Monday, August 15, 2011

Farewell, Sayonara, Goodbye

It has been four weeks since I left Japan.  Those four weeks have been some of the busiest of my life! Not only did I have to move back home, unpack and mentally wrap up my past year in Japan but I’ve also had to prepare for and transition into moving down to Virginia to begin seminary.  As soon as I unpacked my suitcases I had to fill them back up again!  Today begins my second week of orientation at Virginia Theological Seminary and I can already tell that it is going to be a wonderful experience.  However, it is only now that I am settling down and beginning a routine that I am noticing how strange it is to be back home.  I still sometimes find myself on the wrong side of the hallway or stairwell. I have more difficulty understanding professors who speak fast than I would have last year and the other day I was shocked to discover that I don’t have the worship service completely memorized in English anymore!  I know that these things will pass and soon I’ll lose the awkwardness of becoming reacquainted with a culture that I haven’t been around for a year. 
The past year was such a learning and growing experience for me.  I know that I’ll always remember how my YASC year gave me so many opportunities that I never could have imagined last year before I left.  Even now in seminary, I have to stop myself from talking about Japan constantly!  On my desk in my dorm room is a picture of some of the kids I taught English to every Friday of last year.  I love to look at it and remember the place I was living last month and the people that I got to know well over the course of last year.  Even if I return to Japan to visit, I’ll never again have an identical experience to my YASC year in Nagoya.  For me, that year only lives in my memories, pictures and stories.  However, that experience is now a part of my experiences and is therefore a part of who I am.  As I begin new adventures and new studies, I am better prepared because I carry with me the experience of my year in Nagoya.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane...

Goodbyes are hard.  To say goodbye to people you love is never easy.  Last summer I said goodbye to my friends and family and got on a plane to Japan.  It was difficult knowing that I wouldn't see them for a year, but I knew that in one year I'd be returning with memories, stories and pictures I'd be excited to share.

Today, that time has come and as I sit here on an airplane somewhere between Nagoya, Japan and Detroit, USA, I know now that when I left last year, I didn't realize how hard it would be to say goodbye to Japan.  It's been an emotionally draining week as I finished up each portion of my work here.  While I'm just as excited to see my friends and family as I thought I'd be, it's an excitement that tempered with a sadness at leaving a city, community and people that I've come to love.  I do hope to come back to visit one day, but even so, it was difficult to say goodbye to people and places that I may not see again. 

I've had a wonderful year.  It wasn't always easy and some days I really had to work hard to remind myself of my purpose and reasons for coming to Japan.  However, the positive and the amazing far outweigh the difficult moments and as I look back over the past year, I find it hard to believe some of the experiences that I've had. 

I'm sure my fellow YASCers will understand how I'm feeling.  I'm sure that this year has changed me but I don't yet know how or in what way.  I think that I will be finding that out as I settle down in Virginia and begin my seminary career.  I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to go for a year abroad.  I am grateful for everyone who has supported me and helped me to get to Japan.   Thank You!

This morning as we drove to the airport, a typhoon came and caused the cancellations of all flights except, miraculously, Delta flights.  We were delayed for about 6 hours but we managed to take off and if all goes well with my connecting flight, I should get to Boston by midnight tonight. 

I've only been gone six hours but I'm already beginning to miss Japan.  While I am anxious and excited to start seminary at VTS in a few weeks, I think that a part of me will remain in Nagoya for a while. 

During a teary goodbye at the airport today, one of my friends here put it best.  "This is NOT Sayonara.  There will be Konnichiwa again".



Children Memorial in Hiroshima
The past two weeks have been all about playing catch-up.  I returned to the US on July 19th and since then I've been catching up with family and friends, catching up with meetings and requirements for the ordination process, catching up on the Harry Potter movies and now, finally, catching up on my blog.  I have three more posts planned and after that I will be laying this blog to rest.  It was an excellent way to communicate my experiences with family and friends around the world and will serve as a wonderful memory of my year in Japan.  So, without further ado...

Over the past year in Japan I have had some amazing travel opportunities, all of which I've documented on this blog.  I've be so blessed that I was able to do and see so much during my time in Japan.  During my last month in Japan I was able to go on two more trips.  First, a good friend from my hometown came to visit for two weeks.  While she was here I showed her around Nagoya and took her to my work for the first week of her trip.  During her second week here we were able to take a train to Kyoto and from there we jumped on a seven hour bus to Hiroshima.  Then, pretty much as soon as Carrie left, I took off for Matsumoto, Japan and Kamikotchi Park with St. Stephan's church, my "home parish" in Japan. 

Watch stopped at 8:15am-the time the A-bomb was dropped
These trips were both important for different reasons.  Since the beginning of my time in Japan I have wanted to visit Hiroshima.  I felt that it was important for me as a missionary to Japan and as an American to visit the city and see the museum and monuments.  I am glad that I had the opportunity to go.  My second trip, the "St. Stephan's Tour" was important because it was a last minute chance for me to spend time with the people who have been my friends and co-workers for the past year before I left for America. 

Now that I'm home it feels like these trips were years ago-not just a few weeks!  However, these two trips are proving to be two of my most important memories from my past year.
3-D movie about Nagoya!

