God said, "It's not good for the Man to be alone; I'll make him a helper, a companion." So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the Man to see what he would name them. Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name. The Man named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but he didn't find a suitable companion.
God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that he had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man.
   The Man said,
   "Finally! Bone of my bone,
      flesh of my flesh!...
                                              --Genesis 2: 18-23
SURVIVAL: I have worn the string from my ceiling light around my wrist since I left Japan. 

On the very first Sunday that I lived in Japan back in April of 2010, I went to Asahi Mission Point. It was a small church full of kind and good-humored people. My experience there immediately linked me to that congregation and set the tone for my time in Japan. In fact, it was this group that I most wanted to introduce my "boss" to when he came to visit and it was with students from this church that I experienced the massive earthquake nearly a year later and this group with whom I both laughed and wept when it came time to say goodbye...
It is good to be a part of something that is based in love. It is good to have a family.
My SECOND Sunday in Japan, I attended worship at Sagamino Church and sat next to Satoh-sensei as he translated the message Miyai-sensei shared.  The sermon that day was based on the passage of Genesis above.  Not every Biblical translation explains the creation of Eve quite this way, and as I recall, Miyai-sensei explained it even better!! He focused on this idea of being a helper to one another and said that no one was meant to be alone and that, as Christians, we should try to reach out to people who are lonely and even to try to find a "helper" for them!
This idea both warmed my heart and caused me discomfort. I loved the notion that everyone needs to help and be helped; that everyone needs a companion--a partner... But... Did everyone look at me as a single woman and think that I "needed" a man? Was I considered "incomplete"? Would church members try to "set me up"? ...I felt embarrassed!!!
Still, this lesson stuck with me throughout my months in Japan. I admit, there were MANY times when I felt alone (and not in a good way.) There were many times when my family at Asahi and all the many adoptive parents, siblings, children, and even grandparents I acquired through my missionary responsibilities could not fill the void that was growing within me. Even having the support of so many people back home, somehow couldn't lessen the loneliness that was darkening the edges of my days.
Days shined bright and I continued to thrive in sooooooo many ways, but to face so many private struggles, surely was wearing away at my spirit without my notice!
And when the earthquake and tsunami came and the uncertainty of the nuclear situation loomed, I holed away in my apartment with no one to console or protect me...and I turned to God in desperation like I'd never known before. I prayed for comfort for everyone and safety. I prayed for the earth to be still. I prayed hard and without ceasing...but never for myself. I did not stop to let myself accept how truly scared and LONELY I was. ...I felt I couldn't bear it...
When it was suggested that I should come home, THAT was when reality crept in and I broke apart.  I saw my pitiful self and I knew there was a family at home who loved me, and I wanted nothing more then than to be surrounded in that love.
And that is what I got! My sister and her partner and my mother and nephews and niece and brother and sister-in-law and closest friends SURROUNDED me. And when I needed to be alone, they left me...but not really.  And when I needed to cry, they let me...but they held me. I felt the message of that passage in Genesis alive and well in and around me!
Being back in America has been as hard as you might imagine, and figuring out how to move through the world without a plan has been an unwelcome challenge, but one I'm starting to embrace. I look down at that lamp string I tied around my wrist over 9 months ago, and I think about the tragedy that happened on 3/11/11 and I think about my friends in Japan...and then I think about ME! And I think, "It isn't good to be alone like I was then...and now I'm NOT!"
I have a helper. I have a companion. And I have a WORLD full of people whom I could not love more.
This is a new beginning for me and I feel ready. Happy 2012, everyone!!

A LITTLE HELP FROM MY  (BOY)FRIEND: We make a great team! :)

(in no particular order)
  • My students and friends (I miss my students from Den-en, Sagamino, Asahi, and Ebina very, very much and all my friends at ALL the churches and all whom I met through  l i v i n g  in such a special place at a such a significant time.)
  • Riding the train (The best time to rest, collect your thoughts, catch up on e-mail, and--my favorite--people watch!)
  • Coming home from church with lots of fresh fruit (Such a simple and thoughtful gift!!)
  • My pottery class (Oh, what a delight to be able to study with such gifted artists; to get my hands dirty and emerge with something beautiful... I really felt I was learning something important.)
  • Cartons of juice that I picked up weekly at the market near my house (grape, grapefruit, apple, pineapple, carrot, mixed fruits & veggies...)
  • Yuba!! (I loved to go to Ume no Hana and get the yuba "fondue" and zest my own yuzu onto the chewy tofu skin...)
  • Travelling and exploring (I visited so many cool places--Kyoto, Hakone, Fuji-Q Highland, and the Site of Reversible Destiny in Gifu. Some of my best memories are of choosing a spot anywhere at all and finding my way there all on my own, snapping pictures, and taking it all in...) 
  • The beach (I miss whiling away the hours on the black sands of Enoshima or splashing in the seaweed in the bay...but I do NOT miss the kurage!!)
  • The FOOD!! (perfectly toasted omochii, perfectly tart umeboshi, gluten-free donuts, lunches at church, dried apricots with almonds, goma dofu, the monthly vegan dinners at the Pink Cow, and sooo many more!!)
  • The pace (I always felt like I was in a video game or something--trying to navigate my way through an endless and changing scene of scurrying people... It is addictive!)
  • My adorable apartment (I honestly *just* got the place exactly how I wanted it--fabulously furnished and arranged... But, it is a consolation that the young man who took the bulk of my belongings was a refugee from Fukushima who was living in a small apartment with the rest of his family after they evacuated. He said they had nothing... I really miss my neighbors, though...)
  • Playing "invisible ball" with Yufo and Mihiro, my best buddy's kids (We made up this game the first time we met, before we knew how to communicate with one another verbally, and we could--and did!--play it for HOURS!)
  • Planning my lessons (Each of my students had different needs and goals and learning styles, so I really enjoyed finding new and fun ways to engage them not only in the process of learning English but also in the process of opening up and growing more confident.)
  • Recycling (I miss the organization and the consideration of the waste and recycling programs. And yes, I even miss the trash song.)
  • Flowers year-round (I so enjoyed seeing and smelling so many types of flora! It never looked like winter, even when it snowed! There were always so many types of flowers!!)
  • Karaoke (Yeah. I can sing "karyokey" over here in America, but it's just not the same.) ;-)
It was hard to say Sayonara to Japan...but I know one day I will return...

June 10, 2011 (Back in Japan!!)


Please forgive the delay in updating this blog. After I wrote the last entry, I was no longer "RheAnn in Japan." I went home to the United States for what I thought would be a 3 week visit--time for me to be with family and time for things to "settle down" here in Japan. As we all know, many terrible conditions still exist here in Japan and no one knows what the immediate and long-term effects of the nuclear crisis will be. People here in the Yokohama/Tokyo area were not directly affected by the tsunami, but the interconnectedness that exists between humans, especially within their own nation, has left many people feeling tremendous grief and confusion mixed with worry over radiation exposure and future disasters. By and large, the people of Japan (native and foreigner alike) are attempting to reassemble their lives in light of this collection of tragedies. There is no such thing as "normal" now...for ANYone. One can't merely carry on with life as before. Even if that is the appearance given, rest assured there is a tightly-wound reel of emotions stored deep within and closely guarded lest a sneaky fish hook the line and send them spinning into a sea of chaos.

Indeed, I am finding there is a very tangible sense of "holding it together" among my friends and even amongst strangers. How DO you carry on after such tragedy? How DO you move forward with such uncertainty? ...And furthermore...How do I?

