Thursday, April 28, 2005

Video Blog #9 (The Golden Week Special)


8.01 MB (at 3 minutes and 27 seconds)
Now playing in Google Video as of 28 June 2006
A case study in JET paranoia; featuring a guest performance by J-pop girl trio "Lets" and a doomed haliotidae.

Gaijin for Life will be on hiatus during Golden Week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Under the Gym . . . What Things May Come . . .


The first question that comes to mind is, why do the gym walls at Hebiura Elementary School need to be held up with flying buttresses? Oh, wait, the place is like a century old.

The second question that crosses one’s mind is why are there baby foxes living under the gymnasium floor? Six of them! I have to admit that I have never seen baby foxes before. Maybe we will have some bear cubs move in next? The students' response to discovering the new residents was pretty cute: "please, teacher, we need to stop practicing taiko (drum) in the gym. It will disturb the baby foxes' sleep!"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

To all you Japanese WOLBI alumni out there . . .

. . . if you ever visit Gaijin for Life you have probably noticed that there are only five links under my "Japanese WOLBI Alumni" heading. This is a shortcoming that I am trying to rectify. If you are a Japanes WOLBI alumni and are willing, please help me in my special project to compile a complete list of Japanese WOLBI alumni who have blogs, along with their web addresses. You can do so by sending information to me either through the comments section or by email through my personal profile in the top right hand corner of this page. If you do not want me to put a link to your page on Gaijin for Life, please let me know.

Cheers, God bless, and here's to good times!



















Monday, April 25, 2005

Meditations


Quiet Time in the cedar grove behind my house which overlooks the Tsugaru Straight and Hokkaido beyond

On Sunday afternoon I heard the most convincing argument yet for removing my beard. A middle-aged gentleman—let us call him Mr. Bluemountain, since that is the essence of his name—whom I had not seen in about a decade earnestly reasoned with me that I speak Japanese decently enough that I should make the extra effort to blend in to my surroundings by shaving. “If you are to develop good relations with people like farmers and fishermen,” he said, “it cannot be done with whiskers.” That part was not convincing. I shall devote a future post to why I think the equation “Japanese = no facial hair” is wrong on many levels. And experience and observation tells me that apart from artists and educators, farmers and fishermen are the very people most likely to grow facial hair in Japan (not counting “tough guys” with their little sculpted growths). A man of Mr. Bluemountain’s moral stature, however, is not to be brushed aside, and he is my elder. Consequently the conversation developed further. He expressed his belief that the first impression projected by a person’s outward qualities is a fairly clear signature of that person’s inner condition. And is not a beard, in a sense, a means of drawing attention to one’s self, especially in a society where there are so few beards? Is it not the way of Christ-likeness to subdue self, that no attention be drawn to one’s person except by the quiet, humble reflection of the divinity of Shiloh (“Him too whom it [the sceptre] belongs”). From there the conversation drifted to the lost spiritual disciplines of the body of Christ. If Mr. Bluemountain sensed that I am in my current condition a rusty sword, I would concur. If he believes he sensed this fact through my facial hair, though, I am inclined to employ the metaphor of a doctor who senses that his patient has a nasal infection but is also convinced that the patient’s freckles has something to do with it (because . . . “Japanese people shouldn’t have freckles”). The most important result of the conversation, though, was that I came away with a deep awareness of my need to immerse myself in scripture every morning. Dawn is the hour of healing and cleansing when the soul, if exposed to the elements, is rendered naked and alert. I have missed too many dawns in my life. Even this past week I have squandered my early rising indoors, doing odd chores around the house. Not so from today. God has given me the beautiful spot pictured in the photograph above just a forty-five second walk from my doorstep and henceforward that is where I will spend the first hour of each day alone with my Bible and the Holy Spirit.


Stopping for Lunch on the Way to Sunday Evening English Service at Itayanagi Chapel: It’s a three and a half hour drive, but it takes me along some beautiful coastal road along Mutsu Bay.


