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Things I now love about Japan:

Music: Japanese pop music is a lot of fun. Many songs are interspersed with random English words. It’s surreal and often hilarious to listen to them. The band names are also a lot of fun, especially when they are in English. I especially like the music of Mr. Children, YUKI, Judy and Mary, L’arc en Ciel, Porno Graffiti and Love Psychedelico.

Drinks: Melon soda is the bomb dot com. KFC and MOS Burger have it at the fountain here, along with Coca Cola products. I’ve also had pineapple soda and a drink called “Calpis,” which reminds me a little of horchata. Also, the Japanese have a fondness for cold coffee, especially café au lait. So almost every morning I have a pastry or a piece of toast with a nice cup of cold café au lait.

Seaweed: I love seaweed. I love seaweed in soup, I love seaweed wrapped around rice, I love dried seaweed in snacks, I love seaweed flakes on my okonomiyaki-- I just plain love seaweed. Nuf said.

Written Japanese has three forms: hiragana and katakana (the alphabets) and kanji (characters borrowed from Chinese). I am now quite competent with hiragana-- to the point where I can read the Japanese text in church hymns and sing along, and I can read children’s stories at a good pace (although I don’t understand what I’m reading). Kanji is the more difficult task. When Japanese children are taught Kanji, they are given fifty or so characters at a time, split into six grades. I now know a good bit of the Grade 1 kanji. In order to read a Japanese newspaper, I must know about 1,000 kanji. I now know that I will not progress to that level in two years.

I just gave my first chapel speech at school the 28th. Chapel is one of the only opportunities I have to share my faith and to speak Japanese to the students. I wanted the students to understand me, so I decided I would try to give my speech entirely in Japanese. It was a very difficult task, and many times I thought I was being too ambitious, as I have only been in Japan two months. But I knew that if my speech was in English, only the American teachers and a few of the Japanese teachers and students would be able to understand the majority of it. So I wrote the speech in English first and then gave sections of it to several people to translate. One of the Japanese teachers helped me with my pronunciation. There were also a lot of people praying for me as I prepared for the speech. So I did it. And I was really nervous. But after the speech many Japanese teachers came to me and told me that it was a good speech and that they understood my Japanese pronunciation. I was very encouraged my this. My next speech is in a month, so this week I must start writing the English draft to be translated. No rest for the weary.

More Fun Facts:

McDonald’s here has ginger ale, several kinds of coffee drinks, and an awesome mango shake. But the fries taste exactly the same.

The trash system here is really different. Trash is separated by category and put into different colored bags. For example, burnable trash goes in the red bag, plastic goes in the blue bag, aluminum and glass go in the yellow bag, etc. There are designated days of the week that these trash bags can go out to the street. If you forget to put it out one week, you have to hang on to the smelly garbage bag for another week. That happened to me once. I put the garbage bag on my porch so the smell wouldn’t asphyxiate me. The next morning I discovered the crows had a feast on my kitchen scraps. Ugh.

Before eating a meal, the Japanese say “itadakimas,” which literally means something like “I receive.” They will even say this when no one else is around. It acts as a kind of prayer before the meal, to mean, “I receive this with humility and thanks.”

Japanese manhole covers are fancy. Really fancy. The Shimonoseki manhole cover features the blowfish, as Shimonoseki is the leading supplier of the poisonous delicacy in Japan. I was told that over 85% of the blowfish eaten in Japan comes from Shimonoseki.


written by Ruthie @ 8:44 PM   3 comments
Its funny how my mom knows exactly what I need. Before I left for Japan she asked if there was anyone there who would give me hugs.

When I have been away from home before, it was to college where I had many friends I loved around me all the time (China, of course, is an exception, but even there I had Lynne to talk to). Even when I first started at NWC my boyfriend and my two best friends from high school were with me. Here in Japan I am not particularly close to anyone. There is no shoulder for me to cry on, no one to cuddle with, no one who knows my sense of humor or the movie quotes I use or the type of food I don't like. I am-- possibly for the first time-- truly alone. And it is hard.

