Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Six years of blogging

I remember when I got my first laptop computer, back when I made a trip to Canada for winter vacation in 2006. I came back to Okinawa really excited -- I could bring my computer anywhere, do anything, and more easily share my thoughts with the world!

A blog was born in January 2007, and I could sense the excitement around me as well, as so many friends were also taking up their own corner on the "Information Superhighway." My blogging hero was, of course, my pastor, who once posted 128 times in a single month! I, on the other hand, loved sharing thoughts but just didn't have an exciting enough life to post any more than 27 times in any month.

But over the past year or more, my desire to post pictures, and share about what was going on in my life, has diminished significantly. Alas, perhaps a new chapter in my life has made me a little more private. It has also opened my eyes to the fact that communication is changing. People do not maintain their blogs the way they used to. (Check my sidebar and see what I mean -- I think only 3 of the 12 blogs I was following have actually updated in the past 2 weeks.)

And for myself, instead of diving more deeply into the world of social media, I am taking a step back. I want to return to the days when having coffee with someone for the first time in months isn't just a chance to talk about the things I already saw on their Facebook page. I do not ever want to join Twitter or any other social networks. They cheapen communication, friendship, and the genuineness of the human life.

Yes, perhaps you have reached the conclusion already before I have actually said anything. This will likely be my last blog post. It has been a fun ride, and I have really enjoyed putting my thoughts out there for people to read. The bilingual posts that dominated 2009 through 2011 were also a great chance for me to practice writing in Japanese. And best of all, it is a sort of record of my life over the past six years.

But I will find different ways to do the same thing. Perhaps I will create an offline blog, to be shared just with my wife and (eventual) family.

Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog, to post comments (few as they may have been), and to ponder various topics with me. I do love you all, and hope to have real, face-to-face conversations with you all at some point. I am not rejecting technology altogether, and am still reachable by e-mail. I am also going to keep this blog up for at least a year, and my Facebook account, while untouched in recent days, is still active.

Catch you all in the real world. God's love and peace be upon you all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why Count Sheep?

So this past weekend I spent laying in bed, laying on the couch, and moving between the two. I was wiped out with a bad cold. I have not slept so much on a weekend since... well, I can't remember when I last slept so much!

Anyways, I got this idea at one point: I think it was the middle of the night, and I could not fall asleep. So I decided to count. No, not sheep. No, not the cliche "blessings" -- although what I counted was indeed a blessing, and I would never discourage anyone from counting their blessings.

But I decided to count (and pray for) my cousins. For some of you out there, one hand suffices and you've got everyone accounted for. Not me! As you may know, my dad has 4 siblings, and my mom has 8... which means the number of cousins (and now spouses and children) is almost uncountable!

And in fact, it took me 3-4 sleeps to get everyone counted and prayed for. I started with my mom's eldest brother's eldest son, and ended with my dad's younger brother's two sons. And in between I was able to think deeply about each cousin (30, if I'm not mistaken, not counting spouses and kids), what memories I have with them, what some have been going through lately (marriage, pregnancy, loss of father, move, among other joys and trials), and really pray for them like I haven't done in years.

I even counted and prayed for the uncles and aunts, brothers and nephews, and parents, of course.

I did not have a particularly great weekend. No one really enjoys being sick, having a stuffed up head, feeling helpless and being waited on by a caring wife (well, that part isn't so bad, but only in a selfish, tongue-in-cheek way). But being able to lay there and think about family, about the people who have shaped who I am, about how nice it is to have a large extended family... that part of my weekend was truly blessed. Not to mention more quiet time with the Father.

And so I count my weekend of sickness a blessing. Thank You, God, for making me slow down.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

File It Away (Part 2)

Alright, so here was the second event that triggered thoughts in my mind:

Last weekend I was in Kyoto by myself, in a part of the prefecture I had never before traveled. I walked around ten minutes from the train station, took care of the business I had to accomplish, and then started to walk back to the train station. This was a Sunday afternoon, and there did not seem to be any reason for what happened next. I still do not know why, but there were literally hundreds of people walking towards the station along the sidewalk. I had never seen such a mass of people all walking (more or less) in unison in this way! It was like a crowd of people leaving a sporting event or music concert, heading towards the nearest public transportation stop, or perhaps a parking lot! LOTS of people!

Right in front of the station, there was an overpass for pedestrians. I thought, "Everyone else seems to be taking the overpass... and since it's right near the station, it MUST lead up to the platform or the wicket or something. I mean, this many people can't be wrong, can they?" I also figured they all HAD to be going to the station... there really was not any other reason to be walking from where they were, towards the station, like that!

And I remembered a conversation I had with my friend Steve up in Hokkaido. He once said that sometimes the Japanese people all will walk in the same direction (not literally) but they are all being misled. There was something in that conversation about "going to hell in a handbasket" or the "highway to hell" or something... like, the blind following the blind, in a sense. Masses of people all doing the same thing, and others will just follow suit because "everyone else is doing it" and "that many people can't be wrong!"

Back to my story... so I join this huge number of people and wonder, "Just how crowded is this train going to be?" But also thinking, I must be walking in the right direction, towards the train station, towards the platform, because "this many people can't be wrong!"

