Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Years Eve.

Common Japanese wisdom has it that it will be good if I dream about a falcon tonight. It will be almost as good, (but not quite) if I dream about an eggplant. But I will set my goal for the top. It will be best if I can dream about Mount Fuji. I'm sure that the average Japanese person knows exactly how these three logically fit together but since I am a gaikokujin (foreigner) I haven't got a clue.
With my limited knowledge of the subconscious and what makes it tick, I don't have a clue how to get myself to dream about one thing or another, and I rarely remember my dreams anyway so how will I know?
But just in case it helps I've decided to imagine that the falcon has built a nest, right on the edge of the volcanic opening at the top of Mount Fuji (I hope it doesn't erupt anytime soon) and is mistakenly sitting on the eggplant waiting for it to hatch. Is that logical or what!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Nengajo Straw.

In Japan as well as many other places in the world, it will soon be the new year.

As is customary in Japan we have been engaging in the cultural obligation of sending Nengajos (New Years Cards). Similar in procedure to the sending of Christmas Cards, these cards are basically a postcard with a picture or graphic of some sort on one side, address, postage and a lucky serial number on the other.
In the days leading up to Christmas it was my pleasure to design the graphic side of the Nengajo, and subsequently Aukje brought the computer file to a printing shop for publication. I was tickled by my design thinking it to be pretty good, (though perhaps an improvement here and there was warranted). Nevertheless it was publishable.

A few days later...
Aukje got off the phone with the printing place who refused to print the cards because the graphic was not exactly the right size.
This caused me an unjustifiable amount of frustration. An almost physical reaction at the audacity of the printshop. What is wrong with these people? Next I will be refused from entering the country because I don't look EXACTLY like my passport or I will be told I can't pay a bill at the bank because my signature isn't EXACTLY the same as before.
After I dealt with the frustration, (without throwing anything) we put together an emergency contingency plan, and ran out to Yodobashi the next morning to pick up a colour printer cartridge for out printer. We purchased blank inkjet nengajos as well, and I spent several hours babysitting the printer, alternatively massaging it and strong arming it to spit out each Nengajo.
In the end we were successful, (not without some stress) but we managed to get the bulk of them in the mail by about 11pm, with just a few (the ones I could not coerce the printer in to spitting out properly)to finish off.

The moral of the story you ask? Well I suppose (ala Christmas Cards) next year we'll start earlier.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Snow is falling!

This morning Aukje and I were standing on our tippy-toes, two Canadians longingly peeking out the very top of our fogged windows to peer through the clear hole. A feeling of quiet excitement had overcome us. The soft fluffy flakes were swirling and dancing; getting caught in slipstreams and updrafts caused by the buildings, streets and allyways of an urban landscape. The reminiscent peace and calm that I recall from my childhood in rural Canada, and the blanket like qualities that a snowfall has bring to mind warm thoughts of Christmas, family, home and snowball fights with my little brother Paul.

Oh how I long for my old home at times like this.

As soon as the stores opened Aukje and I seized the oppourtunity and ventured out into the blizzard. The snow was great packing snow, and I took the oppourtunity to make a beauty of a snowball and lovingly toss it at my wife, (I didn't hold back in the wind up though). Shockingly she used her umbrella as a sheild and said snowball simply trampolined off the umbrella and broke on the ground. This was outside of my realm of experience. I was taken aback! Nobody uses umbrellas when it snows in Canada, it would be ludicrous, but in Japan nobody would be caught in the snow without one. It is completely normal here! This is outrageous for someone who has not only braved but thoroughly enjoyed snowstorms of all shapes and sizes since childhood.
In any case I will have to rehash my snowball warfare theory and add this new wrinkle for future potential snowball altercations in the land of the rising sun. Speaking of which, by the time we made our way back home it had come out and melted the winter wonderland.
Easy come easy go.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Joys of Language Learning

These days whenever I hear my name followed by a torrent of Japanese, it is exactly like a test you didn't study for. You react like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Your eyes widen, you perk up your ears as if you can willfully make them bigger, and catch more tender morsels of language. All you hear amongst the barrage are the words you have learned so far, "you" "office" "going" "tomorrow", and you come up with the most likely scenario involving those words. As an example with the words above you postulate that someone wants you to go to the office tomorrow, and of course the prudent thing to do is to show up at the office tomorrow and see what transpires form there. However, half the time your speculation hinges on a key word such as "don't" and you end up in places you shouldn't or don't have to go to.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas at Asahi Plaza.

This evening we had a Christams party at my English Class. Pictured here are my students, just finishing opening the gifts we brought with us for our 500 yen gift exchange. The food was delicious, but conversation was almost exclusively in Japanese with the odd word translated for my benefit. The few words that I got were interesting indeed. They inluded diapers, colon cancer, Alzheimer's (which is pretty much the same in both languages) and sex change. I'm not sure if I'm disappointed I didn't understand the conversation, or releived.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A moment in time.

