Cherry Trees and Resurrection Rolls – Easter in Japan 2013

While most people in Japan picnicked under cherry trees or went about their usual spring break activities this weekend, our family celebrated the little known holiday of Easter by dying eggs, participating in our little house church, and making resurrection rolls. And of course we had to trek around a park looking for blooming cherry trees too!

Our Easter celebrations started on Saturday when our friends Mio, Kazushi, and Yushi came over to play and dye Easter eggs. Mio read the Easter story to the kids from the Japanese children’s Bible and I explained that, though there actually aren’t any Easter eggs in the Bible, some say that the eggs represent the grave and new life. I told them that while we decorated we could remember how Jesus broke free from the grave and rose from the dead so that we can have new life. I had a few Easter egg dying kits that friends sent us from the States last year and I have to say I was impressed by all the bells and whistles that are part of these kits nowadays! I feel like a grandma saying this, but when I was a youngster there were dye tablets and there were those little wire egg holder thingys that (let’s face it) don’t really work very well to hold the eggs. That was it. Though they haven’t improved the egg holder thingys, boy have they added some amazing extras! There was paint to put designs on the eggs, a “magic crayon”, rubber bands that prevent the egg from being dyed where the band is so you can add stripes, plastic “belts” for the eggs that shrink to fit tightly to them when you add heat from a hair dryer, stickers, glitter, beads and more! The kids had a fantastic time decorating their eggs and it was especially fun to be able to do the activity with our friend Kazushi who had never done this before.

On Sunday we celebrated Easter with friends at our house church, International Bible Fellowship (IBF). After the worship time, the parents went outside to the yard and hid around 50 plastic Easter eggs filled with candy. The kids were, of course, chomping at the bit to get out there and find those eggs so they had a hard time waiting until all the hiding was done. But, they somehow hung in there and survived to have a super fun time scouting for eggs and showing off their winnings.

Later, after a relaxed lunch at IBF, we headed to the park with a few friends to view the cherry trees that were in full bloom. Unfortunately, it was overcast and freezing cold outside, but that didn’t stop the kids from thoroughly enjoying tromping around the park, chasing and feeding pigeons, and adventuring among the trees. And, to please the adults, we of course had to take a few photos to prove that we did actually see some cherry trees together.

 

Sunday evening, we finished up our day by making resurrection rolls together and watching a movie. To make the resurrection rolls we used this recipe.  To make them you dip marshmallows in melted butter and then roll them in cinnamon and sugar.  This symbolizes Jesus’ body being annointed in oil and spices. Each marshmallow is then placed on top of a flat circle of bread dough and the dough is wrapped around the marshmallow to make a ball shape.  The dough represents Jesus’ grave.  When you bake the rolls, the heat melts the marshmallows and the first bite reveals that the grave is empty and Jesus has risen.  This is such a fun (and delicious) way for our family to remember the true meaning of Easter. It’s always a big hit! This year our friend E-chan joined in on the fun, which made it extra special.

 

We ran out of time yesterday to use our resurrection eggs kit to review the Easter story from the Bible, but since it’s still technically Easter in America we figure we have an extra day to finish up our family’s festivities.  That’s one of the benefits of living in another time zone!

Celebrating American Thanksgiving … Japanese Style

As an American family living in Japan, we do our best to keep up the American traditions that are most important to our family.  For us that means celebrating Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, and Fourth of July, even when three of the four of those holidays are generally not on the Japanese radar screen.  Fortunately, though almost no regular grocery stores sell turkeys, cranberry sauce, bread cubes for stuffing, or American sweet potatoes, we are blessed to have a Costco a few hours away and a friend with a membership card!  For the items that even Costco doesn’t sell, we stock up ahead of time during our yearly trip to the States in September, and beg friends and family to send those occasional items we forget to add to our shopping list.

While most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family, we live so far away that our tradition is to celebrate with our “adopted family” here in Japan — co-workers and other close friends, both American and Japanese.  My amazing mom used to make every traditonal dish herself each year (until my brother and I were old enough to help with some of the items).  I honestly don’t know how she did that!  Every year the turkey and stuffing or a pie fall to me, but other than that all the guests contribute a food or drink item to the menu until we have a huge feast.  It is so wonderful not to have to make it all myself!  Sometimes we end up with unusual items that way, like the year some friends contributed “tako yaki” — fried balls of batter with octopus pieces inside of them,  but that’s just one more reason our celebration is uniquely American and Japanese at the same time.  This year everyone brought traditional items and as usual everything was extremely delicious!

In addition to feasting, our family prepared for Thanksgiving by reading a Children’s picture book depicting the Pilgrims’ journey to America on the Mayflower.  We also made a “Thanksgiving Tree” using a printable I found on Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience.  I saw there are quite a few different versions of the thanksgiving tree idea on the internet, but I really liked the design she used for the leaves on this one.  We printed out the leaves on white cardstock, cut them out, and then wrote things we were thankful for on the backs.  Then we hole-punched the leaves and hung them on branches the kids had picked up at the park next door and put everything in a super cute vase that our dear friend Megan made for us as a Thanksgiving gift a couple of years ago.  Oh, and of course our Thanksgiving celebration isn’ t complete without our  yearly game of “shoot the stuffed animal turkeys off the backs of dining room chairs with Nerf dart guns” game.  Your family does that too, right??