But getting close to people is hard, too. How do I open up? How and when can I hug a Japanese person? Do they even like hugs? What about the language barrier? Despite these obstacles, however, I think the difficulty of becoming close to people is far better than the cold quiet lonliness I feel now.
written by Ruthie @ 1:28 AM   3 comments
A few weeks ago I went to Chofu with a couple of friends to see a cool garden and some temples. Here are some pictures:

This is the garden I visited. It reminded me of the garden in one of the last scenes of "Memoirs of a Geisha."

The entrance to a ceremonial teahouse.

A common sight in the countryside: bamboo. I was told that this clump of bamboo has been thinned considerably.

Beautiful, ne?

Just in case you thought I stole the above pictures from some free computer wallpaper website. Me standing in the entrance of a temple. The white paper and brooms indicate that this is a sacred place.

The entrance to another temple.

After we toured the beautiful places in Chofu, we went to an okonomiyaki restaurant. In this restaurant you get to make it yourself at your table.
written by Ruthie @ 12:26 AM   3 comments
Every time I see a cute dog in Japan I feel really sad because I miss Sonny so much. On the way to school this morning I saw a really cute miniature, long-haired, blonde dachshund walking its owner. Jokingly, Nick said I should write poetry to help me process my emotions. So this morning we wrote this limerick:

There once was a dog named Sonny.
His short stubby legs look quite funny.
When he walks around
his tail hits the ground
and leaves a trail of dust bunnies.

The end.


written by Ruthie @ 1:56 AM   0 comments
Officially Insane
This just in: Kim Jong-il and his cronies have lost any shred of sanity they may have had left. I am really starting to fear an impending war in Asia.

The following is the full text of a statement released by the foreign ministry of North Korea, which calls itself the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK):

On 14 October, the United States instigated the UN Security Council to unjustly find fault with our self-defensive nuclear test as a threat to international peace and safety, and once again passed the vicious resolution on sanctions and blockade against the Republic.

Our successful nuclear test is a positive defensive countermeasure to defend our country's sovereignty and the people's life and safety so as to cope with the United States' increasing threat of nuclear war and the manoeuvres for sanctions and pressure; and thus was completely an exercise of a sovereign state's independent and legal right.

Because the United States, by taking advantage of the nuclear issue, gravely infringed on our state's supreme safety and our nation's fundamental interest, we were compelled to legally withdraw from the Non-proliferation Treaty in accordance with the relevant clause of the treaty and to manufacture a nuclear weapon by going through the most fair, just, and transparent process.

We also conducted the test proving our nuclear possession in a legitimate manner, after even providing advance notice, which transcends international norms.

We conducted the nuclear test under the condition where safety was thoroughly guaranteed, and we clearly declared that as a responsible nuclear possession country, we will never first use a nuclear weapon and will not allow nuclear transfer.

In addition, we clarified that we will make every possible effort to push ahead with worldwide nuclear arms reduction and the ultimate abolishment of nuclear weapons, and will also unchangingly maintain the principle to realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through dialogue and negotiations.

Nevertheless, the United States, which is the ringleader that pushed us to a nuclear test, is now acting as if we had threatened international peace and security, while covering up and putting away what it did, like a thief wielding a club. This is entirely preposterous and can never be tolerated.

Our nuclear test rather serves as a great undertaking that has greatly contributed to safeguarding the peace and security of the Northeast Asian region, as well as the Korean peninsula, by demonstrating a powerful deterrent force that checks the United States' nuclear threat blackmail and attempt to provoke a new war.

To disregard all these facts; turn a blind eye to the United States' hostile policy towards the DPRK, which is the root of the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula; regard as a crime the implementation of our sovereign right to defend the country's sovereignty in the face of the [hostile policy]; and talk about the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula are immoral behaviours utterly devoid of impartiality

Needless to say, the recent UNSC resolution is based on a scenario [prepared] by the United States that is running amok to dismantle the popular masses-centred socialist system of our style and cannot but be regarded as a declaration of war against our Republic.

The United States must not miscalculate us.

No illusion can be more ridiculous or groundless than for the Bush group to think it can bring us to our knees with sanctions and pressures after forgetting the lesson from the shameful defeats recorded by its previous administrations in the history of relations with the DPRK and remaining stuck on its already bankrupt hostile policy towards the DPRK. As our Republic had not been shaken by any wind or wave even without nuclear weapons in the past, it is nonsensical for it to yield to anyone else's pressures or threats today when it has become a dignified nuclear power.