My Dream House, which I Found in the Woods along the Ikokuma Forestry Road (The photograph is out of focus because I was training one of my first year junior high students to be my keitai cameraman.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Video Blog #8


10.7 MB at 4 minutes and 41 seconds
Now playing in Google Video, as of 28 June 2006

When Gaijin discovers that his village has been cut off from the rest of Japan (well, sort of anyway) he is dismayed, but then the roadblock is lifted only twenty-four hours later. Could this be a conspiracy to put the people of Kazamaura back to work at the risk of their 3 dimensional state? On Saturday Gaijin goes forth to conduct a thorough investigation . . . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Looming Landslides Close Road: Kazamaura Cut Off and Divided


Kazamaura has been cut in half. Last night around seven o’clock one of the mountainsides crowding Route 279 into the sea was judged unstable, and the already existing barrier gates came down. Apparently there are 140 tonnes of rock and earth imminently about to crash down onto the narrow strip of asphalt connecting northern Shimokita to the rest of Japan, and until it is sorted out we are cut off. Well, not really. Those of us on the Oma side of the critical zone can go the long way to Mutsu by traveling down and around the other two sides of the Shimokita “axe head” through Sai, Wakinosawa, and Kawauchi. It only takes about two extra hours. In the meantime, school is cancelled because over a third of the students are on the wrong side of the roadblock.

The NHK man has already been here to take some footage of the desolation that is our empty classrooms. Some of the teachers have had to check into local inns, and people who were one moment about five minutes drive from home have suddenly found themselves to be about three or four hours drive from home. The few roads traversing the mountainous interior are closed during the winter, but it has been decided to clear one of them (the Kamoshika Line) early in order to provide a narrow and windy alternative—of sorts. It won’t help local travel at all. Since there is no knowing when the road will be reopened (wild estimates are running in the range of a week) Kazamaura junior high school laid out a contingency plan in a special staff meeting this morning. Those teachers whose homes are on the other side of the road block will make the long roundabout journey tonight in order to facilitate a study hall at the Shimofuro Community Centre for the students cut off from school. Everyone else will return to school, but there will be no regular classes. Since I am scheduled to teach at Shimofuro Elementary School tomorrow, I’m not sure what is happening with me. Perhaps I will hike over Mount Hiuchi (Hiuchidake) over night in order to get there.

The Day Hebiura Elementary School Marched into the Sea

Hebiura used to have the Ainu name “Kamaya.” The story goes that about a thousand years ago the village supported the wrong side in the war that drove the Matsumae clan from Shimokita to Hokkaido. As a punishment, their new feudal lord gave them the name of Hebiura which means Snake Harbour, because "fishermen hate snakes." About one hundred and thirty years ago Hebiura (蛇) was amalgamated with the hamlets of Ikokuma (易国) and Shimofuro (下呂) to form the village of Kazamaura (風間浦—a name formed by taking a character from each of the three). Ikokuma became the administrative centre, Shimofuro became the relatively prosperous resort town, and Hebiura was left to just be itself.

This has made them “hard.” This is the entire student body autonomously carrying out their ceremony to begin picking “funori.” For the uninitiated—Funori: a polysaccharide mucilage (similar to carrageenan), made from the seaweed >gloiopeltis, which is harvested from natural populations in Japan


The Chairman of the Kazamaura Board of Education This man is the patriarch of Hebiura. I don’t know much about his personal history, but it has obviously given him an enormous sense of entitlement. He as appeared in a previous post as “the ancient ex-superintendent of schools [who] told [the German exchange students] that Japanese people his age have a special place in their hearts for Germans and [who] then (turning to pat me, the Canadian, on the arm reassuringly) said ‘not, of course, that it has anything to do with our axis alliance or the fight with the Americans’." He also received an oblique reference in a comment about “a diminished alcohol intake (except in the case of certain privileged village elders)” in my post about Ikokuma Elementary School’s graduation party. At that party in Ikokuma the old boy got a little full of himself (in combination with alcohol) which provoked a lesser star to mutter “where does the bastard think this is? Hebiura?!” He’s a pretty cool guy, though.


Pig Stew from the Communal Pot for Lunch


Oi, Where Do You Think You’re Going with That?!


There are a number of institutions in the world that send grey clad people two by two to spread a message. In Kazamaura this role is filled by J-Power employees who ooze their way through every local gathering, spreading the good news of nuclear energy. They spent the lunch break chatting up taciturn grandmothers and photographing small children. They will never answer our big question, though: "If it's so wickedawesome to host the nuclear powerplants that will satisfy the Tokyo area's growing appetite for energy in the twenty-first century, why are Japan's great urban municipalities so anxious to make sure that we're the ones to get the privilage?"

