Tuesday, September 30, 2008

For a laugh- Garbage in Tokyo

A wonderful neighbor of ours sent this email to me:

Dear Bradey,
Just to remind you that GARBAGE DISPOSAL and COLLECTION DAYS will be
changed from OCTOBER 1ST.YEAR 2008.

1).COMBUSTIBLE GARBGE: -- WEDNESDAYS AND SATURDAYS (For New Sorting of Garbage to be included).




Rather confusing but we have to live up to it.

We've been adjusting to the garbage collection here, but until now were actually pretty happy with the fact that we now have to carefully sort out- and therefore think about- how much we throw away. The staggering amount of waste we produce is much more "in your face" when you have to sort everything into clear bags rather than just throwing everything in a big plastic garbage can. So, we've been learning a lot about just how much we (people) consume on a regular basis.

Now, Tokyo is running out of space, and apparently, creativity. Previously, they created entirely new areas of land in the bays of Tokyo out of trash, called "reclaimed land." Now that they are running out of areas to "reclaim," we are basically supposed to put everything in our "burnable" garbage. The government claims that burning the garbage produces heat energy for generating electricity and other interesting things as well.

Here is the official word from our city newsletter:
1.) It is expected that the combustion helps to reduce landfill-bound waste by 60% (duh, burning everything means you won't be putting much in landfills or reclaimed land areas). Tokyo metropolitan government estimates that the combustion helps to extend the usable lifetime of the landfill disposal sites by more than 20 years.

2.) The combustion at incineration plants produces heat which can effectively be used for eated (yes, eated) swimming pool. Efficient collection of the heat energy allows generating electric power which helps cut and use more efficiently the operation cost of the incineration plants (the heat from burning the stuff makes burning the other stuff cheaper).

3.) The transportation distace of the total garbage is shortened. This helps greatly reducing the environmental load and the cost (not to mention the fact that we're burning a heck of a lot of garbage).

There are also tips to reduce waste, like using canvas shopping bags (now quite hip in the States), buying refills for detergents/soaps/etc., and recycling what we can. But, we'll continue to watch the trash saga unfold as we adjust to our new Tokyo lifestyle.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A few videos

1.) Our first view of the coastline outside the van.

2.) Playing around a little before dinner, as the sun set on our secluded, beautiful little beach.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Whether it’s been a beautiful view from the top of a mountain in Colorado or Argentina, or a sunset reflecting off the water in Minnesota or Italy, we’ve been lucky to see and experience beauty in many different ways and in many different places on this earth. Beauty in Japan takes its own unique twist though. It reminds me of a Miles Davis musical concept, but applied more generously. Pure open space is often as important as the stuff taking up the space, and nature frequently winds its way into unexpected areas.

Ironically, in a densely populated city of 35 million, where there are on average 36,000 people per square mile, the traditional elements of Japanese culture thrive on simplicity. Maybe it’s a desire for refuge amidst the busyness of congested subways and streets, but Japanese art, food, architecture, etc. seem to share a common sense of simplicity.

For example, from our roof, we watch beautiful sunsets over Mt. Fuji, just a head tilt away from a busy shopping mall. Walking through a packed shopping neighborhood, we stumbled into a seemingly ancient forest and witnessed a gorgeous traditional Shinto wedding procession.

The beauty of sushi is shared by the unique and careful preparation of the rice, the delicate knife work with the freshest of fish, and the simple colors and shapes that the final platter will take.

Bushes and shrubs are carefully manicured, to an extent I’ve never seen before. The coastal cities we saw this weekend are not as colorful or luxurious as those on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, but the unabashedly simple homes and communities dotting the coast are endearing and welcoming.

We desperately needed an escape from our metropolitan life this weeked, so camping was a welcome adventure (entry coming soon). This was where we set up camp...

Friday, September 26, 2008


Hey all. In case you're wondering where we are this weekend...and why we're not answering phone or email contacts, we're going camping with some friends until Sunday night (your very early Sunday morning). So, we'll try to say hi when we get back, but won't be in touch much til then.

Have a great weekend!
The Whites :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Power of Music- Billy Mac style.

