Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Three typhoons and a camping trip

Today’s coffee: Costa Rica

Yes, you read that correctly. Three typhoons. Typhoons don’t usually come to Hokkaido; we often get the outer fringes, but not direct hits. This year at the end of August, we got three direct hits in one week… global warming? Actually, Sapporo wasn’t right in the middle. Eastern Hokkaido got the worst of it, with torrential rain and landslides and flooding. In Sapporo we just got heavy rain.

View from our campsite. Katoributa (anti-mosquito-incense-pig) hangs from the canopy.
But Keith and I had our heart set on a camping trip to eastern Hokkaido. Great hikes, gorgeous caldera lakes, delicious food… not to mention “Sunayu” (砂湯): the beach on Lake Kussharo (I’m going to call it “Kussharoko,” since “Lake Kussharo” sounds weird) where you can dig a hole in the sand and ONSEN WATER FILLS THE HOLE. We had to try it. Bad weather kept us from our Kussharoko camping trip early last summer, so we weren’t giving up this time, even though the typhoons had done a fair bit of damage to the area…

Keith is eyeing the debris piles for potential firewood. The shore of the lake should be behind the fence in the background...
Oh no! Sunayu!
… for example, Kussharoko’s water level was rather high, which meant that the famous Sunayu beach was completely underwater… sad face. Some parts of the campground were flooded. To get to the toilets, we had to cross three streams. I gave up keeping my feet dry, and wore flip-flops at all times. We won’t mention the number of bug bites I had on my feet.

But on the flipside, camping right next to the lake! Sunsets! Morning fog! Birds! (And crows. Stupid crows…)

Sunset over Kussharoko
I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to hike because of landslides or downed trees, but the trails were clear and dry (except the flooded part next to Kussharoko). The biggest problem was fog over the peaks. The locals said the fog hadn’t lifted since the last typhoon. But the fog made for some interesting and dramatic scenery.

Our first hike was Mokotoyama. The fog lifted for a bit right when we got to the peak. We couldn’t see the lake, but we saw the sea of clouds covering the lake. We enjoyed watching a large number of hawks soaring around the peak.

Almost at the peak, and the fog lifted!
Under the clouds, there's this really big lake...
There were probably 15 hawks circling the peak. (Do hawks eat bugs?)
The second hike was around the rim of Mashuuko (Lake Mashuu) to the peak of Mashuudake (Mt. Mashuu). It was a lovely, pleasant hike… it’s just that the peak was so swarming with bugs that we couldn’t stay there more than the 15 seconds it took to snap a picture of the sign as is my custom. Also, it was foggy. I’d love to do this one again on a day with less fog (and bugs).

Late-season wildflowers!

Peak obscured by fog (and trees)
Yeah. Not much point in staying here... possibly an all-time low for summit experiences.
A bit of an autumn feeling...
Finally can see the lake!

Finished! Our destination is in the background (still obscured by fog)
Camping culture is in some ways quite different than in the US. It’s rare for anyone to stay more than one night in the same campground. A lot of people travel alone by motorcycle, go to sleep when it gets dark, and leave as soon as it gets light, around 4 a.m.These sorts are pretty quiet and keep to themselves. But over the weekend… lots of families and big groups and loud parties. The campground was packed. I was glad to have earplugs. But it was nice to see families enjoying time together.

One group of guys occupied the space next to us for two nights. The first night they were up late… taking pictures of their kayaks by lamplight. I am not making this up.

Keith engages in his favorite hobby: making campfires.
Our campsite. The nearest onsen is right on the lake at the foot of the hill on the left.
Kussharoko, being a caldera with an active volcano on one side, has lots of little onsen all along the lake, in addition to Sunayu. We could see one of them from our campsite. Unfortunately, we were not able to bathe in that particular onsen, because it was barely obscured from public view by a hedge, and even then it wouldn’t matter… because it was a mixed bath. We’re not quite that bold. Thankfully there was another onsen nearby--a rustic outdoor bath in the middle of the forest, with perfect temperature.

