We spent a wonderful week visiting friends in Japan on our way home from Saipan. While we were there, we only felt the earth shake once and though it wasn’t any stronger than many of the tremors we’ve experienced in the past, it did last longer.

The physical effects of the devastating March 11 earthquake that ravaged parts of northern Japan were fairly minor in the area where we were but it has clearly had a powerful effect on the psyche of the people. More than five months after the big one hit, it’s still at the forefront of their minds and it constantly comes up in conversation. When we arrived at Seiko’s home, she hastened to point out the cracks in the cement stairs at the side of the house and the new flat screen TV that replaced the one that fell and broke.

Stairs can be repaired and TVs replaced but what of people’s fear? What will its long term effects be? Seiko was relieved that her son, Ayumu, was napping when last week’s tremor came. At three years old, he’s already lived through the biggest earthquake in Japan’s history and its many, many aftershocks. Whenever he sees a weather report on the television he gets upset because the weather map looks like the one that appears when earthquakes are reported and he thinks that another one is coming.

Seiko’s husband, Atsuo, used to dream of owning a house close to the water but now he’s happy to live further inland. Areas of prime real estate built on reclaimed land around Tokyo Bay plummeted in value when the land proved to be unstable after the quake. We visited a Japanese garden in that area last week and found that sections of it were closed due to earthquake damage. The pond which would have once been clear and clean is murky and algae covered now because the water circulation system was damaged.







Though they know that the water in their area has been declared safe to drink, our friends Smoky and Ikuko drink only bottled water now for fear of radiation poisoning. They have a larger yard than most Japanese families and food shortages following the big quake prompted them to turn part of it into a vegetable garden so that they won’t be left in want again. It now produces delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and kabocha. They also planted some small trees which will eventually provide them with fruit.

Like many Japanese, Smoky and Ikuko are also doing their part to conserve energy following the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Though the Japanese summer is extremely hot and humid, they use their air conditioner very sparingly to help avoid more of the rolling power blackouts that they lived with in the weeks following the earthquake and tsunami. This community effort to conserve power is also very noticeable in public places such as shopping malls where many of the overhead lights are not turned on. With the air conditioners turned down or off, the terminals at the international airport are noticeably warmer than in the past and some of the elevators are not in use.

Though the earthquake has clearly affected the people and how they live, we were pleased to see that Seiko didn’t panic when we sat at her table last week and felt the house begin to shake. It’s definitely a bit disconcerting to watch the light fixture above your head sway back and forth but we weren’t really frightened either. We were happy to be back in Japan with the people we’ve come to love and more than willing to take our chances on being all shook up!


Praying for Japan

Japan is heavy on our hearts these days. The immediate need, of course, is for a safe resolution to the alarming situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The news media has a tendency to sensationalize this kind of thing so it’s very difficult to know exactly how serious the situation is and what it might mean to those living in close proximity but we have no doubt that there is potential for a complete meltdown and the release of extremely dangerous levels of radiation. According to John Beddington, chief spokesman for the British Embassy in Tokyo, experts have said that radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than they are at present before the health of anyone outside a very small area would be endangered. In their opinion, that isn’t going to happen. Some found this reassuring while others are less confident. Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd has told his countrymen in Tokyo that they should leave and French expats have received similar advice. Apparently, an Indian company chartered a plane to evacuate its 185 employees and their families. Several of our friends have taken or sent their children to stay with relatives in Osaka and Kyoto, much further away from the Fukushima nuclear facility.

In addition to the crisis at the power plant, there are many other reasons to pray. The window of time for finding anyone still alive in the rubble of last Friday’s earthquake is rapidly closing. Thousands of people are still unaccounted for. Some of our friends have not yet been able to make contact with relatives living in the area and do not know if they are alive or dead.

People in Tokyo and the surrounding areas including Funabashi, where we lived, are experiencing rotating power blackouts, lack of food and gasoline shortages.

People across the country are living in fear. One expert explained that three of the tectonic plates that make up the earth’s surface meet under Japan. Two of them shifted causing last week’s massive earthquake and there is reason to believe that the third one could move causing further devastation. There have already been hundreds of aftershocks since Friday.

