Sunday, October 30, 2011

3 Weeks and No Longer

This week was pretty busy for us. On top of our normal teaching responsibilities at our schools, there were a few other events that we were involved with like Halloween Eikaiwa, shaving my beard, the International Festival, and District Conference.  I’ll try to let the pictures do the talking!
This is what the missionaries looked like when we went to Eikaiwa this last week. Pretty awesome! From left to right, we had a duck, monkey, funny face?, and ninja.

This is Emily teaching everyone at Eikaiwa how to carve a pumpkin minus the pumpkin. We actually used some other weird vegetable that was green because orange pumpkins over here are way too expensive!

First, cutting the top opening of the "pumpkin."

Next, scooping out in innards.

After drawing the face, cutting out the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Wiping the "pumpkin" clean.

Put in the candle and turn off the lights and... walah!

Aren't we so cute! Well, it was a little sad that we never really had costumes this year, but at least we carved a pumpkin... sort of...

This is the whole Eikaiwa gang that showed up for our festivities.
This was the look that I gave when I knew I was going to be shaving later that day.  This is the longest I have ever let my facial hair grow out... 3 weeks and no longer...

This was me after I shaved... lol. Actually, this is what I would look like if I had a fu manchu. Pretty awesome, huh? Jealous? It's ok, Emily wouldn't let me keep it.
We got to help at the International Festival in Aizu on Friday night and Saturday morning. Friday was just set up. Saturday we got to help in the "kid's corner." I know it doesn't look like I'm doing anything there... Actually, I wasn't doing anything there, but most of the time I was playing card games like slap-jack and old maid. It was a ton of fun!

This is Emily playing Jenga with one of the kids and his parents.

We were also supposed to help with the American booth with activities but spent all our time at the kid's corner instead. But this is what it looked like... all decked out in Halloweenness.

We had masks at the American booth that kids colored and then got to wear around everywhere. There were tons of booths for both food and activities from a bunch of other countries like Ireland, Scotland, South Korea, China, Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and some others that I can't recall at the moment.

We didn’t take any pictures at District Conference but one of the things I really enjoyed about it was during the Priesthood training. We talked about ways that we can better know and get closer to Christ. An analogy was given in regards to friends and family. If you want to get to know a friend or family member better, what do you do? You try to talk more with them, spend time with them, and serve them. Just like we develop relationships with those around us, we can strengthen our relationships with Christ by talking with him more (praying), spending more time with him (studying the scriptures, going to church, etc.), and serving him (“when ye are in the service of your brethren, you are only in the service of your God”).

Anyways, we love you all very much and you are always in our prayers!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dear Mother Nature,

This post is dedicated to Mother Nature and her weather gods (or demons...whichever you prefer). 

Dear Mother,

The autumn is lovely this year; the hills look like a patchwork quilt of fall colors and it has been delightful to add some light sweaters and jackets to my wardrobe. However, dearest Mother, you gave us all a bit of a scare last week when you decided to send us that one cold day that really belonged somewhere in the middle of December. Do you know the one I'm talking about? It was the day when I drank three cups of hot mugicha, our laundry never dried, and it took me about 45 minutes to thaw out my feet when I got in bed that night. Yes, that's the one. Now, I'm not complaining. Not really, anyway. I just have one, tiny, simple request. That before you send the next round of bitter, nose-hair-freezing wind, you remember that James and I have been living in Hawaii for the last four or five years. Break us in gently, Mother; that's all I ask.

Yours truly,

P.S. But not so gently that we don't have a white Christmas, please.

Now that's not too much to ask, is it? At least there was one good thing that came of our cold spell last week - James and I realized how unprepared we were for the winter and have since remedied that. In addition to the preparations pictured below, we bought warm exercise clothes, pulled out a giant heating pad  to go on our bed this week, and bought gloves, neck warmers, etc. We will be ready when Mother Nature strikes again.

This is our new living/dining room set up. I feel so Japanese now. This table is called a kotatsu and serves as our dining room and study table. It sits about two feet off the ground, and has a heater on the bottom side. When you get cold, you just flip it on and stick your feet/hands/whole body under the table. It is so cozy. I was a little opposed to it at first because I think it is ugly, but it probably goes with the decorations a lot better than a couple of frozen corpses would. So Mr. Kotatsu and I will become very good friends this winter.
Facial hair: another tactic to combat the cold weather. I haven't managed to grow any yet, so I'll just have to hope that my cute hubby stays warm enough to keep me warm :)
The fall really is beautiful here. I visited a school way out in the countryside this last week, and snapped a few pictures on my two-hour train ride out there.

