norikura

Engagement: Peter & Abi

While I was in Japan I got to share half a desk with Abi; she and Seth made me sit at the crack! We got to talk quite a bit while we worked, and through our conversation I learned what a beautiful soul she is. She cares deeply about people and loves God with her whole heart. She is also a very hospitable person and helped make the interns feel welcomed and comfortable a world away from what they were used to.

So I knew Peter had to be someone special too, and he is! He is funny and kind, and together they make a wonderful couple. Hanging out with them for a couple hours to shoot was full of laughter and joy for the journey they are taking. 

Week 9: Cool People

There are some people out there whose stories are cool and humbling all at the same time. They have done things some barely dream of doing. Sometimes they do them for themselves, sometimes for others. But they do not give up and accomplish what they set out to do. Over the past couple weeks I got to meet two very special people with cool stories.

 I met Heike Pirngruber when a bunch of us decided to climb Mt Norikura. She was just starting to take her camp down when we arrived at the hiking starting point. We said hello and thought nothing more of it. During the hike up we crossed the main road several times. At one crossing we were taking a breather when Heike comes around the bend on her bike. A little surprised, we stopped to chat for a little. Obviously not Japanese, we asked her where she was from and she said Germany. As we got acquainted we learned that she has been to 29 countries over the course of 28 months! She had cycled through mostly Eastern European and Asian countries to finally arrive in Japan, her last Asian country. I wanted to share about her because she set her mind to doing this adventure and has not looked back. There were months at a time when she could speak to no one, yet she pushed on. Her blog is very well written and I highly recommend reading it. Her writing is insightful and honest, something I have come to appreciate in Japan. Link to her blog is at the end of this post.

Photo: Abi Erickson

Photo: Abi Erickson

I met Asa Yuki, Morning Snow, while taking onsen. Ty and I had gone to the free onsen, a short walk from NORTHSTAR, after our Yarigatake hike (post about that coming this weekend!). We spent around 30 minutes relaxing our very tired muscles. We were just thinking of leaving when an older gentleman came in. He spoke to us in broken English, asking us where we were from. When we told him we were from the States and Mexico, his eyes lit up. He told us that in 1979 he spent 8 months in the US, Mexico, and Guatemala. Then, we understood him to ask us if we would take a picture with him. Confused, we started to leave. He got out with us and we went up to the road where his SUV was. To my surprise, instead of pulling out an iPad to take pictures, he had a photo album. Inside were over 50 pictures of his time in Guatemala, mostly of people and Semana Santa (Holy Week). As I was flipping through he told me his favorite place in Mexico was Oaxaca, where I’m from! It was so great. After I finished looking through his lovely photos he told me that he wants to go back to Guatemala and give the photo album as a present to the families he photographed. I think it is wonderful how he thinks about these people often and wants to give back. He is from Tokyo and was visiting Norikura for the third or fourth time. Yet he kept this photo album from 1979 in his car, to remember.

Sometimes it takes specific circumstances to meet someone, sometimes it’s a casual meeting in an onsen Either way, it is important to take advantage of the situation, you never know what cool people you might meet!

Heike Pirngruber’s English blog

Week Eight: A Next Act

My heart is learning to love Japan, both its vistas and its people. I am captured by the dreams of the people here and feel unprepared to leave. I have never dealt with living someplace so intensely then quickly leaving. It is unsettling, especially once I think how I may never see these wonderful people again. Sure, Facebook and Instagram create digital, artificial, forms of communication, but do not take the place of living close to each other. For all I know I could be in Paraguay next and stay there for the 17 years.

I believe God gave me the gift of commitment. Once I choose to be committed to something it is very difficult for me to un-commit myself. So I committed 90 days of my life to Japan, but to leave feels like breaking a promise. It feels like I have only gotten started. There are so many things that could be done, that I could help with. But maybe it is not my place to have a physical role in them. In some ways, my coming to Japan was a key step in developing a dream. But a step is for supporting those who come after.

I have to believe that God’s plans for me and for Norikura are true, and that they may not coincide. Seth and I have been working through Donald Miller’s “Creating Your Life Plan.” The point of Donald’s book is to jump start your life and bring clarity. We are about half way through the plan and getting to the good part: seeing what you should focus on and how to achieve your goals. It has me thinking about what I really want to come next in my life and brings up some tough questions. Am I a photographer or designer? Or both? What is my goal in life? What steps should I take to achieve that goal?

Obviously I do not have answers yet but I know being in Japan has been a big part of God’s plan for me. I have to be ok with accepting the idea that God may have someplace else for me. I love Japan and will do my best while I am here. I believe God is already preparing me for the next step, and I am very thankful for the experiences that have brought me where I am today.


If you have heard of any photography or graphic design positions, I would love to hear from you! The next stage of life is exciting but also a little scary. Thank you for praying for me as I start taking my next steps! 

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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