Shirakawa-go in the snow

We spent the weekend of 16-18 February in Takayama to visit this lovely town in the snow and see the historic village of Shirakawa-go lit up at night.

It snowed a lot – so much in fact that we could hardly see the village from the observation deck high above it…

…but once down in the village it was lovely!

Before going to Shirakawa-go (this was a mini-tour on Saturday afternoon and evening), we enjoyed wandering around Takayama seeing the old streets and the river with its iconic red bridge. We’d been twice before to both Takayama and Shirakawa-go, in spring and autumn (click the links to see what we saw in those seasons), but this was the first time to see the town in winter.

Our tour from Takayama to Shirakawa-go also visited a museum: the Hida-Takayama Festa Forest Museum. There we tried our hand at baking senbei (traditional Japanese savoury crackers) and enjoyed the museum of festival floats.

Finally, after a last look round Takayama on Sunday morning, it was time to take the bus home to Nagoya. It had been a most enjoyable weekend!

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Setsubun – or Spring bean-throwing

Setsubun is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan. The name literally means “seasonal division”, but usually the term refers to the spring Setsubun, properly called Risshun (立春) celebrated yearly on 3 February as part of the Spring Festival (春祭 haru matsuri).

At Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over the country, there are celebrations where priests and invited guests will throw roasted soy beans to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

So on Saturday afternoon, 3 February, we went to see the festival and particularly the “treasure boat” which arrived with a small parade of people in various costumes at Ōsu Kannon temple.

It is part of the tradition in our area to eat uncut makizushi called ehō-maki (恵方巻, lit “lucky direction roll”), a type of futomaki (太巻, “thick, large or fat rolls”).

We didn’t throw or collect any beans, but we did buy a large ehō-maki roll to eat when we got home. They are supposed to be eaten in silence while facing the year’s lucky compass direction, determined by the zodiac symbol of that year, but we just ate them with a moderate amount of noise at the breakfast bar in our flat. 🙂

A Magical Mystery Tour

Last Saturday the Magical Mystery Tour was waiting to take us away – but not quite as it did The Beatles!

This was in fact a Strawberry Mystery Tour run by Cuckoo Tours, part of the Kintetsu railway and bus company. It was an outing for the English friendship Bible study group that meets in our flat on Saturdays – in fact a rather late Christmas activity! There were five of us.

It was labelled as a ‘Mystery tour’ but we knew it involved strawberry picking, a vegetable farm, a traditional lunch and a sweet castle, but we didn’t know exactly whereabouts we were going or what the vegetables were going to be.

We met the others at 8 am at the silver clock in Nagoya’s main station then went to wait together for the bus and our guide. There are two clocks in the station, one gold and one silver, and both are convenient meeting points as they are at opposite ends of the main concourse. Very sensibly the meeting point for the tour group was in an underground shopping mall. The shops were not open yet (except for a McDonald’s and a few other eateries) so it wasn’t crowded but it was warm, and there were a surprising number of different tours gathered there. It was cold but bright and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky, and there wasn’t any new snow. Most of the ice had melted, so the roads were safe.

Very soon we ventured outside to wait a few minutes for the bus (and two latecomers!) and then the bus set off towards Gifu, the next prefecture (like a county or canton) to the north of Nagoya, where we visited a chicory farm and factory.

Despite four of us having lived in Belgium for many years, none of us knew what chicory looked like growing, or that the root can be used to make alcohol. It turns out that it’s grown from seeds, and a tuber, like a potato, grows underground, with leafy veg like spinach on top. They cut off the leaves, then bring the root in to sit in the dark in trays, until the chicory that we know grows on top. Machines cut off the new leaves, and sell them for salad or whatever people want, and here they use the root to make a kind of gin called shochu. The alcohol content is about 20% but they also make a stronger one at 44% which they call grappa, like the Italian drink made from grapevines. They import pale-blue bottles from Germany, to bottle it. Pale blue because the chicory flowers are a kind of look a bit like pale-blue daisies.

Personally we don’t like chicory, but the Belgians sell it and cook it in great quantities.

After the little talk and a look in the room of trays, we went into the shop, where people could taste three kinds of the alcohol. Olwen had one sip of mine and it was enough for her, but I enjoyed it. There were other locally produced things for sale as well, but we didn’t buy anything.

