Ohori Park
Tuesday was a national holiday here in Japan, so I went to visit a friend in Fukuoka. The weather was AWESOME, so we went to Ohori Park, a huge park built around a lake near the bay. The park is modeled after a park in China (I forget exactly which city).

The lake is sort of split in half by islands connected by bridges, so we walked through the middle of the lake and saw a beautiful floating gazebo-type thing and a bunch of birds, fish, and turtles.

A lady was feeding this heron some bread, so I could get really close to it to take pictures.
We had a great day in the sun! As a sure sign of the changing to spring, I got badly sunburnt on my back and shoulders.


written by Ruthie @ 8:59 AM   0 comments
Apparently Shinzo Abe is a bit socially awkward.

A new Japanese slang formed around Abe's famed inability to read the atmosphere in tense social situations. The Japanese call this 「空気読めない」(kuuki yomenai). That means, literally, "can't read the air." This image is similar to the English idiom, "can't feel the tension in the air." The Japanese have shortened this slang from kuuki yomenai to simply KY.

I try to explain to my Japanese friends that Americans could never comfortably say "KY" because of the personal lubricant brand of a similar name, but I always get really embarrassed trying to explain the phrase "personal lubricant." Anyway, this slang has become really popular as of late, and people always laugh when I say it because they never thought a foreigner would be able to use Japanese slang words! I've tried to think of a comprable American slang term, but I don't think we really don't have one. "Socially awkward" could possibly describe it, but I could think of nothing as succinct as "KY." So try using it with your friends. See what kind of reaction you get when you say, "Oh, yeah. Steve. He's really KY." I know I'll use it when I'm Stateside!


written by Ruthie @ 10:01 AM   1 comments
Flora and Fauna
I know I have said this before, but flowers in Japan are more beautiful than flowers in America. Period. And more abundant. I am constantly awed by the different seasons of flowers in Japan-- year-round I see flowers everywhere, of every color.In front of schools, along roads, growing on walls, in ditches, even weeds-- beautiful, vibrant flowers. The above flowers were in an untended strip of land butting against a fence near my apartment.

These poppies were in a small park-type thing behind the bus center in Fukuoka.

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written by Ruthie @ 7:49 AM   2 comments
Open Our Eyes

Matt. 13:10-17

What does it mean to “see” Jesus? What does it mean to “hear” Jesus? In today’s passage, Jesus’ disciples ask him why he uses parables to teach people. Jesus tells them that people who are willing to believe will understand his parables. Then Jesus tells the disciples that, though the people could see physically, spiritually they could not see the truth of Jesus. Though they could hear physically, spiritually they could not hear the truth of Jesus. Christians often talk about seeing and hearing Jesus as a metaphor. In fact, there’s a famous worship song—“Open Our Eyes,” that addresses this: "Open our eyes, Lord/ we want to see Jesus/ to reach out and touch Him/ and say that we love Him/ Open our ears, Lord/ and help us to listen/ open our eyes, Lord/ we want to see Jesus.”

How can we see Jesus now? We can see Jesus in the beauty of nature. We can see Jesus in other people. Is there a special person in your life who encourages you when you are in trouble? Is there a person who loves you no matter what you do? You can see Jesus in those people. Many of you remember Rachel, the former American teacher at Baiko. I could see Jesus in Rachel’s life. She loved everyone. She was patient and kind to all people. She cared for me and helped me when I had a problem.

How can we hear Jesus now? We can hear Jesus in the Bible’s words. We can also hear Jesus in prayer. Prayer is not one-sided. Prayer is not only us talking to God. God talks back. You don’t even have to be a Christian to pray to God or to Jesus. When I am worried or afraid or confused, I often say a prayer to God. Sometimes, shortly after I pray, I understand what I must do, or an answer to my problems presents itself to me. We have to listen carefully to hear God’s answer, but he always answers us.

