Monday, February 17, 2014

Would Ya Look at That?!?

     Well would you look at that! Last weekend marked officially being in Japan for a month! A page has been turned on the calendar. I hate to be cliche, but time really does fly when you're having fun. It's like time hopped on the bullet train, or shinkansen, while I wasn't looking and left me on the platform wondering where it went. So when I posted last time I said I was about to take a trip to Tokyo, but what have I been doing with the rest of my time here?!? A month is a long time to just be playing in the snow and looking at the beautiful mountains, right? Well this is what I have been up to! I apologize in advance for the length, but a lot happens in a month!

     After the initial shock of getting here and moving into my dorm, work started. Okemoto-san, who is my boss in the International Relations department, had the great idea for the first few months of me being here to rotate around to the different departments at KEEP to get a feel for what each of them does, how they interact with each other, with the guests, and how they contribute to the overall success of KEEP. I couldn't have picked a better plan myself!

     My first placement was at the Paul Rusch Memorial Center. Paul Rusch was an American from Kentucky (but born in Indiana!) who came to Japan to help rebuild in Tokyo after the major earthquake in 1923. He was persuaded to stay as an Episcopal missionary working as a professor at Rikkyo, or St. Paul's, University. During that time, he saw a need for youth leadership based in Christian ideals and built, high in the mountains, a youth retreat. Later on down the road when he re-envisioned the organization, it became known as KEEP, or the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project, which was to be a model of community development in rural Japan. How do I know all this? Because the Paul Rusch Memorial Center is a museum dedicated to Paul Rusch's life! When I say this community reveres this man for what he did for the area, I'm not kidding. They have all of his passports, immigration documents, luggage, papers, letters, clothing, even his American Express from 1972 displayed in the museum. What is really quite awesome is that his house he lived in at KEEP is behind the PRMC and they have left it the exact same since his death and have made it into an extension of the museum. He was somewhat of a celebrity in Japan and you can see all the proclamations made in his name as well as all the gifts his friends, including everyone from ambassadors to emperors, had given him. So as a non-Japanese speaking person, I was obviously not being a tour guide or anything. No, my time was spent with the curator or the museum, Hata-san. Her and I had a lot of fun together. She has very good English and we would laugh a lot while working together on our different projects. My main project while there was to create a database of the Paul Rusch letters. Now what might the Paul Rusch letters be? I'm glad you asked! During Paul Rusch's life, he must have written thousands upon thousands of letters. Letters thanking people for donations to start KEEP, letters thanking people for donations to rebuild after a fire, letters inviting people to visit KEEP while they were in Japan, and I even read some letters from former students of his requesting him to use his klout to try and help get two family friends be admitted to Rikyyo University. All of these original letters and documents have been saved in filing cabinets, in folders labled with names of who the documents inside pertain to, in the back room of the Memorial Center. My job while there was to take these documents, with white gloved hands to keep these fifty year old documents safe, and scan them into the computer. Then, any handwritten English documents needed to be typed out in Word to be able to add to this database we are creating. Obviously as a native English speaker, it is a little bit easier for me to decipher some of these handwritings. Once all these documents are created and saved, the basis for this database needed to be created and each document needed to have topic words and keywords added in a huge excel sheet so one day this database of letters can be searched by name of author, what the letter was about, date, you name it. Hata-san said they have over a million documents in this back room and I thought maybe she mixed up million and thousand until it took me three days to get through four folders of documents. It will be nice once it is finished, but I think this is a job that is going to outlast my placement here. I will say, I thoroughly enjoyed my time doing it, though. It made me honestly think that I went into the wrong field of hospitality and really should be holed up alone in the basement of a museum or library or something doing research on items from long ago. Two opposite ends of the spectrum career-wise.

