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.