Patience is a virtue

You probably know this old saying:

Patience is a virtue,
Possess it if you can,
Seldom found in women and
Never in a man!

Well, patience is definitely what we have needed since we returned to Belgium at the end of February – and what we still need now.

The return went well enough with beautiful views of Mt Fuji from the air on the flight from Nagoya to Tokyo and a smooth onward flight to Brussels. The cabin crew on ANA were delightful and Olwen enjoyed practising her Japanese with them. At the end of the flight they gave us an airline postcard, with a personal message written on the back which we didn’t see until we got home. It was a small thing but I think they wanted to show some appreciation for Olwen making the effort to speak with them in their own language.

Then the work began. It’s now been several months of almost nothing but sorting, clearing, advertising, and selling 40+ years of accumulated belongings. All our children visited to take what they could make use of, and then we had to decide what we would need in the UK – where we expect to have a small flat – or in Japan (also a small flat but furnished), and what we should otherwise dispose of by selling, giving or “chucking”!

We have tried to sell through Facebook groups, our own Facebook page created for the purpose, and yard sales (we’ve had three so far). We’ve sold a lot and given 17 banana boxes full of books to a charity book sale too. We’ve also taken a lot of things that no one will want to the tip. And we still have a lot of things left!

In addition to the clearing and selling, I’ve been saving some of our memories by scanning (and naming!) some 5500 35mm slides, and a dozen or more VHS cassettes. I couldn’t bear to just throw them away! Google Photos is proving to be a handy place to store the resulting pictures free of charge (and searchable without tagging!) while I’ve put the videos on YouTube.

All of this work is so we can sell our house, which is easier said than done!

It’s a large house with nearly 400 square metres of living space, including a 2-bedroom, self-contained flat which we’re renting to a friend. There are 5 more bedrooms in the rest of the house as well as a large living room and superb kitchen with dining space for 14 people, a sun lounge with terrace, classroom, playroom,  etc.

It would be great for someone with three or four children and an ageing relative, and perhaps a business they want to run from home. Or it could be converted back into three flats – or maybe four with extra planning permission – but this would probably entail ruining the kitchen in order to build a bathroom on the ground floor. 😦

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So you can see why we’ve not had a stream of would-be buyers competing to make offers!

Despite this, we believe we should return to Japan in September and have asked the office manager of the building where we lived before to reserve us an apartment, which she has done. We’ve also asked the Japanese pastor who is arranging our visas to start the process and he has confirmed that he will do this very soon. Once he gets the approval from the ministry in Tokyo for us to have visas (which we have then to apply for here in Brussels) we only have three months to get in the country.

Exactly how this will all work out we don’t know, but we do believe we’re on the right track – the path God has shown us – and, while doing our part, we must leave the timing to Him.

Which brings us back to the need for patience!

January in Japan

It was a very busy and momentous month – especially as regards our staying longer-term in Japan. Read on and you’ll see!

1 January: We started the year at His Call church in the morning and later at All Nations Fellowship in the afternoon. How better to start the year than by worshipping our God! We’d heard that people would be wearing kimonos at His Call but they weren’t (they had changed it to the following Sunday). However, we were made very welcome and given a free lunch in their cafeteria here a lot of people were eating after the 11am service. We also discovered the one day in Japan when the shops are shut. Normally they are open 7 days a week, but when we went to look for a new anorak for Olwen they were all shut.

2 January: Success! The shops were open and we were able – after a lot of searching – to find a lovely anorak that fits well. It’s even from a Japanese designer (better than buying something when we are soon going back there) and, yes, there are January sales so there was a good discount. 🙂

5 January: Olwen realised that she needed gloves to match her new coat and, on the recommendation of some of our friends here concerning where to look, she found some in the sales. Now her hands are warm again!

7 January: A friend who is living in Brussels at the moment was visiting her family for the Christmas holidays. We went to her home town and she showed us round the old part of town, then to a restaurant for a delicious – and very good-value – meal. After lunch her mum drove us to three beauty spots, where we had a walk in the sunshine by the lake, fed the enormous carp, climbed a mountain to a look-out point, and visited a now-deserted place where, in the summer, campers go to have picnics and enjoy the cherry blossom. It was a very busy, full day and with all the sun and fresh air we were tired out, but happy.

9 January: I met with our friend Kazue and a Japanese pastor, Endo, she wanted to talk with us about our need for visas (so that we can return later this year). She said he had obtained visas for others in the past and might be able to help. After only half an hour of talking he simply said that he would do it for us and that we would most likely get three-year visas. He didn’t see it being a problem and it wouldn’t cost more than a postage stamp! Wow! A couple of days later, Olwen mentioned this to missionary friends here and they said that if he said he would do it then he would; he’s totally reliable! We weren’t worried about this, but it’s still nice to have independent confirmation.

15 January: We went to His Call church again. We had seen that there were going to be some interesting things planned and didn’t want to miss them! At the beginning of the service, the (Japanese) pastor was dressed up in his traditional dark ‘hakama’, which is the men’s kimono, and with a white towel round his head. He had a huge brush, like a fat floor mop, and a massive piece of paper.

All the instruments standing on the stage waiting for the band were covered in plastic. He dipped the mop into a bucket of ink, and painted the word that God had given him for the church, for 2017, in large-scale calligraphy. There was total silence while he did that. Then four men  picked up the paper and showed everyone. The Japanese letters mean ‘overflow’ or abundance. So this is the pastor’s vision – the word God has given him – for His Call church for the new year.