My little fifth grade buddies from Hebiura picked about five times as much “funori” as me, respectively, but still found time to repeat everything I said into my cell phone video camera and to educate me on how to sex crabs. The one on the left is a male, and the one on the right is a female. Can YOU tell the difference?




Fishermen are a species apart. When you live in a fishing village, you can’t just assume things about the people. For all you know, they’ve been clubbing in New Zealand while on shore leave, or have spent a couple of years in a Russian prison for violating territorial waters.

Weed of the Sea: 6.81 MB 2Min42Sec
Now playing in Google Video as of 28 June 2006

Monday, April 18, 2005

No TV


Standing, left to right: My fiancée Yuko (who came down to visit my folks for the weekend) and my mother of BLUE FOREST SOAPBOX. Seated and playing Yahtzee, left to right: Hans who is a Swiss short term missionary working with my parents for a few months, Autumn of 秋の歌 (aki-no-uta), and Sister #4 a.k.a Sarah Anne (who still goes to school at the Elliot dinner table).

This is the Elliot dinner table at the Elliot Stronghold in Ajigasawa. Although the table and the building are new since I left home as a seventeen-year-old, the dynamic is still the same and I think that it is therefore fair to say that this is where my education was born. When my parents married they made an agreement not to own a television. Admittedly, I spent a great deal of time at the neighbours’ house bypassing this obstacle to my quest for normalcy, but the fact remains that dinnertime at home often stretched into hours of conversation around the table with family and visitors.

When I moved to Kazamaura last August the village board of education placed me in a fully furnished house with a television set replete with VCR and satellite dish.

A couple of weeks ago I finally conceded that NHK’s nightly broadcasts of foreign films and dramas were pacifying my existence, so I gave the box of crap a new home in the closet.

The Void

I think the part I am going to enjoy the most about being without television is shocking people by saying: “I don’t have a television.” Especially the sort of people who think that television is the instrument of being an informed and responsible member of society. It will be a pleasure to disappoint them with my social irresponsibility. Maybe I will even tell them that I don’t feel bad at all for not realizing that the Pope was dead until someone mentioned it a few days after the fact. There will still be one dilemma on my mind though: next time the NHK man comes to collect the NHK fee should I convince him that I’m just one more lousy liar by telling him that I really and honestly for totally truly don’t have a television, or just pay?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gaijin’s New “punch in the nose” Political Web Log

It has come to my attention that the most successful blogs (other then, perhaps, celebrity blogs) are political ones. This calls for a new direction. I have therefore ripped off a political online quiz from another JET blog to help me get jump started. Actually, this may be the first political diagnosis I’ve had since the Australian history teacher at my high school in the Philippines warned my British friends in the GCSE class that Luke Elliot “is slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan.” That was a long time ago. This is now.

You scored as Green. <'Imunimaginative's Deviantart Page'>

Green

83%

Republican

67%

Anarchism

67%

Socialist

58%

Fascism

42%

Communism

42%

Democrat

42%

Nazi

0%

What Political Party Do Your Beliefs Put You In?
created with QuizFarm.com


I scored Green. Okay, that is pretty much in keeping with my current political leanings. The only thing I am less likely to be than a Democrat is a Nazi. Okay, I won’t argue with that. But honestly, if I am classified as 42% compatible with communism, then I have changed much more than I thought in the last fifteen years. Let my former self bear witness:

Wednesday, February 10, 1988

I think russian leaders need a punch in the nose. If I were a russian and I said That I’d get something worse then a punch in the nose. I hope Russia falls apart like roam did. It diserves to. It would be nice if communisam fell apart to. I think theres some russians that think that way. I think that the leader of russia shood be put in a prison camp. (Of coarse this is only what I think).

I propibly woald of started reading about queen Mary of the Scots if Lucy hadn’t dissided to take a nap on the book. (lucy is my cat).

As I was saying I think communisam is stupid. (Lucy just sat up again). We cross-country skied at school to day. My socks got soaked. Sory I’m a bit out of order. I think Queen Mary of the scots was a bit soft in the head. Daddy says so to. I’m glad I’m not a communist because the Bosses mite tell (Lucy just walked away) me that I had to be a ditch digger whe they don’t even no any thing about me. (I hope this diary isn’t found by russian communists)! Normal russian peaple have to work to mutch.


Hmmm. Maybe if I had been a “russian communist” the "Bosses" would have made me learn how to spell.


