Thursday, December 25, 2014

Holiday Season

We have really enjoyed the past few weeks from Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas.  There are so many more opportunities to share the message of the birth, life and mission of the Savior during this time.  Christmas can be seen all over in the stores and on the streets, and in many homes and apartments with trees, lots of lights, and Santa and his little elves everywhere.  The music in the stores and on the streets is a mixture of the songs of the Savior’s birth that we love and often sing in Church, along with the usual Santa Claus songs.  But crèche’s, nativities, and manger scenes are not to be found anywhere.  We have loved sharing that side of the Christmas message as we visit with people, teach, and visit senior citizen centers.  The Church members here also planned and carried out a very nice Christmas open house on the Tuesday before Christmas, since it is a national holiday (the Emperor’s birthday). 

On Christmas Eve we had our weekly English class which only had a few people, but was a lot of fun as we talked about Christmas symbols and two of our young missionaries dressed up in Santa Claus outfits and we all went out and walked around the streets singing Christmas songs with a ukulele, shaking hands, waving at people, and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.  People seemed to love it and loved having their pictures taken with the two Santa’s—there were only a few Scrooges on the streets.  Our English class students were very brave and patient to be seen with us.  We came home that evening and found we had been given a “heart attack” on our front door by some anonymous friends from the church (that’s where they tape hearts and love notes on your door).  We were so touched.  They are so kind and give so much and we feel like we have so little to give them with our limited language and other skills. 

People have been so generous giving us all kinds of fruit and things.  The kaki (persimmon) is one of the most frequent things we get, especially from our good friends down street who run the little mom and pop grocery store you saw in an earlier picture.  This past week they also had kinkan (cumquats) which was a Deja vous for someone from California.  I have good memories of Sue, Honey, Lori, Rich, and I eating cumquats on a sunny afternoon.  When I bit into that cute little cumquat, it took me back to my childhood.  We also love all the mikans (mandarin oranges) and ringo (apples) and dragon fruits that seem to be so abundant.  There are some fruits that seem to be unique to the islands here and we have a hard time learning their names in Japanese or English.

There has been some snow here on the hills and on the volcano and although the temperatures are not too low the humidity makes the cool air seem quite cold, especially since central heating and air conditioning aren’t used here.  When its 40 degrees here the chill factor puts the “feels like” temperature at like 30 degrees. 

Our grandchildren have been so good to send us cute pictures and notes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and we have loved sharing them with our friends here. 

This next week we move into the big holiday for Japan, New Years or Oshogatsu where everything seems to shut down.  We are excited to watch the traditions. 

Snow on the volcano.  Brrr!

Cumquats, mikans, etc.  Yummmm!  Nice gifts!

We love the grandchildren's little love notes and cards. 

Our surprise Christmas "Heart Attack" from anonymous Church friends.

A box of Christmas surprises from our Church friends.  How fun!

This luscious cake was part of the gifts from our Church friends--wow! 

English class night with the elders playing Santa Claus on the streets of Kagoshima. 
The people loved having their pictures taken with them!

Some of the beautiful decorations on the streets. 

Amazing delicate lightings. 

Santa had to leave quickly Christmas Eve to go on his runs around the world. 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Has Arrived

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving week with some activities with so many friends from English class and from the Church.  While it wasn’t turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, it was close—chicken and rice and gravy.  We had some fun games and shared a film on the Savior’s birth, since this is the opening of the Christmas season.  They loved it. 

While we are in a tropical land of palm trees and volcanoes, and it is warmer than other parts of Japan, we also faced the reality this past week that it can also get quite cold and may even be icy and we may even see snow here. 

We have enjoyed sharing the tradition of decorating our Christmas tree here, and other family Christmas traditions with our friends here.  In the absence of grandchildren to do those things with we enjoyed an evening with enchiladas, Christmas music, and an old BYU Motion Picture film “The Gift” on the spirit of Christmas giving.  Thanks to these friends we are feeling at home while still far away from home. 

This week we also got to attend a special meeting in Fukuoka with about 200 other young missionaries, and a few older couples like us.  Wow, what amazing strength, faith, and dedication to the Lord these young people have.  Many of them rode buses or trains for several hours to be there and to return the same day, and then also for nearly five hours they were riveted on the messages and the instruction they were receiving on how to be better servants of our Heavenly Father during this special season.  They are great examples to us.  While this isn’t necessarily an easy experience here, it is a great soul stretching experience for us.  We are blessed in so many ways. 


Decorating our Christmas tree with our friends. 
Didn’t they do a great job?! Thanks you two!
We stopped at a rest area in the mountains on our way to inspect missionary apartments about an hour away from us, and saw this somewhat ominous sign warning drivers about driving near snow removal trucks.  What does that mean?
We were a little surprised to see these bags of snow melt on the hilly road near our home.  What does that mean?
Yes, that is snow on the top of the volcano.
What does that mean?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ohara Matsuri Time!