During my extended stay in the USA, I put most of my time and attention into self-care, raising funds and awareness for relief efforts in Japan, and spending QUALITY time with my family and friends in anticipation of further separation upon my imminent return. During a visit to my best friend Cliff's home near Nashville, TN, I was fortunate enough to encounter the 13 year cicadas! (Yes, that's right, I said "fortunate.")

Anyone living in Middle Tennessee (and parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, apparently), know all too well the wonder that is The Return of the Cicadas. This summer marked the 13th year in their life-cycle. Save the 3 or 4 weeks they spend buzzing around North America en masse, these unique insects spend their entire lives underground! They attach themselves to tree roots and live and grow there feeding off the juices of the tree. Then, like clockwork, every 13 years, they all climb up and out of the earth, shed their skins, dry their wings, then begin the process of mating and egg-laying that precedes their death. This is how they were made!! This is their purpose!!!

My visit to Tennessee coincided with their period of emergence. I am not exaggerating by saying there were BILLIONS of these bugs. They were EVERYWHERE!! They buzz and sing at all hours and show no fear of human interaction (landing in hair, perching on lunch plates, and so on), so the ratio of cicada to human can become a bit overwhelming. Once I got past some of these things, however, I began to feel amazed by these little creatures.

I mean…God made an animal whose purpose in life is to live and grow beneath the earth for THIRTEEN YEARS! And I was fortunate enough to witness their first (and last) experience of life above ground. Amazing.

They're clumsy, cicadas. (And who wouldn't be after a damp, dark life like theirs?) They don't seem able to direct themselves well in flight which gives their journey an appearance of joy and abandon. I imagine they're completely carefree and in awe of sunshine and moonlight and leaves and all the atmospheric and environmental features of a life outside of dirt. "Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" they must be thinking! J

At Centennial Park with my friend Stewart, a lone cicada teetered over and sat between our feet as we shared a squeaky old swing overlooking a beautiful garden. I nearly cried because, though he was one of billions, this tiny moment in the scheme of his life was HUGE…and there we were, two old friends from college, able to SEE him experiencing the world—and all its newness and impermanence. It was profound for me.

By now, I imagine the next phase of the cicadas' purpose has been achieved. The eggs are likely laid near trees throughout the area and "Mom" and "Pop" are breathing their last of that air they waited a lifetime to partake. …I wonder if anyone really misses them…

I also can't help but feel I'm like a cicada.

As I said, my time in the States was bittersweet and relatively quiet. I resided in a state of limbo, to a degree—not knowing when I would be able to come back here to Japan…and what things would be like when I did. My experiences after the earthquake had me shaken up (no pun intended) and it took a considerable amount of time to process what had happened and to embrace life with and among my family, friends, and fellow Americans after so much time away. I really hadn't anticipated coming back until 2013, so being there under such conditions made for a swirl of mixed emotions that I was not prepared to handle. With love and support (and therapy!!), I got back on track and felt ready to plan my return. My time underground seemed to be drawing to a close.

I prayed very hard and tried to make sure I was making good and informed decisions about my future in Japan—not an easy task in the face of so many unknowns. I put my trust in the committees in the US and Japan who oversee my work and when it was suggested to me that I should come to Japan and get my things, I cried. But God soothed me with believing my departure would be a temporary one; that I'd come back to Japan as soon as my employers gave the go-ahead.

Much to my dismay, though, and for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, a decision was made that my position as the Fraternal Missionary in Japan would be eliminated, so the return I'd so been looking forward to was instantly transformed into a dreaded period of goodbyes. (I arrived here on 6/4 and leave again on 6/20.) L

It hasn't been so bad, though, frankly. There is a depth of love that exists here between me and my students and friends that is immune to distance and separation. …I can't really explain it. (And maybe that's a good thing?)

So here I am…fluttering around like a clumsy cicada. I have no idea how to do what I must do…and I have no idea what happens after this. I only hope that I am living my purpose.





  • At the exact moment that Stewart and I were marveling at that single cicada, my 5 year old nephew Creson was being rushed to the hospital after having a seizure. Nothing like this has happened to him before (or to anyone in our family, for that matter), so the whole ordeal has been pretty scary. He has been undergoing several tests, the results of which we should know soon. Please pray for a good diagnosis and please pray for his sweet little heart. He is a tender and emotional boy whom is loved by everyone he meets. Also pray for my brother and sister-in-law and Creson's brother and sister, Karson and Abbi, during this stressful time.
  • Yesterday I learned from my student Miyo that her hometown in northern Japan was completely devastated—her mother and sister and their families losing their homes and all of their belongings. Miyo's brother is a school principal in the radioactive zone and is overseeing a shelter just outside the area and cannot leave. For many weeks, 10 members of Miyo's family came to Yokohama to live with her—which I'm sure was as much a relief as it was overwhelming. Now only her mother remains, with the others having returned to a shelter up north, which Miyo and her mother try to visit often.
  • I also learned that my student Yumiko has had to have her father placed in hospital care permanently. He has been very sick for a very long time and Yumiko has taken on his care, travelling to and from his home (which is not at all nearby) every week. He is suffering…and so is Yumiko. Please pray for her to feel peace and rejuvenation and please pray that others will find a way to help and support her during this tremendously difficult time.
  • Tomorrow will be 3 months since the tragic earthquake and tsunami that claimed so many lives and devastated this great nation. Join me in prayer and also renewed commitment to these people and this place.
  • I'd also like to request your prayers for me as I move through my final days here in Japan. May I do so with grace and ease and may I impart in the lives of each person with whom I come into contact a tiny percentage of the love and care I have felt and received from all of you. THANK YOU.


4:15PM Thursday March 17, 2011

(nearly 146 hours or 6+ days since the initial 9.0 mag earthquake)

For one who so recently issued a war cry of solidarity, I feel a bit embarrassed to share with you that for a list of reasons, the people who oversee my ministry here have decided I should plan to leave Japan for a while, just to be safe. So, I have a plane ticket and will hopefully head to the United States on Friday and return on April 8th or some time shortly thereafter.

Thankfully, my embarrassment is almost immediately diminished by determination. This unexpected direction is by no means a derailment of my ministry…or even a detour! No, it appears to me to be a wise precaution to ensure that my [already sensitive] body is not exposed to any abnormal levels of radiation so that I am able to CONTINUE the ministry in the near and distant future! What’s more, I will be able to touch base with all of the amazing people in the United States who have been aching for a way to help! I now feel like my role is to work to unite our efforts so that what we do and what we give is what’s most needed.

I am not a spokesperson for any organization or even for my friends living here and working in the relief efforts, though I am employed by the Missions Ministry Team of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and fully support their unending efforts to raise and dispense funds to aid Japan.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog: If you would like to make a monetary donation to support upcoming work trips and various relief efforts, please earmark your contribution (made payable to “Missions Ministry Team”) “Japan Earthquake” and send it to:

Missions Ministry Team
2807 Traditional Place
Cordova, TN 38016-7414

Or visit the Missions Ministry Team website to make your [secure and tax deductible] donation online. (Be sure to specify that your donation is intended for use by Japan Presbytery’s tsunami relief support by typing “Japan Earthquake” in the “Specific Giving Areas” line. You can select "Disaster Relief Fund" from the pull down menu for "General Areas of Giving.")

