Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Birth of a Desk Jockey

Grace Poses with Her New Desk and Chair

Some time ago Yuko saw a desk and chair set for toddlers in a magazine and expressed an opinion that perhaps it would be the right sort of thing to get for Grace. I was a little sceptical about such a purchase, but Grandpa Elliot stepped in and made a similar set for Grace out of cedar wood.

Grace Receives Instruction in Usage from the Maker . . .

. . . and then Gets Right Down to Business

Of course, when these photos were taken, Grace was only nine months old. Now she is ten months old and has moved on from reading newspapers to calculus and Latin. At least, that is what I assume she uses her desk for while I am away at work during the day.

And Many Happy Returns of the Day!

Birthday Cookies for Yuko

Some people---a rare few---have a special gift for friendship. They never forget a birthday, always send letters, cards and emails at perfect moments, and frequently make long journeys for some face to face fellowship with friends. Lina has been such a friend to Yuko since our Bible institute days. This birthday Yuko received from her a surprise birthday basket of specially baked cookies and cakes with all of our names frosted onto them. Grace, having both a Japanese name and an English name, received a double portion of cookies, but in order to protect her from the sugar, I ate them.

Lina as a Bridesmaid at Our Wedding
(Conveniently Illuminated)
--Photo by Tom Gallione

Happy 31st Birthday!

Sadly, there are no nice restaurants or cafés near where we live, which is always a hard blow for Yuko when we celebrate special occasions. We need to travel at least forty-five minutes to reach the so-so restaurants and cafés of Mutsu, and two-and-a-half hours to reach the fairly decent ones in Aomori City. My goal for this year is to diligently study the art of organizing and throwing a proper birthday party at home, in preparation for Yuko's next birthday in the wilds of the Shimokita peninsula.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Funori

Gloiopeltis

In my limited experience, I have found that often lifeforms are more likely to receive user-friendly names in languages spoken by people who eat them. For example, "pig," "moose," "popcorn," etc. Or, conversely, lifeforms that habitually eat people, like "shark," "mosquito," "tapeworm," etc. I suppose this must be because to name something is either an assertion of authority or an expression of awe. It follows then that what is conveniently referred to in Japanese as funori is, in the west, obscurely termed gloiopeltis because, with the exception of marine biologists, nobody there is inclined to assert any sort of authority over or demonstrate any kind of awe towards it. As for myself, I don't particularly enjoy chewing or swallowing the stuff, but I respect it for its pecuniary worth.

Elementary School Students Preparing to Assert Their Authority over the Gloiopeltis

In late April I once again followed the children of Snakeshore Elementary into the sea for their annual funori harvest. This year they sold their funori for about 320,000 yen (about $3,200). This is impressive when you consider that a) they only pick it during the morning and b) there are only 32 students in this school. True, teachers, parents, and grandparents helped, but even so . . . impressive! So you might well ask me why I don't go down to the shore myself every evening to make a few gloiopeltis bucks on the side. It is streng verboten! All maritime resources are under the strict control of the fishing union, and only union members may harvest the bounty of the sea--and only on specially designated days.

Brown Gold

Lately I have been trying to refrain from "borrowing" photos from other websites, but since I never got around to taking a closeup of the funori as I was tearing it off the tidal rocks with my bare hands, I pirated this very nice picture from some site I randomly accessed through google images.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Tokyo Connection

Kazu and the Miracle of the Fish

The Katos are Word of Life missionaries, and Mr. Kato is the director of Word of Life Japan. As Word of Life Bible Institute (WOLBI) alumni, both Yuko and I have a long tradition of staying over at the Katos' house whenever we travel through Tokyo, since the Katos have always graciously kept their doors open to us. This past trip to Canada via Tokyo was no exception. During our stay I found this old picture of the Katos' eldest son, Kazu. Kazu and I were roommates during college, so I've heard (and participated in) plenty of Kazu stories, but this is one of my favourites. When Kazu was very young, his parents were penniless students at WOLBI. As married students, they occupied a waterfront apartment with a balcony overhanging Schroon Lake. One day, Mr. Kato, craving the flesh of fish, affixed a single spaghetti noodle to a fishing hook, prayed for a catch, and bade his son cast the line over the railing. Their prayer was answered in the form of the giant fish in the photo above. I am not sure if that is the truest version of the story ever told, but it is the version that has stuck in my mind. (Of course, if the tales are true, this was neither the first nor last time that Mr. Kato went fishing for supper off his balcony).

