First published in the Casper Journal March 16, 2011, a week after the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.
I know, I know. My hair is brown and my eyes are green. And, my ancestors come from Germany and France. Still, I consider myself Japanese.
I lived in Japan as a college student for a year and a half, 16 years ago. I ate their food. I spoke their language. I lived with Japanese natives. And, I came to love the people.
My heart stopped when I turned on the news Friday morning and heard about the massive earthquake and tsunami there.
I could picture it all: the manicured rice fields; the ornate homes; the small cars; the organized cities. I envisioned school children walking home from school, their crisp uniforms worn to perfection. I pictured the mailmen on their green motorbikes, delivering mail quickly and efficiently. I pictured the shopkeepers personally welcoming each guest into their stores; mothers, with a child on the front and the back of their bikes, pedaling the narrow streets to take a child to preschool. And I pictured the devastation of an earthquake, and a tsunami.
My heart broke.
When I first received my assignment to Japan, almost 15 years ago, the land seemed foreign and strange. Friends assured us that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. They were right. During my time there, I was never afraid. Even when I was out after dark, or sprained my ankle, or was alone on a train, I knew I was in good company. I did experience one large earthquake, but was unharmed.
There is something very dignified and kind about the Japanese people. The friends I made and the culture I learned have shaped my life since then. In fact, it was difficult to return to America after living in Japan. When our plane landed in San Francisco, everyone around me looked big, boisterous, pushy, and a bit rude. Americans tend to gobble their food down, instead of enjoying it bite by bite. Americans barge into homes, muddy shoes on their feet, as if carpet will last forever. Americans want everything big, and bigger; instead of being grateful for what we have.
Thankfully, some of the Japanese culture I learned now permeates my home and my family. We leave our shoes in the “genkan” (entryway). We often eat with chopsticks. My children are all relatively talented at Origami. And, we eat rice daily. Our large rice cooker has a permanent spot on the kitchen counter.
Once, when our favorite Botan Rice was on sale at the grocery store, I stocked up. When I arrived at the cash register, the cashier eyed my shopping cart full of rice.
“Do you own a restaurant?” She asked with raised eyebrows.
“Oh, no,” I responded. “I’m Japanese.”
“Uh,” she replied with a confused look, glancing at my eyes, my hair, and my skin. She silently checked me through the register. I giggled inside.
Seven years ago, my husband and I returned to Japan to attend the International Rotary Convention. Although it had been ten years since I had stayed there, the people were still as gracious and polite as I remembered them. And, the food was just as delicious.
We took the country train back through the small towns where I had lived. The terraced rice fields were just as green and neat as ever. It seemed that the same old grandmas, their heads covered in scarves, were bending to plant the seedlings. Bikes still crowded the train stations and the roads, although most people now had a cell phone to their ear.
We took a day and toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. After several hours inside of the museum, my heart was ready to burst for the terrible tragedies caused by the atomic bomb. As we exited the museum, a choir of school children—dressed in uniform—was singing a beautiful song on the patio. Their voices were clear and unified. It seemed they were singing victory; the victory of a broken people who had risen from the ashes.
And now, there are ashes to rise from, again. Ashes from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
It’s been several days since the quake. Thankfully, I’ve made contact with friends and family members in Japan, and have found that they are safe. There are still others that I worry about.
However, I have no doubt about the resilience of the Japanese people. They came back strong after the Second World War. They will come back again—organized, polite and grateful for what they have. Their culture teaches them patience, hard work, and service. It will bring them through this tragedy. That’s the Japanese way. A way Americans might take note of.
Until they recover, my prayers are with them; prayers for my beloved people of Japan.
(When I wrote this article, ten years ago, I had no idea that I would now be living in Japan with my family.)
Six months ago my husband and I moved to Okinawa, Japan with six of our children. Yes…I know. Crazy!!!
We bid farewell to our country life in the States, flew to a small tropical island, and set up house. We left our classic hobby farm and spacious home for a small rental house next to banana and mulberry trees; started driving on the left side of the road, and traded our snow boots for snorkels. It’s been an adventure!
