Sunrise from our apartment

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Updatd Blog - January 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

It had been over a month since I updated this blog so please read further down over six or seven postings to see what we have been doing over here in Japan.

We don't have a typical day routine on this mission but do keep pretty busy. On Wednesday nights we teach Eikaiwa (English) classes held at the church here in Fussa. Elder Arnell and I have been helping with the advanced class working on their pronounciation and conversational English. In turn we have been able to learn a few more Japanese words from our students. We have also been tasked to to missionary inspections in five of the nine zones in the mission which puts us out on the road two to three days of the week. We usually travel four to five hours a day on one of these trips. We get to meet with the missionaries--Elder Arnell tries to put on his military "white glove inspection" face, but they know he's a softee. We usually bring along some rootbeer, cheddar cheese, taco kits, toothpaste, deoderant or whatever else they are missing from the States as a reward. The requests from each companionship differs. We usually don't spend over $5 for what we bring but it brings joy into our hearts to see their faces light up when they see what they have been missing since they came out on their missions.

Our primary focus for our mission has been to get programs going for the Young Single Adults stationed at the three bases here in what is called the Honshu District of Tokyo. There are over 40 million people in this area. All of Japan is about the size of Californina and most of the people live in 1/8 of the land area--the rest of covered in dense forest or high mountains. It takes a long time to travel between the three bases or to the different apartments because of the congested traffic. The Japanese are very courteous drivers and there are very few road accidents and not even very many policemen out on the roads. In the almost four months that we have been here I think I have seen one policeman off the side of the road giving someone a ticket--maybe he wasn't even doing that. Elder Arnell got used to driving on the left side of the road pretty fast and we have become more experienced at driving and navigating the road system. We try to get over to the Tokyo Temple at least once a month with the Military District. They have English sessions at the temple on Thursday morning and Friday evening. You can go whenever you want thought and listen throught headphones.

There is usually a zone conference each month--usually split into three different days with three zones each because of the time it takes to get places. In one of the postings below you can read about the time all of the zones got together for Christmas. We attend as many of these zone conferences as we can so we can schedule apartment inspections while we have a big group of missionaries in one location. We all have cell phones and can keep close communications but being able to meet up with a group in person is always nice.

The missionary work differs at each of the three military locations. In Yokosuka they are mostly Navy and Marine. When the fleet is in there are a lot of people--when it's out it's a little sparce but then you have the needs of the families left behind to deal with. Since the ships are out 5-6 months at a time many of the families choose to go back to the states to visit while the military member is gone.

The Air Force is located at the base near Fussa and this is where we have our apartment. We live near a the major train station in Fussa and are about a five minute drive from the main gate. There aren't very many military YSA's here, but we do have four dependent kids as well as two Japanese sisters who both went to school at BYU-Hawaii and prefer to go to the Military English Speaking Branch of the church. This year we are going to combine the Yokota Branch YSA's with the Japanese Fussa Ward's YSA's and have family home evening and Institute classes together. We have been told that there are 4-5 Japanese young men who speak very good English. We have also been going out with the Branch President, Relief Society President, Branch Mission Leader and whoever else calls to meet with less actives.

Zama Branch supports the Army at Camp Zama as well as the Navy stationed at Atsugi Naval Air. The Navy is on the same timetable as Yokosuka as far as deployment goes. There are a lot of long term civilians working at the Zama base associated with intelligence, contracts, etc. Some of them have been over here longer than five years. It is the smallest of the three branches and there are only two active YSA's that we know of. I am sure there are more members of the church out here but they have chosen to keep their identity a secret.

We try to go to a different Branch each Sunday. Sometimes we stay overnight at the Navy Lodge or other base facility so we can meet with members of the branch at a time other than the three-hour church block. The Yen to Dollar rate is not very good at this time--about 83 cents will buy 100 yen. We have about $1,500 of fixed expenses each month with rent (71.000 yen), car, utilities, etc. Luckily we can buy gas (currently $3.05/gallon) on the base opposed to the 130 yen per liter off base. We do most of our grocery shopping at the commissary.

We hope all is going well for our family and friends back in the states as well as those on their own missions.

Mochi Pounding Ceremony

If you go to YouTube and put in Mochi Pounding Ceremony you can get some pretty good footage of what this is all about. It is performed sometime in the month of January. You can also look up Mochi in Wikipedia for a better description than I can give you here. We attended one held at the Zama Branch on Saturday, Jan 15th and will attend another held at the Fussa Branch next Saturday. Elder Arnell had a good time pounding the Mochi.

Typical Shrine Sale

Every month there is a Shrine Sale (like Flea Markets) near major train stations. I went to one in January and just wanted to post some pictures so you could see what they have to offer.

One of the biggest draws (for American's anyway) is to buy kimono's and other like stuff. In some booths they have large piles of kimono's like the picture on the left. The picture on the right is of a typical Japanese salesperson at the sale. I often wonder where all of these kimono's come from since the Japanese people don't usually wear them on a daily basis--at least outside of the home. The middle picture shows what some crafty person has done with some of the fabric and accessories attached to the kimono to create decorative pins.

There wer a lot of furs for sale. More piles of kimono's.

