Saturday, March 14, 2015

Luther and J-3 chronicles.

I love them, too!
Another year of Luther history came to a close as the junior high school held its graduation ceremony this morning (the senior high's was on Monday, March 2). Classes continue through Monday (the Japanese school year calendar is kind of nebulous), but for all intents and purposes, my duties at Luther have come to an end. The final class I taught this year was the senior-high second-year Advanced English Course homeroom. Those kids are a riot. I'm going to miss them.

Martha Akard.
Given that I'm about to become part of it, I thought I'd share some photos from Luther's almost-90-year history. Founded in 1926 as the Kyushu Girls' School, it was funded in large part by American Lutheran women in the United Synod of the South. Apparently some of them even sold their wedding rings to raise money to support women's education in Japan. Land at the foot of Mt. Tatsuda was purchased in 1923, and construction soon began on what was to be called the "Janice James School," in memory of the deceased eight-year-old daughter of one of the biggest contributors. Miss Martha B. Akard was appointed first principal, the school motto (感恩奉仕 kan'on houshi, "Gratitude and Service") and school verse (John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full") were chosen, and classes began in 1926.

From the official record.

In the early days.

Staff and students.

First staff.

Prewar winter uniforms--quite similar to today's!
(Katie and I both wish they'd bring back the hat, though.)

Chapel during the "Shimizu" era.
Tougher times came in the years leading up to the Second World War. Nationalism ran so high in Japan that Martha Akard and other foreign staff were sent home, Kyushu Girls' School became Shimizu High School (after the neighborhood it was in; the former name was deemed too "American"), and nearly all vestiges of the school's Christian foundation were covered up. Students even bowed to a picture of the emperor in the chapel. (Katie once told me the story of how in one of the top-floor rooms there used to be a square painted on the floor that students weren't supposed to set foot on, because on the wall on the floor below hung a picture of the emperor. The room has since been remodeled and carpeted, but I may or may not have spent a few spare moments one afternoon peeking under carpet tiles to look for it.)

Maud Powlas.
Maud Powlas was another missionary that was sent home before the war broke out. (I've mentioned Maud Powlas before, when I talked about my church.) She founded the Colony of Love and Mercy social welfare institution in Kumamoto in 1919, and did not spend her time back in the States idly. She visited a Michigan church in 1942 to speak about her work serving Japan's most vulnerable populations, and contrary to the rampant anti-Japanese sentiment in America at the time, proclaimed love and forgiveness for the people of Japan. In attendance that day was a teenager named Andrew Ellis, who was particularly moved by her presentation.

Andy Ellis (far left) in front of the bookmobile
that he and other missionaries used until 1960.
Nine years later, in 1951 Rev. Andrew Ellis arrived in Japan to begin what would become a lifetime of missionary service. He was assigned by the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church to do rural evangelism in a podunk southern town of 220,000 called Kumamoto. (A month after he arrived, the city got its first traffic light.) He helped establish churches and worked with Maud Powlas herself at the Colony of Love and Mercy. He also found himself teaching English at KyuGaku--Caroline's current school.

The missionaries felt stretched a bit too thin with the double-duty of evangelism work and English teaching, so Andrew and other Kumamoto missionaries created a new short-term program for English teachers and called it "J-3," meaning "Japan--3 years." The first J-3 arrived in 1954, and from there the program spread to Kyushu Girls' School in 1956.

To date there have been over 250 J-3s in Japan, not only in Kumamoto but also in cities like Tokyo and Nagoya, and from what I've heard, God has done some amazing things through (and to) the people on this program. I count myself privileged to have been part of it. I'll be departing from Kumamoto soon, but please keep the students, teachers, and missionaries of Luther Junior and Senior High School in your prayers.


The information and photos in this post were gleaned from Luther and JELC archives, Andy Ellis' English memoirs, conversations with former J-3s, and snatches of Luther's staff orientation presentation that I could understand. I also just discovered in the course of researching that Luther has a new English website, so feel free to check it out for more information: http://www.luther.ed.jp/en/index.html.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Winter Break highlights and the beginning of the end.

