Norikura

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 Seven: Beach Trip!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far! I cannot say it enough! I really appreciate everyone who is praying for me and the other staff at NORTHSTAR.

Two weeks ago I went off the grid for a few days. It was our fall break so we had four days off to do whatever we wanted. Brad and his wife Michie were planning a camping trip to the beach as well as visiting Michie’s parents, and they invited us interns to go along. We accepted, so on a rainy Tuesday morning we drove down the mountain and toward Michie’s home town. Our route was as follows: Norikura > Ueda > Toyama > Norikura. If you start at the red pin and go counter clock-wise that is the way we took.

Michie told us that Ueda was a pretty standard city for Japan. There was nothing really exciting or historical about it, but to me, it was wonderful. It was great to get away from the more touristy feel of Norikura and Matsumoto and go to a regular Japanese city without all the extras. As we got to Ueda we stopped at the castle ruins near the center of the city. There was only one tower left standing as the rest had been destroyed. But the rest of the grounds had been turned into a beautiful park, which we all enjoyed.

Later we went to Michie’s parent’s house. Ka san (Mom, in Japanese), and To san (Dad) were the most welcoming hosts we could have asked for. To san was very enthusiastic about practicing his English and I was more than willing to help him and practice my Japanese! He took us out for sushi, which was delicious. This sushi was not wrapped in seaweed like I often picture it. It was rice with a piece of raw fish or squid laid on top of it. Picking it up, dipping it in soy sauce, and getting it into my mouth with chopsticks without it falling apart took some skill. Squid meat is white and very soft and smooth, with almost no taste. I really enjoyed it!

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After spending the night on traditional futon we had breakfast. What a breakfast! There was fruit, rice, miso soup, and pregnant fish. They were crunchy, kind of like Mexican grasshoppers. After breakfast we packed the van up and headed out to the beach! It was a pretty long drive to the beach so we drove directly to our site, set up camp, and went in search of dinner. The water was still warm, but since it was late we did not play in the water. Instead we set off fireworks!

The next morning Brad made French toast for breakfast, then we played in the Sea of Japan for a few hours tossing the Frisbee. It was a wonderful de-stressor and none of us were ready to leave. But we had some more sites to see! Our main objective was the Glass Art Museum in downtown Toyama, but on the way there we stopped for lunch at a rest stop right next to the ocean. The food was good, but the main attraction to us was the foot bath. The bath was around 40° C, which is well over 100° F. But it was so relaxing and really good for circulation, plus there was a great view of the ocean.

The Glass Art Musuem had opened just a few weeks prior and only cost ¥200 to get in, just under $2. It was a beautiful construction made of glass and wood. The exhibits were full of artists from all over, including one main exhibit by Chihuly.

Our final stop was something I wanted to do just because: McDonalds! Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it was pretty much like any other McDonalds. I had a teriyaki burger, but it was still McDonalds. We made it back Thursday night, and it was still raining in Norikura. And a fantastic road trip was had by all!

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