Kazu Being Forced to Wear my Festivity Cloak

I think it is safe to say that the main role I played in Kazu's life was to cause him embarrassment. On the occasion of his (nineteenth?) birthday party celebrated in WOLBI's dining room, I showed up late and forced him to wear my blue Japanese festivity cloak. Over the following several summers my festivity cloak found employment at Word of Life Canada where I (and other famous theatrical players, such as Dave Emery) used it as a Jack-of-all-costumes in camp skits. Apparently Dave pinched my festivity cloak from the Program Box at some point . . .

Dave and Emi Serving on the Staff of Living English Camp at the Aomori Christian Centre

. . . because it was his habit of wearing it around the campus of Davis College that eventually gave him occasion to make the acquaintance of Kazu's sister, Emi. At least, I think that's what Dave told me once, although I might be exaggerating the importance of the role played by my festivity cloak.

The View from SYME's Dining Hall in Karuizawa

One of my main objectives in visiting the Kato's this time was to check out Word of Life Japan's new SYME in Karuizawa. I can't remember what "SYME" stands for, but its slogan can be translated roughly as "Studying the Bible in English; Studying English through the Bible." One of its main purposes is to prepare Japanese students who want to study at Bible colleges or institutes in English speaking countries. Sadly, my spring break didn't overlap with the school's opening so I wasn't able to see it in action, but I'm excited about it and looking forward to visiting it many times in the future. The property used to be an NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) retreat centre, and its location is exquisite.

A Portrait of Mr. Kato as a Young Man
(I found this photo in an album presented to Mr. Kato some years ago on his 50th birthday . . . and snapped a photo of it)


Meeting Misa(e) at the Katos'
(centre, in light blue)


Back when she was studying in Vancouver, Misa came across my blog while researching something----something for which my blog proved to be utterly useless. However, since she was born and raised in Shimokita and had actually attended one of the elementary schools I teach at in Kazamaura, her curiosity was aroused and she emailed me. We chatted back and forth, and eventually I introduced her (via email and MSN Messenger) to my wife Yuko. The relationship continued and when Misa returned to Japan and moved to Tokyo, Yuko introduced her to a friend from the Kato's church. Some months ago we received the joyful news that Misa was baptized there. Since Yuko and I live so far from Tokyo, this trip was the first time we were able to actually meet Misa in person. If for no other reason, my three years of blog writing has been worthwhile for this alone.

Yuji

And if for no other reason, my four troubled years in Toronto were worthwhile because of the role the Lord allowed me to have in Yuji's Christian faith. Yuji suddenly appeared one day at the language school I taught at in Toronto, bearing a scrap of paper with an address scribbled on it. It had been given to him by a youth pastor in Oklahoma who had been Yuji's homestay host half-a-year earlier. The address was for the church that I belonged to at the time. Of all the numerous language schools in Toronto, Yuji had ended up at the one that just happened to have two language instructors from Grace Toronto (Japanese) Church. Yuji didn't stay long at the school, but he started attending our church and eventually became housemates with me and the pastor's son. I hadn't seen Yuji in years but we were able to meet up with him and a couple of other friends during our stay in Tokyo, and I was moved when he shared with us that it was during one of our long midnight theological discussions back in Toronto that his heart and mind were opened to the gospel of Christ. I have often regretted my "lost" years in Toronto, fiddling around half-heartedly in graduate school and the army reserves, but I am reminded that in the family of God every sojourn has its purpose.

High Park, Toronto c. 2002: Where are Yuji and Luke?
(Hint: Yuji is blond and I am beardless)

Canada Trip: The Condensed, Photos-Only Version Thrown Together by a Busy Person Who Has Been AWOL from Blog Duty

Jet Lag: Breakfast at 3:30 a.m.

Engaging in Friendly Banter with Great Grandpa Elliot and Big Bird

Sitting in the Seat of Honour, Next to the "Birthday Boy" (Happy 88th!)

Somehow, Grace Scored More Presents than Great Grandpa, Even Though it Wasn't Her Birthday

Being Forced to Pose on Grandpa Elliot's Childhood Kitty-Car on a Freezing Cold Day

Sitting on the Little Rocking Chair that was Made for Great Grandma Elliot by Her Father when She was a Baby

Grace Meets Second Cousin and Co-Great Grandchild Kayden

Some of the Good Folks from Grace Toronto Japanese Church (the church I attend when I am living in or visiting Toronto--Lord willing we will attend there when we temporarily move to Toronto in 2009)