An Answer to the Call

This week, I read an article entitled, “Four Misconceptions of the Missionary Call“, which of course peaked my interest.  I agreed with about 80-85% of it, and the final 15-20%… well, I get what he’s trying to say.

But obviously, I have something to say too.

What a very American statement, huh.

First of all, the article begins with the misconception that missionaries are some spiritual model in the line of Superman or perhaps an odd nut that fell off the tree.  No, we’re not. A vast majority of us are very normal.  We have faults, we get irritated, there are many things we don’t know how to do, we prefer chocolate to whatever weird insect is being fried up.  Our hindsight is 20-20, our foresight… not always. We’re learning, we’re growing, we survive by God’s grace.  Weird note, I absolutely do not like eggs.  Is there any country in the world that doesn’t use eggs as a main staple?? You’re supposed to eat whatever is served before you (eggs can be served in a variety of ways) and yet, this is the one thing I don’t like. Seriously??? I’ve always felt that liking eggs would make me a much better missionary.

Anyway, yes, we’re normal.  I’ll leave it there.

The article then goes on to talk about the “call”.  The author brings up a lot of good points.  However, I think maybe there’s a little caveat that needs to be added about obedience to Matthew 28:18-20.

First of all, a missionary should “go” because of Matthew 28:18-20.  We ALL should “go” because of Matthew 28:18-20 (from here, shortened to M28).  That is the ultimate basis for action because the Word of God is our foundation for living.  

Because all nations [peoples] is specified, this verse should make every Christian ask themselves, “Lord, are you calling me to make disciples overseas?  In which nation do you want me to make disciples?”

Let me share the conclusion and then backtrack:

We need to seek the Lord’s guidance on the question of where to make disciples.

1- We are called to make disciples of all nations. Yes.  Period.  Right? Yes.  But, guess what? Your home nation is a nation included in that list too.  This does not mean that it is God’s will that every Christian should go overseas to work and make disciples in a foreign country.  If you want to get technical about the verse, I’m pretty sure you cannot physically in your lifetime go to all nations and make disciples and so obey that verse to last point.  We need to be strategically placed, according to the Lord’s strategy, not our own strategy or our own preferences.

It was the Lord’s strategy in Acts 13:1-4 to send Barnabas and Saul out for a specific task the Lord had for them.  It wasn’t a haphazard or whimsical thing.  It happened because of the Lord’s clear guiding.  It was the Lord who sent them out, and then the church; not Barnabas and Saul who sent themselves out.

The danger I feel that this article presents in saying that M28 is sufficient by itself for missionary service is that people who are merely interested in another country, culture or language, whatever, can feel confident to say without waiting for the Lord, “Oh, I’m just going to obey this verse, and head over to Thailand to make disciples because this verse is sufficient enough to go. Thailand has always called my attention, and so I’m going”.  Who is doing the sending out here? M28 is the absolutely the foundation of the “going”, but then again, perhaps it’s the Lord’s will that said person makes disciples in his home nation.  Anyway, this leads me to…

2.  “The Call”- Many people think that there is a special, mystical “call” or experience or voice from heaven that people have that lead them to missions.  The “M28 call” is a church-wide call that we all have to make disciples.  As far as missions goes, though, God leads and sometimes we begin with desire/interest and sometimes it’s developed/revealed with time and opportunity.  But what I do think that there needs to be is personal confirmation.  I think this looks different for every person.  Some people do have “experiences”.  Some people have deep conviction and peace.  Some have a Scripture that they hold onto that the Lord spoke in a specific moment. Some have all of the above.  It’s similar to our testimony of how we met the Lord– some people, it’s an action-packed, dramatic conversion.  Some people begin walking with the Lord when they’re young and have a different kind of testimony. It’s different for each person.

The point is that we are walking with the Lord and being led by the Spirit. And this leading to a “missionary call” is just another step like everyone else takes on their own path.

I do think that it’s essential to have this confirmation– both personal and from leadership who can recognize it as well.  See Acts 13 if you’d like me to back that up.  But why do I say this?  Because missions will affect and probably change every area of your life- areas you didn’t even know you had.  And because sometimes it’s hard on the field.  Remember, we’re normal, right?  Well, sometimes it’s extremely stressful, sometimes we have way too much on our plates, sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we’re afraid, sometimes we miss home, and there’s always pressure from every side.  There’s a spiritual battle going on that is always intense.