Even though I lived in Japan 25 years ago as a college student, coming back here as a busy mom has reminded me what a unique people the Japanese are. Their traditions and culture are inspiring! In fact, being here in Japan has inspired me—and my family—to re-examine several aspects of how we live.
Yes, the language, culture, and climate are different; but the biggest change has been our altered paradigm. Instead of seeing the world through the rose-colored, affluent lens of small-town Utah, we now view life with a broader vision—complete with more empathetic hearts and a greater understanding of people in general.
Here are nine lessons we have learned from our Japanese neighbors and friends.
There is a truth, universally acknowledged, that when you eat less, you feel better! Everyone knows Americans eat too much, but living in Japan has taught me how much Americans actually eat—and, I’m slightly embarrassed. We thrive on Big Macs and Biggie sizes, while most of the world survives on rice and veggies. The bottom line is we, too, could subsist (happily) on less.
Five of my children attend local Japanese schools and eat school lunch everyday with the native students. At first, their daily bowl of rice and seaweed soup left them feeling “starved”, but after a week their bodies adjusted. Now they happily scoop up their rice with their chopsticks and slurp up their soup in the bowl. And they are content. On rare days when a piece of bread is offered, they eat it carefully and savor the sweetness. When fish or chicken is part of the meal they are grateful. And if they get a slice of orange or pear for dessert, they consider it a good day.
No, the Japanese meals aren’t stingy, they are simply sufficient. Instead of Dino bites and mac and cheese, they offer tofu and cabbage, or fish and beans. Compared to our old school lunches, these meals actually feel real. They are not processed, but produced by local farmers and cooks.
I am grateful for this change in our family food mindset. At home we still enjoy lasagna and Cheerios and all of the traditional comfort foods we are used to, but we now know that they are a nicety, not a necessity, a luxury not a likelihood. As Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast.”
Eat less, America.
2. Clean More
I know, I know. This sounds like an abusive rant. But the truth is, Americans often view “cleaning” as a chore for the lower class. We leave the floor mopping and toilet scrubbing to those who can’t get better jobs; and we sometimes live in grime ourselves at the excuse of being “too busy” to clean up or maintain our lives.
Japanese people, on the other hand, consider cleanliness a skill that even the young should learn. I find this perspective refreshing. After all, isn’t cleanliness next to godliness?
I remember when I went to pick up my kindergartener from his first day of Japanese school. There he was, dutifully washing his classroom floor with a rag. Was I appalled? No, but I was slightly shocked. Where were the janitors? The cute colored carpets? The cozy “classroom jobs” like line leader and teacher’s helper?
Then my older kids filled me in: “Every morning when we arrive at school, and every day after lunch all of the students spend 30 minutes cleaning the school.”
My kids explained that they wash windows, scrub floors, pull weeds, and wipe down walls. I was shocked and impressed. But what surprised me more is how much my children enjoyed it!
“I have to get to school early today,” my daughter remarked. “It’s our class’ turn to sweep the school yard.” Sure enough, when we arrived at the school there were several kids with “stick” brooms, sweeping the dirt, pulling up weeds, picking up trash, and preparing the grounds for the morning lessons. Fun? I guess so! As I watched, the Japanese kids laughed, visited with friends, worked together and were genuinely happy.
There are side benefits, too. One Saturday when I needed something to keep my kindergartener busy, I simply asked him to “wash the stairs.” He happily found a rag and showed me how he could get it wet and wring it out properly before mopping with it. Hooray! Happy boy, clean stairs, happy Mama.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. Live Simply
Japanese school playgrounds are not fancy: a dirt field, an exercise bar or two, maybe a baseball diamond. Nothing compared to the elaborate slides and jungle gym equipment I generally see at American schools. At first—much like the cleaning—I was slightly appalled.
“How do children have any fun on an empty field?” I wondered. But again, my kids set me straight.
“We run around and play tag, or kick a ball, or jump rope, or dig in the dirt and look for bugs.” In other words, their creative minds still find plenty of play during recess, and they actually thrive with the challenge of living with less.
The PE skills are impressive too. My kids have been taught and tested on cartwheels, frontwards and backwards rolls, turns and flips on an exercise bar, and high jumps over vaults. It’s really incredible.
