Last Post in Japan: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned

Well, here it is…my last post as a program host and DJ in Japan. Hopefully not my last post as a writer, but I’m still mulling over what direction I want my next blog to go in if I have one. I have some great ideas, but also some other goals that may temporarily interfere with writing on a regular basis. That being said, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons while being over here that I wanted to share. Some are heavy, and some are light-hearted. My typical dichotomy. Enjoy the random pictures from my time over here!

Lesson 1) I have been taking precious relationships for granted. Sometimes it takes being separated from the ones you love to realize how much God has gifted you in that area. I even consider myself a very social and loving person, but for one reason or another, I tend to hold people at a comfortable distance so as to not be crushed if the relationship ends or even greatly diminishes. That fallacy leads to only nearly great relationships, and I’ve realized that no matter how I’ve been hurt by friends or loved ones in the past, I shouldn’t let the past have any sort of control over what may or may not happen in my future, especially in something as important as relationships.

Lesson 2) Anyone can learn to use chopsticks. I mean this literally and figuratively. Figurative chopsticks being ‘things we are unfamiliar with’, obviously. When being thrown into a foreign culture, for any amount of time, it causes a shift in the way you view the world and yourself. This may sound elementary, but you all of a sudden realize that the place you’re currently in isn’t just a spot on a map, but a place with real people and real customs, in some cases COMPLETELY different from your own. You get an insider’s look at how a person growing up in a certain place, views the world entirely differently than someone on the other side of the world does. After some time, you find a way to blend the culture you’ve grown up in with the culture you now inhabit. Basically you learn to use the chopsticks, or starve. For some this may cause a shift in their core beliefs and/or values, for others they may be even more strengthened in what they already believe and be even closer to being able to relate to others on a deeper level.

Lesson 3) Japanese television is REALLY hard to get used to. I’m not joking when I say that I spent a grand total of maybe 4 hours where I was intentionally watching Japanese TV. (Not counting when it was on in the background while I was eating in the cafeteria at my dormitory) At first, it was funny because it was so obnoxious, then it quickly lost its luster. They eat food on almost every show. Like…you’ll be watching the news, and one moment they’re talking about N. Korean plans to launch a satellite and the implications that will have on their society, and the next second they are all taste testing some Japanese delicacy and talking about how delicious it is. It’s hilarious! Don’t even get me started on the shock value of Japanese game shows. All that being said…the Japanese are hilarious when they want to be 🙂

Lesson 4) God is always pursuing us. I’ve talked with a couple of close friends about my faith journey while living in Japan, and I’ll give you the abridged version. It has been a rollercoaster. I have had some of my highest and lowest moments in my walk with God while living over here. Going from a society where I heard Christ proclaimed multiple times a week, was involved in student ministry, and had friends keeping me accountable in my faith, to living in a society where Christ isn’t proclaimed at all was much harder than I thought it would be and came with consequences. We aren’t meant to walk alone in our faith. There’s a reason Paul had Timothy. There’s a reason the disciples were sent out in pairs. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t know some Christians over here, or even that my friends didn’t encourage me from time to time. I’m saying that I didn’t seek out a dynamic of group growth that is needed in a Christian’s walk with the Lord. Going long periods without those needed interactions left me feeling numb among other things, which was my own fault. But God in His greatness still found ways to use me, even during times I was straying away from Him. On multiple occasions someone would blatantly ask me about my faith, and even make plans to grab a drink or a bite to eat and talk about God, faith, and purpose. I was baffled at the lack of knowledge of who Jesus is over here. One girl had never heard the two words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ put together, and thought that Christians had to spend years going door to door and selling books and pamphlets. There were far more misconceptions than that. There were times when I would hear myself professing Christ and wonder to myself why I even deserve to carry such an amazing message in my current wayward state. I finally realized though, that I will NEVER deserve to know, or even speak about Christ’s love. It’s by the Grace of God I even know what I know, and it’s the Spirit of God working inside me that yearns to love and speak truth to others. Once I realized I wasn’t even in the equation, and that I am just a vessel being used, it took the guilt and pressure off of me and I just spoke into their lives and prayed that God would reap. I have been constantly reminded that God is pursuing me even if I feel like I’m not worthy to be pursued, and that His love and grace far outreach our human expectations for what they should look like.

Lesson 5) When someone in Japan asks if you want ‘tako’, it doesn’t mean a Hispanic ‘taco’. Tako is the Japanese word for octopus. Write that down.

Lesson 6) God provides. This isn’t a new one to me, but rather one that repeats itself over and over again in my life, especially in times of trial. He gives me what I need, when I need it. He provided people over here that became amazing friends, and really even family. He provided a place to stay, where food was taken care of and there were people to help me with paperwork that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do by myself. He provided a fun workplace with opportunities to travel around and see different parts of Japan and some other surrounding countries. He provided me a job that allowed me to explore my creative side and some free time to pursue other interests that I had put off, like writing, reading, or film work. I could go into great detail about how God has provided for me over here, but really if we all take a step back and look at our life like a timeline, it’s so apparent that God takes care of us. If you are a child of God, even parts of your life that are hard and messy, turn into good things on the other side. The most important thing to remember is that if God is so richly blessing us, we are responsible to unclench our fists and give back to others in need. The parable of the talents comes to mind.

Lesson 7) Japanese people are the most polite people ever. You might be saying to yourself…”Wow, that’s a pretty big generalization”, but I honestly mean it. I know they have a past (like every nation), but their current cultural expectations of how to treat others, is spread across the country in a way I’ve never seen. I’ve had a man in Tokyo walk 5 blocks out of his way to show me where I needed to go. I’ve been given gifts by two different Starbucks crews when they found out I was leaving the country. I’ve had locals come up to me and offer to show me where the most spectacular spots are in the area when I was traveling. Even amongst themselves, they give gifts to their family and co-workers after they’ve been traveling to other prefectures. Politeness is in their language, their postures, and in their greetings. I have been blown away time and time again this year by how these people show respect to each other.

Lesson 8) I can do WAY more than I thought I could. Those of you who know me, obviously know that’s only because of God working in me. God has gifted each of us in specific ways, and wants us to shine for Him in those specific ways. Moving to Japan, learning and performing a job that I had ZERO experience in, learning conversational Japanese, comprehending Japanese business practices, and being a world away from family and friends for a year were all things that I would usually shy away from in fear of failure and rejection.  For whatever reason, God granted me some gumption to say ‘yes’ with only a blurry view of what living in Japan might look like, and the results have been confidence, experience, and memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. What journey might God want to take you on, to grow you in very specific ways? Do you want to grow?