And when it’s dark all around you and you’re not even sure what you’re doing and how you’re going to make it through and if you can even do this, you can go back to– “you know what, I know that I know that I know that the Lord led me here.  I know it.  [insert a grunt and thumping of the chest here]. And so I’m going to hang out and wait on the Lord.”

It’s a lot easier to give up if that initial confirmation or firm persuasion from the Lord isn’t there.

3- Don’t write yourself off. Many people don’t even consider missions for themselves.  They don’t pray about it.  They don’t want to or are afraid to. Or they write themselves off due to whatever excuse that makes things impossible. But I’ve met many types of missionaries, with many personalities, with a variety issues, with many strengths, with many visions. Praise God! We are not one set mold.

M28 should push us toward complete surrender (no matter the conclusion to the question of where) and it should push us toward strategic focus.  We need to look at the task we’ve been given as a church, we need to pray intensely to the Lord about what He wants each of us to do (and not be idle in the meantime) and we need to make sure the job gets done.  I feel like there are definitely aspects of this that we can look at logically and go, “this is my personality and my giftings, this makes sense for me”.  But we should not let our logic and human thinking have the final say.  The Lord should have that. We shouldn’t say, “Oh, I could never be a missionary because I could never leave my family.”  Yes, you could.  If the Lord called you to and you were committed to obedience, you could.  The question is, are you willing to if He so asks?

Remember, the Lord’s grace is abundant and rich and sufficient for us.

4.  Lastly, a challenge. M28 is your call. No matter what, you are to go, leave the proverbial four walls of your church, and make disciples.  You are a part of making sure that the task is completed.

M28 should inspire us with a bigger vision than just ourselves.  It should inspire us to make sure the job is getting done.  And many people do make sure the big picture is getting done, by sending, praying, supporting, assisting, etc.  Those possibilities go on and on and that is SO exciting!

The challenge?  To learn: what specific parts of the task are not yet complete?  (this is a loaded, oversimplified question) Where are the needs? What has the Lord gifted you with?  I love the question the author of that article poses: “How can I best serve in this Kingdom, with the ultimate purpose of seeing the nations saved?”  Think!  God gave us a brain, and I believe the Lord is pleased when we, with passionate and compassionate hearts, seriously consider and dream up and strategize.

BUT. Pray and seek.  Ultimately, they are HIS plans. His Will.  We do His bidding, He does not follow our whims.  We submit our plans to HIM and do not lean on our own understanding.  “Lord, I will obey you now and make disciples here and now.  But would you also have me to go overseas to accomplish the task?  Is your will for me to stay and make disciples in my home nation? Would you have me to go to the [insert ethnic district in your city] and focus on making disciples?  Would you have me to focus on the field of the moms in the PTA group?  Would you have me praying intensely for my coworkers in the surrounding cubicles as my disciple-making field?”

And wherever it is, whether you have an adventurous personality and are itching to go or you love the comforts of your familiar hometown and accessibility of cheese and ranch dressing, will you be willing to surrender your desires and be led by the Spirit?

I think if we are all doing this, so many of the misconceptions about missions will begin to be cleared up.  We’re all working to accomplish one task: make disciples (which is a life-long process- a whole separate blog). We are all part of one body, no part is greater, we have different functions, different strengths, different vulnerabilities.  All parts are vital.  But it’s all of our jobs to listen to the Head, to cooperate and work together, hold each other up, and make sure we obey our Lord.


The Silver Lining

Well, I wasn’t kidding with my last post.  It’s been awhile and it’ll probably be awhile yet again.  But I’ll do what I can, if only because this is something I enjoy.

Our little one stayed in the hospital a week, suddenly making rapid progress 24 hours after vomiting clear across the room with surprising force.  I doubt I’ll forget that moment or the night that followed.  Anyhow, oddly enough, she actually seems to like nurses these days.

Since then, my schedule has been full of researching hospital bill payments, city hall procedures, baby appointments, getting our daughter enrolled in a pre-preschool program, helping out and meeting with our interns, and trying to keep up with household work, financial reports, correspondence and a million other things.