We want peace but do not fear war, and we desire dialogue but are always ready for confrontation, as well.

We will fulfil our duty to denuclearize the Korean peninsula as we have already declared, but if anyone tries to infringe on our sovereignty and our right to existence, even a bit, under the signboard of the UN Security Council resolution, we will unsparingly launch a merciless strike.

We will watch out for any move by the United States, and will take appropriate measures accordingly.

Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6058316.stm
Published: 2006/10/17 10:02:43 GMT © BBC MMVI

written by Ruthie @ 10:06 PM   2 comments
Chapel Speech

Every teacher has to give a speech in chapel every once in awhile. My first speech is October 28. I wrote my speech really early so I could get it translated into Japanese. I want to give my speech entirely in Japanese so the students understand me. This is one of my only opportunities to speak Japanese to them, and to speak about the Christian faith.

Romans 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I am a failure. Every day I fail in many ways. I fail by not clearly explaining an idea to my students. I fail by not being able to communicate with my co-workers and friends in Japanese. I fail forgetting God during my day. I fail by not achieving my personal expectations. Today I will tell you about my failures in the hope that you will see how, even though I fail every day, God gives me strength, grace, and love to live my life.

Before I came to Japan I thought that, in 2 years time, I could be fluent in Japanese. In America I studied hiragana and katakana. I learned simple words and phrases. However, that was not enough to prepare me to speak Japanese to store clerks, people at church, students, or other teachers. I have become like a child here in Japan—I have to learn how to read, write, and express myself like I did when I was an infant in America. Some days I feel confident in my Japanese abilities. Other days I am frustrated because I cannot communicate even simple ideas. At those times I feel foolish. What do the Japanese think of me? Do they think I am stupid? Or rude? I know now that, even in two years, I will not be fluent in Japanese. My expectations are too high. I feel like a failure because I cannot meet my own expectations for communicating in Japanese.

I fail in other ways as well. I graduated from college with a degree in music. While I was in college I studied many beautiful pieces of music. I learned to write music, because I wanted to learn to write pieces as beautiful as those of the composers I loved. I would sit at the piano for hours to try to write a few measures of music that sounded as beautiful as Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy, but I could never succeed to my satisfaction. To my ears, my music sounded fake, like a photocopy of a famous painting.

I also fail with God. When I was your age, I thought I understood who God was. I knew a lot about the Bible and I went to church and to Bible studies. But I didn’t realize until about a year ago that I did not understand God at all. At that point I felt I had failed, so I gave up on God. I lost all my faith in Him. I decided I didn’t care about Christianity any more because I couldn’t understand it. But recently I realized that faith in God is not possible without questions. No human can fully understand God. The Bible tells us this in Romans 11:33: []. So we all fail at understanding God, and God understands this. God also understands that we fail to honor and obey him. We cannot meet God’s expectations of righteousness. Romans 3:23 says[] . It doesn’t matter how hard we try—we will not reach perfect obedience and righteousness in God’s eyes. But God knows this. Romans 5:6-8. If we were perfectly righteous, if we were not failures, then Jesus would not have had to die. We would not need his sacrifice. But, because we are sinners, we desperately need His forgiveness, which, because of His love, He freely gives.

I am a failure. I cannot understand or obey God. But God knows this, and because He loves me and has forgiven me, I don’t need to worry.


written by Ruthie @ 9:58 PM   4 comments
Family Tree
We've been teaching some of our high schoolers some basic family vocab: mother, father, sister, brother, etc. In their book they have a sample family tree. From that they have to answer questions about the relationships on the tree using the new vocab. So for class we made a worksheet for them to learn even more family terms: grandfather, grandmother, cousin, aunt, uncle, husband, wife, etc.