Well guess what? They were wrong! That overpass did not lead to the station, but rather, past it! The people kept walking, down the slope to the other side of the train station, and beyond... and there were people walking in masses as far as the eye could see! (They turned a corner and were no longer visible... it wasn't like a Manitoba landscape where the horizon is the only thing stopping you from seeing the ocean.) So by following the masses, I actually made a wrong move, and had to then wade against the current to get back to the station.

But it got me thinking, "How easy it is to follow the crowd! And how comforting it is to know that 'everyone else is doing it'!" There are times I get overwhelmed by being a Christian in Japan. SO many people do not know Jesus, and even if they have heard the name, their reaction (in their hearts) tends to be, "Well, no one else believes, why should I?" In other words, "That many people (non-believers) can't be wrong!" But they are at times, and they will lead you to where you do not want to go!

And I also got to thinking, "Those people were not wrong at all. They knew where they were going, and were simply walking together. The person in the wrong was ME, for blindly following a crowd of people that I assumed had the same destination as I did." If I had known how to get to where I needed to be, there would have been no reason for me to follow the masses.

So I ask you, dear reader, do you know where you are headed? Do you know how to get there? Are you on the right path? Are you blindly following the masses? Do you believe that just because everyone else is doing something, it must be right?

Your comments and thoughts are always appreciated, folks!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

File it away... (Part 1)

Lately I have had a few really interesting "light bulb" moments... where something really cool dawns on me and I think, "Wow, what an insight!" But as is often the case when epiphanies hit, we need to reflect on it a little before we can actually "own" the thought or idea. And in the past month, when I have had two kind of cool ones, I have not bothered to dig deeper and really make the thoughts/ideas even more powerful or impacting. But here they are, I share them with you, my friends and family (and anonymous lookers-in).

1) At the start of the month, friends of mine were heading out on their honeymoon. We were talking about their destination, and what their plans were, but then the conversation turned to omiyage. Now, that word gets underlined in red on this computer because it is not English, but for anyone living in Japan, whether they speak the language or not, they know its meaning. Omiyage is like a "souvenir" or something you buy for people back home. Some is bought with joy, some with obligation. It is usually a local delicacy or snack that can be shared with many people. We bring them to our workplaces if we have taken any amount of time off work to go anywhere, for any reason... including business trips!

Anyways, I was thinking, they are already thinking about what they can buy in a land they have never been, to give to people they have not yet "left behind"! Being a guy who was not born into "omiyage culture," I would tend to not even think about buying people snacks at all, and if I did it would be last minute. It's my vacation, my time and my money! And so I was asking myself the question... how preoccupied do we get with obligations, that we do not even enjoy looking ahead to vacations?

And I was also thinking... do we really hope to have our eyes opened on these vacations? Do we want to have our thinking challenged? Do we want to have our worlds changed? Or do we just want a collection of pictures of us with different backgrounds that we can talk about when company comes over for the next six months?

And I was also thinking... do I really look ahead to my future "vacation" in heaven? Am I planning for it? Do I realize that there will be no coming back to this "home" that I live in now? I will not be buying omiyage for anyone, I will not be snapping pictures to show off, I will not be thinking about what stories to tell others when I "get back home"?

And unfortunately, I have not really reached any conclusions about any of these matters. Just a bunch of thoughts filed away in my mind, hoping to find the light of day sometime.

And unfortunately, my bed is calling me, and deep thoughts, part 2, will have to wait until tomorrow or another day when I have my computer opened and a chance to sit and write for a substantial amount of time.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Keeping in Touch

We just came back from two weeks back in Canada (and a couple short forays into the northern States). It was so awesome seeing family and friends again. We were blessed by countless people along the way. (Alright, you got me. If I tried, I could actually count them. But I'd rather not put a number on the blessings... I am sure I will miss a few if I try to put them all in a box and count and label them.)

Of course, the best part about being in Canada is the food. No, just kidding! It's the people... and family tops the list. This year, I am going to try to keep in better touch with my family. One thing that I did this time, though, was to introduce something Japanese to two particular people, hoping somehow they will catch the fever, and practice, and while I practice the same things here, we can compare notes, techniques, and good results. So without further ado, here are the things I am sharing with people back home:

1) With my nephew, a toy/art called "kendama" -- I gave him one, and he seems to really like it, and so does his dad, for that matter! Here's what it's supposed to look like:

And here's what I look like doing it, so far. (I just bought mine two days ago, and have not had much chance to fiddle with it yet.)

2) With my mom, a technique for health called long breathing. I dozed off in front of the TV about a month ago, and when I woke up, my wife was practicing this in the living room. (The guy founder was featured on a TV show and was demonstrating it to the nation.) It looks (and sounds) kind of funny, but the results are supposedly astounding! Here's a demonstration done by the founder of the technique:

And here's me doing it. Sorry for not being brave enough to shed my shirt and wear spandex shorts. Perhaps when my body looks more like his, I'll make the switch.

Anyways, that is how I hope to "build friendship" with my family and share hobbies with them a little better. What do you all think???

