Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ninjas, transfers and spaniards

Date: 3/20/2017
Place: Ise
Companion: Elder Brown

On Monday after we did our mailing, 大田兄弟 (Bro. Ota) took us out to Azuchi Momoyama Castle! We got there and the place was pretty empty. Turns out there's a ninja theme park that the castle is part of and Brother Ota took us in. The park was an old fashioned Japanese town with various attractions in each of the buildings. We had fun going through the various activities, getting lost in a maze, going into the castle (this one's a replica) and eating Ise Udon. But what really made the park awesome were the performers. There was a swordplay/dance group called Kenshin in town and they put on a very impressive show. We got to hang out with the crew just a little bit after the show and they we're really cool. 

Then we went to the ninja show. It was honestly the coolest thing I've every seen! The show house didn't have any seats but you took your shoes off and sat on the floor. At the front of the room there was a low stage, half of which protruded clear out into the audience. And since you're sitting on the floor, you can sit really close. The ninja show was an amazing, two-man performance complete with plenty of comedy, backflips, intense swordplay, people dropping in from the ceiling (right above our heads!), disappearing stunts and pretty much everything you could ever want or hope to expect from a ninja fight. I almost wet my pants and then vowed to become a ninja when I grow up. 

After the ninja battle (it was really long, maybe 30 minutes or more of straight fighting) they had a great comedy routine which involved a blow dart gun and they actually let me up onto the stage to shoot it! Of course it was just a toy but it was way fun. 
Anyway it was actually a very good, uplifting experience and it really did a lot to pick me up after a really stressful few weeks. Also I became a huge sucker for any ninja/samurai/old Japan merchandise. 

This week was Elder Brown's Senpai week, which means that I got to play Junior Companion ;). It was fun and he did really well! He made phone calls, taught at appointments and such. 

On Tuesday we went and saw Tetsuya. He's still feeling sick and is still smoking. He's going to need some time and a lot of prayers but he'll be ok. 

Wednesday we had a koukan (exchange) with the guys from Tsu and they went with us to our Toba Hotel Eikawa. (English class) It was really fun and the students loved it! Afterwards we had lunch with John (he's Japanese but asks us to call him John). John is an interesting character. He's very broad minded and open to a lot of things. He is studying Spanish and wants to travel the world. We were going to introduce the Gospel in our first time eating with him but the conversation took a wild turn and we weren't able to bring it back in track :/. My bad. I'll get him next time. 

Then me and Elder Meyers went to the apartment and made some quick no bake cookies to take to a member. I had a lot on my mind and ended up just venting everything to him. Being Branch President isn't too hard, it's just dendo (missionary wrok) in Ise that's kicking my butt. He listened very well and then gave me good, down to earth advice. Actually things are going well. I perhaps get stressed too easily about things that aren't too important. He said, "just take whatever God gives you and run with it. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just work with what you have." It actually eased my mind a lot. God doesn't demand the impossible. He doesn't demand 110% of you or anybody else. Just 100%. He doesn't give us imperfect abilities, imperfect tools, imperfect circumstances and expect us to achieve perfection. He just asks us to do what we can. To take what we have and run. I had a good exchange with Elder Meyers. We rode out really far, delivered the stuff, then booked it back for Eikaiwa. (English class) Miraculously, a ton of new people came! Three business people in suits came, along with a mom wanting us to teach her two kids. It was awesome! 

The next day we went out in the morning with our new friend Shizuya. He's 17 and he already believes in God! He really has a desire to follow God and to do what it takes to become happy. He's really innocent and believes everything we say. We just met at a park and hung out for a bit. We prayed together and he said he felt something. He's going to be a great investigator and a fun one to teach I think :). We had some good OYMs home and then stopped at the drug store across from the church to get some allergy medicine for Elder Brown. We ended up becoming great friends with the grandpa who owns the shop. We got to talking and then I looked behind him and saw that he had a pile of Shakuhachi Japanese flutes! Those are super expensive and rare so I asked him about them. Turns out he has been playing for quite a while and is actually really good and now he makes his own flutes for fun! He offered to let us borrow one of his flutes and told us he would teach us how to play it! So now we have a super legit bamboo flute just chilling at the church. I can barely get it to make sounds haha! 

We had a good weekly planning session and got everything lined out and organized for missionary and branch presidency work in Ise. 

The next day, transfer mails came. Elder Brown will be bouncing out and going to Takabata with Elder Pope. I will stay here and IM TRAINING AGAIN! 