Lesson 9) Here’s a no brainer: Regular exercise and healthy eating will put you in good shape. I’ve always had a long and slender build, but it’s been interesting to watch how my weight fluctuates while being over here in Japan. Before I started biking 20 min to work at HFM, I actually gained some weight because I was eating baseball player sized meals (living in the Carp dorm) and only biking 5 min to work and then sitting all day. When my schedule changed and I started biking all the way across town to work I dropped several pounds. Then, my legs started to get huge because of all the biking that I was doing and my weight shot back up. When I started working out in the mornings a few days a week, I noticed another increase in weight, and when I started swimming a few nights a week, I saw a loss. I guess I’ll say it was more of a “weight re-distribution”, than a weight gain/loss. The only reason I watched my weight that closely is because there was a nice scale right by the showers and it was easy to step on and see what had happened, and Japanese people would allllllways ask me my height and weight in kilos. Eating foods with basically zero preservatives, which are fresh and well-balanced, has made me more conscious of what I eat… in a good way and I’m definitely in the best shape of my life. I’m used to working out, but I’m hoping to bring this habit of healthy eating back to America with me. I’ll need some accountability partners.

Lesson 10) I can’t remember where I heard this, but the quote: “You usually don’t discover what you love to do, you re-discover it” has really been on my mind lately. One good thing about being separated from a comfortable place for an entire year is that you can really explore parts of yourself that didn’t get a lot of exercise in your bubble of comfort. I’ve rediscovered my love of capturing a moment and telling a story in speech and writing, of meeting new people and making new friends (not a shocker), of traveling and experiencing different cultures, and finally of telling stories through filming and video editing. Now this last one might be a surprise to some, since I don’t talk about it a lot. I started experimenting with editing film at the end of high school and then took 2 or 3 classes in editing, directing, and storyboarding in college. I remember the first time one of my videos was shown in front of an audience (approx. 1,000 people) there were moments of roaring laughter and then almost everyone applauded at the end. It was my first time being a part of something that I liked to do and other people enjoyed too. Then…(here come the excuses), life happened. A mixture of different circumstances led me away from having the hardware, software, or time and really even the heart to pursue any projects in this field. But now, I can’t make those excuses…and I don’t want to, even if I could. I’m ready to take chances and see what happens. It doesn’t always have to be a big change all at once. In my case, I plan to do side projects to gain experience before jumping further into it. God will either bless it or close doors appropriately, but it’s my job to take steps and I have more confidence to do that now than I ever have. Is there something that you love to do that may be risky, but you’re more interested in making excuses for why you’re not doing it? Is living a safe/sheltered life actually living?… or is it just surviving?

For those of you who have read my blog and encouraged me to keep going, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about this journey I’ve been on for the past year. Like I previously mentioned, I may start another blog, so stay tuned to see what direction I go in. I also hope that you were somehow encouraged or inspired…or maybe just got a good chuckle from something you’ve read here. If you hear nothing else, hear this: Take chances and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. God can do more with our messes than we can do by playing it safe, and it glorifies Him more in the long run when others see how He’s worked in our lives. Thank you again, and God bless!

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New Zealand Adventure: Day 6 & 7 (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)

Day 6 & 7, Queenstown, New Zealand (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)

Now, if someone would’ve told me before I went to New Zealand that they were going to Milford Sound, I would probably say: “Cool, where’s that?” When Jacob told me that it was a part of the itinerary, I performed an image search on Google and was completely blown away. If it was this beautiful and captivating in pictures, I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes.

Now, why should this day be any different from any other where we had an activity outside of Queenstown? Why wouldn’t we get stuck watching ‘Dear John’ on the movie channel in our hostel? Why shouldn’t we wait until the last possible minute to peel out of Queenstown? Those are all great questions, and they were all answered as we both realized that we had to shave at least an hour off of our drive to Milford Sound to make it on time for our cruise, and that we (get this) had been driving in the wrong direction for the past 10 minutes. Now, I was in ‘drive like we stole it’ mode and I was assuming that Jacob would tell me things like ‘right’ or ‘left’. Once he realized we were headed in the wrong direction, we U-turned and zoomed back to where we had come from. The talk about whether or not we should scrap this part of the trip came up as we zigzagged through narrow mountain passes, narrowly escaping death once; but we decided that even if the ship had sailed without us, we would find a way to hike around and get some good pictures of the area. It was decided…and I put the rental car to the test.

By the Grace of God or a time portal or just madman driving on my part…maybe a mixture of the three, we made it to the docks 35 minutes before our cruise was going to depart. We sat there, thankful to be alive, and took in the beauty that lay before us. Mountains that, out of nowhere, majestically jutted out of the water were sprawled out in front of us, and surrounded us with an intense sort of splendor.

Our ship’s name was the Milford Mariner and she sat in the harbor with a magnificence that seemed to make the other ships look like posers…o.k. maybe that was written from a bias standpoint, but she was a spectacle in my eyes. We dropped off our luggage  in our room, which was surprisingly big for a cruise ship from what Jacob said. We made our way to the mess-deck and sat down with a pilot and his wife and another girl who were all from Great Britain, but who didn’t know each other. I’m so glad that we got placed at that table because none of the other tables were having a fraction of the fun that it seemed we were partaking in. A little later after lunch we went out to the bow to sightsee while the captain called out over the loud-speaker about what we were seeing, adding in clever and hilarious banter when appropriate (which is always). Apparently, the area was going on 7 days without rain, which they actually label as a drought, so the mountainsides which are usually replete with cascading waterfalls, now only had a few. We could see what looked like avalanche scars on the sides of the mountains, which were actually dried up waterfalls, now only trickling instead of roaring. That being said, there were still a handful that flowed faithfully as they have for thousands of years; and the captain even took us in for a really close look on the second day of the cruise.

The Milford Mariner

FYI, our cook looked like Santa

Large waterfall in the distance. Almost 2 times taller than Niagara Falls

A little later the first day, after the sightseeing of Milford Sound, we headed out to where the Tasman Sea began, and hopped in some kayaks to explore the caves and outcroppings along the coastline. For the most part this was an enjoyable activity, but for the second part of this little kayak journey, I had a fiesta of sand-flies pestering me and biting my sunburned neck. I honestly think I put off a pheromone or have sweet blood because they seemed to really like some people and leave others alone. A friend that Jacob and I had made on the cruise, Hazel, was nice enough to snap some pictures on her camera of us as we kayaked around. Both Jacob and I were scared to take anything out into the kayaks with us, since our perfect broneymoon trip had been slightly tarnished with my dropping of my iPhone into the Dart River on day 4. We got back on the boat as the captain circled the boat around Milford Sound again, trying to give us different views at different times of the day. It was at this point that we learned that the depth of most of what we were floating over was over 300 meters deep, because of glacial carving (around 1,100 ft if I remember correctly). That evening we watched a comical and informational video/slide show made by the crew about Milford Sound, which also showed just how incredible the area was while it’s rainy. After that we had a fantastic dinner and enjoyed the company of our new UK friends.

