Reflecting on Three Years


We arrived in Japan as a family on Feb 14, 2015, as a family of four with another little one on the way. Now, three years later, we are a family of six! It seems like a lifetime ago that we lived in Australia, and at the same time I can’t believe it has been so long.

I’ve been enjoying seeing an Aussie OMF co-workers’ photos of her time back in Australia at the moment. The wide roads, footpaths with grass on the sides, cars parked on streets are some things I noticed just to name a few. Recently when we had a few people visit us after Will was born, we felt worried that they might not have really seen all that many interesting or exciting things. But our visitors assured us that they had really experienced a different culture and seen many unusual things here that they don’t see back home. The trouble is, after being here for three years, the previously interesting or noticeable things become normal and it’s hard to remember what is different anymore.

People wearing masks when unwell, or to prevent getting sick.
Narrow streets, and along with that, VERY little street parking.
Convenience stores and Vending machines everywhere.
Nearly everyone has black hair. Sometimes when I see a Japanese person with died hair I can’ tell if they are Asian or not – my brain plays tricks on me!
Politeness, excellent customer service and bowing.
Kids walking to school – nearly all kids walk to school.

See, I am actually really struggling to think of things! I’m sure there must be so many other things though.

Perhaps an easier thing to comment on are the things that we’ve missed the most. I won’t name people in particular, but of course that goes without saying. Family, friends – we miss you and love you! But now that’s out of the way… 😉

Church in English, especially songs.
No snow.
Shopping trolleys that cater to two kids and fit more than a shopping basket in them.
Weetbix for breakfast.
Availability of Gluten Free food, and confidence in eating out.
Communicating easily!
Grandparents and family support with the kids.
Having peers around us going through similar life stages – to encourage one another and commiserate with together.
Beautiful, varied parks.
Walking with a pram around a park. This might sound silly but it’s actually a really big one!
Going to friends houses a lot, and having people over a lot. We have people over a bit, but rarely go to anyone’s house.

This list was a bit easier and quicker to write, and I could go on! But I suspect that’s fairly normal.

Anyway, three years here is a long time to be away, and seemed to warrant a blog post. I have reflected on my blog, wishing that I had written more frequently over the last three years. I am constantly concerned with needing to write something amazing, that it prevents me from writing anything at all – so here’s to writing a blog to record life, look back on it, and be thankful to the Lord for what He does and continues to do.

English Literacy Homeschooling


The Background

We send our eldest daughter Heidi (6) to the local Japanese Primary School just a few hundred metres down the road. She is in First Grade this year, and seems to be adjusting well and mostly enjoying school life. Pippa, our second daughter (recently turned 5) attends a local Japanese kindergarten. She catches the Kindergarten Bus each day from the front of our house. Their Japanese language is good, and Heidi is now able to read and write some Japanese. There is no International School in this area, and even if there was, we would not necessarily send the girls to it anyway. And so, their English education falls onto our shoulders. Of course, we speak mostly English at home, so we don`t worry so much about the kids learning to communicate in English. Reading and writing though, are a different story. The bottom line is, if we want our kids to be able to read and write in English, we need to teach them.

To be honest I used to feel quite overwhelmed by the responsibility that brings. But I guess as time has gone on, I`ve kind of gotten used to the idea.

How Did We Get Started?

We began English homeschooling with Heidi around the time that she turned 5. It coincided nicely with her beginning 5 year old Kindergarten while we were still in Sapporo, and so we thought we would begin a new routine including homeschooling alongside the new Kindergarten year. That was about 18 months ago. Inadvertently, Pippa, who has very recently turned 5, has been joining in with the homeschooling since that time, although we have been less deliberate about her learning until more recently.

Before we began homeschooling I thought that perhaps we would simply find some kind of curriculum, perhaps from Distance Education Victoria, or another Australian based homeschooling group. I planned to sign up and simply get started. Much to my frustration and disappointment, it was just not that simple. The Distance Ed option didn`t work out, due to timing of enrollment and being unable to only use their English Literacy resources. And quite simply, there was no obvious option for us as Australians based in Japan.