My first workplace! 
Someone had luckily already organized all of the names on the folders in the filing cabinets, so I could easily decipher the names on the letters. I had heard that Eli Lilly, the founder of the pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis for those of you not familiar, and his wife were big supporters so of course I went snooping through the names...
...and didn't just find the location of the Lilly Endowment folder, but the location of a folder for the Diocese of Indianapolis. I couldn't just leave it be, so I went snooping in the archives and found all these benefactors including people from my home church! It made me feel like I was meant to be here!
I felt like such a computer wiz after staring at this excel sheet for three days.

     So the PRMC isn't just a museum. They also put on different programs throughout the year for people staying at the hotel or the campgrounds or just visiting for the day. During the time when I wasn't staring at the computer screen, I got to help Hata-san test how much time would be needed for different programming. One of those programs was going to be making Anglican rosaries. While not many people in Japan are Christian, the idea that KEEP was founded on Christian principals is still very prevalent among many of the departments' daily activities. We figured it would take about two hours for this such program and we were three ladies going at a leisurely pace sipping coffee and having some laughs.
Hata-san is here on the left and Aya-san, who works in the office next to International Relations, is on the right. Our work on the rosaries.
Our (almost) finished products. The crosses hadn't come in the mail yet.
     I really loved how much passion Hata-san has for every aspect of her job and how she was always coming up with new and creative things to do. Being that KEEP is all about nature and the environment, there are a lot of animals in the area, for good reason, and Hata-san always had a fun project to start the day with. One day we made bird feeders out of teacups and another we made wreaths out of peanuts all to put on the trees outside the Memorial Center! For a city girl like me, it was a nice introduction to the nature here at KEEP, safe inside the building and watching from afar.
Our teacup feeders...they are a cup and saucer with the Seisen Ryo logo on them--very fitting.
Our peanut wreaths--all you preschool teachers should take note on this one!
Our feeders and wreaths on the trees ready for the birds--I felt like a Pinterest queen after this.
     Also, a little fun fact for you! Paul Rusch is considered the "father of American football in Japan" so a room in the Paul Rusch Memorial Center is dedicated all to football! It was nice to go in there and feel a little bit like home. It was actually quite interesting seeing how the game has progressed in a different country and how many college teams there now are. They even have a huge bowl game just like in the US. It's called the Rice Bowl and is held in Tokyo each year. This year it was around the same time my UCF Knights won the Fiesta Bowl.
I have still yet to figure out the connection between Japan and Notre Dame, but they also have a football signed by Lou Holtz, so it's got to be something notable. If anyone can shed some light, my curiosity would thank you!
Not exactly thrilled about some of the sports paraphernalia around the place, but hopefully I can change that.