New Year's Eve with the Young Single Adults

One of the main reasons we stayed in Yokosuka at the home of John and Lora Lund over the Holday's was to support the Young Single Adult's on that base while they were gone. "The Fleet is in" which means the 6,000+ people assigned to the George Washington and other support ships as well as the people assigned to Atsugi Naval Air Support are back with their families or at least back on land. The Lunds host Family Home Evening for the YSA's assigned to Yokosuka. We planned a New Year's Eve party for the YSA's from Yokota as well as Yokosuka. We had 17 attend which was a very nice turnout. We had pizza at the Lunds and then took a 45 minute train ride into Yokohama and walked around China Town for awhile. The Yokota group stayed there to do some shopping before returning to the Air Force Base and the rest of us retured to Yokosuka and watched fireworks from a barge in the harbor by the base. The people in Japan celebrate the New Year for five days starting on December 30th. Most office and government businesses will close down for those five days. They celebrate New Years Day at sunrise rather than at midnight. They like to congregate on the highest hill or mountain or along the beach and silently watch the sun rise. Many of them go to a nearby Bhuddist or Shinto shrine and toss in a coin or put up a prayer board for good luck in the coming year. But mostly the five days are spent at parties with a lot of alcohol flowing.

Odowara Castle and The Beach!!

We do apartment inspections for the missionaries in five of the nine zones in the mission so we are out on the road quite often. Since we were in Yokosuka for two weeks we took advantage of being closer to some areas than usual--such as Odowara which is a two hour drive west from Yokosuka on a road that skirts a bay that feeds into the Sea of Japan.
A wider than normal Japanese road with a train in the background
There were people walking along the beach and quite a few on surfboards or just in the water. I'm sure this is a very busy place when the weather is warmer. It reminded me a lot of the road in Delaware between Cape Henlopen and down to Ocean City, MD.

Christmas Eve in Yokosuka

The weather in Yokosuka is a bit warmer than in Fussa where we live. We took a walk around the base and snapped these pictures. The golf area is the traditional way people in Japan golf. There is one very large "American" golf course in an area called Tama Armed Forces Recreational Area that reminds me a lot of Island Park in Idaho.

Christmas Party at Yokosuka

After the Christmas Party at the Mission Home we drove down to the Yokosuka Navy base to spend two weeks there while the family was visiting in Utah for the holidays. Sister Arnell enjoyed the "real" oven opposed to the combination convection/microwave one from our apartment. Elder Arnell was able to watch a few Holiday football games broadcast on AFN-Armed Forces Network. We attended a cookie exchange Christmas party with the Yokosuka Branch. I wonder if you recognize Santa?

Christmas at the Mission Home

On December 21st we had a mission party at the mission home in Tokyo. There are 81 sets of missionaries assigned to this mission. We had purchased 560 hot dogs and buns, chili, sauerkarut, and chips from the base to serve for lunch. I guess after being in a foreign country after awhile a good old fashioned hot dogs looks mighty good. Each zone put on a little skit (picture on the left) and they had a white elephant gift exchange (picture on the right). Along with the missionaries from Japan and America there are about 8 from Brazil, a few from England and Australia, a Sister from Mongolia and a new Elder from Thailand.

Tokyo Japan Trains and dining

We drove to the mission home in Tokyo and took a train ride down to Ikebukero Train Station which is two train stops from the mission home. It is the second busiest train station in Japan, the busiest being Shinjuku. This was actually our first train ride since arriving in Japan. It wasn't much different than taking the Metro in New York City. We have heard in Shinjuku they have people hired to push people into the train cars to pack more in. They have some train cars that are Female only so you wouldn't have to deal with being crammed up next to some Japanese guy for hours at a time. Japanese people apparently don't have personal space issues that we Americans are used to. They put on head phones and go into their own little world--quite often actually sleeping as they are standing. There are seats along the sides of the train car but after those are full everyone just stands. The picture on the left is of President Albrecht (mission president from Orem, UT--taught Accounting for years at BYU) and Elder Clint Hobbs from Salmon ID and of course Elder Arnell on the right. We went down to that area to have dinner and ended up at a newly opened TGI Friday's. President Albrecht has been in Japan for 18 months and really enjoys a real hamburger and American Food. The Hobbs arrived in October, just a month after we got here.

Christma in Bethlehem (Japan style)

The Yokota Branch and Fussa Ward had a Christmas program called "A Night in Bethlehem". Everyone dressed in period costume. They had one room with different Nativity sets on display and then another room with pictures of Christ's ministry. Everyone gathered in the Cultural Hall/Chaple and sat on the floor to eat a good selection of finger foods. The shepherds showed up telling of the Good News they heard from angels followed by the Nativity story. We all had a great time. Sister Arnell spent most of the evening in the kitchen but that was OK with her.

Driving in Japan

The adventure of driving in Japan isn't as bad as many of our counterparts in Africa or other parts of the world but that doesn't make it less interesting. I took these pictures of Japan's version of traffic cones. It sure beats the orange cones that are prolific on many roads in the US. We live in Fussa, Japan in an apartment about 2km from Yokota Air Force base. We are also working with military members stationed at Zama Army and Atsugi Naval Air Facility which is 40km from Yokota, about 25 miles. It takes at least an hour to drive that distance due to heavy traffic. We also go to Yokosuka Naval Base which is about 70km or 44 miles. We have made that trip in a litte as 1 hr and 45 and a long as 3 hours. Saturday and Sunday after 12:00 is the worst time to be on the roads. Public transportation is very good here but we usually just drive everywhere because if we took the train then we would be on foot when we got to where we were going and that would be difficult. We have been able to navigate fairly well with a big map book (called Super Mapple) a GPS that sometimes we ignore and then end up lost and wish we hadn't ignored it. That would be a great talk in Sacrament Meeting.