A few days ago my girls excitedly shared, “We just got four swings on our playground!” Four swings for several hundred kids to use each day. Kids—that I might add—who have walked a mile or two to school while carrying their supplies and wearing…a mask.
4. Wear a mask. Asians have been doing this for years. Just do it.
5. Don’t use your car horn. Never. Ever. Ever.
Wait, what? Yep. Don’t ever use your car horn. I’m serious. Unless someone is dying, don’t push the button. Even if you’ve been cut off. Even if the guy in front of you stops suddenly. Even if the line of traffic slows because someone is entering or exiting. Just don’t use your horn. This is how the Japanese live, and I’m always amazed.
When someone absent-mindedly doesn’t start moving right at a green light, the Japanese all wait patiently, “ohne” horn. When someone noses in front of them, they kindly let them merge, without honking. Can you imagine how relaxing it is to drive without road rage? If you make a mistake, that’s ok. If you mess up, no worries about feeling terrible. Just do your best and assume that everyone around you believes you are doing your best as well.
The other day I made the mistake of glancing at my phone while waiting at a red light. When I finally looked up again, I had entirely missed the green light, and had to wait another whole cycle before I could go. And, not only did I miss the green, but all the cars behind me did, too! I was so embarrassed!
But thankfully, the long line of cars waited patiently and silently, without laying on their horns, assuming my text must be more important than driving through the intersection. Well, my text wasn’t that important. But I did learn how courteous the Japanese people are, and I decided to be kinder myself. Remember, don’t use your horn.
6. Take your shoes off.
Leave the grime and dirt of the world outside. Don’t bring it into your house. It’s that easy.
I promise, taking your shoes off will make your home cleaner and somehow, softer. Those who enter, including your children, will feel more respect for the sacred space within your walls. As the Bible teaches, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Homes are holy. Walk softly, in clean feet.
7. Take daily naps
We’ve had a few painters and other maintenance workers in our yard recently. One day when I walked outside to get the mail, I was surprised to see a worker curled up comfortably on the driveway. Another was sleeping under a bush, and a third worker was prostrate on our porch, catching some shut-eye. After my initial shock, I smiled, grabbed the mail, and left them all to their few minutes of break.
After that, I watched and discovered that everyday they took a few minutes to rest, in a prone position. How smart! Everyone needs an afternoon nap, even those of us who are not infants. Taking a brief siesta in the afternoon rejuvenates and regenerates us. It’s a piece of our American culture that we should reinsert, and would likely make each of us a little more cheerful.
Which brings me to my next point:
8. Be Courteous
Japanese people are incredibly courteous and kind. Their polite, quiet mannerisms and ability to follow directions and rules make Americans look like brazen bulls. Bowing to your neighbor, always (always!) extending a greeting on the street, and willingly obeying laws and guidelines make their communities simple and safe. I am embarrassed to turn on the news and view the bashing, the riots, and the shameless disregard for authority that Americans often display. I am not referring to our right to free speech and the power that We the People are blessed to hold; I mean the lack of restraint and respect that comes from common courtesy for mankind. We can do better, America.
9. Be content
I realize that being discontent is an American trademark. We are bred to stretch our horizons, go further, and aim for the stars. That’s the American Dream. However, while spreading our wings is commendable, there is also something beautiful about simply being content.
I’ll say it again. “Enough is as good as a feast.” Japanese people are inspiringly content with their lives: a simple house, a car with maybe a carport, veggies and fish for a meal, some flowers on the balcony. By American standards many of them are poor, yet they are grateful and happy. As I walk the streets of our neighborhood I see small yards, simple gardens, and plain houses. Yet the children play happily with a ball or a piece of chalk, and it is enough. Their parents live in one place throughout their lives, assist the grandparents, learn a simple trade and have a good life. Perhaps there could be a happy medium between the grit-driving/always attaining lifestyle patterns of the Western world and the peaceful living of the East. Be content.