That said, here is my message to all of YOU:

Prepare: I am coming home and I want to acknowledge the hurt and helplessness you have all felt as you’ve watched the situation here in Japan unfold and I want to honor the swelling need within you to extend yourself to the people of this peaceful nation. Many have asked me, “RheAnn, what can I do?” and my delay in replying has been because even though I am RIGHT HERE…I have no idea! This level of devastation is unheard of and every day things grow more critical and more confusing. As caring and helpful people who long to support the relief efforts here in any way possible, I urge you to take a cue from the people of Japan and wait. The damages and needs are being assessed and as of now, it is still nearly impossible to get aid to many of the shelters. It is important to remember too that a disaster of this magnitude will take YEARS to overcome, and the Japanese will need many things later that we cannot anticipate now. We don’t want to spend our time, money, and energy on things that won’t be of immediate or ongoing use. When I am briefed by my contacts in Japan or through my missions organization, I will update you. In the mean time, I want to encourage you to consider every imaginable way that you can personally give of your time, talents, care, and money to assist with the great and growing need here. BE CREATIVE, BE COMPASSIONATE, AND BE GENEROUS!! Through my organization and through my own personal means, I will do everything in my power to support you in the ways you are being called to act, whatever they may be. I would request, however, that you check with me before you organize your efforts, so that I can make certain that you have the best information and the most consistent goals. (For instance, you might not want to plan a blanket drive at this stage because there is currently no way to get blankets to the area(s) except through an established and organized system that will take great planning to navigate.) I feel blessed to know (and know of) so many gracious and caring people and to be placed in the unique position to link the needs and ideas with the volunteers to accomplish them.

• Communicate: Talk to me, talk to the Missions Ministry Team, talk to each other about how you can best be of use. Work together.  Comfort one another.  What is in your heart? Maybe what you are feeling is similar to what someone else is feeling. Maybe a question you have can be matched with someone who has an answer. If you think it or feel it, say it. Even if I can’t reply to everyone personally or immediately, I will be spending my 3 weeks in the US attempting to coordinate, encourage, and support all of your efforts on behalf of Japan. I know it is important to you to feel that you are connected to the people here in Japan even though you’re far away. I KNOW that you wish that you could ease their worry and suffering. We will all work together to do what we can, and I will do my best to help you help Japan—not only as a missionary, but also as one with many deep connections to these people and this place. Each of us has been prepared by our life experiences to do SOMETHING to help our fellow humans, and in this time of crisis, it is crucial that we commit to discovering exactly what that is.  I feel blessed to be a point of contact and assurance for you AND the people of Japan.

Regarding my personal situation and condition, I need to say that I plan to work very hard while I am home and after I return, so I apologize to friends and family members with whom I may not get to spend time. I also anticipate that my return to the US will be an emotional one. Anyone who lives away from their home country for an extended period experiences some discomfort or “reverse culture shock,” as it’s called, upon a return of any length. Because I am leaving Japan under a particularly extreme set of conditions, I suspect that I will be filled with concern for those I’ve left behind. I’m sure I will at times become overwhelmed by what appears to me to be abundance and oblivion among some Americans in the face of such devastation and sorrow in this place. I may not be as happy to be home as I imagined I would be or as you would like to see me be. But I will be grateful. Please understand.

Everything in my life and the way I live it has been forever changed. I am trusting myself more and more to do what God is asking me to do, though as a good friend recently reminded me: “God will accomplish what God will accomplish. God wants us all, but God doesn't need any of us.”

So true.

Eight days ago, a small earthquake shook my apartment in the wee hours of the morning and I felt tremendous panic during and immediately after this. 36 hours later, we were hit by a 9.0 Mag quake that became the impetus for an ongoing series of disasters. “Panic” doesn’t begin to encompass my ever-changing feelings. With aftershocks continuing with surprising regularity, it is safe to say that I have grown more calm. Yesterday I tried to sleep after over a day of being awake and as soon as I laid down, a 6.0 earthquake hit. I just opened my window then stayed in my bed until it was over. Last night, a similar quake hit and I opened my back door but kept eating my dinner of raw broccoli and mayo. My threshold has increased.

As you probably have learned, Japan uses a separate system of measurement for earthquakes—it’s an experiential scale that is based on intensity. Here is the description of it:

Seismic intensity scale - measure of tremors

At an intensity of 4 or more, objects can fall, and people should take action to protect their safety.

Seismic intensity & Status

Seismic intensity 0 Tremors cannot be felt.

Seismic intensity 1 A few people indoors feel a slight tremor.

Seismic intensity 2 Many people indoors feel a tremor. The tremor wakes up a few people who were asleep.

Seismic intensity 3 Almost all people indoors feel a tremor, and some of them become afraid.

Seismic intensity 4 People feel moderate fear, and some of them take action for their safety.

The tremor wakes up almost all people who were asleep.

Seismic intensity 5 (lower end) Many people take action for their safety, and some of them find it difficult to do so.

Seismic intensity 5 (higher end) People feel acute fear, and many of them find it difficult to act.

Seismic intensity 6 (lower end) It is difficult to stand.

Seismic intensity 6 (higher end) People cannot stand, and can move only by crawling.

Seismic intensity 7 People are at the mercy of the tremor and cannot move about as they wish.

I am now capable of determining the seismic intensity based on what I experience and how much my ceiling light moves. Obviously, Friday’s quake was ranked as a 7. A few of the aftershocks have measured at high 5’s, but most are in the 3-4 range.  The deteriorating scene at the power plant compounds the situation here considerably.

If such a scale existed for emotional intensity, I’d say most people here and I’m sure even some of you are operating at about a 7. I hope that the intensity of our compassion and willingness to help will be off the charts.

God bless you and as one of my students just wrote to me:  Pray for Japan.
6:30 PM March 15, 2011

(nearly 4 days and 4 hours since the initial 9.0 mag earthquake)

First, let me apologize for the delay in writing and posting this update.  I received an e-mail from my doctor saying that those of us who are not heading south should, in addition to the directives issued by the authorities, be eating 1 gram of tororo or kanso konbu each day to counter the potential effects of the POTENTIAL radiation exposure.  Sooo...I had to make a quick trip to the small, natural market to procure these and other items.  I also have been in contact with friends and family members, considering some big decisions that must be made in light of the ongoing disaster we now face.

Obviously, the situation at hand is very complex.  I hope you'll allow me to process it here.

I remember growing up in Millington, TN, half a block from the corner where the fire station, city hall, and library were located.  When a tornado was spotted in the area, a notification siren atop one of these buildings sounded to alert everyone in town to take cover.  Being so close, it was especially loud, and I remember many evenings spent in the hallway to that soundtrack with my mom and dad and a stack of pillows, and my dad saying reassuringly, "We're in this thing together."  Somehow that was consolation enough to allow me to ignore my feelings of impending doom.

So this is what I'm telling myself and this is what I'm saying to Japan:  WE ARE IN THIS THING TOGETHER!

Today, I invited myself to my Japanese parents Ushioda-sensei and Hideko-san's house and they, of course, welcomed me with a delicious (cooked!) lunch and all the English news I could tolerate.  It was good for me not to be alone and to have up-to-minute information.  But even finally understanding what was being said did not diminish my confusion and concern about a situation that seems to be worsening.

The Japanese government has officially released a number of confirmed deaths according to NHK news.  This number of 2,600 is by any standards, a conservative one considering 17,000 are unaccounted for.  Images of cities and villages completely washed away and shelters full of people facing shortages of food, water, medicine, and warmth flooded my heart with pure sorrow.  A man searching for relatives in Miyagi prefecture explained that they had reason to believe some people were inside the 2nd floor of a condo--a building they could see but not reach because of the standing water, too full of debris to be navigated by boat and too deep and dangerous to enter without one.  His face showed the helplessness I (and sooooo many others) are feeling inside.  Can you imagine how frustrating that would be??