After that there was a coming-of-age ceremony and 8 young people came out in their fancy attire, had to say who they were and what their hopes/dreams are for the future. Then they all received a ball point pen and a red rose (even the boys) and were prayed for. The Japanese “come of age” at 20 and they all do it in a civil ceremony at the same time in the year they turn 20. This had taken place earlier in the same week. It was impressive to see the Japanese culture integrated into the life of the church in these ways.


Later there was a kendo demonstration, but we were eating lunch in the cafe and didn’t see it.

His Call isn’t our own church here, it’s associated with Hillsong where our daughter Pascale studied in Australia, and is very loud and bouncy, full of young people. They do interesting things, and anyone is welcome, so we are dropping in from time to time. They have 3 meetings every Sunday. After the 11am meeting people eat together in the cafe downstairs. The first time you go, you get a free meal. 🙂 After that, it’s still only ¥300.

In the afternoon, I filled in the visa forms. Our church in Brussels had sent an official letter to say they supported us coming. So all we need now is a photo of each of us, and then to apply here in Japan, which Endo will do at the office where he lives (about an hour outside Nagoya). After they send these to Tokyo we will get a certificate of eligibility to take to the Japanese Embassy in Brussels. They’ll give us the final documents, so that when we come back, they’ll issue the visa at the airport. We had to choose an entry date, so we said 1st of Sept. That worked out well this time. We can’t come in earlier than that, but if we have to be later for some reason, we can. Also if we want to go out of the country for a holiday in China or Korea for example, we can come and go. We think the plan is to be here from September to June each year, and then to go back to Europe to see friends and family for 2 months. If we have no house of our own, we can move around and stay in guest houses, or we can rent a holiday house like we did in Normandy last summer. We can be flexible. But we don’t know yet.

Now of course we are wondering what to do about keeping/storing stuff in Europe. Should we rent or buy a small flat? But where? But if we rent or buy a flat, it will just be sitting empty, gathering dust for 10 months a year, and inviting graffiti or squatters. What about a time-share? Should we just rent a storage facility to store stuff we think we really want to keep? Anyway, one step at a time. No point trying to rush God. He has a plan, and we’ll know it soon enough. We’re actually doing OK with the not-knowing.

22 January: It’s Sunday and we’d got an early start. It was the first day since we came here that we needed an alarm in the morning. We had to be at the station at 8.40 to meet a group of Japanese people and go with them to a vinegar factory, a sake factory and a brewery. There were tastings (it was drinking vinegar) after each visit and lunch in the middle somewhere.  Normally the group meets once a month on Sunday afternoons, but twice a year, they have a whole-day outing.

27-31 January: Our eldest daughter, Michaela and her family were with us. It was great to see them and share a bit of Japan with them. We went to the Nagoya SC Maglev and Train museum and the Toyota Commemorative Museum (both very interesting and well done and good value!) We spent a day in Kyoto where they toured the Nijo Castle and we all went to see a free kimono fashion show at the Nishijin Textile Center. We spent some time at a 100-yen shop that takes up the entire 7th floor of a department store and had lunch at a Alice/Disney film-themed restaurant (great food and very reasonable prices!) We also had a good look at Nagoya‘s own castle – the only one we’ve been in where you don’t have to take your shoes off and climb up and down very narrow steep staircases! – strolled up the Ōsu Kannon shopping arcade (pausing to eat some freshly cooked taiyaki) and looked at the temple at the end. In short, we had a great time chatting and eating and seeing places until it was time for them to leave for Tokyo and then on to New Zealand.

Well, that was January in a nutshell. Lots of places visited and people seen and, perhaps most importantly, the very real prospect of visas for our return.

Toba and Tokyo

Just before Christmas we enjoyed an overnight stay in Toba. Well, it was raining cats and dogs when we arrived but this was expected. The ryokan was a bit of a disappointment, though Olwen did enjoy the hot baths that are typical of these traditional inns and we did sleep well on futon on the floor! The next day dawned bright and clear (again, as forecast) and we got out fairly quickly to walk a few hundred metres (or yards) to Mikimoto Pearl Island. This was no disappointment at all with a great display by the Ama pearl divers, a fascinating memorial hall detailing the history of Mikimoto-san, the man who pioneered the procedure for producing cultured pearls, an excellent museum and – yes – finally a shop! There was also a restaurant where we enjoyed an oyster-based lunch for an extremely reasonable price (about 15 euros each for the food and another 5 euros each for a drink).

After exhausting the possibilities of the island we took the train down to Kashikojima at the end of the Ise peninsula. If you follow these things, you may remember a recent G7 summit being held there. We had purchased a five-day rail pass for the Kintetsu line (one of three railway companies operating in the region) so the additional travel cost us nothing. (The rail pass also gave us a discount on the entrance fee for Mikimoto Pearl Island). In Kashikojima we looked at various shops selling pearl necklaces, earrings etc. Olwen really liked one necklace that incorporated a detachable bracelet (attached in-line using little magnets and making the necklace longer). She didn’t want the bracelet however and the shop-owner agreed to sell the necklace part alone for a very reasonable price. It was even more reasonable than we thought, in fact, as the necklace was on the “50% off” table and the price we agreed had not yet been discounted so we got a nice surprise when we ended up paying not 40 euros but only 20 euros! The necklace is a twisted three-strand, made of freshwater pearls.

The train ride back to Nagoya somehow managed to take about 4 hours, which was much longer than it had taken us to get there, but there was only one change of trains and we were comfortable.

The next day was Christmas Eve and we enjoyed a party at our church, All Nations Fellowship. Everyone brought food to share and there was a game where teams had to mime Christmas carols. We were not so keen on miming but someone guessed ours very quickly so the embarrassment was minimised!