Today I decided that while my students were working, I would try to keep things low key by playing some music. Brad always plays Billy McLaughlin in his classroom, so I decided to try the same thing. For my first graders this afternoon, I tried to get them really interested in listening to the music. I told them that they were allowed to listen to music while they worked as long as they were really quiet. They were allowed to whisper. I told them (in a whispering voice) that they would be listening to a friend of mine from Minnesota who plays guitar. I continued (whispering) telling them that they "had to whisper", and all 20 students replied, in a whisper, with, "OK". Miraculously, they remained very calm for the rest of the class period and thoroughly enjoyed the music.
The sixth grade ESL students also really enjoyed the music. One of them commented that it was "So nice and relaxing".

Not that any more proof was needed, but Billy McLaughlin's music is truly amazing and touches people of all ages. It is so fun to watch the kids creating their art while listening to great music. I love my job.

Check him out at: http://www.billymacmusic.com/

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A "Natural" Alarm Clock

Instead of getting up to our alarm this morning, we both awoke to a nice, mild earthquake at about 7:00am to "shake" us right out of our slumber. :)

Nothing like waking up "naturally" eh? This will take some getting used to...

Click here for the news update.

Click here for some info on earthquakes.

Just kidding about the typhoon.

The typhoon never showed up... It was a beautiful sunny day all day long! Oh well.

Pictures of our apartment are coming soon!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Typhoon is coming!

Just a note that there is a typhoon on its way. There will be a lot of rain and a lot of wind. We will be staying inside until it passes, cleaning our apartment. Should be fun- check out the radar if you have time! Click here: Typhoon!

Brad and Rachael

Story Night (long, but worth a read sometime)

We just got back from a fun get-together with some teachers from St. Mary’s. Instead of just hanging out or even playing party games, we each had to bring $5.00 and the best story from our summer, and do our best to win a story competition. Although our friend Triston told a much better story tonight about his ridiculous encounters with several fire stations, police officers, and detectives that showed up to put out his “fire” (really just a wok with some smoke coming out), Triston and I (Brad) tied for the best story of the night, and each walked away with about $30.00. Since the story must have been worth telling once, here it is for posterity, in its entirety:

So, as Rachael and I started planning our summer back in April/May, we decided to try and spend a month each with our families in Minnesota and Colorado. While in Colorado, we’d go to Blake’s State Patrol graduation (photos below), celebrate our first anniversary at my parent’s condo in gorgeous Crested Butte (hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing etc.), and then we’d meet up with our friends for a short week of camping and cliff jumping in Utah before heading back to Minnesota.

The Incident

Well, about the first day of this trip, my brother Karl and I decided to go for a quick hike up the mountain before dinner. I wore sandals and borrowed some jeans from Blake, since it was the height of rattlesnake season and mom was warning us that we shouldn’t have been going hiking in the first place. Not even one minute into our hike, though, my foot snagged on some thick weeds and I fell sideways down the hill. When I landed, I knew something was wrong, but wasn’t sure what. I grabbed my left leg and felt what I thought was a large rock in my jeans. It turns out it wasn’t a rock, but it was my kneecap, which had been forced painfully over to the side of my leg.

Karl asked what he should do, and since I remembered that I had just left my job in Minnesota, I wasn’t positive that I had health insurance. I told him to call home to see if Blake and Rob could somehow carry me down. So, yes, I was my brother’s first emergency call as a full-fledged state trooper. They came and found me, tried very unsuccessfully to pick me up, and decided to call 911.

That was a good idea.

It took 14 firefighters and a whole lot of morphine to move me up about 10 feet up a steep embankment to a board, and then carry me to a rolling gurney on the trail, which led to the ambulance and a little more temporary pain relief.

We drove to Lutheran Hospital, where I was born nearly 24 years earlier, and I was admitted right away. HOWEVER, the ER was inundated with patients and I ended up sitting in the hospital room for three hours in excruciating pain before a doctor finally came in and set my kneecap back in place (this took all of about 15 seconds). I limped out on crutches, and used them for the next several weeks.

A Change of Plans?