We are hoping to go hiking in the next couple weeks before all the leaves fall, so hopefully we will be able to snap a few more pictures before the season is over.

Yesterday, our branch held it's annual "imonikai." Generally, the imonikai is held outside in the mountains or by the river in the fall, but we got rained out, so we held it at the church building instead. Imoni is a type of potato and meat soup that is either soy sauce or miso flavored. It was delicious!
The branch members, eating and socializing
The imoni. Sorry, this picture doesn't do it justice - it tasted a lot better than it looks!
And finally, a few random pictures from school. A couple weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk and I heard a strange noise over the intercom and a voice saying, "Kaji desu, kaji desu." I didn't know what "kaji" meant, so I looked it up. It means "fire." Yep, there was a fire drill. I looked around and realized that there were no other teachers in the teachers' office, so I wandered out into the hall and started following the crowd outside. A podium and mic were set up and a fireman gave us a presentation about how to use a fire extinguisher. He then had ten students come to the front and put out the bonfire he built for them. 
Here are the students, all lined up and ready to play hero.

The fireman re-lit the fire for each student by drenching the fire pit in some kind of gas and then throwing a torch on it.

The student the proceeded to extinguish the fire in any direction he pleased...toward unfriendly students, teachers who give too much homework, toward the gas canisters, etc.

Now I am no fireman, but does it look safe to you to have the gas canisters enveloped by smoke and possibly flames?
Ah, such grand adventures we are having here! Anyway, we wish you all a wonderful week. Keep in touch - we love to hear what is going on in your lives. Stay warm!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Our Humble Abode

I know I said about a month ago that we would be putting up pictures of our place. Well, at last the time has come; be excited! Instead of boring you with lots of pictures of our place, we will bore you with just one video (actually two...). We really do enjoy our little apartment. You are also getting a glimpse into some of our festiveness with Halloween d├ęcor. Emily has been hard at work on a few projects and coming up with cool ideas for Halloween lessons.
Had to split it in two videos because apparently you can only post videos under a minute long or something. We started with a 7-minute video but didn't work. We'll post some pictures up later. :)

Other than that, not much has been going on. Emily had a Relief Society activity that she went to yesterday that I was actually asked to go to. I got a call earlier in the week from the Relief Society President, Sister Haga, who said that one of the other sisters in the branch wanted to bring their husband (who was visiting from Germany) to the activity and that I should come along. I thanked her for the invitation not knowing exactly what they were doing. We showed up on Saturday morning at the church and found out that the sister and her husband had to cancel and weren’t coming. I decided to stay and enjoy the activity. Due to the radiation in the Fukushima Prefecture, the sisters in the surrounding areas (Koriyama and Iwaki) don’t get to “play” outside very often. So the activity was actually for all of the Relief Society sisters in the district. We walked around parts of the old AIzu Wakamatsu and saw some really cool things. We also were able to find a pumpkin and some other vegetable for cheap while we were out. Needless to say, we had a good time with everyone.
There are a bunch of the sisters from the district that we went with.

Aizu Wakamatsu is really famous for their lacquer-ware. 

Another thing the city is famous for is candle art. We talked to the manager of the store who actually made all the candles himself. He says that he makes a bunch of them at once and that it takes about 2 weeks from start to finish. Some of the larger candles are over a hundred dollars and the smallest ones we saw were still over ten dollars. Amazing!

This is one of the cute houses that we saw.

I just got my 4th flat tire today on my way home from church. I’m starting to think that I’m too fat for my Japanese bike! Well, I just wanted to say how grateful I am for my bike… when it works. Due to so many punctured tubes, Emily and I decided to buy a kit and fix the tires ourselves. The kit was about 700 yen, and I could fix probably 6 flats with it, while taking it to the shop to get fixed costs 900 yen for just one tire. All I have to say is that flat tires are no fun, but I’m glad that I got my cycling merit badge when I was a Boy Scout and that I get to put those skills to use.

We love you all very much and hope you are doing well. Until next week!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Be Magical!

Ok, the title of this blog post is kind of a spoiler. This week was magical…that’s really the only way to sum it up. We left for Tokyo on Wednesday morning, went through a great endowment session at the Tokyo temple on Wednesday afternoon, and went to Tokyo Disney Sea on Thursday. Pictures are probably the best way to share the magic of our adventure, so I will let them do most of the talking this week.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Sea. The theme: Be Magical. This is the entrance to the park.

Wait, I have to rewind a little bit. The magic actually started on the train on our way to the park. We hopped on the train and found three or four moms who were taking their kids to Tokyo Disneyland. All the kids were dressed up and ready to go trick-or-treating in the park. They were so cute that I had to get a picture with them.