Foot bath in Kawayu Onsen town. So nice after a hike!
Mt. Iou volcanic area
The sign in English reads "Hot Spring!" (Yay! Let's get right in!) but the Japanese reads "Beware of burns." Hmmm...
I’m happy to say that by the last day of our camping trip, the lake water had gone down somewhat, and we were able to dig our own onsen at Sunayu beach. I think most people just dig a bit, put their feet in the water, say “Sugoi! (Wow!)”, take their pictures, and get back on the tour bus. (Boring!) We, however, put on swimsuits and dug a hole big enough for both of us to sit in. Keith got all the way in. And we got some weird looks from the tour-bus crowd--two adult gaijin playing in the muddy water in the rain. “Metcha yogoreteiru!” (“That’s so dirty!”) said one. Lots of snarky replies went through my head, but I ignored her and pretended not to notice…

Yep. Water: very hot. No pictures of us sitting in the water, since my camera would have gotten dirty.
Eastern Hokkaido is a magical place for food. Did you know that Hokkaido is the only prefecture in Japan that is self-sufficient for food and even exports to the rest of Japan? We ate many delicious foods, but I think my favorites were butadon while passing through Obihiro and the pizza with soba (buckwheat) flour crust.

Soba crust pizza with fresh local vegetables! I'm getting hungry again just looking at this picture...
On Saturday night, we were in a bit of a bind. Missionaries don’t skip church, even when they are on vacation. After frantic searching on Google, we realized that the closest church was about 45 minutes away, over a mountain pass in Bihoro… and that our friends were serving in that church. And surprise! We got to witness their newborn daughter’s dedication! We headed back to their place a few days later for food and fellowship, including breakfast out in their favorite cafe, which a church member runs. I went home with an omiyage (souvenir) of two coffee seedlings.

I could eat this breakfast every day!
I named them Kona and Sharon.
All in all, I would highly recommend Kussharoko. Great place, lots of fun! But maybe don’t go right after three typhoons.

Did you know that there are horses in Hokkaido? (Our Japanese textbook constantly reminded us.) Keith is riding a "Dosanko," which is a breed of horses from Hokkaido!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Newsletter

Keith and Celia Olson
Newsletter #33
August 31, 2016

11th anniversary hike to Zenibako Tengu Yama! Sapporo is in the background.

Dear friends and family,

Thank you for praying! We are safely settled in Japan for our second term.

We arrived in Sapporo May 24, started our 3-month Japanese language “refresher course” May 30, moved into our new home June 11, moved our belongings out of storage June 16, went to OMF Japan Field Conference June 20-24, got our new-to-us 2005 Subaru Forester July 1, celebrated our 11th anniversary with a hike July 9, had a much-needed kitchen update August 8-9, and finished language school August 26. It’s been a packed 3 months juggling language study with working on our house.

We plan to start September with a camping trip, followed by working on our house, getting up to speed again with things at church, and catching up on various things that fell through the cracks while we were in school.

When we weren’t at language school or working on our house, we reconnected with friends: Yugo and his family...
... and... Ultraman?

Matsu House
Matsu House, on replace-the-kitchen day. (Not our car, by the way.)
As we mentioned, we have a new home. Our landlady during our first term, Mrs. Saito, offered us a larger house, closer to church, with a huge garden (by Japanese standards). (Her grandson now lives in our previous house.) Our new home belongs to Mrs. Saito’s aunt, who is now unable to live on her own, and Mrs. Saito is the caretaker.

Before we moved in, the 40-year-old house had been unoccupied for two years, but was in surprisingly good condition considering. The garden was (still is) overrun with persistent weeds (if you ever find dokudami in your garden, KILL IT), the wallpaper is flaking off, the kitchen was leaky and moldy, and the tatami flooring was rotten in places. On the other hand, the layout of the first floor will allow us to have a kitchen and living room in addition to tea room, music room, and dining room--perfect for having guests in a wide range of situations. And unlike the new houses in our neighborhood (box-shaped and boring with asphalt for a garden), this house has a lot of character. It just needs a lot of work.

Celia was hoping that it would be possible to quickly replace the kitchen unit and the offending flooring and wallpaper before we moved in. Keith had no such delusions; he expected that it would take at least a year before we got the house “as we like it.” We waffle between despair (will we ever be done painting the bedroom?) and excitement at the possibilities since we’ve been given free rein to do as we like with the house.

Kitchen, before
Kitchen, during. Our friend, Shino's dad, Mr. Inoue, is building us a bar counter.
Kitchen, after (?)
In one of those despairing times, God gave us a name for our new home: Matsu House. Matsu has two meanings in Japanese: “pine tree” and the verb “to wait.” Because of the double meaning, we chose to write it in Hiragana and Katakana: まつハウス.