After that, we went through long tunnels in the mountains (lots of really high ones with snow on top) and came to the next prefecture, Nagano. There we had an early lunch, in a cafe which caters for large groups. They thoughtfully sat the five of us at one table, because we’d made a group booking. (There are 15 of us in our Saturday group; 7 couldn’t go at all on any date, but 8 could go on 27th. However, gradually one or another dropped out, so there were only five of us in the end, which was disappointing in a way, because we had checked beforehand.)

In the Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps

The lunch was a ‘Shabu-shabu’ which means everyone has a gas jet and a little pot of boiling water, plus about 150g of thinly sliced meat, and vegetables, a small plate of pickles, two sauces for dipping, some locally cooked mushrooms, and some soba noodles in a hot soup, plus tea, coffee, a little cake for dessert, and water. You cook your own meat and veg in the hot water and then dip it into one of your sauces, then eat. It’s fun to do, a bit like a Swiss fondue, and of course you can cook things to your liking. One of the sauces was sesame, and the other a kind of clear sweet sauce – I thought it tasted a bit of mustard. They were both good and indeed the meat doesn’t taste of anything much without them so they’re an important part of the meal.

Shabu shabu

Shabu shabu

About to enjoy our 'shabu shabu' lunch

About to enjoy our ‘shabu shabu’ lunch

After a short walk round the shop connected to the cafe, we went on to a small zoo for 40 minutes to stretch our legs, and let lunch settle. That was a surprise, and fun too. There was a sign saying the name of each animal in Chinese, Japanese and English, so we took a photo of three of us under the sign saying ‘human being’!

Then on to the strawberry greenhouses. The bus stopped at reception and our guide checked us in. We stayed in the bus, because the reception building wasn’t close to where we’d be picking. Reception told our guide which greenhouse to go to (there are at least 15 with long, long, wide rows of strawberries growing on shelves at waist height.) The bus drove us to the nearest car park and we were told we’d have 30 minutes in the greenhouse and then 10 minutes to get back to the bus. I guess they rotate the greenhouse to be picked from, so that each greenhouse gets a chance for the strawberries to ripen, and also there aren’t crowds all elbowing to pick at the same time. It was really good.

In the greenhouse they gave each of us an empty plastic punnet with about two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk in one half, and nothing in the other. The empty half was to put the strawberry leaves in, and the milk was for dipping. Then we were set loose! At first you think 30 minutes isn’t very long, but then you discover that it’s plenty, and your tummy gets full quite quickly. Olwen ate 48 big and medium-sized strawberries and I guess I ate a similar quantity; we didn’t see any small ones. In Japan, you don’t pick to take away like you do in England, but only to eat on the spot.

After that we were stuffed, so on to the sweet castle, which looked like a typical Japanese castle, and where their speciality is apple pie, but they also make lots of other desserts and cakes. We had a couple of small testings, and bought three boxes of biscuits for our Saturday group next week. Our students always bring a ‘souvenir’ back from where they’ve been on holiday or on business, to share with the group. It’s a nice idea.

After that, there was a DVD to watch in the bus (in Japanese of course, with no subtitles!) and some of us slept. In the event, we arrived back at the station just before the ending so anyone watching was left in suspense! It was a frivolous silly kind of thing, so it didn’t matter.

All in all, it was a good day out, even if we did have to get up before 6 am to be sure of catching the bus!

A typical Monday

This blog is subtitled “Our daily life in Japan”, but it’s the one thing I never write about. Not really. Let’s face it, daily life is not necessarily that interesting!

On the other hand if you only see the highlights, you might be forgiven for thinking that our life consists of a succession of amazing trips to breath-taking locations.

Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but it’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to share the good news – the Gospel – about how we can all know God as a wonderful Father because Jesus made it possible (it was always what the Father wanted, but it needed Jesus to come and tell us… and us to tell others.) I’ve written a bit about this in my other blog: see “Come home, all is forgiven!

We are missionaries in a way – anyway, we are certainly on a mission! We are self-supporting, so if we do go on a trip it’s “our own money” (we consider it all to be God’s money, hence the quotation marks) we’re spending not money that has been given us for the mission.