Monday was our preparation day and was also a national holiday and the day of the big local Fall festival with parades of folk dancers and booths with traditional foods.  The smells were wonderful.  We walked down the mountain to the downtown area instead of driving, in case we couldn’t find parking, and watched the parades.  Many people were very kind and came up and greeted us.  So many different groups join in the matsuri parade dancing to traditional music and march up and down the street for hours.  There was even a wheelchair group and some "foreigners and their friends" who formed a group and participated.  Such a wonderful historical and cultural heritage can be found here.  They are very proud of their southern Kyushu contribution to the ancient history of Japan.  Our church members here are amazing too with all that they do for each other and the community.  This congregation has been here for about forty years. 

Even the pizza delivery people are traditional folk dancers.

Traditional dancers

The elderly and handicapped join the parade.

Traditional folk dancers. 

Taiko drummers were amazing.

Ahh the smell of yaki tori. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Volcano's Ashy Shadow

The past three days have been really bad ash days.  It puts a film of dusty ash all over the streets and everything and when cars drive by it swirls and blows like light snow.  We thought we had it cleaned up yesterday, and then today it all came back again.  We have been told that if you wash the ash off your car it just turns to mud, and that is true.  So we brush it off, and sweep the driveway, at least once in the morning on bad days.  They bag it up in yellow bags and put them out for the garbage pickup, on any day.  Here is what it looks like: 


What A Month!

We have been here a month and a half.  Whew! What a busy month.  We were required by Japanese law to get a foreigner registration card and photo, sign up and pay for Japanese National Health Insurance and Long Term Care Insurance (at a machine that is only in Japanese Kanji, no English), open a Japanese Post Office Bank Account (and learn how to use the machines), and figure out how to use a 7-11 Handy Bank (luckily in English) to withdraw money from America.  We had to assess the house to see what was needed.  The previous mission couple left some wonderful supplies, but we still needed to figure out how to go grocery shopping.  There is a nice little market a block down the hill, with fruits, vegetables, milk, and misc.  They are our neighbors and we are getting to know them.  The bigger grocery stores are in the basements of the multi-level department stores, and are several miles away from us.  We have found some American products such as small Skippy peanut butter, which helps when we need to take sandwiches with us.   We try to eat local food: chicken and vegetables, yakisoba, curried rice and chicken.  We eat a lot of bananas, mikans (clementine’s) , and Asian pears.  We are very lucky.
We recently drove four hours, on toll roads, to go to Costco.  We packed our peanut butter sandwiches and headed out about 7:00am, Monday.  We got there about 11:00am.  The parking lot was full.  It was crowded inside, with people standing around the sample tables (just like in America).  We filled two carts full of things.  We stocked up on p-butter, jam, oatmeal, walnuts, almonds, TP, and misc.  They accepted my American Exp/ card (I was grateful).  We stopped at the Fukuoka Mission Home for some items, then headed home, arriving about 7:30pm.  We definitely don’t want to do that very often, but it was definitely worth it. 

It’s not easy being far from family, friends, home, and familiar conveniences.  People have been very helpful at the government offices, post offices, 7-11, church, and everywhere.  The people are so nice, and so very kind.  We really like them and appreciate them.  All our family and friends at home can take comfort knowing that the people are helping us here, and that Heavenly Father is helping us here.   Sometimes when we get overwhelmed and think we can’t do it, Heavenly Father gives us a peace of mind and heart, and the courage to go forward and do things.

Friday, October 24, 2014


We have been here just over a month, with Glenn doing all the driving. As I have mentioned the streets getting out of our neighborhood are steep, narrow, and winding.  The town roads are great, but very busy.  Some downtown roads are narrow, and the blocks are not "square".  Some are one way.  Some road signs have Roman letters with Kanji and some have only Kanji.  Everyone drives on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right.  We use a GPS just about every where we go. Well, I got my courage up and actually drove from our house several blocks to the church. Glenn seemed quite nervous (with good reason). He was nervous for me (my comfort and fears), and for the safety of the car.  But I did it!  I would like to practice a few times, short distances.  We'll keep you posted.  I may or may not ever do it again.

Melody's first drive and Glenn driving to Miyazaki. 

This is the hilly neighborhood that we walk or drive down and up to get to the church.