Clearly there are urgent needs that require immediate attention but I believe that Japan has a much greater need that long predates the recent earthquake. In Christian circles, Japan is known as one of the world’s largest unreached people groups. Less than 2% of the population place their hope in Jesus Christ. On our recent visit, God gave me a vision for Japan. Imagine the country covered by a thick black blanket; a blanket of spiritual darkness. There are tiny holes in places where the light of Christ shines through but under that blanket live over 130 million people who put their hope in cleaning their ancestors graves on the appropriate days of the year and leaving offerings there, on visiting temples on other designated days; bowing, clapping and dropping coins in the offering boxes. What is there in those rituals that will help them in a time like this? Is it any wonder that they are traumatized? In the Sendai area those temples and graves are washed away; gone forever! Could it be that God might use this triple tragedy (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis) to turn the hearts of the Japanese people to himself? We need to pray that this will be the moment in time when the spiritual blanket is torn apart and people find hope in a living God who loves each one of them and “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Kabocha in my carry on

On our recent visit to Japan, we enjoyed many fabulous foods but one of them kept showing up over and over again. The Japanese call it pumpkin but kabocha is actually a winter squash that is also known as the buttercup squash here in North America. Similar in both texture and flavour to pumpkin or sweet potato, it can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. It’s a common ingredient in tempura and we were also served it in soup, nabe (a one pot meal that’s something like stew) and even ground up in pancakes.

When we were in Vancouver, I mentioned kabocha to my daughter-in-law, Robin, and told her that I hoped I could find it in Alberta, perhaps in the Asian grocery store in Edmonton that I occasionally visit. Later, when she went grocery shopping, she brought one home for me! Apparently, it has become commonplace in Vancouver grocery stores.

The kabocha flew home in my carry on and we enjoyed part of it with dinner tonight.

It’s skin, a dull, dark green with whitish stripes, is extremely tough and very difficult to cut. Softening it slightly in the microwave helps a lot.

Simmered, mashed with it’s skin on and mixed with a little mayo, it makes a super simple and delicious side dish somewhat reminiscent of a flavourful potato salad.

Now, how should I prepare the rest of it?


We were in the Vancouver Airport this morning about to embark on the final leg of our trip home when I overheard someone mention a devastating earthquake in Japan. I immediately went in search of a newspaper and the headline hit me like a ton of bricks!


B.C. on watch after magnitude 8.9 quake shakes Tokyo and launches a 10-metre tsunami

Within minutes images began to come up on TV screens around the airport. We could hardly take it in. We were there just 10 days ago!

Were we glad we left just in time? Yes and no. Obviously, we’re happy to be safe but our thoughts went immediately to those we’ve grown to love. Were they okay? If we were still there with them, we’d know. Instead, we had a plane to board and several hours to wait before we could get information about any of them. What a helpless feeling! Also, we knew that if we were still in Japan, there would likely be ways that we could volunteer to help in the aftermath of the disaster. Instead, we sit in the comfort of our livingroom watching the same horrifying footage over and over again and waiting for news of friends.

I’ve managed to chat with several on Facebook already and others have posted reassuring messages. Though the worst damage occurred at Sendai, about 300 km northeast of Tokyo, our area just east of the city shook violently and has been subject to numerous aftershocks. In one of the homes that we stayed in, the computer fell to the floor and was damaged. Another friend mentioned her TV and many other items falling. Thousands of commuters were stranded in downtown Tokyo because the transit system shut down. Apparently they’re on their way home now. Some people have mentioned being short of food. Many others are without power and  the possible leakage of radioactive material from a damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima is, of course, of huge concern to everyone. Thus far, however, it seems that all our loved ones are probably safe and for that we are extremely grateful!

The earthquake didn’t come as a complete shock to us. When we lived in Japan, we were told that historically the Tokyo area is hit by a major quake about once every 100 years. The last one was the Great Kanto Earthquake of September, 1923 so people have been predicting that there would be another within the next decade or so. I don’t think anyone anticipated one of such magnitude, however, or the horrendous damage caused by the tsunami that it triggered. It will be some time until the extent of that damage and loss of life is fully known.

Jet lag

Yesterday was 33 1/2 hours long! We woke up in Japan at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Our plane left the runway exactly 12 hours later and 9 1/2 hours after that, we landed in Vancouver. It was a somewhat turbulent flight and although we tried to nap on the plane, we weren’t very successful.

When we landed in Vancouver, it was Tuesday morning again! I find it hard to get my head around but having crossed the International Date Line, we had gone back in time! Funny, we didn’t feel any younger!