Anyway, since it is Monday today, I thought that I’d simply outline a typical Monday. Maybe I’ll do some other days too. They’re all a bit different.

A typical Monday

7.00 am: We wake up to “yesterday’s” 10 pm news on Radio 4 via internet radio. It’s our alarm. We’re 9 hours ahead of the UK so instead of breakfast news we get late-night news. 🙂

7.30 am: The radio switches off after 30 minutes and realise that we’ve gone back to sleep and must now get cracking! Sometimes, though, we get up after the headlines at about 7.10; it varies.

7.30-9.00 am: I catch up on social media, read a devotional from the YouVersion Bible app on my phone and post an encouraging or challenging verse/image in English (of course) and often in Chinese and Japanese too. I post to Instagram and Twitter and Facebook all at the same time, and since lots of my Instagram friends are in Taiwan or other countries in the Far East, I think Chinese is useful. It gets some attention in any case, though I sometimes wonder if people just like the picture behind the verse or are being kind to me! Of course I have Japanese followers, too. In the meantime, Olwen is to be found reading her Bible and/or studying Japanese.

9.00 am: Somewhere around 9, Olwen and I have breakfast together. This may be cereal for me and salad for her (she loves salad with sesame dressing!) or soup for both of us (home made!) or fruit and yogurt. After this, we read a little from Jonathan Cahn’s excellent “Book of Mysteries”. These short readings, of which there are conveniently 365, often give us a new insight into the Bible – the Book of Mysteries – from the Jonathan Cahn’s unique perspective as a Jewish Rabbi who recognises Jesus as his Messiah. After this, we pray together for the day and for anyone who is on our minds for some reason (illness, operation, etc.)

9.30 am: We both shower and get dressed; then we study until we need to leave.

10.15 am: I leave for my Japanese lesson which is 30-minute walk away. We get plenty of exercise here! My lesson on Mondays is with Chika who is an excellent teacher and just a delight to be with! Today we talked about my visit yesterday afternoon (with Olwen) to an exhibition of Mucha’s art nouveau paintings in the art gallery that occupies part of the 7th floor of a department store in the centre of Nagoya. Then she taught me how to ask what something tastes like and possible replies, and reviewed the comparative form – A is bigger than/smaller than/better than/more interesting than … B – that I studied last Thursday with my other teacher, Sari (equally excellent and delightful!)

Olwen leaves earlier on the weeks that she has a group to teach in Kawana, but today there was no group so I left her behind.

12.00 noon: My lesson finishes and often I join Olwen at the house of a Japanese friend (Takako) for lunch together with a second friend (Yuko) followed by a language exchange. Olwen exchanges and hour of English conversation for an hour of Japanese and I do the same with Yuko. Today, Yuko was busy with an exhibition (she’s an artist) so Olwen went to the exchange alone and I came home via a convenience store where Amazon had delivered a package for me to collect (500g of dessicated coconut, which is hard to find at a reasonable price in the supermarket). While I was there I bought myself some lunch: spicy pot noodles ($1.95) and an almond croissant ($1.45). It was a cheap and tasty lunch!

13.15: Lunch – see above – and below!

Spicy pot noodles

13.45-17.00: This is not typical, but today I’m writing this blog entry. I’m also expecting a friend to drop by with some books and then I’ll …. Oh! He has just rung the bell … and now I have the books. It’s a really interesting book about Chinese history and culture and religion. Olwen read the whole book in English yesterday and wanted Japanese copies for her groups. Maybe you are wondering, “What groups?” If so, take a look at the website about the groups.

Now I’ll finish writing this blog and study a bit. I also want to finish sorting out our pictures (more than 2500!!) from our holiday in Thailand over Christmas and New Year. Another day, I’ll post about that too.

17.00: Olwen should be back by about 5pm and then we’ll have a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa together and a sweet snack! After that we’ll probably watch “Japaneasy” on NHK World. It’s a useful series of Japanese lessons for English-speakers and since it’s web-based we can watch them whenever we want. The last one was about how to say “I think it’s cute” but also introduced us to two more kanji (the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing) and several other useful words and phrases.