Tasman Sea behind me

Kayaking in Milford Sound

Entering the Tasman Sea

That night, Jacob got to see the Southern night sky (including the Southern Cross) for the first time, and I got to be reminded of just how beautiful it truly is. We chatted with some other passengers into the night, and then headed in to get some sleep for the next day, which was to be full of sightseeing on our drive back to Queenstown, since we didn’t do that AT ALL on the way in. 🙂

The next morning, Jacob got to witness this amazing dolphin pod miracle shown in the video below, while I was in the shower listening helplessly as the captain talked about how beautiful they were and listed off facts about the specific Dusky Dolphin species. By the time I got dried off and threw on some clothes, they had submerged or swam off to be awesome somewhere other than right by the boat. We also found out that all of the penguins that frequent the Tasman Sea edge of Milford Sound had literally all taken off 4 days before our cruise. We did however get to see some pretty sweet seal action on the way back to the docks. We watched as a couple of them waddled towards each other, mouth wide open (making, you know…that noise they do), and wrestled for best position on the rock they both inhabited. We got another great view of a beautiful waterfall and of Milford Sound in general, as the boat docked just moments later. We said goodbye to our new friends and set out on the road to try to get some nice scenery shots on our way back.

Open mouth fighting...

We stopped several times on the way back and got a chance to see some absolutely incredible scenery that we missed on the way in. I forgot to mention earlier, but to get in and out of the Milford Sound area, there is a mountain tunnel that you have to drive through, and there is a stoplight on either end to let you know if you’re able to drive through at the time or not. You can only go through every 15 minutes. On the entrance to Milford Sound side, there is a group (gang) of vehicle terrorizing parrots, which mostly prey on the rubber lining around the doors on the vehicle. From what Jacob and I heard from the ship’s crew, this behavior is taught by older generations of parrots, which goes to show that hate and terrorism are passed down from generation to generation.

We had to wait our turn and fight off the fierce parrorists (parrot+terrorist) I try.

Vehicle terrorizing parrot

"The Chasm" was tunnels of rocks that looked like honeycombs (formed by water flow)

Jacob being all GQ

Now little did we know, but after a few stops of breathtaking scenery, it was time to cross another to-do off our list. We picked up our first hitchhiker, an Aussie. Now, this was a first for both of us, so we were a little on edge. Whenever he said he just needed a ride a little ways up the road to where his car was broken down, both Jacob and I were thinking: “Suuuurrrrre ya do…..is that where you’re going to kill us both?” But when we arrived to his broke down van and saw his family waiting for him, we were elated to be alive. Well…we obviously had to do it again. Not an hour later and we see another guy who needed a ride, a Kiwi. This time it was for a lot longer than a few miles and we got to know the guy and to hear his life story AND about his artwork. After a while I looked over at Jacob who hadn’t said anything for a while. I thought he was mad at me for picking up another hitchhiker or for something else I didn’t know about. But it turned out he had a killer migraine and didn’t feel like talking to a body odor emitting hitchhiker or even me for that matter. We dropped our new buddy off at the crossroads to where he was going and made our way back into Queenstown where we rested and then went out for another night of exploring and nightlife, since it was indeed our last night in town.

I think Jacob and I both would agree that we couldn’t have hoped for a better trip. Just the sheer variety of what we did while in New Zealand was incredible. I mean…who skydives, rides in a helicopter, hikes on a glacier, tours glow-worm caves, kayaks down the river in the area where Lord of the Rings was filmed, takes a cruise of Milford Sound- all while meeting tons of people from countless countries around the world…all in a week? It’s fair to say that we were very blessed to be able to go on such a trip, and we thank you all for checking out some of our stories and pictures from our time there!


New Zealand Adventure: Day 5 (Jet Boats, Funyaks, & Isengard)

New Zealand Day 5 – Jet Boats, Funyaks, Isengard…and tragedy. (A guest post by: Jacob Matthews)

WARNING: This episode contains stories of love and loss, adventure, beauty and heartbreak. Grab your Kleenex.

The morning of December 18th started like many other mornings on this trip… EARLY. The combination of no air conditioning, the morning sunshine penetrating through the thin curtains in our room, being sunburned beyond belief, and the 7:30 am meeting time for the shuttle to the river meant once again little sleep. Barley functioning, we got dressed, packed our bag for the day trip, and made our way down the street to catch the bus to Glenorchy – (a 45 min drive from Queenstown North along Lake Wakatipu). Fun Fact here: Up until the 1990s the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy was a dirt road and took over 2 hours to make the one way trip. Praise God they paved that road.

After a chilly, scenic drive along the lake to Glenorchy we made it and checked in at Dart River Jet Safaris. (http://www.dartriver.co.nz/) Today the forecast was scheduled to be a little overcast in the morning, and then sunny towards the afternoon. Looking back I was glad we opted to reschedule and take this journey on a better and much more dry day. After checking in we were directed to the courtyard for a briefing on the gear we would be given for the day. Thomas and I got our wet suits, fleece, life jackets and booties and headed to the locker room to get suited up. After getting our gear on we headed to the bus to head down to the boat located at the mouth of the Dart River.

Once we got situated in our jet boat we started making our way across the corner of Lake Wakatipu into and up the Dart River. One of the coolest things about these Jet Boats is they were invented in New Zealand and designed to travel in very shallow water (probably only a few inches deep at times). The other amazing thing about the jet boat is that it is able to do some pretty sweet 360 degree spins. Several times in the lake and the river we were given a hand signal to hold on tight and then the driver would spin the boat sending a spray of FREEZING glacier melt water over us. It was extreme. We made our way up the Dart, weaving and maneuvering through a labyrinth of forks in the river and finally pulled ashore into another smaller river that converged about a kilometer downstream into the Dart. Now this smaller river was unbelievable. The water was crystal clear and an emerald blue color. This would be only a taste of what we’d see and experience later on in the day.