We're already into February, and I'm still not quite able to believe that next month marks the end of my J-3 journey. I'll post more reflections on that later--now it's time to share some overdue stories from the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

Chinatown, near our hotel.
The first excursion of winter break was to Nagasaki with Caroline. Kumamoto is only a couple of hours by train from Nagasaki, and we'd been meaning to go for a while, so the afternoon of the last day of school we braved the Emperor's Birthday holiday rush and arrived at our budget hotel in Chinatown just in time to eat chanpon and sara udon, Nagasaki's regional specialty, for dinner. Both of them are noodle dishes with similar ingredients (champon is a soup, while saraudon is sauce spread over crispy noodles), but we figured we'd kill two delicious birds with one stone and order one of each. Both were amazingly delicious--they both contain mushrooms, squid, pork, shrimp, shellfish, bamboo shoots, and a multitude of other ingredients in a creamy, savory sauce or broth--but they proved to be too much food even for two hungry J-3s right off a train. Too bad.

Next time we'll just order one to split.

Most Americans probably know Nagasaki best for being one of the two cities that were hit with an atomic bomb by the U.S. military in World War II, but Nagasaki also has an extensive Christian history. Nagasaki was one of the first ports through which Christian missionaries came to Japan, and it is home to some of the most famous churches and cathedrals in the country.

Ōura Catholic Church, considered the oldest standing church in Japan.

However, as a center of Christian activity in Japan, it also is the site of some of the saddest and cruelest episodes during the government's nearly-300-year ban on Christianity from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Likely the most famous of these incidents is the 1597 crucifixion of the so-called "Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan." 14 Japanese men, six missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits, and three Japanese boys (the youngest was 12) who were publicly executed by order of feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. We visited the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum, which made for an emotional few hours. The stories of these martyrs--their sermons of forgiveness from their crosses, their persistence in singing praises to God even in the midst of their agony--were incredibly moving.

Monument to the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan. Below the statues is a
portion of Mark 8:34: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny
themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

The sobering afternoon continued with a visit to the Peace Park, remembering the victims of the atomic bomb, and Urakami Cathedral, which was only 500 meters from the center of the blast and whose toppled belfry remains on the hillside where it fell on August 9, 1945. We walked and talked and reflected all the way back to the station for dinner before getting on the train back to Kumamoto. It hadn't necessarily been a fun trip, but it was certainly one worth taking.

Urakami Cathedral, rebuilt.

The old belfry, unmoved since 1945.

Peace Statue at the north end of the Peace Park.

Nagasaki at night.

A week later, I met up with Caroline and a couple of her friends visiting from the States in Hiroshima, a city that's also probably best known in America for having been hit with an atomic bomb by the U.S. in World War II--and its Peace Park and memorials were a must-stop for us, as well. Though it wasn't necessarily a hotbed of Christianity in the old days like Nagasaki, it certainly has its own unique history and culture. One of its best-known places is the island of Miyajima. Most people probably don't know the name of Miyajima, but it's home of Itsukushima Shrine, which I'll wager most people will recognize when they see it.

The torī of Itsukushima Shrine

To make the day extra-special, we all rented kimono at a shop near the ferry port and toured the island in what Japan would consider our Sunday best. We were stopped and asked to be photographed more times than I can count! Fortunately there were a few kind folks touring the island that took our picture with our cameras, as well.




After landing back at the port and changing back into our regular clothes, we walked around the Peace Park for a while, mostly just reflecting as we took it all in.

Night view of Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb Dome (currently under renovation).

We grabbed dinner at the station before finally boarding the Shinkansen bound for Kumamoto, where Caroline's friends hung out with us for a few more days. It was good to hang out with Americans from the homeland again! I've forgotten how new and wonderful things in Japan can be.

Back in Kumamoto! Karaoke for New Year's Eve.

Before I knew it, the fun was over and it was time to head back to school to prepare for the final three months. We also welcomed three new J-3s to Kumamoto in January. They'll start teaching at Luther and KyuGaku in April. And I have some packing to do...

Kumamoto J-3s. Back row: me, Morgan, Brent, Caroline, Zach (new).
Front row: Hannah (new), Dean (new).

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)

Monday, January 5, 2015

The final Christmas.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! It's been a while since I last posted, and there is much I want to share from the past month.

December was, as usual, insanely busy (I attended a record three separate Christmas Eve services on the 24th) but lots of fun. Here are some photos:

Angels under the gingko trees at Luther High School.

