Monday, May 31, 2004

Japanese Adventure IV

Heh, I can't believe how long it's been since my last update on the trip. I guess I can only assume that people are actually reading this, though. The absence of any sort of replies to my questions (*cough cough*) makes it difficult to determine. Ah well. So, on the one hand, it's been a week since I've updated my activities. On the other hand (I have five more fingers?), not much has happened since then. So, I hope the update is sufficient. Without further ado . . .

This was 5/26. It was an interesting day, too. I spent most of this day worrying about catching whatever it is the little girl I'm living with has. I would have absolutely no immunity to cold strains from Japan, so I've become slightly paranoid about that. But, well, I don't want my trip ruined by sickness.

In any case, my morning began with a trip to a Shinto shrine. Shinto is the dominant religion of Japan, with Buddhism pulling up a close second. The shrine is really quite beautiful. It practically sits on a nature preserve. Unfortunately, everything I heard and saw in the shrine leads me to believe that these people are worshipping demons. Sad. I wanted so badly to share the truth with the priests in the shrine, but they wouldn't have understood a word I said. Also sad. Really, though, I can see why Shinto has lasted as long as it has in Japan. It is a religion of very few formal teachings, no set of actual scriptures, and no requirements of faithful observance. Most Japanese show up at the temple a few times a year, depending on the events of the year, give some money, say a few prayers, and they're good to go (It's amazing such a thing hasn't caught on in America). It's strange though. This religion is an animistic polytheism. Yet the west, in its religious laziness, turned to atheism as progress was made. Why didn't the same thing happen here? I cannot really say.

The rest of the day was spent in class. Japanese class was interesting, as only two of the four of us showed up. Dan and Young were more interested in being with their girlfriends than listening to me struggle with Japanese. Losers. Well, after that, we took part in a calligraphy class (shodo). This was fun. It's not particularly difficult, but I suppose I would have to practice a lot to get down some of the particularities in being great at it. I got to draw haru, spring, which is what I am called by the Japanese here. They can't pronounce "Harold."

Yeah, so the rest of this day turned out interestingly. We didn't know about the guys having girlfriends until after class. Well, we find out, and I'm just kinda like, "Oh, okay." I don't think it's a good idea. Dan, in his ever friendly way, asks me what I think, and I tell him. He then calls me a jerk for my opinion, and asks me why I don't think it's a good idea. Of course, he wasn't interested in my answer; every 2 or 3 words, he interrupted me with an attempt to justify his opinion. Oh well. I guess we aren't entitled to our own opinions after all.

Wednesday was spent visiting the schools. This was yet another reminder that this program was meant for the education majors, which none of us are. The morning was with the kindergarten, and the afternoon was with the elementary school. We could mostly understand the kindergarten (it is, afterall, kindergarten), especially since we showed up at recess. The elementary school was another story. The classes are in Japanese. I don't know Japanese. Consequently, watching the classes was rather dull. I did, however, have an interesting time watching the science club do their thing. These kids do far cooler things than I did when I was their age.

My time here is making me sad though . . . I haven't met one Christian yet! There's even a Nazerene church by the university. I stopped by on this day, and there were two cars and three bikes parked outside of it . . . but no people! I searched the entirety of that tiny building high and low, and found not one person! Did I miss the rapture or something? *Sigh* . . . I miss home.

So, Thursday began with a visit to the Junior High. We'll do some math again: Observing classes in Japanese + Not knowing Japanese = Boring. We did get to see English class, though. This was funny. However, the administration here didn't make us feel welcome like they did at they did at the other schools. I felt like an annoyance here.