One thing that has been really really cool about this whole process is that we’ve made relationships with our neighbors soooo much closer.  During April, my neighbor had her second baby via c-section, which of course I experienced in February.  Both sets of grandparents being far away, she was alone to take care of her kids most of the day (though the older goes to preschool).  Knowing how hard it was for me, I had a lot of compassion for her! When I went to visit her in the hospital, I didn’t bother asking but informed her that I planned to make her meals when she got home.  She was so surprised but grateful, wanting help but unable to ask for it.  Not uncommon here.  So, I made a few meals for her on the day she got home and then one the day that I left to take our baby to the doctor… of course ending up in the hospital that night.  Earlier that week, we had gone grocery shopping and I picked up some goodies for her– healthy things specifically for momma and snacks and dropped them off on the spur of the moment.

She answered the door and cried.

Of course, I cried too, because… well… hormones.  I’m sure it’s probably mostly that for her too, but Japanese don’t cry.  So, we had a bonding moment.

Naturally, she was looking for a way to repay me– because it’s considered obligation in Japan to return the favor.  Not wanting that, I asked for help in a different direction– making a phone call to the hospital payment center for me and later casually asking for help with preschool info.

Dingdingding.  This has been the key.  On the day she made the call, I awkwardly told her she didn’t need to use polite language with me anymore. She was SO excited and told me she was trying to figure out the right timing to “become friends”.  I’d tried making the switch informally a number of times, but she always continued using polite form language.  Inevitably, I’d go back to polite form, trying to figure out if she wanted to keep me at a distance or what.

It seems there might be a specific transition moment to make the change.  I’ll ask around, but this is the second time having this conversation with someone.  So, I might be on to sometime. Timing.

Anyway, since then we message back and forth through our shared wall frequently.  She sends incredibly long messages (for me, at least), so it takes a bit of concentration to focus on what she’s saying and then to come up with a decent response.  And not surprisingly, a few of our messages have taken place at 4am.

In the almost month since then, we’ve hung out at each others’ houses, been invited to use nicknames, gone to a local event as families, and she’s helped me out and even walked me to the preschool the first day. Next week, we’re going to a preschool event together, though I don’t think her son is going.  And apparently we’re going to do some traditional meal together to celebrate our kids’ 100th day (well, sometime in the middle).  I expect I’ll have more to say about that after it happens.

So, for all the challenge that the hospital was, it’s produced some good things out of it- the two neighbors we have connections with have grown a lot closer.  Doors have opened.  And I’ve learned more about a new section of Japanese health care and procedures and what is and is not covered (all said, it’s light years cheaper than the US).

Well, I’m off to wash bottles and then head to bed.  I expect in the near-ish future, there might be a post about pre-preschools and that whole realm for me.  Let’s just say that momma was more nervous on “our” first day than my own 3 year old was.  But we’ll get to that later.

It’s been a while and it will probably be a while

I am currently sitting in a giant yellow gauze gown next to the window of a 7th floor hospital room. Outside it’s a balmy 75 degrees with clear, sunny skies. Inside it’s the view of my teeny-tiny almost 3 month old attached to an IV, sleeping in a little bassinet made of rolled up towels. 

I may actually take the idea home with me. It’s working well here. 

She’s slept most of the afternoon- which is nice, because she didn’t sleep last night. Ive taken the opportunity to have breakfast, brush my teeth, make my “bed”, have a quiet time, answer emails and mindlessly browse Facebook and play games on my phone for a while. I should try to nap but I’m a little listless right now. 

What’s wrong with the baby? Well… good question. Adenovirus, for one. Vicious mouth sores for another. Still not sure of the source. Lack of appetite. Diarrhea on the mend, we hope. And vomiting coming to an end, if only because she’s not eating that much today. 

Every day is a new plan around here. That’s fine- I get it. It’s been that way for the better part of the last 3 months as we tried every solution under the sun for colic and general crankiness. It was almost grasping at straws for a while. 

Of course, I’d like to move on to a plan that works. 

But there are things I’m grateful for:

-my wee little one being sick and in pain has allowed her to let me comfort her in a way that couldn’t be done during the intense colic stage. This is a giant balm to my soul that I can’t even express, to finally have the right touches and timing to help her. Being able to do that gives me a big peace. 