Henri Nouwen got me thinking about mountaintop experiences. My wife and I read a daily devotional in the morning at breakfast and in Mr Nouwen's Bread for the Journey, he has been writing about the fullness of time and mountaintop experiences over the last few days.

After reading them though, I feel he has missed out on a lot of what he is trying to get at. What he misses are a kind of poignant life moments, moments when you get a small taste of God's grace. Or perhaps another way of putting it, moments that stand still, or moments that are much bigger and more full of life than most moments are. It is a difficult thing to get at in words. It is difficult to describe and difficult to explain to someone what exactly you are talking about. I remember GCRC's former senior pastor Rev. Mark Verbruggen preaching a sermon about this, (although the content as long slipped from my memory). I have grown to enjoy the moments I am trying to describe, moments that drip with enjoyment, that ooze with life and I try to be on the lookout for them. I had one such moment today.
I was part of a fund raising effort with the Osaka YMCA (where I go to school to learn how to read, write and talk). We were raising yen for the summer programs they have for children. A group of us went to a nearby busy train station and stood out front (adjacent to the crosswalk) (and yet mostly out of the way). We did some carolling and and the Japanese amongst us called out to the passersby letting them know who we were, what we were doing, and like kinds of things. The end of each little short monologue was punctuated with Onegaishimasu and more polite variations thereof (which is laden with a "I beg you, implore you, please from the bottom of my heart" meaning). My part as well as singing Christmas songs (in Japanese) was to echo the Onegaishimasu along with everyone else in the group after each spiel.
As we were doing this in a bitter windy city sort of cold, we were singing Angels We Have Heard on High (the one that goes gloooooooooooooooooria in excelsis deo). I looked upward, across the intersection was a tall building with a glass facade, that reflected the beautiful blue sky and white puffy clouds. If I held my book up enough it caught the sunlight in the time before the sun disappeared around the corner of the building behind us. We carollers were huddled together for a little extra warmth. Every change of the lights another assortment of people came by. As I looked up I felt small, almost as if I could see myself from above, almost as if I could see the whole situation from a third person's perspective, and yet could still be me. The moment stood still, it tasted very sweet and for me it was filled with liveliness. I could almost touch it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm Hungry Again

Lately I have been having cravings for big hamburgers or pizza or a nice juicy steak. I think it has to do with the length of time I have been away from Canada, the land of those big delectable fine meat products.

Today for supper I whipped up a wonderful approximation of a hamburger on a homemade slice of bread. It was satisfying!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Warming up.

We've been practicing Christmas Carols in Japanese for the last few weeks. Here we are warming up just before the service. Today we participated in a Christmas worship service for all the students of YMCA Japanese School. We sang four Christmas hymns all together and ended with Silent Night, Holy Night. We sang two of them ourselves and led the rest of the people with the other two. The message was given in Japanese by a former student of YMCA language school, and we read Luke 2:1-20 in Korean, English, Chinese (probably Mandarin) and of course Japanese. 90% of the students speak one of those languages fluently. Tanoshikatta. (It was fun.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It does.

Getting your homework or paper all marked up in red, REALLY SUCKS !!!

Monday, December 05, 2005

It Speaks for Itself.

A Japanese friend of ours borrowed a New Yorker from the local library and was highly amused by this cartoon. She naturally thought that I would also find this funny. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Kaisu card caper.

We were in a great hurry, Aukje and I. We were on our way to visit Hope Chapel, a small bilingual church in Namba. We had to transfer subway trains at Umeda Station, the largest and busiest in Osaka. We were entering at one of dozens of automated ticket taking gates in the midst of the chaos. We hit that bad boy at great pace. In a whirlwind of motion Aukje deftly slipped her Kaisu Card in the machine and rushed through. I followed closely on her heels, and almost as deftly (but not quite) attempted to slip my own Kaisu Card in the insatiable machine. As it turned out the machine was actually (unbelievably) momentarily satiated, it was not yet finished processing Aukje's card. However, in the microseconds in which this whole event was taking place this was lost on me. As I continued to stride through the gate I fed my Kaisu Card to the machine. The Kaisu Card started to bend slightly under the opposing forces of my digits and the reluctant ticket taker. As the nanoseconds clicked by my Kaisu Card gained more and more kinetic energy. The innocent little Kaisu Card, bent like a spring, a pawn in the battle of wills 'tween this machine and I, could take no more. It leapt high in the air, its stored kinetic energy propelling it upward and forward, just out of reach of my desperate lunging fingers. It touched down beyond the gate which in the aftermath of the battle was flashing and making warning sorts of woop woop noises, which in any language can be understood. I stretched as far as I could and managed to get the tips of my fingers on my Kaisu Card. I backed up and under the tutelage of a ticket taking human being successfully managed to run my card through the machine. The machine stopped its complaining at this point and allowed me to proceed. I lost that battle of the wills, but the war is not over yet. I am confident I will triumph!