Cruising in our Jet Boat

Here we got out of our Jet Boat and were given a vessel to command of our own. Now just when we thought you couldn’t possibly top a Jet Boat we soon realized we were mistaken… it can get better. We were given an orange inflatable kayak (Funyak). Ecstatic and proud to test our piloting skills, we set out to tackle the river. As we headed down stream we ended up striking up conversation with one of the river guides. He was a pretty cool guy, named Tom, from Ireland who had moved down to New Zealand for a year to work and play on the amazing rivers in the area.

Our trip down the river so far was so beautiful. We were surrounded by towering mountains as we paddled through minor rapids. We ended up pulling into another small stream that was flowing into the river. This area opened up in to a picturesque valley guarded by mountains. As we made our way upstream the water deepened and became calm. We found ourselves in the most amazingly clear, emerald blue water. We paddled our way upstream into a small canyon to investigate the source of this beauty and as we turned the last corner in the canyon the rocks opened up to reveal a small waterfall – the source of the stream that originated as glacial runoff from further up the mountains. Again, the water here was so pure and clean you could drink straight from the river. We filled up our water bottles and made our way back to the downstream to the valley. We made it into this valley called “Paradise Valley” to stop and have lunch. There couldn’t have been a more picturesque, beautiful place to stop, rest, eat and take it all in. We conversed with many others in our group and took more pictures before getting back into our funyaks.

Time for another Fun Fact: The Dart River Valley and surrounding mountains including the Mount Aspiring National Park are considered a “World Heritage Site.” World Heritage Sites are reserved for places around the world with “special cultural or physical significance” like the Pyramids in Egypt, The Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge…no big deal. (Below was our view from where we stopped to eat lunch. The sun had burnt through the clouds at this point.)

Heading back down the river, through Paradise Valley, we made our way through several rapids then ended up in the flat river basin.. the place to take out our kayaks and the end of our day’s adventure. It was at the point that our Ireland friend and guide informed us that we were literally standing in the heart of “Isengard” from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. (http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Isengard) He then pointed out some small rolling hills on the other side of the river basin and said “Those hills over there… that’s the Shire.” (Only in an awesome Irish accent) (http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Shire) Well.. nerd alert here.. Thomas and I were beyond excited to see and be standing in these epic locations from the films. It immediately made us want to go watch the films again.

Isengard

As we pulled up onto the bank of the river to disembark our kayak Thomas noticed he was missing something and had a white panicked  look on his face. He very worriedly asked me: “have you seen my iPhone?” Thomas tucked his iPhone inside his tight life-vest during a rapid and soon realized it wasn’t there anymore. Now you’re probably asking yourself… why would you bring your phone out to the middle of nowhere in New Zealand when there’s no phone service anyway? We both brought our phones because we used them as our cameras for this trip. After looking in the boat and realizing it wasn’t in there, another guy in another kayak mentioned that he thought he saw something bounce out into the river just a few minutes before we had pulled in, but wasn’t sure what it was, so he didn’t say anything. Sad, distraught, defeated, sunburnt, and tired Thomas gazed out at the river banks praying that he’d get a glimpse of his phone. There was a small sliver of a chance that we’d find it, because it was wrapped up in a waterproof casing. But to no avail… the phone was gone. The really, really sad thing was Thomas had a TON of pictures and videos that we hadn’t backed up yet from our previous 4 days in New Zealand. Luckily, we had taken mostly the same pictures at the same time when we came across scenery that was too beautiful to pass up, so the damage wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. The hardest hit, was the realization that we had lost our pre-skydiving video interviews (which were absolutely amazing).

Tom stood like this for almost 5 minutes straight...

{{Hey guys, it’s Thomas. Just wanted to take this time to apologize to Jacob, because there were a ton of pictures on my phone of him standing in the most beautiful places on Earth. Sorry Jacob! I owe you big time, man}}

We were sad, but not defeated. We were still on vacation in the most beautiful place either of us had been, and honestly, what cooler place to lose your cell phone! Better than a McDonald’s bathroom, right?! We boarded a four-wheel drive van and drove back through the Shire to Glenorchy. Interestingly enough, we saw a bunch of production trucks and trailers in the Shire as they had just finished filming “The Hobbit” the new Lord of the Rings film a week or so before we arrived.

Part of the Shire

Some production trailers still parked in the Shire

Back at the Dart River Safari lodge we got changed, hopped on the bus and made our way back to Queenstown. Exhausted, overwhelmed by the beauty of New Zealand, and defeated by our loss we returned back to Queenstown in time to take a nap, grab a late dinner, and hit the club below our hostel. We met up with our Brazilian friends again for a while and then hit the hay as we had a 4 1/2 hour drive to Milford Sound the next morning.

Another brilliant Queenstown sunset

To be continued….


New Zealand Adventure: Day 2 (Skydiving)

Queenstown, NZ -Day 2: Now, I’d be lying if I said that we were well rested and ready to go after the first night in our hostel. There was a club on the first level and our room was positioned on the corner right above the street. The night was filled with Euro-dance beats and inebriated youth shouting in all languages right outside our window. We awoke early and grabbed a coffee and a small bite across the street before heading to the Skydiving office for our pickup. Jacob and I arrived, signed our life away and picked out the skydiving package that we thought was the best bang for our buck. We went with a 12,000 ft dive (45 second free fall) with the picture package as an add-on. We loaded onto an NZone bus with maybe 10 other people and headed out of town towards the drop zone. The 15-minute ride was filled with silent anticipation for the most part, and then a few jokes were told to ease the tension, which helped.

This is one you don't read....just sign.

When we arrived at the NZone (Skydiving) complex, as you can probably guess by the pictures above, we were awestruck with the view that surrounded us. Jacob said that he was glad he waited to skydive, so that he was jumping in the most beautiful place on earth instead of a random flat field somewhere in America, and I agree with him completely. Before our jump we did some interviews on my phone (in case we died), and I played a game of ‘giant chess’ with our new Columbian friend Hector as we watched the group that went before us fall from the sky. I also got a chance to meet with a couple of Brazilians who had just jumped almost an hour ago and were waiting for a ride back to town. Our time was up, and our names were called. We went to the hanger and put on our jumpsuits and were given a very brief demonstration of how to contort our bodies like a banana during our free fall. Moments later our plane arrived and our tandem buddies grabbed us and we walked the long walk towards the deafening sound of our tiny fixed-wing airplane.

Let's do this!!