On Christmas Day we went to brunch at the apartment of a friend from church, Rachel. This time, we were instructed not to bring food as Rachel had prepared everything (we took some chocolate bark anyway). I left after a couple of hours to go back to our flat and pick up my bass since I was playing at the afternoon service at ANF. Olwen stayed on to play various games.

On Boxing Day (also my day – St Stephen’s Day!) we took the shinkansen to Tokyo where we checked in to our favourite hotel, the Shinagawa Prince. We had booked the train that stops at every station so it took a while, but it cost less and there’s a drinks voucher too! One of the stations was Shin-Fuji and we got a good view of the mountain though the skies were not blue unfortunately.

On Tuesday 27th, we opened the curtains to a grey and cloudy day, so we took umbrellas with us when we went to Shibuya by train.  It’s another area of Tokyo, where there’s a statue of Hachiko.  He’s a dog who met his master after work every day to walk home with him.  One day, the master died, but the dog continued to go and meet that train.
Sad.  I don’t know if it’s a true story or not.

Just outside the station was a Hello Kitty information booth, so we went in and got some good brochures, such as a tourist map of Tokyo, and leaflets called ‘88 things to do in Shibuya’ and ‘100 things to do in Tokyo.’

We met our old friends Yoshiko and her son Ken, who returned to Tokyo about 5 years ago.  We also met Yuka and her daughter Sara who came back here in July 2016. They didn’t all know each other in Brussels but there was enough conversation to last our lunch.  After our sushi lunch, the waitress brought out a jar of lollipops for all of us to choose, in the shape of sushi on sticks. 🙂

After that, they all went home and Stephen and I had a look at shops and had a coffee in Macdonald’s, so we could rest Stephen’s foot and also look through the brochures and find out what was near at hand to see before heading back to the hotel.

We discovered a half-hour walk up a narrow road with loads of little cafes and quaint crafty-type shops.  At the far end of the road is a famous little Portuguese bakery selling their special custard pies (pasteis de nata) and other things.  We bought a custard pie for Stephen and a chicken pie for me.  Then we crossed the road into Yoyogi Park, which is a famous place, and we walked there and ate our pies until the siren went to tell everyone it was nearly dark (5pm!) and therefore closing time for the gates.

We came out of the park at a different side, and found a half-timbered building there, looking like Stratford-on-Avon.  It was the station building!  From there we took the train back to the hotel.

Wednesday morning was bright and cloudless, and our hotel room was looking out a different way than we’ve looked in the past.  And there was Mount Fuji in the distance, but still so massive.  They say that Fuji is shy and hides behind clouds for 293 days a year. We were able to see the mountain 4 days that week!

Once again we took the train to another part of Tokyo, Higashi Nagano. Our friend Mikiko met us there and took us to her house for lunch.  (In 2015, Mikiko was our professional guide for a day tour of Tokyo and we kept in touch.  She and her husband visited Brussels in September 2015 and we’ve kept in touch by email.)  She’d made a lovely spread of soup and fried dumplings (gyoza), and we made our own sushi from plates of sashimi (raw, sliced fish) and vegetables.  Then we had a lovely blackcurrant and chocolate mousse.  It looked really professional.  She’s taken up French lessons and confectionery-making, so these were the desserts she’d made in class the previous evening.  Her adult daughter joined us for lunch too.  She had spent a year in England, in Tunbridge Wells  learning English as a gap year, I think.

After lunch we had a walk then Mikiko left us to do her shopping.  Stephen and I went on to Shinjuku to have a little look round the station.  We were waiting to see the illuminations there, and we found them – but they were all pink. 😦

On Thursday the 29th we took the train to a little town in the outskirts of Tokyo called Kichijoji and had a Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas lunch box.  A lot of Japanese people think it’s cool to eat American-style chicken on Christmas day, so KFC has developed this special lunch deal and Olwen wanted to try it.  If you want to eat it on Christmas Day, you have to order it way in advance!  Then we walked around a lake in the park and enjoyed the sunshine before catching the train to another suburb called Kunitachi, where Naomi met us.  Olwen taught Naomi in Brussels and her husband was one of my ‘guinea-pigs’ for teaching experience.  We had an Italian meal at their house which was really good.  Naomi learnt how to cook Italian from a friend in Brussels.  She thought we might be fed up with Japanese food after 4 months here, so would like something European for a change. It was indeed a welcome change!

On the way home from there house we stopped at a place called Ebisu, where there was supposed to be a Christmas market till midnight, but unfortunately it had already closed when we arrived.  I think perhaps the brochure had got the wrong dates or times.  The little wooden huts were there, but they were closed.  However, the largest Baccarat, cut-glass chandelier in the world was on show, all lit up as part of the illuminations so we enjoyed seeing that.

The following morning we took a longer train journey to the other side of Tokyo to a place called Shibamata.  It’s very famous in Japan because there was a film series which ran from about 1949 and was set in this village.  It’s like a step back into the past.  We met Asako and Miyuki, one old and one new friend, and Miyuki guided us round the village, the shrine with fantastic wood carvings, the film museum and the tea-house.  We ate lunch in a tavern specialising in fried spiced eel.  Olwen had wanted to try it for a long time, so that is another thing crossed off her list.  It was OK, but nothing to shout about. However, they told us that in Nagoya, eel is eaten in a different way, so we will have to try it again here. 🙂

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After that, we took the train into the main Tokyo station which is a beautiful building but is currently under reconstruction so we couldn’t get a proper view of it.  We also saw the illuminations down the fashionable Maranouchi shopping street.  They were mostly white lights, but the interesting thing is that they are powered by wind and sun.