So after that transfer packing and stuff began but compared to other transfers, this on has been a very quiet one. It's kinda nice. We just went to see Tetsuya one last time and then ate out at Elder Brown's favorite restaurant (Champion Curry). 

Also we went to the city hall for a NPO gathering of sorts and we made a ton of friends and got a ton of phone numbers! It was actually a huge miracle is undoubtedly going to lead us to a ton of good opportunities. 

Today we had a great Sacrament meeting and then afterwards an awesome shokijikai (potluck). The members spoiled us way hard and brought tons of good food! We had to peel out a little early and hop on a train up to Yokkaichi for a stake bishop's meeting. On the way up, I was exhausted from Sacrament meeting and was dozing in and out of consciousness. After head bobbing for a bit, I suddenly woke up and smacked my head against the window. As Elder Brown and I were laughing about that, a kid sitting not too far from us who was also falling asleep, suddenly jerked awake and smacked his head against the window too! The lady sitting across from us got to see the whole thing and we all had a good laugh together.  

The bishopric meeting was good. I learned a ton and was blasted with a ton of high level Japanese. It was amazing to feel the love and the trust these guys held for me, even though I was just a kid in the room. They went out of their way to make sure that my voice was heard. I got a much better sense of exactly what it is I need to do in Ise and felt a lot of guidance. Also I ate their sandwiches and drank their peach water. THAT was awesome. 

Today we went to Spain mura, a Spanish themed amusement park, for district activity. It was pretty fun! We went with one of our Eikawa friends and had a good time. They had a circus, that was kinda over hyped, and a new rollercoaster which was cool but also overhyped. But they did have one actually big rollercoaster there that was awesome! We had a good time.

Tomorrow is transfer day. Elder Brown will be making a quick transfer to Nagoya. Then I'll go be homeless for a couple days until my bean chan (brand new missionary) comes to Japan! 
Love y'all! 

Elder Johnson 

Ps: sorry I can't respond to any iMessages right now. I tried factory resetting my iPad (its been pretty messed up for about a year now so I thought I'd finally do something about it) and it might have fixed it but it also messed up a bunch of other stuff. Hopefully I'll have it back to normal by next week :) 

"So, you just eat them while they're alive?"

Date: 3/12/2017
Place: Ise
Companion: Elder Brown

This week was an interesting one. We still kept our focus on visiting members and we met most of the branch. They gave us lots of food so I think that means they like us. One of them still gets upset and flips a lid when I ask her to speak in Sacrament but other then that we have a great relationship with our active members. 

We went to the disability daycare center as usual and had a good time with the guys there. They are asking us to give them all American names, which is fun! 

On Wednesday we went and taught Toba Hotel staff English. That was fun. Then we had an insane adventure on Thursday. 

One of our Eikaiwa students decided to take us out to go tour Shima! So he took us out to lunch at his brothers sushi restaurant (it's been handed down in the family for about a hundred years) and we had the most legit sushi I've ever had! The best part was the appetizer, which was a small bowl of live 白魚(little squirmy fishies). You just pour a little soy sauce and ponzu in the bowl (and they all start losing their minds and flipping out) and then slurp down the whole wriggling mess! It was actually really good! They also brought out good cuts of tuna, mackerel, barracuda and whatever else is in season. He even reached down into one of the fish tanks and snagged a couple of shrimp for us! We ate the tails while they were still twitching. They barbecued up the heads and we ate those too. It was so good! But then we had to pay for it which was expensive. 

He also took us over to he Toba Kanko hotel which is where they had the G7 Summit last year. We got to go sit in the chairs where President Obama and Prime Minister Abe sat. So that was pretty tight. Then on the way home we checked out Meoto Iwa which is really famous but turned out to be really small and boring. Haha we saw it and just started laughing! Kitamura san (the guy who was driving us around) wasn't a huge fan either. 

We tried talking to him about the Gospel on the way home but he wasn't having it. He said he doesn't like to be told stuff, he just wants to find out for himself. He's read the Book of Mormon and believes it's true but also believes that every church is true so he doesn't have to change anything with his life. Way sad :(. There are many people who think so much that they forget to feel.

The next day we went on an exchange with the guys in Tsu. It was good but honestly it just left me more drained than anything else. The next day I could barely move. We went and played basketball with some new friends that we made. They are AWESOME! We had so much fun and became good friends with them. They are seriously just a nice group of good, honest, clean guys. That was enjoyable. I hope we can get them to come out to some activities. 

Afterwards we had a jam session at a park with Brother Tou. That was fun! Also it was freezing cold. He plays the guitar and solos really well so that was tight. 