And so my search began. After asking numerous friends in similar situations around the world, and from doing some online research, we began with ABC Reading Eggs, an online program which is fairly kid friendly, fun and interactive.

ABC Reading Eggs


We used it primarily to teach Heidi (and Pippa) the basics of reading the alphabet, recognising basic phonic based sounds, all the while encouraging them to love learning by making those activities fun. In the beginning we used that almost every day, say for about 30 minutes, and that was mostly it. And for those beginning months, that was fairly helpful and comprehensive. But after a while, we realised we needed to at least focus some of our time on writing, and also to focus more of our time on reading.

Oxford Tree Leveled Readers

So then homeschooling evolved into random writing activities, plus ABC Reading Eggs, and then we also began using Oxford Tree Songbirds Leveled Readers, by Julia Donaldson and various illustrators. We continue to use these books, and in terms of phonics based resources, these are the best I have seen. They are fun for kids, with engaging stories that go beyond `The cat sat on the mat`. We also have used Jolly Phonics, mostly via You Tube, which was particularly helpful for learning blended sounds and those kinds of things. The kids really enjoyed the songs that go along with the phonics and can still sing them now, although we don`t do much intentionally with it anymore.

Fitting Things In With School

When Heidi began school from April this year though, we had to rethink our strategy. She leaves the house at 7:30am, gets home mostly around 3pm and has about 30 minutes of homework for school each day. So the question then became, `How do we fit homeschooling in, without totally stressing Heidi out with how much she needs to do in the day?` After taking a little while to work things out, for the last 6 months we try our best to do homeschooling from 7:00-7:30am, after Heidi is ready to leave, up until she needs to. Of course, this doesn`t happen 100% of the time, but mostly it does.

And 30 minutes still feels like not really enough time if I`m being honest, but it also is just the most we can manage.


What We Do Now

We now focus simply on reading and writing. As long as Heidi reads something to me, or writes about something, then that is a good day. We have also very recently introduced some spelling words – so that`s about 10 minutes out of our time, but it helps with handwriting anyway, and just needs to happen.

Honestly, 30 minutes does not feel like enough time. But I think lately, as we have seen some leaps and bounds in Heidi`s reading, it definitely does seem to be the case of `slow and steady wins the race`. A little bit every day is better than large chunks occasionally I guess.

Pippa also continues with her own version of Homeschooling. Because she doesn`t leave home until after 9am, we have a lot more flexibility in time and what we do – although mostly it`s still the same things. Reading, writing and spelling.

Is Every Day an Amazing Learning Experience?

Of course, what I haven`t mentioned is how some days go really well, and everyone has great attitudes, and other days it is a stress, full of grumpiness and angry exchanges (myself included)! Some days I`m amazed at what they can do, and others I tear my hair out thinking, `Do I have to say this again?! Leave spaces between the words!` or something else along those lines.

I still feel daunted by the task ahead at times, but mostly I`m thankful for the growth that we`ve seen, and the encouragement and joy that comes as you see your kids learning new skills. I guess we`ll just have to wait and see when we come back to Australia whether we`ve been successful or not in our Homeschooling endeavours!


Bilingual Kids and the New Family Rule

Living overseas for two and a half years now, in a culture that speaks a different language to the place we came from, our children have overtime become bilingual speakers of English and Japanese. Having studied some linguistics at University I personally find it amazing, interesting and enjoyable to watch these three little people become bilingual in their unique ways.

Heidi is competent in both English and Japanese, and having started Japanese school this year after 2 years at Japanese Kindergarten, her reading and writing skills are catching up.

Pippa mixes languages a lot. She was only just over 2 when we came, so has spent more than half of her life here in Japan. She will commonly mix English and Japanese at least once in many sentences, and we occasionally have to help her to find the right way to express herself in English.