Here is a photo of Japanese money.  It's pretty cool.  The value of the dollar is very close to the value of the Japanese Yen.  I don't worry about the actual exchange differences.  If the bill 1000 I just add a decimal point and it is $10.00.  It is pretty easy to figure purchases. I'm grateful for that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Time Zones and Internet

The world has many time zones. The U.S. has four time zones.  Japan is all in one time zone.  How convenient.  The International Date Line goes down the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and New Zealand. 
The International Date Line makes Japan a whole day ahead of the States. We are a whole day older than you.  That should make you feel real good.  When you are sleeping, we are awake,  When you are awake, we are sleeping.  When it's Sunday night for you, it's Monday morning for us.  With "standard time", not "daylight saving time", when it is 8:00am Monday morning here, it is 6:00pm Sunday evening in Florida & North Carolina, 5:00pm in Missouri & Texas, 4:00pm in Utah & Idaho, 3:00pm in Washington, Oregon, and California.  It is kind of tricky setting up times to Skype family with the time differences and everyone's schedules.  The Blessing is that it can be done.  We are very thankful for Skype, email, and the internet.  Aren't we lucky to have modern technology?  We wanted to get a portable internet "hot spot" and pay a monthly fee.  We asked two other senior mission couples what they use. We are a little nervous to sign a two year contract, all in Japanese.  We have been in Japan four weeks and haven't signed anything yet.  The first time we went to the internet store it was closed a few days for renovation.  The next week we went they still weren't ready for contracts.  Next time the person who helps with contracts was gone.  Next time we took our Japanese friend to help look at the contract and ask questions.  It was really helpful but we didn't sign a contract because we decided to check with the Church Area Office to see if they had recommendations or advice.  So here we are still with no internet.  Hopefully soon.  We have another blessing though, we do have a "mission issued" cell phone for local use.  We have no other phone. 

Cockroach blessings?

We recently saw a couple of beetles outside. Unfortunately it made me dream of cockroaches the other night.  What blessing cand I find in cockroaches?  The blessing is that we don't have them in our sweet old house.  I keep on the lookout for them, but haven't seen any in the house.  I even bought more plastic kitchen storage containers to store food items.  I also keep a bowl of soapy water on the counter to wash our dishes immediately after we finish.  If I see any in the future, I will rush out and buy more "roach hotel" traps.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Typhoons and Genkans

We recently had two typhoons in 10 days.  I am always looking for blessings.  What is the blessing in a typhoon?  It is that each lessened and became "tropical storms" before hitting us.  The winds were really howling with bouts of rain.  It creaked and cracked the house at night, but the roof is still on and no water leaked in.  We closed the storm shutters on windows on the windy side of the house, which helped and made us feel more secure.  Sometimes people stay home, and it the storm is big enough they cancel activities.  The winds can feel like someone is "pushing" you and can be very dangerous.  The winds sometimes sound like ocean waves.  You can hear them building, rush through the trees, then pass. Over and over again.  It feels so wonderful when the storm passes, and becomes beautiful and clear again.

The Japanese (and many Americans) have a wonderful custom of removing their shoes at the front door.  The area is called the "genkan".  It helps keep the floors more clean.  Sometimes they provide slippers for guests or you can just wear your socks.  Glenn and I choose to wear our socks.  Luckily we both wear slip-on shoes.  the only time we wear tie up shoes is to exercise, or to take long walks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


As you can see from some of our pictures that we live near Sakurajima, an active volcano that spews ash every day.  A blessing for us is that they say it usually blows away from our town in the winters, and towards town in the summers.  We will be here two winters and one summer.  It hasn't been too bad, but one day I had to wear a medical face mask and use an umbrella.  It looked like rain but was actually ash.  We have had a lot of rain days, a lot of beautiful sunny days, and only a few ash days.  it is really beautiful here.  If you google earth, you can see Kagoshima City and Sakurajima volcano.

The Story Before the Adventure

We knew we wanted to serve as "senior couple" missionaries when Glenn retired and I took a leave of absence from teaching Zumba exercise classes.  When the time came to put in our papers, we requested "state-side 12 months".  We felt healthy, but I was a little concerned about my knee replacements and arthritis.  The Missionary Department asked if we would consider going foreign 18 months or longer.  We pondered, prayed, and received a peaceful feeling that all would be well.  We told them we would go anywhere they needed for 18 months.  Soon after that we got our call to the Fukuoka Japan Mission.  This is in southern Japan, far from Tokyo area where we had served as mission presidents 20 years earlier.

At this point the "fun" began.  We dusted off our Japanese language materials, and even set up Skype language tutoring with church MTC.  We found a little time here and there to study.  My best study times were waiting for oil changes, car repairs, or riding in the car while going places.  Glenn listened to Japanese Conference talks while running or other times.

One of the wonderful miracles was our daughter Gaylene, her husband Chris and their family volunteering to live in our home while we were gone.  Chris had just gotten a job back in Utah with BYU.  This makes a long commute, so we are grateful for their sacrificing to do this.  Our other children have rallied also.  Brett and Nicole live near our home and will help Chris and Gaylene with various aspects.  Justin and Lucinda, Maryann and Clark have given us a lot of love and moral support.  Maryann and Clark are helping us set up this blog.  That's a huge job.  We greatly appreciate each of them.  