This feeling did not improve as the day went on. See, we return, and I ask if anybody is going to eat lunch, and no one answers. I ask again, and Dan calls me a whiny child. Yikes. I try to politely tell him that I simply wanted to know if anyone was going to eat in the cafeteria or not, and he responds that he might later. Twenty minutes later I declare my intentions to leave and eat, and no one says a word. So, I get up and leave. While waiting in line for food, Dan flicks me in the back of the ear and asks why I left without him when he said he would be here. Well, all right, whatever. I wait for him to get his food, but he takes too long and tells me to go sit down. Okay, well, not seeing an empty table in the main room, I go off to the other room and sit next to a window so he can see me. However, he never comes. I even see him sit at a table with some of the local students. I leave, and he's on his way out, asks in a rhetorical manner (and not very politely) why I chose to eat in there. Well, when I return to the computer lab with these guys, he gives me the finger and the accompanying verbal cue. After I give my explanation, and everyone in the room looks at him incredulously, he says he was "just kidding." Yikes.

It made me glad he skipped class again. I had to return right away, too, because my host mother was leaving for Sapporo and needed me to stay around to watch the children. Oh well. An afternoon in front of the computer wasn't so bad.

Friday, Mike and I attempted to get a game of StarCraft going, but alas, the network here is inexplicably dumb. You'd think the Japanese would be a step ahead of us on this, but apparently not.

Japanese class was fun again. In the afternoon, though, we had an art history class under the guise of Japanese culture. This was obscenely boring. It's not that art history is boring, and the professor's english was fine. The problem was that he kept addressing the same things over and over and over because he either thought we didn't understand or he felt the need to emphasize the same issues over and over and over. It was awful.

Friday night, however, was a bit more fun. After my family laughed at my attempts to eat Soba, we attended a music concert at the city concert hall. Piano, singers, french horn, clarinet . . . I thought this would be classy. No, it was an evening of Disney music. Well, not all Disney music is bad, per se, but the Japanese lyrics to "Bippity-Boppity-Boo" are just bizarre. It was interesting, and kinda fun to attend, but I think I was glad when it was over. On a side note, even in Japan the youth don't seem to understand that you dress up for concerts that involve "classical" instruments. Oh well.

Afterwards, we attended for ice cream what I can only refer to as the Japanses equivalent of a Denny's or a Shoney's. The name? Surprise Donkey. Ooooookay . . .

Well, this post is getting long, and I find myself tiring of writing. So, I shall leave it at this for now, and post my weekend later today, or perhaps in the next few days. Enjoy, and please let me know that you're reading!


Thursday, May 27, 2004

Making Decisions and the Will of God

Hey guys!

This isn't a formal update of my activities so much as it is an update of the thoughts that have been running through my mind while I've been here. I've shared this with a few of you, but I thought I'd get some larger feedback, see what everyone thinks about this.

I've been reading a book while I've been here called "Making Decisions and the Will of God." It is by Pastor/Dr. Garry Friesen. Basically, Dr. Friesen outlines two approaches to decision making in the Christian community. One he calls the traditional view. The traditional view works like this: God has three wills. These are his sovereign will, which dictates everything that will happen in the universe towards our ultimate good and his ultimate glory and cannot be known; his moral will, which is found in the Biblical revelation and contains all of the guidelines a believer needs for holy and righteous living; and his individual will, which is his unique, ideal, detailed life plan for each believer. This individual will is the one which is difficult to discover, such as figuring out where to go to college, whether and whom to marry, or what to do for a vocation. By the traditional view, the individual will is discovered by correlation of the signs, which are: the Bible, mature counsel, inner witness, circumstances, personal desires, common sense, and special guidance. By paying attention to these signs and determining the correlation of them, we can know God's will for our life.

At least, that's the traditional view. Dr. Friesen says that this is view is an incorrect understanding of the Bible. He spends the second part of his book giving a Biblical critique of this view, and then spends the third part laying out what he considers to be the Biblical approach to decision making, what he calls the wisdom view. By this view, there is no "individual will" of God. Christian freedom allows us to make decisions in our lives based on the revealed moral will of God, though we must make them with wisdom and spiritual expediency in mind. Thus, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of "Where should I go to college?" or "What should I do for a living?" If there is no moral prohibition against it, then the roadsigns, tempered by wisdom, may dictate your decisions.