On Saturday 31st we decided to go in a different direction just outside Tokyo, to Yokohama, which was a lovely last day.  We were by ourselves, with no friends to guide us, and we walked and saw the marina, long parkways, beautiful glass windows in the station building, a shopping mall in an old-fashioned red brick building which may have been some kind of wharf-front warehouse in the past, and found our way back to another station.  We hadn’t seen much of Yokohama before (only Chinatown for about half an hour on another day trip in 2015) but we really want to go again because there’s a pedestrian walk we didn’t manage to finish and we missed Chinatown completely, though we did have a delicious Chinese lunch in a quiet spot en route.

Finally we came back to Shinagawa, picked up our suitcase and got the fast train home; it stopped only once – in Yokohama and we realised that with a bit of planning we could probably have got on the train there. We saw Mt Fuji for the last time as the sun was setting and were home for about 6pm.  It was a busy week, but fun and we enjoyed it.


Happy Christmas!

Earlier in December, we sent out this Christmas newsletter by email. Since it is now Christmas Eve, I decided to publish it on this blog so that more of you could see what we’ve been up to in 2016, month by month. I’ve also added a few words about our most recent outings. There are lots of links to click if you want to refer back to the posts of previous months (click on the highlighted month names, starting with July) or see photo galleries (highlights in the text).

2016: a year of enormous change!


A Japanese greetings card made into a Christmas card by adding a suitable greeting at the top and our names at the bottom. Our thanks go to Takako and Yuko for the calligraphy!

January: Olwen was still recovering from surgery on her foot to remove a bunion but this didn’t stop us from taking the train to London to visit Pascale and Rhys and their new baby, Esther, our sixth grandchild.


Easter: Michaela and Daniel and their family – Xavier, Megan and baby Yolanda – visited us on their way to and from the UK.


April: Olwen went to visit her mother in Lancashire for a few days and our old friends Larry and Norma flew from the US to spend a week in Paris and a week with us.


May: We were finally able to reserve a flat in Nagoya for our six-month stay there, starting in September. There was also a concert by the Destiny Africa children’s choir, which Pascale and Esther enjoyed with us, and we went to an orchid exhibition in Enghien.


July: We met up with Michaela and Daniel and their family in Strasbourg. We also went to a weekend conference about missionary work in Japan. This was conveniently situated very near Raphaëlle and Charlie, so they came and had lunch with us.


August: We started the month in Normandy enjoying a holiday with most of the family.


Earlier in the year, Stephen had applied for retirement effective 1st September and this now loomed ever larger on the horizon – in a good way, of course! It meant numerous small farewell lunches with friends and a large party too – with Japanese food and drink of course!


Finally his last day at the European Commission arrived and, late in the evening of 31 August, we flew out of Zaventem headed for Tokyo with onward connection to Nagoya, arriving the next day where the ever-helpful Mariko took two hours out of her evening to meet us at the Freebell and get us settled in our flat.

September: Wasting no time, Stephen started Japanese lessons.


We also visited the ladies hosting the conversation bible study groups Olwen would be running, and still found time for a day in Inuyama.

October: Our feet barely touched the ground the rest of the year, so to speak. By October the groups were well established and growing in membership, but we made sure to take each Friday off, visiting the Nagoya City  Science Museum and watching the Nagoya festival, and Olwen also went to Okazaki with a Japanese friend visiting from Brussels.

November: We decided to apply to extend our visas in good time in case it took repeated visits. We were successful, though it did take a few hours of waiting! We also went to the Nagoya Municipal Minato Disaster Prevention Center where we experienced a simulated earthquake (sheltering under a table in the approved fashion!), Arimatsu – a famous centre for tie-dying – and to various  gardens to see the beautiful autumn leaves.


Yes, it was November and autumn had finally arrived!

December: Now we’ve both had Christmas parties run by our respective language schools and are looking forward to another on Christmas Eve – today! – at our church. Olwen has also organised social activities for the conversation groups. However, our social activities are not limited to these, and early in December our friends Yuko and Takako took us to the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art which was housed in a beautiful modern building out in the countryside. We were almost the only people there so it was beautifully quiet.


We’ve also visited two more art museums: the Furakawa museum in Nagoya and the Hiroshige museum in Ena, where we were able to make our own woodblock prints!

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To bring you right up to date, yesterday, 23 December, we visited the Mikimoto pearl museum in Toba! Olwen had long wanted to go there as it was listed on our tour itinerary in 2014 but removed unexpectedly. That was a disappointment, but visiting it yesterday was not! It was fascinating and will merit more text and pictures later.

Soon there will be only two months left here and we will be returning to Belgium to clear and sell our house, and prepare to move back to Japan long-term. We don’t know how we will get visas for this, but God knows – and that is enough (though we are doing our part by exploring various possibilities). We are so excited about 2017 and what God will do here!

We wish you joy and peace, both now and in the year to come.  ハッピークリスマス


kurisumasu is coming!

Yes, it’s the beginning of December and kurisumasu will soon be upon us. It’s the time for a paatii (if you go with a partner, you could make it a dēto) and purezento. But what to get? Perhaps something for their hobby – gorufu or tenisu maybe, or a kamera? Or an addition to their wardrobe: a new sueta or nekutai, nekkuresu, shatsu or sukaato? One word of caution – when you go to the paatii, if you intend drinking a lot of biiru or wain at the resutoran, you’d better take a takushii or basu home again!