Friday, August 10, 2012

Spousal Visa Procedures -- Japan

This is a bit of a departure from my usual blog entries. It is not really a "personal" one, or specifically about what I am thinking or going through. It is intended to help anyone out who might be wondering how to go about applying for a spousal visa in Japan.

Since I checked online once upon a time for spousal visa procedures in Japan, either things have changed, or the site I visited did not provide adequate information, which resulted in my going to immigration without the right documents. (Note: This procedure is for foreigners living in Japan whose spouse is a Japanese national or the relative of a Japanese national. For procedures involving other situations, such as both spouses being foreigners, please consult a different source.) So here is a translation of the list (given to me by immigration) of documents/papers you need to submit:

1) Change of Status Application Form
在留資格変更許可申請書 zairyuu shikaku henkou kyoka shinseisho
(form available at immigration office, or downloadable here)

2) Copy of Spouse's Family Registry
配偶者(日本人)の方の戸籍謄本 haiguusha (nihonjin) no kata no koseki touhon
(available at your city office)

3) Copy of Proof of Marriage Registration in your country
申請人の国籍国(外国)の機関から発行された結婚証明書 shinseijin no kokusekikoku (gaikoku) no kikan kara hakkou sareta kekkon shoumeisho
(only if you have registered your marriage in your country)

4) Proof of Spouse's (or your own, if you are the principal income earner) City Tax Payments 
配偶者(日本人)の住民税の納税証明書 haiguusha (nihonjin) no juuminzei no nouzei shoumeisho
(available at your city office)

5) Spouse's Sponsorship Guarantor Form -- should be stamped with guarantor's inkan (name stamp)
配偶者(日本人)の身元保証書 haiguusha (nihonjin) no mimoto hoshousho
(form available at immigration office or downloadable here)

6) Copy of Spouse's Registration Record
日本人の方の世帯全員の記載のある住民票の写し nihonjin no kata no setai zen in no kisai no aru juuminhyou no utsushi
(available at your city office)

7) Question Form 
質問書 shitsumonsho
(available at immigration office or downloadable here)

8) Two or three pictures of the two of you as a couple -- make sure you can be easily identified in them!
スナップ写真(夫婦で映っており、容姿がはっきり確認できるもの)2〜3枚 sunappu shashin (fuufu de utsutteori, youshi ga hakkiri kakunin dekiru mono)

9) Your passport (to be shown, not submitted)
旅券 提示 ryoken (teiji)

10) Your Alien Registration Card -- or the new Resident Card (to be shown, not submitted)
外国人登録証明書  提示 gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho (teiji)

When these documents are submitted, it should take a month or so to process, depending on how busy immigration office is at that time. If I am not mistaken, the cost for a change of residence status also costs ¥4,000 but does not need to be paid until the visa paperwork has been processed.

(I have not yet submitted my paperwork, but once I do, I will probably give a little update to let you know if there were any other complications or requirements, and also to tell you how long it took for my paperwork to be processed.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sea of Japan

Last week I got to go up to Kinosaki, a well-known hot springs area in Hyogo. This was not a pleasure trip, but a school swimming camp. All 7th graders go up and swim and play and bond for 4 days and 3 nights.

Here is the hotel we stayed at.

The second night we had a campfire and the kids performed songs. It was a class contest and they had a blast. A shot from the fire night:

Then on the third day, the kids went to a rocky area to look at sea life and fossils. It was way too hot to be out in the sun for 75 minutes, but everyone had fun! Here's a shot of the area.

Overall, I had a great time with my students and co-workers, despite the threat of being "initiated" (hazed) by the veteran teachers. It never happened. Made me think of how often we fear things that may never come to be. Are you living with unnecessary fear? Give it to God. Just enjoy the beautiful things He has prepared for you, and if hardships come, count on His help.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Romantic One

Sometimes God sets things up so that you look way more romantic than you actually are.

Today I went on a few errands: get money from the bank, get a haircut, and buy a few food items. So I got the first two done, and realized all I needed to buy was flour. For some reason, I also thought it might be nice to buy my wife flowers, so I cycled from the supermarket to the flower shop -- about 5 minutes. On my way home from the flower shop, I ran into my wife -- not literally, but we happened to both be on our bicycles and on our way home, so we met up right in front of our apartment.

Anyways, she asked me, "What did you buy?" I lifted my left hand and showed her the flour and said, "Flour...." and a few seconds later, I lifted my right hand and said, "and flowers." She was so happy.

The thing is, if I had not cycled to the places I went in the order that I did so, and had I not chosen that exact time, and even that speed (and even stopped to down a soft drink and throw away the evidence before getting home), I would not have run into my wife when I did, and I would not have met up with my wife when and where I did... it might have been an in-the-house encounter, and I would not have been able to riff on the word "flour/flower"... so I say this whole thing was orchestrated by God. Well, the idea to buy flowers was mine (though I can give God credit for placing my wife on my heart in a special way today), but the timing and making the moment more romantic, that's 100% God! What a Romantic One He is!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Little Poll

Some of you might know that Japanese people like to compare foreigners they know to celebrities. Every foreigner "looks like" some Hollywood actor, musician, or athlete. So here are the three men I have been compared to since arriving in Japan. By far the most common is this man:

Pardon me, but I do not see this one at all. People say the "eyes and nose" bear an uncanny resemblance. I'm not upset that people compare me to Nicolas Cage, or even that they call me "Cage" (sounds like the Japanese name "Keiji")... but I do NOT think I look like him at all.