What do you think? To some, this may seem very radical, and I understand, as it goes against everything we've been taught in our churches. Have we been wrong? Dr. Friesen certainly makes a very compelling case Biblically, though I cannot lay out the entire thing here. If you wish, you would do well to read the book.

Myself . . . I'm inclined to agree with him, but my jury is still out. That's part of why I'm putting this on here. What does everyone think? Do you have questions or objections? If I've left out important details, I'll try to fill in as I go, but I want to know what everyone thinks about this. Please, let me know!


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Peanut gallery? Hello?

Okay, just a clarification. In order to post a comment, at the bottom of each entry, there is a link to the number of comments already posted. You click on that, and then you'll the current comments, and a link to leave your own. So please, if you're reading, don't be shy!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Japanese Adventure III

Well, I apologize that it's been a while since I've posted, but like I say, I have better things to do in Japan than sit in front of a computer. (Sadly, right now, I really don't have much else I could be doing).

So here's the run down on my recent events:

This was just another one of those days. My host mother again wouldn't let me ride my bike to school because it was supposed to rain (hooray for typhoon season!). So, I had to be shuttled over to the university again (yet another limitation on my freedom). I spent the morning studying Japanese with one of the guys before we had class. And yikes, yet again, I did not understand one bit of class. It's very hard to have Japanese taught to you IN Japanese when you are just learning the language. Why? Well, when all those little things such as particles, modifiers, and sentence structure start creeping in, you can't understand the explanations of how they work. Oy.

After class, we had the sado, traditional tea ceremony. This was very neat for a variety of reasons, but ended up being quite boring. Why? Well, there's a lot of Buddhist philosophies that transformed this thing into an artform of movement. However, all explanations for everything were given in Japanese. They said you could come on this trip without having any Japanese, and that's been true so far, but you surely get so much more from this by knowing at least some. Ah well. As it is, green tea, the way it was meant to be, is gross. Totally bitter, and a very strange consistency. Additionally, the way you are supposed to sit for this ceremony, the way most Japanese people sit, is very painful to the legs. We westerners are not used to it. It must take a lifetime to aclimate to it.

Well, the evening was supposed to be a night out on the town with my newfound friends, but it was raining. We all get around by bike. The conflict is obvious. So, I got picked up by my host mother and taken home. She did take me over to the home of one of the other guys, Michael, which was pretty fun. We got to hang out and chat, which was cool enough. But they (our respective host mothers) wanted me to stay the night there, and I really didn't feel comfortable with that. I'd see him the next day.

And see him I did. My host mother, her children, Michael, his host mother, and I all packed into a van and headed to Furano, a nearby town, to see the sights. Wine, lavender, and dairy and the kings there. First I must say, the rural countryside is exquisitely beautiful, especially for the mountains. I guess it's my Illinois residency that makes me appreciate mountains. We had lunch at a restaurant at the winery, which was nice. It was the first time I didn't have to use chopsticks since I had arrived! Next, we went to the winery, which was quite fun. We did some taste testing and looked around, but there was no tour to take. Additionally, I couldn't understand the signs, so I basically looked at the pretty objects. Once again, not knowing Japanese reduces the joy. Ah well. After that, we headed over to the cheese factory to make ice cream. This was fun and delicious. It was funny, too. We made ice cream in a device called the "hyper-tron". You know that anything with a name like that is going to be cool.

Well, we returned, and I was left at Michael's to hang out with him. This, again, was fun, but also a disappointment. We were supposed to go out with our friends that night, but it was really cold out. Lots of walking when it is cold = bad. So, we simply hung out. Plus, everyone wanted to start at 10 (and they stayed out until almost dawn!). I returned to my host family at 9, and still woke people up with my return. *Sigh*, that part is really frustrating me. They go to bed so early I cannot stay out and enjoy the evening with my friends. If I had a key, that would be different, but they won't give me one.

