NORTHSTAR

Week 12: 86 Days Later

86 Days ago I was sitting in Narita airport writing my first Japan blog post. I was a little nervous, pretty excited, and a little lost since I knew no Japanese. 86 Days later and I think I have more questions than when I started. I believe transitioning to Japan for three months went way smoother than I expected it to (thanks for praying!). But in the process of transitioning in and now transitioning out I am discovering more and more about myself. I am rediscovering the unhealthy way I have of saying goodbye as well as having more questions about the possibilities for my future. So many of my thoughts are only half formed I am struggling to say what is rolling around my head.

I stumbled on a blog by an MK named Taylor, living in Hiroshima, Japan (link at the bottom). Even though I am 21, graduated from college, and slowly moving on with life, her writing reminded me so much of who I am, something I think I had started to lose while in the US. I am a Third Culture Kid and I cannot lose sight of how important that is to me. Sometimes, ok, most of the time, I try really hard to fit in and be a part of the group. Often that means being careful of how I present myself and only allowing certain parts of me to be visible. But thanks to Taylor I was once again reminded that I need to be aware of myself and realize that I can have meaningful relationships even over a short period of time.

I am very thankful for my time at NORTHSTAR. I might be just as confused as when I first landed but It has been a worthwhile experience.

Thank you all so much for sticking with me during this incredible journey. This is my last blog post while in Japan, but I am sure it will not be my last about Japan. I pray God blesses each of you who prayed or gave for me to be here!

Taylor Joy Murray Blog

Week 11: Red, Yellow, Orange, Green... Blue, White?

In October Japanese tourists travel to the mountains to witness the spectacular fall show: the turning of the leaves. While summer is relatively short, fall is prolonged, like it has a patient plan to woo us to its side. The colors start changing higher up in the mountains first, shedding its green coat. As the month passes the lower altitudes get to have some of the color until the whole mountain is colored in. Then, it snows on the peaks. Not a lot, but enough for the peak to glow in contrast to the warmth of the world around it. This is called Sandankoyou, the Blue Sky, White Snow, and Fall Colors. The Japanese have words for everything!

Fall is a season, and signifies the ending of the year. I feel like I am in a small fall right now. I have had a wonderful season in Japan at NORTHSTAR. But that season is about to end and bring to a close the college years. Now I get to look forward to the next season, the next years of life. The years where friendships are solidified and I continue seeking Father’s direction in my life. Please pray for me in my last week and a half here that it would be a growing time, and as I leave. I so appreciate your support!

Now please enjoy the fall colors of Japan!

Week 10: Camps, Camps, and more Camps

I checked my calendar today and wow, I have under three weeks left. My time in Japan has been incredible, but it is not over yet! We just finished our first of five camps in October alone. This means we go from 8:30 AM at the latest to 8:30 PM at night, from helping serve meals to doing programs with the kids. I am not really a “kid person” but this past camp was very interesting. It was an international school, with kids from all over Asia, Europe, and the Americas. It was an all girls, 7th grade, camp so we expected some craziness. Yes, they were crazy, but it was so cool to be among my own kind again, the elusive TCK, Third Culture Kid. I felt like I could understand them, even if they did not fully understand themselves yet.

Even though I am technically here as an art intern, I knew I would b expected to help out with some of the camps, especially now that we are a little short staffed. And you would never guess, but I enjoyed hanging out with the kids. The first night they were here we did a campfire with all 45 girls and it was a blast. The following day I assisted leading indoor wall climbing for two groups of 10 girls. Though I have only climbed a few times it was really neat to see the girls challenge themselves and encourage each other.

Please pray for us as we continue to guide each camp that comes this month. And especially pray for energy for all us; back to back camps are exhausting! But always our focus is to touch the lives of the campers and hopefully bring them a step or two closer to Christ. 

Week 9.5: Photo Essay - Summiting Yarigatake

Welcome to the second installation of the XX.5 Series! This series is dedicated to photo essays that will not fit on my Instagram. As always my slogan is more pictures, fewer words.

