Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Celebrating New Year's in Japan with Mimi & Papa!

Welcome to Japan Mimi & Papa!

On December 27th we welcomed Matt's parents to Nagoya, Japan! It was Mimi's first time to Asia and even though she was nervous about the 14 hour flight over the North Pacific Ocean she was able to muster up the strength in order to see her three beautiful grandchildren! Being separated from them has been a very difficult life transition for Chris & Minni and the mere thought of hugging Hannah, Abigail, & Josiah for the first time in 6 months was more than they could handle! 
The girls made signs to welcome their grandparents to their new country. They were beyond excited! I (Katharine) could not hold back my tears in anticipation of the sweet reunion that was about to occur between the grandparents and grandchildren.
The girls spotted Mimi & Papa with their luggage coming towards the gate... Mimi dropped everything and ran. And we caught it all on video- it was a beautiful moment full of joyful tears and lots of hugs. We made every Japanese person quietly waiting around us either nervous or happy because of the scene that we caused in the airport! But that's what the international arrivals area in airports are for and we aren't afraid to show it!!!
Mimi & Papa wanted to take their picture in front of the famous LED light dragon- I can't get over the joy emanating from their faces! Mimi and Papa also brought gifts for the kids. With my prompting they purchased and travelled with the amazing Barbie Dream House to give to the girls as their Christmas gift. We had no idea how big this thing was but it has been such a blessing as it keeps the girls entertained for hours during this season in which it is just too cold to play outside.
Josiah likes it too because it has a potty that makes a flushing sound. Boys are so easily entertained! 

Visiting our favorite places in Nagoya

After getting a good night sleep we took them to the Nagoya Train Station. It is one of the world's largest train stations by floor area! The traditional New Years decorations had already replaced the amazing Christmas decorations! The bamboo poles featured in the pictures above and below are called "Kadomatsu" and are used to welcome ancestral spirits of the harvest. You can read more about it by going here
Then we went on a walk to Tsuruma Park that is located near our apartment. The girls just couldn't get over the fact that Mimi & Papa were with them in Japan! Lots of hugs, giggles, "did you know" stories, and showing them every little thing that they have come to love about their new home. 
Chris took this picture of us on the train. We wanted to give Mimi & Papa a taste of what life was like for us before we had a car! Plus, there is no better way to get a feel for the city than to use every form of public transportation it has to offer! 
We made sure that their first meal in Japan was at our favorite 100yen sushi restaurant, of course! Chris claimed that he had "died and gone to heaven"! 
The next morning we went to Mitts Coffee Stand and enjoyed his fantastic quiche and lattes! The we went to visit Nagoya Castle but it was closed!! Several friends warned us about how Nagoya becomes a ghost town during the New Years holiday.  They were pretty accurate too. Everything shuts down including restaurants and tourist sites because everyone goes to their hometown and celebrates the New Year with family. 
We discovered a way (through a forest blanketed in leaves) to view the castle from the park behind the castle grounds. Matt is always taking us on unexpected adventures!! It turned out to be a beautiful view and the kids fed koi fish swimming around in the outer moat.

Mt. Fuji & Nagano

Since Nagoya had become a ghost town for the New Years holiday we decided to go on an adventure! We packed into the minivan and took a 4 hour road trip to Nagano & Mt Fuji!! Our plan was to stay in a hotel in Nagano (a beautiful ski area and the location of the 1998 Winter Olympics) after traveling to see Mt. Fuji. FujiSan is worshipped as a sacred mountain by many. When you are there in person, it is easy to see why. Mt. Fuji was absolutely beautiful. We made it right as the sun began setting and we watched the entire sunset. It was breathtaking! 