The Advent setup at Kuwamizu Lutheran Church.

Star lantern (made from paper!) hanging from the rafters right over the stable at Kuwamizu.

Annual International English Christmas pageant, starring Katie as Mary and Baby Jun as Jesus!

Seniors heading up to campus after having caroled through the neighborhood since 5:30am, looking forward to a breakfast of hot pork soup and rice balls.

The sermon at the 9:30pm International English Christmas Eve service was once again delivered by a former J-3 who still lives and works in Kumamoto (and whose kids come to our International English Sunday School), and he delivered a particularly moving message about how we often use Christmas as a reason to be (or expect others to be) more generous or kinder or more patient than usual--but that's not the point of Christmas at all! Rather, Christmas celebrates the light appearing in the darkness, the light of Jesus Christ our Savior, who gives us hope that we carry all year round.

There are less than three months left in my J-3 tenure, and the future after this spring is still murky for me. But if there's anything I've learned in my time as a J-3, it's that God knows exactly where He's leading us, and our job is to listen, obey, and trust in His perfect love, even when we don't understand--a lesson much more tangibly felt in a land where the language is not your own! May we all walk in His light this year. 

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you."

Isaiah 60:1-2 (NIV)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tumbling through fall.

Fall foliage on the campus of Luther High School.
For J-3s, fall goes fast. No sooner had Caroline and I gotten back from Sapporo than school started again, and the craziness will continue straight on through till Christmas. We've had a good share of three-day weekends, but fall is also the prime season for both school and church events, so I've been kept quite busy.

Festival decoration by the senior Special
Advanced English kids. (They sold rice balls
wrapped in grilled meat--so popular that the
line went out the door and down the hall!)
October marks the beginning of the second semester at Luther, and to ring it in every year Luther holds its annual Gakuinsai, or school festival, on the first Saturday. The school festival is a major event at any Japanese high school. It's the one time of year that the public is invited on campus (for a non-admissions related event, anyway), and each homeroom class and club plans its own special "thing", whether it's selling school-logo emblazoned towels, holding a mini-carnival, decorating their classroom like a haunted house, or serving up fast food. Some even get corporate sponsorship--we've had classes selling real Baskin Robbins ice cream. The PTA also comes out and takes over the entire parking lot selling used goods, official PTA t-shirts, and every kind of street food imaginable. For the entire duration of the festival there's a "stage presentation" (talent show) in the gym, featuring mostly student bands. Students wander the hallways hawking their Luther notebooks and zipper pouches, using their best sales-English with the J-3 teachers, leading to amusing exchanges such as this:
Students: "Please buy our class t-shirt!"
Me: "I don't even teach your class!"
Students: (Pause, look at each other.) "But... we love you!"
Me: (Shells out 15 bucks.)
I spent most of the day hanging out with the English Speaking Society, who was busy making their school festival staple: s'mores. We have to special-order the graham crackers, hunt for marshmallows at the import grocery store, and spend a minute explaining what they are to most visitors, but the s'mores always end up a huge hit.

Sign outside the ESS tent for the uninitiated.

Getting ready to roast!

Not exactly a real campfire, but it did the job.

On the church side of things, the major fall event for most of the Lutheran churches here is an annual "bazaar", which is like a rummage sale crossed with a street festival. At Kuwamizu's bazaar in early November, the whole thing was held in the sanctuary. Half the room was covered in used articles and handicrafts for sale; the other half was food--and a lot of it. Church bazaars are great places to pick up Japanese housewares and traditional items at garage-sale prices and grab a cheap lunch to boot!

Some of the goodies you could get at the Kuwamizu bazaar in 2013.

The pews are all put in the center of the sanctuary for cafeteria-style seating.

I spent most of this year's bazaar on sauce duty for the mini-okonomiyaki (Osaka-style savory pancake) my pastor's wife served up (and occasionally ketchup duty for the corn dogs, called "American dogs" in Japan).
 
My lunch--or the half that was left by the time I remembered to photograph it. I was so hungry by the time I could go on break! From left to right: sweet red-bean soup, yakisoba, and the paper sleeve for the mini-okonomiyaki I'd just scarfed down.