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written by Ruthie @ 10:58 PM   1 comments
Samurai Throwbacks
When my mom came to visit she brought me James Clavell's Shogun, a historical fiction novel about Japan during the Edo period and the arrival of the first non-Spanish/Portuguese Europeans. I know it is fiction (and therefore should be taken with a large chunk of salt), but from other history books I've read, I think Clavell's description of Edo-era samurai culture is pretty accurate. So, while reading and thinking about the book, I've been compiling a list of traditions and ideas from samurai culture (as depicted in Shogun) that are still present in Japan today. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • loyalty. The samurai was completely loyal to his leige lord, and the peasants were completely loyal to their ruling samurai-- to the death. If your lord asked you to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), you did so without argument. In modern Japanese society, loyalty is found in slightly different capacities. For instance, although the royal family has almost no power over anything in Japan and they're basically held as prisoners in the Imperial Palace complex in Tokyo, Japanese people never say a bad word about them. In fact, Ben Hills, author of the book Princess Masako (a book which chronicles the life of the imperial princess), has recieved several death threats from radical Japanese because the book is critical of the royal family. Loyalty also manifests itself in the workplace. Once hired to a company, many employees work at that company their whole lives, even if they could possibly find better pay or benefits elsewhere.
  • importance of ceremony. Of all the traditions and ideas I noticed in the book, I feel like this tradition has changed very little from the time of the samurai. This manifests itself often in bowing. In samurai times, it was vitally important for all people to bow to the proper angle, depending on who they were addressing. Lords and samurai received a very low, formal bow. Servants recieved a shallow bow, or even just a nod of the head. Also, during a formal ceremony (like a funeral, an audience with the Shogun, or the traditional serving of tea), bows were lower than they were in daily life. Nowadays that tradition still stands. At the beginning and end of every class, students must stand, bow together, and greet their teacher. During the high school graduation ceremony, I noticed that the students' bows were MUCH lower and pronounced than during a normal school day.
  • suicide as a release of shame. If a samurai shamed his master, he would immediately ask permission to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) so that his suffering would end and the shame on him and his family could be released. To commit ritual suicide was a way to die with one's honor still intact. Nowadays, people still talk about how "so-and-so was so ashamed, she committed suicide." According to a report in Rising Sun of Nihon, Japan is #10 on a list of the top 15 countries with the highest suicide rates. Apparently for every 100,000 deaths in Japan, there are 24.2 suicides (Lithuania was #1 with 42.1).
Other things I noticed but didn't feel like fleshing out just now: protection of honor and respect for the position/station of others.


written by Ruthie @ 2:40 AM   0 comments
Those of you from my alma mater will understand the joy and excitement I felt when I saw a windmill in Shimonoseki:
The Japanese friend I was with at the time did not understand why I was laughing so much and insisted on taking pictures. I tried to explain that I went to school in a really Dutch area and windmills are sort of a symbol of that and that it was so weird to see a Dutch-esque windmill in Japan, but I don't think he got it.


written by Ruthie @ 11:47 PM   4 comments
Sonny Blog
I have created a monster.

First my mom creates her own blog. Then she starts posting on it and re-designing it like mad. Now, she created a blog for MY DOG. It's not that I'm upset about this at all. On the contrary, I think it's hilarious. But it's also just a bit weird to think of my dog having his own blog. It's a dog blog. Hey, that rhymes. Anyway, check it out here.


written by Ruthie @ 8:22 PM   0 comments
Starbucks in Japan
Starbucks has got to be one of the most clever food franchises in the world, right up there with McDonald's. I've been to Starbucks in four different countries now, and while each Starbucks had similar decor and the same basic drink selection, they all had a beverage or souvenir or something unique to that country. Japan, for instance, offers a green tea frappucino and drink tumblers with designs featuring the most famous cities in Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, etc. Starbucks in Japan also has seasonal drinks in some... interesting flavors. The most recent weird drink is the Coffee Jelly Frappucino. It's a regular blended ice coffee drink, but with coffee-flavored jello in the bottom. Japanese use the word "jelly" (they pronounce it zeri-) for "jello" or "gelatin." When I was at Starbucks yesterday, the clerks were handing out samples. It was pretty yummy, kind of like drinking coffee-flavored bubble tea.

