明けましておめでとうございます！That is Japanese for Happy New Years! It`s read akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! It took me like ten minutes to figure out how to switch the keyboard back to English after writing that. They definitely do celebrate New Years here in Japan. It is the biggest holiday of the year. It isn`t just the first of the year though. The New Years celebration last for the first three days of the year. Everyone goes to old temples and shrines, visits their family, and rests from work for three days. Often times, they will prepare a lot of food before the New Year so that the wife can rest for the three days and doesn`t have to cook any food. Also, they use the same pair of wooden chopsticks for the three days for the same reason. Family and your ancestors are very important here in Japan. You`ll often spend a lot of time with your living family and go to shrines to pray to your ancestors during the New Years celebration. It`s customary to eat mochi and soba (a type of noodle) during this time of year. In order to make mochi, you put some rice in a big wooden or stone bowl, then you smash it with a giant hammer (like Thor) until it`s all completely smashed together into one texture. You then break it apart into little balls and eat it. It`s sticky and chewy, but it`s pretty good. It`s kind of hard to explain what it`s like because there isn`t really anything like it in the United States.
Last Sunday, Christmas was pretty fun. It`s not as big of a holiday here in Japan as it is back in the United States. Nobody gets it off from work. It isn`t even written on the calendar. Everyone knows what it is somewhat and they get into Santa and presents and stuff. People don`t know about the real meaning of Christmas being about Christ at all though. Most people have heard the named Jesus Christ, but don`t know anything about Him. It`s probably similar to how most of us have heard the name Buddha but don`t really know anything about him. Japan, being an island, was very isolated from the rest of the world for a really long time. Therefore, their culture and even people`s way of thinking are completely different from that of people in Western countries. We had church in the morning for one hour and then went and ate dinner at the bishop`s house at night on Christmas Day. Members of the ward here gave us some Christmas presents (mostly junk food). It was very kind of them.
On preparation day last week, we went exploring. There is a big building near the apartment that`s half missing. It looks like one part of the building was just wiped out. Then, there`s a door frame on the remaining part, but there is no door on it. It`s just an empty door frame. We went in and had a look around. It was the creepiest place ever. All windows, lights, toilets, sinks, and everything breakable was smashed. Floorboards were torn up. Walls had holes in them and doors were destroyed. It was quite large and had several stories to it. There was only the one entrance that we went in in the basement. There was no other way in or out. There were several dark creepy and weird passageways. I don`t have any idea what that building was or what happened to it. It was fun to explore, but at the same time, it was kind of scary.
Yesterday, we met the coolest guy. We were waiting at the train station to meet with one of our investigators that we had an appointment with, but he didn`t show up. Then, some random 81 year-old guy walks up and starts talking to us. When I brought up the church, he said that he wanted to go. Since our appointment didn`t show up and the church was only a five minute walk away, I said to him, "Why don`t we go check it out right now?" He agreed and we started walking toward the church building. One the way there he randomly says, "Do you like sports? I like ping pong. Do you have a Ping pong table?" Of course, we do have a ping pong table in the church. So, we told him that we could play a little bit. He got super into it and he was actually surprisingly good. He`s very active and energetice for an 81 year old man. After playing and talking some, he insisted on taking us back to his apartment to feed us. He lived close by. We ended up spending a while talking and doing things with that man (his name is Kita). What`s really cool is that even though he loves to talk and would constantly be saying things, he would always stop to listen whenever we tried to teach something about the gospel and he would accept it. He says that he`s going to come to church and he likes all the stuff we`re teaching.
It`s snowed about four times now. It snowed on Christmas Eve and on the Day after Christmas but not on Christmas Day. Before Church on Christmas day, we had a baptism, though. Her name was Mika Kitamura. She`s in her thirties. She`s engaged to a member of the church. What`s interesting is that the member was a less active member, but through Sister Kitamura hearing the lessons and getting baptized he came back to the church, as did his daughter. Now all three of them are an active member family. They have a goal to be married in the temple.
I`m very excited for this new year. It`s a great opportunity to make a fresh start and to become better. You can just choose to forget all of the bad things of the past and choose to live for the future. Anyone can choose to change. There is a wonderful bright year in store for all of us. Let`s make to most of every moment of it. Live for the future.
-Elder Isaac Swift