Yes, aside from the rice, the ocean, the fish, the shoes, and the myriad of other culture differences, I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from the Japanese. When we return home, I hope my kids will carry some of these patterns of living in their pockets: health, cleanliness, courtesy, contentment; and make their own lives—and our future neighborhoods—a better place to be.
In honor of Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, I share my own story of grief, written in 2013. This experience is one I will never forget, a tender memory. Even though I have 10 other beautiful children, one is still gone…
Summer is beautiful. The world is full and ripe and gorgeous. Everything blooms and grows and produces. There’s enough and to spare, until autumn. Then the first frost comes. It comes with little warning — a summer day, a warm night, a slight cloud on the horizon, and a weather forecast. If you miss the signs, you’re taken by surprise.
“What happened to the garden?” my daughter asked one morning. We looked out through the glass patio doors. Just the day before everything had been full and green, but suddenly the beauty was gone. We ran outside to see.
Once thriving squash plants were now lying, black, on the ground. All around us were wilted tomato plants, yellowed peppers and brittle beans.
“Our tomatoes,” said my son, picking up a squishy mess.
“We should have picked them all last night,” I lamented.
“Is summer over?” asked my younger daughter.
“Yes,” I replied. We shivered as we walked back into the house to eat our warm oatmeal.
The chill outside wasn’t the only sudden change. Hearts can also experience frost. Our lives have generally been summer — abundant, plentiful, warm and happy. But every life has some sorrow. It usually comes suddenly. We don’t watch the forecast or want to acknowledge the cloud on the horizon. It just happens.
Longfellow observed, “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
I may have seemed cold last month, but I was only sad. Sad when the doctor said, “No heartbeat.” Sad when an ultrasound confirmed the lifeless form. Sad when I had to break the news to my husband, who was across the country on business. We cried together on the phone. Sad when I tried to pretend that everything was OK, until he came home and we told the kiddles together.
“No baby?” Their shock was visible. “No new crib?” “No baby name?” The frost had come to our family. Overnight our dreams were wilted.
For a few days everything hung in the air, waiting and in denial. Our tears had been cried, and there was nothing else to tell. It almost seemed that summer might still be around, hopeful that it wasn’t quite fall. But it was.
One evening, during an evening out, I could feel it. “It’s time,” I finally said to my husband, and we left our activities to go home.
On the way we passed happy people talking, hugging, unaware of the turmoil inside of us. “Every man has his secret sorrows,” I thought again. Outside the sun was setting, gorgeous and brilliant. A sign? Even sunrises are inspiring. Soon the world would be dark.
We walked carefully to the car as more oblivious people hurried past. Everything was heavy and tense now, but we still drove slowly, peacefully, thoughtfully home.
Together, we walked in the front door, and in less than a minute a tiny being was there with us. Just bigger than my thumb, and perfectly formed – ten fingers, two eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, tiny lips, tiny legs, and a hand curled up by its cheek. We gasped and cried. The frost had come, for real.
When the children woke up the next morning we told them. It was autumn. Summer had really ended. They cried, too. It was a solemn day.
That evening we gathered by the apple tree in the orchard. The branches nearly touched the ground, forming a protective shadow over the earth beneath. We held a tiny box. Together we shared and sang and wept. Even the toddlers, too little to understand, could feel the bitterness.
How could this be? Our lives had always been summer. Always. Didn’t we have nine gorgeous children right there with us? Nine had come, all overdue — even a set of twins had arrived without a hint of trouble. They were our summer. But no matter the bounty of summer, frost brings a pang of loss.
The little box was put in the earth, and spontaneously the children threw flowers and petals on top of it. Then we covered it with dirt, and placed a tiny, heart-shaped rock to remember. Angel baby was laid to rest.
The days passed, and our sorrow began to heal — ever so slightly. One crisp day we went out again to the garden. There, not far from the little mound in the apple orchard, were the drooping plants and weeping tomatoes.
However, next to them were orange pumpkins, suddenly visible now and bright in the molding blackness. Everywhere tree leaves were golden and glorious. The mums, next to the wilted daisies, were brilliant with color — yellow, purple, orange. The grapes were sweet and full, the frost bringing out their flavor, and the apples and pears were ready without a moment to spare. Everywhere the deadness was filled with new autumn vibrance — life we hadn’t noticed before.