Well, it just keeps getting better. The night before, I struggled with my thoughts quite a bit, because I'm really uncertain about where my life is heading, what I want to do with myself vocationally. As much as I'm unlikely to get a burning bush or to find myself sitting in a beam of light and hearing the divine voice, it really would be nice, wouldn't it?

The morning was no improvement. First, we had to get up early to go to Yuki's (my host sister) school for sports/field day. I gave up on breakfast because I could tell she was developing a cold; she was coughing all over the food! Then the younger children, who really don't get this "closed door" concept, kept barging into my room as I was changing from my shower. Sometimes, I just want to be alone, and in a Japanese apartment such as theirs, it is nearly impossible. My mood was quite foul, but I did what I consider to be a pretty good job hiding it.

We ended up at the field day, but it was pretty boring. All of the kids look the same to me, and I really didn't have a stake in watching the events. So, I read my book all day. 7:30-2:30. At least I'm almost done.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I rode off to the university to use the computer, returned for dinner, and was taken to the mall for grocery shopping (unusual, eh?). One thing of note on that: Fujiko wanted to go to a bookstore, so you can only imagine the problems I foresaw with that. Well, I thought I'd just look at the magazines, as pictures are pretty easy to understand. I grab this men's fashion magazine. Clothing, hats, accessories, clothing . . . half-naked girls? That's right, the last fourth of the clothing catalogue was a girly magazine. All right, I'll try again. Next was a men's hairstyle magazine (BTW, I really don't like the men's hairstyles here . . . too flamboyant). Hair . . . hair . . . hair . . . girly magazine. Yikes, okay, something safer, perhaps? Hey, video games are safe, right? Oooh, looky, cell phone games, game boy games . . . adult comics? Yikes. You can't read ANYTHING here geared towards men without it having a naked SOMETHING in it. Oy.

Monday was rather dull. I spent the morning trying to get the phone system to work right. This was frustrating. First, the thing wouldn't accept my calling card number. Once it did, it wouldn't accept the phone number. Once it did, it thought I was trying to call South Africa. FINALLY, I managed to call home, but my time to talk with my family was limited. Hey, Japan to America phone calls are expensive.

One note of good news, though, is that I put my foot in the door in witnessing to one of the Chinese girls here. She's Buddhist, and she didn't seem to interested in hearing anything about my faith or Christianity in general. However, I did tell her that I would gladly teach her anytime about it. Pray that her and others around me are softened towards that prospect. I haven't met one other Christian since I came here, and that includes the guys I came with! (In a recent development, she started dating a Korean exchange student who came here with us from ISU, so I'm afraid she will be too distracted to listen to me, but I'm still praying that God will get her attention).

The afternoon was filled with class. In a very bright note, however, I'm beginning to actually understand class! Sweet, joyous day! Granted, I can't really USE it well, yet, but at least I understand what I would be saying if I could remember any of it. Heh, I guess I oughta spend time studying.

After language class, we had our reminder that this program was meant for the education majors (which none of the people on the trip are). We had a seminar about the historical development and structure of the educational system in Japan. It was fairly interesting, but only in a limited sense. Dan was banging his head on the desk. If any of you education-type people are intersted, you're more than welcome to a glimpse of that material.

We were supposed to go to downtown to bum around after class, but delays on the part of others made this difficult. We finally made it, but I had to leave about 20 minutes into our "bumming around" stage because of dinner. Oh well. Had I stayed with the others, I would have ended up in the drinking room at the karaoke bar with them for 3 hours, racking up a ¥11,000 ($110) bill. Yikes. Incindentally, the alleyways between the buildings downtown contains the seedier parts. It's not in its own separate world, its just in the alleys. By that, I mean the questionable Pachinko parlors, the strip shows, adult stores, and what not. From now on, no more shortcuts.

The rest of the evening was dull. I came back, read a lot, ate dinner, watched cartoons which I barely understood, and went to bed. I really need to figure out how I can make my schedule more flexible, because I am just not making enough of my time here. Don't get me wrong, I'm having a lot of fun, but I could definitely be having more fun.