There's been a million other little things going on, events and get-togethers (fried chicken bento boxes for Kumamoto J-3 Thanksgiving 2014, for example), that it's a bit disorienting to stop, look back, and realize it's already been more than three months since summer vacation ended--and there's plenty more coming up to keep me busy this month, as you may imagine. Happy Advent! More to come in the next few weeks.

Hmm... something's going on in front of the high school building at Luther...
 
Welcoming the Christmas season with songs and Scripture readings at the Luther tree lighting last month.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 (NIV)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On the second Japanniversary.

Can I confess something to you all? You can probably already tell, but I'm very, probably overly, conscious of what I think other people think of me.

If you look back at especially the earliest entries on this blog, you'll read stuff about about how much I've studied Japan, how I'm endeavoring not to make assumptions or overgeneralizations about the culture, and how much I want to emphasize that I'm here for God, not myself (even though Japan's been part of my life goals for over eight years now).

Here's an entry that I wrote back in September 2012 (but never posted) that sums up my self-consciousness pretty well:
I won't be in Japan for another two weeks and I've already made all these plans for the blog. (Talk about jumping the gun, right?) Over the past few weeks I've been struggling to write entries that are:
  • meaningful
  • insightful
  • not potential cause for concern
  • not accidentally offensive
But I couldn't bring myself to post them, because I wasn't sure if they conformed to those standards. Did this one make me look unpretentious enough? Did this one adequately express my cultural sensitivity in contrast to many people's conceptions about Christian mission being just another form of cultural imperialism? Did this one make me look good?

I was
completely missing the point. It's not about me, it's about God. All I can do is witness and testify. And then I just need to let go and let God do his thing. God can and will work through or despite me.

So here's another intention for this blog: honesty.

Now let's get me over to Japan before I write anything else.
Praying with the JELC Kyushu parish in
Hakozaki, Fukuoka. (June 2013.)
In various ways, a large part of being a missionary is PR--not necessarily just for God in the field, but for the "folks back home." I want to make good on (what I perceive as) everyone's expectations of me, to earn an A+, a gold star. This is why I don't write about how once when I rode my bike face-first into a giant spider web I shouted words that missionaries probably shouldn't even know. What I want to write about is how I (and my Japanese brothers and sisters and fellow missionaries, because I want to once again emphasize how this is not about me) have reached so many souls for Christ and how the church is flourishing and growing in visible, tangible ways.

A student paper. No idea how much I
had to do with the content of this paragraph.
But, as I've mentioned before in this blog, the truth is not nearly as exciting--at least on the surface. Things are happening, yes, but not crazy exciting inspiring-email-chain-letter kinds of things. And it leaves me wondering--am I doing enough? Shouldn't I be stepping it up? But I don't know how!

If there's anything I've learned here in the past 24 months, it's that it truly--truly--is not about me. This doesn't just mean that this J-3 journey is not my own personal TV drama all about and starring me (though the fact that it is not is very true), but also that I can put down this burden I've been hauling around for two years (or more). It's not mine to bear.

Some days are just like this.
God's glory and power is not diminished by my weakness and failures. If anything, the myriad weaknesses I've found in myself in Japan have only magnified how amazing God is. In the midst of a foul mood I find unexpected grace and blessings, or I catch myself expecting the worst of people only to discover God has been working through them the whole time, and I am once again humbled.

I've been meditating lately on how Christians are called to lead a life of radical sacrifice. I think of the J-3s that came here only six or seven years before I did, before the age of Skype and Google Hangouts, who had to depend only on written emails and IMs to communicate with their families on a regular basis. I think of one former J-3 (now a theology professor in Tokyo) telling us about how, when he was a J-3 in the '70s, a rep from AT&T came to visit and gave everyone a wildly generous three free minutes of international calling. I think of John Manjiro, a Japanese fisherman who in 1841 at the age of 14 was shipwrecked, rescued by an American whaling ship, and taken in by an American family for several years at a time when leaving Japan was a crime punishable by death. And here I am in an apartment with heat and A/C, electricity, and clean running water, living what I openly declare to have been my dream.