It's funny-- I purposefully avoid Starbucks in the U.S. in favor of smaller, more intimate, more unique coffee shops, but when I'm in another country, it's nice to be able to go into a Starbucks and know exactly what is offered and what I will like. In any country, Starbucks is the place to find the foreigners. Every time I walk into a Starbucks here I see at least two or three white people. I'm not saying that this is at all a bad thing; on the contrary, that's one of the reasons I go to Starbucks-- I'm not gawked at there nearly as much as other places. So while some people (I used to be one of them) like to scream about how big franchises are taking away the individuality of quaint Mom and Pop businesses, as an American living abroad, Starbucks (and even McDonald's sometimes) becomes a familiar, inviting place.
written by Ruthie @ 2:58 AM   2 comments
Daily Blogs
Blogs I check everyday:

Go Fug Yourself: This blog is devoted to discussing pictures of the most fugly (fucking ugly. I know it's profane, but it's not bleeped on TV so I'm going to say it) celebrities. Not face fugly-- clothes fugly. The very witty writers also write an online column for New York Magazine.

Japundit: This all-things-Japan website has been extremely instrumental in keeping me up on current events and trends in Japan. Posts include videos of festivals, news articles about recent government decisions, fashion trends, posts about countries surrounding Japan, and even new Hello Kitty products (not even kidding).

Under Blood: A friend from college lets her thoughts dribble out of her brain into a blog. She posts something almost everyday, and it's always interesting.

The Sneeze: Mr. Steve Sneeds hasn't been posting very regularly recently, but at one time he posted almost everyday, and he is HILARIOUS. He just writes about life and his experiences, but in an odd-ball, humorous style. His blog is worth a look. Check out the "Brainwatch Timeline" and the "Steve, Don't Eat It" series'.

Found Magazine: People find little notes or photos, take pictures of it, and send it to this website. It's quite interesting to analyze what someone's grocery list might have meant or why a person would leave a picture of a little girl in a wig, sunglasses, and a tiger-print bathing suit inside a garage sale purse.


written by Ruthie @ 10:22 AM   1 comments
Mommy Blog
My mom has a blog. This is quite possibly the coolest thing she has done in a long while. First she joins Facebook, now a blog, what next? Her own Youtube channel with weekly musings?

Anyway, check it out at this address. I hope you enjoy it. She wrote a couple of posts concerning her time in Japan.


written by Ruthie @ 8:47 AM   1 comments
A few months ago my Japan enthusiast brother emailed me asking me about Ganryujima. He described a famous duel that took place there about 400 years ago. He said that, if I ever visited the island, he would like a bottle of sand from the island, as he loves the story of the duel and the legends surrounding it. Below are some pictures of the island and a statue erected in honor of the famous battle.

Here's what Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) has to say about the duel:

In April 13, 1612, Musashi (aged approximately 30) had his most famous duel with Sasaki Kojirō who wielded a nodachi. Musashi came late and unkempt to the appointed place — the remote island of Funajima, north of Kokura. The duel was short and Musashi killed his opponent with a bokken that he had carved from an oar while traveling to the island.

Musashi's late arrival is controversial. Sasaki's outraged supporters thought it was dishonorable and disrespectful while many others thought it was a fair way to unnerve his opponent. Another theory is that Musashi timed the hour of his arrival to match the turning of the tide. The tide carried him to the island then it turned by the time the fight ended. After his victory, Musashi immediately jumped back in his boat and his flight from Sasaki's vengeful allies was thus helped by the turning tide. He briefly established a fencing school that same year.


written by Ruthie @ 7:46 AM   1 comments
For Jadson
My sponsored child from Brazil died.

I got an email from the sponsoring agency that said Jadson was killed on March 14th in an accident. Here's what the email said: "While riding his bike along with a friend being pulled by a truck; his friend got scared when he saw a bus coming from behind, he jumped off his bike, his bike hit Jadson’s bike and both bikes got stuck under the truck. Jadson was then dragged and pushed by the truck. He broke two legs, ribs and his internal organs were also affected. He stayed in ICU for 4 days but did not survive."