Homeless volunteers meeting.  DELICIOUS tempura lunch.

Okonomiyaki-my favorite food in Japan (on the right)

Kinkakuji- the Golden Temple in Kyoto

The A-Bomb dome. 

Origami Cranes from Hiroshima
River at Kamikochi National Park

I was super excited to see a reference to Walden Pond in Japan!


We were in the Japanese Alps.  It was so beautiful there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sister Sister time!

Two weeks ago my sister came to Japan! It was so wonderful to see her and introduce her to everyone I work with here. We had a great time and got to travel to Kyoto and Tokyo for a few days. It was really great to have a travel buddy and we had a fun time exploring and eating in Japan. I missed her so much and I am so glad that she was able to visit this year!

We did many things:

We became experts on the Kyoto bus system

We met a woman who sold Leonardo Dicaprio an ice pop

We went to Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto

We explored a rainy Tokyo

We helped at a children's program at St. Lukes

We taught little kids how to make crepes

Emily learned all about Anpanman

We sat on a golden fish in Nagoya Castle

We volunteered at a day center for the homeless

And most importantly, Emily bought Crocs. 

What's in a name...

I have never been a person who has had many nicknames. When I was little I was called Sissy by my family and Chrissy by everyone else and I have one college nickname that’s stuck but for the majority of my life I have always been just Christen. In Japan however, I have more nicknames than I ever have before! Most often I get called Christen-san and I always introduce myself as Christen. My last name is a little difficult to pronounce in Japanese so I usually just stick to my first name.

In church I am often called Kuri-chan which comes from the first two syllables of my name when it’s transliterated into Japanese characters (Ku-ri-su-ten). Kuri also means chestnut in Japanese.

In the office at the youth center I am often called Ten-chan. Ten comes from the last syllable of my name and means “heaven” or “dot”. A few of the women I work with sometimes call me Ten-ten.

At work I am usually Christen-Sensei although in one English class I go by the English version “Teacher Christen”. The 2 year olds in Mitsuba just call me sensei but the 4 year olds in the kinder class can’t pronounce my name or remember to call me sensei so my name usually comes out as “tisten” or “sisssin“!

I also learned recently that my name when translated phonetically into Kanji means either:

"chestnut-vinegar-heaven” or “chestnut-bird’s nest-dot” I love that my name has a meaning in Japanese even though the meaning cracks me up!



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cardboard City!!

I know it has been far to long since my last post!  This one will be mostly pictures but I'm working on a more substantial post to go up sometime this weekend. 

Last Saturday we had a children's event at the youth center.  We filled up an entire room full of cardboard and let the kids make whatever they wanted.  It was so much fun and the forts and things that the kids made were so creative!  This event was part of a program called the children's channel.  Six times a year the center runs events for children where they can come and do different events.  Each one has been fun!  It's also a good way to build community because many of the children and leaders come again and again.  This year we've made Udon noodles, played soccer and tag, and made Christmas crafts in addition to last weekends cardboard extravaganza!  Because space is limited in Nagoya, children don't often get a chance to play outside with other kids outside of school.  The purpose of these events is to give them the space to do that.  It's also wonderful because children of all ages come to play together with leaders who are mostly in their late teens and early twenties.
I hope you enjoy the pictures!  It was exactly as chaotic and fun as the pictures make it look!
The night before...

This one was build around the playground slide!

This is the kitchen in a cafe

In case you were wondering, yes, this is a cardboard toilet.
The aftermath

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Mark 3:35

Occasionally I am asked to write articles for various newsletters that the center publishes.  Here is one I wrote last month about how I communicate with the children in the Mitsuba classes that I help with.  Mitsuba is a Christian nursery school that's run through the center.  The children are all 2 or 3 years old.  The children are so cute and I love being able to help out either two or three mornings a week.


One of the things that I was most anxious about when I first came to Japan last August was how I was going to be able to communicate without knowing any Japanese. I didn’t know how I would be able to interact with the children in Mitsuba without being able to talk to them!

It turns out that I didn’t have to be nervous. From the start the children in Mitsuba were incredibly welcoming to me. Even without being able to talk in Japanese, I was able to play with the children and communicate in ways without language. Throughout the fall as I learned more and more Japanese each week, I was able to talk to the children and it was wonderful being able to begin to have conversations with them.

The children understand that I don’t speak Japanese and when I don’t understand what they are saying they have been great at finding creative ways of communicating with me. I’ve had children point to what they are talking about, take my hand and bring me to what they wanted to tell me about or use different Japanese words that they know I understand to get their point across.

Over the past few weeks the Mitsuba teachers and I have given the children a few mini “English lessons” where we learned a song with the numbers 1-7 and introduced them to several animal names in English. I love being able to teach the children English because it introduces them to the English language and it helps them to understand that not only do I not speak Japanese, I speak an entirely different language!

It has been such a great experience to help out with Mitsuba group. The children are such a joy to spend time with in the mornings. Even though we speak two different languages, we’ve been able to communicate well with each other. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the children and I hope that by being a part of their class that they will not be nervous to try to communicate with other foreigners as they grow up- even if they don’t know the language!