I can’t speak for Jacob (I think he was as nervous as I was), but I was attempting to put my mind somewhere else during the take off and ascension part of this journey. There were maybe 12 of us crammed into this little plane. While we were going up my dive buddy (Ed) was sitting with his legs spread open with me between them, basically sitting on his lap, as he strapped me to him. I was going to ask him if he was sure I was strapped in right, but I figured he’d done this a few thousand times and probably knew what he was doing. It took us a few minutes to reach 12,000 feet, but once we did, I realized that I would be the first to jump (after my photographer). Things got very real once the light turned on and the sliding door was thrust open. My adrenaline skyrocketed as Ed and I scooted towards the door. I put my feet out and strained to keep them together. I tucked them under the plane, put my head back, and leaned forward. Ed gave a few rocks back and forth, and we jumped right after my photographer.

Getting ready to bust through the clouds!

There’s definitely a strange vertigo feeling for the first few moments, and then falling through the clouds is a bizarre experience and kind of tastes like the smell after a heavy rain. Meanwhile, several other people have jumped above me, but Jacob and another person in our group had to go on another pass because the wind speed was picking up, and they needed to drop them back closer to the field where we would be landing. Jacob told me that he thought they were cancelling their jump because it was too windy, but then they opened the door again and got to jump. The whole time we were falling, we were captivated by the amazing sight below and all around us. Both Jacob and I were surprised at how it was somewhat difficult to breathe at times, and if you opened your mouth wrong, wind would gust in and steal your breath.

Peace!

After the 45 seconds of free fall and absolutely breath-taking scenery, Ed pulled the parachute (without telling me) and everything went silent. For the past several minutes I’d heard a noisy plane and then gusty wind blowing past my ears at a high velocity…but now, nothing. To be honest, I thought I was dying for a second because everything went silent and my photographer kept falling for a few moments. I understood later that he had to get down to the ground before us so he could take a picture of our landing. When we got closer to the ground, Ed told me to pull my knees to my chest and then stick them out straight for the landing. Ed steered the parachute like a champ and we even did a few corkscrew maneuvers before finally landing softly, precisely where we were supposed to. I was alive, and I was smiling. Adrenaline was still coursing through my veins as I gave random people high fives and strutted back to the hanger like Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible.

Legs up!!

Love ya, Ed!

Several minutes later I watched as Jacob went careening through the air with his tandem buddy and landed safely in the same field I had. He was smiling ear to ear and was just as happy to be alive as I was. Take a look at Jacob’s free fall experience below…

I love this picture, because it looks like he's in outer space!

Jacob's goggles flying off!

Goggles back, thumbs up!

Parachute pull

The group after us wasn’t able to jump because the wind speed was too high, so we were also grateful to be able to jump that day.

When we got back to town we grabbed lunch with Hector and reminisced about the time we all went skydiving and lived to tell the tale. We sat out at a restaurant that overlooked the harbor of lake Wakatipu, which was carved by a glacier. It is the 2nd largest lake in the Southern Lakes district, and is 400 m (1,225 feet) at its deepest point.

View from the restaurant

Jacob and I explored the town for a while that afternoon and then picked up the pictures of our skydiving exploits and headed to a famous burger joint in town named Fergburger, where the line from the restaurant to the sidewalk outside spoke for itself. The burgers where enormous and loaded with extras, and I honestly took maybe three bites before I got to the actual burger. Since it doesn’t get dark until almost 10:00pm we were having a rough time getting completely synced, but we both caught a quick nap and then checked out the club below our hostel, which was a fun place to people watch and to just meet people from all over the world. Jacob started keeping track of every country of the people we had met and spoke with, and by the end of the trip…it was impressive.

The one..the only.

Fergburger was PACKED!

We had an early morning ahead of us where we were supposed to go on a jet boat tour of Paradise Valley (where a lot of LOTR and The Hobbit was taped) and then take canoes back down the Dart River towards Lake Wakatipu, so we called it a night. We were lulled to sleep once again by Euro beats and overly loud laughter and chanting.

To be continued…


In the Lap of Luxury

This past weekend was the last of a four-weekend stretch of trips traveling to Kyushu to promote travel to the area. Like the three weekends before it, Kyushu stayed true to form and gave us even more memories to cherish. We visited Fukuoka and Kagoshima prefectures this time, which are actually a little distance from each other, and actually during the airing of these specials, we will let on that we traveled from Kagoshima back up to Fukuoka, with the other trips in-between, even though the ‘first’ and ‘last’ stops were actually done on the same weekend.

This time the early morning walk to my local train station wasn’t nearly as inspiring. I walked with my head downcast as the overly cool breeze cut through me and rain lightly drizzled down. I arrived a few minutes early again to get a light breakfast before our departure, and the beautiful girl from last weekend wasn’t there. I still took small bites to be safe. On the bullet train I looked out the window while Taka-san and I were discussing some plans on what we’d be talking about, and saw an overcast sky and low-setting fog laying like a blanket in the valleys, exposing the mountain tops. After getting the rent-a-car in Fukuoka we headed towards a Daibutsu (Giant Buddha). The journey to this statue was one of the most beautiful paths I’ve ever been on. I could go on and on about the attention to detail that the Japanese spend on their plant life and masonry, but I’ve done that before. The light rain and the fact that it was autumn and the leaves were turning and falling just added a whole new layer to how beautiful it was. The way the rain set on leafs and plants made me feel like everything was in high-definition. On the level right below the big Buddha statue I saw a woman with an umbrella praying in front of a statue and I literally almost knocked three people over scrambling to get a shot of it. It looked like something straight out of a dream, and I had to have it.

Here's the one.

As we went up the staircase towards the statue, I guess I didn’t really prepare myself for how big this thing would be. It was enormous. We snapped as many pictures as we could without getting our cameras or phones too wet, as the rain didn’t relent until we were on our way out, of course. Regardless, it was a massive statue and it was fun to see it.

For lunch we drove for a while towards the coast and met with some gentleman from the tourism department for the area and together went to a restaurant to taste-test some rice burgers. When we arrived at the diner just off the beach, I was shocked to see such large waves. When we turned into the parking lot I saw signs for a surf competition that would be held there the following day. The diner was surf/beach themed and had a great view of the beach. The rice burgers were delicious, and we did our standard: “Mmmmm, this is great!” for the microphones for our show, and then dug into the food with great haste. Next on the agenda was ceramics, which I was pumped for because I’ve only done it once, but loved it.