It is my nature to seek some silver lining within even a situation as grotesque and unimaginable as this one--not to escape the sadness, but to appreciate even the tiniest of blessings.  I remember in America in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina that extreme heat caused many people to die from dehydration and bodies lost in the flood waters to rapidly decay.  This caused the water itself (already filled with chemicals and debris) to become immediately toxic--"TFW" or "Toxic Flood Water," it was called.  If there can be a "silver lining" to what the thousands of displaced individuals and families in Japan are experiencing, perhaps it is this:  Temperatures will not be so low that people could actually freeze nor will they be so high that people will have to face the same conditions as the victims in the Gulf Coast region back in 2005.  I hope this is true, as slight of a glimmer as it may be. :(

And as if things weren't awful enough...as if the largest natural disaster in Japanese history weren't staggering enough (!!!!)...We have the ongoing threat of a complete nuclear crisis at the power plant in Fukushima.

This afternoon, in two separate press conferences, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and Prime Minister Naoto Kan addressed the nation's growing concerns.  Please do not mistake the following paragraphs (or anything I write in this blog, for that matter) to be in anyway representative of journalism--merely my opinions and reflections on things as they are or as I understand them to be.  (Since I started writing this, conditions have improved remarkably, so there IS a silver lining here!!)

From the translation of Chief Edano's conference this afternoon, I gleaned the following (with my paranoid ramblings in italics):

  • As of 3:30 this afternoon, radiation levels in Tokyo were 22 x the normal amount.  Edano stressed that this was not a dangerous level and should not concern people in this area.  He did not address, however, how extended exposure to this level might impact one's health.  Tokyo is around 300 km away from Fukushima.
  • In Tokai, 110 km south of the plant, levels of radiation were 40 x higher than normal.
  • Nevertheless, the only current evacuations remain in the area within a 20 km radius of the plant.
  • People who live within 20-30 km of the plant who've not already evacuated are asked not to do so because the levels of radiation are a "minor" concern and there is no fuel in the area to facilitate a successful evacuation by car.  Instead, people in this region should stay indoors with no ventilation.
  • At 4:15 (during the press conference, now 3 hours ago), winds were of a westward direction.  This is absolutely not desirable.  Rain (and snow in the North) are expected, and this too is undesirable.
  • As I mentioned, it is hard if not impossible for relief workers to reach some of the survivors, but unfortunately a no-fly zone has been issued because of the radiation--which contains iodine and rare gases.
  • Edano revealed that following the 3rd explosion this morning, levels at the front gate of the plant were reported at 11,930 millisievert per hour, which exceeds the total most people are exposed to in an entire year.  By 3:30, however, this figure had dropped to 596.4. (This figure steadily decreases as the evening wears on! What a relief!)
  • According to Edano, 500 millisievert per hour is a dangerous level of exposure and could cause a decrease in white blood cells among other symptoms and damage.  (By comparison, the current rates in Tokyo are 0.89 and the rates in Tokai are 5.0.) (These rates have returned nearly to normal at this time.)
  • Though the fire in reactor #4 has been controlled, Edano said there may be constant emission from this reactor.  When questioned further, he said "no new figures" existed at the time.  Okay.  This is where I begin to feel slightly mistrustful, as though something is being downplayed or concealed. :(
  • A reporter asked if the rods in #s 1 and 3 are still exposed.  Edano replied that this was "not definite," but that the water supply is now stable.  "No figures?" "Not definite?"  This does not instill confidence.  It makes it appear that the person meant to oversee the efforts to control this crisis either A. Doesn't know what he's doing, or B. Isn't being 100% forthright.  It's like when you say to someone, "You didn't notice my new haircut!" and they say, "Yes, I did."   ...And??  It's THAT they don't say that allows you to imagine WHAT they didn't say.  And it was the sweat that formed on Chief Edano's brow as he batted away detailed questions with vague answer upon vague answer that leaves me thinking..."he noticed my haircut, but didn't like it." (Since the press conference, levels have steadily decreased.  This is EXCELLENT news and I hope the good news continues regarding the following points from the conference.)
  • Edano then commented on reactors 5 and 6, saying temperatures were rising in both and that preventative measures were being taken.
  • Finally, Edano explained that the evacuation orders issued by the Prime Minister were based on the existing law.  My concern here is that this is a situation unlike any anyone anywhere has ever faced.  I'm fairly certain there is no law that was written that could possibly have foreseen the magnitude of potential disaster this nation faces if these reactors are not cooled and completely controlled.  It is possible that measures beyond those outlined by law may be in order if 5 and 6 aren't cooled or 1 and 3 reheat.  I sort of feel like...Let's go ahead and do some precautionary, regulated evacuations NOW in order to avoid a panicked mass exodus later...
I'm trying hard to determine what among my thoughts, feelings, and reactions is based on the confusion of the cumulative events of these recent days (and the fact that I don't have access to up-to-the-minute English news and that I live all alone in a country that is still rather new to me) and what is just being practical.  I have (and always have had) a very strong intuition, as my mother and others can attest.  I just don't want to overreact.  I just don't want to make a bad choice.

I watch the people of Japan.  Everyone seems to be concerned but all-out panic has been avoided.  Everyone here seems to possess a genuine trust of their government officials and are not worried because they're told there's no need to worry.  ...And ::deep breath:: right now, that is true.  We are FINE!  Right now, there is no need to worry.  But the rooftop siren is going off in my gut and I can't just sit idly by.

The faith that people here have instilled in the people in charge is really inspirational and I've decided I should put just as much if not more faith in God.  That doesn't mean I'm going to twiddle my thumbs and wait for things to get better or worse, nor does it mean I'm going to catch the next plane to the U.S.  It means I'm going to gather up the pillows and hit the hallway, just in case.  If my dad were here, he'd say, "Pack your bag!  It's better to be safe than sorry."  And that's what I'll do.  I'll pack a suitcase with a few days of clothes and necessary items, including allergy-friendly foods and my newly purchased kambu, so that if the situation worsens and someone says, "Let's go," I'm not frantically trying to ready myself.  Once my bag is packed, I'll stay indoors until it's certain that it's safe to emerge.

On the other hand, I cannot completely rule out a return to the States...and so I'm looking for wisdom and calm and guidance as I move forward.  Of course, I want to be here.  This is where I belong...but it is possible too that I can work hard in the U.S. to coordinate support for our relief efforts and come back strong when the threat of more earthquakes and radiation poisoning have dissipated.

Now I'm sweating.

(completed at 8:52 PM)

Time to switch back to positive thinking.
9:45 AM March 15, 2011

(87 hours/ 3.5+ days since the initial 9.0 mag earthquake)

What do I know?  What has changed?  Only everything.  Only nothing at all.

The trash collectors came on time today.  The children playing in the apartment above mine scurried out onto their balcony and called to them in sing-song voices, "Bye-byeee!  Bye-byeee!"  It is nice to hear their laughter and to remember a time in life when I and all the "grown-ups" around me weren't juggling hope and fear like it's our full-time job.

Yesterday, I heeded advice (both by choice and necessity) to stay home.  The train lines surrounding my area were--and still are--not running, and trains throughout the Tokyo-Yokohama region are running on limited schedules.  Of course, this made for a more chaotic Monday than most as people tried to get to and from work in, this, the largest metropolis in the world.

The reduction of running trains and the accompanying mandatory conservation of electricity have served as more than an inconvenience, though.  My impression is that we are all dealing with this without much complaint because it feels like the only way we can "help."  To make do with little or no electricity or to have to walk places or change plans feels minor compared to the experience of thousands of others in the North--the images of whom Western media is no doubt inundated.  I think, too, these conditions are positioning us to appreciate things we'd previously taken for granted and to mindfully make changes in our eating and in our lifestyles.

