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)