How do I respond to this? The only thing I've felt so far is shock. I never thought I would outlive this little kid from Sao Paulo. I figured the thirty-two dollars I was giving him every month was helping to keep him alive and healthy and educated and all that. I never really considered the possibility that I would have to deal with Jadson's death.

We sent several letters back and forth. I sent him stickers and pictures of me and my family. Jadson said he liked my hair color and he often asked if I had a boyfriend or if I would ever come to see him. He often asked me to pray for his dad to find a job. He always said he loved me and he thanked God for me. I don't think I prayed for him nearly as much as he prayed for me.

Sorry I didn't care more for you, Jadson. Sure, I sent money, but I didn't really care. I was just trying not to alleviate my guilt when a spokesperson for the sponsoring agency spoke in chapel.
written by Ruthie @ 9:33 AM   1 comments
It's cherry blossom season in Japan, and that means that everybody is out armed with a camera and grilled chicken-on-a-stick for Hana-mi. Hana-mi literally means "flower-veiwing." The ancient tradition was for monks to sit and meditate under the blossoms fluttering off the trees. Nowadays it's pretty much the Japanese equivalent of Fourth of July: instead of fireworks being an excuse to stagger around drunkenly in a park and eat lots of grilled animal fat, in Japan the excuse is the blossoming of cherry trees.

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written by Ruthie @ 5:05 AM   1 comments
Anime and Manga
A lot of people ask me what I think about anime and manga (mostly my nerdy, Japan-obsessed friends and my students), so I think now is a good time for me to admit something: I HATE them both. Well, maybe "hate" is too strong a word. They're both extremely grating on my nerves. I really can't stand either form of "entertainment." I'd much rather wash dishes than watch anime. I'd much rather read the back of a cereal box than read manga. Hopefully that shows you the fine line I dance between and loathing and hate for these two Japanese-born media.

As for anime, I don't like the way the mouths of the characters are only, as Strongbad puts it, "real tiny when they're closed, ridiculously huge when they're open." I just don't like the animation style. And the voices! The stupid high-pitched voices of the female characters DRIVE ME INSANE. It's bad enough that I have to hear the whiny, nasal-y voices every time I walk into any store. I don't want to hear it in my cartoons. And the male characters always sound like they're talking while having a big bowel movement. You know, the sort of pinched, really intense, forced sort of voice they have? I always think of pooping when I hear that voice. And there's always all the weird "shaSHINNNNN!" sound effects like a sword coming out of it's scabbard and the jumping in the air with the lines in the background indicating motion... I just can't stand the style. I much prefer Disney.

With manga, the problem is slightly different. Some of the drawings are cool, but, like Western-style comic books, my eyes can't focus with all those images and words and text garbled together on one page. I don't know where to look! I can deal with the Sunday funny pages, because there I'm just looking at one strip of three images or so. But with manga, there are all the lines indicating movement and close-ups next to longer shots and all the little sound effects written on the side of the page. And the sweating! What's with all the drops of sweat all over these characters?! Who sweats like that in real life? It's not just the manga form of comics that I don't like, actually. I've never like Western-style comics, either. I'm just not a visual person. If I'm going to read a story, I want to imagine what the characters look like. The artist's renderings often don't live up to my imagination's expectations.

Really, the problem with both forms of "entertainment" is that there is simply too much stimuli. I'd rather things be a bit simpler, not as frenetic. And I'd rather things look a bit more natural, not so exaggerated. Anybody out there feel me? Or would you like to change my mind by giving me your opinion of these two forms of visual stimulus?
written by Ruthie @ 8:51 PM   3 comments
Drying Squid
It's weird enough that the Japanese eat squid. It's even weirder that they dry it before eating it. It's still weirder that they dry it by spinning it on a rack.I was terrified that a squid would fly off and hit me in the face. Mom stood so close to it she felt spray fly off of them. I have no idea why she would do such a thing. It was a horrible cephalopod tornado, the stuff of nightmares.


written by Ruthie @ 6:35 AM   4 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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