The train even had magical Mickey Mouse hand holds. Totally  made up for the germs and disease I'm sure we collected from hanging on to them.

Here are a few shots of the park and some rides. Disney Sea is build so that the ocean is visible from the park and each land in the park represents a coastal region of the world. James and I agreed that our favorite thing about the park was just enjoying the magic Disney created in so many different themes and lands.
Italy - my personal favorite. There were Venetian gondolas, gelato, and great look-out points.
The Great American Waterfront
The Tower of Terror
Part of the Lost River Delta
Mermaid Lagoon - this attraction was all indoors and it felt like we had just walked into a mermaid disco.

Here are some of the magical foods we ate throughout the day. One thing we didn't get to try was the popcorn. Every popcorn cart sold a different type of popcorn: caramel, chocolate, strawberry, milk tea, black pepper, and curry were some of the flavors we saw. There were so many restaurants in the park that we had a hard time deciding which ones to go to.

This was James' favorite meal. A chicken sandwich on ciabatta bread with pesto mayonnaise. The paper is a drawing of some of our friends from Hawaii that we took to Disney Sea with us.

A sausage roll

Minnie Mouse apple popsicle 

And a few more fun things:

Yes, this is me kissing a camel on the streets of Agraba.

Listen carefully to this video and you can hear Mickey and Minnie shouting, "Konnichiwa!"

Us enjoying the riverboat tour together.

We had a great time at Disney Sea, and feel very blessed that we have this time and the means to have fun adventures like this together.
This weekend, the General Conference of our church was broadcast in Japan. We were uplifted and edified by living prophets and apostles as they testified of Jesus Christ and his love for us. It is hard to choose a favorite message from the Conference, but if we could share two talks with all of you, it would probably be "You Matter to Him," by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and "It's Better to Look Up," by Elder Carl B. Cook. Both videos are less than 20 minutes long. If you haven't seen them (or even if you have), click on the links and watch the videos and be reminded about how much Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father care for us and want us to succeed. 

We love you, family and friends. Thanks for all your love and support. Until next week...Be Magical!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turning to the Lord

It’s one thing to tell someone to turn to the Lord; it’s another thing to read about someone turning to the Lord or to experience it yourself. We just finished reading 2 Nephi chapter 4 in the Book of Mormon. We have been reading a chapter together every day from the Book of Mormon and asking each other two questions after each chapter:  1) What does this have to do with missionary work, and 2) How can this help us be a better missionary today? In today’s reading, we felt like 2 Nephi chapter 4 is a really good scripture to share with other people because it tells the story of how Nephi turned to the Lord. We have had many experiences in these past months when we have had to turn to the Lord for help and comfort. Read it when you have time.

This week we were able to take a trip down to Tokyo and visit the Tokyo Temple. The day started out at five in the morning in the cold with us taking a 6:30 a.m. bus to Tokyo. After our five-hour bus ride, we headed to the train station to attempt to buy the tickets we needed to get us to the station close to the temple. After looking at some diagrams, I couldn’t really figure out how to get to where we needed to, so I asked some people that worked there. Eventually, we bought our tickets and made our way to the temple. We ate some curry with rice in the cafeteria before our session. We were grateful when we found out that the temple had head sets so that we could listen to everything in English. We had a really nice time there. We also had McDonald’s for the first time since coming to Japan. Emily, who wouldn’t usually go there for a meal, was craving it. She said that her Big Mac, fries, and sundae were heavenly!

Unfortunately, I started getting sick Monday night. It hit me really hard on our bus trip back to Aizu. I won’t go into any heavy details, but I think I blew my nose at least 100 times. We have been praying for health as the weather has been getting colder. We still get warm mornings and afternoons on occasion, but the temperature has dropped significantly. Emily asked me earlier today if we should pull out the heaters. Well, it has been a challenge to teach English with this cold. I have been saying that it is almost gone now since Thursday. It’s still not gone…

Anyway, on a different note, our branch had a ping pong tournament this week. There were 14 people that participated including Emily and I. I lost my first match, but Emily went all the way to the championship where she barely lost, 7-11. (Emily’s note: My sweet hubby didn’t mention that, up until the championship round, my only opponents were elderly women). The member that set up the activity, Brother Takegawa, also brought some treats for everyone. They were Disney lollipops! It got us so excited because this week we are taking another trip down to Tokyo and spending one of the days at Disney Sea. We have been looking forward to this trip ever since we decided that we were coming to Japan. We will also be lucky enough to see the Halloween decorations up. So exciting! That being said, stay tuned for next week when we share our adventures from Disney Sea!