My theory is that the best way to combat jet lag and get back into a normal routine is to stay up until a normal bedtime regardless of when you arrive somewhere. That meant staying awake for another 12 hours! We finally fell into bed last night and didn’t wake up until after 9:30 this morning! I’m sure it’ll be a few days before the effects of our super long day wear off completely but with the help of a bit of coffee, I’m managing.

Saying good-bye was hard to do especially since we don’t know when we’ll be back in Japan again. The most difficult part was leaving the four little children that we’ve become so close to. All under the age of 3, they will have changed so much by the time we see them again.

We had quite a send-off at the airport. We originally thought that we’d be making our way out to Narita by train which would be doable but not easy with all our baggage. Our friends wouldn’t hear of such a thing, however. Instead, we piled into Smoky and Ikuko’s little car with their entire family and all our luggage. On the way, we stopped at a highway rest stop where were met by Seiko and her two children!

Now we’re back in Canada enjoying our Vancouver grandchildren including Nathan Michael (Nate) born to Matt and Robin on February 15 while we were in Japan! He’s adorable, of course, and he and his big brother, Sam, don’t seem bothered by the fact that Gram and Grandpa are a wee bit tired.


We’ve been living out of suitcases for the past month. It hasn’t been as difficult as it might have been because we’ve been blessed to be able to use Pastor Steve and Shelley’s beautiful house as a home base and have only taken our smaller suitcases when we’ve left here to go to Osaka and to other homes in this area.  Our time here is running out, however, and the time has come for a complete repacking job.

We have four nights left in Japan. We’ll spend the first two with Seiko, Atsuo and their two boys (our Japanese grandsons) then move back to Smoky and Ikuko’s for the last two. Again, we’ll take only our smaller suitcases to Seiko and Atsuo’s but I want to have everything ready for our flight back to Canada today as we’ll only stop here for a few minutes to pick up the rest of our baggage on our way to Smoky and Ikuko’s after church on Sunday. We’ll go to the airport from their place on Tuesday.

So, everything is folded and sitting in piles on the bed and now it’s a matter of figuring out what goes in which bag. Instead, I’m procrastinating and sitting on the computer! It really isn’t that big of a job. We travel light and I know there’s enough room for everything. We’ve picked up a few mementos and gifts to take home with us but we’ve also unloaded the gifts that we brought for people here so it should even out.

We’ll be carrying an extra box back but that’s because we did some shopping for Matt and Robin while we’ve been here. Having lived in Japan for two years, there are things they can’t get at home that they wanted us to pick up. Their box is already packed though. Now it’s just a matter of getting our own stuff organized. So why am I still sitting here? Why am I procrastinating?

I’m looking forward to going home and especially to our ten day stopover in Vancouver where we’ll meet our new grandson who was born while we’ve been here but perhaps I’m also a little bit sad to see our time here coming to an end. I do love Japan and it’s going to be hard to say good bye again. We have to leave so many special people behind!

Crowds and quiet

Over the past couple of weeks as we’ve revisited many of the places that we enjoyed during our year in Japan and explored a few new ones, I’ve been reminded how fortunate we were to live where we did. Funabashi is part of the greater Tokyo area but our students often referred to it as the countryside. To those of us who are used to the wide open spaces of the Canadian prairie, it is extremely urban but compared to the crowds and bustle of Tokyo proper, it’s definitely more peaceful. I loved being close enough to enjoy time in Tokyo but was always glad to return to the relative calm of our quieter neighbourhood.

Last night we had supper in downtown Tokyo with a friend from church who chooses to commute two hours to and from work each day in order to enjoy living in Chiba which is even further out than Funabashi. In addition to the more peaceful lifestyle, lower housing costs also draw people away from the city centre. We’ve been told that it costs less to rent an apartment in Funabashi than a parking stall in downtown Tokyo!

This week we’ve both immersed ourselves in the heart of the city and sought out quieter spots. It’s actually quite easy to do both. The day before yesterday, we walked through the bustling shopping districts of Harajuku and Shibuya and crossed the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection but we also strolled the wooded grounds of Yoyogi Koen. Today we revisited a smaller park in the area where we lived. I love the vibrancy of the world’s largest city but I’m glad I didn’t live in the middle of it. I also need time in more tranquil places.