18.00: It’s time to think about dinner and check if Olwen is Skyping or phoning a family member or friend in Europe or the US this evening. 6 pm here is 9 am in the UK, and 10 am in Switzerland where our eldest daughter lives, so it’s a good time to call. The calls are pre-arranged but sometimes one or other of the parties involved forgets or mistakes the time.

20.00: By 8 pm we’re definitely settling down for an evening’s viewing on Netflix! At the moment we’re watching season 2 of The Crown, a series about our current queen when she was much younger. We’re just up to the Suez Crisis debacle!

22.00: It’s time for a last check of email and Facebook/Messenger and then off to bed to listen to a comedy or quiz podcast on Radio 4 until we fall asleep. It’s good value as we often fall asleep quickly so we can listen to the same programme several times! We enjoy The News Quiz, Round Britain Quiz, Brain of Britain, Counterpoint, The Now Show, anything by John Finnemore (Cabin Pressure, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme) and Desert Island Discs. Or we may listen to a sermon from Bethel church’s sermon of the week.

Koyo in Korankei

Last Wednesday we took a day trip on a tour bus. We had visited Korankei in the spring of 2015 and wanted to see it again in autumn. We had booked the tour several weeks ago on the basis that the leaves should have turned to their beautiful autumn colours in by now. We were not disappointed as the leaves were gorgeous! In addition, although the weather had not been great for a couple of days before that, the forecast for Wednesday was good and again we were not disappointed. In fact, we were blessed all round!

We went first to the temple at Kokeisan-Eihoji, whose origins date back to 1313. Unfortunately it burned down in 2003 but was completely restored by 2011. The grounds include a 700-year-old gingko tree! This temple was not on the programme when we booked the tour, so we were not expecting to go there, but it was really beautiful – the pictures speak for themselves.

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The Ena gorge reservoir is much more recent, having been formed by the construction of a dam for hydroelectric power in 1924, and that’s where we made a brief stop next to admire the view.

After lunch in an enormous banqueting hall with space for hundreds of people, we headed off for Obara where the cherry blossom flowers in spring and in winter. The district is famous for this winter-flowering cherry blossom called Obara-shikizakara. The blossoms were not yet fully out, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Finally we spent almost two hours in the Korankei valley where the maple trees were beautiful.

It was getting dark but we caught some sun for our pictures and walked up a 250-metre high hill … and down again! By the time we got near the rendezvous point for the tour bus it was dark and the trees were illuminated by floodlights. There was just time to see some of them before taking the bus home again.

By the time we reached our flat we’d been out for a full 12 hours: from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm! It was a good day!

Oh! I forgot to tell you what the koyo in the title means. Probably you’ve worked it out, though. It’s just the Japanese for colourful autumn leaves.

PS: you might get the impression from this blog that all we do is see the sights and enjoy ourselves! That may be the only part that’s really interesting to write about but it represents only a small part of our life here. We are very busy the rest of the time with Olwen teaching English to five groups consisting mostly of Japanese ladies, with a few other nationalities mixed in. One group meets on Saturday in our flat and that one also has some men in it. The others take place at various locations around the city and can take her up to an hour to get to. Meanwhile I am shopping, cleaning the apartment, and sharing in the preparation of meals. We are both studying Japanese too, and both have two lessons each week for which we must study and do homework! You can read more about Olwen’s teaching groups on the Nagoya Friendship Groups web site.

From cormorants to fake food

Gifu – Seki – Gujo-Hachiman: a half-term break

At the end of October, we took a few days off from the teaching schedule – a kind of half-term holiday if you will – and set off for Gifu, a short train ride to the north of Nagoya.

There’s a beautiful castle there, but the first thing we saw on leaving the station was a statue of Nobunaga, a powerful samurai warlord in Japan in the late 16th century who helped to unify Japan and create Gifu city.

IMG_0901 (Large)

Having taken some obligatory photos, we re-entered the station in search of lunch and found a lovely stained-glass window of the city … and a great all-you-can-eat buffet. Here they are called Viking (pronounced Biking) buffets, supposedly because they were first introduced by SAS airlines, who, being Scandinavian, called them Viking Buffets. Now every buffet is a Viking buffet. The pronunciation threw us the first time we heard it as we expected to see bikers (or at least cyclists) at the buffet!

