Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Month And Counting....

So here we are at the end of February and I have less than a month to go before my journey home. I have mixed feelings about leaving Japan to be honest. I know it is the right decision to make for not only myself, but more importantly my family. However, we are leaving behind some good people and wonderful memories.

The issue that is at the forefront of my mind right now is leaving Shoko & Luka behind for a month while I am trying to get things on track before their arrival. I know it is something I need to do and it has to be done, but the thought of not seeing them is heart wrenching. I think about it daily and sometimes I get overwhelmed with feelings of sadness. I know it is only a short time, but I feel like I will be missing out on a lot with Luka. A lot can/will happen in a month with a child that is only 1 1/2 years old. Also, I want to be there for Shoko to give her a break and support her. Her mom has been great, but they count on me to do a lot so when I am not there it will make things more difficult. So if you could be praying for all of us that would be great. I just need to have the peace and comfort knowing all will be fine and that I will see them soon enough. I think maybe once I am on the plane it will get easier since from that point on it will be a count down to see them again. That is at least what I'm telling myself to get through this

I have met some wonderful teachers this past year that now I consider friends. They have been great in helping me learn the ropes of the job and getting me to where I am at today. I had NO idea what I was doing in April and probably still don't, but at least now I can fake it. ;) I can write for days about teaching here so let me just say that it has been a wonderful and life changing experience for sure. My students have been so amazing and such true delights. The Japanese don't know how good they have it as far as behavior and respect go in the classroom. There are problems as well, but there are problems with American students. There is no perfect way to get all kids to do the right thing. However, here the kids in general have a real sweetness and childlike quality that our kids of the same age back in America are lacking.

The family Payne has met one really great couple here. They have a son the same age as Luka and they have been pretty much growing up together since we got here. Kids this age don't really play with one another yet, but they do interact and that has been such fun to watch. Not only have our kids been good pals we have grown to be great friends with this couple. I have spent numerous days over the last year hanging out with him. We are really totally two different people, but share a common bond of both being Americans, having sons the same age, married to Japanese women and living in Japan as a Gaijin. So a lot of our talks come from these common issues. It has been a real blast getting to know him and his wife and their son. Shoko and his wife get a long smashing as well so that has been great. We all do a lot together or sometimes he and I just have guy guys night out. ;) These times I will miss for sure.

I have two ALT brothers in arms here as well. Though family commitments usually kept us from getting together more than I would have liked they have been a big part of my life this year. One is a great guy from New York and he is a very honest and upfront fella. He was a little hesitant to meet me. He has told me this based on my overtly Christan views and lifestyle. However, we have become friends have talked a lot. Mostly about the two topics you should NEVER talk about with anyone. Kitakyushu with him was one of my favorite times here. Thank you for that! He is not one to mince words and is a straight shooter and has always shown me respect even if he and I disagree with one another. The other cool cat is a man from Fiji. I had never met a Fijian before and when I saw his name the first time on my list of fellow ALTs in this area I thought he was a woman. LOL Once I saw this bloke a woman he is NOT. This guy is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. He has been an amazing ambassador for his people and his country. Our families went to church a few times and they are Methodists so that automatically makes them super groovy in my book. Out of all the people I have met here I feel a close kinship with him and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that he and his wife are Christians and we look at things in a way different as folks that are not. It is a common bond that is shared no matter what your race or nationality. You have a common thread in each others life and that is our Saviour. He and I have talked a lot. I wish I would have had more time with both guys and their families, but this is the life of married man who is an ALT in Japan. Work a lot with not much money and spend what time you have left in the day with your loved ones.

I think one can not talk about Japan and not mention the food. So many people are scared of food which they cant recognize or tell what it is that they are looking at. You just have to throw caution into the wind and dive right in. This is the only way that you can really experience anything food related. The most common thing people think is that Japanese food is the same as Chinese. This is 100% FALSE. There is no real similarities other than white rice. here is a link so you can see what I am talking about. I LOVE Japanese food there are very few things that I don't like. It seems the stuff that I don't like as a whole is in step with many Japanese people as well. and are the biggest offenders to my pallet. I CAN eat it, but would rather not if given the opportunity to decline it. I would if anything strongly encourage all people give authentic Japanese cuisine a real chance. You will I think be really surprised by the great food you will find here or in America. I have been coming to Japan since 1998 and it took me a little time to jump in head first, but once I made the choice to do so it was one the best decisions food wise I have ever made.

This is long enough I suppose. I will be probably do a part two in the coming days/week. I have a few more things to talk about. However, I think this is a good stopping point and I will give your eyes and brain a rest. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think of this post and my other posts. Thanks to everyone who takes a gander at this blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Amakusa, Kumamoto Finding Hidden Christians

This past Sunday I went on an AMAZING adventure with Shoko's uncle (Hamamura-san). He has the exact same interest in Japanese history as I do and especially the time when Christianity was first introduced to Japan and then the corresponding years that it was driven underground by the Tokugawa regime. I will post links to the places I visited and the people I am talking about if you want to learn more about it.