Annie, who was born here and is almost 2, well she still speaks mostly in single words although can convey a broader meaning. Tonight she said to me, “Rain, Daddy, car, umbrella” which I knew to mean “I went in the car with Daddy and bought an umbrella.” It did take me a while to work out that “bala’ meant umbrella but once I had worked it out I knew exactly what she wanted to say. She also uses a lot of Japanese words, though English is still dominant. It’s hard to say she’s bilingual in some ways, because her speech is still in its very early days. But I’m sure she is at a typical stage of a bilingual toddler! Because the vowel sounds are much simpler in Japanese, and the common pattern of consonent-vowel sounds in Japanese often means that Japanese words are easier to say compared to English words. Tonight I was reading a book with her and tried to teach her to say “Octopus” but then also added “Tako” which is Japanese. I’m sure you can guess which one she was able to say better!

It’s a joy to see their amazing little kid-brains soak in language and somewhat effortlessly acquire a skill which requires SO much effort when you begin as an adult. Paul and I are constantly amazed.

And yet practically, we have a new rule in our house;”No Japanese at meal times!” Recently, particularly as Pippa’s Japanese has mostly caught up with Heidi’s, the two ‘big’ girls spend a lot of time speaking in Japanese together. I mean, it makes sense. They play at school and kinder with Japanese friends, so most of their playtime in the week is spent in a Japanese environment and context, and so their play language, so to speak, is Japanese. So there is a lot of playing in Japanese, SO much singing in Japanese, and also just a little arguing in Japanese. Thankfully because kids speak in a simple way with simple words, I am still very able to follow their conversations and interact with them in Japanese. But we realised we need a time to really encourage English conversation.

Pippa in particular has made quite a habit of mixing languages, which can reduce your vocabulary in both, due to filling in the gaps with the other language that you do know the right word in. While I’m in no way concerned about her language ability, and it is somewhat cute when she does it, it is helpful to have a few times each day – mostly breakfast and dinner when we are all home and eating together – to prevent mixing, and encouraging growing our English skills.

When we first moved to Japan and the kids, particularly Heidi who went straight into Japanese kinder with no Japanese, it was hard to imagine that they would be able to learn to speak Japanese. And yet, we listened to all of those who came before us, and relied on what we knew about the brain and language acquisition in children, and now some two and a bit years later, we find ourselves at a completely different spot saying “Stop speaking Japanese!” Even if it is just for a few, quieter moments in the day.

I Survived Japanese Kindergarten Snow Camp


You know those moments in life where you find yourself thinking, “How in the world did I get here?” Well, I had one over the weekend. Picture this. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and I’m kneeling under a tree, next to a very grumpy, tired and hungry Heidi, digging mandarines out of the snow to see if they had frozen overnight. Yep.

It all began a few months ago when we signed Heidi up for some outdoor activities with her Kindergarten. Things like ‘River Play’ and ‘Beach Trip’ were included, as was ‘Snow Adventure’. So when we got another form from the Kindergarten about some kind of snow activity let’s just say that I thought we had already signed up for it, so I sent the form back saying “Yes, we will attend, and here is our money.” Only thing was, it was a different thing. It wasn’t the day trip to the snow for the kids. It was the overnight kindergarten snow camp – with parents as well.


I really tried to think of reasons not to go, but having already paid, committed and most of all – mentioned it to Heidi – I couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse not to go. Except, that is, for the very mature and responsible, “I don’t wanna go!”

It’s not that I don’t like snow, or camps, or kindergarten kids or parents. I like all of those things. But the thought of going on this camp, with literally bus-loads of people I didn’t know, all speaking Japanese, not knowing the ins-and-outs of shoes, sleeping arrangements, bath time, what the heck would the Parents Party  (大人お楽しみ会) be like, food, and just everything – it felt like a bit too much. And yet, it was, as they say, set in stone.

It’s the constant state of uncertainty in a culture that is not your own.

  • It’s not knowing that everyone buys small, packaged snacks because everyone gives snacks to each other, and doesn’t just eat them themselves.
  • It’s being the only one wearing slippers instead of actual indoor shoes (上靴).
  • It’s the shock that parents would leave all the kids sleeping in the rooms by
    themselves while they had their party, (大人お楽しみ会) including alcohol, on the kindergarten camp.
  • It’s desperately copying the 4-year-olds during the morning assembly stretching and exercises because you have no idea and they already know it better than you do.
  • It’s trying to convince your five-year-old to put her snowsuit on and go outside before breakfast with her friends to find the mandarines that you buried last night at the insistence of the other parents, despite the fact that she is tired, cold and hungry.