Jpeg

Jpeg

We wandered on through the town and up to the river where they still use cormorants for night-fishing. Unfortunately the fishing season had just finished so we couldn’t see any night fishing, but of course the decorative manhole covers illustrated the city’s main claim to fame, and the fishing boats were lined up along the river side. We also passed a shrine with a golden torii gate (usually they are red or plain wood) spotted an otter – or perhaps another water animal – in a stream, an old-style post box and an ATM room disguised as an art gallery! We were glad to see the leaves turning to their autumn colours, which look beautiful against the bright blue sky and caught our first glimpse of a three-storied pagoda through the trees.

The next day, we walked up to the castle passing a couple of temples – one with a giant Buddha inside. This Buddha is only slightly smaller that the one in Nara but the temple itself is much smaller. In the gardens below the castle there was a chrysanthemum festival.

We took the ropeway (cable car) up to the castle as we didn’t fancy hiking up there in our sandals, especially after walking 40 minutes or more from the hotel.

At the end of the ride lay the Kinka Squirrel Village, so we paid our dues (minimal) and went in. They gave us each a glove for one hand and put food on the glove so we could feed the squirrels. We were instructed not to hit them, but Olwen found that they enjoyed being stroked. They were so cute!

After taking a look at the city from the mountain-top observation platform, we dropped down a level for a good lunch with a wonderful view out over the city. In the afternoon, we visited the castle. It’s a pretty building, but without much else to report unless you are really into Japanese history!

On the way back to our hotel, we dropped into a small shop we had seen the day before and also visited in the morning. We had our eye on a large, blue bowl which we wanted for our flat. We intended to put fragrant gel-balls in it to perfume our little office. They had set it aside for us and, when we said we wanted to ship it back to Nagoya, being too heavy to carry around for the rest of our trip, they packed it up for shipping a couple of days’ later (so it wouldn’t arrive at our house before we did!) The bowl cost about 15 euros and the shipping about 5 euros (our hotel had quoted us 10 euros!) all of which was considerably less that anything we had seen on the internet so we were very happy. In the same shop they also had some tiny pots with lids selling for about 640 euros each!!

The following day we took the train to Seki, the historical centre for swordsmiths and cutlers. We found the museum not far from the railway station and took a good look round. There were swords and knives of all sorts, often with beautiful inscriptions on the blade or haft. There were also a couple of “Swiss army” knives of amazing complexity. At the end we filled in a questionnaire whose English Olwen corrected for the benefit of future visitors. She was unexpectedly given a potato peeler as a present in return!

We carried on by local train (a single carriage) to our last destination: Gujo-Hachiman, famous for the production of the “fake” or “sample” food you see outside so many restaurants here in Japan. You can try your hand at making some, but Olwen had already tried this recently in Nagoya so we didn’t do it in Gujo. It was lunchtime and we found a Chinese restaurant near the station where we enjoyed chilli prawns and other good food.

After lunch we relaxed, walking round the town where the sound of water was everywhere with little streams flowing beside many of the streets and two rivers merging near the centre. We needed to book tickets for our return journey so we made our way to the tourist information centre. It was truly excellent and a young lady booked us tickets for the next day as this had to be done by telephone and we felt it was beyond our language skills. She also advised us to lookout for salamanders in the river (we looked but didn’t find any).

Our hotel – a modern ryokan complete with onsen – was up the hill near the castle and we had a large Japanese-style room with tatami flooring and futon to sleep on, which we love. We think the room could have a slept a family of six! Our pillows were small and filled with cherry stones, which are surprisingly comfortable. We had booked breakfast for the next day, not knowing quite what to expect and were pleasantly surprised to find a veritable breakfast banquet awaiting us!

The local fish is called Ayu, or sweetfish. It doesn’t exist outside east Asia so there is no recognisable English name for it. It was on our list of things to eat there, but since you are supposed to eat it all from head to tail we had decided not to bother. Yet there it was, cooking for us at breakfast, so we ate it, skipping the head!

We spent the rest of the day at the castle, visiting temples, including a zen temple with a lovely garden, eating another speciality off our list in the tourist information centre restaurant – together with a prize-winning beer – and enjoying the sounds of the water.