Personally, I couldn't bring myself to eat for most of the day yesterday.  In part, this was because I felt like fasting in solidarity with all of the folks in shelters who are, no doubt, getting by with very little food, and in part, because I worried about my own rations and felt the need to make what food I had last as long as possible.  Finally in the late afternoon, I decided to head to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.  My goal was to get items that need not be refrigerated or cooked since power cuts are expected to occur any day now and could last as long as August.  (Also, I am absolutely still too afraid to use my gas stove because of the aftershocks.)  Though many of the shelves in my neighborhood's largest market were COMPLETELY bare, I was able to purchase 2 full eco-bags of food and supplies.  (Toilet paper, water, and batteries were also on my list, but were regrettably sold out at the 3 stores I visited.)

When I first stepped out of my apartment to go to the store, I saw my neighbor to the left.  He lit up when he saw me and said, "Konnichiwa!"  ...I am not exaggerating when I say, this is the first time he's ever spoken to me.  Around the corner, another neighbor greeted me enthusiastically, and along the walk to the market, many people acknowledged me with a nod or small smile.  Something has changed between us all, and I won't even try to put it into words.  I suppose it is proof, though, that regardless of location or culture, tragedy brings humans together.  I found it to be very moving.  ...I walk this same street every day, but yesterday, it was a different street.

On the way back home, I passed a realty sign beside a small apartment building.  I noticed that someone had pressed their chewing gum onto the eye of the agent's photo.  I imagined the moment that this had occurred and how the person who put this gum there probably thought how funny it was...but probably felt a little bit bad about it at the same time.  And then I thought about how many moments like that the victims of the tsunami must have had in their lifetimes.  So many moments.  Simple little moments.

Now we know that there will be more aftershocks and today local officials finally announced what I've heard rumored for 2 days:
"Strong aftershocks may cause tsunami" (from Kyodo news)
Aftershocks continue from Friday's massive quake in northeast Japan. The Meteorological Agency has warned that strong aftershocks could trigger more tsunami.

The magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11th triggered major tsunami, mainly along the Pacific northeast coast.

The agency says about 200 aftershocks measuring magnitude 5 or more have occurred. Tremors with an intensity of 4 or higher on the Japanese scale of zero to 7 reached 50 from Friday through Monday.

It warns that strong aftershocks are highly likely and that a quake with an intensity of 6 could hit, possibly generating tsunami.
And with dueling reports about the future of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima and the potential impact of radiation leaked and leaking from that site, it is very difficult to maintain hope OR to make good decisions about one's own safety.

I've asked a few people for their thoughts and advice about the situation...because I don't want to be foolishly sitting here if I am in danger and could conceivably move to safety and come back to help when things are more stable.  In fact, I asked two of the people I trust the most.  One said he doesn't think it will get bad enough that I will need to evacuate...and one said to get as far away from the nuclear power plant as possible.


I think I'll stay.  At least, that is my decision for now.  When I got my iPhone a few days after arriving here last April, the staffperson overseeing the purchase asked me to choose the last 4 digits of my own phone number.  I chose 2-0-1-3.  My commitment to be in Japan was through 2013, and so long as the government here provides as honest and protective advice and information as possible, I will continue to do as they suggest.  I will stay put.

I feel I'd rather be subjected to this confusion and to these aftershocks and to whatever my future here may hold than to needlessly abandon the people I came to serve.

I just have to keep believing there is a Higher Power at work here and open and ready myself to be of use.

Strength:  I recently read this quote, “A strong woman knows she has strength enough for her journey, but a woman of strength knows that it is in her journey where she will become strong”.
Please continue your prayers and support of the people in Japan, and please forgive me for being so self-centered in this blog entry.  Like everyone here, I am swollen with grief and worry...but I can't speak for everyone here...
11:30PM March 13, 2011

(nearly 57 hours since the initial 8.9 mag earthquake)

Plans to assist our neighbors affected by the tsunami are underway through my missions’ organization and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church/Japan Presbytery. If you would like to make a monetary donation to support upcoming work trips and various relief efforts, please earmark your contribution (made payable to “Missions Ministry Team”) “Japan Earthquake” and send it to:

Missions Ministry Team
2807 Traditional Place
Cordova, TN 38016-7414

Or visit the Missions Ministry Team website to make your [secure and tax deductible] donation online. (Be sure to specify that your donation is intended for use by Japan Presbytery’s tsunami relief support by typing “Japan Earthquake” in the “Specific Giving Areas” line.  You can select "Disaster Relief Fund" from the pull down menu for "General Areas of Giving.")

Another great option to support current and ongoing relief is through Jhelp. (I’ve taken this information from their website, which you can visit here.)

The Japan Emergency team is working in disaster shelters and proceeding to Northern Japan.

For information on family members team@jhelp.com.

The Japan Emergency Team is working on site near Sendai, delivering disaster supplies and assisting on site after the 8.9 Magnitude earthquake.

Volunteers able to reach the area are much needed. (From RheAnn: They are asking for people to work WITH them. Please contact Jhelp directly!)

Sendai, Japan
The Japan Emergency Team announces arrival of team in the Sendai area bringing emergency supplies and assisting on site with direct disaster assistance, distribution of supplies and assistance to survivors.

Supplies needed include canned and instant food, bottled water, sleeping bags, tents, powdered milk, home medical kits. (From RheAnn: If you discover that shipping is too expensive, consider donating money to The Cumberland Presbyterian Church—details above—so Japan Presbytery can purchase and deliver those items here. I will also be looking into arranging affordable shipping...)

Those able to assist with supplies and assist on site are asked to contact www.jhelp.com.

Donations may be made to:

Post Office Furikae 00160 7 162438 Nihon Kinkyu Enjotai

Or Donate Online through Paypal. (Let me know if this link doesn't work for you.)

The team can be reached at Country Code :

81 3 5780 1111
81 90 7170 4769
81 90 3080 6711 

In Japan at :

03 5780 1111 
0570 000 911

Supplies can be sent to:

Operation Japan
Box 65
Tokyo, Japan 106-8691

Those able to donate airline mileage for team members, volunteers ボランティア able to assist on site can contact team@jhelp.com

If you have any questions about ANY of this, e-mail me at rheann.in.japan@gmail.com. I may not be able to answer the question(s), but I can certainly try to direct you to someone who can. If you are supporting other organizations, GREAT!! I just wanted to present a couple of options that I feel are very reliable.

I plan to participate in whatever the church members here decide to do. As I said before, without strong language skills or transportation, I would merely hinder relief efforts at this stage. I have contacted a few different organizations to offer my home to a displaced individual or family. I will let you know if I am asked to host someone.

In the meantime, so long as I am able, I will continue teaching my classes. I'm praying for wisdom and clarity.  It's hard to imagine talking about grammar and pronunciation... Maybe I should remain flexible, for what my job has been may not be what it will become.

Tomorrow (and indefinitely) I could be without power for much of the day and night, so I will not be posting blogs. If something critical occurs, I will update through my RheAnn in Japan Facebook page or as a comment to this blog entry, so please check one of those places.

Continue in prayer and practice…as one.

Stillness: I took this photo the day before the disaster.
3:45 PM March 13, 2011
(49 hours after the initial 8.9 mag earthquake)

As reports from relief agencies begin to roll in and the number of people lost to this disaster steadily grows, the eyes and hearts of Japan remain on that region, especially in light of the potential nuclear crisis at the power plant in Fukushima.

The ground beneath us remains unsteady as aftershocks continue.  (Today only one aftershock has moved my ceiling light...and only causing the pull switch to swing, so a definite improvement!)