We arrived at the ceramics studio and were greeted by the owner of the studio and pottery shop. We wasted no time, and set up the sound equipment next to the spinning wheel where the clay is put. The potter sliced a chunk of clay out, kneaded it for about a minute and slapped it onto the wheel. He gave us a smirk. We all looked at him with faces that said: ‘Uhh, now what?!’ He laughed and sat down and did a demonstration of how to mold and shape the clay. He brought water from the bowl over to the clay, showed us what to do with each hand as the wheel spun, and put the finishing touches on his bowl he made for us. It was a beautiful bowl, and seeing it birthed in front of our eyes made it even more so. So you can imagine how we all shrieked when he slammed it onto the table and crumpled it, rendering it useless. Now, it was our turn. Both Taka-san and I both had our share of poorly made bowls and cups, and it wasn’t until the potter came back from helping customers to guide my hands during the last part of the cup I was making, that something came out right. He told us it takes about 3 years to become an expert potter using the technique he had showed us, and I believe him.

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in 'Ghost'

After pottery we made our way to a local high point lookout spot complete with a pretty nice waterfall, and from this height we could see the coast where island after island jutted out of the water. I hate that I’ll never be able to take a picture over here that does a grand view any justice whatsoever. That night we headed into downtown Fukuoka and ate at a Yatai shop, which is an old-school tent style of mobile restaurant. Fukuoka is famous for them, and apparently they are endangered because the government has placed sanctions stating that once the shop owner dies, the shop can’t be passed onto anyone else. They also have very strict hours of operation, and several other laws they have to abide by just to exist because of possible Japanese mafia ties. It may be for this reason that people pack them every night to eat and drink and laugh with their friends. After eating we got onto a bullet train and headed to Kagoshima prefecture.

Inside the Yatai shop

First thing on the list Sunday morning was riding an old-fashioned train along the coastline. During the ride, we got an awesome view of Sakurajima (Japan’s most active volcano), spewing steam and smoke out into the air in the distance. When we arrived to our destination we did a quick taste testing at a sweets shop and then headed to another restaurant to do the same. Both places used local ingredients grown in the area in their foods. Once we were heavy with grub, we headed to a spa where we were going to get some interviews. This spa/onsen was famous for burying people in sand and having the natural heat from the ground rise up and steam them. Once I got undressed and into my yukata I headed down to the beach and was greeted by a man with a smile and a shovel. Now, I’ve never really had a fear of being buried alive, but once this guy started shoveling sand onto me, and I felt the weight, I winced momentarily. But…once I started to feel the heat, and listen to the waves crash against the shore, and close my eyes…I was in paradise. I could feel my pulse all over my body because my heart was working harder under the pressure of the sand. (Apparently, this is part of the detoxifying effects of being buried with hot sand. Your blood goes from a dark maroon to a brighter red afterwards as well)

Sakurajima smoking in the distance

I had already been under for 20 min, so the guy made me take my hands out to cool off.

After a good spell in the sauna and onsen and another shower, we were off to another beautiful lookout spot, where there is a shrine where people come to wish for love. I could see how being in such a beautiful place could make one want someone else to share it with. To our right, there was a mountain that came out of nowhere. There weren’t any other mountains around it, and people in the area called it a ‘mini Mount Fuji’. Every direction we looked, there was another view that took our breath away.

I’ve made numerous memories that you can’t put a price tag on during these business trips. I’m meeting interesting people, tasting delectable foods, snapping some fun photos, and gaining life experience that I wouldn’t trade. I’m seeing more and more of God’s creation, as well as learning about myself and what kind of man He has made me to be in the process. Having said all that, there’s no way to express how much I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends when I get back home for the holidays…

…But first, 2 days in Tokyo and 6 days of adventure in New Zealand. Stay tuned…


Beppu: For Lovers.

Have you ever longed for the feeling of being a kid again? You know what I’m talking about; youthful vigor and the sense of wonder for the world around you while being deprived of the cares of what responsibilities lay directly ahead of you. That place may be Oita prefecture on Kyūshū Island, Japan. What other place can you visit a town frozen in the 1950’s? How many places allow for an impromptu parade down cobblestone alleyways while two old men serenade you with ancient Japanese guitar and accordion melodies? Where can you see countless hot springs with billowing steam and water with colors ranging from blood-red to turquoise? Where else can you go shopping for your groceries one moment and then the next you’re steam cooking them using natural steam vents in a local woman’s backyard? The answer to those questions is: ‘Not many places’.

Pinocchio and Mrs. Claus' love child!

Well, this was my third weekend in a row to go to Kyūshū, and I was especially excited because we were going to be going to the hot springs capital of the world – Beppu.  My friends here in Japan had talked up this city, as had the travelling book I bought before I came, hailing it as a honeymooner’s destination. On my walk to my local train station early Saturday morning, the air was crisp and the morning sun smiled warmly on me, giving me good vibes for this approaching trip. When my local train arrived at the bullet train terminal, I grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich so I didn’t have to eat some variation of seafood or rice for breakfast with my coworkers. I’m still not used to that. Imagine my surprise when one of the most beautiful girls I’ve seen on my short time on earth, angelically (and in slow motion, somehow) passes right in front of me and shoots me a smile that seemed to say: “I have 5 seconds before I’ll never be in your life again, tell me why that should change”. Now, imagine my dismay when I smiled back like a chipmunk with 30 acorns in his mouth…a mouth full of bacon, egg, cheese, biscuit, and more bacon. Moral of the story…take small bites.

On the shinkansen ride to Kokura station, Taka-san and I reviewed some notes and studied briefly the legendary and historically monumental Usa shrine in Usa-shi that would be our first of many stops on this two-day excursion. When we arrived at Usa shrine, we met with our tour guide and started down a long pathway towards a Torii gate that looked very similar to the one in Miyajima. Much like the last trip, I fell into the quandary of needing to interview and banter with Taka-san while at the same time, try to get great pictures for the HFM webpage. If I lagged behind, the cord from my mic would become taut and befuddle our sound man Kusada-san.  We made it work with some give and take. From what we were told, the Usa shrine was founded somewhere near 708-714 AD, and was the first of over 40,000 Hachiman shrines now in existence. It is the 2nd most prestigious shrine in Japan and still receives Imperial patronage. This wasn’t the first time I was awestruck with the Japanese attention to detail and overall national pride. Everywhere I looked was like a flawless garden. Historical or religious structures are kept pristine, and it almost seems like every blade of grass knows its place…every bush, trimmed to perfection. Another standard I see is that the elderly citizens comprise most of the tour guide force. Almost everywhere we’ve been, our guide has been well over 65, and they take great pride in being able to serve their community and share information with visitors. After we toured the shrine, we took part of a tradition of buying a fortune…or the opportunity for a fortune (some were warnings or curses), and then tethering them together with others. Mine was a warning: “Your current love interest (crush) may be dangerous.” Which makes perfect sense, since my present crush is a Thai gypsy working for a local circus as a knife throwing expert. I mean…tell me something I didn’t already know! Anyway, we had many places to visit during the first day, so we moved on…