Celia chose the name “Matsu House” as she thought of a beloved pine tree at her grandparents’ house, and remembered that the pine tree symbolizes eternal life in both Japan and the West. While in the West we use evergreen trees in our Christmas decorations, Japanese use pine during the New Year holiday. For the same reason, we chose a Japanese family crest for ourselves featuring three snow-covered pine trees.

Our family crest. It's called Yuki mochi mittsu matsu. (Say that ten times fast.)
Keith, on the other hand, chose the name “Matsu House” for its second meaning, which expresses our hope that in our home, we and our friends and neighbors would learn to wait and hope in God--to be quiet before him, to cry out to him in our need and in our joy.

We have certainly been waiting a lot recently. Waiting for God’s guidance regarding our house. Waiting to get our car. Waiting to finish house projects. Waiting for vacation time. Waiting for God’s leading regarding our new ministries. It seems that everything takes longer than we think it will. We’re not very good at waiting, so maybe that’s one reason God gave us Matsu House.

Right now, there are no pine trees in our garden. There is, however, a pine cone, collected on a recent hike. It’s on the table in the living room. We are waiting for it to open so we can plant the seeds. This pine cone seems a lot like us right now.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:22-26)

This picture of the table in our living room represents our last few months pretty well...

Prayer Points

  • We are thankful to be back at Wakaba Church. Please pray for us as we reconnect with our friends here and try to find a good balance for church responsibilities and our other ministries (Celia’s music ministry, Keith’s preparation to teach at Hokkaido Bible Institute [HBI]).
  • Please pray for us as we try to make our home a welcoming place, and for wisdom to find ways to creatively fix it up in a cost-effective way.
  • We will take some vacation time at the beginning of September. Please pray that we get some rest so we can start ministry refreshed.
  • The Wakaba Bazaar is October 15. Please pray that we and church members can make new connections with people in the community and deepen the connections we already have.
  • Keith plans to start taking classes at HBI November 22. Please pray that he can develop relationships with students and faculty, learn theological vocabulary, and get a good sense for how the school runs and how classes typically operate.


New Address
We have a new address! Let us know if you need it. Our permanent address in the US stays the same as before.

Language Corner
In Japan, there are said to be many gods. Thousands, in fact. One of them is the toilet god. (We are not making this up.) We photographed this sign in a rest-area toilet. The idea is to say, “please keep the toilet clean” in a cute (?) way.


Thanks for praying! May God be present to each of you as you wait for him.

Love in Christ,
Keith and Celia

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Our kitchen is functional!

Today’s coffee: Tanzania

Has it really been two weeks since construction on our kitchen started?? By Tuesday night (August 9) the kitchen was functional again, and I started unpacking the kitchen on Wednesday… all kitchen boxes had been unloaded by Saturday! (This is a big deal... we've already been living in this house for 2 months...)

Our house. The old kitchen is sitting on the sidewalk. (Not our car, by the way. We have a Forester, which is in the garage.)
End of day 1 construction: new drywall and back-splash; new insulation underneath!
The state of things when we came home from class on the second day.
Main part of the kitchen is finished and functional! (Except that we have a propane take sitting in our kitchen until Thursday...)
Meanwhile, our friend, Shino’s dad, Inoue-san has been building us a bar counter. Around cabinets that match the other side of the kitchen, he is attaching red cedar paneling (from BC!) and the counter itself is gorgeous red Onko wood (Japanese Yew), which comes from an ornamental tree which we also have growing in our yard. Inoue-san is cutting all the paneling pieces to size by hand--he has mad skills with the hand saw.

Installing the frame of our bar counter
Attaching the counter itself
Lots of clamps and braces... and a cooking magazine. We're living here, after all.
Clamps came off... so pretty! Now we just have to do something about the ugly wall...
Current status: red cedar paneling in progress.
The idea is to make our kitchen more than just functional--friendly and welcoming so that when friends come over, they feel like they can walk right into the kitchen to hang out while I’m cooking, or relax at the bar counter having tea or appetizers. We’ve had a few friends in our house even while things are under construction, and the counter already seems to draw people in.