Then Sunday happened. Before, church was a rejuvenating experience but lately it just leaves me absolutely exhausted. After church we talked with the guys for a little while, cleaned the whole church and then had Ward Council. Ward Council here consists of the missionaries, the two councilors and the relief society president. Not everyone could make it so we just had four people this week. I was so tired and made Elder Brown announce a couple of the things we have been doing. He did pretty well! His Japanese is coming along. He's a quiet guy but when he speaks up he does very well. I'm still not very good at organizing or running meetings yet. And also I haven't had time to train Elder Brown very well at all so I feel really bad about that. It's a good thing he's mature and can handle a lot on his own. We are so busy that we barely have time to even do our studies in the mornings (not good, DONT SKIP STUDIES). 

After church ended and then all the meetings ended and then everyone finally left, I just kinda collapsed into a coma and couldn't move for a couple hours. After I could finally get myself together we planned out some of our PR strategies for the week and then went home and finally got something to eat. That something else that I have learned on my mission. If you don't take care of your body and take time to feed it stuff, it'll run out of gas and you'll die. 

In life, there are always ups and downs. I spent the last six months in Shizuoka on a spiritual high and now I guess it's my turn to go through some trials and crap. That's ok. Everyone goes through trials and crap but it all gets better in the end. This is the last week of the transfer and I presume that things will get better here in a few more weeks or so. I'm trying hard not to get down on myself. There's a lot weighing me down  and though so it all kinda just mixes together and turns into a giant ball of "meh." But that Meh is a whole lot better than being depressed so I'd say I'm doing ok. 

Yeah I'll be fine. Life is good. Also I still have half a jar of Nutella left on the shelf so I think I'll be able to pull through. 

Life is good. 

Love y'all! 
Have a fantastic week! 
Be good. Be crazy. Eat tacos. 


Elder Johnson 

To the Edge of the Japan Nagoya Mission - Our train breaks down

Date: 2/26/2017
Place: Ise, Mie
Companion: Elder Brown

This week we had the grandest of adventures. 
We decided about a week in advance that we would set aside Thursday as our "Adventure Day." You see, Ise is one of the larger areas in the mission and there a few less actives that live clear down on the very southern edge. The populated part of the area is in the north, where we live. I don't know if anyone has ever attempted to scout out the southern tip of Ise but decided to have a go of it. 

We set off first thing in the morning and went to Isuzugawa, the closest train station. There we took the front wheels off of our bikes and put the whole thing into a bike bag and carried it with us onto the train. We went north to Matsusaka (ever heard of Matsusaka beef?) which was a station that would give us our connection from Kintetsu Rail to JR. There we boarded what I like to think of as a "real inaka" train, which means it's really old, really loud and is diesel powered because they don't run standard electric train lines that far out. So we got on our special "limited rapid express" (it had some really long name that made us think it was going to be really fancy and fast when we looked it up). It ended up being quite a nice train, meant for long distance travel, but still was not quite as fast as some of the electric express trains we get so spoiled with in Nagoya. 

So we stowed our bikes and tied them up so they wouldn't fall all over the place and then sat down, intending to study, but soon discovered that that would be nearly impossible. The train had great big windows which provided an excellent view of the breathtaking views as we popped in and out of mountain tunnels to see little pockets of old Japanese fishing towns nestled in between the sharp green mountains, huddled up against the ocean. It was incredible! But there were so many mountains that we spent a significant amount of time in tunnels. 

After we came out of the mountain range, we were faced by a long, flat shoreline that stretched all the way to the bottom of the peninsula. We got off in Kumanoshi, the last major station within our area that the express train would stop at, right on the edge of the mountains. We had two less active addresses there and one more just a little way south so we put our bikes back together and set off in search of our addresses. Specific location are nearly impossible to find in Japan but thankfully everyone knows everyone else in a small town so after asking a neighbor we were able to find our first place quickly. He wasn't home but we were able to confirm his address so that was a success. 

We went out to the other less active and found a house with the correct last name,Okazaki, but that's it. No one was home and the phone number we had was wrong. So we headed a few kilometers south along the shoreline and found our third less active's house. We think that it was probably the wrong guy though and our less active no longer exists. These records are really, really, REALLY old I might mention. So then we bagged our bikes again and hopped on the next local train ( they come every hour and a half or so out there so if you miss one it pretty much ruins all your plans) and headed down to Udono, the farthest south you can go in the Japan Nagoya Mission. By then we had gone a good 150 kilometers that day. We got off and realized that we hadn't eaten anything so we found a conbini (Convenient store) and got some food. Then we found an awesome park, pretty much right on the border of the mission, with a really cool roller slide. We ate there and, out of pure childish impulsiveness, rode the big slide (of course). The slide, instead of being slick metal, was a track with a bunch of metal rollers so I thought it would be fast. But instead, all it did was try to munch my pants and was NOT fast. Also it ripped my last good pair of pants :( #oldmissionaryprobs. 