I was supposed to make a more complex family tree on Microsoft Word. I couldn't think of any good American names, so I decided to dip into recent political figures. What resulted was what I lovingly dubbed the "Gubernatorial Family Tree."
I thought this was absolutely hilarious. What's even more hilarious is that the students have no idea where these names come from. However, one of the Japanese teachers who speaks pretty good English saw the worksheet on my desk and commented on it. "Oh, Bill and Hillary... Clinton?" "Yes," I said. "And Monica and Al are their grandchildren." She jokingly slapped me on the shoulder, half shocked, but mostly laughing.
written by Ruthie @ 9:28 PM   2 comments
I tried a kind of James Joyce's Ulysses approach on this one, only hopefully not as monotonous. The essay spans a time period of about twenty minutes. I tried to document everything I did or thought in that time.

My mind slowly trudges from dream to consciousness as I notice the irritating beep of my alarm. That’s what I get for buying a cheap travel alarm clock from Big Lots. I rub my eyes and weigh the option of going back to sleep for awhile. No can do. The cheap travel alarm clock isn’t accurate enough to wake me up in five more minutes. So I resign myself to stumbling out of my futon and into the kitchen.

I happily discover that the water in my thermos is still hot enough for instant coffee. As I empty the tube of instant coffee-cream-sugar into my mug I remember images from my dreams. I’m wearing red sequins and dancing seductively in the shower. I look out the window of a kitchen in a country house to see lots of construction-- a bypass, perhaps. I talk to Wilma Orlano. I haven’t talked to her for six years, maybe. She’s wearing a puffy, navy blue vest.

My friend brought me two large bunches of grapes last night, so I figured I should start making a dent in them. My fingers stain a deep purple as I attempt to suck the meat from the peel of each grape. Americans don’t have to worry about this. They can eat the peel. Here grape peels are too bitter to eat. But the sweetness of the meat makes up for it. I eat two or three grapes and get frustrated, so I start on my “steamed marble cake.” Only the top of the small tea cake is marbled; the rest is chocolate.

I continue to think about my dreams, as I know I will forget them all in a matter of minutes. Working with a missions organization. Reporting to a mission house and starting orientation. Wondering if I can handle all their strict rules. A football game and party. A father-and-son percussion learning workshop. My uncle Greg is teaching them, although my dream is the only time he will ever be able to play a musical instrument.

I eat my last bite of cake and drain my instant coffee. Most mornings at this point I turn on my computer. My office faces the other apartment building and a neighbor’s house. These neighbors make me tired. Every morning before I wake up they are doing laundry or cleaning the windows or washing out a bucket or something. It seems they are always trying to wash the dirt from some surface, wiping away what the wind and rain have left behind. Maybe they are obsessive-compulsive. Or just neat freaks.
written by Ruthie @ 2:02 AM   2 comments
Thank God for Facebook. Seriously.

Crystal, my old friend from junior high school, sent me a Facebook message a couple of days ago. Crystal was one of my first friends in a new town when my parents moved to Iowa in 1993. I called Crystal my soul mate, my best best friend, for four years. We were so close, like sisters. Then in eighth grade she struggled a lot with her faith and finally decided to become an athiest. I was devastated. We didn't speak for awhile after that. In high school we had several classes together and hung out sometimes, but I always felt a little awkward, and I think she did too. We still wanted to be friends, but I didn't feel like I understood her anymore. I think she felt the same way.

College came and went and I never heard from Crystal. I never tried to contact her, either. I thought of her occasionally, wondered where she was, what she was doing. I thought I would never see or speak to her again. Then out of the blue yesterday she sent me a message. I almost cried I was so happy. I wanted to tell her everything, even though I hadn't talked to her for about five years. I felt like our relationship was ressurected in an instant. Happily, she informed me that she is once again a committed Christian and has been happily married for two years! She's in college studying French (which we took together in high school) and doing well. And now we are sending messages back and forth, frantically updating each other on the past four years of our lives. And I am so, so glad.

Moral of the story: if you are not on Facebook, join now, if just for the sake of making this kind of reconnection with a former kindred spirit.

P.S. I'm not usually this sappy. I apologize.
written by Ruthie @ 9:35 AM   1 comments

Name: Ruthie
Home: Japan
About Me: I want to know who God is and what his truth is. I love getting lost in beautiful music and cloudless star-filled skies, especially in the fall. I hate being bored. I like big cities. I want to travel the world.
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