It’s always a good idea to give credit to whom credit is due, and in the case of birthdays and parties around the Reutter household, Ruth (a.k.a. Momma-chan) is the reason they are so memorable! It all starts months before the birthday, when she asks the kids what type of birthday and birthday cake they want. They usually say something wild and crazy, and away she goes, imagining how to make it a reality.
She searches in stores and online for the best party supplies and tracks down the best presents for the occasion. Often the presents are a highlight for the other kids, who are quick to jump in and try them out. Ruth goes to awesome lengths to make snacks, cookies, birthday cakes and meals to make the whole thing special. She invites friends and family and for a great celebration.
We’ve had some big parties, having as many as 60 people in our modest little home! That’s unimaginable during this pandemic, so we had to do something much smaller this year. We like to do something fun for birthdays where the kids friends, family and classmates can come together. We’ve even had some parties at our Paz Coffee Shop.
Even though this year’s party was smaller, we can share it with you threw this video. Enjoy this warm, family-oriented episode of Life in Japan!
Yokohama is the city next-door to us, Japan’s first modern International city. It’s called “Japan’s front door” and for good reason — it grew from a fishing village of 800 people to the second largest city in Japan in around 200 years because it became the international port for all of Kanto (a.k.a Greater Tokyo).
Yokohama was the acceptable place for foreigners to live, and as such it became Japan’s first truly international city. It is home to the largest Chinatown in all of Japan, and perhaps the world. On the bluffs of Yokohama are some truly western homes, schools, churches and communities.
Yokohama’s Minato Mirai area has a very similar feel to Chicago’s downtown to me — it is an open area along the waterfront full of towering skyscrapers, renovated districts for shopping, museums and attractions as well as tons of restaurants and dining. But if you move further away from there, you are greeted by a densely populated urban sprawl resembling many other parts of Japan. The city layout is in a more typical grid layout found in cities around the world.
This week’s episode of Life in Japan is focused on the city of Yokohama. There is so much in a city of this size that it’s just impossible to cover it all in one episode, let alone hundreds of episodes. But we hit some of the highlights on our family trip and I can’t get over how much it reminds me of Chicago! Please enjoy!
Chicago’s Sister City?
Officially Chicago’s sister city is Osaka, Japan, and I think that’s a good fit. But to me Yokohama is just as good of a fit, if not better. But that may be for personal reasons. You see, I went to college near Chicago, and the impressive city was just next door to me (about the same distance as Yokohama is to us in Kawasaki now). But I rarely went into downtown Chicago itself. It’s not that I didn’t like it or that it wasn’t fun — I liked it a lot and it was always fun! I just didn’t realize the uniqueness of what was right next to me until I lost it. Once I moved away, I found myself wishing I had taken more advantage of the fact that I lived right next to Chicago.
Too often we fantasize about what is out of reach instead of enjoying what is within our grasp. We dream about a life somewhere else (maybe you dream of a life in Japan!). We imagine what life would be like if we had a different family or other relationships. We can too easily overlook the huge blessings God has put in our lives, within our reach.
Yokohama could easily be that way here too. Especially in the Greater Tokyo area, there are so many amazing places to go and things to see that one could easily overlook that which is right under your nose. The pandemic has forced us to look locally for our fun, and that’s no bad thing, especially when there are amazing places like Yokohama right next to us.
What’s right next to you? Are you overlooking something that you may regret later? It may be a relationship. It could be a different way of life that is richer and more satisfying. Yes, it’s good to imagine a better life and make proactive steps towards it. But happiness is not found when you reach that location, but in healthy journey that gets you there. And in the weeks to come, we want to look more into what makes a healthy life journey.
Japan is not a small country as far as size goes, but when you factor in its relatively large population and the fact that most of the geography of the country is mountains and valleys, you are left with an interesting conundrum. How do you fit all of those people in a relatively small inhabitable area? Dealing with these factors in the way that the Japanese have dealt with them over the years defines what Japan is today.