The following day, I realized that I had long-standing plans to immediately fly back to Minnesota, pack up my entire 3rd grade classroom, pick up Rachael’s car, and drive it back to Colorado a day or two later. This was all going to be very difficult, if not impossible with my leg in a stiff brace. We exhausted every possible option and ended up concluding that I indeed had to do the trip myself, in the way it was planned, since the buyer of my car already had his flight to Denver to pick up the car in three days and I was the only person capable of packing and sorting my classroom materials for the big move to Tokyo.

Dear Frontier Airlines, you suck.

Since I had my brace on, I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit in a normal airplane seat. So, I called the airline a day before the flight to let them know I’d need some sort of seating accommodation. They said I’d have to arrange it at the counter, but that it would be no problem at all.

Hobbling on crutches with my two bags in tow, I approached the ticket counter. In the next minutes I was told that the flight was 100% full, and that I would have to ask the gate attendants for help in changing my seat. They brought a wheelchair and a couple very nice people wheeled me through the airport, even through getting padded down at security, until I was dropped off nearly an hour later at the gate by one of those golf cart type vehicles.

At the gate, I was told, yet again, that there was actually nothing they could do, and that I would have to ask someone in the front row (with more legroom) to move once I got on, or ask a flight attendant to help me. Basically, there was nothing anyone could do. Once I got on the plane, I saw a blind man and a family of five, with three very small children, occupying the front six seats. I wasn’t going to ask the blind man to move, and the family refused to be separated, so I was asked to take my seat in the last row of the plane. Because my left leg was in the brace, I couldn’t bend it. I’m 6’2”, by the way. So, even if there were some feasible way to comfortably set my leg down in the aisle, I would need to stand up and move for every person needing to use the restroom or flight attendant pushing a cart.

The airline bought me free access to the airline TV stations, which was nice because they were airing a Euro Cup soccer game I’d missed earlier in the week, but eventually we all realized it wasn’t working out. The nicest flight attendant, that had earlier wrapped my knee in a bandana with some ice, asked me if I’d rather sit in his seat in the back of the plane. Yep, I did. I pulled down the flip-down flight attendant seat, propped up my leg on a bucket of ice, and sat there for the remainder of the flight. Fantastic.

Once we arrived, I crutched to baggage claim, picked up my bag as Rachael’s mom, Jan, picked me up from the airport.


Imagine all the wonderful, interesting, colorful things that were in your elementary classrooms: books, posters, charts, stickers, decorations, instruments, art projects, student work, etc. Now, imagine packing up all of those things- a big enough task. Finally, imagine doing it all on crutches in ridiculous pain. Enough said. It was tough, but some of my former students helped carry what they could, and we packed a van-full of heavy boxes over the next 6 hours.

Tornadoes, really?

After packing, I was ready to leave to drive back to Colorado. My plan was to take two days to make the drive, doing about 500 miles each day and stopping to rest somewhere in Nebraska. But fate had more in store for me.

A few hours before I planned on leaving, Minnesota was hit with at least one threatening tornado and powerful storms of rain, wind, and hail all along the route I’d be taking back to CO. So, I had to stay one more day and do the 1000-mile drive in one day…in my cast…alone. Awesome. At least the car had cruise control right?

Although I had to stop frequently to adjust my leg, brace, or pillows supporting it all, I made it home nearly 16 hours later, completely drained by the whole ordeal.

Crested Butte

I met the guy from California who bought our car, he drove away happily, and Rachael and I thought about our next adventure, our first anniversary trip to my parents’ mountain retreat. Rock climbing, hiking, biking, and white water rafting just weren’t in the cards for this trip. So much for showing Rachael a true Colorado summer. ☺

We ended up having an absolutely wonderful time together anyway, and it was probably all for the best that we weren’t out and about as much because we were able to spend some great times together, reading, relaxing on the deck/patio, enjoying the hot tub, playing chess for hours on end (Rachael learned while we were up there, and beat me by the 4th or 5th game- she’s good), and finishing four books, collectively.

Oh yeah, that knee again.

After the trip to Crested Butte, I had a field day trying to get an immediate appointment with my doctor and physical therapist so I could find out if I was healthy enough to go camping in Utah in a few days. After MRIs and x-rays galore, I was told I wouldn’t need surgery (woo hoo!), and that I could go camping if I used my crutches, slept on a mattress rather than in a hammock, and really took it easy.