The same lady at the information centre rebooked us on an earlier bus back to Nagoya as we had seen everything we wanted to, and even wrote us a page of explanation for the driver, who had already left Takayama where the bus starts its journey, so he would understand why there were extra passengers turning up for his bus, which we had to catch in a lay-by just off the highway.

It was the beginning of a holiday weekend so perhaps that’s why there was extra traffic as we neared Nagoya and the journey took over two hours instead of about 100 minutes. But it didn’t matter; Olwen slept and I read and listened to music, and we were warm and comfortable in the long-distance coach (with plenty of leg room!) and arrived home tired, happy and still earlier than planned!

A new apartment, a festival and a person of interest!

We’ve been back in Nagoya since the beginning of September and very quickly found an apartment to rent for the three years we will be here (minimum!) We got the keys on 20 September and physically moved in at the very beginning of October – three weeks ago now.

Before then we had fun buying new furniture and electrical appliances and curtains and now have the apartment arranged to our liking. We got ourselves a fidelity/loyalty card (they are called points cards here) before buying anything and ordered so much furniture that we got a substantial reduction through the points when we went later to order curtains. The card was free so this was well worth doing. 🙂

We have a new computer too, and with high-speed internet we are really up and running fast!

But it’s not been all shopping by any means. we’ve started our Japanese lessons again and I’ll soon be back to the level I had attained when we left in February and then progressing beyond that. Olwen started lessons earlier so she’s already caught up I think.

And it almost goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that we’ve enjoyed reconnecting with friends at various churches here, attending His Call Church – which celebrated its 13th birthday with a party after the main service last week – and All Nations Fellowship, and having dinner one evening at a Nepali curry restaurant with friends from the Mustard Seed church.

Handa Dashi Matsuri

And we’ve had some outings too. A couple of weeks ago we went with friends to Handa, half an hour by train south of here, to see the Handa Dashi Matsuri. This is festival with large floats (dashi), and every five years they bring them all out of storage so that this year there were 31 of them parading round the town and then lined up in a large open space for everyone to see.

Thousands of people came and it was really hot. Maybe it was only 26°C but the sun was fierce and with the crowds and the fact that we arrived at 8.30 am, by mid-afternoon we were quite tired and went home. Unfortunately a lot of other people had decided to do the same so we had to stand in the train all the way!

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From soup to the Amazon

We make a lot of soup and curries, and a couple of days ago our blender gave up the ghost in the middle of blending a sweet chestnut soup. 😦 So we did what anyone would do and looked for a new one on Amazon! Having found one that was suitable we decided to order it only to find that it was only available to people who had subscribed to Amazon Prime, which did not include us!

Amazon invited us to try this for a month for free and we accepted, thereby getting the blender the very next day too! In addition, we discovered that some of our favourite TV series – that we couldn’t get on Netflix either in Belgium or here in Japan –  were available free on Amazon Prime – Person of Interest in particular. So we are now set up for many nights of viewing, casting from the PC to the television via Google Chromecast (which we had bought last year in Japan to be able to see Netflix on our television). It works well and Amazon Prime is much less expensive that Netflix with all kinds of extra advantages like free and quicker shipping and ebooks, as well as the TV series and films I alluded to before. Maybe we’ll ditch Netflix!

Into Africa!

I can hardly believe it’s been so long since my last post, but then we have been very busy and I’ll try to catch you up quickly.
But first, why “Into Africa”?
Well it was to get your attention and it’s not actually Africa we’re in, of course, it’s Japan, but did you know that Nagoya, where we are now living once more, is at the same latitude as Tangiers in north Africa? No wonder it gets hot here! In fact the climate is officially “humid sub-tropical” and it definitely gets humid!

Catching up

Since my last post we have:
  • sold our house in Brussels
  • obtained our certificates of eligibility
  • traded those for 3-year visas
  • emptied the last things from our house
  • flown to Nagoya
  • received our 3-year residence cards
  • registered at the ward office for the area we are living in
  • found an apartment and applied to rent it
  • opened a bank account
  • shopped for furniture and appliances
The patience I mentioned in the last post has been rewarded and God has worked everything out with impeccable timing!

