Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 28, 2012

Sunset in Ako
We rode our bikes to Aioi on Tuesday. Aioi is even smaller than Ako but it strangely has Shinkansen stopping in the eki (station). Have I written that before? We basically have to climb a mountain to get there. We found a way around it along the ocean that`s not quite as steep a climb, but still pretty rigorous. We go about once a week. We weren`t able to find anyone out there, but one lady did come up to us assuming that we were Christian and asked for the church`s information. She seemed very troubled. She said that she`s had problems with suicidal feelings and that her preacher at 日本キリス今教 (another Christian church) told her there`s no reason to fear death because God exists. I told her that God wants her to live and be happy and she said でしょう?あの牧師先生はおかしい。("That's right. I think that minister is strange.") She wouldn`t exchange contact information but hopefully she`ll show up sometime.
A guy who graduated from Tokyo Daigaku walked into 英会話 (English class) this week. He said he couldn`t speak English at all and wants to be able to speak it to his former classmates. He`s pretty much fluent though. He was very genuine and seemed impressed by our introduction of the Book of Mormon. We`ll see where he goes next week. I got his phone number.
A river we walk along near the castle.

Had district meeting on Friday. This was the first one I`ve ever organized. Next week I introduce the new training plan so I managed to escape this whole transfer only organizing one. :) I thought it went fine.
We had heard about the Peron Matsuri (Festival) in Aioi on Saturday but just decided not to go the night before because we weren`t sure what we`d do and didn`t really think it`d be that big of a deal or opportunity to 伝道 (proslyte). We planned to be near Ako eki (station) at 6 (I don`t know why, there`s never anyone there) and when we got there, there was a steady stream of young people in yutakas going in. When we looked to the platform, it was over-flowing with kids. It looked like they were going to fall off of the platform beacuse there simply wasn`t enough room. Elder Singleton and I looked at each other and both felt like we should go, so we jumped on a train right then and headed over.
It was absolutely madness. I`ve never seen anything even close to it. They were going to launch fireworks from a river once it got dark. We explored the area close to the station and there were people everywhere and all of your standard matsuri tents with takoyaki, ikayaki, okonomiyaki, catching guppies, card-drawing for video games, ice cream, skewered fruit, karage, etc. In fact, the owner of なにわ屋, the takoyaki stand we clean here in Ako every now and then had a stand set up in Aioi for the evening. We saw that the other side of the river looked like a sports arena. People were sitting on steps waiting for the fireworks to begin. We crossed the river to go see what the traffic was like on the other side and that`s when it got astonishing. The ENTIRE CITY was in Matsuri-mode. It was just a swarm of people and red lit-up tents for as long as you can see. It was especially astonishing because we`ve ridden these streets many times on our bikes and there`s usually nobody to be seen or heard. We visited the U family who own a restaurant out there. They were closing (the wife is still running the place while going through chemotherapy; the branch is doing a special fast for her next Sunday) and we ducked in to follow-up on a few of their friends they`re introducing the gospel to. We went back out during the fireworks and tried to kubari (street contact), but it was meaningless. We`d just get trampled if we stopped moving. We had to run back to catch the train in order to get back before nine. The fireworks, like all Japanese fireworks, were massive. Our ears were ringing when we got back. It was a good experience.

It was dark so these pictures of course didn`t turn out well, but maybe it can at least give you an idea of the scope. It was an endless sea of people and tents selling matsuri food.

If you're reading via email, click here to watch this video clip.  I`ve been to quite a few festivals, before and during my mission, but nothing even comes within a fraction of this thing. It never ended. I`ve never seen anything like it.

