Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012

I got this new tie in the mail. Thank you.

I can tell you right now that my email is going to be much less exciting than your`s was. I really really really loved the pictures from your vacation. It all looks really fun. I didn`t recognize a single picture of California Adventure. It looks like a completely different place. It looks like everybody enjoyed themselves and had a really good time. I`m jealous.

The weather has dried out now and isn`t too bad. It`s sunny and hot outside, but not too humid. Earlier in the week it was unbearable. Probably the most miserable weather of my mission so far. The hottest place we ever went was our own apartment. We were drenched in sweat at 9:00 at night during planning. I loved this apartment in the winter. It`s nice clean and pretty big, but for some reason it really soaks up the humidity and gets really murky and hot. Plus, there`s only one air conditioner in the tatami room and the rest of the place you have to drag the electric fan around or use a sensu.

It will not stop raining. And yeah, we had some typhoons. All of the rivers are over flowing. No flooding though. I just keep thinking of that one Invader Zim episode where Zim throws an earth-sized water balloon at Dib and Dib ends the episode by saying "...the wetening." I am so wet, everyday.

We`ve been picking up garbage lately. It`s actually kind of fun. It`s amazing how much you can find. The old people love you for it

We had district meeting in Himeji this week. The district has been all wanting to meet in Himeji since it`s been closed for a year so naturally, none of them have been before. I kept saying it was a bad idea because the church is really far from the eki and I had no idea how the buses work. Well we ended up riding a bus to the middle of the mountains, had to walk to a hospital and call a taxi. That was a mess, but actually a really fun adventure. We were laughing the whole way. The really cool news was that the Himeji elders are teaching F san. Do you remember F san? I found her nearly a year ago, her husband had just died. We actually never had chance to have a ちゃんとした (formal) lesson with her so I figured that when the area closed, there was no hope for her. Apparently she`s really in good shape, has read from the Book of Mormon and believes it`s true and as of yesterday has a baptismal date. That was really exciting to hear.

This is a shrine in Sakoshi that was actually very fascinating. It was a nice hike and had lots of artifacts and history in it.

From there I went on a 交換 (exchange) with Wong 長老, the Hawaiian in Kakogawa for the second time. He`s grown so much. I was really impressed with how much he had improved in just a transfer. It was a lot of fun. We visited a Nigerian member named whose family is still unbaptized. I LOVE Nigerians. I`ve dealt with them here and there on my mission but wish I could`ve been around them more. I named a couple Nigerian members from my former areas, and he said he knew them both. He said "I know every black man from Osaka to Nagoya. Dey probably stey et mai house before." He was so smiley and friendly, I felt like I was floating on a cloud for the rest of the night. That next morning (still in Kakogawa) we taught a less-active member. He was a single man. He was saying that he can`t come to church because of his work and he can`t ask for Sundays off because that is the grocery stores` busiest day. Apparently the elders gave him a reading assignment in the Book of Mormon in their last visit. He had read it. We asked what he had learned from it. He said "悔い改めないとあかん” ("I need to repent.") which was a perfect springboard into why we go to church (to partake of the Sacrament). As soon as he understood the doctrine of the sacrament he said ”日曜日に休む希望を出すは!” ("I'm going to request Sunday's off.") It was really cool to see how quickly he changed his mind. "True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behaviors."

These shoes are dead.

Have you ever seen my bike? Well, this is what it looks like. It`s on its last legs. I really hope that it will make it to the end.