The next thing that we did was one of my favorite parts of the trip. There is a giant part of the city we were in called ‘Showa no Machi’. ‘Machi is the Japanese word for ‘city’, ‘no’ is like an apostrophe + s, and ‘showa’ stands for an era of time (1926-1989 AD) where Emperor Hirohito reigned. Obviously many things happened during this period, including: the Second World War, occupation of Japan, the status change of the Emperor from a ‘living god’, and the transformation of Japan into a democracy with a constitutional monarch. As we walked down the cobblestone streets, everywhere I looked had store windows full of retro paraphernalia or movie posters ranging from the late 1920’s to the late 1980’s, mostly from the 50’s and 60’s. The stores were still open for business, selling newer equipment in the back, and displaying nostalgic treasures in the front. The store clerks stood out front to wave to and greet us as we walked by. All of the buildings were from the late 40’s and 50’s and the overall combination of all these things left a mood in the air of a more simple time mixed with an eerie Twilight Zone feeling. We toured candy/toy shops, where most of the candies were also toys, e.g. a bubble gum flavored mint-shaped candy that doubled as an annoying whistle (picture below). In the back of the shop, was a museum of old toys, comics, movie posters, and other collections, while outside the shop were old style cars, a glass bottle Pepsi dispenser and hoards of kids playing with hula-hoops and spinning tops in the courtyard, like they were being paid to be actors…but they weren’t. A little later, a refurbished old bus took us on a more overview-like tour of the area. I had a great time, and felt more like a kid than I had in a while. Showa no Machi was a blast.

That night we headed into Beppu and met up with a couple of tour guides right next to Beppu’s oldest onsen/hotel, which was across the street from Japan’s first, and therefore oldest, arched alleyway. What happened next, was one of those moments that I knew was so special and so unique, that I was intentionally focusing my mind to remember every detail. Pure, unadulterated magic was happening right in front of my eyes as two old men, one in his late 60’s and the other in his 80’s, emerged wearing captain hats holding a guitar and an accordion. A small crowd had gathered at this time and soon we were off. The two captains led the way singing their old Beppu songs down the narrow streets like they had been doing for decades, and I gladly followed suit and soaked up every moment of it.

Oldest onsen in Beppu

First arched alley in Japan

The next day was filled with exploring different parts of Beppu. We spent some time wandering the streets and snapping some pictures, and then around lunch we headed to the local grocery store. I gathered from Taka-san that we would be picking out food that we wanted to have steam cooked, using a natural steam vent from a woman’s back yard. We choose our food, and headed towards her house. When we got there, I saw that she had turned her house into a place of commerce and had drilled down to the water source to use the natural steam to run a steam cooking business. She showed us which food needed to go into which basket, and told us that each kind of food has a certain amount of minutes that it should be steamed. We separated the food into three baskets and put the first basket on the vent, and she pushed a timer. Two minutes later we did it with the second basket, and two minutes after that, we did it again, so that when the timer went off, all the food was ready. Now, being an American, I thought it only proper to choose steak as one of my foods to be steam cooked…but to be honest, I didn’t even know you could steam-cook a steak. As we removed the burlap sacks and wooden tops from the wicker baskets with the food, super hot steam shot up in our faces, and we quickly took the food off the vents. It was all incredibly delicious, except maybe for the banana that we put in for giggles, which had bloated and was literally sweating.

Our final goal of the day was to take the Jigoku (Hell) tour in Beppu. Several different hot springs are on this tour, and it was a little more touristy than the rest of the trip, but still beautiful, nonetheless. We saw hot springs that ranged from bloody colored to turquoise in color, rocks that naturally steamed and a geyser that went off for 5 minutes every 25-30 minutes. Both my manager and myself were snapping pictures like madmen to attempt to capture some of the beauty we were experiencing during this whole tour.

The bamboo stick and basket is someone boiling eggs.

Geyser!

Steaming rocks...

Well, this upcoming weekend will be another business trip to Kyūshū, but this time to Fukuoka. I’m looking forward to sharing that trip with you as well 🙂

Sun setting on Beppu as the steam rises from numerous residential hot springs


Dream Job

A little over a month ago the president of the Carp (baseball team) had a meeting with my manager, a few other employees, and me about a series of business trips to Kyūshū that he wanted us to go on to help promote travel to that area. This past March, Kyūshū added a bullet train line to Kumamoto, which is a huge deal for an area that already thrives on the tourism generated from Mount Aso and the countless springs and onsens located there.

Yamamoto-bucho, Taka-san, Kusada-san, Nii-san and I arrived at the Shinkansen gate early one evening and immediately Kusada-san started taking sound samples for our radio program special. Part of the job this time was for me to help in the taking of pictures for the HFM website that is going to be featuring this series of trips to Kyūshū, so I started snapping away on my iPhone. Now, I had done interviews before, very many times in fact, but walking and talking with a mic and creating witty banter out of thin air with Taka-san for the next three days was proving to be quite a daunting task, especially with the language barrier.

The first night was spent getting the rental car, eating and then settling into the hotel. 5:00am came very quick, and just like that, we were off on our tour of the Kumamoto/Aso area. The first thing on our ‘list of things to do’ was to visit the biggest natural spring around Mount Aso. On our drive to the spring, the morning clouds spread out like a blanket over the valley below and let the peaks of the mountains bask in the rising sun, while the valleys waited their turn. Our tour guide met us at the welcome cabin and we wandered through a winding garden path with a large stream to our left, and finally entered the fountainhead area…the source of 60 tons of fresh spring water every minute! There were numerous springs where the water burst forth, but one in particular was awe-inspiring; and while no picture could do it justice, we did our best to capture this picturesque spot. Below a few feet of crystal clear water I could see dozens of little volcanoes of gravel, as the water shot up from the earth displacing whatever was directly above it.  We got a few sound bites of Taka-san and I drinking the water directly from the source, and talking about how incredible it was. I, for one, was surprised at how pleasing the temperature was. It was crisp and cool and probably the best water I have ever had the pleasure to drink. I made a joke to Taka that my parents had once told me when I was a child not to drink water from streams, because I didn’t know what was put in it up-stream, e.g. someone adding their ‘water’ to the water; but now I was the one upstream, and in fact, there was no upstream…only a spring of water gushing forth from the earth. I could drink with confidence. I did just that.