We`ve got only one more week left this transfer.
So was this midnight Randy incident on a weekend? (Randy's phone was turned off and within one hour all his friends thought he was hurt or in an accident.) I beg to differ on that being a good thing. You MUST draw lines in the sand with everyone in your life. If people are thinking you`re dead in one hour because your phone is turned off, you`re too connected and you are letting people demand too much of you. Give youself some one on one time. Everyone should be allowed peace and quiet and isolation for an hour if they need it. Heck, sometimes you need to disappear for a whole week to get a hold of your thoughts. In Randy`s case, you`re soon going to cut all of that communication off for two years. You have to start giving yourself that personal space right now or else you`re going to have withdrawls that drive you insane when you go off of it cold-turkey. There is definitely such a thing as too much digital communication. Be careful. Also, the fact that the term "girlfriend" is still being thrown around is making me sick. I`m warning you now, you`re in for more and more pain the longer you wait. Nobody is the exception. If a mission is really your priority, you need to do some social readjustment.
I agree so much about what you said about seminary. I`ve thought that so much on my mission. Davis High School students have a blind-fold on. I saw grown men and women sob in branch council over seminary. They were heart-broken over all of the troubles it caused for the students. It stressed the heck out of busy moms who woke up at 4:30 AM to teach, went to part-time jobs, and then worked on the next day`s lesson for the rest of the night...all with no time to spend with their families. Seminary is the gauntlet for Japanese saints. So many of them aren`t strong enough to make it through. Those that do are truly, truly saints. I don`t think most Davis High students could last one day in a Latter-day Saint Japanese high school student`s shoes.
 I thought all week about when I am going to come back to Japan. I am still 悩んでいる (thinking). I know I want to stay for at least three weeks and I need to do it before January, BUT I don`t want to miss Christmas, Thanksgiving, or the Disneyland trip. I suppose the only solution is to give up Halloween and my birthday in the states. I was looking forward to seeing the house on Halloween but I suppose it`s worth it to have sufficient time...maybe even a whole month. I honestly have no idea what to do. I don`t really want to think about it too much. I at least want to think about it until I can have an interview with President Zinke next transfer. Hopefully that`s enough time. Don`t feel like you can`t talk about any of this after-mission business. I know it needs to be sorted out practically, just give me some time here an there. I don`t have hours and hours to make decisions so the decision making process for my future is on slow-mo. Keep me updated on everything.
I guess this week went long, but please, keep asking questions. I never know what to write about.
Have a good week!

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012

We had district meeting as a zone and the zone leaders gave specialized-training. We do that every transfer. I don`t think I`ve ever seen a picture taken with a timer turn-out well on the first try and I find the misses oddly entertaining.

Congratulations on the job! Sounds like that will be a very interesting place to teach. I`ve always thought it would be fun to teach in that kind of an environment. There`s a few people on mormon.org that have similar jobs that seem very happy. I don`t know where this train of thought is going. Anyway, sounds very exciting!
I got the package. Man, that`s really fast. Thank you for the toiletries.
There isn`t a ton to report on this end. We went to Tatsuno this week. It`s the far east end of our area and too far to go by bike. Out of the three cities in the area (Ako-50,000, Aioi-30,000) Tatsuno is the most populated with 80,000, but most of it is up in the mountains, so it basically feels exactly the same as Ako. I think we`ll stay in Aioi and Ako for now. The church moved to Ako from Aioi 7 years ago and most of the members live there. We will probably begin to spend more time there since we`ve explored every last corner of Ako.
The Relief Society asked us to come to a picnic at an archaelogical site on Saturday. These are old Yayoi dwellings. They built these on the location where some artifacts were found.

The little boy running around is probably the best behaved 5 year old on earth. I think I sent a picture of him playing ping pong earlier. He is the branch president`s grandson.

There`s a park behind Ako castle that has a swan pool and a rabbit cage and a bunch of sports facilities. It`s really nice. We go there every now and then and there`s this guy who`s always feeding the rabbits and talks to us. He`s also walked into the church right before Eikaiwa just to say hello to us. I think he`s got some mental disablities, but he`s pretty hilarious. We walked over to the pond the other day. There was nobody to talk to so we decided to take a break and sit down on some benches. We had the feeling that someone would show up while we were sitting there and sure enough the rabbit-feeding guy showed up on his bike, calling out to the swans at the top of his lungs. He speaks to them like they`re human and it`s hilarious. He talked to us about 20 minutes about how they just do "warui koto bakkkkkkkkkashi" (lot's of bad things). He`s impossible to understand him, 80% of it is mumbling under his breath with a few "honnnma ni" `s ("really") thrown in. Of course we invited him to church, and it sounds like he`s got the invite many times.
I had an exchange in Kakogawa with Elder Wong from Hawaii. The Wong is very, very, very distantly Chinese...he`s 99.9% Hawaiian and hysterical. He`s on his 2nd transfer. He`s just so...Hawaiian. His trainer and him get along really well. He has all the potential in the world with his personality. I couldn`t stop laughing the whole time.
I feel like this is really brief. I`m not sure what else to report. I`m doing well.
As far as the travel deal, I like the idea. It feels like the more correct and practical way to do it. At the same time, it also breaks my heart not being able to go back to Kagawa ken with one of you two. If you don`t come, please promise that we will go back some day. The look in the Suezawa`s eyes alone will be worth it. Stay in touch with them, please.
Where is the Clegg`s cabin? That sounds like a lot of fun. I haven`t seen them for a long, long time.
Oh, I got a letter from Daniel Gemperline this week. Can you get me their address so I can send off my reply?
I think that`s about it. Sounds like great things are happening over there. Have a great week!