The next man up is...

I see this one a little more. One day, a student of mine said, "I went to the movies last weekend and I saw you!" I thought to myself, "Funny, I never went to the movies, I stayed home all weekend!" So she said, "I was sure you were in Ocean's Eleven." Sure enough, some months later when I saw it on DVD, I was surprised to see "me" on the screen. He does look like me, does he not? I think this picture bears quite a resemblance to me! So when people say I look like Andy Garcia, I do not look surprised or bewildered. Even I would say there is an uncanny resemblance there.

And then there is the most recent one:

Who is he, you might wonder? He is Dev Patel (not to be mistaken with my childhood friend, Dave Patel), star of the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire. It was first mentioned by a non-Japanese... in fact, my own cousin, who said that Trevor circa high school (1990s) looked a lot like him. But then I actually watched the movie at school with all my students (550+ students)... and during the showing, they often looked back at me and pointed to the screen and said "Toreba?" Then one of my wife's friends mentioned it on Facebook earlier today... so yeah, I guess he's the newest candidate! (Not only is he Indian, but he is of the same tribe as my dad -- Gujarati!) I cannot say I look exactly like him (or vice versa) but I do see a resemblance.

So the question I pose to you is: which Hollywood celebrity do I most resemble?
a) Nicolas Cage
b) Andy Garcia
c) Dev Patel
d) other: _________________

Your cooperation in this scientific investigation is much appreciated.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amused by Little Things

Sometimes, song titles line up in a funny way to create puns or clever "sentences" like these:

Bonus points if you can name the bands who sing these songs! (#4 and #13 are the same group)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cars - The Conclusion (I hope!)

Alright, so here is the process I underwent to change my license plate from this

to this (for privacy reasons, I am not including my actual license plate #):

1) Get a parking ticket by accidentally leaving your car on the wrong side of the apartment block.
2) Report said ticket to the police, which takes around 45 minutes of paperwork.
3) Be told that an Okinawa license plate is illegal if I am no longer a resident of Okinawa.
4) Pay the parking ticket (at the post office, of all places).
5) Ask the landlords for the "proof of parking space" forms.
6) Pay them a large sum just for the forms.
7) Take the forms to the police station, fill in more forms.
8) Pay them a moderate sum for processing fees.
9) Return to the police station in a week to collect the proof of parking sticker for your car.
10) Pay them a small sum for picking up the form.
11) Go to city office and get a record of your previous addresses.
12) Pay them a small sum for that record.
13) Go to the department of motorized vehicles.
14) Go to Building 1, Teller #4, for instructions on how to proceed.
15) Go to Building 2, Teller #13, collect necessary papers.
16) Pay them a tiny fee for the papers.
17) Proceed to Teller #14, collect more papers.
18) Pay them a small fee for... I'm not sure what.
19) Go back to Building 1, Teller #4, for instructions on how to fill out the papers.
20) Fill out the papers, submit them, and wait.
21) Collect the papers, and go back to Building 2, Teller #11, for more papers.
22) Collect papers, borrow a screwdriver.
23) Go back to your car, remove your old license plates.
24) Go back to Teller 11, return screwdriver and turn in old plates.
25) Go back to Building 1, Teller #4, with completed paperwork.
26) Go back to Building 2, Teller #16, fill in more paperwork.
27) Go to Teller #12, pick up new plates.
28) Pay them a moderate fee for the new plates.
29) Go to Teller #11, borrow the screwdriver again.
30) Put on the new plates.
31) Wait for one of their men to affix the safety screw cover (see left side of picture 2).
32) Give him the screwdriver.
33) Congratulations, you may now drive legally in Kobe!

Of course, if I had parked properly, I could have avoided steps 1-4. But without that parking violation and the ensuing ticket, I would have never known that I had been breaking the law all along!

And so my car adventures come to an end... for now! Hopefully my blog will have more new posts about something other than motorized vehicles soon!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Me, Japan, and Cars... AGAIN

So it seems as though my blog has turned into a "why having a car in Japan can be super frustrating" blog. But really, that is not what I want it to be.

Still, this one relates to the one I wrote about my parking ticket. When I went to pay the ticket, I was told that I technically was breaking the law by driving my car while still having an Okinawa license plate. What? I didn't know that! So I have been waiting for various paperwork to arrive before I can apply for a change of address at Japan's version of the DMV. Finally, I have all the paperwork I need.

Or so I thought. I called the DMV and asked them, and they said I need a copy of my proof of residence in Japan, which includes my previous address. (The one on my car registration.) The proof of residence has my current address and my previous address on it (the address I had two months ago, before getting married). Problem: the address on my car registration is 3 addresses before that one, which means it is not recorded on the proof of residence paper. So how am I to get papers showing all 4 places I have lived since I had my car registered? That's what I need, just to change my license plate. It is not enough that my car registration has the old address and that my current ID has my current address. That would make things simple. And in Japan, when it comes to paperwork, simple does not suffice.