Our kind full time staff gave us two days off at the beginning of this week. We knew this ahead of time so Andy, who loves hiking, organized a hiking expedition. Eventually we settled on how many of us were going, three (Andy, Tyler, and me), and where we were going, Yarigatake. The peak of Mt. Yari is the 5th highest in Japan and very popular with Japanese hikers. We left NORTHSTAR early, around 4 AM, arrived at 5 AM, and were on our way by 5:30 AM.

The first four hours were relatively easy hiking, and we went quickly. The last three hours were very steep and we slowed down considerably. Up until the last 20 minutes we had not been treated to a view of the peak, only to a view of the Lodge, mocking us as we struggled higher.

It had been warm most of the way up, but as soon as we crossed over the ridge and saw the peak the wind almost knocked us over and the temperature plummeted. We had a quick lunch and began to set up camp. We changed and decided to give the peak a try.

It was a quick clamber to the top, though there were some spots where basic rock climbing came in handy. The view from the top was awesome. It was a fantastically clear day and it was even possible to see Mt. Fuji.

Coming down took a little more time as it was rather steep. Then we had dinner, which we had to be inventive about. One of our party forgot the gas for the stove, so we ended up eating lukewarm rice and curry. We were all too ready to set up our sleeping bags and prepare for the night. However, we had to see the sunset first.

The night was very windy and rather cold, but our layers and sleeping bags kept us warm. We planned on going to the peak for sunrise, but when we woke up at 5 AM it was still windy, cold, and now, cloudy. So we had oatmeal for breakfast and called it good.

Hiking down the mountain we got to see more beautiful views. We were tired at the end but we all firmly believed it had been worth it. 

Week 4.5: Photo Essay - Climbing Mount Norikura

Welcome to a new series, the XX.5 series! So far my weekly posts have been mostly words with no pictures (check out my Instagram for daily posts). But this week I wanted to share something a little extra, with more pictures and fewer words. My most recent adventure had too many pictures to share on Instagram, plus they work better together anyhow.

On Friday, our day off, I was definitely hoping to rest. After all we had just had a great boy’s camp and all the staff was tuckered out. But Seth, my boss, was photographer for another camp which was going hiking to the top of Mount Norikura. He had an extra spot, invited me to go, and I accepted. After all, how hard can hiking with a bunch of 7th graders be?

We drove 40 minutes up the mountain to our drop off point. We had about two hours hike ahead of us to the peak. The trail was stony, but well marked, and we had an experienced guide, Mine, to take us up.

The clouds kept rolling in and out, making for some pretty spectacular views. Am I crazy for expecting an Orc to come out from the mist?

Seth was shooting the whole time. Guide Mine pictured below as well. 

As we walked up the ridge to the peak, the clouds cleared for a few minutes and we were treated to a spectacular view of the crater and the lake. The volcano has not erupted for thousands of years, however there are two volcanoes within 20 miles which have the possibility to erupt; one erupted last fall.

Finally made it to the top! All clouds so only me. 3026 meters! (9,928 feet for you English people)

On the way back down we could see the ridge we had climbed up, dividing the inside of the crater and the face of the mountain.

Once we came part way down the mountain we came on another lake, still with plenty of snow and ice! About 20 minutes before this picture I began to feel very sick. I had a stomach ache since that morning, and it had been compounded by altitude sickness. Yes, I vomited what little I had eaten, breaking my record of around 10 years of not vomiting.

Our last sight was a beautiful meadow with random boulders strewn across.

I didn't feel well for the rest of the day, but it was so worth it! 

Look for more XX.5 series coming soon!

Week 4: Complexities of being a Millennial Traveler

I skyped with my family the other night for almost two hours. It was perfect timing, right before my brother went back to college and my parents started their trip back home to Mexico. It was really nice to be “all together” again after three weeks without talking. What struck me during that time was that I have never really been homesick for everywhere. Part of it is, of course, that I have had several different homes in the past few years so pinning one down as “home” is difficult. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized what an impact technology has on my life. We have wifi here at NORTHSTAR, as does much of Japan. So at any moment during the day I can slip out my phone and check my Instagram feed, tap Facebook and see what my friends all over the world are doing. When it comes down to my use of technology, nothing changed since I left Indiana. I am physically present in Japan, yet I can mentally take myself back to Grace just be scrolling through my friends’ social media posts.