-my other bundle of joy is able to run around, be loud and obnoxious and enjoy evenings with all the lights on in the house. Even from far away, that gives me joy as our evenings over the last couple of months have been spent in minimal lighting and silence and frayed nerves. That’s hard on a 3 year old. 

-We comfort those with the comfort we’ve received– it’s a new understanding of what parents with little ones in the hospitals go through. I don’t honestly feel our situation is dire, though it’s not good and there are a lot of unknowns, but I have a new understanding of the emotions that you feel when you go back through “the doors”, back into the halls where your little one lies in pain and not knowing what will await you. When you leave for breakfast when everyone else is bringing in their lunches and you’re bone tired and don’t feel like thinking. The quietness of a hospital room when your little one is finally resting and nurses and all the rest of the world is about their business. The anxious waiting for the visit of the doctor to hopefully find out more or discuss the next plan. 

I had compassion when I was single. I had a more tender heart when I became a mother. Now I have experience– or at least a little of it. More than I want. But my heart has new compassion and yearning (??) for friends who recently or are currently going through rough rough situations. 

Well. I’m tired of vomit and diarrhea and mystery sores. On to some amusing anecdotes. 

-the doctors and nurses are in wonder at the white and pink noise tracks I use almost around the clock to calm baby. “What is that?!!” They ask. I think they think I’m weird. 

-I didn’t have my name stamp (you use that here in Japan for official documents) when I had to fill out hospital admission paperwork. So, instead they had me use the red stamp ink on my forefinger and sign with my finger print. Isn’t that interesting??

-in general, most Japanese are entranced by the Boba baby wrap carrier that I use with our little one. It’s the only way I’ve survived the last couple of months. But no one I’ve met has seen it before and I always get a crowd when putting it on and tucking her in. The Ergo baby carrier is most popular here but I’m waiting for Eliana’s neck to be more stable before I switch to mainly using that. 

-it’s a dollar a day to use the teeny tiny refrigerator in our room. (They use a prepaid card which also works in you want to use the tv). I also cannot eat or drink in the room or use the room’s bathroom here. There are rental beds but they’re out of them right now, so every night I arrange three chairs and sleep across them. It’s surprisingly not too bad!

-you also bring your own diapers, wipes, throw away bags for diapers, and towels here. Every diaper is weighed and added up in a room down the hall and then thrown away. I’m not sure, but I think we will have a trash charge on that account. 

-my husband won a special husband of the year award when he brought me a pillow without me even thinking to ask for one. He also packed a chocolate bar and usually brings me a new goodie. 

Well. Baby is stirring. Probably time to go. It was nice talking “at” the outside world for a while. Blogging is often a relaxing activity for me. 

And it’s nice to have a feeling of normalcy when you’re siting in a giant yellow gauze gown. 

Legalities: Babies in Tokyo

This post is intended to outline what an American parent will need to do in Japan to get their newborn baby legal here.  It’s for future reference for myself (I’m rather doubtful of the need at this moment) and for anyone other applicable person who stumbles across this page. (As a disclaimer, though Tokyo is listed in the title, we lived in Saitama)

A couple of days after the delivery of your baby, the staff of the hospital or clinic will give you a Birth Report (Shussei Todoke/Shussei Shoumeisho), which will have two sides.  One side is filled out by the hospital and the other side is for you to fill out.  This will begin the grand process of legalizing your baby… and for us, it created a giant pool of confusion!

(Random note: there is a postcard that goes along with your coupon book for the appointments; fill that out and send it in.  I’m not sure why [yet], but you’re supposed to do it.)

City Hall

Within 14 days of the birth of your child, either (or both) you or your spouse will need to make a trip to City Hall to register the baby’s birth and receive the birth certificate. The baby does not need to be present.

Documents Needed:

  • -The completed Shussei Todoke/Shussei Shoumeisho
  • -The Mother/Child Health Handbook (Boshi Techou)
  • -Your National Health Insurance Card
  • -Both parents’ Passports and Residence Cards
  • -Your Hanko (personal name stamp)– though this is needed less and less these days for foreigners

First Stop: Birth Register Desk

Present these documents at the desk and eventually, they will give you them back, with a paper attached to the Shussei Shoumeisho showing you have registered the birth.