     That basically sums up my work for the week or so at the Paul Rusch Memorial Center. I had a few days off here and there until Jennifer Corwin and Bishop Stacy Sauls of the American Committee for KEEP came into town. The ACK, as it is better known as, is the committee that supports KEEP with funding and support stateside. As some of you may know, when I went to Chicago to apply for my long awaited visa, I met with Jennifer and she gave me an absolutely FANTASTIC orientation introducing me to KEEP the organization, KEEP's location, Japanese customs and even gave me a few introductory Japanese lessons. Without her guidance throughout all of this,  I would have been grossly unprepared. I knew it was cold, but from her I found out layers would be my friend and man was she right. Jennifer serves as the Executive Director of the ACK and is such a great resource. I guess not getting my visa on time was a good thing because it gave me the chance to meet with her. I originally met Bishop Sauls in New York during our YASC orientation. He works at The Episcopal Church Center as their COO as well as the president of the ACK board. The purpose of their visit was to attend the KEEP board meeting and just to show their support and to hear from all the different departments what they needed most from the ACK. They let me sit in on one of the sessions where they met with young people representatives of the departments to ask them about what they think the ACK can do for them. It was a really productive meeting! We started with an icebreaker of "What is most important about KEEP?" and got some really great answers that showed that KEEP has some really passionate people working for them and there is great promise for the future if these people become the leadership of the organization. After that, it was just a brainstorming session on what they want to see ACK do for them. It ranged anywhere from "Teach us English so we can communicate better with foreign guests" --to which they just pointed at me and said "Here she is!", to researching ways places like KEEP in the US do things so they can make the nature center and nature programs more handicap friendly for disabled guests. It was really quite informative and a great way to start my time at KEEP because I was able to gauge the health of the organization I was coming into. After that it was meeting after meeting after meal after meal. Everyone wanted to meet with Jennifer and Bishop Sauls to voice their opinion and give an update. Bishop Sauls was only here for a few days so it had to have felt like a sprint for him. Since Jennifer has been here many, many times before and has worked for the ACK for seventeen years, she knows many of the people here personally, so I got to tag a long as she made lunch, coffee and dinner dates with everyone. It was so great to have someone that speaks Japanese introduce me to these people so now I feel comfortable enough speaking with them and creating relationships even after she's gone. It was also nice to have her here because one of my big projects I am starting here is creating what we are calling an 'employee photobook'. There are so many different departments and so many people working within them, it is hard to keep track of where people work and such. So my task is to go around to each department and photograph each employee and put it into a book that we can give to all the departments, keep at the head office, and give to the KEEP and ACK boards. With Jennifer's knowledge of Japanese and familiarity with employees, it was nice to have her here to help me start. We also used this time to double as a survey time to see what kind of English classes employees want to see. Another large task of mine during my year here is to provide English classes for the KEEP staff. I have to come up with a proposal to present based on what time I think would be best to hold class, what format the classes would take, what sort of content I will provide, etc. etc. We started surveying the staff to get some of these answers so I could start working on that proposal and hopefully start the classes in the middle of March when I am finished with the departments tour. Jennifer stayed for almost two weeks so we got to have a lot of fun together. Like I said, she has many friends here and she let me tag along to meet them, which led to me trying most all of the traditional Japanese food I can even think of. She wanted to get all of her favorites in before she left. I'm thinking of doing a post at a later date of all the food I've eaten so far. Stay tuned!
A meeting of the minds--other ACK board member, Herb Donovan who is a professor at Rikkyo University, can be seen at the end of the table in green, Bishop Sauls is in the middle in the blue and Jennifer is in the red next to him with all the KEEP staff gathered around.
Brainstorming ideas--as well as the names of the ACK board.
All the meeting attendees in the chapel of Seisen Ryo.

     Like I said before, KEEP is big into Environmental Education. They have huge programs for families to come and learn about the animals in the area, visit the farm, learn about where there food comes from and how to eat healthier and just get an overall outdoor experience that is rare in the very industrialized Japan. Even the nursery school, St. John's, is well known for its outdoor based curriculum. As you can see it is one of KEEP's big initiative to bring nature appreciation to the people of Japan. This year celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Environmental Education program at KEEP. The four ideals that KEEP was founded on are food, health, faith and hope for youth with environmental education and international outreach added in the 80s. To celebrate, KEEP held a ceremony at the Nature Center here in Kiyosato. It was attended by many local dignitaries as well as former employees of the various environmental education programs. It was a reunion of sorts. I went with my boss, Okemoto-san, for the opening of the ceremonies and then we left them to continue their programming. They were also putting on a larger celebration in Tokyo at Rikkyo University because of their ties to the university and the many supporters of KEEP now living in Tokyo as well so a few representatives from the embassy could join. Jennifer, who had extended her stay beyond just the board meeting, and I rode the three hours to Tokyo with the rest of the group from the Environmental Education department. Once there, everything was put into overdrive. The whole room was transformed into a place to put on their event for the guests coming. There was a presentation on the history of the Environmental Education program and what they hope for the future before there was a breakout session to brainstorm ideas on where people see the  program moving in the future and what do they think needs to be done to ensure it continues to grow. After all the formality, there was the obligatory party afterwards that was so very Japanese. There was a speech made by the president of Rikkyo University to introduce the man that would give the toast (KANPAI!). There was beer and wine stationed all around the room so everyone had a glass, or two in my and many others case, because the toasts kept coming! After that was eating and networking on speed. You have not networked in the business world until you have networked in Japan. Maybe it was just because Jennifer and I were quite recognizable, but every time I turned around there was another person wanting to talk to us and trade business cards. Not that I am complaining because I met some really interesting people. I met a man that works for the World Wildlife Foundation of Japan, a man that works for the Ministry of Agriculture, a woman that puts on agricultural events for Suntory, a man that works for the Scout Association of Japan (the Boys Scouts he told us) and even a guy that is working on a "mammalian genome project." I only remember all this because I can look back at all the business cards I received. Now let me pause here and explain about how business cards work in Japan. There is a certain way to trade them and receive them. When you give yours out, make sure your name is facing the receiver and you are holding it with both hands and then receive their card with both hands as well. Business cards aren't something that are meant to be thrown in a pocket either, they are to be examined and put away nicely. There is a whole market for office supplies that revolve around this ritual. I can honestly say I now have a case for my personal business cards as well as a book for all the business cards from other I have accumulated. It is definitely a habit that I'm bringing home with me. I joked about this, but I can totally see why the Pokemon trading cards caught on, it's like trading business cards for kids! 