It’s hard, exhausting and discouraging to be the only one who has no idea – ALL the time.

And yet I’m so glad I went.

Yes, I had no idea what was going on. But it didn’t matter. We had a great time.

I got to know a couple of the Mum’s well, and they were so kind, welcoming, thoughtful and helpful to me. Sometimes it’s our own vulnerability that gives others an opportunity to care for us. People were kind with their Japanese, encouraged me with mine, explained details that I had missed (which happens a lot!), included me in the activities and told me what was going on when I didn’t know. These things, which of themselves are small, made such a difference to me. Instead of feeling unsure and confused, wondering whether I was doing the right thing or not the whole time, I could relax and trust that there were a couple of people there who had my back. And at the end of the day, I made some new friends and enjoyed myself too.


And besides, this camp was all about attempting to create precious mother-daughter time and that is what Heidi and I did. We got to travel together on the bus, we slept snuggled up next to each other, we played with paint in the snow, went on a hike in the snow and slid down a mountain on our bottoms and we swung on ropes together. It wasn’t Pinterest-perfect. There were moments of grumpiness, tiredness and everything else in between.

But that’s parenting and that’s life. Pushing through the challenges while hoping to catch a glimmer of reward on the other side is just another day of being a parent who is trying their best. And it is worth it.

So next time I’m faced with the option of doing something hard, uncomfortable and a little scary, I’m going to try and remember the Kindergarten Snow Camp and how it turned out pretty well.

Even if I had to dig mandarines out of the snow on my knees at 7:30 in the morning.

That’s what being a missionary looks like sometimes.

It’s what being a parent looks like sometimes too.

And that’s more than OK with me.

Have you ever had any “What am I doing here?” moments? What were they? And how did you manage? I would love to hear some of your stories so it would be great if you could share them in the comments below.



Snowflake Photos Spur Me On

Snow. White, fluffy, beautiful snow. Brown, slushy, slippery snow. Black, icy, hard snow. I never knew there could be so many different kinds of snow and that the beautiful verse from the famous hymn about being washed as white as snow really only applies to a certain kind of snow.

Last year as we approached winter I really psychological pumped myself up for it. I wanted to not be negative about weather – it’s just one aspect of life and why should I complain? There are plenty of good things about the cold and snow. In the end it was a really mild winter, so the snow came late and by that time I was actively wanting it to snow. So the winter came and went and I remained pretty positive.

This winter has had a LOT of snow. And we still have a couple of months to go. I actually really like the snow. It really can be so beautiful. If I am out walking in the snow at night the clouds are like a roof, the light glows clearly through the air, the snow underfoot crunches and I feel like I’m in some kind of insulated marshmallowy snowglobe. If it snows I still say, “Look it’s snowing” to everyone at home.

But it can be practically difficult to live your normal life in a snowy climate. Honestly, it just takes so long to get the kids ready if we want to go outside for a play. So long in fact that we haven’t spent that much time outdoors this winter. It’s not just snowsuits but it’s getting fingers into gloves, boots tucked into pants and pants tucked into boot covers and so on.  Multiply that by 3 and it can be exhausting. And the longest they can play outside is about an hour before they really are too cold and it’s straight into the shower with a trail of wet clothes behind them.

There’s snow shovelling. We live in an apartment so just need to clear the carpark, but we also need to do it at school too. I don’t mind it, in fact it’s good to do something physical but it can take up a lot of time.

There’s slipping. I have fallen over more this winter than the past 2. Most of the time I’m carrying Annie on my hip so I think that has put my balance out. So far no serious injuries, but it is always a risk.