Now here came the kicker for us: the guy at the desk insisted that our daughter’s name should not be written the way that we wrote it– he insisted the Japanese way to do it was the reverse the order of the middle and first name. (Japanese don’t have middle names, thus the fuss)

Too bad I’m not Japanese. I’m really glad I wasn’t there for this discussion.

It’s not a big deal, though a pain in the tuckus in the long run.  What complicated our situation a bit more was that he added the middle name to the last name box, so in effect, it appears that our daughter has two last names.  I don’t know what the deal is because no one else I know has had a problem like this.

Believe me, I asked around. I think it was just a power kick, or that he ran into some troublesome foreigners earlier in the day.  I don’t know.

But as the guy at the US embassy told me (though we had some dramatic pauses while they examined our daughter’s two last names…)– you can name your kid whatever you want in America.

Next Stops:

The NHI counter for health insurance, the child health program (to get the free doctor visits postcard) and the Jidouteatte counter. *Note that you will be issued a temporary health insurance card until the baby’s visa is established.

Documents to Collect While at City Hall:

-A copy of your Residence Record (Juminhyou) with your new child’s information on it.  Note: Make sure that you get everything listed on the Juminhyou– you will need your residence card number, type and expiration dates printed on there as well.  Don’t ask how we know.

-The most recent tax payment certificate (Nouzei Shoumeisho/Kazei Shoumeisho).  If one parent is a dependent, you will need that record that they were listed as a the taxpaying parent’s dependent.

Immigration Office

Note that your deadline to complete this is 30 days. One parent (or a guarantor) can do this, and the baby does not need to be present.

Documents Needed:

  • -Application form for Permission to Acquire Status of Residence- no need for a photo of the baby. Also, the working parent is to be listed as the guarantor/legal representative on the form.
  • -Both parents’ passports and residence cards (and a copy of each)
  • -Baby’s Passport (but if you don’t have it, that’s ok)
  • -A Certificate of Employment (with employer’s hanko on it) (each working parent will need this) This needs to be issued within the last 3 months
  • -The above mentioned Tax Certificates (Note that if you moved to a new city within the last tax-paying year, you will need to visit the prior city hall for this document)
  • -Above mentioned Juminhyou
  • -The registered Shussei todoke shoumeisho (birth certificate)
  • -Boshi Techo
  • -Shitsumonsho (Parent’s info form which can be got and filled out at the IO)
  • Your Hanko

Submit all these documents and viola!  You will be issued a residence card for your little one.

Once this process is complete, your city hall will then mail you a health insurance card for your baby with a longer expiration date and a “my-number card” application, which you will need to fill out (can be done online too) and send in.

Note that if you do not complete the above two processes within the allotted time, they very well may try to deport your baby. It happened to a friend of a friend, so if need be, collect all the applications and documents (beside the Juminhyou- you have to wait for that) ahead of time.

US Embassy

This one’s a doozy guys! Thankfully, there’s no real deadline for this part (unless you plan to travel soon).  We went when the baby was two weeks old because of all the unknowns with the middle name and how that would affect her at immigration (resolution below).

Also, both parents will need to be there (or a notarized document stating why it’s not possible) and the baby needs to be present as well.

Documents Needed:

Every document you possess.

Just kidding, but here we go:

  • Completed Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad- Note about the times of physical presence in the US: though the form says you have to be very specific about dates, the rep I talked to and every other person who’s gone through the process says that only major chunks of time outside the US need to be accounted for. Don’t stress over a week here or there for vacations.
  • Completed Passport Application
  • Completed Social Security Number Application
  • The Shussei Todoke Shoumeisho (if both parents are American) and a copy
  • An English translation of the above document- you can get a template on the embassy’s website; it does not have to be done professionally.  Note: The issue date is the date that the document is registered;  the title is the title of the document and the name is the name of the person who registered the document (on the attached paper of the Shussei Todoke Shoumeisho).
  • The Affidavit of Child’s Name (which we used to fix our daughter’s name)
  • Parent’s Marriage Certificate and a copy (if divorced or widowed or unmarried at the time of the birth, refer to the embassy’s page)
  • Parent’s Passports plus a copy (we were asked for two, but the website requests one) -In our case, one parent is a naturalized US Citizen.  You are supposed to bring the original certificate plus a copy, but we were told we didn’t need it.  Go prepared though!)
  • Evidence of Physical Presence- though we were not asked for it.  Consider using transcripts, job evaluation records, tax records, medical receipts or prior passports, etc. Note that only one parent needs to present this info.
  • Both Parents IDs (plus a copy)- your drivers license or Japanese Residence card will work.  This is also something we weren’t asked for.
  • Application Fees in yen or USD or credit card
  • A Passport Photo for your Child
  • A self-addressed Letter Pack Envelope (you can purchase at a the Post Office or the Family Mart nearest the Tokyo Embassy.