Well, that's about it for now. I hope everything is well with you all, and I hope to hear from you! Thanks for the emails from those of you who wrote!


Thursday, May 20, 2004

Move along, nothing to see here . . .

This is just a test to see if my new "comments" feature works. And if it does, then leave me some messages!

Japanese Adventure II

Greetings fans!

Well, at this point I'm not sure how many of you even know this exists, but thanks for reading all the same. Here's what's been happening lately:

Nothing super-exciting this day. I'm riding my bike everywhere, and so the city is beginning to make more sense, but it still looks mostly the same to me. Oh well, there's a lot of little shops and places to see, so I really want to take a few days at some point to just explore and see what the city has to offer.

We spent this day going to the brand new, three story mall here. They even have a grocery store here (strange, yes). It was fun, but I didn't really want to buy much. Most of the clothing I don't want to buy (although I did get a shirt I really liked), most of the "stuff" is very "American" and consequently of little interest to us, and the music is totally unknown to me. I don't want to just buy random CDs in the hopes that I will like one of them. Well, at least I had fun bumming around the mall with our gakusei escorts. Ha, it was neat, they even played at the arcade with us!

That night, the International Club of the university had a welcoming party for us, which was really neat, although it was kinda strange that nearly all of the students who showed up were girls. In any case, it was fun getting to meet so many people, play more strange games, and make new friends, but I'm becoming more convinced of a mission here. A girl I talked to quite a bit there was wearing a cross, and I asked her if she was a Christian, but she said, no, she was a Buddhist. Lots of people wear crosses here, but it is jewelry probably 95% of the time. This makes me sad, but I need to be proactive in making opportunities to share Christ with these people.

Well, we saw lots of museums today. Let me just say, it was pretty darn dull. Don't get me wrong, I love museums, but I should explain.

First, we saw the International Weaving and Dyeing museum. This was neat, as there was a lot of very old tapestries and pieces of clothing here. However, after a while, you have a hard time distinguishing one 15th century robe from another. And since all of the signs are in Japanese, all we could do was admire. Most everything could have been loin-cloths for all I would have known.

Next was the Snow Crystal Museum. You see, Asahikawa gets dozens of feet of snow during the winter season, so they have a museum dedicated to their snow. Strange. Some of the pictures/videos were really pretty, and I was fascinated by their "Ice Hall", and would have loved to read more, in English, about how the ice shape changes based on humidity and temperature, and the concert hall was absolutely beautiful. But let's face it: it's snow. We've all seen it, we all get it . . . let's move on.

Next was the Folk Art Museum. This was all modern weaving, and it was all very beatiful, but it was just one big advertisement for their expansive gift shop selling hand-woven clothing and accessories in the same patterns costing as much as several thousand dollars. Yikes.

After a quick lunch at a museum restaurant (I had some egg and rice thingy), we saw the city museum. It reminded me a lot of the museum under the Arch. Taxidermy, flora and fauna, historical dwellings . . . . it would have been much more interesting if I could have understood the signs.

Well, after this, we moved on to the Otokoyama Sake (pronounced sah-kay) Brewery Museum. This, again, would have been much better with a guided tour. As it was, there wasn't that much to see, and what we did see, I couldn't understand the signs. Do you notice a pattern here? If you don't understand the language, museums that don't have art are of limited use to a foreigner. We did get to try several kinds of sake, though. Not that I ever liked wine. They even had this super-sweet stuff, and it still was just not good to me. I guess it's something I should leave for my parents.

After all of this, we sat around in the computer lab talking with the Chinese students. This was awesome. We're friends now, and I really look forward to talking to them again. Hopefully, I will have a chance to share some Good News with them. They think I'm very shy. Heh, just wait until they let me talk about Jesus . . .