But then in the Bible, when it talks of the sacrifices of God:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 [NIV]
Psalm 51:10-12 is the offertory response in the Japanese Lutheran church, and it wasn't until I came to Japan and sang these verses every week that they became more and more real to me.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51:10-12 [NIV]
My whole life, but these past two years especially, God has continually shown me the true weight of His power, might, love, and wisdom--ultimately made manifest in his Son, that is enough to break through the sin, fear, and death rampant in this world--and in my own life. I can only pray that for the next five months in Japan (as well as the rest of my life) God let me reflect His light wherever I go and whatever I do, regardless of whether I realize it or not. Amen.

Still one of my favorite purikura (photo booth) photos we've ever taken. (February 2013.) Happy Japanniversary, guys!

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Romans 8:32-34 (NIV)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Summer travels: Sapporo.

Four hours (and a layover in Tokyo) by plane.
The last adventure of this summer was a trip to Sapporo, the largest city on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido. Caroline and I were graciously hosted by Pastor Okada of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, who pastors four different congregations in the Sapporo area along with two other pastors.

Sapporo is a relatively new city by Japanese standards, as large-scale migration to Hokkaido from mainland Japan only started in the 19th century. Unlike the strategically defensive spiderweb of streets that make up castle towns like Tokyo or Kumamoto, Sapporo's streets are laid out in a grid that makes navigation much easier. The roads are wider there, too, a necessity during Hokkaido's snowy winters. (There are light poles bordering the road every few meters or so whose only purpose is to mark the road's boundaries when the snow is piled high.)

Pastor Okada, as all pastors usually are, was busy with church things for most of the day, so we hung out with her (and her two cats Raira and Hagar) in the mornings and evenings, and during the day Caroline and I trekked out on our own to explore the city. We didn't do nearly as much sightseeing as we did in Korea; our main goal was to relax--and relax we did. The weather was absolutely perfect the whole time we were there--not too hot, not too cold, and not too humid, either, which, coming from a hot, muggy Kumamoto summer, was especially wonderful.

Sanctuary of North Sapporo Lutheran Church.

Mustard plant in the narthex (to illustrate the Parable of the Mustard Seed).

Sanctuary of New Sapporo Lutheran Church.

Exterior of Sapporo Lutheran Church.

Caroline's and my first "tourist" stop was the Historical Village of Hokkaido, an open-air museum that we originally thought we'd only spend an hour or two at. Turns out the museum is huge, and history is fascinating. We ended up being there for four.

The old train station, built 1908, which now serves as the entrance to the village.

The stationmaster's house, built 1885.

Inside the stationmaster's house. Note the combination of things Japanese (tatami mat floors, the kimono, the sliding paper screen door) and Western (the large glass window, the clock, the electric light, the uniform).

Inside the kitchen of the stationmaster's house.

Bathtub in another home from the same era.

Household altars. Shinto on the left, Buddhist on the right.

Hokkai Middle School, built 1909, the first private junior high in Hokkaido.

Inside a classroom at Hokkai Middle School.

Inside the Aoyama family's residence, built 1919. They were apparently fishing magnates back in the day.

In the same building as the Aoyama family's residence, the sleeping quarters of the migrant fishermen that worked for them. You can see their bedding rolled up against the wall.

A horse-drawn trolley that ran through town. (And yes, we did ride it!)

Firefighting equipment in the early 20th century.

These manikins startled us before we realized they were only manikins.

The Kurumasa Inn, built 1919 and in business until 1984.

Inside the old Otaru Newspaper building, built 1909. This is just one of the racks of metal type sorts used in printing. (Standard Japanese has over 2,000 distinct characters--and that's just the "common-use" ones.)

Close-up of one of the racks.

Inside Dr. Kondo's clinic, built 1919. I know he must have helped a lot of people in his career, but old-timey doctor's offices still kinda give me the creeps. (Not pictured: the even more unsettling operating room, where the operating table was just that--a literal wooden table.)

Inside the Hirose Photo Studio, built 1924. Note the glass roof; it allowed natural light to illuminate the photo.

Inside Urakawa Church, built 1894. Sometimes still used today as a wedding venue.

Vessels for use in Communion inside Urakawa Church.

Our last stop at the museum was the dormitory of the former Sapporo Agricultural College.

Exterior of the dormitory, built 1903.

Inside one of the rooms (each slept 4 people).

This was both Caroline's and my favorite part of the museum, not only because of the often humorous look into mid-20th century Japanese college dorm life...