You will need to schedule an appointment at the embassy (arrive early to go through security– note that if there’s a line, you can skip ahead if you have a baby!… and you better, because baby has to be there).  Print out the appointment sheet when you schedule online and take it with you.

Submit all these documents at the counter, sign when prompted, pay and swear the oath that you’re telling the truth and then wait at home for your documents to arrive!

Resolution about the Name Mishap

So, it’s a bit confusing, but all our Japanese documents list our daughters name as Last Middle (,) First.  We ran to the Embassy to hopefully get her passport issued before needing to go to Immigration but it didn’t arrive.  So we crossed our fingers and headed to the IO.

The Immigration representative told us that because there’s no essential name difference (just a difference in the order of the name), that they would issue it as is- according to the City Hall paperwork- and when it comes time to renew her residence card, it will be changed to read like the passport (like everyone else in our family).

So, no problem, but essentially we’re delaying dealing with the difference until later.

At this point, I don’t care!  The fact that after a c-section we accomplished all the above- two of the offices being an hour away- within 30 days means that I get a golden star.  Or at least a participation ribbon showing that I am now the mother of a bonafide citizen of the US and resident of Japan.

But realistically, it just means I have a lot more paperwork to file away.


Happily Ever After

Last Sunday, we attended our first Japanese wedding.  For my part, I was excited and a little nervous– and not just about keeping a toddler and a newborn happy during the ceremony, but about celebrating appropriately Japanese style.

So, I thought I’d share about our experience.  Our friends do speak some great English, and so there was a bit of an international feel to it… as compared to a super traditional wedding at a Shinto shrine….

The venue was a beautiful little cove in the heart of one of the ritzy areas of downtown Tokyo.  This place specializes in weddings, and it seems that many such places have full-service packages– from the invitations to menus to flowers to the bride’s dress(es).

Yes, in Japan, most brides rent their dresses.  When I was engaged and living in Japan, I wanted to do some dress shopping but no one could point me in the direction of a place that actually sold dresses.

So, the bride and groom were able to choose everything with simplicity (from what I heard).  Besides having a number of women who seemed to be coordinators running around, there was also a make-up artist who kept the bride and groom looking great (no, the groom didn’t wear make-up, she just made sure his tie was perfect during pictures and such).  As far as attire, the B&G were dressed western style, and later changed to something very slightly more casual half-way through the service; the parents of B&G were in tuxedos and kimono– it was very charming

One highlight for us was that our oldest daughter had the chance to walk down the aisle with the groom. It seems that in western style weddings in Japan, there is no tradition for the groom to walk down the aisle with his mother.  He said that his mom was too shy to do such a thing as well.  So our daughter had the honor, and for an almost 3 year old, I think she handled herself well!

A notable aspect was that they announced everything.  For example, each person coming down the aisle was announced beforehand (similar to an American reception??) and during the reception, there was a MC, who announced all the participating parties and some of their details. The bride and groom’s background info was also shared. Even the menu and wine menu were announced.

Reflecting on these various announcements, while teaching at the elementary school (rabbit trail: many of the groom’s students– he’s an English teacher at a middle school– showed up in their uniforms to watch the ceremony), often before I began my lesson, the teacher would signal a student to stand up and announce the previous period of study had ended and from now, we would begin to study English.  Everyone would respond with “We begin!”.  Lunch menus are also read before serving lunch and everyone confirms what they have on their plates. To me, it seems to show an inclination for organization in events, where clear beginnings and endings are defined and proper recognition is given.

