When you’re an American living abroad, sometimes you have to celebrate your own holidays in a special way, and that’s what we did for the classic American holiday of Thanksgiving. If we were in America, we would pack up the family for a road trip to some relatives house to enjoy a holiday meal of turkey and potatoes together, but living in Japan things are quite different. First of all, the girls go to school on Thanksgiving! But we didn’t let that stop us from celebrating together and making our own holiday memories.
After a great meal, we enjoyed a Gospel Choir concert at Paz Coffee Shop and then went to see over a million lights at the illuminations at Pleasure Forest near Lake Sagamiko. Now that’s a good way to celebrate! Here’s what our holidays look like in Japan.
Fall is a beautiful time of year in Japan. In America, the late November holiday of Thanksgiving stops most people from decorating for the holidays too early. But no such holiday holds back the Japanese from decorating for the holidays. As soon as Halloween passes, it’s decorating time. For me, growing up in Illinois, December meant bare trees and freezing temperatures. It’s a stark contrast to Tokyo where the trees still hold their leaves late into December while holiday decorations are lit up.
Making our Japanese fall even more special this year was a night-time viewing of the fall foliage at the Japanese gardens in Showa Kinen park. This expansive park is awesome, offering all kinds of actives for the family. For a short time each fall they strategically place lights to highlight the beautiful fall colors and invite the public to come in and see it. It is truly breath-taking, as our latest video shows.
We are grateful for being able to live here in Japan, and we personally enjoy mixing the best of American, Brazilian and Japanese cultures together. Each culture has so much to offer, and we still have so much to learn, but we love bridging the gap!
Of all the seasons, fall is perhaps my favorite. The weather gets cooler. The pumpkin lattes come out. The leaves change colors and time marches towards the end of the year. It also happens to be prime birthday season for the Reutter family and we celebrate three birthdays within a week (mine and the twins)!
This year we celebrated with a BBQ that our good friend Yoshi hosted. Yoshi makes some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. He’s a great friend to have! My birthday coincided with a Japanese holiday this year, which meant that many of our friends from our family group were off of work and able to get together. In Tokyo, where people are so busy, spending time together is extremely special. It’s these connections to other people that help you thrive as a person. When people are an active part of a healthy family, whether a physical family or a church family, everybody wins. This is an important part of a truly blessed life, wherever you live.
So without further ado, here is the latest installment of Life in Japan. Enjoy!
I recently just went back to America to meet with family, friends, supporters and investors who are partnered with us to live here in Japan. Traveling alone for two weeks meant I was able to fill my agenda and really make the most of the trip. But in that time some big things happened back home in Japan, and I was most certainly homesick!
They say “Home is where your heart it” and I couldn’t agree more. While it was so great to go back to America and meet up with everyone, I could tell that it’s not home anymore. My parents still live in the house and town where I grew up, so there is always an element of homecoming when I visit them there. But without them there, it wouldn’t be the same. And now when I talk about home, I talk about Japan. Not too long ago, it was Brazil. I can still go there too, visit Ruth’s parents and feel at home, but it’s also not home anymore. Family is what brings meaning and heart to the home.
There’s no way around it: Typhoon Hagibis was one of the most historically terrible storms in Japan’s recorded history. Torrential rain came pouring down for hours before the storm had even arrived, swelling our rivers into their floodplains before the typhoon itself made landfall. We watched the river on which we live rise to a level to which we had never seen, realizing that the worst part of the storm had not even arrived yet. How high would the river go? Would it overflow the levy across from us? Would it flood our home and neighborhood? How how would the water rise? Past our second floor? Would we be safe at home — or anywhere else, for that matter?
Growing up in Illinois, I am accustomed to powerful thunderstorms and terrible tornadoes. Those types of storms do a huge amount of damage in a localized area. But earthquakes and typhoons are very different in that they affect a much bigger area and have the potential to do much more damage. When Typhoon Hagibis finally made landfall (for it had been raining for nearly a day already), an earthquake shook the whole Tokyo region. It was as if the natural disasters of Japan got together and planned an onslaught the likes of which Japan had not yet seen.
A huge percentage of Japan was under high alert due to the size of this storm, and especially the Tama River on which we live. By the time the main part of Hagibis made landfall, the river had already swelled up into its floodplain. As Hagibis pounded us, it began to swell up to the levy that divides the floodplain from the whole city of Kawasaki. The levy was the last line of defense between the raging river and our neighborhood of tens of thousands of residents.
Then reports began to come in. The Tama River overflowed a few kilometers above us. It overflowed on the other bank of the river, right across from us. More reports came in, how it overflowed into a hospital just down from us. We prepared ourselves for the worst. We took everything of value and moved it to our second floor. The storm continued to pound us harder and harder.
Then at 9:30 PM, everything suddenly became calm. The wind died down, the rain turned to a sprinkle. I thought that maybe the eye of the storm had reached us, but to my huge relief, the radar showed that the storm had completely passed. I could see out my window that the river was right at the edge of going over the levy.
But the storms’ passing did not signify that the danger was over. Far from it. Nearly a foot of rain (25 cm) fell over the entire state at once, in some places reaching nearly a meter of rain! All that rain still had to make its way down the river. It seemed as if it would surely overflow. I stayed watching the river from our second story window, keeping an eye of the river. I was prepared for the worst, and over the 30 minutes, the waters became rapids, violently making way downstream. But the level did not rise. Another 30 minutes passed, and the raging waters continued without rising. After two hours, to my amazement, the river began to descend. After three hours it had gone down several meters — enough that I felt like I could finally go to sleep.
When I woke up at 6:00 AM and looked at the window, I was amazed. The water had retreated, The sun was out and shining and people were out and about, beholding the damage. All around us, the river had overflowed, but never enough to flood our neighborhood or our house. We were extremely grateful to God for His protection. The reports that came in from other parts of Japan were not nearly as good — so many entire cities were flooded. Dozens of people were killed, nearly all of them by issues related to flooding. One person, in a town a couple kilometers away, died as the water quickly rose in their ground-floor apartment. The cities in which we live are all built on the river’s floodplain with dikes to control the river. Hence the danger when an epic storm like this happens.
And even though we are heartbroken for the loss of a number of people and their families, we are grateful because it could have easily been much more devastating than it was. God is able to protect his children wherever they are — and in many different ways. All of our Paz team was kept safe. Our church family was safe. None of the neighborhoods in which our team lives was flooded or affected. God is good! We pray that even the places that were affected would experience the goodness of God in the days and months to come. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!