So the headache continues. (Sarcastic rant begins here. "For those of you back in North America who think the Japanese are super efficient, think again. No country in the world puts out as much paperwork as this one, no country's labor force puts in as much overtime as this one, and trust me, there is plenty of inefficient work happening in this country. I won't go into details about how many labor hours were wasted today at a certain company I know, but let's just say they could have done a lot more with their collective 90 hours of discussing... what was it about again? Yes, today was a frustrating, 'Trying to find a reason to love this country' kind of day." End rant.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

More Car Woes

I suppose I should be thankful that I have not had any car accidents yet while living in Japan. But after the parking ticket debacle from the other day (see previous post), I really did not need what happened yesterday. Here's how things unfolded:

I got off work around 4:45 and went to my car to drive home. I love driving to and from work now. Driving home to an apartment where someone is waiting for me, someone will greet me, and I can spend time with my best friend and wife, WOW! The drive home is one of anticipation.

But this day, I was not able to drive home right away. I pulled my car out of its spot, and started to make the 3-point turn to head back towards home. Music on, I hit the gas pedal but the car didn't feel right. Immediately I knew what it was: flat tire.

I got out of the car, and sure enough, from driver's side tire was completely flat. So I pulled over to get out of others' way, and changed the tire. My spare was a little flat too, but I didn't notice that. Anyways, 30 minutes later, dirty suit and hands and all, I drove off, hoping to find a gas station that could help me fix my tire.

So I wheeled into a gas station and the guy said, "No, I can't help you... we only do gas, and it's only self-serve." So he pointed me to another gas station down the road. They checked my tire and told me, "Your tire is damaged as such that it cannot be repaired. It needs to be replaced."

Great. So now the ¥1,000 I was hoping to get away with would turn into at least ¥7,000 or more. Not happy. "So, how much will it cost?" I asked them. "Well, it depends on the quality of tire. But we do not have any tires in your size here." And with that, they pointed me to a car shop down the road.

So anyhow, now I have to drive another 10 minutes to that shop on my spare tire. But whatever. I'm just getting hungry and a little frustrated is all. So I get to the next garage, and they tell me, "Well, you had all-weather (studless) tires on your car, and if you change only one tire, your car will be off-balance. You need to change all 4." So NOW I'm thinking, this is nuts. It's not like the tires on my car were bad at all! But I had to get rid of them after having bought them just 18 months prior?

Overall damage: I'd rather not say, but let's just say I ended up paying a little more than I had originally anticipated. It's not like I severely punctured the one tire, or that I did it on purpose, or that there was any major impact that caused the puncture.

So defeated, I drove home. I talked to my wife as I left the garage, and she could tell I was feeling down. Her voice was very sympathetic, and she said she would start making dinner. Ah, what a comfort. Dinner. Someone is cooking dinner for me. What a treat! So I started to lift my countenance, thinking, it's not all bad. I'm still alive. Maybe the new tires are a good thing. And God will turn this all into a blessing in the end.

So I get home, and start to back my car into my tiny parking stall. Not parking spot, but parking stall. And just as I have every day for the past 20 or so, I backed in with extreme care. Still, I felt like I was a little too close to the edge. And when I got out of my car, sure enough, I had scratched the back of the car a little. ARGH. Frustrated, I stood up to get in my car and position it a little better. CLANG. I banged my head before getting in my car, tears starting to well up in my eyes.

But the blessing is that I got perspective. It's just money, and in a few months, I'll forget that I had to put new tires on my car because the parking lot at school is not adequately paved. It'll all be in the past.

Still, this month has not been a happy one for my car.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oh, Japan...

I'll be honest with you. I need encouragement these days. Especially about living in Japan. There are just so many things that are on my mind right now, and I cannot share them all, but I will say that the strictness in this country sometimes drives me crazy.

We are renting an apartment but we cannot even put up a calendar or family (or wedding) pictures on the wall, because we are not allowed "to put holes in the walls." So the whole place is white-walled right now, and while that isn't all that bad, I wish we could put more things up. Sigh.
The other one is what happened to me last week... one careless mistake, one small parking violation, and my "perfect record" is blemished for 8 years. That is crazy. If you live in Japan, you know how hard it is to drive 8 years without accidents or violations, too.

Ah well, I am here, I guess I ought to make the best of it. And the good news is that my ¥15,000 fine for parking in the wrong place, it will go to the country's national treasury, which will then go towards rebuilding northeastern Japan (where the tsunami and nuclear plant meltdowns occurred). So my bad parking job is serving as a way to "make" me contribute. I don't mind that part of it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Happy things

As I took the steering wheel in my hands, something felt different. Oh, hello wedding band! I remember now as my ring finger (along with my entire left hand) grips the wheel, that I am driving for two now. More responsibility, yes. But more joy when driving, for sure!

