots I got of this week's adventures. Enjoy!

These two are pictures I snapped from the train on my way to Kawaguchi - one of the schools I got to visit. This is the first snow I have seen in a couple years, so it was pretty exciting. It hasn't snowed in our city yet, but I am hoping for a white Christmas.

At one of the schools I visit, I got to learn how to make soba noodles this week. This is my soba-making sensei and me in the goofy hat. 

First you mix buckwheat flour and water together with your hands until it forms a dough. Then you knead it to remove the air bubbles.

Then you roll it out into a very thin circle. This was the hardest part. I am so challenged when it comes to rolling out circles. My pie crusts, tortillas, etc. never turn out to be circle-shaped. Fortunately, I had my sensei there to compensate for my horrible rolling skills.

Then you fold the dough into quarters and use a special knife and cutting board to cut really thin noodles.

Then you roll the noodles in wax paper....

And voila! You have soba! They let me take this box home with me, so James and I were able to enjoy some yummy fresh soba for dinner. So awesome!
This is December's bulletin board. It took all day but was so fun to do. My friend Tomomi and I worked on it together. When we finally finished, we stood back to admire our work. All she could say was, "Wow. Christmas." I thought that summed it up pretty well :)

This sad looking tree is a game  piece for my Christmas lessons, which start tomorrow (wish me luck!). We will be playing a game like the old Super Password game show (click the link to figure out how it works). Should be entertaining, if nothing else!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Crazy Monkey Show

This week was full of reflection and Thanksgiving. Just when Emily and I thought we were finished with our Thanksgiving lessons, we had a huge Thanksgiving lesson with the English class we help teach with the missionaries at the Church every Wednesday night and a lesson on giving thanks at a Family Home Evening activity that happens at Church every Friday night that we were asked to do. You may be wondering what people do for Thanksgiving here in Japan. Seeing how Thanksgiving is an American holiday established by President Lincoln back in 1863, the Japanese people haven't really even heard of it. However, they also have a similar holiday on 11/23 every year called Labor Thanksgiving day (I think it is like the American Labor day). That didn't keep us from celebrating Thanksgiving this past Thursday though. We ended up inviting over our friend Tomomi and had steak, mashed potatoes, rolls, an asparagus dish, and pumpkin glory (a dessert Emily made that was kind of like cobbler... yeah, we made up the name). Nothing too extravagant, but it worked all the same. It was super yummy and it was the first time that Emily and I made steak. Glad it all worked out!

Other than Thanksgiving stuff, our branch has been very blessed. We have had 3 baptisms here in the last 2 weeks and the missionaries keep finding more and more cool people. We have one guy from our branch, Sei Kuwahara, that is leaving on his mission tomorrow heading out to the Provo Missionary Training Center. He is called to serve in the Nagoya Mission in Japan. We also had the Primary Program in our Sacrament meeting and it was so cute. Our primary is so small, but they did a great job. Emily also had the opportunity to help them out and play the piano for them during the program. The next thing on our list for Church is the Christmas party that we are planning for the Branch. We are so excited for the Christmas season and will be setting up some decorations around our apartment this next week!
From left to right for kids: Ryui, Yuho, Haruki, Marin, Karin, and Riho.
From left to right for adults: Sister Kuriki, Sister Kuwahara, Chizuko, and Emily.
Even though the Primary is small, they are still quite rambunctious! 

Lastly, I wanted to mention the fun time we had on Saturday with one of our other friends and her son, Chizuko and Harunobu. They invited us to go get crepes with them and there ended up being a little petting zoo set up right next to where they were selling the crepes. It was all outside, but they had a llama, a bunch of baby chicks that were all huddled together in a ball under a lamp to stay warm, and a monkey. The monkey wasn't actually there to pet, but to do a show. At one point of the circus like show, the guy running the thing asked for a volunteer to throw a ball to the monkey from the audience while the monkey balanced on a basketball. Emily volunteered and I actually caught it on video. Hope you enjoy! The monkey walked on stilts, jumped over high things, balanced on balls, and did all kinds of crazy stuff. We had a fun time even though it was stinkin' cold. bbbrrrr!! We love you lots and hope that everyone will have/had fun setting up for this upcoming festive season, Christmas!
Little baby chicks looked so cold...

There's Emily, Chizuko, and Harunobu.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving week to all our friends and family back in America! We definitely won't have a traditional Thanksgiving this year, but I'd still like to take some time tonight to count our blessings.

First, I'm so thankful that James and I both have good jobs and that we are able to live comfortably. My job with the JET Program has made it possible for us to have this great experience in Japan and jobs have just fallen into place for James. He even got another job offer today to work at yet another school. They love him! It has been great to get to know the students and teachers here. Below are some pictures of our English club activity this week: making fudge in a bag. I was so glad that it worked out better than last month's ice cream in a bag activity (which was basically a complete failure...)!

Second, I'm so thankful for the capacity to learn and progress. The student in the above picture has agreed to be my Japanese tutor for a couple months. Last week, she wrote out (in English - not an easy task for a Japanese high school student!) a five-page lesson on Japanese grammar with illustrations. She is pretty amazing, and her lesson has really helped with my Japanese comprehension. I'm also thankful for the opportunity that James and I will have to attend grad school in the next couple years. Although it continues to be a struggle to try and decide on a school to attend next year, I feel blessed that there are so many options open to us.