Me (Centre) with the "russians" (in 2001): Of Course, by This Time “russia” and “communisam” Had Fallen Apart and These Guys Were in Canadian Uniform

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Do You Know Lebbaa (Liver) Sashi?


What Did Yuko Just Eat?! (6.23MB 1min45sec)
Now playing in Google Video as of 28 June 2006

In the process of analyzing our common interests Yuko and I concluded that in the future we will enjoy travelling together and dining out. We have many hobbies between us, but we felt that as a couple these are two activities that we can really develop as our specialties over time. This is us practicing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Things I Have Not Been Eating Lately: the Return of “Gaijin’s Video of the Week”, Now Renamed “Keitai Cinema”


KEITAI CINEMA PRESENTS: PLATE OF THE DANCING AWABI (CLICK ON THE MOVIE SCREEN TO VIEW)
Now playing in Google Video as of 28 June 2006

In Japan, the staff parties just never end in March and April. At one of the parties I attended last week there was served what I believe is known as “something something dance.” The “something something,” of course, stands for something that I can’t quite remember but, regardless, it refers to a living abalone (an expensive shellfish featured in a previous post) squirming on a stone plate. A fuel pellet underneath is set alight at the diner’s leisure, and the awabi (Japanese for “Abalone”) writhes as only a shellfish can writhe until it succumbs to the heat in a sea of sizzling butter.

I did not eat mine, but I set a fire under it anyway. Later on the very intoxicated school janitor asked me if I was going to eat it and, taking the hint, I suggested he have his way with it.

A long time ago I introduced a new feature I called “Gaijin’s Video of the Week” but the project petered out because I couldn’t figure out a convenient way to deliver the videos. Well, I am picking up momentum on the vlog front again, so I will just plough ahead and hope for the best. I am calling the new version “Keitai Cinema,” keitai being the Japanese term used for cell phone. I call it thus because the video function on my Vodafone 602SH is the only video recording equipment I have. The hallmark of Keitai Cinema is that all of my videos produced under that name will be lamer than the crude technology used to put them together warrants. They are to be unsophisticated, artistically challenged and mostly pointless. This is to bring balance to the host of snazzy Aomori JET vlogs by injecting a dose of C grade home video into the system. To celebrate this degradation of the Aomori JET vlogging community I shall reintroduce my very first keitai home video . . .

FERAL JET

Monday, April 11, 2005

Things I Have Been Eating Lately

Lately I have been seeking out efficacious ways of bringing my life into order before embarking——assuming for a moment a maritime metaphor for matrimony——on the journey of marriage. The ultimate longing under discussion is a quiet life of humble spiritual devotion, but there are many physical aspects to this. If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit as the Apostle Paul assures us in his first epistle to the Corinthians, then physical discipline is holistically intertwined with spiritual wellbeing and with the creature’s relationship to the Creator. The important first step in my budding personal renaissance has been getting out of bed at six o’clock rather than at seven o’clock. This has allowed for a revolution in my diet. It has eliminated those unfortunate occasions when I barely have time to throw leftovers into my lunch box before scampering over to the junior high school to rummage through the staff snack basket for breakfast.

This is what my breakfast table typically looks like these days (breakfast on the left, box lunch on the right). Since it consists entirely of items commonly eaten by local folks it is cheap, and it is supposedly quite healthy as well. For supper, I am trying to move away from the typical curry rice → mabo-dofu → stir fried rice cycle that is so tempting to a bachelor. Unfortunately this challenge is made difficult by my lack of knowledge regarding what to do with local vegetables and seafood. Nevertheless, there is a new principle at work in my life: rice mixed with kochujan and sesame oil ≠ supper.


My Most Important Vegetable

I have also begun eating a lot more natto. It’s a vegetable, it’s cheap, and I don’t need to cook it. I just mix in mustard, shoyu (soy sauce) and minced leek (there’s another vegetable right there). According to one of NHK’s food specials I should stir my natto 424 times before eating it but I can’t count fast enough so I just approximate. Those only marginally acquainted with natto who want to be possessed of a more academic knowledge of this most noble of stinky foods should take a good long look at this History of Natto and Its Relatives compiled by scholastically inclined soy enthusiasts who have gone to the trouble of quoting natto historians and tracing the fivefold mythology of the birth of natto.