Because of the struggles of life in a snowy place I was so encouraged to find some amazing photos of snowflakes today. Russian photographer Alex Filatov used his own home-made set up and took these photos as snowflakes landed on some carpet. I doubted at first if these images were real because they just seemed so fake. But it seems that they are very much real. Take a look and be amazed!









Which one is your favourite? I like the last one the most I think. Just beautiful. What an amazing Creator God we have. I really can’t believe how well this snow is  formed and designed. Wow.



Kindergarten in Japan

The foyer area at our Kindergarten. Each student has a shoe box as they change into their indoor shoes when they arrive.

The schooling year here in Hokkaido runs slightly differently to the rest of Japan, and considerably differently to Australia. It has taken me a while to get used to the natural flow of things and they way that Kindergarten is done in Japan.

The school year begins in April.
Although New Years is celebrated in Japan in January (unlike some other Asian countries), the school and working year start traditionally from the 1st of April. It is such a strange thing, growing up in Australia and the Australian school system. Because of the seasons and the patterns of the year, it just flows so well. Start at some point near the beginning of the year – end of Jan, early Feb maybe. Have two weeks holidays roughly every 10 weeks of school, and a nice big chunk over the Christmas, New Year and Summer holidays. Can anything be more logical and awesome than that? From a parents point of view too, while the Summer holidays are long, at least it’s broken up by Christmas, New Years and warm summer days.

The school year is broken down into 3 terms (semesters?)
April – July
September – December
January – March

One month holidays for both summer AND winter. At first glance, this might seem like a pretty good deal but think again. Imagine living in Hokkaido, piles of snow surrounding you, and now imagine how your holiday might go living in a small apartment with three young children. Yep. Despite my very best intentions to get out in the snow and enjoy it (I really do like it), when the littlest one cries on a sled and gets cold easily, it gets pretty hard. I imagine this might be slightly more enjoyable as the kids get older and we can enjoy outdoor activities like skiing a bit more, but for an Australian not quite accustomed a snow lifestyle, it is taking some adjusting. This does vary to the rest of Japan though, where they don’t often have quite as long of a winter holiday.

There is no flexibility in which year the children begin school.
I know for many Australian families that the discussion of when to enroll their children in Prep can be an ongoing and lengthy one. I observed that many people were enrolling their children at a slightly later stage, closer to 6 years old rather than 5. In Japan, school begins at the age of 6, and the age of the child as of the 1st of April determines when they begin school. So for example; Heidi’s birthday is at the end of March and so she is the very youngest in her class. Some of her classmates might turn 7 in April, and so most parents talk about kids who are born between January and March as 早生まれ (hayaumare), literally translated as ‘earlyborn’, or as an Australian might say, “one of the younger ones”.

There’s only a small break between school years beginning and ending.
To illustrate the point – Heidi graduates from Kindergarten on the 17th of March and begins Primary School on the 6th of April. It’s not even a three-week break. It’s not a lot of time for the kids to rest and get emotionally prepared for big change. It’s also not a lot of time for the parents to run around getting the things you need together either. Which leads me to the next point.

At least for Kindergarten you need a LOT of stuff!
As I sent Heidi and Pippa back to Kinder today, here are some of the things that they needed: 2 sets of spare clothing in plastic bags, in their spare clothing bag. Their school indoor shoes, in their shoe bag. Their backpacks with their obentoo bags, with a lunch cloth, chopsticks and cutlery box, and cup. Their coloured class hats. A hand towel to hang up in class for drying their hands with. Their library bags. Their little ‘pouches’ which clip onto their shirts with tissues and bandaids (not a requirement but very popular). Their name badges. They were both wearing their normal outfits (no uniform) plus a snowsuit, beanies, gloves attached with string, snow boots and boot covers.

Kindergarten kids catch buses to Kinder
I am not sure if this is a Japan-wide thing, or just for Hokkaido, but Kindergartens provide buses for picking up and taking children home. Our Kindergarten is huge and so has three buses that take three different routes each morning and afternoon picking kids up. There are bus stops (ours is at our apartment buildings doorstep) just for the Kinder bus, and teachers who ride the bus. The bus drivers are also employed by the school and perhaps work as maintenance men or have some other roles of employment at the Kinder too.