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14,2012

I guess we talked on the phone today so there`s not too much to say.
I feel like as the weather gets warmer, my body very volatily changes shape. My pants are all really loose. I bought a new pair of slacks and a new suit not too long ago. They were very Japanese and tight and stylish so I worried that they`d be too tight and possibly rip but now they`re loose. It`s really weird. My eating habits don`t change at all, but my weight does dramatically.
We had zone conference this week in Kobe. There are now sister missionaries bearing their final testimonies who came to the mission AFTER me. It`s very strange. This month`s training plan is all about focusing on our "One Message" (the Atonement) and how it applies to everything we teach. It`s a good focus and I feel like it`s been a good thing to study and learn and focus on this far in the month.
I think I sent a picture of this earlier. It`s a giant sunken ship playground that is at the always abandoned Seaside Park. It`s pretty big and impressive.

I think I wrote last week or two weeks ago or so about how we randomly ran into R 兄弟. We accidentally knocked on his door while we were housing this week too. He`s a great guy. It sounds like he`s been worked on a lot by the missionaries. He still has a very strong testimony, still reads his scriptures, still does all the right stuff except come to church. I`m not sure how much we`ll do with him, but it does seem like we`re just running into him again and again. He said he was playing some video game called Sky Rim when we came and said it`s really popular. I assume Randy and Jacob might know about it. He asked us to come back some time and read scriptures with him.
President Naganuma, the first counselor in the Kobe stake presidency visited the branch yesterday. He was in charge of the Outreach Program that we were put in charge of way back when I was in Kobe. We did it three times a week as an almost desperate reach to strengthen the young adults in the area and as a tool to make investigators comfortable in the church. It is completely canceled now, but I remember all of the huge sacrifices he made to keep that program running. He lives up in the Kita Rokko ward, on the other side of the mountain from Kobe, but he`d drive in almost every night we had it and bring some fresh pineapple or really expensive omiyage from somewhere in the country. He was the hardest person for me to understand in Japanese back then, I never said a word to him, just looked at him with probably a really puzzled face. It was really good to see him again, I could understand him and he said ロウ長老、久しぶり. I was shocked that he`s remembered me even though I was just a silent brand new missionary.
It was really fun to talk on the phone right now. I need to get more comfortable speaking Japanese in front of the both of you, it should be natural, but I was nervous for some reason. I know if I don`t speak it when I get home I will forget it and I`m not going to let that happen. The younger brothers also really, really, really need to learn. I know my pestering and nagging is probably obnoxious and you just shrug everytime I say it, but I am dead serious; you MUST learn this language. You will only know half of your potential as a human being until you do. You were born to speak this language. Please, please do it. Do everything in your power to learn it. You have a really good opportunity this summer and I will come home in Japanese-mode. If you want to talk to me, learn my language. :
The pictures in the email this week nearly threw me out of my chair from laughing. You would think those would get picked up by some popular website or something. How long does it take to draw those? Are people really not able to guess or are they just letting you draw to see what you come up with?
Hope everything is well at home. I`ll write next week!