Leaving Brussels

The departure was very smooth. Our packers arrived on time and packed up our remaining furniture and other goods for shipment to the UK in record time. We stayed in a nearby apartment for a few days while they did this and then moved to the airport Sheraton on Friday night so it was easy to catch our 11am flight on Saturday.

The removal van sets off with our furniture …

We had so much stuff to take to Japan – mostly teaching materials but also more clothes than last time – that we ended up buying an extra suitcase and paying €150 excess baggage charge to take it. We’ll be here for at least three years so we need a lot of materials – not just books you can buy, but course materials that Olwen has prepared over the years.
We looked into shipping the extra but that would have cost €500 by air and more by sea. Then we looked at posting it, but that was going to be €260 and in both cases there would be customs inspection and possibly import duties to pay. So excess baggage was the best option. We packed and repacked and put as much as possible in our carry-on luggage too. Finally we were just right at 23kg per suitcase and 10kg in carry-on.
And so we crossed the road from the Sheraton to the airport terminal to check in. I’d just said to the lady checking us in how we had weighed and reweighed everything when we put the last suitcase on the checking-in belt and it weighed 24kg! She just smiled and said it was OK!
Phew!

Arriving in Africa Nagoya

Lufthansa took good care of us to Frankfurt and then on to Nagoya. It took a little while to get our residence cards on arrival but by 9am Sunday morning local time we were in arrivals where our large-taxi/minibus driver was waiting for us. He took us to our hotel in Nagoya itself where we left our luggage as we couldn’t check in until 3pm.

Coming in to land

From there we took the metro/subway to Osu Kannon where the very lively His Call church meets. Several people we had got to know during our six-month stay from September 2016 to February 2017 welcomed us back and, after energetic singing (less energetic on our part, I have to say!) and a dynamic talk by Yumi-sensei, who is one of the main pastors (and the wife of the other one!), we had lunch with friends in the cafe His Call runs. It was one of our favourites: karaage chicken – think Kentucky Fried Chicken and you won’t be far off. In fact KFC is very popular in Japan for just that reason.
Our friends took us by car back to the hotel, where we waited in its cafe with a free ‘welcome coffee’ until they let us check in at about 2.45pm. We’d been up for over 24 hours by this time so we immediately crashed out for a few hours in our compact bedroom. ☺
In the morning – having woken, walked around the neighbourhood, eaten something and slept again – we took our luggage across the road to the apartment building where we’re staying this month and checked in when the office manager, Mariko-san, arrived just before 9am.

Settling in

On Tuesday we visited several apartments with one agent and on Wednesday several more with another. As we came to the end of that tour, we asked if we could see the first one again. The second visit confirmed it; it’s the one for us and we have applied to rent it. You have to apply and be vetted by the building’s management company so we’ll know in a couple of days if they have found us worthy!  ☺
We hope to get into the apartment by about 20 September and move in fully by the end of the month. in the meantime we’ve opened a bank account and spent some time looking at fridges and microwaves and sofas and tables and many other things that we’ll need to equip it.
On Saturday morning we had our first friendship study group in our apartment.Not everyone could come, but one new member brought some very cute Japanese delicacies.

Too cute to eat?

Were we sad?

Were we sad to leave Belgium after more than 30 years living there? Perhaps surprisingly we were not sad at all. Maybe it was because we knew deep down that we were embarking on a wonderful adventure, “prepared in advance for us” as Paul writes in his letter to the early church in Ephesus.  And we were also able to say goodbye to all our friends in Brussels as well as our children, whom we will see again both in Japan when they come to visit and in the UK or other parts of Europe when we go there for a couple of months each summer to escape the humid sub-tropical climate of Nagoya.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. “
Paul’s letter to the early Christians in Ephesus

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By the way, that bit about being God’s handiwork and there being good works for you to do – if that sounds boring think of a “great adventure” instead – applies to everyone. We are all his handiwork – one translation says “His masterpiece” – it’s just a matter of making our relationship with Him more important than any other, and being open to whatever he has prepared for us.
Tomorrow, Monday, the second group begins again with Olwen teaching, and I hope to get some studying done. We’ll be into the routine – but we’ll try not to lose sight of the dream!

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!