So we drove from Ogori, Fukuoka to Amakusa, Kumamoto. It is a beautiful drive along the sea. People think that since I'm on an island that I see the ocean and sea everyday. This is not at all the case as I rarely see either to be honest. It was suppose to rain with a 90% chance and most of the stuff we wanted to do was going to be outside aside from going to museums along the way. Hamamura-san is not a Christian though he is very interested in it and so I was excited to have this chance to be used by God possibly to share my faith with him and not just that, but build a solid friendship over a common interest. So I prayed to God for it to not rain and that we could enjoy the trip and sightseeing together rain free so we never had to have the feeling of being rushed or hurried. Guess what it NEVER rained the entire time until the end of the trip just a little as we begin to look for a place for dinner.

We first arrive at Amakusa Christian Museum. We watched two different films one of them was presented in 3D. I kid you not. They have Christians running around dying and screaming in 3D for your viewing pleasure..... After these two videos you can go on your way and learn about the life of Japanese Christians in Amakusa starting in the 1500's through the 1600's. You learn about the many different people that brought Christianity to Amakusa both non-Japanese and Japanese. About how many of the Daimyo converted to Christianity and in the process their familes and their samurai also converted.

After this we headed for Amakusa Collgio Museum. There they have a replica of the Gutenberg Printing Press and they showed us how it was used to print many Christian books and literature in general. It was kind of a let down to be honest everything they had there was fake and the tour was mostly a guy just talking about the press and a few musical interments that were also The guide did talk a lot about the "Black Ships" the sailed in to the Japanese water carrying the first foreigners and they had replicas of those ships as well. It was a good history lesson. Supposedly Amakusa was the only place outside of Europe that had the Gutenberg Printing Press because it was brought by the missionaries. So that was a cool tidbit of history.

We then went to this little city hall type of place that was not on any tourist info that I had that Hamamura-san knew about. It was not really a popular site, but they had some of the most interesting artifacts from this time period. The had paintings and battle flags. Maps of the time, books, pottery, weapons and even a samurai outfit. It had a little of everything in this oversized room. It was really breathtaking to see all of these real items that were used in secret so that these people could carry on their faith without exposing themselves or loved ones. It was one of the highlights of the trip and it was FREE to look around.

This is around lunch time so we decided get some grub at "Honey" which is like a Japanese version of Denny's. We talk about our trip thus far and then break it down on what we have enjoyed and learned. Then we talked about our next plan of action.

We decided to hit up Amakusa Rosario Hall. Now this place is really cool, but they had ZERO English info. So I had to rely on Hamamura-san for all of the information. They had a TON of artifacts that were used by the Christians in hiding during this time period. They had an exhibit where you could see a hidden room in a Christian's house where they would hide to pray and worship God. It was like something out of Anne Frank. Expect it happen 400 years earlier. They had these Buddhist status that looked like Buddha, but in fact were Mary holding baby Jesus. Also, incense holders for Buddhist/Shinto practices, but had crosses carved in them on their backsides so no one would know that they were offering up their prayers to Jesus. Just a lot of handmade crosses and Christian images that have been found or kept through the years. It was the most interesting place we visited by far.

To close out our wonderful trip we decided to go visit two old churches that reside almost side by side on two different small islands. They both have a lot of history dating back to the start of the early 1900's. The first one we headed to was Sakitsu Cathedral a gothic church that was built by Father Harb in 1934 and looks the same as it did when they first built it. After that we visited Oe Cathedral. This church has a deeper history. The church was first built after the ban on Christianity was lifted. The church that stands there today was built by a French priest named Father Garnier in 1933 with his OWN money. His entire life was doing missionary work and he died here during this work for our Lord. He is buried right next to the church that he served for all those years. The really cool thing about both of these houses of worship is that they have Japanese versions of graveyards. You usually see huge plots of land with these stone markers that are used for Buddhist/Shinto believers when they die and their loved ones put their ashes in these large stone tombs. However, I have never seen a Christian one before let alone spread out all over, but both of these churches had them and not just some little building where they stored the Christian folks that died ashes, but full on graves. It was really a sight to behold. If you come to Japan sometime you will understand my awe and amazement in seeing this with my own eyes. It is SUPER rare. I was greatly moved. The last thought here I wanted to say that these two churches are still being used today. They are still places where people can come and dwell and learn about our shared faith. It is good to see this in a country that has long hated, feared, and despised Christians. There is so much work to be done, but it is good that it can now be done in a safe and powerful way.

After this we headed home, but we had to stop for some famous Kumamoto food. So we went to a local restaurant that specialized in this region of Japan's food. Octopus, sweet paste, lotus root, salted fish, & raw horse.

It was a really remarkable day for me. It is something I will not forget and I will always cherish. I can't thank Hamamura-san enough for taking me on this journey and I hope that God used me in some small way to show him the truth, life, & love of Jesus Christ.