Dec 23, 2014


I've lived in five different cities so far, and three of them are in Yuki-guni, or the Snow Country, where we have a lot of snow every winter. The city of Tookamachi, where I lived about ten years ago, is famous for its heavy snow.

This is the picture of my apartment house that was taken in January, 2006. The snow on the ground is nearly 3 meters (10 feet) deep. The building has three stories, but the first floor, where they park their cars, is buried in the snow. (There are small sprinklers for melting the snow at the entrance, so the cars can go out and come in.)

I lived on the second floor. The windows are partly hidden by the snow. There is little snow on the roof, because it is being heated by some special device to melt it before it piles up.

Tookamachi is also famous for its snow festival, which is held in the middle of February every year. The following pictures were taken during the festival in 2005.

They build a stage of snow in the park on the hill, where they have a concert at night. I didn't go to the concert but visited the park in the daytime.

During the festival, we can see various snow sculptures in many places in the city. People in the neighborhood work together to create beautiful snow statues like these:

 When the festival is over, spring is just around the corner.

I'm joining Josie @ Two Shoes in Texas
for Two Shoes Tuesday.
writing prompts:
sparkle, snow 

Dec 20, 2014

Ten Things of Thankful: December 20

I'm thankful for the lovely primroses Mr. H.B. has given us.

I'm thankful for the beautiful new calendar that is now on the wall in my room. It is a gift from a certain company to my father, and he has given it to me.

I'm glad that I went to the green house in the municipal botanical garden on a snowy day this week. The green house was full of colorful flowers. I had a good time observing them.

I'm thankful for the 'gangi,' that is, a kind of arcade found in most shopping districts in our city, where we have a lot of snow. Though the shop owners have to clear the roofs of snow frequently, the pedestrians can walk under the gangi comfortably.
This picture was taken last week, and we now have far more snow on the ground.

I'm thankful for the people who clear the sidewalks of snow early in the morning.
I've finished these dishcloths for a friend. I love crocheting small items.
I'm thankful for this timer in the kitchen. It is especially useful when I cook with a pressure cooker.
I'm thankful that I have enough time to practice playing the organ for the candlelight service.

I'm thankful in advance for the potluck lunch at the church next Sunday.

I'm thankful for the wonderful time I had with my new students at the International Affairs Department on Friday. One is from the USA, and the other is from China. We reviewed some pattern practices in the textbook, and talked about our hobbies in Japanese. It was the very first time that the three of us worked together, and it went very well. I was glad to see the students helping each other.
Ten Things of Thankful

Dec 19, 2014

Deja Vu Blogfest 2014: My Testimony

Today I'm taking part in the Deja Vu Blogfest 2014 @ DL Hammons. On December 19th, anyone who decides to participate will re-post their favorite blog offering from earlier in the year, or one that you believe failed to receive the exposure it deserved.
I'm going to re-post the article published on December 4th, which, in fact, was a repost of what I had written years before...
* * * 
Celebrating the Advent season, I have been led to share my testimony on the Internet again. I have already posted this elsewhere before, but I would like to tell you the same story again. I wrote this testimony many years ago, in the form of an imaginary letter to my best friend in my university days.

* * *
March, 1991.

Dear N**,

How have you been? It is six years since I saw you last. Somehow, I felt like writing to you suddenly, though I don’t know exactly why.

Five years have passed since I graduated from university. Since then, I have been teaching English at a high school in I**. I was a homeroom teacher of the seniors this year, and I was very busy. However, now that my students have graduated, I have a little time to reflect on myself. I am wondering how much I have changed since we parted with each other. When I look back on my university days, I cannot help thinking of you.

Do you remember my telling you that I have become a Christian? As you know, if it had not been for the” tragedy”, I would not have become a Christian at that time.

I will never forget the day in late February in 1985, when you visited me in the evening and told me that you might have to quit the university, depending on the results of the medical checkups you were scheduled to have during the spring vacation. You were a junior and I was a sophomore then. I had thought I would be able to study at the same university with you for at least one more year. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say.

Then you said,

“If I am forced to quit the university, I am going to lose so many things—including you.”

“No, you are not going to lose me. I love you. I will write to you every day. If possible, I will visit you in the hospital in your hometown.”