When my cell phone rings and her name now shows up with my family name attached to it, I tend to do double-takes. First, because of the above (a new addition to the Raichura family). Second, because the name that used to be in kanji is now in English. Weird, a little. Comforting and exciting, absolutely!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Life is beautiful

In the past 10 days, I have:
- Had dinner with my whole family (plus a few relatives) for the first time in over 5 years
- Moved from a small, one-bedroom apartment into a much more spacious three-bedroom one
- Gotten married to an amazing, wonderful, beautiful woman
- Traveled to a tropical island, where a typical day included sitting on the beach sipping tasty drinks and eating gourmet food
- Completed the required work for my MA in TESOL, thereby completing nearly 3 years of work

Life is going GREAT!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Preparing for Battle

This is a busy time for me. I am getting married in less than 8 weeks. I am finishing up grad school. I am house shopping. Which means packing, too. I am working full-time. I am also just trying to live, you know? Anyways... since I finished most of my grad school requirements last May, I took a break from studying, but picked up on a different type of studying: marriage preparation.

Here is a look at some of the books I have read (or am reading) and my thoughts on each:

The Five Love Languages -- by Dr. Gary Chapman

I read this book last spring. I first was interested in this book when I was dealing with family relationships 4-5 years ago. I then read this book in Japanese (愛を伝える5つの方法), sort of at the same time as my fiancee did. I cannot say enough about this book, really... I love it! Very eye-opening about the importance of recognizing how we ought to express love, and how we best receive it from others. Good not just for marriage, but for almost any relationship that you want to see increase in its love.

101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged -- by H. Norman Wright

I actually bought two copies of this one, because it is more of a "workbook" where there is space to write answers to the questions. There are a good number of important questions in here that will help you see if you are compatible with your partner. It is more about knowing who YOU are, and being able to open yourself up more completely to your partner, before agreeing to spend the rest of your lives together. There are a few repeat questions (seem almost the same) and some that you will find irrelevant to your own situation, and there are also some that are hard to answer (either because it's hard to put into words, or because you don't want to admit to your weaknesses). But it's really good to help prepare you for the next stage. (Note: My fiancee and I never got through the book in time... I proposed before we reached question 10... and we're still working through it slowly... we're on question 70 or so, and hope to finish before saying "I do!" But no worries... we have been very open with each other, and there are no big surprises left to be revealed, if that makes sense.)

Sacred Marriage -- by Gary Thomas

This one is probably the best that I have read so far. It asks a lot of hard question, shares a lot of wise insights, and turns marriage on its head. Look no further than its sub-title: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy?" This book was probably the least "scary" and the most "encouraging" of the ones I have read so far. Oh, it challenged me to change my thinking and my actions, but it has not made me feel like marriage is impossible or prone to failure upon failure. Thomas does a great job of setting us straight, highlighting the different ways that marriage will change our character and make us more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

His Needs, Her Needs -- by Willard F. Harley Jr.

This one talks about the five most prominent needs that men have in marriage, and the five that tend to be more important to women. For him, sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, attractive spouse, domestic support, and admiration. For her, affection, conversation, honestly and openness, financial support, and family commitment. Some of those needs overlap, and they are not 100% gospel, but from a man's perspective, I can see some truth in this. Anyhow, one thing that bugged me about this book is that it tended to have too many stories of broken marriages in which infidelity was an issue. Now, he is being realistic, but as a soon-to-be-married man, it was kind of discouraging to hear an author talk about how affairs are quite commonplace. He was not condoning them, mind you. I guess I didn't need to hear what he had to say when he said it (that is, when I read it). But one concept I liked from this book: he talked about how every person that you know has a "love bank account" in your heart. Based on your encounters with them, they can either make deposits or withdrawals. And that will sort of determine where you are at with each other. A kind word, a gift, a good joke will make a deposit. A harsh word, a toilet lid left up, ignoring the kids will make a withdrawal. Too many withdrawals, and you will no longer have the largest account in your spouse's heart. Interesting.

The Christ-Centered Marriage -- by Neil T. Anderson

I am in the middle of this one still. It is decent... it talks a lot about how you need to free yourself from any spiritual bondage in your life before dealing with marital issues. Often the "marital problems" are just extensions of individual issues that have not been dealt with. The jury's still out on this one, as I have only finished reading five of fourteen chapters. And when that one's done...

This is one I have on order. It just came out earlier this month. I got the DVD in the mail today. (You can see that from the pic -- figured I would post a pic of myself for the first time since fall.) Anyhow, Mark Driscoll is one of the pastors I respect the most. He speaks truth, harsh truth even, relevant truth, but with love. When I heard he was writing a marriage book with his wife, I knew I wanted it. Should be a good one. Apparently it was the top "Self-Help" book on the NY Times Bestseller list. Not bad for a Christian author in a country where Christianity is so out of vogue!

So there you have it, folks! If you have any books that you think I should read, or if you have any thoughts on any of these books, feel free to share them with me! I'm thinking of reading Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud. Is it any good???

Fear Factor

I'll admit it. I'm scared. Who wouldn't be? Getting married is not something that can be taken lightly. I firmly believe that marriage is a battlefield. Not that I am going to war against my wife... but against anyone who might try to interfere with our relationship. There are a number of things that can cause relationship stress, and marital breakdowns.