Friday, April 08, 2005

In Which I Am Almost Engaged In a Board of Education Special Op but Get Thwarted by the Monkey


Today I am basking in the afterglow of the sort of mild euphoria that is unique to those who unexpectedly discover that their employers are not only an armed organization, but that they will also let them shoot monkeys. I have already described in the past the relationship between my village’s board of education (BOE) and the local wildlife as well as the power of life and death over monkeys that is exercised by village boards of education in Shimokita. However, today as I was preparing to leave the BOE office I observed a fellow employee walking down the hall with an AR15 (the civilian equivalent of an M16). I have been to many strange places and seen many strange things so my tendency is always to give every situation the BBP—Benefit of the Boring Probability. I have found that most potentially interesting circumstances have profoundly uninteresting explanations and therefore tend not to think very deeply about out of place things like coworkers walking around the office with semi-automatic weapons. On the other hand, it has been nearly a year since I left the Canadian army reserves and I really miss my C7 (what we in Canada call our slightly modified M16s). So I looked longingly at the AR15 and in doing so noticed that the flash suppressor was not really a flash suppressor and that therefore the AR15 was probably not really an AR15 but just a plain old air gun made to look like one. There is always a boring explanation. The long and the short of it is that someone had just called the board of education to complain about a lone monkey doing naughty things on a neighbour’s roof. Since the board of education is responsible for making this sort of problem go away my co-worker had gone to get a board of education air gun with which to chase the monkey back into the mountains. When I explained to him how badly I missed my C7 he offered to take me along. Sadly, by the time we got to our area of operation the monkey had already left on its own volition. Although the mission was cancelled I did learn many things through it, like the fact that the BOE owns four AR15 replica air guns, three of which are issued to contracted monkey shooters in each of Kazamaura’s three hamlets. The fourth is kept in reserve at the BOE in case the junior BOE employees want to personally go out and shoot delinquent monkeys. There is another air gun in the agricultural section of the mayor’s office, bringing the total number of weapons in the village arsenal to five. My co-worker has promised to take me along on any future special operations that occur when I am in the BOE office, so stand by for further monkey business.


Back in the Good Old Days When I Got To Carry a Real One: For Some Reason the Army Never Seemed to Trust Us with Real Ammo

Actually, I am not too crazy about inflicting BB welts on Shimokita's naughty monkeys. After all, the local flolks go into the forests to harvest all the mountain vegetables that the monkeys eat, and then they get all upset when the monkeys come down to the villages to help themselves to some people food. This hardly seems fair.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Spring Break! Part the First: In Which Gaijin Takes the Bus Instead of the Train from Hakodate to Sapporo


Bussing It in Hokkaido Almost Reminded Me of Passing Through Western Alberta During My Greyhound Adventure Days

In the past my weekend trips to Sapporo have generally been rushed affairs in which I relinquished the necessary funds to get me there and back as quickly as possible. I would drive myself to the Oma ferry terminal, embark on the 7:10 a.m. ferry to Hakodate, catch a taxi to Hakodate Station and entrain on the first express to Sapporo. Total travel time between departure of ferry and arrival in Sapporo Station: six hours and twenty minutes. Cost: ¥1,170 for the ferry, ¥1,570 for the taxi and (with the special “six trips in three months” ticket) ¥6,950 for the train to Sapporo for a total of ¥9,690. Round trip: ¥19,380. This time, however, I took five days of paid leave in order to spend a whole week of spring break in Sapporo. Since this afforded me a more leisurely pace of travel I was able to explore some of the cheaper options. There are no practical alternatives to the Oma ferry when traveling from Kazamaura, but I was able to take a city bus instead of a taxi from the Hakodate ferry terminal to Hakodate Station where, instead of getting on an express train, I was able to board a Hokuto bus to Sapporo Station. Total travel time from departure of ferry to arrival at Sapporo Station: eleven hours and twenty minutes, with lots of dead time between the different legs of the journey. Cost: ¥1,170 for the ferry, ¥270 for the bus to Hakodate Station, ¥4,170 (one way on a round trip ticket) for the bus to Sapporo Station for a total of ¥5,610. Round trip: ¥11,220. Total money saved: ¥8,160. Total time lost: ten uncomfortable hours. Was it worth it? ? ? ?