I was sad. There seemed to be nothing I could do for you. The only thing I could do was to pray to God. Though I had not become a Christian yet, somehow, it seemed to me that the God that I had read about in various Christian stories and novels is the trustworthiest entity in the world. I would often cry out to God, saying, “Please don’t deprive me of my best friend!”

It slowly dawned on me that my prayer was a very selfish one. I thought I loved you, but I was praying in tears just because I didn’t want to lose you. I realized that what had motivated my petition was not love, but self-pity. If I had loved you truly, I would have prayed, instead, that you would be healed, whether or not I would be able to see you again.

Anyway, I kept praying for you. I stayed with my parents in N** City during the spring vacation, while you were being examined in a hospital in your hometown, K**, which is in another prefecture. You gave me a letter in March, didn’t you? You quoted a passage from the poem written by William Wordsworth.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the glass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

The passage made me feel very sad, for it sounded like a farewell message from you.

It was in the middle of April that I got another letter from you. I opened it, with my fingers trembling. The letter started with a description of the scenic beauty of your hometown in spring, which filled me with anxiety, because I felt as if you were telling me that you would be confined to the hospital in your hometown forever. I was afraid to read on. I had to force myself to read on. And it was good news. You told me that your illness was not something malignant, and that you would be able to resume your study at the university. I thanked God, to whom I had been praying, and it was at this moment that I decided to learn more about this God in a Christian church.

On the next day, the entrance ceremony was held. As the freshmen were coming out of the auditorium, members of various clubs and sport teams stood waiting for them in the hope of recruiting new members. I also helped hand out leaflets for the English club. Then, I noticed a couple of students beside us singing a song, accompanied by the guitar. They were the members of the Bible Study Group. I happened to know one of the members, who attended the same lecture as I. I found myself talking to him.

“Do the members of the Bible Study Group go to church?”

“Yes, we do.”

“Would you tell me where it is, and when the service starts? I would like to go to church.”

“We usually go there together in a car. Why don’t you come with us?”

That was how I was led to a Christian church near the university.

On the morning of the day when I went to church for the first time in my life, Miss F**, s senior who majored in agriculture and forestry, asked me, “What do you think church is like?”

“Well, “ I answered, “we will sing hymns and pray there. There will be beautiful stained glass…

“Since we are Protestants, the church building is simple. Hymns, prayers, and in addition, we will listen to the sermon.”

We arrived at the church, and soon the service began. I was overwhelmed by the powerful hymns that the people sang beautifully. The minister told us in the sermon that the blood of Jesus Christ washes away our sins, just as rivers wash away something dirty.” After the worship, I was invited to attend the beginners’ class, where we learned Psalm 139.

It was late in April that we met each other again. When I told you that I had begun going to church, you looked sad. You said, “It seems to me that you are going to a different world from mine.”

I kept attending the beginners’ class. The leader talked about God, the Creator, human beings, sins and salvation. Although I was interested in the class, I didn’t understand why we had to be saved. I wondered if it was because I didn’t understand what sins are.

Since my childhood, I have always loved reading books. I have been attracted to the Christians that I read about in some of the books. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be kind to others. I wanted to stay calm whatever may happen to me. I had thought these virtues are something that should be obtained by making efforts. I wanted to be a better person full of virtues, so that I could be accepted more warmly by my friends and by my parents.

One of the reasons why I entered the university was that I was thinking of becoming a teacher of English in the future. I wanted to be a great teacher like those who taught me English in high school. I started to prepare for the examinations in the fall of that year.

One day, when I was reading a textbook, I came across some sample questions that would be asked during the interview. I was literally numbed by one of the questions: "What would you do if your disobedient students tried to disrupt the class?”

On reading this question, I felt as if the foundation on which I stood had started crumbling suddenly. I was so naive that I thought all the students would listen to the teacher obediently, just like my classmates in the academically oriented high school.

I lost self-confidence completely. I had wanted to be a teacher who could help even the worst students. However, I realized that I had acquired little knowledge and skills to cope with the problems my future students might have. Or rather, I lacked not only in knowledge and skills but also, more important, in "virtues". Until then, I had thought I would be able to become a good teacher, but it was groundless confidence. I was at a loss.

After realizing this, I was depressed. I felt that I was worthless. I even wished I were dead. I listed my shortcomings and weaknesses, and wondered if I would be able to improve myself by making great efforts. The more I thought about this, the more depressed I felt. I was good for nothing. I would never amount to anything.