Monday, May 7, 2012

May 7, 2012

Only in Japan can you see an old man riding a bike with his oxygen tank and groceries in the front basket.
Plus, here's one of  the most exciting things in Ako: a soba-eating muppet.
(Note, if you're reading this in email, click here to go to the website and watch this movie clip.)
It`s May now. I`ve now gone through two Golden Weeks in Japan. My last one was in Shingu, I think it`s really funny that my second was here in Ako. They were no very busy, small towns, even during Golden Week.
We 具善に (randomly) ran into one of the less-active members in the branch that just so happens to be from Italy. He has been kept busy by work and has spent the last month in Italy on vacation. He served his mission in England and speaks beautiful English with a British accent and also is about to take the infamously difficult Japanese proficiency test. I am just amazed at how many talented and fascinating people I`ve met on my mission. He, of course, talked to me in Japanese for a minute or so before asking where I was from and switching to English. I`m thought to be Japanese on first encounter about 90% of the time now. It`s a good and a bad thing at the same time. Anyway, he was really a great guy, I wish he could come to church. There`s only four priesthood holders attending.
I think I talked last week about how we talked about member-missionary work at church last week. Well, we visited one member who was nodding her head approvingly; U姉妹.  Anyway, she herself is going through chemotherapy. We walked into her restaurant and she was laying down in her with no bandana on her bald head. Her husband was laying down watching TV. She woke up and immediately started throwing food on the table. She didn`t realize that we were missionaries at first. It was pretty hilarious. Anyway, she committed to make an appointment for one of her friends with interest to meet with us. She`s awesome.
I had to go to Akashi this week to attend District Leader Council where the Zone Leaders give us the monthly training plan that we have to give to the district the next day. It`s such an elaborate system. Plus, after about my third day being district leader, they changed the nightly follow-up routine. Now one zone leader is responsible for following up on investigators, the other is responsible for the training plan and the missionaries well-being. This makes it so that they can go much more in-depth with both, but now it`s like I`m on the phone right until 10:30. I have to brush my teeth and change while I`m on the phone.
Anyway, the zone leaders after that then came back to Ako with us and 交換`d (exchanged) for the day. I was with Elder Nicholes for the day. He is hilarious. He`s pretty animated, the sisters think he`s a living Mickey Mouse. He`s also the first missionary I`ve met that knows the SNL Surprise Party skit really well, and that is a plus.
The next morning we had district meeting and introduced the training plan. It`s called "One Message" and is about the Restoration, the Atonement, and The Book of Mormon.  Anyway, it works, I like it.
I think I wrote that a guy came and wanted to be friends with us when we went to see the Sakura in Misaki a few weeks ago. Well, he invited us to his BBQ and we ended up going. It was a fun experience, but I'm not sure we'll gain any investigators from it. The guy we originally met is named Kazuto and he`s the one towards the middle with a baseball cap on.
I was really not sure whether we should go or not. We hadn`t really been able to talk to him much about the gospel when we first met him. We just told him why we are here and he was in love and wanted to play with us because we`re gaijin. Well, we decided to go since there would be quite a few people there....more than we could find walking around on the streets anyway. They had bought a ton of meat for us since they had already eaten (and we told them over and over again that we had just eaten lunch), and we went up to Misaki, the place where we originally met Kazuto. There was a group of about 12 people. They were all really friendly. Of course, all of the questions just naturally led to gospel discussions. It started with "why are you wearing shirts and ties and nametags?" and moved to "you`re not going to drink?" "you`ve never had alcohol?!" and so forth. They also wanted to know a lot about the places we are from. The questions eventually turned into "you don`t see movies?" "you don`t have a girlfriend?"
Of course, all of this was a good chance to testify and build relationships, but in the end, none of them were really interested at all, mostly just laughed at everything we said and kept feeding us meat. If I weren`t a missionary, I`d be jumping to hang out with them again, it was a blast, but they`re obviously not who we`re searching for. Maybe I`ll skype some of them when I get home...
The recent convert here M姉妹 bore her testimony yesterday and it was beautiful. Nobody prompted her, she just stood up on her own free will and she said that prayer changed her life. She`s able to wake up every day happy to be alive whereas she only thought about death before coming to church. It was very sweet, innocent, simple, and touching.
I figure things like this on the bulletein board might be fascinating. I really liked the picture of the board at our home ward that you sent me. I wish I had pictures like this for all of my areas now.
Well, I`ve written a ton. I don`t know what else to report on. Have a good week. I`ll talk to you on Sunday.