Yesterday was stake conference. It was actually an all-Japan conference and Sister Wixom (primary general presidency), Elder Chey (seventy, former member of the Asia North area presidency), Elder Oaks, and President Uchtdorf spoke by live satellite broadcast. It was really cool. I had no idea that the meeting was going to be that. My companion and the district leader said they were going to the English room and asked if I wanted to come. I thought, "Why would I do that?" and stayed with the other Japanese missionaries. Then when the projector screen rolled down, I realized why they left. I wish I could`ve watched it in English; it`s always better to hear untranslated material, however it was fun to be amongst all the members. It was very interesting to be sitting with them and just feel the atmosphere. These talks were directed at them and addressed issues specific to them and their portion of the vineyard. There was a lot of talk about families and being active in the gospel, not just the church (quoted Elder Hallstrom`s General Conference talk). They begged families to pray together and have Family Home Evening. There was a lot of talk about re-activation, especially young priesthood holders.  They talked about strengthening the young men. They also talked about reaching out to the rescue with love and not being judgemental. President Uchtdorf very powerfully said that the Law of Tithing is not a law about money but a law of faith and that all commandments are given to us by a Heavenly Father who loves us and wants us to return to his presence. He ended with a plea not to be ashamed of faith and membership in the church. It was a really good experience.

A little while ago at a branch activity, a member in a wheelchair asked me to take tons of pictures of flowers so that she could draw them later. I`m fascinated by flowers now.

As always, I got to see people from former areas at the stake conference. That`s always fun. There was a sister there that served a mission in Hawaii and was learning English in the MTC when I was there.

I guess that`s all for this week. Hope everything is well at home!

June 18, 2012

I was looking in the mirror one day and thought "I look different. I look really old." I took a picture of myself just to see if my head was messing with me. What do you think? I feel like I just look...really old.
We`ve started to teach one of our very active member's mother again. We tried when I first got here but she wasn`t budging. We had a lesson scheduled with her on Tuesday but weren`t able to teach it because no member showed up. We taught her on Saturday after an activity and it sounds like she`d like to get baptized but due to some family contacts, she can`t do it until April.
Have I mentioned how hot and humid it`s gotten? We`re dying. There`s only an air conditioner in the tatami room which is very isolated from the rest of the apartment. I`m used to being sticky all day now.
The tanbo`s (rice fields) are now planted and flooded and it`s more rainy and humid than you can possibly imagine.

It`s rained so much that some of the moats and rivers are overflowing. This swan house in the castle moat flooded.

This transfer, Himeji, the area I closed nearly a year ago, opened. We had district meeting and it was nice having the Himeji elders there so the district has six members rather than a lonely four. I got to talk to them about their area and give some advice. It`s a transfer 8 missionary and a brand new missionary. The brand new missionary is Elder Torres from Brazil. He lived in Provo for a while and I think his English is better than mine. It`s kind of scary. The district meeting asked him to share his testimony to close the meeting. He stood up, was very timid, and a little bit nervous but gave such a great testimony. I can`t even remember what he said, but I remember what it felt like. We all know what that first week in the field is like. You have all of this fire and desire that you built up in the MTC and then you get here and feel helpless. It was so beautiful to hear his sincere and pure testimony. He got emotional. I don`t think he`ll realize how much I needed to hear his testimony.
The train on the way back from district meeting was delayed over an hour. The screens said it was a "human damage accident." I swear, every time I go to Kakogawa somebody jumps in front of the train and I`m late getting home.
This is what it looks like coming out of the mountain tunnel and into Ako on a train. (Note: Click here to watch the video if you're reading this in email.)
We met at a park with a really nice 16 year old named Hayaka. I love teaching kids. My heart has been broken too many times by high school students and their parents that don`t give them permission. He was very pure, but very reluctant to pray. We`ll see if we can meet with him again.
Plus, this guy met us too. He`s from Nishinomiya and was in town for just a second on work. He ran into us and basically thought we were the coolest thing ever. It was like an 8 year old girl meeting Justin Bieber.
We made an appointment earlier in the week with an older man. We went to his house and he said he only had 10 minutes. We sat down and I asked if he believed that God exists and he said he knows that he doesn`t because he lived through World War II. I felt so sorry for him as he described his reasons in depth. I can`t imagine what it`s like to hold on to that kind of burden and grudge for so long. We testified, but left smiling without stepping on his toes. He was a very nice man. He invited us over because he was so impressed that young people would do what we`re doing. His wife came home right after we got there and she kept saying to him "We don`t believe in God, but these two do; they couldn`t do what they`re doing this job if they didn`t." She was very sweet and gave us some bread on our way out. We`re not necessarily busy, so we`re thinking about maybe going and listening to him talk about his life and see if maybe it will open his heart a bit.
This is the Chikusagawa. Really big river that runs right through the middle of the city.
A guy walked into the church while we were teaching a new convert. Schramm 長老 had called him the night before and he said he could possibly come to church in a couple weeks, but he walked in because he saw our bikes. He investigated the church a few years ago and was recently baptized into the Lutheran church in April. He feels great about his baptism but can`t stand all of the old people at the Lutheran church because they make him feel like he doesn`t know anything. Anyway, he loved the missionaries that originally taught him and seems to like us. He said he wants to hear more from us but when we asked how he was feeling, he felt like he was sinning. He said he had pledged allegiance to the Lutheran church when he was baptized and doesn`t want to break that promise. We told him the only way to get his answer is to pray. He prayed right then and said he would continue to do so. I think we`ll be seeing more of him.
I`m extremely jealous of what you`re doing. Send me pictures and a full report. I can`t believe how many Disneyland reports I`ve gotten on my mission. It`s funny, yesterday in Sacrament meeting, 内海姉妹 was carrying something in a Tokyo DisneySea bag and I asked if she`d been before. She said that someone gave her the bag and that she hadn`t and then asked why I noticed it so fast. I told her about our family and our Disney traditions and she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. I got on to Christmas stockings, artwork, etc. She was telling everyone about me after church. It was funny.
Here's the latest Tokyo Disney Resort ads. They all changed to this. I guess DisneySea is getting Toy Story Mania.