We found both of the less active addresses we were looking for. One of them kekkoed us and the other wasn't home but the miracle was that WE FOUND THEM. Then we caught the next train headed north and went up along the coastline all the way back to Kumanoshi, unpacked our bikes and visited our less actives up there one more time because we had an hour before the next fast train would come through. Turns out, we went to the wrong house looking for Okazaki! A kind neighbor showed us. We actually got to meet her and she told us her story. She was converted when she was 20 years old, back in Tsu. She was only active for about a year or so and then moved all the way out to Kumanoshi. She hadn't been contacted by missionaries in 40 years! She was really nice but had reverted back to the traditions of her fathers and asked us to remove her records from the church. Darn. But at least we found her. The likelyhood of a couple of clueless gaijin finding this lady in a tiny blue shack tucked away behind a bunch of other buildings and a mountain and stuff, 100 kilometers away from Ise and after 40 yrs of no church contact is not very likely. I know that the hand of God lead us to her house. 

We successfully took apart our bikes and got packed up in time for the next fast train, the last one that would be coming through that day, at about 6:45pm. We got on the train and we're just congratulating each other on an extremely successful day of confirming nearly every address we had gone looking for, when it happened. There was a loud sound of impact, the train shook and the lights flickered. It was as if the rails of the track had sunken and the entire diesel train had just fallen an inch. They immediately hit the emergency breaks and we came to an emergency stop. At first I thought we had hit a deer or something but the impact it made on the heavy diesel train was much too large to have been an animal. We were stopped inside one of those long mountain tunnels and the train crew frantically ran back and forth trying to figure out what was going on. The train passengers just whispered to each other in confusion and we sat there in the train tunnel for about another hour. They finally decided to move the train out of the tunnel so we could get some cell reception and tell the world that we were still alive and that we would be getting home very very late. We sat there for another two hours or so and then they announced that this train would stop at Owase and then we would have to get on the next train. 

We were sitting in engine one, which is the one that broke, so they pushed the train from behind with he back engine. We limped along at a crawl for a long time and finally pulled into the next train station. Everyone got off the train and we hopped on the next local train (the last train for the night was scheduled and hour ago but we backed up the whole line). So we got on the emergency local train and 30 stops later, finally got off in Matsusaka. We took the last train scheduled out of Matsusaka (11:06pm) and finally rolled into our station at midnight. 

I've never been more exhausted in my life! It's taken a bit of recovering to get over that Adventure but man it was so fun! It was just another crazy day in the awesome experience of a mission. 

On Sunday we had a couple of visitors from the Stake! A couple of my favorite people in the world, Brother and Sister Ray from Inuyama, as well as Sister Hibino from Ichinomiya came and spoke to us!! It was awesome! Then we watched the Elder Holland Broadcast for Sunday school. He talked of how God is invested in fixing broken things. Our little tiny branch here is Ise, living in the shadow of the great Jingu, has a lot of broken that needs to be fixed. Elder Holland gave a promise of healing that our little band of members needs so desperately. Many tears were shed during the conference. I hope everyone was lifted and given courage and faith from this Sunday. 

Afterwards we a shokujikai. Everyone brought out plates of food and we started eating. Then the Dejis showed up! They brought us amazing sea food! One of the perks of living out here surrounded by ocean ;). It was awesome! 

I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty down for a good part of this week. There's a mountain of things that need to be done as a branch president and as a missionary and sometimes I feel a little lost. But I felt comforted after a lot of prayer with a quote from a good friend of mine, Elder Coleman. "God doesn't ask for 110%. Just 100%." That helped me a lot. Also the words of Elder Holland, promising healing to this broken nation through the power of the Atonement, helped lift my spirits and gave me hope for our little band of members out here. 

I know that God has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us. Even the sheep who live far away from the rest of the fold are important in the eyes of the Master. 
I love this Gospel. It works. It actually makes people truly happy. I'm grateful for a God that is invested in healing broken minds, broken relationships, broken hearts and broken dreams. 

Love y'all 

Elder Johnson