Monday, January 25, 2016

Palm Trees, Snow Storms, and Peace and Warmth Inside


This southern end of Japan has a great climate, with palm trees, fruit trees, and plants that grow all year long.  They have changes of seasons, with beautiful cherry blossom springs, warm humid summers, mild autumns, and chilly winters.
Last winter, we had 3 or 4 days of snow flurries, but it didn’t stick to the roads or sidewalks.  It was a really nice winter.  It was cold, we wore coats, but there was no snow to shovel. 

Last week, we heard weather predictions of snow, but thought it would just be snow flurries like last year.  We waited and watched as the temperatures continued to drop over several days.  It went from (Fahrenheit) the 50s, to the 40s, to the 30s.  Then the bottom dropped out, into the 20s.  It started snowing Saturday night, and by early Sunday morning we had several inches.  As we watched the snow for several hours, we saw small flakes, sometimes big flakes, and occasionally the sun would peek out for a few minutes.  The LDS chapel is up on top of a very steep hill with narrow winding roads.  The branch leader, President Furue, counseled with other leaders, and decided to cancel church meetings.  Most people here have “summer tires” on their cars, and are not accustomed to driving in snow and ice.  This community does not have snow removal equipment, or road deicers.  President Furue sent out an email to let the members know of the cancellation.  The President, the two of us, four Elders missionaries, two Sister missionaries, and four members walked to the church, so we held a small Sacrament Meeting (we usually have about 60 people).  We missed all of the other members, but it was a really special time to be together in a warm and spiritual setting partaking of the sacrament.  We all took part in the small meeting playing the hymns, leading the songs, saying prayers, giving talks or testimonies.  It was the last Sunday for one of our young elders, Elder Wilcox, before going home and he was scheduled to speak and give a sort of farewell, so we were all blessed by his testimony, and experiences.  I also was asked to give my testimony, which I did—a simple one without a translator.  After the meeting Elder Rowe showed them the Japanese broadcast of the Elder Nelson Worldwide Young Adult meeting in place of Sunday School lessons.  Elder Rowe and I brought some food from home to feed anyone who came to church.  It was supposed to be the Sunday with the linger-longer to wish happy birthday to all who had birthdays for the month.  We had a special time visiting and eating, while a blizzard raged outside.  After eating we then watched this past week’s Face to Face worldwide broadcast with Elder Rasband, Sister Oscarson, and Brother Owen. Eventually the snow was lighter, so all 13 of us went home.
It continued to snow until just after midnight.  Things really seemed to freeze up.  When we awoke this morning, it was 12º in our home, the same temperature as outdoors.  Our hot water wouldn’t work, our wall heater didn’t seem to work, and frost came out of our mouths when we talked or breathed, and there was frost on the inside of the windows.  Luckily, our gas stove worked, so we boiled hot water for warm drinks.  Our microwave worked, so we made hot cereal.  We dressed in several layers of warm clothes. 

Later we talked to Sister Tuchida and her son Chiune about our hot water problem.  They prayed to know how to help us.  Their prayers and advice helped us.  Our hot water started working.  By 2:00 pm, the temperature rose to 34º, and roads started thawing a little. In spite of this cold adventure, we still count our blessings.  We are thankful for a sweet home here, wonderful neighbors and community, but especially for the awesome church friends.  They are like family.  We also know that while we cannot control the weather or various trials, we can control our attitude, faith, and how we help and serve others.     
By the way the two broadcasts were amazing, and it wasn’t just because we were sitting in a warm, comfortable place.  Please take the time to watch them—in Japanese or English.

Here are Elder and Sister Nelson’s talks:
https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/archive/worldwide-devotionals/2016/01?lang=eng

This is the beautiful theme song for the youth this year “Press Forward”: 
https://www.lds.org/youth/music?cid=YS-F-musicteaser&lang=eng

Here is the entire Face-to Face broadcast:
https://www.lds.org/youth/activities/face-to-face-events/rasband-oscarson-owen?lang=eng

Here are some pictures of our warm memories: 
 
Before the snow came, we had some rainy days, with an amazing rainbow.  We guess you could call this "the warm, before the storm".
 