During the reception, a number of speeches were given.  The groom gave a welcome at the beginning, the employers of both B&G spoke, a few friends spoke, there was a quick interview from one guy about the groom, the bride gave a speech to her parents and the father of the groom gave a speech… and perhaps others.  Near the end, giant bouquets were given to the parents and there was a lot of formal bowing from the B&G and their parents to thank us for joining them.

The B&G’s friends also prepared a very short piece of entertainment for the company. The groom’s friends- a short skit; the bride’s- a cutesy dance.

On to gifts.  If you are invited to a wedding in Japan, the gift to give is money (crisp bills) in an envelope inside a special envelope.  As a foreigner, be careful to confirm it’s a wedding envelope at the store and not a funeral envelope– they can look similar. How much do you give? Hold your breath, it can vary but the customary amount for a friend is about $300 USD (Three $100 bills).  Yup.  Employers typically give $500-$1000 and for family members, it depends on the area whether you give or not, it seems.  Two and four should be avoided because they are unlucky (4 and 2 put together in Japanese sounds like the word for death).  Even numbers should also be avoided because they can be associated with being split or divided.

In Japan, it’s custom to give a gift back.  In America, we give party favors. However, on the guests’ seats (one per couple), was a bag with two beautiful gifts inside.  One had an assortment of pretty desserts (not quite cakes, but more like breads? and some cookies) and the other contained a catalog.  A catalog from which you could choose a gift that would be delivered to you.  These were gifts similar to what you would give the B&G as a wedding gift in America and ranged from kitchen pots or pans to towels to make up bags or special jams or teas.

Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt? Yeah, that was my expression when I opened it. I’m not sure if that’s how it generally is here (I know that the gifts are usually very nice), but I was floored.

Each kid also had a sweet coloring book and a nice pack of crayons and snacks at their seat.  As we left, we received tiny little boxes with cute little heart cookies inside. And Rosalyn received a beautiful little bouquet. Speaking of leaving, the MC closed the reception at exactly 2pm.  Like on the dot.

Amazing, huh?  Very different than an American wedding.  Literally, every detail was thought of. Everything was sweet and beautiful and carefully prepared.  It was a highlight for us, and celebrating their marriage over course supersedes all these details.  We are excited to see what God has in store for them together!

I’m sure that there are many variations on weddings here, but the fundamentals will likely be the same.  Fascinating!  So, if you ever have the chance to go to a Japanese wedding, you have some idea of what you might encounter!


All in a Name

Well, well, well.  Turns out two kids is more than one.  I’ve been home now for about two and a half weeks.  It’s been… busy.  I’m not sure how any moms get anything done??

One of the challenges since we’ve been home is in the actual name of our new daughter.

Wait, what?

I know right.  My husband and the pastor of the church took our paperwork, including the birth paper issued by the hospital, to the city hall to get her birth registered and get health insurance, etc.  More on all that later.  However, the gentleman at the birth register desk insisted that the Japanese way to write her name was not the way that we wrote it.

Let me explain, using initials, for discretion.  Her initials will be E V A, according to how we’d write it in the States.  In Japan, using the format of our passports, her name would be written A E V or, more rarely A, E V.  That’s the way my name, my husband’s name and our other daughter’s name is written for all of our paperwork.

Well.  Gentleman-behind-the-desk didn’t care about that.  He insisted (and refused to argue) that it should be written A V, E.  So, that’s what her Japanese birth certificate shows.  Though this made me very frustrated over the phone when I heard about it, it’s not a super big deal because we can change her name for US stuff.  The problem comes in that all of her paperwork here will have to reflect her passport, which means we’re going to have to go back and file a name change here after we receive her passport.  (On a side note, after the unexpected trip to the embassy, the staff there wondered why the city hall staffer wrote her middle name in the last name box!)

Speaking of names though, something that stumped me when I was at the hospital was how many of the sore and exhausted moms I’d talked to had still not chosen a name for their baby.  I was flabbergasted.  With our first daughter, we had her name chosen even before we were planning to have kids.

I made some inquiries over breakfast of the moms and learned much in the process!  You think choosing a name in English is difficult?  We’ve got nothing on the Japanese.