In those days, I imagined that these shortcomings were sins. However, the people in the church taught me that sins come from our human nature, our disobedience to God. They also told me that they hadn’t become Christians because they wanted to be better people, but because they wanted to live with Jesus all the time.

Dear N**, when you were a senior and I was a junior, we met once or twice a week to study English together. We read some articles from American news magazines and discussed the issues in English, didn't we? Though you often looked busy with the thesis and job hunting. Soon, winter came. December, January, February... and March—the month when you graduated and moved to a city in Tokyo. When we said good by for the last time, you told me that you would write to me soon. But you didn’t write to me as soon as I had expected you to.

I can’t tell you here how lonely I was after you left me. Everything I saw seemed to remind me of you so painfully. The corner where we used to have a friendly chat, the lounge in the library where you told me about anthropology enthusiastically, and so on. I couldn’t help feeling extremely sad whenever I had to go to these places.

And the day finally came when I decided to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. It was April 13, 1986. After the service and the beginners’ class, I remained in the small room facing the graveyard with Ms. I**. She asked me if I believed in the resurrection of Jesus. I said, “Yes, I think it was not impossible because Jesus is God.” Then I asked the teacher many more questions. She answered each of my questions clearly.

“We are sinners. But when we believe in Jesus, He makes us clean. Then God considers us to be clean, because of Jesus. --My family, too, was against me when I told them I wanted to be a Christian. Certainly, it took a lot of time for them to understand me. However, they are now proud of me. They tell their neighbors proudly that I am a teacher at a Christian church. If you are not saved first, then, who will pray for the salvation of your family?”

At last, I said clearly, “Ms. I**, I believe in Jesus Christ.”

Ms. I** was overjoyed. She ran to the main chapel and came back with the minister, the Rev. M. A. The minister taught me these verses.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23—24)

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- " (Ephesians 2:8)

I came home by bus. The cherry blossoms along the river looked as if they were shining in my eyes.

After this, I decided to be a high school teacher again. I was baptized on June 1. Then I worked as a student teacher for three weeks at a high school near the university. I was happy to practice teaching. During the summer vacation, I took examinations and I passed them. In April, I was employed by the prefectural government and began to teach in I**.

When I started writing this letter, I was planning to write more about my work as a teacher, but I have changed my mind.

Let me conclude this long letter by asking you one question. Do you think we were born into this world by accident?

I don’t think so. God has created each of us as an object of His love. To tell the truth, I often feel disappointed at myself. Sometimes, I feel hopeless. However, I can fight against my hopelessness because God loves me in spite of my weaknesses.

God says to us in the Bible, "You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you." This is the secret of my life.

I used to think that the purpose of my life was to make all my wishes come true by making whatever effort I can, but after becoming a Christian, I have changed a little. I am not alone. Jesus is always with me. I want to live a meaningful life following Jesus Christ. He loves us so much that He died on the cross in our place, so that our sins will be forgiven.




Dec 16, 2014

At Midnight

   I woke up around midnight. I had been sleeping in my room alone. I didn't have a bed in those days. Like most people living in Japan, I spread a soft mattress, a blanket and a thick quilt on the tatami floor every night before going to bed. When I got up in the morning, I had to fold the bedding and put it away in the closet. The mattress and the quilt were heavy and it was not easy for a little child to make a bed. I was seven years old at that time.

   My room was on the second floor, and it was very small. There were only two rooms on the second floor. The smaller one facing east was mine, and the other one was my parents'. My mother spent a lot of time sewing and crocheting there during the day. At night, my parents took the mattresses and the bedclothes out of the closet, and turned the room into their bedroom.

   They usually made me go to bed at eight o'clock. I didn't fall asleep very soon, but once I fell asleep, I usually slept until the alarm clock went off in the morning. On that day in December, however, I happened to wake up around midnight. The room was not completely dark. Through the translucent paper on the sliding doors between the rooms, I saw that the light in the next room was still on. My parents hadn't gone to bed yet.



   I heard my mother talking to my father in the next room. -- I don't remember the exact words she said, but I remember hearing such phrases as 'the red overcoat,' 'the hood,' 'the doll,' 'a white border' and 'a present.' She seemed to be working on a crocheting project. I closed my eyes, and drifted into sleep again.