My friend Emily travelled all over Europe this summer, eventually ending up in South Korea for a semester of study abroad. It was so cool to keep up with her through her photography. She captures special moments which help you feel like you are there. And with real-time updates in any social media, you can partake of that moment almost as soon as the pictures is posted. I can mentally transport myself to any number of the places she visited, like the picture, and move on. In an instant I am back in Japan.

As a millennial traveler sometimes it is really hard to stop experiencing other’s experiences and get outside and make my own experiences. Japan has wifi everywhere which is very convenient. It also means during a meal at a restaurant you can get out your phone and stop experiencing Japan and experience Vienna or Indiana instantly. There is a beauty to our teleportation, but it makes me a little sick too. I firmly believe in experiencing the now as often as possible. Yet too many afternoons I sat in front of my computer instead of taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity I was blessed with. I encourage you to interact with others online, and open your eyes and mind to other vistas and ways of doing things. But do not get so caught up you forget to leave the house all day. Scroll through Emily’s Instagram for a few minutes, then go outside.

Emily Musser - @ejmuss12  

Week 3: Communal Bathing & Other Cultural Curiosities

As I mentioned in my previous post, NORTHSTAR is a very international lodge with different nationalities working together. It is easy to forget that I am actually in Japan when the way we do a lot of things seems relatively normal. Japan is undoubtedly a modern nation, but Japan’s rich history goes so far back that tradition is a staple. After all, the Japanese have had thousands of years to figure out the best way to do things. Many of the houses in Japan are built with the traditional look, high roof and creased and pointed corners. At the entrance to just about every Japanese establishment there is a step up into the house. To step up and into the house with your outside shoes still on is considered very rude and dishonorable. At first for me it was not a big deal, just a small inconvenience. I took the time to tie and untie my shoes every time I walked between my dorm and the lodge. I learned very quickly how time consuming it was to go through every action and learned to just slip on some flip flops. But wait, there is more! Every time you go into the kitchen you have to wear shoes designated to the kitchen. They are communal, Croc styles shoes shared by whoever is working in the kitchen. And then there are special shoes for the bathroom as well! I was so fed up with changing shoes all the time. Totally unnecessary. But as I thought about it I realized how nice it was to not have to worry about grit inside and know that the areas were being kept free from outside dirt. Now it comes as second nature to quickly slip shoes on and off depending on where I am.

The Japanese have a deeply seated sense of politeness. It is very important to keep the boat from rocking, and is communicated through body language, actions, and the Japanese language. The Japanese have customs for everything to be polite, down to paying for something. When I paid for my ice cream the other day I forgot that the polite thing to do is set the money on the table and allow the cashier to pick it up. Money is considered “dirty” so should not be handed. I promptly dropped the coins into the cashier’s hands without a second thought. It seems inconsequential to Westerners. The French, Americans, and Mexicans have no such customs so it seems unnecessary. But when in Japan...

Speaking of Japan, one of the most popular things to do in Japan is to visit an onsen, a hot spring. Japan is full of volcanoes making hot springs plentiful, especially up in the mountains where NORTHSTAR is located. On Monday, our day off, ten of us took a drive over the mountain to a nearby village to visit a really nice onsen. It is part of a hotel and restaurant with delicious food. Coming from the Americas where privacy is valued I knew I would have to get over some discomfort when it came to bathing like the Japanese do. At this onsen the men bathe separately from the women. There is a changing room to leave your clothes and a shower room. Everyone must shower and wash before getting into the hot spring tubs. Then you just get in and talk with people. The French guys and the full time staff had experienced an onsen before, but for me it was a totally new experience. Of course you have to get over some discomfort but it was a very enjoyable experience. I felt refreshed and very relaxed, a wonderful way to end a very busy time here in Norikura! 

Week 1 in Japan!

Week 1 in Japan!

As of this morning I have been in Japan for 1 week. It has been a really good week of acclimation to the Japanese way of life and getting used to my schedule as a whole. Over the past weekend I hung out with a kid’s camp and photographed their activities as part of my job. This included going on a hike with them, going bike riding, and zip lining! I also got started on sketching icon ideas for Northstar’s new website.

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