Reflections on Mother’s Day

“I am thankful for Mommy because she makes great food!”  “I love Mommy because she’s an awesome snuggler!”  As we munched on the delicious chocolate cake that Bryan brought home for Mother’s Day on Sunday, these were some of the sweet comments that the kids made as they reflected on why they are thankful for me.  In addition to encouraging words from Bryan and the kiddos, I was given handwritten love notes from Austin, Ethan, and Katie which they put into the mailbox so I would think the postman had delivered them.  And, at school Katie painted a portrait of me and made a hanging decoration in the shape of a caterpillar with my face on it. 🙂  What priceless gifts!  I felt very loved and appreciated on Mom’s Day this year!!

I especially appreciated the loving words and notes from the kids because, to be honest, it’s often easy to struggle with feeling that what I do every day to take care of and nurture my family is not all that meaningful and important.  Shouldn’t I be out doing a “real job” where I can receive accolades and a salary?  In my heart I know that what I do for my family is extremely important.  I am making myself available to them, caring for their physical and emotional needs, putting bandaids on owies and cleaning up barf in the middle of the night when someone gets sick!  I am their kindergarten and elementary school teacher three days a week (actually, every day of the week) and I sacrifice my own free time, sleep, and other needs in order to give myself to them while they are young and need me the most.  But when I’m washing the same dishes and laundry day in and day out, knowing that I’ll have to start all over again tomorrow, it can be discouraging and I can wonder if what I do really matters.  So, it’s affirming when my kids tell me that I’m the best mom in the universe and shower me with hugs and kisses.  And it’s encouraging to see them starting to mature and become wonderful little people who can (sometimes) serve others and make good choices.  And some day (I hope!) they will be positive influencers in the world because they had a mom who wholeheartedly invested in their lives and made them a high priority.

A Bible verse on this topic that has encouraged me over the last ten years since Austin was born is this:

Mark 9:33-37 (NIV) 33 They came to Capernaum. When he [Jesus] was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they [the disciples] kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

It’s easy to feel like mothering is a pretty thankless job a lot of the time and it’s easy to wish for something more public, more “great”.   Moms are, without a doubt, servants to their families in many ways and I don’t know anyone who has ever told me that they are aspiring to be someone’s servant!  But Jesus says that it’s the servants of others who are actually the greatest in his kingdom.  And he says that when we welcome little children (with their constant questions, spills, messes, runny noses, bad table manners, and sibling arguments that never seem to end) we are welcoming God himself.  Wow, if I could only keep that perspective when I’m picking up toys and washing the fifteenth load of laundry or dishes for the day, I wouldn’t struggle with wondering if my job is significant or not!

I recently ran across several different online articles about the value of mothers and this one in particular was very encouraging to me about the significance of my role as stay-at-home mom to my three precious treasures.

I am also extremely thankful for my own wonderful mom who juggled working full-time with caring for my brother and me in sometimes less-than-ideal circumstances.  She is an “energizer bunny” type who is passionate about her work and the causes she cares about.  And she has always done a great job of making me feel loved and accepted by her for who I am, even when my choices have sometimes been different than what she would have preferred.  She is also an incredibly enthusiastic grandmother to our kids and a cheerleader for our family.

Thanks for giving me life and sacrificing yourself in countless ways for me over the years, Mom!  I love you with all of my heart!

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Flashback: Easter 2012

Because we live in Japan, Easter is easy to forget.  It’s not a holiday on the Japanese calendar and there are no bunny rabbits, Easter cards, or egg dying kits in the stores to remind us that it is coming up.  It’s up to us to remember Easter and to figure out how to celebrate it as a family, since there are  no expectations around us regarding how to celebrate.  So, as a family we have come up with some of our own traditions for celebrating Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection.  One family favorite is our Resurrection Eggs kit.  It’s a carton filled with a dozen colorful plastic Easter eggs.  Inside the eggs are small items that remind us of the main events of the Easter story.  For example, there is a rock inside one of the eggs to remind us of the stone that was placed in front of Jesus’ tomb.  In another egg there is a small toy donkey to remind us of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and in another there is a small piece of white cloth to remind us of the linen that was used to wrap Jesus’ body before it was placed in the tomb.  Our tradition is to read the Easter story together and then open the appropriate eggs as we get to key points in the story.  The kids look forward to taking turns opening each egg and remembering together what Easter is all about.