I want to share with you some things that have comforted me today.

First, this message from Arase-sensei in response to my questions about upcoming plans for assistance by our church members and leaders:
RheAnn, I will certainly inform you if any plan of organizing volunteer relief team is made. It's not time yet for non professionals like us to go to the damaged area. But the time will soon come for us to go. I can imagine how frustrating and scary it could be when the language is not understood. I will try to include English translation when important message is shared here.
Second, this video I made the night before the quake and tsunami as part of my 40 Days of Creation Lenten Project.  I'm attempting to spend one purposeful day in nature each day during Lent.  I will post a blog soon about this practice.

Finally, this prayer written by Satoh-sensei (who is away from his home country) living and working in Lexington, KY:
Mighty creator of Ocean, Sky and Mt. Fuji. We saw your sacred authority in the nature.
Your people were washed away and devastated in the grimy land.
They are threatened by the energy that they produced.
Spread the seeds of new life again down upon your children so that they can find their way into the life-sustaing soil.
Be with us so that again we can hear the spring wind brewing and waving bamboo trees.
Send your Spirit above your children that they might find healing in your presence.
Be with us so that we can smell cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums soon as we walk together.
Show the way then we can work together and share our talents with others.
Lord, stay with them and heal the land.

In the name of Iesu Kirisuto, Amen

1:45 AM March 13, 2011

(35 hours since the initial 8.9 mag earthquake)

My current location is approximately 330 kilometers from the epicenter of Friday afternoon's earthquake.  (That is roughly the distance between Nashville and Memphis.)  I am not in any warning zones for hazardous radiation leakage or potential future tsunamis.

Just as in America, when faced with potentially being stranded,
Japanese make a run for bread and milk (and tofu and noodle bowls
and other prepared food items.)
Most of us here use gas to cook and that is incredibly dangerous
during an earthquake or aftershock.

During the day Saturday, the Yokohama area experienced quite a few very small aftershocks and 2 rather noticeable ones.  Nothing on Saturday was remotely CLOSE to anything we experienced here on Friday.  In fact, the day was rather uneventful, so to speak...

I've tuned in to Japanese news and BBC World news in alternation.  I can't understand much of what is being said in Japanese, but feel like I would be alerted to immediate danger more quickly through that avenue than through BBC.

Well...I'm not exactly sure of that, actually.  There is a VERY distinct difference between Japanese and Western cultures when it comes to journalism, I've noticed.  In Japan, the approach to reporting is, "Stay calm.  Everything will be fine," while in the US and in the BBC coverage of this tsunami, the focus is more dramatic.  "LOOK at this destruction!"  "MARVEL at this death toll!"  "WORRY about future danger!"

In Japan, we hear "Just wait and see," while in America, we're conditioned to "Fix!"  We see people hurting and we went to help.  NOW!

These two ways of thinking and being are conflicted within me each and every moment, resulting in something more like paralysis.  This paralysis should not be mistaken for uselessness however.  I am DEEP in prayer, and nearly constantly.

I respect Japanese culture so very much and the idea of "calm" really appeals to me.  The American in me, though, wants to multitask.  "OK, so what can we do WHILE we're waiting?"

Church leaders and members here in Japan Presbytery will organize some kind of response and relief soon and I hope to link their efforts to any and all of my supporters who seek to be of assistance to Japan in the wake of this unprecedented disaster.  (Trust me.  I WILL update you.)

But like everyone else, I'm suspended in a state of inaction--praying and waiting, trying to make sense of all that has happened, preparing for what may lie ahead.

And tonight as I sat in meditation, something very alarming occurred to me--this idea of "calm"...this WORD "calm."  In my upbringing and through my education at Naropa University, I was encouraged to give voice to my thoughts and feelings and to bare my very soul to others and the needs of others.  To some, especially to some Japanese, I seem overly emotional and expressive at times (and maybe I am.)  But I have to tell you...my whole BODY is sore from what happened to it on Friday.  When I try to sleep, I frequently jerk and jolt, feeling like I'm falling or dreaming of being shaken or crushed.

An 8.9 earthquake is traumatic!
Watching video of people--your fellow country men and women--and cities--your homeland--being washed away is traumatic!
Enduring frequent aftershocks and living without the stability of your daily routine is traumatic!
Worrying that people and animals and the environment of your country may be forever impacted by a nuclear meltdown is traumatic!

Even as the stores reopen and some trains begin to resume their courses and life in much of Japan returns to "normal," people here are hurting.  On noticeable and subconscious levels, we are traumatized.

But the solution to this panic and pain is to "Stay calm."  What does that MEAN exactly?

I worry that people here will suppress and internalize their intense feelings in unhealthy ways.  In a nation whose suicide rate is staggering, the impact of this disaster may far outlast Western (AND local) media coverage and international interest.  I worry that depression ignited or inflamed by recent events will take root and grow out of control.

So along with my prayers for the people in Tohoku region and their families, and for government officials and relief workers and THEIR families, and for all the hardworking people who are striving to manage the situation at the nuclear reactor in Fukushima and THEIR families, and for the achy, shaky earth, I add hope for healing and comfort to any and all who are hurting because of this disaster--no matter how they were physically affected.

May this tragedy change us all, forever, and may we allow it.  THAT, I feel, would be true "calm."
2PM March 12, 2011

(nearly 24 hours after the initial 8.9 mag earthquake)

Things here in Yokohama are calming.  After my last blog, I experienced two more earthquakes--MUCH smaller than the one that spurred the tsunami--and several small aftershocks.  Around 6AM, I finally managed to fall asleep and I rested for about 5 hours on and off.

Waking up, I felt dread.  I knew that daybreak would have shed light on the vastness and horror of yesterday's catastrophe and would awaken in me a sense of helplessness, not unlike what millions of people around the world must be experiencing as they watch the news.

I feel driven to assist, but unsure of how to be the most helpful.

I realized after sitting with this discomfort for several minutes that "help" is not merely something one can do in order to make themselves feel better.  Would I be a hero if I traveled to Miyagi or Fukushima or would I merely want to FEEL like a hero?

No, that is not the place for me.  That is not where I can be of use right now.  It is frustrating, but I don't yet know WHAT I can do.  I have CPR and first aid training and have done search and rescue as a volunteer in Colorado, but with weak Japanese language skills and lack of transportation, I would become more of a burden to the process than a blessing.

So like many others...I must wait.

God's timing is beyond our understanding, but I have learned (and re-learned) to trust it.  I knew by the way everything came together for me to come here to Japan that I was meant to be here for some tremendous purpose.  Perhaps this horrific tragedy is just that.

Today I will clean my house and make it ready to host a displaced family...just in case there is a family who wants to stay with me.  (I have plenty of space, plenty of futons, and plenty of nurture.)

Today I will begin to organize my mind around the possibility of a mission trip to the devastated area in the late spring or summer.  I'm sure many church members, foreign residents, and university students are hoping to assist.

Today I will pray for people I know who have been unable to contact family members and friends in the tsunami's path and for the thousands of people I DON'T know who have lost much and been deeply traumatized.

And today, I will practice a very deep kind of compassion and a very real kind of trust.  I will not feel guilty, feeling that I should be doing "more."  Instead I will stay as connected to the suffering as possible and will open and open and open myself to any possibility to directly help my neighbors in the north.  God will make the plan known to me when the time is right.

I must retain faith and hope.

There is a worldwide tapestry of love draped around Japan now.  I am part of it...and I am in it.

3:05 AM March 12, 2011

(just over 12 hours since Japan's 8.9 mag earthquake)

I'm still awake.