   Several days later, my father brought a small fir tree from the garden into the dining room, and we decorated the tree with baubles, tinsel, and lights. On the next day, he came home with a fancy cake he had bought at the bakery. We had the sponge cake covered with whipped cream after supper. It was December 24.


   I went to bed, hoping that Santa Claus would visit my room to give me a present at night. I didn't wake up when Santa Claus came. When I woke up the next morning, I found my favorite doll sitting next to my mattress. She was dressed in a red overcoat with a white border.

  That was the moment when I realized that my parents were my Santa Claus. This little overcoat must be what my mother was making on the night when I overheard her. 'The red overcoat,' 'the hood,' 'the doll', 'a white border' and 'a Christmas present' -- everything added up. I had believed in the real Santa Claus until that Christmas morning.

I'm joining Josie @ Two Shoes in Texas
for Two Shoes Tuesday.
writing prompts
midnight, mystery

Dec 15, 2014

Psalm 27:4-5

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
that will I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion:
in the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
I'm learning Psalm 27:4-5 by heart, and I'd like to write down a few things I've noticed while reading these verses carefully.
  • Dwelling in the house of the LORD figuratively means 'abiding in Him.' -- I will abide in Him all the days of my life.
  • 'The beauty of the LORD' must be infinitely greater than what I can imagine... Pondering what it would be like fills me with awe and joy.
  • 'Desire,' 'seek,' and 'inquire' -- these verbs in verse 4 have similar meanings.
  • 'The house of the LORD,' 'His temple,' 'His pavilion,' and 'His tabernacle' -- these expressions seem to refer not only to geographical places but also to metaphorical 'places' where we are aware of His presence.
  • '... in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion.' -- So, I'm secure. I don't need to fear anything.



Dec 13, 2014

Ten Things of Thankful: December 13

Ten Things of Thankful

   Last Saturday, I attended a class at the municipal International Affairs Department, where we learned a little bit about Indonesian culture. It was a lot of fun. The teacher was Mr. G, a university student from the island of Nias. First, he talked about the tourist attractions in his hometown. I had never heard of Nias before, but now I know that it is a good place for surfing. It is also famous for stone jumping. He also talked about Indonesian food. I don't remember what it is called, but we tasted a dessert made of boiled sweet potato and coconut.  Then he showed us how to weave a pouch for a traditional Indonesian dish, ketupat (tamboyo), that is, rice dumpling cooked in coconut milk. It was difficult for beginners to make pouches in a short time, so he gave us the beautiful pouches he had made for us.
Mr. G also taught us a very simple dance, and we danced together. The class was only one hour long, but we learned so many things.
   The International Affairs Department offers classes for cross-cultural understanding several times a year, and it was my first time to attend one. I'm looking forward to taking part in more classes in the future.


   I'm thankful that I've completed my forth translation assignment for RBC Ministries, Japan. I translated 5 pages of Our Daily Bread into Japanese, which will be published in May. I'm glad to be a member of this wonderful team. I'm thankful for the Rev. Uchida, who gave me a copy of this devotional booklet more than twenty years ago. Since then, I've been subscribing to Our Daily Bread. The first thing I read every morning is a page from this inspiring booklet.

I'm thankful that it was sunny last Wednesday. I went shopping and got a salted salmon at the best fish market in our city. In this area, it is customary to have grilled salmon on New Year's Eve and on New Year's Day. We also have traditional soup with salmon, vegetables, and rice cake for breakfast on January 1st. My father and I went to the farmers' market on this day, too. We got some more vegetables in preparation for the snowy season.


Dec 9, 2014

Advent Candles

  The first and the second candles in the Advent wreath have been lit. Next to the pulpit is a large Christmas tree decorated with colorful baubles and tinsel. Outside the window we see roofs covered with snow. This is the time of the year when we think about the meaning of Christmas deeply.

   I remember the day when I heard the word 'Advent' for the first time in my life. I was twenty years old. I had started going to church about eight months before, and I was still wondering whether I should be a Christian or not. When I arrived at the church on that cold morning in late November, I was worried about my future. It was time I started making plans for my graduation thesis, but I hadn't even come up with any good topics yet. I was not sure what I should do after graduating university, either. I had always wanted to be a teacher of English as a foreign language, but I had a feeling that I was not up to the job. I didn't know if I would be able to pass the competitive examinations. I was full of anxiety. I guess it was the onset of my first episode of depression, though I didn't realize it in those days. I often wished I had not been born. I sometimes wished I could disappear from this world to escape from myself. I felt depressed and hopeless that morning, too.