That night, we had another Hippo meeting. This one was smaller, with no food. Really, it was boring beyond imagination. I know parents love getting out of the house when they have small children, but the running, screaming children, all over the room, made an event that was already confusing and hard to understand even more frustrating for me (I can only imagine how the others handle it). Oh well.

I'm looking forward to this weekend. I have plans to be social with my fellow Americans and the Chinese girls, plus my host family is taking me to a winery in the area (Mom and Dad, here come your souvenirs!). This looks like it will be a good weekend. Just pray for me . . . it's typhoon season here.

Missing you all dearly! Send me email, and your address if you want a postcard!


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Japanese Adventure I

Hello from Japan everyone!

If you're reading this, then you must be interested in my exploits here in Asahikawa. I hope to be putting up regular posts regarding my happenings and going-ons. I've been here about 6 days so far, so I'll try to do a brief catch-up, but future postings should be more in-depth.

Thursday was the departure day. I haven't flown in a few years, so I thought I was going to die on takeoff from St. Louis to Chicago. After that, I was fine. However, the 12 hour flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo was torturous. My head was pounding from the air pressure, I couldn't get comfortable (or tired) enough to sleep, and they played the same movies/television shows on the monitors over and over and over. Buying a gameboy would have been a marvelous idea (I read a lot, but lighting was rarely good).

Airport security and what not was not bad, but Japan is a strange place. I'm not used to not understanding the people and the language. Anyhow, there was the Busride to Haneda and the flight to Asahikawa, but I slept through nearly all of that. My host family picked me up, and it was rather awkward working through our language barriers, but we arrived at their apartment about 8PM Friday and I went to sleep almost immediately.

Life is an adventure. My host father and his three children (two boys and a girl) rode bikes with me to the university, so that I would know the way. We then went to a science/nature center, which would have been very interesting if I could have understood any of the exhibits.

In the afternoon, I went with the "Hippo Family Club" (think Rotary Club) to the zoo here. St. Louis zoo is much better, but this was neat all the same. They have a roller coaster at their zoo. Weird. Even stranger, those of us americans became surrounded by a group of high school girls fascinated by us, trying to speak the very little english they knew with us. It was bizarre. I don't think westerners come around these parts very often. In the bigger cities on the main island, perhaps, but not here in Asahikawa.

And, I'm going to be around 8 and getting up around 5 or 6. My sleeping habits have not regulated yet, and I'm beginning to doubt whether they will anytime soon.

Sunday I didn't get to go to church, but I was taken to the home of someone from the Hippo club, before being taken to the Hippo Club Welcome Party. It was bizarre, and they fed me all day long. I thought I would explode. Two notes: 1) The Japanese love games, and their games are bizarre. 2) Nato . . . pickled plums . . . super salty, super gross. If ever offered, I would recommend against trying this.

Day one. Showed up at school early in an attempt to find a phone I could use to call home. That turned into a circus.

We had a tour of the campus (it makes ISU look unearthly beautiful . . . at least their dining center has good food) and were taken to a bank to change our money. Then we had our first Japanese lessons. The teacher used very little english, which made it all very frustrating. THAT was when I was hit with home-sickness really badly.

Nothing in the morning, but class again in the afternoon. I'm still confused as all get out by the language, and my teacher. It might be too much to learn in such a short time, but oh well. We had ceramics in the afternoon, which was frustrating. I was bad at art in grade school, and I'm still bad at it now. We made bells, so we shall see (or hear) how mine turn out after firing in the kiln.

After class, the other Americans and I went to downtown to explore the shopping area. It was fun, but frustrating. I can't buy anything fun like video games or DVDs, because I either cannot understand them, or "regional encoding" prevents my home player from playing it. I could buy a DVD player here, but how much trouble would that be? Ridiculous!

Well, I'm sorry this is so short, but like I said, a lot has happened to simply type it all out at once. Future postings will contain more, I promise. If that's not enough, email me and you will get more. I'd love to hear from you!

Signing off for now. Stay tuned for more!

Your friend in Japan,