Sunday, January 17, 2010

Skiing, Eating and Relaxing at Niseko

We boarded a train on January 6th and headed to an "Onsen Resort" near the Niseko ski area. This resort was completely by itself, but we kept ourselves occupied soaking in the onsen (hot pools) and eating... and eating...

Our room didn't have standard beds; when we returned for dinner the table had been slid out of the way and five futons had been set up. Kind of like camping, only in a room. It's called a Tatami room. Very Japanese.
Our dinners consisted of two large bento boxes with an assortment of appetizers, and on top of that we had tempura, a hot pot, miso soup and rice. We improved our finger dexterity with chopsticks.

By the second night, we were very relaxed and wore the pajama like outfits they provided to dinner, and well, just about everywhere.

Four ski areas connected at the top provided plenty of variety. We would have loved to ski it with 6 inches of fresh powder, but instead it was rather wind-packed. still nice, though. The mountain above is known as the Mt. Fuji of the north. We got a peek at the top one time during the two days we skiied.

Upon returning, we were able to attend a service at the church Celia and Keith are involved in. Tony was giving the children's sermon. Their weekly attendance is about 30, typical of many Japanese churches. What a privilege to fellowship with these believers in Japan. We are all members of the same body of Christ!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Culture Day

One of the highlights of the trip was a culture day that was held at the Japanese Language Center, so that the language students could gain a better understanding of Japanese culture.

We had a hands on lesson in ikebana, Japanese flower arranging.
Dressing in a Kimono is a long and complicated process, as demonstrated here. A very skilled Japanese woman can do it by herself in about a half hour. Kimonos are worn when a woman wants to dress up. We observed a number of women dressed in Kimonos when going to the shrine on New Years Day. A group of older women going out to lunch were all in Kimonos. We had some dinner guests over to the house and the mother wore her Kimono. The look is quite lovely.
Last, we were entertained by a group performing on traditional instruments. Two people sang and a dancer interpreted the songs. They were good!

Celia had a chance to practice the shamisen after the concert. I was interested in the musical notation for the koto (the long stringed instrument), which was very different from our staff. It took a while to figure it out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Hike and a Concert

January 2nd was rather blustery, so we decided to go for a hike. Well, Colin did, and Dan and I decided to join him. We walked from downtown sapporo to the park where we had gone the day before to see the shrine. It was still relatively busy with people, although not nearly so much as yesterday. From the park, we climbed a steep and slippery trail to the top of Maruyama (which means "big mountain". The trail was lined with statues dressed with hats, scarves and bibs.

Here we are at the top. There might have been a great view, but we couldn't see much of it. We were able to see some of the city.

The next day, Sunday, we took two busses to get the Satsunae Lighthouse church. We enjoyed meeting the people whom Celia and Keith have told us about. This Sunday was different than usual; instead of a sermon, many people shared about the ups and downs of the past year and how God had shown Himself faithful. We were also asked to share how we felt about Celia and Keith being in Japan, and our impressions of their country. After the service we had a potluck. We brought chili.

That evening Celia held a concert at the same church we had attended on New Years Day. Keith was the MC; public speaking in Japanese had him feeling a little nervous.

Celia and Shino performed three sonatas. The concert was well attended and well received. Celia also shared her testimony. It's great that she has had so many opportunities to perform.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Celebrating New Years the Japanese Way

In Japan, New Years is the biggest holiday of the year. We had a full day of celebrating in the Japanese style. December 31 is a day of preparation, especially for the woman of the house. She prepares very special food for the New Years bento box. Celia had purchased a book with recipes for this bento box, but really it is all about presentation. Colin and I joined in the preparatons by making gyoza.

We began new years day by attending a church service at one of the largest Christian churches in Sapporo.
Following the service, we were served very strong tea and a sweet candy made of red beans.
This was followed by a wonderful lunch with many interesting Japanese dishes.

During the lunch, they demonstrated rice pounding to make a sweet treat called mochi.

Hot rice is placed in a wooden tub. The man's job (Colin helped out...) is to pound the rice into a sticky pulp. The woman's job is to knead the rice between each pound, add water, and pull her hand out in the nick of time. We think Colin was actually on the upstroke in this picture, because he didn't nail her hand. She was really fast, too.
Once it is smooth, the women go to work forming it into balls, with a smaller ball of sweet tasting bean paste in the middle. Oh, it was so good...

So after all that wonderful Christian fellowship, we went to the Shinto Shrine to watch masses of people make their yearly trek to seek good health and good fortune from an unknown god. The Japanese police do very well at crowd control. they put some space between each group, probably so that no one would get trampled should people from behind start pushing. Apparently about 700,000 people visit the shrine over a three day period.
People write their wish for the year and tie it to a frame. They also toss money onto the steps of the shrine, clap their hands and say a prayer. We did not participate in any of this; we were only there to observe.
This is the scene in the courtyard of the shrine.

After leaving the courtyard, we were directed down a long row of carnival type booths, selling food, cotton candy in colorful bags (I guess that's food too), souvineers such as these tiger masks (for the year of the tiger), and fortunes.

Once back at home, we put together our artful bento box and ate a festive meal.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

With the fam in Japan

Two days after christmas we left home for Japan! We left the house at 4:00am on December 27th and arrived at Celia and Keith's home in Sapporo at 9:30pm on December 28th. We were unable to sleep on the plane, but we sure enjoyed the movies on demand.

When we got up the next morning, we opened presents. Celia and Keith are wearing the hats we gave them. We received all kinds of interesting Japanese food items.
For lunch, we went downtown and ate ramen. It was a very busy shopping day, due to the upcoming holiday (New Years).
We took a tram to the top of Mt. Moiwa. At 1500 feet, it provides a panaramic view of the city to the north and the mountains to the south. All this below is Sapporo.
We waited until dark and enjoyed watching the lights of the city come on.
Before going home, we walked around Odori park and enjoyed an extensive display of Christmas lights.
The next day (30th) we ate sushi at a shop owned by a man who is a member of the church Celia and Keith work with. This was real sushi - the best! We had such adventuresome things as raw clam, scallop and some local Hokkiado fish. Everything was very tender.
Later that day we had a unique cultural experience at the local Onsen. What is an Onsen? It is a place for bathing and soaking in hot pools. We don't have any photos of our time there, because, well, you don't wear a swimsuit. The men and women's pools are completely separate. In addition to the hot pools, there is a cold pool - really cold - and I managed to dip in it two times. Then it was right back to the hot pools. We preferred soaking in the outdoor pools where music was playing and we could watch the snow falling.