Pronunciation guide: don’t pronounce the letter “u” if it is between two consonants or at the end of a word. Following this rule, kurisumasu becomes krismas, which is more or less how it is pronounced here. The “u”s are inserted only because it is not possible to write most consonants without a vowel following; this is only possible with “n”.

You think I’m making this up? No! A useful number of Japanese words are English transformed into Japanese. But pronounce them the English way and the chances are you won’t be understood. 🙂 Needless to say, we’ve learned some real Japanese words too, and I now have a vocabulary of some 200-300 words and phrases, while Olwen’s is much bigger.

I recently bought some bilingual learning books with the text in Japanese and English, grammatical notes, vocabulary etc. They are very well organised and there are even MP3 recordings at two different speeds (slow and normal, which they label “fast”!) I thought I’d put the vocabulary into an app I use for learning and I did;  for just one story, I ended up with a vocabulary of over 500 words and phrases that I didn’t know! I have quite some way to go!

We’ve been in Japan for just three months now, and that means we’re halfway through our time here. Autumn has finally arrived and I’ve abandoned my sandals and bare feet in favour of socks and sneakers. After all, the daytime temperature often drops below 10°C! And with autumn comes the obligatory and very beautiful autumn leaf viewing. Just as the cherry blossom must be properly appreciated in the spring, the maple and gingko and other trees must be “viewed” in the autumn.

Having toured part of Japan to do just that last year (see our blog for pictures), we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Nagoya’s Higashiyama botanical gardens (part of the zoo) and the well-known Tokugawaen, to see the leaves in all their day- and night-time glory! For these gardens illuminate the leaves at night (which starts around 5pm) and stay open longer than usual so that the magic of the leaves can be fully worked on the visitors.

We went first to the Higashiyama zoo and botanical gardens where the night-time viewing was amazing! It was easy to reach on the subway (metro/tube) and we arrived about an hour before dusk. We wandered round the zoo, paying about 4 euros to get into both zoo and gardens.

As night fell, we made our way to the place where there would be a “Son et Lumière” show with illuminated fountains. It lasted maybe 15 minutes. Then we followed the crowds hoping that they knew where they were going. and they did! They led us along paths bordered by beautiful trees to a lake with a mirror-like surface. We snapped away busily, not forgetting, however, to enjoy the beauty of the scene directly.

A week later we visited the Tokugawa gardens. In contrast they were a bit disappointing being a lot smaller for one thing. But worth the visit for the colours, the trees being wrapped for winter, the waterfalls and a little girl in a kimono!

We used the city tourist bus to get there, as the ride was just two stops from a point near our apartment. We took it back again afterwards, completing the circuit it takes and ending up at Nagoya station, where we walked up to a low observation deck and enjoyed the winter illuminations. As we strolled home from the station – just 10 minutes away – we were delighted to find another area of illuminated trees  – mostly blue – with people taking photographs (of course). We joined them, though we avoided the selfie trap!

Two visas, an earthquake, a tsunami, tie-dying and a concert

Renewing our visas

It’s mid-November and our initial 90-day visas were due to expire at the end of the month. In case of complications, we decided to go to the regional immigration office here in Nagoya  well before this, and ended up spending nearly five hours there about 10 days ago. We filled in forms, collected a number, waited for the number to come up, had the forms checked and were given another number, and finally paid the fee and left with visas valid until 28 February 2017, a little bit ominously marked “Final extension”!

We were, however, a little bit worried about getting lunch since we arrived around midday and immediately saw it was going to take a long time. But we needn’t have worried. Inside the building on the same floor as the visa office and its large waiting room (there were about 200 people in there) there was a convenience store selling lunch boxes and all kinds of other things. There was also a place to sit and eat your lunch in comfort, a photo booth in case you needed an ID photo (we didn’t) and a place selling the “revenue stamps” we needed to affix to our final applications. Apart from the waiting, it was another illustration of the convenience of Japanese society.

Now we can relax, but can’t leave the country as the visas will be cancelled on exit. No December break in Thailand or Taiwan for us then!


The regional immigration centre in the evening sun

An earthquake and a tsunami!

A week later, we were far from relaxed as we experienced a level 7 (Shindo scale) earthquake and a tsunami both in the same morning!

I should explain!

We had gone to the disaster prevention/education centre in Nagoya where they teach you what to do in case of an earthquake and offer the possibility of experiencing one in a simulator. There is also a 3D simulation of a tsunami. We did both! As we were quite early (10 am) we got a free tour in English, Japanese and Mandarin (one of our friends being Chinese) which is normally only given to groups!

For the earthquake we had to dive under the kitchen table in the simulation room and hold on to its legs for dear life! The shaking was violent and lasted what seemed like a long time but eventually it was over and we were able to leave, though not before checking exit routes and switching off the gas and electricity (to avoid fires when mains supplies were restored).


Surviving an earthquake!


We were with two friends so we went with them to recover from the ordeal at the local branch of Komeda’s Coffee where we had a sandwich (sandoicchi in Japanese) lunch, with two pieces of fried chicken and some salad included. Their White Whirl dessert looked amazing but we saved that for later when Olwen and I found another Komeda’s dangerously near our flat. 🙂 We shared the dessert so it wasn’t too excessive, but we will definitely go back for a typical Nagoya breakfast of ogura (red bean paste) toast, hard-boiled egg and coffee – all for the price of the cup of coffee!