Rachael never did let me do any cliff jumping, thank God, but the trip was fantastic. Instead of cliff jumping, I went fishing and, thanks to the good tips of my grandfather, I caught breakfast for myself, and dinner for everyone else throughout the week. My friends all helped me out, and we had a blast.

One slip

So, with one misstep, my entire summer was completely flipped over, spun around, and turned inside out. I’ve always been “accident prone,” but this whole ordeal definitely set a new standard for accidents and their repercussions. Moral of the story: Wear appropriate shoes when hiking, and listen to your mother.


You might recognize that name from a previous blog, the one where we found our new church, Tokyo Union Church. Or, it might look like every other strange-sounding Japanese word we blog about. Well, we forgot to tell about the rest of our fun day in Omotesando after getting excited about the church. Although we certainly couldn’t afford anything we saw that day, we toured around this high-class fashion district to see the latest and enjoy a Saturday afternoon.

First, we went in Omotesando Hills, the ritziest shopping center we’ve ever been in. Gucci, Armani, Uggs, Rolex/Tag Hauer, Zara, Chanel, and a host of other fashion iconic shops inhabit this popular spot. It was fun to people-watch and ogle at the newest trends. Here are some photos, I think we blend right in. I can just see Rachael on the red carpet under all those crystals.

Then we walked around the streets of Omotesando, until we found Brad’s new mothership of clothing stores, the Chicago Thrift Store.

Here are a few gems we found inside the store. Needless to say, after finding such a sweet Colorado shirt, Brad will be returning soon for more goodies. And Rachael did get that plaid hat…and wears it quite well. We passed on the sweet Twins stocking cap, but you can just begin to see how cool this store is just from that hat alone.

Monday, September 15, 2008


So, since we miss Callie, our bouncing ball of love & fur, we just had to share a few photos of her. Many people are now getting dogs in Japan, but Tokyo would definitely not be the best place for her. She's taken quite well to life in Colorado with Grandma and Grandpa White, chasing squirrels, hanging out with Sarah (my parents' yellow lab), and generally causing frequent laughter and minor frustrations. That's our Callie! :)


Common Sense

For most of my life, family and friends have told me that although I am capable and maybe even occasionally smart, I have a complete and total lack of common sense. Rachael graciously comes to my aid after I’ve unsuccessfully tried to turn on an unplugged appliance or struggled with putting together IKEA furniture with the simplest of pictorial directions. Although my lack of common sense may be painfully apparent at times, I think I’ve also learned something about common sense in the broader context of knowing what’s right, wrong, strange or normal and being able to respond appropriately.

A teacher I worked with once told me that common sense isn’t necessarily that common. She argued that common sense was really just “cultural sense.” Basically, she said, those most like you will seem like they have more common sense than others who are quite different from you culturally.

Since living here in Japan, in a culture so different in all its subtle ways from my own, I am beginning to see what she was referring to. Back in the States, I shared many of my cultural values with fellow Coloradoans or Minnesotans or Christians or Suburbanites who were like me. I knew how to drive courteously, knew when to take an active role in or back off from a conversation, or knew what questions to ask when shopping for some new product or service.

Tokyo has flipped all of those understandings entirely upside-down. As an outsider, I really do not share much “common sense” with most of the Japanese people that I encounter. For instance, when we found an apartment we were interested in, we assumed we’d get the contract and sign it before being fully committed to moving in. Instead, the school had already paid the full down payment before we even heard about a contract. This was obvious to everyone but us. On the second day of school, I asked my students to copy two silly phrases down to start practicing the routine of using our writing journals, “Mr. White is the coolest teacher ever;” and “I am awesome.” Several of my little seven-year-old boys actually refused to write down the second statement because “that would be bragging.” My students in the States always got a kick out of writing silly statements like that, but these students simply “knew” that you shouldn’t speak about yourself that way. Rachael and I went to one of my students' violin recitals this weekend, and of course brought out my camera to take photos, and I assumed every parent in the room would be doing the same. I was told by the dad that photos were not appropriate, so I put my camera away.