Third, I'm very thankful for the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings James and I closer to each other, to our families, and to the little branch of Church members here in Aizu Wakamatsu. Yesterday, the Relief Society sisters held an activity to officially welcome me to Japan. At the activity, we learned how to make sushi. There were about 15 women who came to the activity, but by the time we had finished all of our sushi rolling, you would have thought that three times that many had been cooking; there was so much food! Sadly, I forgot my camera and only got a picture of some of our pathetic-looking leftovers, but just trust me when I say that my Thanksgiving feast came early - Japanese style! The women in the branch have made me feel so welcome and loved. I feel the love of Christ through them, and I know I'll look back on this experience for years to come with sweet affection for the sisters in the Church who have prayed for me and served me with all their hearts. I'm thankful for them.

Finally, as always, we are grateful for all of you, your love and support. Our friends and family are such a blessing to us. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Missing Hawaii...

Like we have been saying for the past several months, it's getting cold. This week we are just about at freezing temperature with Wednesday at a high of 39 degrees. We are really missing Hawaii now. Not only because of the cold weather here, but we were also fortunate to be invited to a Hula performance this past Monday by one of the members in a neighboring branch, Sister Tsuji. Although she is Japanese, she loves the Hawaiian culture and actually manages a bunch of schools that teach the Hula to people here in Japan. Watching many of her students let our minds wander back to the memories of tropical weather, music and dance.
They danced inside this restaurant and it was really small. However, they did a really good job and it was fun to just reminisce in the music and mood.

To remind us even more of home, we decided to cook up some burritos/tacos this week. Instead of spending something like $8 on 8 tortillas, we made some easy tortillas from flour, salt, milk, baking powder and oil. They were super easy to make and tasted really good.
They were really awesome! Doesn't it look like it came from the store?

Every now and then I get asked to do American presentations to elementary and junior high schools to teach intercultural understanding. This past week I was invited to an elementary school that seemed like it didn't have too many foreign visitors. When I first got to the school, the teachers informed me that the students were very excited for the lesson. I just thought they were saying that to be nice. However, the 3rd graders I taught were full of energy and were constantly asking questions about America, Hawaii, and myself. One of the kids in my first class was so excited to meet me, that he asked for my signature in class. I told him I would sign something after we finished the lesson. After the lesson, I had every single kid line up for my autograph, some kids more than once! I was completely surprised and quietly thought to myself, "so this is what it must be like to be famous." Even the teachers were surprised by how excited the kids were. Definitely a day to remember... the one day I was famous. Haha.
These were a few of the kids. Once I started taking pictures, everyone wanted to be in them so they didn't really turn out that great.

This is one of the three classes that I taught. Just after I took this picture, I jumped right behind that front row in the middle of those girls and another teacher took our picture.

Although we do miss the weather in Hawaii, among other things, we really do love the different kinds of fun and interesting experiences we are having here in Japan. We love you all and hope that this post finds you in good health!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pumpkins, Turkeys, and Everything in Between

Happy November everyone! Time is flying by; it's hard to believe that we have already been here for three months. There are definitely still things we miss about the States, but between our two amazing moms (one who sends us American movies and one who sends us American treats), we are still able to enjoy the luxuries of "home" while experiencing all that Japan has to offer. Below are some of the highlights of our week. 

Halloween party at Odaka Kogyou, the smallest school I work at. This witch is actually one of my favorite teachers that I work with. Her name is Miki. She is really enthusiastic and the students love her. How could you help it, really? Check out her hair. She is so festive.

We carved Japanese pumpkins. A little bit harder to carve than American pumpkins, but it worked out.

Bobbing for apples

This is the Halloween party with the English club at my main school. We decorated sugar cookies to look like ghosts. These girls love sweets! No wonder we get along so well :)

Our creation. This was the first time most of them (including the teacher) had ever carved a pumpkin.

Happy November! Can you tell what it is? It's a turkey! All of the teachers at school thought it was a chicken. No one here eats turkey, so they don't really recognize a giant cartoon version of one when it stares them down in the hall. And virtually no one knows about American Thanksgiving, so people were walking past while I was working on this bulletin board, making comments like, "Oh Halloween! Cool!" or "Christmastime, right?" No, no, no! Thanksgiving!

We took another trip to Tokyo this week with our branch to visit the Tokyo temple. It was a great trip. We ate lunch in this beautiful park.

We went hiking in the mountains with one of the members of our branch. We were so happy that we didn't miss all of the fall colors.

Amazing views from the top, above the clouds.

My favorite shot - doesn't the fog make it look so mystical?
Other than that, I have been plodding along on my grad school list. We are so blessed to have so many options (at least, I think it is a blessing - sometimes it doesn't feel like it!). Decisions are so hard for me, but I am proud to say that I have narrowed the list down to about eight schools, which range from Ireland to Oregon to Florida. If anyone out there has any insights about how to choose between eight good things, give me a call! Luckily, James has been really sympathetic and tough at the same time - exactly what I need in this kind of situation.

In the meantime, here is a talk that we shared in visiting teaching today. Hope you enjoy! Have a wonderful week everyone!