The Nature Center at KEEP where they kicked off the festivities.
The room being set for all the guests.
Jennifer and I were among the guests of honor.

Brainstorming session.
Exploring Rikkyo-or St. Paul's-University with Kuroda-san who is a prominent man both at KEEP as a board member and the University.
The on campus chapel at Rikkyo's--it was founded as an Anglican University. 
The chapel felt a lot like home for some reason...must be the big choir balcony.

Party after the event-Kanpai!

     After the event, I stayed with Jennifer at a friend of hers' house, the Meshinos. The funny thing is, I met one of their daughters, Sara, already in Chicago when I met with Jennifer back in November, so it was neat to stay with them and have them show me around Tokyo the next day. They were the nicest people ever, taking a stranger in and feeding them and letting them stay the night! We talked a lot over breakfast about the places to go and what I needed to check out and how much the enjoy going to KEEP and so on. I was to catch a train around five, so we decided going to the Asakusa temple in the middle of Tokyo would be the easiest and most interesting thing to do with so little time. We walked through the temple and ate street food and just people watched--Tokyo has the absolute BEST people watching outside of US theme parks!

The Meshino house...the garage is underneath!
The sakuras had started to bloom--I don't know how they are after the snow.

The gate to the Asakusa Buddhist Temple.
The entrance to the temple--the smoke is where you are supposed to cleanse yourself before you go in. There are also fountains on either side to continue cleansing before you go in.

Some beautiful person in front of the temple.

Getting my fortune in front of  the temple

I wasn't very happy with my fortune, so...

...I tied it up and left it with the others that people didn't like.

Leading up to the temple was wall to wall people--with shops on either side.

Jennifer and Kanae, my guides for the day

Driving to the train station I got to see the iconic Sky Tree.

I thought it was funny to say that my train was leaving from Platform 9 3/4--the Harry Potter nerd in me.

Jennifer snapped one last shot from our time together--me with my train that would take me the three hours back to Kiyosato

     After my little side trip, it was back to work as usual. My next placement was at the nursery school, St. John's. The first two days I was there, I started in the morning with the one to two year olds. It was nice because they don't know how to speak Japanese, I don't know how to speak Japanese--it worked. That is until they brought a book over and I started making up my own story in English and they just looked at me and walked away. I would have lunch with the little ones and then head over to the three to six year old room. The next three days after that, I was strictly with the older kids. I had a lot of fun with them because I was like the new toy, all the kids wanted to play with me and show me around. I took to drawing pictures and labeling them in English for them and then they would tell me what it was in Japanese. Surprisingly,  I learned a lot of words from them this way and practiced with them because right now I am at about the same level of learning Japanese as a four year old. One kid knew a lot of English, so I brought a few English books from the library that he and I practiced with in the morning before class started. While it boosted my ego in all of them wanting to play with me at once, my ego was crushed at lunch time when they would say something to me and then laugh because I didn't understand. I don't care what anyone says--there is a hierarchy to where you sit at lunch at any age, anywhere in the world. Like I said forever ago, at the beginning of this post, St. John's is well known in the area for its curriculum focused on outdoor activity. Every single day these kids were outside either playing on the playground, taking hikes to the different locations at KEEP or having their "forest hike" day. I was thoroughly unprepared for this and the cold, me being an indoor animal and all. I'm not kidding, these kids are tough. The only time I saw a kid cry was when he threw himself down a hill body sledding and face planted at the bottom. This amount of outdoor activity would be unheard of in the US. American schools would have called the dreaded "indoor recess" with the amount of snow we have here. Another observation I made was that these kids are fearless when it comes to nature and I think that is a by-product of the outdoor program. They were very observant when it came to leaves and tracks and most had picked up walking sticks by the end of the hikes. I think it is something that is really lost with kids these days in the age of the internet. Putting the whole being cold the entire time aside, these kids were a blast and taught me so much. I want to go back throughout the year and practice my Japanese with them.