There haven't been any major aftershocks for over an hour. (There have been so many that I have decided to gauge what I call "major" by how much my ceiling light swings. If it doesn't swing too much, I am deciding not to worry about it.)

This is important because each aftershock feels exactly like the earthquakes did when they started, so my whole body goes on alert wondering, "Is it happening again?" But if it isn't "major," I'm calming down faster.

The quake:

I was teaching my class at Asahi Mission Point in Seya Ward near Tsurugamine Station.

Four of my five students were present--one after an extended absence, so we were very jovial and enjoying being together. We were actually discussing my new interactive Q&A project with supporters from the US. I have asked people to submit simple but interesting "icebreaker" type questions for my students and then I share my students' responses on my RheAnn in Japan Facebook page. Today's question was about our favorite foods, so we were actually having a conversation when the earthquake started. We were talking about American foods (KFC and McDonald's) and Japanese foods (tofu and natto.)

The classroom is located on the second floor of the church. The downstairs sanctuary area is used during the week as a daycare for elderly people. Today there were about 8 elders and about 6 staff attending.

At first, my students and I felt some swaying. We stopped talking and all felt that it would be over in a matter of seconds...but it wasn't. The swaying turned into jerking and almost bouncing. It was very rapid and very loud. Everything seemed to be rattling--the windows, the walls, the streets. One of my students grabbed her phone. Her 8 year old son was home alone. As she called him, the shaking grew even more violent and the power went out. Another student opened a window just a crack and then we all 5 dove under the small table. I was squeezing the hands of two of my students, one of whom kept saying "Daijyobu" ("Okay") over and over. I'm not sure if she was trying to comfort me or herself. Again, we thought it must be about to stop...but it didn't. This intense rocking went on for several minutes. By the end, I was in tears.

It went on so long, it seemed like there was no way we could actually be fine when it was over...but we were. After the first quake, we all ran and put on our shoes and headed downstairs. My student left to try to get home to her son. Another student got on her phone to check the news. The rest of us went in to check on the elders. "Relax!" they told us, "We're okay."

There were so many aftershocks. One was strong enough to scare us back under the table, at which point, above the trembling, I heard one student said, "Idaho burger!!" and we all laughed remembering the casual and fun conversation we'd been having only minutes before.

We could not continue our class. Stores were closed. The trains had stopped and traffic was starting to mount.

I stayed at the church with no way home for about an hour. I had tea and watched the news with the elders and updated my Facebook so that no one would be worrying too much about me.

The church was not damaged--only some minor cracks in the paint that chipped and fell in the stairway. My apartment was fine too. Things were strewn about, but not much worse than usual. (I'm a terrible housekeeper.) Really, it is a testament to Japan's dedication to earthquake preparedness. The building codes here are VERY strict and all newer buildings are built to withstand an earthquake. I'm positive an 8.9 elsewhere would have leveled several homes and buildings.

The tsunami:

The tsunami hit almost immediately. There was no time to evacuate. This causes me to be very afraid of what will be found come daybreak. Already there are reports that 300 bodies have washed up.

Fortunately for those of us in Yokohama, we are in a bay area and are not physically affected by this aspect of the catastrophe. We are all, of course, incredibly worried about what has and is happening north of us.

That I even made it home is quite the miracle. Many of my friends here are stranded in their schools or workplaces or are staying with other friends because it is impossible to get home. In fact, I received a phone call at 2AM from a friend who had just arrived BACK at his office after 5 hours in a car trying to get home. He and his coworker ultimately ended up parking the car beside the road and walking 20 minutes, so my guess is that many people are still stuck on the roads tonight.

Convenience stores that were able to reopen have rapidly sold out of food because everything else has closed and people are hungry and displaced.

Even I am lacking food right now. I brought my eco-bags with me to class today. Today my students were to have given presentations on the values of "good and evil" in Japanese culture. OBVIOUSLY, no one gave a presentation today. After class, I planned to go to the beach and watch the sunset (as part of my Lenten commitment to spend one purposeful hour in nature every day.) OBVIOUSLY that plan had to be revised! After the beach, I was going to take my bags to the store and buy some groceries! But because things had fallen and/or COULD fall (because of the aftershocks), my stores were all closed, so OBVIOUSLY I had to make do.

It has been hard to calm down. I've thought, "What can I do to relax?" The things I would normally do just won't work tonight. "Oh, I'll have some tea." ...No. It isn't safe to use my gas stove. "Oh, I'll light some candles and have a bath." ...No. Candles are a definite no-no during earthquakes, plus do I really want to be naked if I need to run out of my house? ;)

As frightened as I was and as uneasy as I am, there are some truths I must share about my experience:

1. I am lucky--truly, truly blessed. When the shaking stopped and I saw that we were fine, I said, "Thank God." I have never meant those words more than I did in that moment.

2. There are much worse conditions not all that far away from here. There must be a way that God will use me to aid those who have suffered, so I must pray for courage to find and accomplish whatever it is I'm needed to do.

3. I am loved and well cared for. The responses on Facebook are overwhelming. I know that I am enveloped by the prayers of so many friends, loved ones, and supporters. That is tremendously comforting.

Okay, it is nearly 3:30 AM and I will be of no use to anyone if I don't try to get some sleep now.

I suspect there will be aftershocks throughout the night, but hopefully nothing that causes my light to swing too much. :)


I will find out this weekend exactly what is needed and let you know.



Your shaken up missionary in Japan,
Sisters in Japan: My sister Richelle and me during her 10 day stay :)
(5 March 2011) How is it that my sister's visit has already come and gone?  She left Japan a week ago today!  That is unbelievable to me!
We really had the most wonderful time. I feel closer to my sister now (even with thousands of miles between us) than I have in years!  ...Is that a strange thing to say? 
...Well, my ideas about and my experience of "family" have changed a lot over the past 11 months, so it stands to reason that the way I express my feelings would undergo alteration as well.
There have been times since I've been here in Japan that I've had a very real sensation of being "alone."  ...I know, of course, that I am never "alone."  This leg of my journey is, in fact, a path lined with and shaped by deep friendships, trust, care, support, prayer, guidance, encouragement, and generosity.  I know that at any given moment, it is VERY possible that someone somewhere is thinking of me or praying for me--even someone I may know very casually or not at all!  How comforting that is and has been! :) 
Still, sometimes it is overwhelming to always feel like you have to check a map or ask for help, or to look around and see absolutely no one who shares your native language or even your skin color.  (It was a privilege of my race to feel in the past that such a thing didn't matter.  I now understand the often uncomfortable position of being a "minority.")  At times, I've shared with others-- with great passion and enthusiasm-- my thoughts about the world and the future and the nature of human interaction and the depth and possibility of sharing love and faith...(and so on and so on, as you can probably imagine)...only to discover that for any combination of reasons, I am unable to connect with the people around me.
This is, of course, only an occasional occurrence.  More often than not, I enjoy the independence of life in "a foreign land."  I like dancing along the line of succeeding at something new or completely losing my way.  I am frequently reminded that there is a greater purpose for my life, and that all the stirrings in my head--plans, doubts, excuses, judgments-- are nothing more than nonsense and distractions. 
And even MORE frequently, I am in awe of the things I'm learning about myself, about life, about diversity, and about family, through my interactions with people in Japan.
Lest this blog become some over-personalized sociology report, I'll refrain from elaborating.  I honestly thought I would write an amusing soliloquy detailing all the hilarity and heartwarmth of my sister's visit, but instead the focus has shifted to the EXPERIENCE of "family."
These days I take nothing for granted when it comes to the experience of family.  I recall the occasions too numerous to count where my brother and sister and I have laughed ourselves breathless.  I think about the softness of my Grandma Pottorff's skin or the way my Grandma White pieced together words to make such sweet stories.  I remember lying limply in my mother's arms too sick to move.  I remember staying up late poking needles through bugs in the felt-lined case my dad made me for my insect collection for school.  I remember reunions and holidays...and funerals.  I remember pets and cousins and silly games.  I really can't think of anything more precious...than family.

