Nara is…

Today has been FULL. And I mean full.
I’ve also realised that I have no wifi access at my new home stay, which means that you wonderful people won’t actually get to read this until I reach Kyoto on Friday night, and will probably think something terrible has happened to me because of the blog absence! 😉

But rest assured, I am having the best time.
And I’ll write a blog as I go these few days so they’ll read like real time.
Today I spent the first hour of the day practicing my Japanese with Kanou. Here are our amazing and incredible efforts! 😉

Seriously, I think 10 year old kids should be my teacher more often.

The real work then began as I was based with a learning support unit in Nara this morning, hearing about and seeing the provision that is available for young people who don’t do well in academic schooling.

The thing that again strikes you without fail is the pressure of the academic system in Japan. It’s absolutely nuts! From elementary school, there is this intense pressure to study and perform and achieve, with very little time for play or just being a kid. So this summer school for children at least tries to teach through fun methods and puts little pressure on academic results.

This old guy is in charge and he was seriously excited about maths:

I’ll be honest, I hated maths in English… Let alone in Japanese! I think I would have been a prime candidate for his school to be honest! And his games probably wouldn’t be my first choice for a hobby… But this was a great centre and the kids were having fun!

I got to talk to some of the kids though, and in my bad Japanese asked them about Nara and what it was like living here.
One girl said to me: ‘Nara is… daibutsu and deer’.
So that’s giant Buddha statues and… Deer.
This morning I was confused… But…
Turns out she was spot on!

After my traumatic maths morning, me and Maiko went to eat a lot of Chinese food and then do some serious sightseeing.
And here I met both the deer and the daibutsu (giant Buddha statues). Nara is pretty much made up and linked together by a whole stream of temples, which just make you want to pray and pray some more (to Jesus that is…)

Check it out, this was my sightseeing day:

These guys were meant to be the ‘guardians’ of Nara – look pretty frightening to me!! Not ideal guardian material!

And here were the giant statues:

However, the great part of my day was that being in this environment opened up a great long conversation between me and Maiko about faith, and as I asked about her beliefs and the cultural traditions of Japan, she in turn asked me a lot about my faith in Jesus, the difference that it makes for me and what my devotional life is like each day. She listened, asked lots of questions and also explained her own use of Shinto and Buddhist traditions.

It was amazing, so please keep her in your prayers specifically.

Following an afternoon of sightseeing I headed to my new homestay. I’m here just for the next two nights before I head over to Kyoto for the weekend. And this house is something else completely. It’s beautiful and traditional Japanese style. I’m staying with a retired teacher named Hara and her 95 year old mother.
Seriously. 95.
I have never seen somebody so old and yet so genki. She showed me the traditional kanji scrolls she’s learning to draw to keep her brain active!! No joke.
Neither Hara nor her Mother speak any English at all, so communicating here is a slight challenge. But quite a fun one. These two women have decided I seem too thin, too busy and just not Japanese enough so have made it their mission for the next few days to feed me a lot, make sure I have lots of relaxing baths, and generally buy me as much Japanese stuff as possible. So far I have lanterns, pyjamas, pants, and a toothbrush. They have also insisted on doing all my washing, and not allowed me to use my own towels.

I feel like I am in some kind of crazy Japanese 5 star hotel. They are so precious!

And then this evening… What a great evening! I was lecturing at Nara University at 5pm for a group of researchers who focus on global youth work and are trying to launch a national training institute in Japan. It was an incredible opportunity, and it really helped me to make some great connections. Some of group had travelled from long distances to meet me and I was humbled by that in itself. These are also the people who are writing the white papers on children’s work for local authorities in Japan, so really some of the policy makers who can help me to understand what the situation is here in a more accurate way. We had a great two hour lecture time, and followed it with a great two hour over dinner time. I got invited to some other prefectures in Japan to see more work and just really felt God’s favour on the whole evening. I got to talk about the church and youth work from a Christian perspective, and people were so open to learn about the whole UK context, including my motivation for loving work with young people.

Praise God for this opportunity. Here are some of the group:

A couple of more random things also strike me as I write this. Firstly, I am finally feeling more comfortable with Japanese business etiquette, which basically involves very humbly bowing, exchanging business cards, and bowing some more. After a few days of this being common place, I’ve decided it’s quite a nice way to do the whole business card exchange and will probably start bowing at people when I’m back in the UK and look like an idiot! 🙂

Secondly, the fact I don’t drink alcohol has been one of the best opportunities to let people know I’m a Christian. Everyone here drinks, and so at every meal I go out for I get offered alcohol. Maiko has started introducing me in Japanese at meals with something like the phrase, ‘Peta doesn’t drink sake. Or beer. She’s a Christian and it’s really important to her.’ Which undoubtedly leads to lots of questions. Praise God for natural opportunities!

So tonight, just praise God! 🙂

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