I'm so thankful for my husband & the many adventures he takes our family on. He is truly one of a kind and I am incredibly blessed to do life with him! I am looking forward to many more adventures in 2015!!
After we finished viewing Mt. Fuji we stopped for dinner at another favorite restaurant, CoCo Curry House and then we made our way to Nagano. Our hotel that we had booked was near the top of a mountain. The snow and ice on the roads became more and more dangerous the further up the mountain we went until eventually our tires would just spin and slide on the ice. It was quite terrifying and caused a lot of drama in the crowded car! We were only 1.4km from our amazing hotel but the minivan tires just couldn't handle the snow and ice. We checked the lodging around us and everything was booked so we ended up driving 4 hours back home. We arrived home at 2am. We were exhausted... and pretty bummed about missing out on our special vacation.

Osu Kannon & New Years Day

We wanted to show Chris & Minni a Buddhist Temple during their visit so we took them to Osu Kannon. There is a huge shopping arcade behind the temple full of shops, restaurants, souvenirs, & local goodies. We took in the sites, toured the area, and ate a big Turkish lunch! After visiting the temple I read about how Buddhists celebrate New Years Day online and I wrote a post about it on Facebook...
"Osu Kannon Buddhist Temple is getting ready for the most important holiday in Japan- New Year's Day- "At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen. Japanese believe that the ringing of bells can rid their sins during the previous year." (You can read more about Buddhist traditions and beliefs in Japan here.) Would you join us as we pray for the Japanese people to find forgiveness for their sins through the blood of Jesus? His sacrifice on the cross paid for their sins in full- they just have no idea because no one has ever told them! We are continuing to study Japanese so that we can tell them in their heart language!! Thank you for praying for us as well!

Mimi & Papa bought the girls yogurt dipped bananas with sprinkles at the food stands in front of the temple. What a fun treat!
On New Year's Day we ate the traditional American meal of black eyed peas, corn bread, ham, sweet potatoes, and other goodies thanks to another awesome care package from Katharine's mom! She is the best at helping us feel at home in our new country! She sends a package once a month!!! 

Their last few days...

After a long day of visiting Nagoya Port Aquarium with all three kids we were exhausted but nothing could stop us from making sure that Chris had yakiniku while he was here! It has become one of our top favorite meals in Japan! We eat cow tongue like it's no big deal. Minni wasn't feeling well so she stayed home and had a movie night with Abigail and Josiah. I know that she enjoyed her special bonding time way more than she would have enjoyed refusing to eat cow tongue!
On their last night in Japan, the girls and I took Mimi & Papa to the top of the Nagoya TV Tower. We watched the sun set and the city light up! The picture above is of Oasis21- a major bus terminal- and a popular area to shop, eat, and ice skate! The picture below is of Sakae, a major shopping area in Nagoya. There are many popular European and American stores such as H&M, Old Navy, Gap, American Eagle, Forever21, Adidas, & many high end shops! After New Year's Day there are serious clearance sales that have people lining up outside the shops and down the street, kind of like America's Black Friday. 

Saying Goodbye- it's the worst!

We said the dreaded goodbye on Monday, January 5th. Taking them to the airport was really hard. The kids realized ahead of time that this meant that they were saying goodbye to Mimi & Papa for a really long time. I couldn't stop crying because of the pain of separation and because of how broken Abigail's heart was while she watched them walk away. 

Doesn't that face just break your heart? It is part of the sacrifice that all missionaries make- leaving behind family to follow the call of God to share with those who have never heard the Good News! I recently read a blogpost titled "Does Missions Separate Families?" and this part really spoke to me...
"...lost brothers and sisters who live across the ocean, whose skin is darker than ours, whose language is different than ours, will be invited into God’s family, and will be called for the first time sons and daughters, and will be given a place at His table forever. One day we will come together, all of us, those who were far off, and those who were brought near, as one family, with exploding joy. And there in the presence of Christ, we will see that missions never separated our family at all."

Thank you for following our journey and experiencing our joy as we welcomed Mimi & Papa to Japan and our pain as we had to say goodbye. We are so grateful for your prayers for the Japanese and for our family, for your encouragement to us, and for your financial support.  We consider it a great joy and privilege to be right where we are- challenges, struggles, homesickness, and all- in Nagoya, Japan. 

Happy New Year!!

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