Sunday, January 13, 2013

Something About Hosts and Guests

Hello everyone! We have finally settled back down here at ARI. We’ve had a long journey to Kyoto, Tokyo, and back since the New Year began. Life here is dark and cold as ever. Jenny and I are now alone in this house for the first time. It is nice but also lonely. Lately we have been reflecting on hospitality and on being a guest. Our travels gave us good practice at being guests.

On New Year’s Eve we were invited to Jean Hae-san and Ban-san’s house for breakfast. They showered Katie with gifts. I think they liked her a lot. One of the gifts in fact was a nap-sack full of homemade rosemary bread that we could take on our trip.

That night everyone at ARI went over to Kikuchi-sensei’s house. He is a former director of ARI so he was no stranger to hosting farmhands. He and his wife had prepared traditional Japanese New Year's food for us called soba noodles. There must have been over fifteen of us sitting around his living room enjoying the meal. Afterward, we invited the volunteers over to our house for a few rounds of Uno while we waited on the new year to arrive.

Some of us lasted longer than others... :)
The next day we woke up and baked the traditional Japanese new year treat called mochi. It is basically cooked rice that has been pounded together. After baking, it puffs up and turns toasty. It is very, very difficult to chew. They joke that a few people die each year from choking on it. Later, we headed down to the local Shinto shrine where New Year’s festivities were in full swing.
Usually the area around the shrine is empty and peaceful, but on New Year’s Day it was hard to even walk through. Overnight, street vendors had lined up to sell many different kinds of food. We enjoyed our favorite, okonomiyaki, and tried a new one, takoyaki, which is fried dough balls with octopus. Everyone was praying, washing their hands in holy water, and receiving fortunes. Katie could not read hers, but after asking someone to inspect it she was assured it was “excellent.” We enjoyed an hour of Karaoke after the Shrine festivities.

The next day we woke before sunrise. Ban-san drove us to Nishinasuno station where Jenny, Katie, Kelly, and I started our adventure. It took us thirteen hours to hop 11 different economy trains to get to Kyoto. We stayed there for three days exploring monkey parks, temples, and food markets. We saw Geisha’s float down the narrow streets. We visited the Golden Temple in all its glory. We were even treated to a view of the city lights at night.

Waiting on trains!

It took us another full day on trains to travel to Tokyo. We stayed for four days and caught a sight of the Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, an Episcopal Church service, and a street that has all you need to start a restaurant.

All the sights were wonderful but we found that the heart of our trip was in the people that we met and shared it with along the way. In the Bible, I remember Jesus visiting a lot of people and eating dinner at their house. I had never given much thought to that sort of business. I’ve always just thought he did such things because he was a traveling spiritual teacher with very little money. But after this trip, I’m beginning to think there might be something more to it. So I’ll spend the rest of the blog talking about the immense hospitality we received while traveling in such an unfamiliar land.

When we arrived in Kyoto station, the patience had been sucked out of us by a full day of train riding. We took a bus into the city and got off at the right stop but didn’t quite know how to get to our hostel from there. We wandered around the city for a bit before deciding to call the friend who we were supposed to be meeting at the hostel. She came out to the street to find us and guided us safely to a little nook of a place that we would’ve never found.

Our friend’s name is Katie Young. She is another YASC missionary like us who worked in Japan last year teaching English. She decided to stay on another year to help a project in Sendai that is giving assistance to immigrant peoples that were displaced by the tsunami. She was traveling around this time also so we decided to meet up. She helped us to get cozy in the hostel and then took us out on the town to meet some of her Japanese friends.

Shota is from Kyoto but is living in Sendai. He is in his early twenties, loves stylish hats, appropriate scarves, super-fly sneakers, and American rap music. He and Katie work together. He and two of his friends treated us all to dinner and drinks that night. We weren’t sure how it would go since they only knew a few English words and we only knew a few Japanese words, but that did not matter too much in the end. We all shared the joy of being in good company, a warm room, full of food, and not on a train.

We spent the next day wandering through Kyoto in snow flurries with Katie as our guide. After we were all thoroughly frozen, she called Shota and we witnessed another amazing display of hospitality. His family invited us into their home for dinner. They introduced us to his grandparents and his father’s old high school friend. We all sat around in his dining room as his mother cooked different meats and veggies on a table top stove, serving them to us as soon as they were cooked. In our bowl we cracked a raw egg and dipped everything in it like it was some kind of sauce. Though the language barrier was there, smiles, food, and rice wine served as other forms of communication. Plus, Katie Young tirelessly translated.

Out and about in Arashiyama: Doug, Katie England, Katie Young, Kelly
That night, Shota took us up to see a view of the city that only the locals know about.