LOTS of homework.
While Kindergarten children don’t usually do any academic-style learning and therefore don’t receive any homework that changes once they begin elementary school. There is a lot given, but especially over the school holidays! So much so that often kids prefer to be in school, because they have less work to do than compared to the holiday work they are given. And this includes in the holiday between the end of one school year and another.

I could go on, but I might have to save the other differences for another day. Interestingly though, while the differences are many (and I am realising how much so just as I write this), so far we have really had a positive experience with Kindergarten here in Japan. Heidi and Pippa attend a local Japanese kindergarten and both have friends, love their teachers, have learned Japanese and generally enjoy going.

**While you may not be able to read it, for those of you who are interested, click here to visit the website of our Kinder. It has some good photos which capture what it’s like.Or you can click here to read about the Kindergarten sports day last year.**


A Book Review

Today I am pleased to say that my husband Paul has kindly written a book review to share with you all. Jesus Driven Ministry written by Ajith Fernando has been an inspiring, helpful book to read, and I haven’t even finished it yet! Thankfully though, Paul has finished it, and here is what he has to say. Thanks Paul!




Jesus Driven Ministry is a book, as the title suggests, aimed at teaching Christian leaders. In an age of mega-churches, the desire for immediate and measurable results and a face-paced society, Ajith Fernando seeks to lead leaders to the only sure guide for            life, ministry and the church – Jesus. Fernando primarily uses the Gospel of Mark, as well as the synoptics and a bit of John, to outline key principles in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus Driven Ministry is broadly chronological in how it follows Mark with each chapter consisting of a fairly self-contained topic with titles such as: ‘Empowered by the Spirit’, ‘Growing a Team’ and ‘Visiting Homes’.

The content itself is logical, practical and easy to follow. Each chapter contains numerous real-world examples to back up the principles being discussed as well as reflections on ministry practices in the church today. Clearly, Fernando is well read as he quotes from a wide variety of sources and explains the original Greek words where helpful or important.

The book draws deeply from Fernando’s personal experience in ministry – and personal experience he has! After more than 25 years serving as the Sri Lankan Director of Youth For Christ (when the book was written) the personal anecdotes and stories from his ministry give the book an authenticity and realism that often lacks in this type of ministry book.

One thing the book successfully manages to do is capture the radical nature of Jesus’ ministry and the principles for Christian community that he established. This is profoundly convicting for those who are either in Christian ministry or for those who have simply been around church long enough to observe certain unbiblical, culture-based practices that creep into church. However, because the book is so deeply steeped in biblical quotation and reflection this does not come across as judgemental or critical but simply as a natural outworking of biblical truth. The challenge to pastors and Christian leaders to throw off cultural sins or ungodly desires in ministry and genuinely pursue Christ-centred ministry is real and powerful.

A couple of examples that stood out to me, and were personally convicting, were prayer and identifying with people. As anyone in ministry will testify to identify with people is difficult and energy sapping work. People are hard to love and hard to minister to. It is easy to avoid the hard things like visiting homes, caring for the emotionally and spiritually needy and giving time to demanding people. But as Fernando points out, the life of Jesus is a stirring reminder of what it means to enter the lives of ordinary, hurting, broken people to show God’s love. Secondly, prayer. It sounds so simple, but prayer seems to forever be the neglected discipline of Christians and pastors. Fernando’s chapter on prayer is compelling and is likely, like it did to me, to leave you convicted and uncomfortable. He writes ‘there is nothing more important than the work of prayer’ and how true this is. I encourage you to read the book for more detail but one aspect of prayer Fernando explains is worth mentioning. Quality prayer prevents burnout. Daily, uninterrupted, lengthy, set apart time with the Lord provides refreshment for the soul, along with godly perspective, mental rest and peace that is indispensable for long-term pastoral ministry. There is only one source of living water for dry and thirsty Christian leaders. It is a sober reminder.