First and foremost, as a Christian, I believe in the existence of the devil. And he is against my marriage, because my marriage is a gift from God Almighty. And as with all good things that God gives us, the devil intends to pervert and destroy my marriage. So I have to have my eyes opened and my battle plan in place.

Second, there is ourselves. Each partner in a marriage has expectations, hopes, needs and desires. And we tend to look to each other for fulfillment of at least some of those desires. And that is fair. God can meet all our needs, but He uses humans to do so in many cases. And He will use our spouse in many ways to meet those needs/desires. When people use the platitude "God will supply all my needs, I don't need anyone" they are simplifying and denying our human nature. (If I need a kiss, can I really pucker my lips and expect the air around me to comfort me with the warmth and tenderness that a human could provide?)

Third, there is our pasts. We have all been traumatized, mistreated, and shaped negatively by our own childhood experiences. Even our experiences in adulthood go a long way to shaping who we are. If we have not received healing from those experiences, they may come out in weird unexpected and hurtful ways towards our spouse.

Fourth, there is our families. Pressure from parents, overbearing mothers, unaccepting fathers, and so on. And will our broken relationships with our siblings affect our relationship with our spouse? You'd better believe it!

I could continue on to list more factors, but they all come down to one thing. Have you been guarding your heart? Is your heart ready to be broken, ripped from your chest, and put back in a different shape than it used to be in?

"The two shall become one flesh." If you imagine this literally, it is pretty gross. But I imagine it like we are two "rocks" that are moving closer together, to fuse into one bigger, stronger, healthier rock. (What's a healthy rock, anyways? That's not the point... ignore that part of the analogy and stick with me.) The rocks are jagged and pointy, and even a little brittle. And as they get closer together, in order to make the fit "tighter" there are a lot of pieces that need to be broken off. The shape of the original rock has to be modified in order for it to better "fit" its partner rock. In the end, that rock will be mightier than the sum of its parts, but there is a breaking process that has to take place.

And that is a little scary. I'm scared. I look at the divorce rate in the world, and it terrifies me to think that the odds of any couple divorcing are greater than those of that couple staying married for life. The world has become a more self-centered place. A less gritty place. When things get tough, and when things don't go "my way" then it's time to move on. When things get less exciting, a little more mundane, then our hearts get restless and consider moving on.

Scary. But God has not given me a spirit of fear. He has given me a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Love it. Love Him!

This blog entry did not go in the direction I had hoped it would... so I will end my "thoughts" here and start a new post about my original intention.

Pray for me, please. Thanks everyone. (When I say I'm scared, don't worry -- I'm not in panic mode, and I don't have cold feet! I'm just being thoughtful and careful and trying to stay realistic. I'm really looking forward to marriage!)

Why, Japan, Why? (Part 1)

This is my first winter in Japan. "WHAT? You've been in Japan for 13 years, have you not?" Yes, yes I have. But you have to understand that the first 11 were spent in Okinawa, where "winter" consists of wearing a sweater and having to put your hands in your pockets to keep them warm. For a week. At the most. And Hokkaido, well, that is REAL winter, but not REAL Japan.

What I mean is, Japan has a different approach to winter than Okinawa, than Hokkaido, than perhaps the rest of the world. When it gets cold, they do not believe in heating the whole house. They believe in heating the whole body.

So they have all these special "indoor use" sweaters, pants, jackets, slippers, lap blankets, and so on. It has been quite hard for me to adjust to. For thirty-six winters, I have been able to find refuge from the cold in my apartment or home. This is the first time I have walked into a cold home and simply left my jacket on, or kept a pair of mittens nearby.

Yes, they have heaters in their homes, but they tend not to use them as often as we would in the west. And especially in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami disaster up north, people are more conscious of energy consumption. There is something called "setsuden" going on in Japan, both in the summer and winter, which is a conscious effort to cut down on electricity consumption.

A wonderful idea, and very "green" and noble of the Japanese. But does that mean I have to like it? Should I feel guilty for wanting to walk around my apartment without five layers of clothing on? What do you all do to beat the winter colds and blues?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Random Thoughts and News

-- I think I am getting old. But I am still in denial of this reality. My body is breaking down in weird places and for strange reasons. I do not think either of my two current ailments can be attributed to the aging process, but I could be wrong. I'm too young to know any better!

A couple of weeks ago, my left heel started hurting. Not like sharp pain, but kind of like the muscle (or whatever it is down there) is bruised and it hurts to step. I thought maybe it was plantar fasciitis... but I'm sure that is much more painful than what I have. Nonetheless, I cannot run until this injury heals. I do not know how it came about, which I think hurts me just as much as the fact that I cannot run.

Then two nights ago, I woke up from a coughing fit. I kept coughing for almost an hour, and my body was heaving so much that I felt a discomfort in my ribs. Sunday morning and afternoon I felt tired and had a headache, and I did not really notice the pain in my ribs so much. But as the day went on, it was harder and harder to breathe deeply without feeling a sharp pain. At first I thought maybe it was just a bruise, but then I started wondering if it wasn't fractured ribs. I'm still not sure. I'm still in pain, but it doesn't feel as bad as it did yesterday, so perhaps it's not such a serious injury. Still, I wonder why my body is breaking down in such weird and unpredictable ways?