In the States, I wonder how often we forget just how cultural many of our actions and decisions really are. When we interact with people whose race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or socioeconomic status differ from our own, we will most likely differ somewhat in the cultural values, standards, and subtle understandings of what we should or shouldn’t do or say in any particular situation. We look at people strangely or even punish people when they step outside of boundaries of “common sense.” But, as I’ve seen firsthand, when your home culture doesn’t match that of broader society, it’s an easy and frequent experience to step outside those boundaries without any intention of doing so.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Four years later...

Yes, Rachael and I are coming up on our fourth anniversary- since we became a couple back at good old Luther College (Sept. 16th, 2004).

Maybe this is the case with most marriages, but it is pretty amazing to notice that we are closer to each other and our marriage is stronger today than it was yesterday, and surely stronger than a year ago when we made this life-long commitment to one another.

Despite unbearable heat & humidity, having to speak in gestures and grunts resembling Japanese, feeling claustrophobic in fast-moving crowds of umbrellas, running for cover under torrential downpours, not having our closest friends and family around, living on a tight budget with all of our things stuck somewhere in a port in customs, and all the other stresses of an international move, these things have not pushed us apart but rather made us even stronger as a couple.

When we cross a street or one of us has to file behind the other in dense pedestrian traffic, we both know exactly where the other is. We often get hungry at the same time, and know when the other just needs a few minutes to vent or let tired legs rest. I think that, since we depend on each other for just about everything, being sensitive to each other’s wants, needs, or changing moods has become a means of survival, and has brought out the best in our relationship.

We don’t often blog about the struggles of this move, mostly because it’s just more fun to read about the positive side. But know that there are definitely struggles along with the joys…but at least we’re struggling and growing through all of them together.

Thank the Lord!

Literally. We found a great new church home today! Walking around a very posh, high-class shopping area called Omotesando yesterday, we saw a cross on the outside of a building and a sign saying “Tokyo Union Church.” We stepped in, and though we didn’t see anyone, we found a service schedule, and decided to come check it out the next morning.

We loved it the minute we walked in. People were incredibly welcoming, the service was a nice ecumenical mix of traditional and contemporary, and we’ve now joined both the Sanctuary Choir and the Evening Praise Service Music Team.

And you know it’s a good fit when both of us were moved to tears toward the end of our first service there. After communion, we joined in a few hymns together, and the unique sound of an international congregation chiming in on the songs was simply beautiful. A wonderful older woman beside us sang out with her own harmonies, and the room filled with the sound of worship. Between this experience and Brad’s homemade mac & cheese last night, we’ve had some nice moments lately that have reminded us of home.

This week, we’ll finally be receiving our shipment from Minnesota, Internet and cable TV lines will be installed in our apartment, and we’ll get our cell phone service started as well. God has certainly provided everything we could possibly need (and more) since we arrived nearly a month ago, and life continues to unfold in wonderful new directions. We’ll just keep on following His lead. Thanks for checking in on us. Please leave comments if you have a minute, or send us an email at either address below.



Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Good News from Tokyo!

No, we're not pregnant...Just to clear that up right now.

Along with all of the great experiences we have been having in Tokyo so far, we have been able to add a few more things to our list. I (Rachael) am taking Masters classes for Elementary Education and finally got my financial aid figured out (what a relief)! In addition, I completed my first class with a final grade of... an A-!!! That was a very reassuring way to begin my Masters studies, especially since I moved half way across the world in the middle of the first class.

I was already thrilled after all of this, but there is still MORE! I have been substituting here at St. Mary's on and off over the past two weeks. The art teacher for K-3 will be leaving in two weeks for maternity leave (she is having twins) and they needed someone to be her long-term substitute. They asked me today if I would be willing to be that person! Of course I very enthusiastically said 'yes'! I will be working with Kindergarten through grade 3 in art as well as grades 4-6 in English as a Second Language. Now, I won't have to sit in the apartment all day by myself... Ok, I haven't done that too much, but it has been difficult to not have a full-time job.

We have certainly been given some great opportunities here and I am so thankful that the transition has been relatively smooth. Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers. I know that is THE reason that we have been given so many blessings in our short time here in Japan.