Saturday, August 31, 2013

I'm Just so Jazzed!

What am I jazzed about, you ask? Jesus Lifehouse Church Tokyo! I am continually blessed by this church each week, I just had to give it a proper blog shout-out.

I have to thank my amazing Mom and her internet sleuthing that found this church for me. I'm so glad she did! I first went to Jesus Lifehouse's Wednesday night service because I couldn't wait until Sunday to try it out. I arrived a bit late, sometimes it's tricky to find places the first time... When I walked into the room, heard the music, and saw a big group of people passionately worshiping the Lord, I nearly cried I was so happy. Ever since, Jesus Lifehouse has been a place where I am refreshed and filled.

The church is completely bilingual, so they do everything in Japanese and in English. This took a little bit of getting used to. You gotta pay attention! But I have grown to really enjoy it. I especially enjoy the bilingual worship songs. Parts of the songs are in English and parts are in Japanese. And for the Japanese parts, the words are romanized so us foreigners can attempt to sing along. This was a bit intimidating at first, but it is an amazing way to worship God. There is a lot of energy and passion at this church, you can't help but sing and dance and praise the Lord! Here's one of the songs we sing pretty often. Check it out here. Imagine singing along to this in both Japanese and English, it's awesome!!

I spent my Saturday at a BBQ hangout with a bunch of people from the church. First of all, I have to say that Japanese BBQ is nothing like a typical BBQ in the U.S. They barbecue noodles for goodness sake! But like most of the food in Japan, BBQ here is also delicious. Anyway, it was an amazing day of meeting new people and having fun in the sun. People from all over the world attend this church and I so enjoy the opportunity I have to learn from them and fellowship with them.

I am so thankful that I get to be a part of the Jesus Lifehouse community, if only for a short time. This church has a huge heart for Japan and each week people come to know the Lord as their Savior. It is amazing to see. I look forward to all that God has in store for this church in the coming years!

Ok, I can't resist. Check out another great song!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Adventures in the Kitchen

As I may have mentioned, the food in Japan is amazing. I have a list of all my favorite foods that I'm totally going to add to my cooking repertoire when I return to the U.S. Although I have to figure out how to get all the delicious Japanese sauces... hmmm.  

Anyway, I have had a chance to try my hand in the kitchen a few times during my time here so far. The first thing I learned to make: gyoza! (Also known as dumplings or pot stickers.) Ok ok, so this is actually a Chinese dish, but it’s really popular here too and it’s delicious! You can buy the dough for the dumplings from the supermarket, already rolled really thin to the correct size, but I had the opportunity to roll homemade dough by hand. Pretty cool! After rolling the dough, it's stuffed with the filling and crimped neatly to close. These dumplings were boiled, but there was some extra filling so some were pan fried the next day. 

I also learned how to make another type of dumpling called shumai. They are similar to the ones above, but instead of crimping the dumplings all the way around, these are delicately shaped into small, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth flowers. Ok, slightly deformed flowers, I haven't mastered this quite yet.

These were steamed and then enjoyed!

I don't have any pictures, but I made spring rolls one day too! At this point, I'm about ready to open my own dim sum shop. Maybe I'll keep it in mind in case the grad school thing doesn't work out. :)

Another food note: it is customary to take the skin off of fruits like grapes and peaches. You might get some quizzical looks if you pop a grape in your mouth or take a big bite out of a peach... not that I speak from experience or anything. Just an FYI if any of you are ever caught in a fruit situation in Japan one day.

This isn't the only cooking I've been able to do here though. I got to participate in a cooking class with people with special needs and their mothers! This group meets once a month to cook, socialize, and have tons of fun! It was awesome! There were a couple teachers who prepared the menu and gave the rest of us guidelines as we worked. Everyone was able to pitch in and work together to make a delicious meal!

Rockin' the aprons! 
Eiko and her mother, peeling shrimp.

Naru (right) with one of the teachers. Too fun!
This sweet girl had the right idea,
she was sitting under the air conditioner. 
Shinichi on parsley duty.

We fed 21 people!

Cold potato soup, salad with dried fruit, rice with shrimp and clams,
grapes and pears for dessert!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tourist Time

In addition to meeting some amazing people and learning really interesting things about how Japan handles people with disabilities, I have been doing some touristy things in the last week too! Here are some of the highlights of my tourist adventures so far.

Took the train to Asakusa one day, a district which features the oldest temple in Tokyo. My 'Tokyo Handy Guide' says it was built in 628 AD. It's famous for its main gate where a huge lantern hangs.

I don't know why I do the whole peace sign thing for pictures now... it just comes so naturally, everyone does it here! Anyway, almost more interesting than the ancient temple was the decidedly modern thing I found in front of it.