-- Funny how some people show up in your lives once, and then disappear seemingly forever, and then randomly reappear in a place you least expect them to.

This has sort of happened to me twice, both times in Kobe. The first one was over a year ago now. While living in Winnipeg in 2002-03, I really missed contact with Japanese people, and found a listing for Japanese Alliance Church in the Yellow Pages. So I started attending and really enjoyed the fellowship. Particularly interesting was the story of the pastor and his wife, who were missionaries from Japan who originally served the aboriginal people in Northern Canada and Alaska. Anyhow, long story short, I moved back to Japan in 2003, and only saw them a few times after that. One such time was when their son, who was raised in Canada, wanted to finish high school in Japan, and enrolled at Okinawa Christian School. The family stayed in Winnipeg at the time, but they eventually moved back to Japan a few years ago, but to the (at that time) unknown-to-me city of Kobe. I was in Okinawa. Then I moved to Sapporo. Never thought I would see them again. Then I met a beautiful Kobe woman, and had to come see her to confirm that she was "the one" for me. During that time in Kobe, I stayed at that pastor's home, and it was a sweet time of reunion.

The other incident happened just yesterday. I went to Kobe Union Church after their service was over, in order to talk to the administration about having our wedding there. As we made our way in, we ran into some familiar faces. So we stopped and talked. Yumi started talking to a blonde lady, whom she had gone to Tokoku to do volunteer disaster relief work. That blonde lady looked way too familiar to have been someone I was meeting for the first time. "Oh, this is my fiance, Trevor. He's from Canada, too." And so a conversation ensued, and I started to hypothesize about where I had met this woman before. Her husband asked me, "How long have you been here?" So I gave my typical answer: 6 months in Kobe, but before that I lived in Sapporo for a year and Okinawa for ten or so. The blonde woman said, "I lived in Okinawa, too. In Naha City." My answer: "Yeah I know, we used to go to the same church!" I was amused at myself for the way I so non-chalantly divulged that we had known each other nearly a decade earlier. Funny stuff.

(Incidentally, this happened to Yumi a few months ago, too. My good friend Aaron, whom I met in Okinawa, invited us over for dinner. When we got there, Aaron's wife introduced herself to Yumi, and then said, "You know something, you look an awful lot like someone I know." And so it turns out, Yumi and Aaron's wife have known each other for longer than Aaron and I! Of course, they had lost touch for like a decade or so, but still... weird how our spouses unknowingly knew each other before we all met each other.)


Well, this has gotten way longer than I expected, and I am out of time for now. I will write more again later, perhaps in a few days.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Days of victory

Some of you may know that I really like The Lord of the Rings series. Recently I have found the time to watch the entire trilogy (extended version, no less).

I got to thinking, "There's an awful lot of fighting in these movies. Feels almost nonstop! No wonder some people don't like it, or feel like it's rather repetitive!"

Well, isn't that life, though? One battle after the next. Sometimes it feels like there's no end to our struggles, to our quest for victory or freedom from pain, anguish, struggles.

And then I got to thinking, "There are so many weird creatures in these movies! No wonder some people get turned off by fantasy!"

But then, don't we encounter some weird, formidable beasts in our lives? Weird people, strange situations we couldn't have possibly imagined ahead of time. But we gotta deal with them, often clumsily or uncertainly, as we face new challenges almost daily.

Then I got to thinking, "Aren't their battles unrealistic? Small, ill-prepared, inexperienced warriors against armies that are way too large for them to defeat. And yet they win. How unrealistic! No wonder people don't like these movies!"

But then, aren't our lives like that at times? Odds stacked against us, victory seeming impossible or improbable. But then some army of trees, or legion of dead pirates (Lord of the Rings references) comes out of the blue to aid us to victory. I prefer to think of our aid as ANGELS or even the "cloud of witnesses" (fellow believers, past and present) found in Hebrews 12.

This time through the trilogy, I was captivated by different scenes than ever before. Between the battle scenes, there are a lot of victory parties. Lots of drinking, smoking, dancing, and laughing.

And I asked myself, "Now, why doesn't my life reflect this aspect of the movies?" Not the drinking and smoking per se (I'll spare you my views on these "Christian controversies" for now), but the idea that it's OK to celebrate the small victories on the road of life!

These days, for me, are days of victory. Life is going well. Really well. No, my life is not without battles. But it seems like I've been winning them left, right and center!

So, I need to celebrate in my own way and be thankful to the One who has granted me victory.

But like the fellowship in Lord of the Rings, I also have be of the mindset that more battles, of larger magnitude and steeper odds, lie ahead.

My enemy is a prowling lion, waiting for just the right moment to pounce! So I celebrate with an eye on the challenges that await me.

The war is over! Jesus was victorious over the grave! But the battle rages on...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 - The year that was

What an unbelievable year that was. I have never had my emotions stretched both high and low like that ever before. Lots of amazing things, lots of trials.

I'll post more later. I just remember the words of Chuck Smith: blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break.

Pray for Pastor Chuck, by the way. Apparently he has been diagnosed with lung cancer.