“Mama, look!” called my 1st grader. He was ready with his wheelbarrow and wagon to gather the fruits of fall.
That night we ate our autumn soup, drank fresh grape juice and ate pumpkin muffins. “I like the fall,” said my son. “Summer is nice, but you don’t appreciate it until the frost comes, and makes the world a different kind of beautiful.” I smiled. Where sympathy had been before, I now had empathy — empathy for anyone who had listened for a heartbeat, or held a lifeless child, or had a box under an apple tree.
“Every man has his secret sorrows,” and now I had mine. But just like the frost, those sorrows somehow made the world brighter. I looked at the faces of my children around the table — they were brilliant, like the mums and the grapes and the pumpkins, sweeter and dearer than before. Our frost had ultimately brought life. With a new song in my heart, I stood to serve the fresh apple pie.
My dear friend, mentor, and neighbor, Bettye Jane Hodgkins, passed away a few hours ago, at 4:30am Pacific Time, August 4th. Bettye was 99 years, 5 months and 4 days old.
I was here in Japan when I received the news a few hours later, at 4:30am my time, August 5th. Something woke me up and I know now it was Bettye, letting me know she was on the other side, through an email sent by her dear daughter, Christine.
When Bettye passed in America it was actually evening in Japan. There was a full moon and my husband, Mark (whom Bettye adored), suggested we go out and look at the sky from our balcony. It was cool outside, and we stood for a long time, gazing at the moon and then looking out at the ocean from our home in Okinawa. Little did we know at the time, but Bettye was slipping quietly to heaven.
It is impossible to measure the good or influence a person can have in 99+ years of living. I only know bits and pieces of her first 78 years of life. But her final 18 years were filled with meaning for me and my family.
Bettye had four incredible children, all whom I met. She was a devoted wife and mother. She was an artist, and always had a canvas set up in her kitchen, with paints and brush at the ready, a few finished pieces displayed on her fireplace mantel. She was also a writer, like me, which is partly why we became close friends 18 years ago.
My husband and I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with three young children in 2002. A day later, our 4th child was born, in our home, just four houses down from where Bettye had lived for over 60 years. Thomson Circle is a quiet place in the busy city. It’s an older neighborhood, with large mature trees and big yards full of grass—the perfect place to live with children.
Our news is full of voices demanding equality and “justice for all.” With a deep love for my country, and with empathy for those who also declare injustices, I can’t help but wonder, ‘Which of all these parties is right?’
This morning during my personal study I came across the words of Elder James R. Rasband who spoke on the Doctrine of Christ during the April 2020 General Conference:
“One thought has come again and again—without the Book of Mormon and its clarity about the Doctrine of Christ and His atoning sacrifice, where would I turn for peace?”
Peace is what I long for right now. Peace from riotous voices. Peace from the demands to erase history. Peace from the clarion that we live in an oppressive nation. Peace from raging pandemics and contradicting solutions. Peace from oppressive dictators around the globe.
And at the same time I truly desire justice for all. In this tumultuous world, can I find both?
Justice through Christ
Elder J. Rasband explained that we feel true peace when we fully understand that “Christ’s merciful sacrifice fulfills all the demands of justice.” In other words, believing in Christ provides the assurance that all will eventually receive justice.
When seemingly finite efforts to ensure that “all men are created equal” fail, we can trust that justice will be served through Christ. This understanding brings peace to my soul.
President Boyd K. Packer taught, “restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and you cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ” (November 1995 Ensign). Yes, true justice comes through Christ.
I hate to express unpopular opinions, but for many reasons I am LOVING this quarantine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of deadly viruses or endless school closures, but some of the resulting outcomes of a worldwide pandemic have actually benefitted our family. The mandatory quarantine is one example.
During the mush and mix of motherhood—especially on days when I feel totally overwhelmed—I have often wished for a long VACATION: a few weeks (or months) where the world stops and we can actually catch up on life. Right? Get through the family photos, organize the cupboards, finish the books, watch the movies, take the walks and DO everything on our “someday” lists.