 
The neighbor is walking along side the car, while his wife sees if she can turn the corner and go down the hill, without getting stuck or sliding on black ice.  We saw some cars with chains on the tires, but most don't have chains, so they stayed home.

 
Our small little group at church.  It was a special time.

 
A view out one of the church windows.

 
Another view out the side chapel window.
 
 
Notice the palm trees covered in snow.  Our great missionary, Sister Nohagi, took this photo of the missionaries in front of the church. 

 
An amazing photo by Sister-Mami Sasaki, by her home.

 
 Another wonderful photo by Sister-Mami Sasaki.  Thank you for sharing these with us.

 
 Walking to church in our Sunday clothes.  Luckily, the snow shook off pretty well, before entering the building.  

 
Our Monday morning view, with the 12 degree weather.  Brrrrr.
 
 
Glenn scraped a little snow away with a broom dust pan, because we don't have a snow shovel.  It helped to thaw the layer of ice on the porch from Sunday. 

 
Monday morning, walking through our neighborhood to go to the church, we saw only footprints, no tire tracks.  None of us wanted to get our cars stuck in the snow and ice.
 
 
An interesting view of our volcano, Monday morning.
 

Notice the steam clouds coming up from the water.  The water was cold, and yet it was warmer than the air.  And, another great view of the volcano.

 
We saved the best for last.  We love a good volcano sunrise photo.
 

Monday, January 11, 2016

To Everything There Is A Season


We just finished Christmas and New Year’s.  The middle and end of December showed many of the leaves changing colors to red and yellow.  That seemed late to us, whose leaves in Utah change in October.  Many trees here don’t lose their leaves, and flowers are still growing.  Last year, we had green lemons growing on our tree all winter.  In spring, the lemons finally turned a beautiful yellow.  We picked them, cut them, finding that their skins were super thick, to survive the winter.  Pretty amazing.  We sure enjoy getting to see the beautiful countryside.  It is nice to see trees and flowers mingled with town, the beautiful rice and fruit farms, the rolling hills, and the majestic mountains.  No matter where you live, you can enjoy nature.  “To everything, there is a season”.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) The changing of the seasons and leaves turning remind us that life also has its seasons.  We watch our children with their children now from afar here in Japan and are reminded we may be finishing a season of our lives too.  Whatever season we are in brings its joys and its challenges.  How we face those challenges makes all the difference in the world to ourselves and those around us.  Here is a great article about seasons in nature and in our lives:

 
And if you have a minute enjoy this beautiful song and video "Sunrise, Sunset" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 
 
 
Here is a glimpse at some of our colored leaves of this season of our lives:

 
The brush was turning orange.  Love the view of the Sakurajima Volcano.

 
Some of the trees have lost their leaves, and some of them stay green all year.

 
A chilly winter look, with snow on the hills.

 
Some of the changing leaves were so red or orange.

 
Some more trees that just lost their leaves.

 
Such beautiful colors.

 
We just finished that calendar.  Time to get a new one.  Luckily Brother Imafuku gave us a new one from his sister's store, "Fukumoto".

 
The elders took this shot of the New Year's sunrise, while looking at the volcano.
 
video
 
Elder Garrett Parry took this time laps video of the amazing New Year's sunrise, coming up beside Sakurajuma volcano. 
 

Friday, January 1, 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 明けましておめでとう! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!


It is a new fresh day and a new fresh year.  We always like a new beginning.  Life is not always easy, and not always fair.  We can take each new day and look for the good in our lives.  We will find it.  Take each new week and count up our blessings.  We will see that there will be more blessings than trails.  If we smile and try to be happy, our whole attitude will be happy.  “Positive” people are a lot nicer to be around than “negative” people.  What are some of the things that can help us be happy?  Get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, daily scriptures, and prayer. 

Each day, each month, each year we try to improve ourselves.  We are each good people, but we can all try to be better people.  By learning more, we can do more to be our best.  That’s what we want. 

We love you all and hope you will join us this year as we strive to go from Good, to Better, to Best. 