Yes, this is a panda bear bus. Kawaii!!! (This means cute in Japanese. I use this word a lot.) Actually though, I find this juxtaposition of ancient and modern quite interesting. Across the street from the temple is a building with a viewing area on one of the top floors. Seeing the temple surrounded by modernity displays just how much the city has changed and the history it contains.

Now, let me introduce the maneki-neko or "beckoning cat".

Kawaii, right!? Well, this cat is everywhere, in various shapes and sizes. Statues both big and small, flags, handkerchiefs, you name it. The beckoning gesture is said to welcome good luck, customers, and wealth so it is often found at the entrance to shops or other attractions. I'm growing oddly fond of this lucky cat. Also quick sidenote: notice the Tokyo Skytree in the background of the picture. It is the tallest structure in Tokyo. Pretty cool!

The beckoning cat welcomed me right to the Tokyo Water Bus which I rode from Asakusa to the artificial island of Odaiba, about a 45 minute trip. Got to see a ton of bridges spanning the Sumida River which runs into Tokyo Bay.

One of my favorites, complete with the Skytree in the background.

This was one of the first times I was reminded of home as I thought about all the awesome bridges across the Willamette River in Portland. A little bit of familiarity on this short cruise was a welcome feeling.

The temple, the panda bus, the cruise, it was all awesome. But probably my favorite part of this day of touring was riding on the Yurikamome, a fully automated train that connects Odaiba with Tokyo. When we got on the train, it wasn't too crowded and I got to sit in the "driver's seat"!!

I definitely felt like a little kid pretending to drive the train. hehe. But seriously, it was like a ride at an amusement park! I am continuously amazed by Tokyo's transportation system. There are above ground trains, subways, buses, automated trains... They see a need for some kind of transportation and they make it happen.

The Yurikamome opened in 1995. Before it was finished, many people didn't think the multibillion yen project would succeed. This brought to mind the French transportation system, Aramis- a highly complex idea for personal rapid transit in the 1970's. However, unlike Aramis (which ultimately never came into being for a number of reasons), the Japanese succeeded in keeping the Yurikamome technologically advanced and practical. Fascinating!

This past weekend, I also went on a quick trip with the Kokuho Family to an onsen (Japanese hot spring). Before going to the onsen we stopped at another ancient, beautiful temple in Nikko. The temple was originally built in the 700's AD, but is maybe most famous as the burial site of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a very powerful leader at the beginning of Japan's Edo Period in the early 1600's.

I really like the pagodas, beautiful.

The view from the hotel where we stayed. Wow!

And here's the whole family! I am so thankful for their incredible kindness. And aren't the grandkids adorable!? :)

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Cup's Journey

Ok, so remember the workshops I talked about a couple posts back? The ones where individuals with disabilities can go to work during the day? Yes, those! Well, I went to visit one just a few blocks from where I am staying. The facility is called Asahi Art. (Asahi means "morning sun" in Japanese.) And like I mentioned before, people here primarily work to decorate dishes that are then sold in a couple local shops.

I sat down with a group of three young guys, probably in their 20's, who were diligently working on gluing small paper shapes on their dishes. They were all quite shy at first, refusing to look up at me besides a quick smile and wave, not too sure what to do with a young, foreign girl talking to them. They let me watch what they were doing and I praised their detailed handiwork. It was beautiful! Then I got to try my hand at decorating a small cup!

My new friends!

The boy sitting across from me, who has Down Syndrome, was working on the same cup so I asked him to show me how to do it. He slowly and carefully used a special tool to pick up a small paper circle from a glue tray and place it in exactly the right spot above a line drawn on the bottom of the cup. Then he expertly dabbed the paper circle with tissue to get rid of the excess glue and water. It looked great! I tried to mimic the meticulous way he worked. After I placed a couple of my own circles, I held it up for his approval. I got a smile and an a-ok from the professional. 

Me and my gluing instructor.

I left the cup in the capable hands of my instructor and chatted with a few other sweet individuals, who were more than willing to pose for a picture.

I even received a couple original drawings from this sweet, young girl!

During this visit I also observed how the adult assistants interact with the artists. I found they are especially attuned to each individual's needs. They are calm and speak soft words of encouragement or correction when necessary. Instead of just verbally telling an artist what to do they use visual, kinesthetic, and auditory communication techniques to make sure the artists understand what areas of the dish need further polishing for example. The assistants help create a very calm atmosphere, which makes the artists feel safe and relaxed. Don't we all like to have a low-stress work environment!?

So, what about the cup? I visited a cute little coffee shop, which has since become one of my favorite places, that sells the dishes made at Asahi Art. Here they are!

Panda bears added by another skilled artist. SO CUTE!
Couldn't resist. I bought these two bowls.
Yeah, might need to buy a couple plates too. :)
Notice the teapot. Also made at Asahi Art!