The following day, after our Saturday-morning English conversation group, we set out for Arimatsu, an interesting little town on the old Kyoto-Tokyo highway and an official stopping point in days gone by for officials making the annual trip to Tokyo from Kyoto to pay their respects to the Shogun. Now, it’s most famous for the elaborate tie-dying, or shibori, which has been a tradition there for some 400 years. It was a special weekend – a kind of open day for the town – and we were even escorted to the right street by one of the men giving out information at the train station.

The people were friendly and willing to cope with our limited Japanese (which they praised, of course!) or try their English. In the shibori museum, which was free that day, a lady changed the DVD from Japanese to English for us, without our asking or even having spoken to her. Customer service at its best – or just plain friendliness! The weather was great (autumn seems to be hesitant about arriving here) and we really enjoyed the afternoon.

A concert in Seto

The next day, last Sunday, we took the train again for a concert in the town of Seto. It was a piano and cello duo, and Stephen knew the the cellist via Facebook, since she has been taking French lessons from a Belgian lady we know here. (Complicated!)

The weather was wonderful again, and as we walked to find a park for lunch it was hot like an English summer’s day (but much cooler than a Japanese one!) Some of the trees were turning to their autumn colours and we spotted a particularly lovely tree with yellow leaves (not gingko though) which contrasted beautifully with the clear blue sky.

We enjoyed bento boxes (above) that Stephen had bought before we set out and then made our way to the florist’s where the concert was to take place. It may seem odd to use a flower shop as a venue but there was space enough for maybe 80 people and no need to decorate the stage!

We really enjoyed the music – Schumann, Bach, Chopin, Popper and a piece for koto arranged for piano and cello – and Stephen was able to talk with Mano, the cellist, meeting her and Nanaho, the pianist, for the first time in the non-virtual world. (Olwen was not feeling well and didn’t want to spread her germs!)

You can hear a couple of short clips from the concert – the Schumann and the koto piece – in the videos below.

Teaching and learning

Needless to say, Olwen’s work teaching goes on, with several Chinese ladies now interested in lessons, too. And we are both studying Japanese too, of course. Stephen will have exchange “lessons” with our friend, Yuko, from next week: an hour of English conversation for an hour of Japanese. Increasing vocabulary is one thing, but putting it all together into sentences, and being able to find the right words and expressions at the right time is quite another, so this should be helpful.

Yuko has another exhibition this weekend so we are looking forward to seeing it on Friday, as well as the Tokugawa garden, which we hope will be displaying some autumn colours.

Pictures in our next post!

Appoint your days

For the last three weeks or so, Olwen and I have been reading together daily from “The Book of Mysteries” by Jonathan Cahn. It’s an amazing book full of new insights into the meaning of bible words and concepts we thought we understood already – or hadn’t thought about – and I thoroughly recommend it. These insights are not only of linguistic or theological interest, we are finding them profoundly practical and relevant.

In the fifth chapter (there are 365 short chapters), Jonathan Cahn explains that manah, which is the Hebrew word for number in Psalm 90, where we are told to number our days (implying that they are relatively few and should be used wisely), also means to prepare or appoint our days.  We can do this by praying for them, by consecrating them to God for his purposes. He concludes like this:

“Let your life determine your days. And don’t just let your days go by. Prepare them, that they might become vessels of blessing and life. Appoint your days.”

(Try a free sample at

This is extremely relevant to our time here in Japan and indeed all our future days on earth. Our days are getting fewer (as are yours, by the way!) and we want to make the most of them – to make them count. We enjoy travel and food and friends, but we don’t have a “bucket list” of things we really want to do before we “kick the bucket”. At the end of our days – not wishing to be morbid! – we will not regret the places we have not visited, or even the family or friends we have not seen recently, I think we will only regret the things God has called us to do that we have not done. Like Brian Zahnd, whom I’ve quoted before, we just want to be part of what Jesus is doing – in Japan and anywhere else He takes us.

So what’s new? I wrote last time that we had invited Noriko Kussman to come here and speak about God’s healing in her life. She came and there were 14 of us in the room, which was just the right number for the size of room. She talked for a while and offered prayer to anyone who wanted it. Almost everyone wanted some prayer for either physical or emotional healing, or both. Olwen and I helped but we still ran well over the scheduled end time. It didn’t matter. It was something Jesus was doing and we were glad to be part of it.

Olwen’s conversational friendship groups continue to grow and from December there will be a fifth group, which is already full!

We are very encouraged!

Last Thursday, I went to my Japanese lesson and on the way home went to look at a second-hand bass guitar, and bought it.  It was in excellent condition and a good price (about €90), including a stand, lead, tuner and gig bag.  It’s a lovely, red, pearly metallic colour.  🙂

While I was doing that, Olwen’s Thursday group were eating an Italian lunch at an old restaurant opposite the classroom they borrow for the lessons.  She had thought that €12 was a bit steep for a plate of pasta, but in fact they got a large plate of mixed hors d’oeuvres and a piece of crispy bread, plus ice water with it.  So they were all happy in the end.  The waitress was serving, taking orders and answering the phone, and her husband was cooking in the kitchen, so they were very busy.

The next day, Friday, Olwen’s friend Junko came to the Freebell to see our ‘luxury residence’ and then to escort us to Okazaki, her home town, to see a miso factory.  I decided not to go because I wasn’t that interested in visiting the factory, and it was raining and cold so I didn’t really want to go out. Also “two’s company …” as they say. I stayed home to study and do some catching up… and eventually brave the cold to try my first Japanese MacDonald’s at the main station!

Teriyaki burger, Coke and fries!

Teriyaki burger, Coke and fries!

So Junko and Olwen set forth.  It was the first time she’d needed a fleece here during the daytime. They chatted and laughed all day, and in fact they not only went to the factory, which was really interesting, but also went to an armour museum, visited Junko’s new flat which she’s bought, and saw the castle from the outside.