The strength of the book lies in how Fernando weaves together solid biblical teaching, ministry principles, practical ministry examples and a great passion for the gospel in an easy to read manner. Fernando builds all of his teaching and principles directly from the bible. The bible really is the foundation of the book. Indeed the book is so full of biblical references and examples from the life of Jesus that it feels more like a gospel commentary or deeply-thought-through reflection on the life of Jesus rather than a book on ministry principles. And ultimately that is what the book is. While Fernando’s passion for the gospel and years of ministry wisdom cannot help but grasp the readers’ attention, it is the person of Jesus who holds centre stage. I am certain Ajith Fernando would want it no other way and this is what, for me, makes the book not just good, but great.

I’m Dreamin’ of a Japanese Christmas

Christmas in Japan

The snow has well and truly arrived, the heater is blasting – along with the Christmas carols. The Christmas tree is decorated and presents are being bought. Sounds kind of like a Christmas anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, right? Yes, it does. But there are a few things that make Christmas a little bit of a different experience in Japan.

Christmas is not a Public Holiday

It makes sense that in the largely Buddhist and Shinto nation of Japan that Christmas, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, would not make an official dent in the national calendar. And yet it still comes as a shock. It’s one of those things that is just so much a part of culture, of who we are as Australians, as Christians, that I always need reminding that while it may, in fact, be Christmas Day, that people go to work as usual and that school still happens (although most finish at lunchtime on the day itself). For Churches, this means that they commonly will hold a Christmas eve candlelight carols service in lieu of a Christmas Day service. This year does actually fall on a Sunday, so Japanese Christians get to enjoy celebrating as a Church family together on Christmas morning.

Christmas is not the family-gathering-together Day

Perhaps like some other Asian countries, New Years is the time to meet with family, to eat special food, and to simply be together. Many people with travel back to their ‘hometown’, or perhaps more accurately, the place where their parents live. Christmas is more to spend time with friends, to go out and do something, or in particular, go on a date (see next point).

Christmas is like a ‘Mini-Valentine’s-Day’

Many couples will go out on a date on Christmas eve. They will share a special, romantic evening together, looking at Christmas lights and eating out. While Christmas is advertised and decorated in the traditional way,  Christmas also has a Valentine’s Day-esque feel to it. There’s even a Japanese word which mixes the words “Christmas” and “all alone/by oneself” into one word, to explain the feeling of being single or alone on Christmas even – クリぼっち (kuri-bochi).

Christmas Parties are different

When I imagine Christmas parties in Australia, there are a lot of mixed Christmas-break up party type images that come to mind. Barbecues, outdoors enjoying the sun, people drinking too much, Kris Kringle, sunburn, pavlova, dancing etc. Here in Japan, it’s mostly Churches and missionaries, and some Kindergartens, that run Christmas Parties. For the most part, Churches view this time as a way to reach out to people and share the true meaning of Christmas. They might include some games, Christmas carols, Christmas crafts and inevitable snack-time. I’m just trying to think about whether Churches in Australia typically do Christmas Parties? I think maybe not? Perhaps you might have a Christmas Carols event, and a special service on Christmas Day but not parties so much. I can’t remember any Church Christmas parties anyway.

Christmas Food – KFC and Strawberry Sponge Cake

Through a very successful marketing campaign over 40 years ago, KFC has now become a crucial part of celebrating Christmas in Japan. And if not KFC then Chicken of any kind. I made the mistake last year of simply planning to go to Costco on Christmas Eve to pick up some of their Barbeque Chickens – the only place I have found them yet. Well, let’s just say it didn’t go so well. Despite arriving within 30 minutes of opening, we received a ticket for the chicken and it was going to be a 4 or 5-hour wait. So we decided to have pork instead. Apparently, you can easily wait just as long for a bucket of KFC. Christmas cake is also a big deal here, but not the heavy, fruity kind. A kind of sponge cake decorated with cream and strawberries is the Japanese version of Christmas cake. I’m not sure how that one came about, but it is pretty tasty.