  When I entered the church,  I noticed something strange hanging next to the pulpit. It looked like a Christmas wreath, but it was horizontal, and there were four candles in it. I had never seen anything like that before. It was beautiful. At the beginning of the sermon, the pastor explained the meaning of 'Advent' and talked about the custom of lighting a candle on each Sunday of Advent, until all the four candles are lit by the last Sunday before Christmas. I was deeply impressed with this beautiful custom of waiting for Christmas.

     Week 1, one candle.
     Week 2, two candles.
     Week 3, three candles.
     Week 4, four candles.
     Then Christmas comes.
  I wanted to see all the candles lit. I was still full of worries, but at least, I no longer felt hopeless. I had something to look forward to. The more candles, the closer to Christmas.
   The only Christmas songs I had known before that year were Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Silent Night, and Joy to the World. It was delightful to learn new songs. I had thought of Christmas as a beautiful fairy tale that took place in a foreign country two thousand years ago, but I realized it had something to do with me. -- About four months later, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour.



   Every year, when the first Advent candle is lit, I think of the light and the hope that God gives us. It seems to me that He is highlighting the word 'light' this year. I've been memorizing Psalm 27, which begins with 'The LORD is my light.' Last week, the pastor gave a sermon based on John 1, and he emphasized verse 9: "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." The short essay I read a few weeks ago was about John 8:12: "Jesus spoke to them again, saying 'I'm the light of the world.'" My light, the true light that gives light to every man, the light of the world... In deed, the Bible is full of light. Light enables us to see. Light guides us. Light gives us hope.

I'm joining Josie @ Two Shoes in Texas
for Two Shoes Tuesday.
writing prompts:
calm or candle 

Dec 8, 2014

Memory Monday: My Christmas Memories

Retired Not Tired Memory Monday
   In my childhood, Christmas was the time when we decorated the fir tree with tinsel and lights, had fancy cake my father had bought at a bakery, and received a gift from Santa Claus, who visited my bedroom while I was asleep. I sometimes went to Christmas parties for the children in the neighborhood, where we sang songs, had a snack, played games and exchanged gifts. Strangely, those parties were held at the small community center built in the precinct of a Shinto shrine for indigenous 'gods' in Japan.

   I live in Japan, where Christians account for less than one percent of the whole population. Most of the people in my neighborhood consider themselves to be Buddhists, and they also follow the traditions and customs of Shintoism. An average Japanese family has both Buddhist and Shinto altars. They go to Shinto shrines on New Year's Eve and on festival days. They ask Buddhist monks to conduct funerals and memorial services. In December, they set up Christmas trees and have parties. My family was no exception. We were just imitating some of the Western customs of Christmas without knowing who Christ really was.

  I went to church for the first time in my life at the age of 20. I was interested in Christianity because I had read a lot of Western novels in translation, including Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and Strait Is the Gate. I also loved books written by a Japanese Christian writer, Miura Ayako. I wanted to know more about God. I had started reading the Bible by myself. One of my classmates was a Christian, and I started to go to church with him. I also attended the class for beginners after the worship service.

 -- To make a long story short, I finally accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour at the age of 21. At that very moment, He began to live in me, so to speak. I started to understand the meaning of the true Christmas story.

   I remember the first Christmas that I celebrated as a Christian. I was a member of the church choir. We had started practicing Christmas songs early in November. Though I had been very busy writing the graduation thesis at that time, I never missed any rehearsals. We sang beautiful songs in front of everyone in the new church building that had been completed only two months before. The songs we sang that year included "Hallelujah Chorus," "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "O Holy Night," "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming," and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." 

  I was also a member of the English Bible Class, which had a meeting before the worship service every Sunday. There were some professors, university students and businessmen in that group. We usually read the Bible and devotionals in English. For the Sunday School Christmas party that year, we sang The Friendly Beasts," wearing the masks of animals made of paper. It was a lot of fun.


Dec 7, 2014

White Camellia Sasanqua

This photo was taken a few weeks ago at the shopping district near the railroad station.