Another fun  activity we enjoy is baking “resurrection rolls” together.  Several years ago, I found a recipe for the dough, which I make in my bread machine.  After the dough cycle has finished, we make a couple of dozen dough balls, which we flatten and then wrap around a marshmallow that has been dipped in melted  butter,  cinnamon and sugar.  The marshmallow represents Jesus’ body and the butter, cinnamon, and sugar are the oil and spices that were used to annoint Jesus after his death.  When the rolls are baked, they represent the tomb where Jesus was burried.  When they have cooled, we cut off a small piece of bread from the side of  the roll (or, just take a big bite!)   The marshmallow has melted and the inside of the roll is hollow — giving us a picture of the empty tomb after Jesus rose from the dead.  Austin, Ethan and Katie, absolutely LOVE making and eating these rolls and it is one of the highlights of Easter for them each year.

Our final tradition is to go to our small  church to celebrate Easter on Sunday morning.  This year we had a very family-friendly service, with Bryan and our co-worker Tomoaki preparing a Bible story,  talk, and games that the kids could enjoy along with the adults.  Then, after the service, the Takizawa family hauled out the candy-filled Easter eggs they had prepared and the adults took a few minutes to hide the eggs around the outside of the church building before the kids went on a wild and crazy Easter egg hunt.  All in all, this year we enjoyed a great combination of fun and serious ways of celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Flashback…Thanksgiving 2010!

I have gotten behind on blogging recently and am trying to catch up!  I just realized that I never posted about our Thanksgiving celebrations this year.  Here are some photos with accompanying captions to give you a feel for what it was like.  Don’t forget to click on any photos you want to see more closely.

No snow, just sushi…Christmas in Japan

As Katie and I made our way through the Toys R Us parking lot on Christmas Eve to spend some money sent by sweet Grandparents, we felt a couple of icy drops of rain, causing us to think that a major snow storm was imminent.  Unfortunately, by the time we had finished shopping the rain was gone and snow was no where in sight.  No white Christmas again this year.  Oh well, that’s okay because we had the next best thing…sushi for dinner!!! 🙂  When I asked the kids what they wanted to eat for our family Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve, they unanimously voted for waffles for breakfast and sushi for dinner.  So, that was our rather unconventional menu. 🙂

This year our Christmas celebrations included Christmas parties at our kids’ school and at our church, reading the Christmas story together, making Christmas cookies, counting down the days to Christmas with an advent calendar,  lighting advent candles and talking about their meaning, Skyping and calling family, and using the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas gift catalog to choose ways our family could give to people in need.

And, of course, there were presents for the kids.  Katie’s favorite Christmas gift was a toy cash register, which she had been wanting for awhile.  She has a spot in her bedroom that she calls her “office” and she wanted a cash register to use for her “work”. 🙂  The boys received money from several sources this year and pooled them together to purchase some amazing midieval castle legos.   Studying about midieval times during homeschooling this year has especially made the kids interested in this time period and in anything related to it.   Austin and Ethan had been eyeing these Lego sets for awhile, but never thought they could afford them.  So, when they were finally able to put all their allowance and gift money together and buy them they were VERY excited.  It took them several hours to complete the two sets, but putting them together is a big part of the fun for them. 🙂  I’m always amazed at how well they are able to follow the building instructions on their own and create amazing structures.  Bryan particularly enjoyed watching the kids play with their sets, since his favorite Christmas gift as a child was always Lego too. 🙂

Here are some photos from the our family’s Christmas activities this year.  Enjoy!

Christmas 2009

We’re moving to a new house at the beginning of January and we’ve been busy with preparations for that , so our family’s Christmas was low-key this year.  We didn’t decorate the house AT ALL and we did our celebrations simply, but we had a fun time together remembering Jesus’ birthday.  In addition to the usual opening of gifts from wonderful family members and friends and read the Christmas story together from the Children’s Bible.  We also  lit candles on a small cake and sang the Happy Birthday Song to Jesus (and ate the cake, of course!).  🙂

We also have a tradition of giving to Samaritan’s Purse at Christmas, so we decided together how to spend our allotted giving money.  Samaritan’s Purse has a really cool “catalog” of gifts you can give to people in need (like a goat for a family to provide milk for them, warm blankets, mosquito nets, and other really specific items).  So, each year we sit down with the boys and let them choose what to give and then pray together for the people who will receive our gifts.  This year one of the things they both wanted to give was a mosquito net since they hate mosquitos and said they would love to have one of those nets themselves!  🙂

A couple of days before Christmas, Bryan took the boys to the BEST Club Christmas party where our friend Yoichi (a graduate from Utsunomiya University who is now working for the Navigators in Tokyo) gave a short Bible-related message to the students as part of the program.  Our kids always enjoy rubbing shoulders with the students in BEST Club and of course they love going places with Bryan so they had a great time.  This year the party was a dress-up event so Austin and Ethan got to wear suits that Grandma Judy had given them awhile back.  When they were younger, they hated dressing up and wearing ties, but this year they were very excited about it and wanted to choose for themselves which tie to wear.  They ended up looking very dapper!  🙂

Since much of our family Christmas celebrations were carried out while we were wearing pajamas, we don’t have any photos to share, but here are several pictures from the  the BEST Club Christmas party.  I hope you enjoy them!