Olwen bought miso paste, to make soup, and a miso sponge cake, which is yummy, and the factory gave them a free sample of miso as they left, too.  Now we have plenty to last us for the next 4 months.

They ate lunch in the factory cafe where Olwen had something like Kentucky fried chicken (karaage chicken it’s called here), cooked with miso and spices, plus rice, miso soup and some seaweed pickles. Junko had hot noodles with crispy seaweed and beef with miso paste, and a raw egg.  She mixed it all in together.

At the armour museum there was a samurai warrior outside, and he gave Olwen his sword to hold, so Junko could take photos of him and me.  He held his fan!  Very intimidating, ha ha!  It’s a strange thing that samurai have these really heavy sharp swords in one hand and shiny fans in the other.  And they have armour all over, but wear rope sandals.

Inside the museum, there were English-language guides, like an individual tape recorder, so Olwen could listen in English, and Junko in Japanese as they went round.  There were also pieces of armour to try on.  It was good.

On Sunday, I played bass for the first time at church, and a young couple from our Saturday group came to hear the music and stayed for the talk, too.  In due course we’ll probably hear more about what they thought of it all. They are a lovely couple and it was great to be there with them. It’s for friends like these – and others we don’t yet know – that we are “preparing” our days.

If you would like to join us as we prepare our days in prayer, you can get register for an occasional short email of points for which we would like prayer.

dandan – だんだん

This is my word of the week: dandan. It means little by little and that’s my progress in this fascinating language and also the reason why I’ve not written anything recently – not for over 3 weeks in fact.

(As I began writing this, we experienced a gentle rocking of the building where our apartment is on the 9th floor! I checked my earthquake app and it seems to have been a 6.7 magnitude earthquake 10km deep but a long way away. It lasted only 20-30 seconds. It was more interesting than scary!)

Well, it’s not the whole reason as we have had a few trips out, and between that and dinners with friends, lessons and study I haven’t had a lot of time to write except in the evenings when we usually just want to slump for a couple of hours in front of the television watching NCIS (in English with Japanese subtitles), Castle, Bones, etc.

So what’s new in our daily life? Apart from just feeling our first earthquake, we have:

  • been to the Tsushima Artscape, where Yuko, a friend we first met in Brussels, was showing some of her sculpture/installation art, and to the festival parade that took place there the same day;
  • visited the Nagoya City Science Museum and planetarium (including a very restful 50-minute tour of the night sky entirely in Japanese; I think we both nodded off at times!);
  • discovered an artisan bakery (Le supreme) near our apartment where they have a French radio station playing… but don’t understand French  🙂
  • eaten extremely good waffles at a celebration of 150 years of cooperation between Japan and Belgium hosted by an up-market department store (depaato  🙂 in Japanese);
  • seen the annual Nagoya festival with colourful floats;
  • walked the pottery footpath in Tokoname where we also went to a large shopping mall and saw one of the tallest “welcome cats” in the world, standing 7 metres tall!
  • had dinner with various friends in their houses or in our apartment;
  • spent half a day with the daughter of American friends who were instrumental in starting this whole venture; Katrina, who is fluent in Japanese, was here to take entrance exams for a Nagoya university;
  • invited Noriko Kussman, a Japanese lady who is visiting Japan from California to tell of God’s healing in her life, to speak in Nagoya and, when she agreed to break her journey in Nagoya, arranged the meeting for next Monday afternoon in a multi-purpose room in our apartment block.

And studied and studied and studied (Olwen and me) and taught classes (Olwen only).

The classes are growing by word of mouth, friends of friends, a fellow-student at Olwen’s language course, etc. When we arrived there were some 12 group members and now there are about 17. That’s not many in total but it’s significant growth all the same.

We feel more and more at home here and love having fewer responsibilities (because of renting an apartment where everything is included so we are responsible for nothing!) which leaves us freer to study and travel.

That said, we are certainly very busy and I, Stephen, could not imagine how I would fill my time in Brussels without the demands of learning Japanese! (Of course, I could do it there, but it’s not the same when you are not immersed in the language and the culture.)

And it is very demanding. Sometimes I am disappointed to find that a word I supposedly learnt a month ago has escaped from its home in my long-term memory and needs to be replanted. But then I think of all the words I do know and can remember and take heart, remembering too that there is a lot involved in learning a new language and that progress is inevitably little by little: dandan – だんだん。

Out of touch

One of the purposes of this blog is to stay in touch with friends around the world. Blogs are not constrained by time zones so it’s quite effective, though Olwen makes sure she has regular voice contact with our daughters and older grandchildren too.

But there’s another aspect to touch and it’s physical touch.

Gary Chapman lists it as one of the five love languages and I’m sure it’s one of mine, perhaps the most important one. I told a friend before I left Brussels that I would miss the hugs I got there, but I didn’t realise just how much I was missing them (albeit unconsciously) until a cashier in a 7-11 shop touched my hand – more than was necessary, it seemed to me – when she was returning change a few days ago. The Japanese culture avoids touch (this cashier did not appear to be Japanese) and that’s why there are trays for putting money and receiving change in all the shops. I’ve noticed since then that in fact there is often touch when returning coins and that most cashiers tip them into your hand together with the receipt. But for some reason this particular occasion evoked in me the loss of touch that I had anticipated but not really noticed. Even at church where there are plenty of Americans and other non-Japanese, a handshake seems to be the only form of touch.

