Monday, January 26, 2009

What teaching is all about

I just had a great moment with my students and thought I might share it with you.

Even in the middle of Tokyo, with a diverse group of noisy, energetic boys from all across the globe, Charlotte's Web made its unique impact on another group of young readers. We just read the second to last chapter, where Charlotte dies alone at the fair. For many weeks, we have read with joy and lots of silly laughter the stories of Wilbur, Fern, and Charlotte. But today was very different.

These boys were literally silent, with all eyes on me, hoping I might read something else that said Charlotte might not really be dead. "Why?," they kept asking. "But she did all that for Wilbur and saved his life and now she's dead- no way!" Three of them even had red cheeks and tears in their eyes. Anything that can bring a bunch of 7 and 8 year old boys to silence and a few quiet tears certainly must be powerful.

In our very digital world, and this applies nowhere more so than in Tokyo, the importance of reading wonderful stories like this to children cannot be understated. Last summer, I picked up Hatchet, my childhood "favorite book" from the public library and remembered clearly how as a nine year old boy I really felt cold when Brian was swimming in the lake, and my stomach actually hurt when he ate all the wild berries. If it's been a while since you've read Charlotte's Web, or you're lucky enough to have children around you that like a great story, I wholeheartedly recommend you read it again. And as I say to my students, "No, the movie just won't do. It has to be the book."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Skiing Weekend Video

Here's the video I made for church this week of our recent ski trip in Hakuba, Japan.

The two amazing songs are from a fantastic band called "The Least of These." My cousins, Ben & Josh Calhoun, sing, play guitar and drums in the band.

Check out their music below:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sukeeingu in Japan (Skiing)

Fresh powder. Empty runs. Microchip lift tickets inside your glove. Incredible views.

If that doesn't entice you to try skiing in Japan, then I don't know what would. Regrettably, after going to Luther College in Iowa and marrying my wonderful Minnesotan wife, I took a hiatus from skiing for nearly five years. Yes, as a child born in the mountains of Colorado, I didn't ski for five years. So, this was a triumphant return to the slopes for me.

What I didn't know was just how triumphant that return would be. There was fresh snow on every run, partly cloudy skies and a nice 25 degree temperature to keep me cool but not melt the snow. I could not have asked for better skiing conditions.

Apparently empty slopes are a signature of Japan. There were actually runs where we were the only people on the slope, or two of 10-25 (at the most) that were traversing the sides of this gorgeous mountain. Plus, the view! The "Japanese Alps," as they are called, are absolutely beautiful and the view from the top was awe inspiring. We stayed at a former inn that some of our church members recently bought and will be refitting as a cabin for friends and family to use year-round. See the photo below.

There aren't many differences between skiing in Colorado and Japan, but here are a few: open, quiet slopes, no lift-operators packing you into the quad (all automatic machine-operated), and you can go to an onsen at the end of the day to rest sore muscles (mineral hot springs).

In our worship with the two dozen high school and middle school students on Saturday evening, we sang about the beauty of Creation and discussed how we had seen God in all that was around us. I cannot describe in words the refreshing quality of this trip when compared to our life of concrete, steel, and fluorescent bulbs in Tokyo. Both are wonderful parts of our experience of Japan, but getting out of the city is not only recommendable but maybe even necessary to keep your sanity in this bustling metropolis.

Rachael's Account of the Ski Trip

Unlike Brad, I have never been an avid skiier. I went once or twice on field trips in elementary school and never made it off the bunny hill. This last weekend, I finally felt like I experience real skiing! I took a full day beginner's class (in English) and made it through the whole day without falling.
As Brad said, the weather was amazing, the snow was perfect, and the company was wonderful. I could not have asked for a better experience. Seeing the youth group kids enjoying themselves so much made the experience that much more enjoyable. It was as if I was their age again, learning something new and exciting and loving every minute. It's amazing what a weekend with free spirited children can do for one's attitude, especially when you live in a place where you are packed on trains, sidewalks, and stores with millions of other people and you see nothing but buildings and concrete.
Throughout our experience in Tokyo, I have become much more aware of the small pleasures nature can bring. Clean air, sunshine, incredible views, and vast open spaces where instead of towering buildings you are surrounded by majestic mountains. Although Tokyo has a beauty of its own, I will continue to appreciate the precious moments we are given to spend away from the bussling city.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Off to Nagano

This afternoon, we're busing up to the Happo-One ski resort in the Japanese Alps with about 20 students and parents from our church. Once there, we'll hit the slopes for two days with the kids, on the very same hills that hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1998.

I'm sure we'll have plenty of photos, videos, and stories to share next week. Please pray for safety for the group in our travel and our skiing adventures.