Well, my at-home dream vacation wish has come true!
Our calendars are EMPTY! Our kids are all HOME! My husband CAN’T go to a meeting or run an errand or leave on a business trip. The soccer games are gone. The dance practices are on hold. The flute lessons have been cancelled. There is NOTHING going on.
Frankly, this absence of appointments is HEAVEN! For a few blessed weeks (err….months) the world has stopped spinning.
I traveled on a plane this week and listened to a podcast I’d never tried before: Happy Mum, Happy Baby, by Giovanna Fletcher. The episode caught my eye because HRH Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, was the guest.
Like most of the world, I’ve watched Kate with interest during the past decade as she married Prince William and started motherhood. I felt for her when she appeared on the steps of the hospital holding a newborn–her make-up and hair flawless–and wearing heels(!) while smiling at the enamored masses. Poor Mama, I thought.
I was stunned when she arrived a few weeks later for royal duties and I couldn’t detect any baby fat anywhere! She looked amazing!
When she quickly became pregnant again and struggled with morning sickness, my heart went out to her. I hate those long days, weeks and months when nothing stays down and you become a limp mass on the couch or floor, holding onto hope that “this, too, shall pass.”
When her daughter, Charlotte, was born, I was also in the hospital (with my 10th baby) and felt a strange kinship to Kate. But, again, I was eternally grateful that I could lounge in my nightgown while she dressed and showed up for the crowds.
And when she had her 3rd child, Louis, my interest and respect grew yet again. She appeared a committed and happy mother.
Anyway, as my plane took off, I settled in with my headphones to hear what the Duchess had to say about motherhood. And, I was pleasantly–in fact, more than thrilled–at her replies.
Here are a few of my favorite take-aways from Kate’s comments:
*families are at the CENTER of our society
*it’s the SIMPLE things that create a happy childhood
*the world is a ‘real adventure for children
*the more loving people you have around, the better
*nature takes its course during birth
*midwives can play an ‘extraordinary’ role in birth
*I totally UNDERESTIMATED the impact our first baby would have on our lives.
*once a baby is born, it’s amazing and extraordinary to see pure joy on a husband’s face
*we have to try and remember the SIMPLE THINGS through the complications of life
*the STRENGTH OF FAMILY and SIMPLE ACTS OF KINDNESS unite us as a society
*How can you physically get three children out to the car at once? You can’t!
Kate also shared two aspects of childhood which make a tremendous difference:
1.) the quality of relationships
2.) the environments children spend time in, including a happy home and the power of spending time in the out-of-doors
And my favorite quote…
“Since being a mom I have found a new enjoyment out of life.”
Like I said, I LOVED her down-to-earth answers and the respect she emanated for parenting and motherhood. I felt like Duchess Kate truly valued her role as a mother and was doing her best to raise her children in a happy, loving home.
I manage LOTS of lunches everyday… You probably do as well!
And like any meal, I get tired of food and redundancy. That’s why I try to keep lunch SIMPLE and HEALTHY. And, I streamline my efforts so that my kids pack their lunches in the morning. That’s one less thing for me to think about during the day.
Here is an overview of how I manage MEALS FOR THE MASSES…at lunchtime.
There are a MILLION ways to be a good mom… AND, there are a MILLION MEALS to fix!
Spending time in the kitchen is (unfortunately) one of my least favorite parts of motherhood. However, cooking is a necessity! And there are lots of people who depend upon my efforts everyday.
Welcome to my next three posts: MEALS FOR THE MASSES. I like to keep food simple and healthful, with minimal cleanup during the week–especially when I have kids (and a husband) coming and going at all hours.
Here are my THREE FAVORITE BREAKFASTS that make my kids happy while keeping my kitchen life stress-free.
Every family deals with sibling rivalry, right? Arguments, bickering, disagreements… Irritation is common among brothers and sisters. After all, living in a house with other human beings isn’t always easy!
I’m not a child expert, just a mother of 10 children. But I’m happy to share what works in our home when arguments pop up. Here are a few ideas I use to limit contention among my kids.
(Thanks to my friend, Shellie, for requesting this two-minute tip.)