Mimi--my friend the whole week with one of my labeled masterpieces.

Snack time around the campfire when it was actually warm one day.

My friend with really good English on the tractor at the Farm Shop store--the original John Deere family were big benefactors of KEEP.

Senseis on the seesaw--catchy

Nature hike to the forest campsite.

The forest campsite on my last day.
Kids lighting the campfire--I wasn't kidding when I said they were fearless. Don't worry there is a teacher right there behind that blue arm.
Playing on the frozen stream to get ice for the ice sculpting.
Teacher with a blow torch and knives to create shapes in the ice chunks from the stream.

Snack time over the campfire--mochi (pounded rice cakes), sweet red bean soup, popcorn and warm milk

     The last placement I've had has been at the Shizen Gakko, which is the Nature Discovery Center. I like to think of it as a sleep away camp for families. It is a facility that houses families like a hotel, but puts on nature programs around KEEP. It is a way for families to get away and spend time with each other in an environment that they might not be used to, like one family I talked to that lives down south along the coast. They do nature hikes and the such. One program that I did get to participate in was the building of かまくら, or kamakura, which are Japanese style igloos. The instructors took the parents to build these while the kids did another activity and came back to play later. I don't have much more detail on the programs because I was in the kitchen most all of the time I was there. These families not only stay here, but there is an industrial sized kitchen that serves them meals on site, too. It was just like back in college during my food prep labs, cutting and washing vegetables, dredging foods, and even making those fun rice shapes called onigiri. I also helped serving one afternoon at lunch as well. Most of the dinners they wanted me sitting with the families and interacting with the kids which was a lot of fun. I like to say that I can now tell people I've worked under a Japanese chef and she was much nicer and way less frightening than any American one I've worked under. One day, I got to participate in a program that the kitchen put on for the parents. A woman came in who was an expert at making Yamanashi prefecture's well known dish, ほうとう, which is hōtō. It is a noodle dish and we learned how to make those noodles. It was an unexpected little treat when I thought I would just be preparing food for dinner. What I really enjoyed about this time I had here was during the staff meal times we all got to just sit and talk. One lady, Yuko, and I had a great time trying to use our limited Japanese and English to converse with each other, but as I am finding with a lot of people here, she knew a lot more English than she thought she did. That's been my favorite part about being here, the getting to see people open up to me and use the English they didn't think they knew and watching them get excited and gain confidence. It helps a lot to have a dictionary on hand of course, but that's half the fun. Having pictures of family and friends and my dog on my phone is an easy conversation starter, too. I was supposed to do a second week in the kitchen at the Shizen Gakko, but because of the heavy snow storm they cancelled all of the programming.

Parents carving out the kamakura--it was pretty sophisticated with stairs leading up to the top where there was a slide into one of the rooms.

Some of the kitchen staff that I worked with every day.