The next day, Katie Young left us to continue on with her own travels. We met up with someone that we had met at ARI. Occasionally, people will come to ARI to train for a program that is like the Japanese Peace Corps. Yukiko stayed at ARI for three weeks in November for this purpose. With her as our guide, we pushed through mobs of people to see temples and sweet shops. For lunch, we met up with Sasabon, a volunteer who also stayed at ARI during November. He brought his two children along. At first they hugged his legs tightly but by the end of our day we were making folded napkin art with his two year old daughter, Minori, and sword fighting with McDonald’s straws with his four year old son, Kousuke.

Yuki, Katie and Minori, Kelly, Doug and Kousuke, Sasabon
Also on the same day, we met up with Yuta, a Japanese graduate of ARI from this past year. He lives in the area so he traveled up to see us. We have been missing all the participants very much since they left in December so it was so nice to meet one of them again. Yuta was the youngest of last year’s participants. He is twenty-one. But what he lacks in experience he makes up for with vigor. Since his graduation in December, he has talked to his city government about organic farming many times. They were slow to help him at first but he was persistent. Soon they helped him find a piece of land for rent that had not seen the use of chemicals pesticides or fertilizers. He has already signed a two year contract for the use of that land. Now he is looking for a part-time job to subsidize some of the cost of starting his community farming project.

That night, Sasabon treated us to a dinner and drinks at his brother’s bar. Everyone there was excited to meet us and hear our story just because we knew Sasabon. We were truly honored.

Sasabon, Yuki, Katie, Yuta, Doug, Jenny
The next day we traveled to Tokyo. It was another long day on trains but, again, we had friends waiting for us at the other end. Sam Yawata works for the Trinity Episcopal Church in Tokyo. He helped to get us our visas. We met him first at the dedication ceremonies for the new Koinonia hall at ARI. Then in October we visited his church for a bazaar. He invited us to stay at his house sometime so we took him up on the offer. He and his wife Michiko, hosted us tirelessly for three nights. They gave all four of us very comfortable accommodations and delicious dinners and breakfasts. They live in a very quiet neighborhood of Tokyo. During our trips around the city I saw more people than I have ever seen in my life. It was nice to have a safe haven to return to each night.

One day in Tokyo, we met up with Leo, an occasional ARI volunteer who invited me and Jenny to his mountain cottage last September. He took us to the Imperial Palace and showed us the big business district of Tokyo. He used to work there for a chemical production company. He told us he was glad to have left that life behind. Now he spends his time hosting friends like us and traveling to other Asian countries where he volunteers for many different causes. For lunch he took us out to eat at one of his favorite places. I had Turkish crapes! It was wonderful to see our good friend, Leo, again. We were touched that he took the time to show us around.
Katie (snoozin'), Jenny, Kelly, Leo
Before Katie left, we went on a hunt for good "city lights" photo ops., and we found some!

On our last day in Tokyo we said goodbye to our sister Katie who had been with us through the thick and thin of the New Year so far.

Goodbye, Katie! You are missed!
At the same time we met up with a friend of ours from the University of Central Arkansas, Jackson Fliss. He was visiting his girlfriend and traveling around a bit while he was on break from grad school. We all stayed the night with Eric and Tauna. They are Lutheran Missionaries that we met at our orientation in Toronto back in July. Eric is serving as a pastor of an English speaking congregation in Tokyo. We stayed the night in their apartment and ate out at a Vietnamese restaurant. It was really nice to catch up with them and see how they are adapting to life in Tokyo. Of course we invited them up to ARI.

The next day we woke up early and Kelly, Jackson, Jenny, and I made it back to ARI in time to have lunch. Jackson was able to stay for one night. He sorted some soybeans with us and helped to chop firewood. We showed him the farm and its wonders. Hopefully, we showed him as much hospitality as we received from everyone else.

Now it is just me and Jenny back on the farm, huddled next to the heater. It is quiet and lonely. We find ourselves singing very loudly to fight back the dull sound of empty rooms. Anyway, we have faith that soon spring will come and bring with it a whole new group of participants to liven up the campus. We also hope that some of the friends we visited will visit us soon. Sasabon-san talked about bringing his family up for an English work camp in February. Maybe we can show him as much warmth and hospitality as he showed us. Company is one thing when you are at home in a constant churn of the usual crowd of people, but the concept is different when you are traveling far out in a strange land.

We thank God that we are so rich in friends and warm hearted persons.
God bless you all.

Doug and Jenny


  1. Thank you for the post, it was a great read and a wonderful story of hospitality... Blessings to you both.

  2. Thank you for this cheerful recounting of your most recent adventures. Your writing and photos bring your happy presence to me in such a delightful way.
    Our house is quiet tonight with only me here right now.
    A friend and I spent all afternoon at a conference for adoptive parents and we had a great time seeing old friends and making lots of new ones! We took a petition Pete wrote (for people to support adopted adults' right to their original birth certificates) and almost everyone who stopped at our table to chat signed it. We left feeling such solidarity from the adoptive parents' group who sponsored the conference :-)