Fall in Japan brings changes to living indoors and outdoors, inside and out. Some changes are obvious: cooler weather, fall colors and bundling up as you head out. Other changes are less obvious. Because Japan gets cool but not cold (it rarely goes below freezing near Tokyo), the homes around here don’t have central heating. That means you warm things up by turning on the air conditioner, taking a hot bath, or by bundling up.
This year we decided to take a traditional Japanese approach to dealing with the cold indoors — a self-heating Kotatsu table. At first, we weren’t quite sure how the kids would respond to this surprise, but it only took the first cool day to know for sure.
Kotatsu is great indoors, but outdoors things really get beautiful in the fall. Over the past few years my friends and I have begun a tradition of sorts — hiking a new place in Japan and enjoying the fall scenery. This year we went to a record-breaking place in Japan, and the result was a long but very satisfying excursion to one of Japan’s tallest peaks. It just so happened to take us through Japan’s highest bus stop along the way.
But probably the outdoor highlight of living in Japan during the fall are the Fall colors. It’s not just me that feels that way, the Japanese have a word devoted to Fall colors: 紅葉 (kouyou). Parks hold special festivals. Mountain highways pack out with scenic-loving travelers. Hot drinks and soups become all the rage. And this year we really were able to get in on the action.
Yes, Fall is a beautiful time in Japan. And the end of Fall brings about one of the most fun times of the year — Christmas and New Years. Yes, it’s just around the corner, and this year our Paz Church is planning our biggest Christmas Party ever! There will be three separate events on Sunday, December 25. So plan to join us online or in-person. It’s going to be awesome!
As I woke up this morning, I brewed a hot cup of coffee for Ruth and me and then took mine outside on the balcony to watch the sun come up over our neighborhood. With fall colors all around and the crisp morning air, I started to thank God for all of the blessings in our lives. Our family, our home, our relationships, our church, our community, our kids, my wife, our extended family, for our Life in Japan community, our supporters and the more I thanked the Lord the more thankful I became! We really have so much to be thankful for.
I’ve heard it said, “If you focus inward you’ll be depressed, if you focus outward you’ll be stressed, but if you focus on God you’ll be blessed.” I really couldn’t agree more. When we look past all of what we want and don’t have, when we look past all of our temporary circumstances we find that true thankfulness is a result of knowing God, his love and acceptance, and knowing his son Jesus Christ.
There’s a wooden plaque in our house that says “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” It’s taken from the Bible in James 1:17, and reminds us the truth that everything that we consider good or lovely ultimately comes as a gift from our loving Heavenly Father. God is good and desires good for us. How important to hold onto this truth more than ever, as there is so much that is not good in this world due to all of our poor decisions we as humans make. Nonetheless, God still loves us and that love is the bedrock of our thankfulness.
Moving is an exhilarating and yet stressful process. So many things go into a move, and if you have kids, your move immediately becomes more difficult, especially if those kids are involved in community schools. That was certainly our case recently when we found out the we were going to have to move out of our home for over 8 years here in Japan.
Finding out we needed to move meant that we first and foremost had to find options of new places to live. For us with 4 kids here in Japan, we certainly wanted to find a place of at least 4 bedrooms. In Japan, and especially in the city, finding rental apartments with 4 bedrooms severely limits your options. We searched and searched online for places and quickly found out that we would have to make a choice between location and space.
Our decision was not easy, because our family really needs more space than the average family in the Tokyo area. We really wanted to find a place that would allow our kids to still go to the same Japanese public schools, but unless we wanted to go with a 3 bedroom apartment about half the size of what we were already in, we would have to move out of the area. A compromise of some sorts would have to be made.
Once we decided on a place, moving day was coming, and coming fast. There were so many details to take care of — utilities and internet to set up, old furniture to get rid of (a huge process in itself here in Japan), moving companies and dates to coordinate. We were so thankful for our friends and family that helped out a ton in the process. The move was an emotional one to say the least.