Wonderful weekend

For Richard and I, attending a church means being actively involved, not just showing up for services on Sunday mornings. When we started attending Hope Church almost three years ago, we wondered how God could use us there when we didn’t understand the culture very well and didn’t speak the language of most of the people. God knew what he was doing, however. We soon met Smoky, a young American who had been living in Japan for several years. He was hoping to start a beginners English class that would meet after church one Sunday each month and was looking for someone to help. What a perfect fit! The class soon became one of the highlights of our month.

We spent this Friday to Monday staying with Smoky, his wife Ikuko and their two darling children. What a wonderful time we had! Though Ikuko was initially concerned that we wouldn’t be happy sleeping on futon on the tatami floor, we assured her that we’d spent an entire year sleeping that way and that we loved the idea.


In no time, 26 month old Nile and his 10 month old sister, Jubilee (born the same month as our granddaughter, Jami-Lee) had warmed up to us and we delighted in being pretend grandparents for a few days. Nile, who speaks a combination of English and Japanese, even started calling Richard Bampa, the exact pronunciation that our own grandson, Drew, uses!

Nile & Bampa

with our 'grandson', Ayumu, and Nile

On Saturday morning, we were privileged to attend a beautiful Christian wedding at Hope Church with Ikuko and the kids while Smoky worked. The bride was the daughter of our good friends, Koji and Etsuko, and our ‘Japanese daughter’, Seiko, sang. Unfortunately, the groom’s parents are strong adherents of one of the largest sects of Buddhism in Japan and refused to attend the wedding.

On Sunday after church, Smoky and Ikuko hosted a beginners English class reunion party in our honour. What a great time we had visiting with several of those who had been part of the class. It was a reunion because, though they continue to see one another at church each Sunday, the class hasn’t met for the past few months. Smoky has been too busy with work and with two wee children, he and Ikuko haven’t had time to keep it going. They’d like to find another couple to help. Hmm… if only teleportation was more than science fiction and we could somehow transfer ourselves from Canada to Japan on a regular basis!

Apparently Smoky and Ikuko enjoyed having us stay with them as much as we enjoyed being there. They’ve invited us back for our last two nights in Japan and have even offered to drive us to the airport when it’s time to leave! We are so blessed!


When we taught English in Japan, most of our fellow teachers were the age of our children. Many of them were here for a year or two before returning to North America to establish careers or return to school for further education. Others moved on from our English school to other employment here in Japan. We were a bit concerned about a few who seemed to be in a rut, staying on at MIL only because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. Today we had lunch with one of the young men that we taught with and were excited to hear about his plans. After five years in Japan, he’s on his way back to America to enter grad school.

After lunch, we headed out to the temple town of Narita to revisit one of our favourite spots. To me, the Buddhist temple, Shinsho-ji, dedicated to Fudo Myouou, the god of fire, is representative of the spiritual darkness that blankets this land but the grounds, especially those furthest from the temple itself, are an area of great beauty and tranquility. We’ve visited in both spring at cherry blossom time and in the fall when the trees were clothed in autumn splendor. Today, with many of them bare and only the earliest blossoms bursting forth, the look was somewhat starker but no less beautiful. Pathways circle three ponds with water flowing from one to the next. Without the colour of cherry blossoms or autumn leaves to focus on, my eye was especially drawn to reflections on the water.

A Tokyo stroll

Our main reason for wanting to return to Japan was the people. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve reconnected with quite a few former students and colleagues as well as our wonderful church family. We’ve also had plenty of time to revisit favourite places in and around Tokyo and to explore some new ones. We continue to be amazed at how easily two hicks from rural Alberta manage to navigate the world’s largest city. Even when we get on the wrong train, as we did this morning, we manage to find our way.

We spent much of this afternoon strolling through Asakusa. The district’s big attraction is its Buddhist temple, Senso-ji, but we’d visited it before and have seen enough temples to last a lifetime so we spent our time exploring Nakamise-dori, the shopping street leading up to the temple where everything from junky tourist trinkets to genuine crafts are sold. We also wandered many of the little side streets surrounding it. After awhile, I’d had enough of shops and crowds so after relaxing over coffee at a nearby Starbuck’s, we went for a long stroll along the Sumida River. So relaxing!

As we walked, we had a good view of the newest structure on the Tokyo skyline. When complete, the Tokyo Sky Tree will be 634 metres high; the tallest tower in the world. It’s main purpose will be radio and television broadcasting but it will also house a restaurant and observation tower.

In spite of yesterday's snow, there are flowers in Tokyo in February!