Spring Break! Part the Second: The Importance of Being Premaritally Counselled


Pastor and Mrs. Yahiro

The importance of premarital counselling supercedes the importance of using correct grammar and real words in blog entry titles. That mysterious institution (some consider it a sacrament) in which “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” is a daunting project to embark on and next to the Grace of God, total bilateral commitment, concurring life goals, unconditional love and maybe a few other things I have not remembered to mention here, the practical preparation of heart and mind is the most important thing in making it work. In choosing the people to facilitate this preparation of heart and mind, Yuko and I had a couple of things in mind. First, we were looking for someone who shares a similar biblical interpretation of marriage. This we were both agreed on from the start because it would be very difficult to reap any meaningful insight from someone with a completely different understanding of what marriage really is. We also wanted to have someone of a ripe age, nearing the final phases of a successful marriage. We wanted to be able to draw on a lifetime of wisdom and experience. A final point which we only arrived at after some lengthy discussion was to look for someone who either knew us equally well or equally poorly. Since we didn’t feel that there was anyone in Sapporo who could be said to know us equally well, we opted to look for someone who didn’t know us at all. In the end we approached the pastor of the church at which our wedding will take place. Pastor Yahiro will not be performing the service since that office falls to my father, but he has provided invaluable assistance in making arrangements for using his church.


Yuko and Me Doing Our Homework: We Had Three Four-hour Sessions in All


For the second session we were invited to dinner at Pastor and Mrs. Yahiro’s house. They are a brilliant couple. Pastor Yahiro never made it to high school and ended up working for a construction company when he was fifteen. One day he was so ashamed to discover some former classmates watching his menial labour from a nearby overpass that he determined to become a sailor. He successfully brought this to pass, and met his future wife one day when his ship was docked in Nagoya. Soon he was engaged and going to college for his sea captains’ course. Then he became a believer in Jesus Christ, and everything changed. He cancelled the scheduled Shinto marriage ceremony, and his fiancée gave him an ultimatum: choose her or choose Christianity. He told her he chose both, and asked her to reconsider. In time she did, and by the time of their wedding she also was a believer in Jesus Christ. After getting married, Pastor Yahiro returned to sea and Mrs. Yahiro continued working for a bank. For a time they lived lavishly on a rather large double income. Then another change came. They both felt a calling to attend seminary and prepare for a life of pastoring churches. They went from opulence to virtual poverty in a very short time. Those years during which they raised six children by faith in God (with hardly any money at all) form the basis of the authoritative experience from which the Yahiro’s are able counsel young Christian couples who are just setting out on the journey of marriage. One of the areas I especially wanted to cover in our counselling sessions was family finances, and the Yahiro’s were the perfect couple to give us practical guidance in this area. In fact, after dinner during our second session, Mrs. Yahiro gave us a two hour lesson on the subject, drawing on her own rich experience and showing us her own budget planners to illustrate what she was talking about. God Bless the Yahiro’s

Spring Break! Part the Third: Sneak Preview of Luke and Yuko’s Wedding


The Church Building as it Appears on the Church Brochure (Sapporo Bible Church is Related to the Hokkaido Bible Institute Next Door)


Various Church Activities Inside the Church Building (Except for the One Picture that Appears to be an Outdoor Service at Some Sort of a Farm)


Yuko Checking Out Her Spot

Spring Break! Part the Fourth: The Importance of Being Family (with a Footnote on Virtue)


It is an unavoidable fact that Yuko’s fellow clinical psychologists and people in my village simply assume that my visits to Sapporo are largely taken up in our cohabitation (I am obviously using this term euphemistically). However, since we both so highly value the belief that human sexuality only attains absolute fulfillment within the covenant bonds of marriage we are careful to cut down as much as possible on people’s confusion about what we are up to. When Yuko’s parents are away in Tokachi (where her father works) this means finding somewhere else for me to spend nights (even though her parents’ house has three stories and umpteen rooms). Since spending one week at the Futomi Spa down the road would break my bank, I got permission last week to sleep at the church that Yuko, her parents, and my sister (#1) and her husband belong to. The one night I did not stay at the church was the night Yuko and I spent at her grandparents. It happened to be Grandma Kiyo’s birthday, so on the way we picked up some flowers and a birthday cake. Apparently this was the first time in her seventy-plus years of life that Grandma Kiyo ever got birthday flowers and a birthday cake! She was so happy that she called up Yuko’s mother and told her all about it. For those who are curious about what Grandpa Kimura looks like, I have lots of family photos from Yuko’s side in my New Years Album of Family Feasting.