Of course, Olwen and I touch a lot, but it seems I need touch from multiple sources. So, if you are near us and read this, feel free to give me a hug!

Meanwhile we are both keeping very busy with shopping and cooking and studying and collapsing in front of Fox Japan (NCIS, Major Crimes, Second Chance, NCIS LA) or ‘Chromecasting’ Netflix to the TV at the weekend when Fox is showing the Walking Dead (it sounds like ‘walking the dead-o’ on the trailers here, so at least we get a smile from that!). We may feel like the walking dead, but we definitely don’t want to watch it. Horror seems to be popular here!

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Olwen has written about part of our week to her mum and here’s an extract.

We have ever so many magnetic hooks around the place, attached to the metal shelves, pipes and side of the fridge.  Useful though, because I can pick them off and move them to where I want them.

The fridge/freezer is in 3 parts.  The top part is the normal fridge, the same size as yours under the counter is.  The middle part is a deep drawer and is the freezer.  Then the bottom part is another deep drawer and is just for fruit and veg.  There are 3 different doors.  And the door to the fridge part has 2 handles, so if you’re standing to the left of it, you can open it towards the right, or if you’re standing to the right of it, you can open it towards the left.  You may be able to see that on the photos we sent.  I’ve never seen a fridge/freezer like it, and I keep forgetting the fruit and veg in the bottom part.

Last Thursday, Stephen had his Japanese lesson with a different teacher because his normal lady, Sari, had something else on that day.  The new lady, Chika, seemed very pleased with his progress after just 4 lessons.  Of course he’s working hard at home too.

I got a bit lost on my way to my afternoon ladies’ class, so arrived at the same time as the students did.  A bit hot and sweaty.  But we put on the air conditioning and soon felt better.

Yesterday, Friday 23rd, we got up leisurely and went to Sakae (say sack-ah-A) to meet Robin, a Canadian missionary in a Japanese church here.


Sakae – near the subway station

We visited 2 of his English classes 18 months ago, and have kept in touch. He showed us a nice traditional restaurant, where we sat on cushions on the floor, but there’s a well under the table to put your feet.  We had a set lunch menu, with breaded fried chicken, pickled cabbage, miso soup, rice, green salad, and the savoury custard the Japanese are so fond of. Normally I don’t like it because it’s served tepid so it’s slimy but yesterday it was piping hot, and I managed to eat most of it.

Robin has just published a comic book which is for sale on Amazon.  We only found this out when we got home.  He was too modest to tell us, even though I asked him ‘What’s new with you?’  Apparently he’s a very good artist in the comic-book style.

We talked about all sorts and he asked me if he can put me on his list of substitute teachers for the odd occasion when he has to go out of town for something. I’m happy to help if it’s a convenient time and doesn’t clash with my other classes.

After lunch we were intending to go to a massive 100yen shop, then to see the Science Museum, then to an evening market, then to talk to Pascale on the phone.  But we skipped the Science museum because we were feeling pressed for time. We bought some basic household stuff, shower gel in a plastic bag to refill the dispenser here, and a scrubby body-sponge for Stephen, some fried salted peanuts (haven’t tried them yet but they sounded interesting) some erasers and a whiteboard for me which will fit into my backpack, plus some envelopes.  100yen shops are always so tempting, even though we don’t need anything when we go in!

We did go to the evening market, but it wasn’t quite dark enough. We got there too early, so I think it would have been more picturesque in the dark, with the lanterns lit and so on.  It was mostly food and beer stalls, but we were still very full from lunch.

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We discovered that although Sakae is 3 metro stops away from home, it’s only about 30 minutes’ walk, so we walked home, discovering new areas on the way.

I chatted to [our daughter] Pascale for an hour and she told me that this weekend they were going to Bromsgrove and looking at 2 houses.  So it seems they have decided on an area and a church.  Strangely enough, Grace Church in Bromsgrove has planted a small church in Nagoya, also called Grace Church. I haven’t met anyone from there yet.

Today we had our Saturday class and Stephen made scones again.  They were good, but for some reason didn’t rise as much as last time.

Then this afternoon we had intended going out to a park where Cosmo flowers run riot at this time of year.  Look in your flower book, they’re called Cosmo or Cosmos in English too.  But the weather wasn’t so good so we’ll do it another day.  Instead we put a wash on and hung out the clothes.  It’s damp out but the clothes are sheltered under the balcony above, and the wind is blowing so I think they’ll dry.

And we’ve both been studying of course.  I’ve begun my new textbook.  It took me an hour to read the new grammar for chapter 1 but I’m too tired to do any of the exercises.  That’s a job for tomorrow.

Did I say I’ve arranged for another exchange lesson on Mondays?  I’m looking forward to starting this week.  Stephen came with me to the supermarket where they have a photocopier, to copy some pages of activities for the English part of the exchange.  I don’t know how men just seem able to understand how machines work.  The washer/dryer isn’t so easy though.  We still aren’t sure how to stop the drying process when we think it’s done enough.  Yes, we do have instructions which came with the flat, but they’re for a different machine!

Yesterday, Tuesday, we did get to the park with the Cosmos flowers. It was a bit disappointing as there weren’t very many whereas we had expected a carpet of flowers. On the way we passed one of the many ‘wedding palaces’. There are two just opposite our apartment but this was a different one, the Mariee Carillon. In the picture you can see the grand entrance.


We entered the wrong part of the gardens and had to go round the block to find the real gardens which turned out to be somewhere we had visited in 2014 (in the rain, but still lovely). Despite the lack of carpets of flowers I got a few good pictures including a lady in waders doing what I can only imagine was pond maintenance!