Japanese obviously use kanji (Chinese characters) for their names.  Every kanji has one or more meanings and sometimes numerous pronunciations.  And every kanji has a stroke order and a stroke count (that’s how you look it up in the dictionary).

For the Japanese, the number of strokes in the kanji chosen for their name can either be lucky or unlucky. Certain numbers are lucky and others are not.  In fact, there are about five different categories (for example, love, job, money, etc.) that have to be determined, and while a name you’re considering may be lucky in 4 of the categories, parents want it to be good in all five.

It gets more complicated. The kanji of the last name have to be taken into consideration as well, as it’s the total number of strokes in a name that matters.  Apparently, the combination of kanji (first and last, first kanji of both names, second kanji of both names, etc.) matters too.

Then you want to be careful that the kanji of both names make sense together.  You wouldn’t want to have a mix-up of number kanji, or seasonal kanji or recurring syllables when you write/say it all together.  And, of course, too many over-all strokes will be time consuming for your child.

Parents these days use online dictionaries to investigate potential kanji for their child. Once they find a number that will work for them, they can get lists of kanji and start piecing together their child’s name.

Of course, then both parents (and often grandparents) have to approve of their name and it has to feel right for the child too.

(Apparently, some women who have gotten married changed the kanji for their first names to maintain a lucky balance with their husband’s last name)

It had always been a mystery to me why none of the Japanese pregnant moms I’d met had revealed the name for their child before birth.  I wondered if it was a bad omen to say the name before the birth or if it was a secret or just not their custom. We announced our daughter’s name when we confirmed the gender, but none of the Japanese thought to ask the question (whereas for our American counterparts, it was one of the first questions!).

But now I know…. it’s complicated!

Busy bees 

Well, it has been a busy busy day for me! Since feeding time will be coming soon and I want to catch some Zs before then, let me get to it. 

-I was feeling well enough to eat breakfast with the other moms in the lounge this morning. Thankfully they were more talkative than last time. I got a lot of insights about their process of choosing a name (goods for a later post) and they asked a lot of questions about America and hospitals there. Anyhow, as we were all leaving to collect our babies, one mom came to me to let me know she speaks a little Spanish. She is part of a group interested in learning foreign languages with their kids and asked me if I would come and participate sometime and if maybe we could even share about our countries (V and I) with the group. So, awesome new momma friend and probably it will be a few months before that comes to pass but what a great opportunity !

-Today I had meetings galore with staff members. 

  • A Momma Check to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go home
  • A long discussion with one staff member about vaccinations* and the process, where different ones are done, next appointments for the baby and how to schedule them. I have lots of paperwork about that all and she even did research to find me the some of the same files in English! How kind!
  • A meeting with the midwife to discuss how to take care of myself and the baby, when to be concerned about things, when to call the doctor, things to watch out for. 
  • A meeting with the… pharmacist? To discuss medication, if I requested any prescriptions, what to tell any other doctors I visit, etc etc. 

So I’m a bit Japanesed out today. 

-I got a rubella vaccination- something mentioned many times over the course of prenatal care since it seems I didn’t have the antibodies for it or that they were low or something. So the conclusion was finally understood that today we’d be taking care of that. 

-I learned how to bathe my baby. Well- the nurse knew that I have a kid and so she didn’t really show as go through the motions with me. They do it with all moms, so it had to be checked off the list. It’s been a while, so it was a nice refresher course on how to wash a slippery little human being. 

-Guests popped in and out for visits. 

-I got paperwork and surveys filled out in Japanese. The staff helped answer the paperwork that will be turned into the government– some questions I wasn’t sure how to answer.

And I think that’s my day. Besides time with family and of course my newest daughter and later tonight packing everything up for our “tai-een” (check out) tomorrow. 

Overall, it’s been a great stay, despite the problems. I’ve learned a lot and received a lot of care and help. While I will miss having nurses that I can call at all hours of the day to request a specific amount of formula, warm and ready to go, I’m ready to go too. 

So, yes! Thus has been my Japanese hospital experience, I give the clinic here an A+ in every area from medical care to baby training to facilities to hospitality to bedside manner to everything. To any foreign woman in the general vicinity who may have found this post, I give this place two thumbs up- please use this clinic! 

And to the rest of you, I’ll catch you on the other side of the hospital doors!