Another exciting part of the kitchen is the DISHWASHER. We have a (tiny) dishwasher!! They are becoming more common in Japan, but most people still don’t have them. We had a friend over last night, and being able to put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher made such a huge difference in my ability to be present and relaxed. I can already see how the combination of a more open kitchen and dishwasher will make showing hospitality so much easier. (After a movie night with the youth group, it would usually take the two of us more than an hour to wash all the dishes.)

Keith starts the dishwasher for the first time!
We’re still waiting for the range hood and for propane tanks to be permanently installed outside, since we’ve chosen to have a gas stove. Right now we have a temporary fan and a propane tank sitting on the kitchen floor. We’ll also need to paint, since the walls… have 40 years worth of grime on them… yeah. We’re thinking red, and possibly part of one wall with chalkboard paint. But painting the kitchen is rather low priority. First we need to finish the bedroom, and probably next move on to the two rooms with flaking wallpaper and rotten tatami…

In the midst of all this, we are continually reminded that this kitchen, while being in our house for our use, is not only for us. This kitchen is a gift from God so that we can welcome people into our home.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Learning to Wait

Today’s coffee: “Hana” blend--that’s the signature blend at the new Tokumitsu shop (right next to church!! First visit!!)

It’s Monday, but I needed to get out of the house. Right now all the parts of our old kitchen are sitting out on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, three guys are busy in the kitchen replacing the insulation and messing with the pipes and wiring. Tonight there will be no kitchen, so we will eat leftovers out of the fridge, which thankfully didn’t need to be moved out of the kitchen.

Out of focus, but here's what things looked like this morning.
When we came home from class, this was in progress. We learned that Japanese houses are built quite differently than American ones. (Keeping the awesome 1970's lamp.)
Also, the bedroom is still in process. Keith is busy making preparations to paint… still. It’s been quite the task ripping down the wallpaper. The only other place I could retreat to is the “tea room” where we are currently sleeping, and which is hot as a sauna, since we thought it might rain, and thus closed the windows before we left for class this morning.

It hasn’t rained yet, but it needs to. Not that we are hurting for water, but the air is hazy and kind of stinks like it did a few years ago when there were forest fires on a neighboring island. Rain would be nice, to wash away the haze and maybe cool things off a bit.

A few weeks ago in class, I wrote a poem about waiting for rain. As I wrote, I recalled last summer in Seattle, when haze and stink from the seemingly endless fires in eastern Washington drifted west into the city. We waited and waited, but the rain didn’t come. And yet, at the same time, we knew that in Seattle, there would be no autumn without rain.

My poem, however, didn’t work very well in its original form. The idea of waiting for rain in the summer seemed obvious to one such as myself, having experienced many US west coast summer droughts. In Japan, summer means rain, but that rain doesn’t always bring relief from the heat. “It’s already hot, and you want it to get humid too?” a Japanese reader might think.

Thankfully, my teacher suggested a very descriptive word (炎天下 entenka) which fit both the necessary syllable count and the feeling I was trying to get. It literally means “under the burning sun.” Here are the first and second drafts, for those of you who can read Japanese. Let me know what you think. I’ve had some suggestions from another poetry-writing friend, so I will probably make some more changes later.

Draft 1:
浮雲が (Ukigumo ga)
空飾るのに (Sora kazaru no ni)
空頼み (Soradanomi)
心、かさかさ (Kokoro, kasakasa)
雨、いつ降るの?(Ame, itsu furu no?)
(A floating cloud decorates the sky, but it’s a fleeting hope. My heart is dry. I wonder when it will rain?)

Draft 2:
炎天下 (Entenka)
心かさかさ (Kokoro kasakasa)
空頼み (Soradanomi)
浮き雲ひとつ (Ukikumo hitotsu)
雨、いつ降るの?(Ame, itsu furu no?)
(Under the blazing sun, my heart is dry--fleeting hope. There’s a single floating cloud; I wonder when it will rain?)

I think perhaps the second version expresses more hope than the first. I probably felt better after talking through the poem with my teacher, so perhaps that’s why it ended up that way.

I’ve written lots of poems about perseverance and waiting. It would be nice if it rained today, but more than rain, we’ve been waiting for the new kitchen to go in so we can unpack… so we can cook… so we can start inviting people over to eat with us. We’re waiting for a lot of other stuff too. I’m learning (not always gracefully) to be content with where I am while at the same time not giving up on eventually getting to where I want to be.