The Meaning of Christmas

Most Japanese people have not heard about Jesus. Most have no Christian friends. So it is unsurprising that most do not know the real meaning of Christmas – most do not know the hope that we have because of Jesus being born so many many years ago. Please pray for Japan – that many people would hear this wonderful news over the Christmas period. Pray for us and the many other workers here trying to point people to Jesus. Pray that this year Christmas would be a time of people meeting the true Saviour, and enjoying fellowship with Him more than going on a date, more than KFC and more than strawberry cake.



MEED Course: Day Four

Paul and I have been studying Japanese full time since we arrived here in Japan over 18 months ago. I recently graduated language school but speaking, studying and practicing Japanese is a major part of life that takes up mental and emotional energy, time and resources. It can be both incredibly encouraging and exciting, and also terrifying and debilitatingly discouraging.

So I find it really interesting that, for the most part, this course has not been about how to communicate in Japanese, but simply how to communicate – the motivations, methods, reasons etc about why we communicate. It’s been a little surprising to receive training in English and to learn a new kind of communication skill in English considering the focus of our lives is so much on learning Japanese.

But I get it.

In some ways language FEELS like everything. It is consuming. So much of life is really hard when you can’t speak the local language. Try and imagine not being able to communicate with people for one day (or even just one hour!). It is huge. And yet, somewhat counterintuitively, it is not everything. Language is simply a skill. Skills are things we can learn, even if through great struggles.It’s not simple, it’s not linear, and it is entirely different for everyone, but at the very basic level, speaking a language is simply another skill.

But loving Jesus, christlike character and living for him are not things that we can simply learn. These things are not skills but go to the very core of our being. For me, this course has been a reminder of Jesus. Who he is, how much he loves us, and how very important and urgent it is that we share the good news that we know and love with others, using every opportunity we are given. For his glory alone.


MEED Course: Day Three

Just so you can remember that I'm in Japan I give you a token photo of sushi :)

Just so you can remember that I’m in Japan I give you a token photo of Japanese food 🙂

The sessions today were quite varied and enjoyable, but boy am I feeling tired. Here are some reflections from the day.

It was good to focus a bit more specifically on some Japanese context issues. When focusing on the issue of ‘Clear Communication’ it was really helpful to think about some theological/Christian type words, and how we can convey those concepts in Japanese. So many concepts like forgiveness, grace, sin  – things that are central to Christianity – are not really a part of the Japanese worldview and so communicating many biblical concepts is quite challenging. So it was helpful to hear ideas from others and brainstorm together.

I really enjoyed listing both the descriptions of salvation/fruit of salvation and many of the New Testament names and titles of Jesus. It was good for my soul. To reflect on all of the amazing ways that salvation works in someone’s life, the many amazing things that salvation contains. Eternal life, redemption, darkness to light, heaven, death to life, reborn, slavery to freedom are just some from the list. Lamb of God, Way, Truth, Life, Holy One, Cornerstone and so on. What a wonderful God we have! It’s like a breath of fresh, pure, oxygen to the soul to reflect on these things.

The last part of the day, and also the most challenging for me, was part of the session on ‘The Art of Meaningful Conversation’, in particular talking about how to see the world through God’s eyes. How do we use events, conversations etc to hear someone’s worldview, issues brought out by that worldview, what questions, comments, stories can I comment with, and what can I use/do to keep the conversation going if the other person is interested. It was quite difficult.

Today we learned a story from Genesis 16:2-10 and I really enjoyed learning the story, practicing with a partner, and even practicing myself a few times. I think it’s going to be another step altogether to work out how to do the stories in Japanese, but one step at a time. It’s such a good way to memorise scripture too!

Overall I’m finding it quite interesting and helpful, though it is a tiring thing, and I think with having Annie here too it just becomes that extra bit more tiring too. Annie has been amazing, and ‘Auntie’ Rowena has been looking after her during the sessions, but each time we break it means I’m not really getting a break. And evenings are hard too, as it’s not so easy for us to go out to eat with everyone, especially as Annie hasn’t been sleeping well during the day so is often exhausted by the evenings. But I am so glad that I am here, and I am so glad that Annie is here too. 🙂