Everything is compact in Japan because it needs to be compact. Everything is smaller than in Western counterparts. Homes, offices, roads, parks, stores and the list goes on. But no where else is that as plain obvious then when you compare Japanese furniture stores to Western ones. Beds are smaller. Couches and seating are on the floor. There are aisles of space saving contraptions. Everything is purposeful, stylish and practical.
Compare that to any Western furniture store (say IKEA) and you see the differences. Furniture is still stylish, but it is large and inexpensive. You can save a bundle if you don’t mind putting it together yourself. And that’s where the differences start. Both kinds of stores are useful and nice, but both are very different. It’s time to explore the unique world of Japanese furniture stores.
Not far from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo in nearby Chiba lies a village with a very interesting identity: it is Tokyo’s German Village. It’s been on our list of things to try in Japan for a while, so when we got a few days off as a family over the holiday break, we knew right where to go.
It’s always fun to see another country interpreted through some other culture’s eyes. That’s one of the reasons why people enjoy watching Life in Japan, they get to see Japan through our perspective as foreigners. So seeing Japan’s take on Germany seemed especially interesting to us.
Although we could easily do it as a day trip (it’s only an hour and a half by car from our home), we decided to book a cheap hotel to act as our home base and do some extra exploring around us. It turned out to be a great call, as we stumbled upon some really fun and unique places, including the the longest slide I’ve seen or done anywhere!
So what was the verdict? Did Tokyo’s German Village seem authentic? I feel like I am partially qualified to answer, since my last name is German (even though my ancestors are Swiss) and I’ve been to Germany before. For the full verdict, you need to watch the video to the end, but suffice it to say if felt more Japanese than German, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a fun mash-up of the two cultures (more, if you count our culture!) It was definitely worth the trip.
If you’re reading this, you made it through 2020. Congratulations!! What didn’t destroy you has the potential to make you stronger. And what we learned in 2020 has set us up for a powerful 2021, even amidst all of the limitations we may encounter this year.
Limitations do not have to limit our potential, but can actually be a catalyst for breaking free from old patterns that have truly been our greatest reason for a stagnant life. It’s not life that was limited, but “normal” life. For that I am most thankful for 2020 — not for all the bad things that happened, but that it got the whole world out of the rut it was in. We often get so focused on little things that eat our time and energy, when they are merely superficial things that, in the long run, don’t really matter.
2020 helped show what those things were, because we had to stop many things we were doing and reevaluate everything. In fact this is still happening.
What can we expect in 2021?
No one saw 2020 coming, so it would be a little bit audacious to imagine what 2021 will be like. But I believe the biggest secret to thriving this year is not in what will or will not be allowed, or even what happens with Corona Virus or other world events.
The secret to thriving in 2021 is centered in our response to whatever happens. We can’t control the circumstance in life, but we can control our response. We can embrace the limitations and through that, find new ways to thrive.
In 2020 we lost many precious people and many precious “normalities” we had become accustomed with. We certainly can’t take anyone or anything for granted. Ultimately, I can’t hold on to my life, the life of precious ones near me or my way of life. But I can continue to look what can’t be taken away from me: my relationship with God the Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his son. His Word and promises gave me something to stand on, a source of joy and hope amidst a world full of dark news. And I know that even if my life or the life of my loved ones would come to an end, it is only a passing on to the glorious presence of God where I can enjoy life as it was always meant to be: without pain, sin, sickness, disease, corruption, war and all the effects of our fallen state.
If you would like to know more about a relationship with God that can do this, I invite you to join us in reading through the New Testament of the Bible this year. The New Testament is the part of the Bible that talks about Jesus, his life, death and resurrection and what happened afterwards as a result. To say that it is life-changing is a huge understatement.
The great part of reading through the New Testament is that it takes only a couple of minutes each day. When you read, ask God the Creator to reveal Himself to you. Discovering how much God loves you and that He desires a relationship with you is life’s greatest discovery. Here is the link to this reading plan: https://my.bible.com/reading-plans/13233