While gathering shoes, clothes, and miscellaneous to take to Japan, we realized that it would NOT fit into the four suitcases we were allotted (each being 50 lbs. or less).  We had heard from other senior missionary couples that it is easy to reach the 50 lbs. limit before the suitcase was completely full.  We decided to go with midsize suitcases instead of the biggest.  So guess how many times I “repacked” the suitcases?  About six.  I did a practice “pack” with no success of fitting it in.  I tried again and almost succeeded, but was over the weight limit.  It was hard using a bathroom scale, so I finally bought a small hand-held luggage scale (best $18 I ever spent).  I pulled a few things out and tried again.  My motto became “simply and reduce.”  Finally we got it in.  I was worried that they would open to inspect them at the airport, then not be able to close it again.  Here’s another miracle.  The suitcases made it to Japan with no problem.  

Preparations were still needed to clean out closets and bedrooms so Chris and Gaylene and family could live in our home.  So we spent months sorting:  1. Keep.  2. Give away. 3. Throw away.  I became very creative in juggling boxes to store, and hauling things to DI.  It was actually very liberating to sort and get rid of things.  I recommend it to everyone.  

When Gaylene’s family moved in we had just under a month together to show them how to operate things around the house and yard.  We loved that time together.  We also had a little time with Maryann’s family, Justin’s family, and Brett’s family.  

There are the “Four F’s” which make it difficult for senior couples to serve a mission:  “Fear, Fitness, Finance, and Family.”  Those are all important but family is the most important.  It is hard to leave your children and grandchildren.  Another miracle for us is how wonderful and supportive our family is.  We love them, admire them, and thank them for that.  So we can leave knowing that they will watch out for each other (even though they are spread out in Utah, Idaho, and Florida).  

We spent five days in the Provo MTC.  It was such a special time.  We stood by the world map, pointed to Japan, and took the traditional photograph.  Even though the MTC chapel was full of senior missionaries they divided us into districts of four couples.  Most of our instructors were BYU students so we had a morning team and an afternoon team.  The apartment was like a hotel room (with no TV).  The staff was amazing, motivational, and inspirational.  The food was wonderful and delicious.  There were many buffet choices.  We were grateful for the fresh cut fruit at every meal.  The MTC was a great experience.  

Finally it was time to fly out.  We were really nervous!  Every step of the way on this journey we would say “We can call it off and stay home, or we can choose to go.”  Somehow we took courage and chose to go.  

We have been here several weeks.  Glenn is somewhat used to driving on the left side of the road—do you ever really get used to it?  We are getting used to walking down the hill over a few blocks, and then up the hill to the church.  We actually try to walk as much as possible.  We are grateful for a sweet house and are getting used to the different ways to cook and other things.  We are grateful for nice neighbors who say hello (konichiwa), and that we feel safe here.  We are grateful for clean water and an abundance of fresh fruit and food.  

The language is still difficult, but I learn a few words each week.  At this rate I should know a few dozen words by the end of eighteen months (Just kidding—I hope). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Week 4- Getting to Work

Us with President and Sister Gustafson at the Mission Home the Day After We Arrived

A View of the Volcano Before the Typhoon

A view with us.

A Wild Walk to Church in a Typhoon
A Nearby Historic Shrine
Looking Out Our Window During the Typhoon
Monday was preparation day and we spent some time cleaning the closets and also weeding the garden around the house.  We became good friends with little bugs and spiders and they gave us a few welts to remember them by.  Tuesday we picked up the district leader and his companion, Elders LeFrandt and Guisinger, and drove them to Taniyama, about a half an hour away, for a district meeting with two other districts, four sisters and six elders.  We learned a lot about what the missionaries are doing and some of the challenges and miracles.  Wednesday was our evening English class and Melody's class was fairly good sized, Glenn’s class was only two people, but we had some good experiences.  Thursday we made an effort to contact a couple of the people who helped us last week.  They were surprised to see us and we invited them again to church and to English classes.  Friday we walked around the parks and the shopping center downtown and greeted people.  Saturday was our afternoon English class for which we had a really good turnout.  We also had another first, as we needed gas and ventured out early in the morning to a self-serve station and asked for help filling our tank.  Simple, but scary thing!  Later at night we met a young couple who we have been teaching and took them out for ramen downtown and had a good discussion on families and the gospel.  Sunday was a big typhoon day but we walked to our meetings, missionary coordination meeting, then fast and testimony meeting, which was well attended in spite of the storm.  We had an all you can eat gyoza dinner at the branch president’s house, Kimata’s, with all the other missionaries and an investigator and new member.  They are all great people. 
So we feel like we are getting into a routine, but there are new and exciting and challenging things each day.