Here is a link to a 5 minute video from a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks on Good, Better, Best: https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2011-04-009-good-better-best?lang=eng#d
 
 
 
Overnight, these booths go up along the walkway to the Shrine. They weren't there yesterday.  They sell fun food and souvenirs for New Years visitors.

 
Some streets were almost empty.  The streets closest to the shrine were very busy with cars and pedestrians.  It's fun to watch all the people, and greet them with "Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu".  They usually smiled and replied.  Some even stopped to talk.

 
Notice Glenn in the beige overcoat.  Off to the left is the long line of people going up to the shrine.

 
Some parents let us take pictures of their cute children in their New Year's kimonos.

 
These two darling girls were standing behind the kimono children, and also let us take their picture.  The older girl even practiced her English, while talking with us.

 
Glenn is on the right edge of the photo, near the big Torii.

 
When we entered the downtown parking plaza, the first floor was full.  We drove down to the second lower level (where we usually prefer parking) and it was almost completely empty.  An hour later, at 12:30pm, it was 2/3 full.  The crowds get larger with each passing hour.   

 
These nice grandmas let us take their pictures, one in a beautiful kimono.  She said she is ninety years old.  It was fun to visit with them, while Glenn translated for me.

 
Next to all the food booths was a little grandma (you know how I like grandmas), selling snacks and juice.  She had her items on a box, next to her bike.  She was thrilled when we bought these.  They were Y100 ($1.00).  We will probably give them to the neighbor children.

 
Some of the New Years decorations.

 
A close up of the previous picture.

 
Such beautiful variations of the bamboo decorations.

 
This one has the evergreen boughs.  Notice the rice string over the door, behind.

 
Beautiful rice string (shimekazari) over the entrance of the parking plaza.

 
Even though it is cold, it is fun to see these flowers along with the New Years decorations.

 
On New Years Eve the shrine entrance was almost empty, with no food booths.  This sculpted tree looked like a bird about to fly away. 

 
More of the decorations on buildings on the shrine property.

 
Chozuya, used for washing before entering the shrine.

 
Can you tell we like these seasonal decorations?

 
These are "fortune" papers, at the entrance of the shrine.  A person can take one, and leave a donation of 5yen.  If you don't like the fortune, you can tie it onto an evergreen tree, and the fortune will attach itself to the tree and not you.

 
Some of the stairs and the long sidewalk leading up to the shrine, News Year's Eve.  Much quieter than the crowd on New Year's Day.

 
Standing on some of the shrine's stairs, we realized we could see our beloved Sakurajima volcano.  This was also the quiet time on New Year's Eve.

 
We were intrigued by a couple of gas lanterns near the shrine.

 
 These were some of the bigger decorations, almost as tall as a man.
 
 
More crowds on January 1st. 

 
It is so fun to see all the booths and the crowds of people. 

 
Two beautiful women in their kimonos.  There weren't a lot of people or children in kimonos, so we really enjoyed these.  It takes a lot of time and effort to dress in a kimono, se we really enjoyed this. 

 
Most of the stores were closed January 1st, so the shopping street was almost empty. 

 
More empty shopping streets. 

 
 Many of the food shops were open. This donut store was promoting the new year "Year of the Monkey".  Get a "monkey" bag with some donuts.

 
 The decoration on the left was adopted from the closed Kumamoto senior couple apartment. Maybe Elder and Sister Koberstein will recognize it.  The beautiful decoration on the right was handmade by our neighbor and friend, Mrs. Iwamoto.  We shop at their little store on our neighborhood street.  They are amazingly kind to us. 
 
 
 It was awesome getting together on New Year's Eve with some special people, the Ikehata sisters, Sister Yutaka, Sister Iwashita (who are also sisters).  I showed them how to make tortilla salad and chicken enchiladas.  They brought yummy Christmas cakes, fruit, mochi, and chocolate.  We played a short church video, then played "Don't Eat Pete".  Love these people. 

 
Had to take a picture of our January 1st lunch.  Leftovers!  Yum. 
 
 
Yet another view of the volcano.  First sunrise of the new year, 2016.  Thanks to Glenn, for getting up early and going out on a cold day.  So beautiful!