But as challenging as the move was, the biggest upheaval of all happened for our kids, for they weren’t just changing homes, but changing schools in the process. Moving in the middle of the Japanese school year also added another layer of complications, complications that could not be avoided as new uniforms, school books and classes had to be coordinated.
All in all, the kids did a fantastic job transitioning even though it was hard to say goodbye to friends and teachers. But perhaps the biggest highlight of all was Becca and Anna’s goodbye to their school and classmates, as they were selected to conduct their classes in the school’s choral festival. They did a fanatic job and soon after received loads of heart-felt letters and notes from their classmates saying goodbye. It was a hard goodbye.
All of this happened in just a little over a month. And what a month it was! If I were to go back and do it again, I would want to add a little more time in there, for we were so rushed in our move. And if you have any option at all, waiting until a natural break in the school year is ideal if you have kids that will be attending schools.
One thing I would add, and you can see in these videos, is that if you have strong ties in your community, it will really help with your move. We got so much help from neighbors, friends and family. We are also really involved in our international church, and because of that we also get a lot of help. Without this help, the move would have been impossible.
Some people asked why we didn’t look to buy a house. Certainly there are a lot more options available if you’re looking to buy, but as a foreigner in Japan, you cannot take out a normal home loan, but only a high-risk loan that requires you to put down 20% as a downpayment at a much higher interest rate. This puts homes that are big enough for us and still inside the Tokyo area out of reach. But this is all a moot point once you get your permanent visa, available to most foreigners once they’ve lived here 10 years, at which point you too can get a normal home loan like any other Japanese person.
So in another year or so, we will be looking into the process of permanent residence here in Japan. And then soon after that — it may be time to look to buy our own home! Then we will have a new story to share: becoming homeowners in Japan!
We normally produce weekly episodes between 12-15 minutes in length for our YouTube channel. These episodes range in a variety of topics about our life in Japan. So what do you do when you have a month outside of Japan? Well, we put it all into one massive episode.
But what does this have to do with life in Japan? Well, it has everything to do with our life in Japan and what led up to it. It’s a feature-length video that shows the roots of our family in a very special way, taking you along with us as we take the kids on an adventure of discovery into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest like no other.
Many people have called this the best video we’ve ever made. Others said the time absolutely flew by. Others were crying right along with us in the touching scenes. Whatever the case may be, this is a fantastic video to watch the next time you’re looking for something to enjoy.
Ruth and I started our married life in America, and then lived in Brazil for 7 years before moving and living in Japan for over 8 years. In all of our life’s experiences, more than once I have thought “this would be an interesting documentary.” Yes, our life moving from country to country has been anything but boring, and many times an overwhelming challenge.
One of our biggest challenges of adapting to life in Japan was learning how to shoehorn our family of six into a 3 bedroom apartment. We recently visited this subject in an episode of Life in Japan, because as the kids grow, so does the challenge.
Although living in Japan is full of challenges for foreigners, it also has its perks. One of them are the fireworks shows. As an American, I have a high standard for what a fireworks show should be, so I was happy to see that the shows here in Japan do not disappoint.
The longer we live in Japan, the more we adapt to the unique taste palette of their foods. Even American chains like McDonalds and Starbucks offer Japan-specific menus that cater to the Japanese taste buds. So recently we decided to try out a Japanese restaurant chain to see how much we’ve adapted to culinary society here in Japan.
One of the biggest challenges for me has been finding hobbies and things to do that get me out of my house, out of my comfort zone and keep me healthy mentally, physically and spiritually. Approaching life passively does not help one grow in any of these areas, so it was fun when Ruth came along with me as we went exploring the nearby Japanese countryside to see what we could find.
So as we continue to live life moving forward, we look forward to new experiences and understanding Japan in a deeper way. A big part of that is continued language study and practice, and while we still have a long ways to go towards fluency, we have already made big strides towards getting there. In the meantime, we get by with a little help from our friends — and that’s not so bad.