Have fun. I`m excited to hear about it next week!

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012

Sounds like things are going well at home. I wish I could be there for the summer season. I`m sure everyone is having fun. It sounds really strange that Randy is out of high school and being a grown up now.
I`m really surprised that you got that shirt already (Editor's note: a thoughtful Father's Day present). EMS is really fast and not too expensive I guess. That was the biggest they had. I suppose it can be a collector`s item or you can wear it with a jacket on top or something. I thought it was a really classic design. Uniqlo has such great merchandise.
So I guess that means the Wirthlin`s are moving? That`s too bad. I like them. I love New York too. I saw a concert yesterday that our branch president was in and it made me really homesick for the theater. I also love Mr. Oram.
I`m excited to go shopping at Sage Market. That might be the only place that I`m able to shop when I get home.
These cleanliness signs are everywhere in all kinds of variety. They`re funny. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Well, we spent the first week here just getting Elder Singleton ready to transfer. He`s in Ibaraki, my old area. On Monday we went to the takoyaki stand that we`ve been pulling weeds at. The husband was yelling at the wife, profusely. He`d turn to us and be really nice and friendly, even asked us about the church, and then would turn back to her and yell at her like she was an animal while she, dead-silent, ground her fingers to dust wiping every surface in that tiny stand looking like she was on the verge of tears. Apparently she`d made some kind of mistake with some of the karage meat and he was extremely upset about it. He kept saying なんで言わなきゃあかんの?!男性が言うたし!上や!(Why do I have to tell you? The man has spoken!) There are some times that Japanese culture makes me really really upset. There are still lots and lots of married men here that believe they`ve acquired a slave.
We went to the post office to send a couple things home on Tuesday (those shirts). Elder Singleton had a big heavy package of stuff that couldn`t fit in his luggage, plus a really long sword umbrella he wanted to send home but we weren`t sure exactly how. We usually go to the big main city post office but there`s a really, really mean guy there that always interrogates us anytime we send something so we walked out to a smaller, local one. There, we met an angel who redeemed any fault I saw with Japanese culture the day before. She was as kind as could possibly be. It was difficult for her to handle the heavy package, plus Elder Singleton had never sent a package so she had me "translate" (he mostly understood, just didn`t know what he wanted to do) and said she was so embarrassed that she couldn`t speak English. It took a while for her to figure out his package, she had to go ask her manager some questions, etc. She came running back when she was finished with these two packets of tissues, took a big bow and apologized for taking so much time. Really, I thought it was totally normal time, no problems at all.
Anyway, as you can see, everything in Japan has a mascot. Even the postal service.
Then it got really funny. Elder Singleton took the big long sword umbrella (has a sword handle, looks like a sword when closed) and smacked it on the counter. She picked it up by the handle and asked us what it was. She giggled, ran to the back, got out measuring tape, made sure it wasn`t too long, which it wasn`t, and then ran back again with a box. She and another employee took a paper cuter and cut certain edges of it so that it would be long enough to wrap around the umbrella. It was pretty smart...amazing actually. Then the trick was getting both the cardboard and the umbrella on the little scale to weigh it for the price. It took about six tries, we were all laughing the whole time. She finally got it weighed, Elder Singleton paid the fee and then she said she`d take care of it and wrap it up. We didn`t have to pay for the box or tape it ourselves or anything. You could never expect service like that anywhere in the west.
Time hasn`t moved too fast. Elder Schramm and I aren`t in any sort of leadership positions. We`re just here. He`s on his last transfer but still has work left in him.
This is downtown Aioi. This is the exact same spot where I took the video of fireworks and the pictures of the massive crowds of people. As you can see, there`s usually nothing at all. That matsuri was crazy.