From a postcard (1937).

More scenes from dorm life (year unknown).

They apparently had some kind of annual event where they went out in as little clothing and made as much noise as possible (photo from 1935).

They also held an annual jump-out-the-window-in-your-skivvies-in-the-dead-of-winter contest (photo from 1975).

Same contest, 1967.

...but also because a major part of Christian history in Japan started here. Dr. William S. Clark was a professor of chemistry who was invited to Japan for a year in 1876 during its rapid Westernization and founded the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University)--and he was also a dedicated Christian. Teaching the Bible was technically forbidden in government schools, but Dr. Clark's charisma and popularity led many of his students to Christ. He was also influential in the creation of the "Sapporo Band," a group of Japanese Christian students who gathered together to affirm their commitment to Jesus Christ. Later, a few members of this group would emerge as some of the most prominent Christian leaders in their country.

"Covenant of Believers in Jesus," drafted by Dr. Clark in March of 1877 and signed by over 30 students, pledging to live in Christian fellowship.

That evening, Pastor Okada joined us at the Sapporo Beer Garden for a feast of what in Japanese is called jingisukan ("Genghis Khan"), or mutton and lamb barbecue, a Hokkaido specialty. The name "Genghis Khan" comes from a popular legend that he and his soldiers roasted lamb and mutton on their helmets, so jingisukan is cooked on a convex skillet.

Sapporo Beer Garden.

Delicious jingisukan.

We put our purses in plastic bags and donned aprons, and settled in for what would be a delicious evening full of grilled sheep meat.

Accompanied by frothy mugs of Sapporo beer, of course!

Pastor Okada, our grillmaster for the evening.

The next day Caroline and I headed to Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill, which overlooks Sapporo and is home to a very famous statue of Dr. Clark. "Boys, be ambitious!" were his parting words to his students before he left Japan, and now they're universally known around the country. There is some debate over what his words were exactly--some say they were actually "Boys, be ambitious for Christ," or "Boys, be ambitious! Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for the attainment of all that a man ought to be," but regardless, the phrase "Boys, be ambitious," has stuck around... and been imprinted on a lot of Hokkaido merchandise.

Not pictured: the couple having their wedding pictures taken underneath it.

Actually, that was one of the disappointing things about Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. As missionaries, Caroline and I were ready to be inspired by Dr. Clark's work. Instead, what we got were souvenir shops, "wedding chapels" (wedding venues that are designed to look like Christian churches), and an offer to buy a "vow of ambition," a 100-yen piece of paper on which you can write your "dreams or wishes" before depositing it in a box inside the pedestal of Dr. Clark's statue and ringing a special bell. "Dr. Clark will make your wishes come true!!" the pamphlet assured us. Sigh.

Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill.

On our last day, we decided to explore Ōdōri Park, which spans 13 blocks in the center of the city. It made for a nice walk.

There were lots of fountains...

..and interesting topiaries.

This slide, called Black Slide Mantra and designed by Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, was my favorite thing about the park.

You enter from the back, and the staircase spirals up to the top.

The "sunken garden" at the end of the park, old Sapporo Court of Appeals in the background.

At the end of the day, we met up with Pastor Okada for an evening ride in a "Morris car" (a special kind of cable car) up Mount Moiwa, and were rewarded with some spectacular views of the city before heading down the mountain to grab dinner and take one last soak in a hot spring.

The Morris car before we boarded. It looked like something out of Disneyland... or a spaceship.

Sapporo at night from Mt. Moiwa.

Actually, the hot springs we went to were my favorite parts of the entire trip. Working in Japan can be stressful, and the hours tend to be long, but soaking in a hot spring, the art of which Japan has perfected, are the perfect antidote. You wash yourself first before getting in the hot water, and then commence feeling all the stress melt away. When you're pink as a lobster, you know you're done. It's even more lovely in the winter; nothing warms you up quite like sitting up to your neck in mineral-rich geothermally-heated water for half an hour.

We only had two days between returning from Sapporo and the start of school (and one of them was Sunday), so this account has been sadly delayed. I'm glad to finally be able to share it with all of you. Many, many thanks to Pastor Okada for her warm hospitality, delicious breakfasts, and three days of delightful fellowship.

The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)