Suprising Yuko in the dining hall.
I made about forty or so of these bentōs for families to take on their hikes for lunch.
Standing next to one of the chefs I worked with all week and the hōtō lady.
Rolling out the soon to be noodles.
Parents cutting the noodles.
Putting the noodles in to cook.
Hōtō eating time! It's fun for all ages!
     Outside of work, I've been doing a little language learning on my own. Every Tuesday night, I hop in my little car and drive down the mountain into Nirasaki for a two hour Japanese class. My teacher is also a professor at a university in Kofu, the capital of the Yamanashi Prefecture we are in. The class isn't very big, but it has a nice intimate feel to it. One student is an American from Washington that teaches English at one of the nearby high schools, so his Japanese is pretty good. The other girl that comes is learning English. Those two come for the conversational part of the class, I come for the worksheets and preschool style learning, but hey, you have to start somewhere. My teacher also brings her son and his friend because she said this is the only time they'll actually work on their homework and not sit in front of the computer or TV. I was glad to hear kids are the same everywhere. It is nice because we all learn from each other in a setting that isn't work and doesn't have to be professional so we talk about innately stupid things. Of course, being the book worm that I am, I also now have two library cards. One is to the library in the Civic Center where I take the Japanese class, and the other is to the Hokuto City library, which is the one closest to me. Obviously I am not checking out War & Peace translated into Japanese or anything, I am really there to check out the kids books to practice reading the hiragana I am learning. I feel a little silly going into the kids' section with no kids, but actually it works to help practice! So far I am an expert at using さむい, or samui, which is cold, ゆき, or yuki, which is snow, and かわいい, or kawaii, which is cute. I'm a woman of many words.

My Kumon, flashcards, workbook to trace hiragana and my book to practice writing the hiragana...I'm serious when I say I feel like a preschooler again, but I'm loving it!

My library cards. Oh, did I also mention I am a rewards point member of the local grocery store, Ogino, now too?
My Hokuto City library bag--FREE with membership. ALSO--big plus, they don't have library fines in Japan, you just can't use your card until you return your book. They were baffled that fines even exist. I thought one librarian was going to faint when I said I once had $116 in fines. 

     I wanna say a huge thanks to my dad, or as his daughters and close personal friends of ours lovingly call him Gorilla Ken, for my first HUGE care package in Japan. Once I got here I realized I had checked and rechecked every nook and cranny in the house while packing, except the closet my Northface jacket was in. While this might not be an issue in some places what with my brand new, full length winter coat I got for Christmas, but this is Kiyosato and God and his weather demons laughed in my face. So my care package most notably contained my jacket that I now wear as one of the layers under my big coat. Also, Japan is a country of moderation when it comes to sweets and I am one that doesn't just have one sweet tooth--they're all sweet, so he sent a giant bag of Jelly Bellys, a two pound bag of Skittles and a two pound bag of Sour Patch Kids, a family size bag a M&Ms and some Valentine's candy. Ashamed? Never. So if you were thinking of sending candy in a care package, my glucose levels would appreciate it if you kept it to a minimum. I also got my Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal and Bible so now I can actually follow along in church when they're speaking in all Japanese. I know, I know. What kind of missionary am I that I left all those at home? One that's bag was already twenty two pounds overweight!
All the way from the states in 6 days!
I should be embarrassed, but I'm not.
     I would also like to point out that this whole process started a year ago this past weekend. Our discernment weekend where all of us YASCers met for the first time in Florida seems like just yesterday, but everyone is pretty much almost half way through their time at their placement. I know a year ago, this all seemed just a figment of our imagination, but it really happened! I like to think I made some really great friends by only leaving my comfort zone. These people made me look at myself in a whole different light and I can't thank them ALL enough. I'm so proud of each and every one of us for all that we have done since that day we met! Remember these kids?!? Also, this year's class of potential YASCers just finished up their discernment weekend yesterday. I wish all of them luck in deciding whether following in our footsteps on an amazing journey is the right choice for them!

Our final day together at the discernment weekend. While not everyone chose the missionary path, they all contributed in some way in making this weekend a truly meaningful one. Thank you!!!

     Thanks for making it to the end on this long one, but I figured it could be a good Monday morning read on this President's Day holiday. 

Until next time--


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