The branch president called us Friday morning and wanted to take us to two people`s homes. Both are older people that are acquaintances of members. They`re very kind people. They don`t seem terribly interested in the gospel. They were both Japanese, but I found it very interesting how completely different they were. The first family had a gorgeous, huge traditional Japanese house. The branch president just opened the door and called out. The daughter seemed excited to see him and ran to get her mom. I was standing behind him so all I could see was the 70 year old mother`s legs coming down a big staircase going straight up from the genkan in a big hurry. She hit the mat in front of the genkan in instant seiza and bowed with her hands on the floor while we stood there. That still is magic to me when people do it. They talked for a while about this and that, very friendly.
The next person we went to was a widow of 30 years and she was completely different. The first family spoke in very polite Japanese saying things like お久しぶりでございます ("It's been such a long time since you last visited us") and  五人兄弟?それはよろしいですね. ("Five sons? That's wonderful.") This other lady said (when we told her it had just started to rain) 雨ふりおんの?ほんま?!はやくはいとき!("It's rainin? Really? You better get outta here.") She sat us down and didn`t stop feeding us until we left. Mostly she just ran to the kitchen and back. When there was left over she said きみがお腹すいとんちゃう?(no way to translate)
It is very much 梅雨 (Monsoon Season) again. Friday it rained morning until we went to bed and it was hot and humid the whole time. It`s funny, I was with Elder Schramm for this time last year. It`s been exactly a year. I remember writing about an experience I had in the rain in Shingu thinking "what`s the point?" I remembered that riding through the rain in front of Elder Schramm again on Friday. It felt really different. I`m not sure exactly what I`m doing. I`m not always sure why I`m here or what the Lord wants me to do, but faces and experiences from my past flashed through my mind. I saw some old companions that have returned home, I saw the MTC, I saw the Suezawas, I saw converts and investigators I`ve taught, I saw friends from before my mission. Christ has always told me he loves me through other people. I guess the rain in a very strange way reminded me of that.
I love Japanese sunsets.
Yesterday the branch president couldn`t come to church because he had a concert he`s been preparing for for about a year. We went to see it. He wanted us to buy tickets but his wife gave us tickets on our way out of the church so we had to go straight there. He made a big deal about how he`d put a big ad for the church in the program so I guess it was polite to show up and repay the favor. He was grateful. The concert featured an orchestra from Kobe. They played and the choir sang some requiem that was a bunch of movements and 45 minutes long. It was a concert for the 20th anniversary of the hall it was held in. It was a good experience. I haven`t just sat and been entertained in a long long time.
As always, please never be afraid to ask questions. I hope everything is going well at home. I hope those guppies start living. Ask an expert or something ;). Talk to you next week!