We loaded back into the van and started driving directly to Mount Aso. On our drive up the mountain, we stopped twice because…well, the view beckoned us to do so. In stark contrast to my last volcano climbing experience (7-8 hour hike through the night), this time we were able to drive all the way to the top where there was a parking lot and welcome center. Our ‘climb’ up a cement ramp took about 25 seconds, and I we were immediately face to face with the crater of the largest active volcano in Japan. Toxic steam billowed out constantly, and when the wind was to our favor, I could see the pristine turquoise color of the water brewing in the crater. We did some interviews of some of the spectators and gave our own impressions and took a quick look around and were soon on our way to Aso Shrine.

The first thing I noticed was how many children were in Yukata. Yamamoto-san told me that at ages 3, 5, and 7 the children are brought to the shrine for some sort of ceremony. Our tour guide was a 70-year-old volunteer who told us that this shrine boasts a rare two-roof gate, instead of the traditional three-roof gate. It was hard to take pictures there because he kept motioning me to come over to where he was while I was looking for good shots. I’m still amazed at how many rituals there are in this culture. To enter the shrine, one puts 5 yen in a trough, bows, claps twice, bows and prays (or wishes) …the order might be different. At one point, I saw some priest waving a large gold-plated scepter type thing over some children. Pretty standard, really 🙂

Next, of course, was horseback riding at El Patio Ranch. This part of the adventure, I was stoked for. When we arrived, the smell of manure immediately reminded me of the farm where I grew up, as did the dogs who ran to greet us. Riding a horse with a cumbersome recorder strapped to me, while holding a microphone tested my multitasking skills. After my ride-along interview with one of the guides, she asked me if I wanted to get the horse into a run with her. Now, it had been years since I’ve had a horse in anything over a trot, but my manhood was on the line. I dropped the recording equipment off and followed her lead. Running with a horse isn’t a ‘fake it till you make it’ kind of activity, so I was trying my best to recall proper technique while watching closely to how she was riding. Luckily, I did alright and ran Cheyanne about 15 times around the ring. When I got off, I could automatically tell my thighs and lower back would be having a little talk with me later about that little stunt. Taka rode a horse for the first time ever, and did great. I loved seeing him smile from ear to ear. We did some wrap-up interviews and hit the road.

We left the ranch and headed back into town where we took on a new tour guide who showed us around the merchant district of town. I was very impressed by the fact that there were no major restaurant or business chains. Everything was private and had, in most cases, been in a family for generations. We walked into several shops and did interviews and, to my great joy, walked into an akaushi (Red cow) burger shop where the owners were more than happy to provide us with as many free burgers as we could eat. I had two, and I can honestly say this beef was on a different level of freshness than anything I’ve had before. Ever. These cattle roam on the steep mountainsides and drink fresh spring water everyday. A cow’s lifestyle couldn’t get much more healthy than that if they had a gym membership. The rest of the evening consisted of doing literally THE most awkward thing I’ve ever done…interviewing gentleman as they bathed in the onsens. I’m not joking, we would march in…Taka and myself with mics and Kusada-san with his boom mic, and Taka would interview them as they sat there bathing and looking completely sheepish. Apparently, it didn’t strike my co-workers as awkward, but I was acutely aware that I was interviewing naked Japanese men.

Awwwwwkward

When we got to the traditional Japanese hotel we were staying at, I was still stuffed from the two mammoth burgers I’d had a couple of hours earlier. I had no idea that the hotel had prepared a substantial spread of food, and that I would be eating and giving feedback on how it tastes for the program. It was at this point that I remembered that one of my dream jobs was to be able to travel and get paid to critique food and amenities. Never in my life did I imagine myself being able to do that. I guess interviewing old bathing men was my payment to be able to live out that dream. After dinner I went to the onsen in our hotel and later went outside and soaked my feet in a hot spring and read a book in my yukata. That night was filled with a symphony of snores as my three male co-workers and I slept in the same room on futon mattresses on top of tatami mats.

Another early morning, we had to be up at 5:40. We had a quick breakfast and then were picked up by a tour bus that took us on a tour of the Aso mountain range, which is really the remnants of the ring of the original crater left after the mega eruption thousands of years ago. Everyone in the bus had their own winter coat folded and waiting in their seat, and at first I didn’t know why, but later when the roof of the tour bus retracted to give everyone a better view, nobody asked any questions and donned their nifty blue coats quickly. We got a good view of the sunrise and Taka and I shared the view into our mics. Next on the schedule was going to a community festival at Kumamoto and then touring the castle. The festival was fun, and I got a chance to see what a Japanese marching band was like and we also got a private photo-op with Kumamon. (Japan’s most famous ‘regional mascot’) Japan has a mascot for almost everything. Some cities have them, companies, all sports teams… you might think I’m making a gross overgeneralization, but come and see for yourself.

Last but definitely not least, was touring Kumamoto Castle. One of the most famous castles in Japan. We turned a lot of heads marching into such a crowded area with a posse of people recording what we were doing. We had two tour guides during our tour of the castle and it took quite a while to get through the entire thing, but when we got to the main area on the other side of the main structure my heart skipped a beat as I saw men and woman dressed in samurai, ninja, and guard apparel. I HAD to get some awesome pictures. One of my mantras is to ‘never shrink away from an awesome moment’. Once we got our fill of incredible pictures and interviews we went into the main castle. It was magnificent, and one of the most interesting parts was the area where the lord of the castle used to sit while people would come to visit him, or to have tea. It was incredibly ornate, and there were several sections of tatami that one had to cross over before finally arriving to where the lord was. To end our tour, we were given special privileges to go to the level above where the dining area used to be and eat the same meal that used to be served to royalty there hundreds years ago. This area has since been reserved for wealthy individuals to have wedding parties, etc. to gain funds for further reconstruction. Since we are doing a series on promoting travel to this area they allowed us to partake.

Caught a ninja on camera. That's more rare than seeing a unicorn.

Japanese super hero friends

I had an absolutely wonderful time on this business trip, as usual. Since it’s Thanksgiving, it’s even more proper to give God thanks for allowing me such an incredible opportunity to be able to do so many cool things. He truly has blessed me beyond measure in all areas of my life. I wish all my friends and family a happy Thanksgiving, and I’m excited to see you all over the holidays. Take time today to take stock of what God has given you and tell those closest to you how thankful you are for them.

I’m looking forward to posting my most recent new experience of watching Sumo wrestling in Fukuoka as well as attending a home church there. I have another business trip this weekend, which will be my third trip to Kyūshū in three weeks. Thanks for reading 🙂