During this past winter break, Koryn, a sophomore from Canada, spent her two weeks’ vacation in four different prefectures. She details some of the highlights of her busy break below.
When it comes to the holidays, especially Christmas, it’s rough to be stuck in the dorms alone. Since this was my third winter in a row spent away from my family, I’ve become rather adept at filling my time and distracting myself from the aches of homesickness. This year, I had the opportunity to help with Christmas parties at multiple churches, volunteer at a camp for children affected by the 2011 Northeastern Japan earthquake and tsunami, stargaze and prepare for the New Year with friends in Ibaraki, and ring in the New Year watching Kouhaku on TV with my boyfriend’s family in Tokyo.
On the first day of winter holidays, I took the train to Koiwa, a region of Chiba with a large Korean population, to help a classmate with a children’s Christmas party. My job was to sing songs, tell the Christmas story in simple English, make cards with the kids, and eat cupcakes. As is the case with many church events in Japan, the turnout was small, with only four kids who came to participate. Despite the small turnout, we had a fun time talking in different languages while making cards, and each kid ate two cupcakes!
The second and third days were spent at my Intern Church helping with preparations for their Christmas Eve candlelight service.The day before the celebration, I made Gingerbread Cookies with my church’s youth group using my family’s secret recipe.
During the celebration the next day, we sang Mary Did You Know and Mighty to Save together. The Sunday school class also put on a pageant, which was adorable. Almost 100 people come out to the event, which is especially impressive when compared to the Sunday morning service average of around 20 people.
The very next day, which happened to be Christmas, after a rushed breakfast with my fellow international student and close friend, Shira, I boarded a vehicle with six other TCU students to head for Miyagi prefecture. In Miyagi, we volunteered at a camp at Lake Kinshuu for three days and two nights.
At the camp, there was around a meter of snow to play in. We used inner tubes to sled and had snowball fights with the kids, and in the evenings we put on a Doraemon (a popular children’s cartoon)-themed skit and sang winter-themed praise songs. The camp is run by the NPO Sakura House, who is working to rebuild community after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that rocked the region. Through their work, they hope to share God’s love and create a home for those who decided to stay and rebuild after the destruction of their community. Because of this, the vast majority of children who attend the camp are non-Christian, and interacting with the staff from TCU is one of their few interactions with Christians, which makes the impression we leave on the kids very important. I was assigned to look after four grade six girls. My favourite memories are playing the Werewolf Game (which is similar to the North American game Mafia) by the fireplace after a frigid snowball fight, and staying up until 2:30 in the morning talking about school, boys, and the pop idol group Jaaniizu. Since the girls are in grade six and will head to middle school in April, it’s likely their last time at camp. I hope they made good memories during their last time with us!
On the drive home from Miyagi, I received a text message from my best friend in Japan, Maho, who lives in Ibaraki. Her family was inviting me to come for New Year’s! Although I already had plans for New Year’s Day, I hadn’t seen her since the summer, so I pulled some strings and, on January 30th, the day after I got home from camp, I boarded a train from Chiba to Ibaraki for two days. Reuniting with Maho was amazing; we spent our time talking politics with her dad, discussing the differences in the way our countries teach history over dinner with her grandfather and brother, eating Mochi (rice beaten into a sticky consistency) with her great-aunt and uncle, and indulging in delicious toshi-koshi soba, a traditional soup eaten on New Year’s Eve. Her grandparents gave me otoshi-dama, a gift of money given to children on New Year’s, and called me their Canadian granddaughter. I was embarrassed by the gift, but overjoyed by how they continually welcome me as a part of their family.
The big highlight of my two-day stay was sneaking into Sakuragawa middle school to use the giant telescope to stargaze —Maho’s dad is an administrator in the school, so he was able to unlock the building and let us inside for a little while. It was the first time I have ever seen a telescope that big; Orion’s Belt was so bright in the clear winter sky.
Although I was sad to leave so soon, I boarded my next train on New Year’s Eve, not to return home, but to go to Tokyo to visit my boyfriend’s family. I ate toshi-koshi soba for the second time that day, and at 9pm we turned on the TV to watch Kouhaku, which is kind of like watching the ball drop in New York — many famous Japanese performers compete, guys versus girls style, by singing the top songs of the past year. The audience votes for the team they think performed the best. The highlight was watching Kenshi Yonezu, my favourite Japanese singer-songwriter perform his hit song Lemon. It was a great way to ring in the New Year!
On New Year’s Day, we attended a New Year’s Church Service as a family. Before heading back to TCU, we took a walk around Minami Senjuu. It was such a beautiful day!
It was overwhelming to be so welcomed into not one, but two Japanese families over the break. Frankly, I had been very homesick leading up to Christmas and my younger brother’s birthday, but God used New Year’s as a time to remind me that he has given me a home here in Japan as well. I am so thankful for the home I have here in Japan.
Once I arrived back at TCU, I had around three days to finish the mounds of homework that I was supposed to have had two full weeks to complete. Although it was busy, I am so grateful for the amazing winter break I was able to spend in a place I adore with people I love.