Enjoy the weekend.
B & R

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Read My Mind

Last year, Rebecca (Rachael's sister), fell in love with a quirky music video from an American rock band called The Killers. The video was filmed in Tokyo, and according to the band, it has "nothing to do with the song itself." However, the band also says that the song, "Read My Mind," is the "best song we've ever written."

After seeing it, Rebecca mentioned something about how we should try to find some of the places shown in the video while we were here in Tokyo. Instead, we put together a little re-enactment ourselves. "Ourselves" was made up of six fantastic teachers and one loving wife who put on costumes and took a few days to help me with the project so we could give the finished video to Rebecca for Christmas. Well, it turned out pretty well and Rebecca seemed pretty happy about the whole thing. Now judge for yourself.

First, watch the following video, the original from The Killers:

Then, watch our re-make. All scenes were shot in our homes or the streets of our neighborhood of Setagaya. Obviously, we had way too much fun making this. A HUGE thank you to Kodama-san, Danny, Brendan, Triston, Steve, Jeff, and Rachael.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Day in Odaiba

We spent the day touring around one of the more interesting and beautiful parts of the city, an artificial island called Odaiba. Check out this video:

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Though transcontinental travel, coordinating family visits, and stocking up on everything we needed from American retailers was certainly tiring, going home for a couple weeks was a nice breath of fresh, albeit frigid, air.

We didn't see everyone we hoped to, but decided a few days into the trip that we had to make spending time with family the main priority and put off catching up with all our other friends and loved ones until our summer visit home. Our only regret? Although moms, grandmas, uncles, or good friends lovingly cooked up every meal we enjoyed, we never made it to Chipotle. They were closed when we went on New Year's Day. Oh Chipotle, how we miss you.

In other news, Japan is still pretty awesome, and it's good to be back. Here’s one anecdote that brought us right back into life in Tokyo…

The other night, we were out shopping for a new camera (a beautiful Canon DSLR, photos will come soon after it arrives in a few weeks) and ran into the former Business Manager of St. Mary's (our school). When we first arrived in Tokyo last August, Mr. Haku offered to take us all out to a nice Japanese izakaya (restaurant). He made good on his initial offer, but Rachael was sick the night he took all the new teachers out, so he made another promise to take Rachael and I at some point. Since we were near one of his favorite local places, he called “Mama-san” for a quick reservation and we walked a few blocks to the restaurant.

It was underground, as are many restaurants in our area. Walking down the stairs, we had no idea what we were in store for, but we had high expectations (the last time we saw Haku-san in this shopping center, he was buying a specially ordered bottle of Don Perignon). Once inside, we realized that this was a place that we could never go to on our own. First of all, the menu was only in written Japanese, rather than the bilingual or picture menus offered by many eateries. Second, the clientele were definitely high-class business folks, and we were definitely the only customers under the age of 40. The waitresses all wore beautiful, immaculate kimonos. In Haku-san’s words, “Here, you pay for the kimono.” From what I’ve read, this was at least somewhat similar to a geisha experience, where Mama-san doted on us with lively conversation throughout the meal while also serving the huge variety of dishes ordered by Haku-san.

A few of the dishes we shared:
- Sashimi sprinkled with actual gold flakes
- Massive oysters, both fried and fresh from the shell
- Fish “shabu shabu”- For this dish, Mama-san created a broth using a portable burner and ceramic bowl at our table. She added green onions, carrots, mushrooms, and seaweed to boiling water. Then, we dipped sashimi (raw fish) into the boiling broth for a few seconds. This cooked the fish a little and gave it a wonderful flavor. We had done this once before, but with thinly sliced beef (see photo) rather than fish.
- Sake- cold to start, and hot later on...part of the reason the details of this meal are still a little foggy
- Roasted eggplant with sweet miso and sesame seeds
- Some sort of fish egg thing that literally looked like brains. I (Brad) ventured out on this one, later telling Rachael only that the flavor was actually not bad, but merely describing the texture might make her puke.
- Fish/vegetable tempura (the lighter kind of tempura, not the State Fair grease ball kind)
- And a slice of pure deliciousness. The fish we had to end our meal was a marinated piece of a special seasonal fish that literally melted in our mouths. We don’t know the fish or the method of preparation, but it was just plain amazing.

At the end of this exquisite meal, Haku-san “took care of” the meal’s extraordinary costs and led us back out to the street. His brand of absolute generosity and constant kindness is well known at St. Mary’s, and as he will be retiring this year, he’ll be sorely missed. In the meantime though, we hope to have at least one more evening out with Mr. Haku.

One last note- Hearing from so many of you during our visit home that you keep up with our blog regularly was encouraging. We’ll try to keep up with it as often as interesting things happen, and always love to hear from you too.