The Baby of the Family: With my mom at my graduation in 2008

When I was 20, a man who wouldn't tell me his name, gave a mechanic $250 to fix my car that had broken down on the side of the road.  When my mom was sick once, my friend Allison ran her fingers through my hair until the sun came up and I finally fell asleep.  When I've said I was hurting, friends have reached out to heal me.  When they've been hurt, friends have said, "I need you."  To be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be helped, to be accepted:  In these ways and SO many more, I have felt and known "family."

That's What It's All About: Doing the hokey-pokey with my sister and my students
Last week, my sister and I found ourselves head-over-heels (and heels-over-head) on the 4th dimension roller coaster known as Eejanaika.  The design of this coaster is like none I'd ever experienced, allowing complete rotations of one's whole body in conjunction with multiple drops and loops!  As we coursed toward the first big plummet, lying there on our backs staring up at the blue skies over Mt. Fuji, I said, "WHAT have we gotten ourselves into?" and I meant it!  Without missing a beat, but somehow traveling back in time to 1988, my sister replied in perfect teen-speak, "This is SO dumb," and SHE meant it!  ...And then we did a front flip and fell 50 ft.  For several seconds, I screamed to myself (Is that an oxymoron?) "I'M OKAY! I'M OKAY! I'M OKAY!" and suddenly I realized...I was!  My screams turned to cackles and celebratory CHEERS, and when I peeked over at my sister, she was grinning in voiceless delight. :)
Afterward, I summed up my experience and my love for thrill rides by saying:
"I think I like roller coasters, because...it isn't life.  The route is determined, well-designed, and well-traveled.  My fear is unfounded because I am totally safe.  And if I hate it, if I really, really HATE it, then it doesn't matter much because it will be over soon, and I will never have to do such a thing ever again!"
I can't think of another example of something so instantly gratifying. ("I was afraid but I DID this!  I CONQUERED this!")
But moments after riding this, I was given the opportunity to ride any other ride in the park I wanted to before we left, but no one wanted to ride with me.  ...I would have to ride by myself.  I decided I too was ready to go--not because I feared riding alone, but because deep down I knew the joy I felt from overcoming my anxiety and accomplishing something challenging meant nothing to me without someone with whom to share it; without FAMILY.
And isn't that true of all our trials and successes?  It means more to me to laugh with my sister than to scream from the peak of Eejanaika all alone.  It means more to me to connect with others than to move down some perceived path toward some perceived destination...without them.  I've got nowhere to go...without love.

A family of friends: Richelle's Birthday Dinner in Tokyo
By the way, yesterday one of my students told me that the roller coaster's name, "Eejanaika" translates to "Everything's alright!" which is exactly what I told myself as I was riding it! ;)
And when I miss my sister and all of my family (and "family") back home, I can remember, that on this roller coaster of life there are many loops and drops and peaks, but eejanaika!

WHO Feels Blessed? (Me, that's WHO!)
If you would like to have regular updates about my life and work in Japan and even participate in an interactive Question and Answer activity with my students, please follow my RheAnn in Japan page on Facebook! :)
If you would like to learn more about making a (much-needed) financial contribution, please contact Bob Watkins.  ...And stay tuned for news about an upcoming video project exclusively for supporters!! :)
Most of all, thank you for connecting your life with mine.
Hi! Remember me?
Goodness, how the time has gotten away from me.

I got new glasses!!!!!  (My friend "Newman" said they're
Sally Jesse Raphael glasses.) lol

I've actually been working on a blog entry for nearly 2 months now, but the content of it has been a little difficult for me to process.  (When I post it, you will understand why.)  Just tonight, though, I've decided maybe it isn't necessary to make everything that happens in [my] life fit into a succinct and easily-read format with a beginning, middle, and end and laced with artsy photos and metaphor.  Sometimes life just IS, and I should give myself permission to just BE.

I promise to provide you all with a THOROUGH update very, very soon.  In the meantime, please feel free to "like" my RheAnn in Japan Facebook page which I update regularly with "mini-blogs" and information. :)

I would also like to request that you add me to any e-mail lists or blogs YOU may have!  This could be your church newsletter, something creative, something personal...ANYTHING!  Just as you like to know what's going on with me, I am interested in knowing what is going on with you! :)  My e-mail address is rheann.in.japan@gmail.com .

At the new year, I made a resolution to write a blog every 2 weeks.  I planned to write a blog about how I planned to blog. ;)  I even got an app for my iPhone (Momento, I highly recommend it) that I thought would simplify this process by allowing me to collect notes, photos, and highlights of my life in Japan in one place, so that I could sift through them--every 2 weeks--and include them in a blog entry.  Needless to say... This is not at all what happened!!  Haha!  I am writing in my "iJournal" regularly, but failing to finish the sequence by posting here.  (Sorry!!)  I really think it has to do with feeling "blocked" by the important topic I mentioned before.  Things are going to change, I can FEEL it! ;)

Innnnn the mean time, allow me to share with you a few gems from my iJournal from the past several weeks.  Ok?

December 11, 2010 (Saturday)
"Wow!! What a rush to perform for 50 kids!!! That was AWESOME!!  The busiest weekend of the year is off to a GREAT start!!" (I performed the Japanese children's story "Urashima Taro" at the Christmas party at Kibogaoka Church.  I hope to make storytelling a part of my ongoing ministry.)

This life-sized sea turtle (made for me by the artist Seiji Yonehara)
was featured in my telling of "Urashima Taro,"
the story of a young man who loves the sea
and is kind to animals...

December 12, 2010 (Sunday)
"Finished the Advent craft workshop!!  It was AWESOME (but I'm officially EXHAUSTED.) ;)" (With materials donated by some generous folks back in the US --whom I cannot thank enough--I was able to lead a workshop for all ages!  We were expecting 6 people the morning of the event and hosted 18 instead!!  We made advent wreaths, spicy orange and whole walnut decorations, bird feeder ornaments, and Christmas cards at Ichikawa's first ever "Make your Christmas Red and GREEN" event.  Three children from the neighborhood have been coming back to the church each week!) :)

Everyone poses with the "peace sign" in Japan.  ...I added my own "flair." ;)
(This was at the green Advent workshop. This is Yusuke who helped me set up.)

December 17, 2010 (Friday)
"After stopping by the sale at the natural market and making deviled eggs, I went to Asahi for my class.  The SURPRISED me.  Instead of their assigned topics, they did Christmas presentations based on gifts they got for me!!!(The class at Asahi is "Japanese Culture in English," and the women do presentations on various topics every two weeks.  This was very touching!)

I got presents!!!! (These are from my sister.
Each individually wrapped item had a sweet little note
attached to it!) :)

December 19, 2010 ("Christmas Sunday")
"I'm at church.  Boutta give my speech!!!  I'd hoped to be hit by a car and not have to do this!! ;)"  (I've never really had a whole CONVERSATION in Japanese, yet on this day, I gave a speech--my testimony--in Japanese before the entire congregation at Sagamino Church!!!  Five of my ten Sagamino students were present that day.  I did it for them.)

Here's to the ladies who lunch! ;) (This was the Christmas lunch
at Sagamino...AFTER my speech!)

Mistletoe!!  (I spent Christmas with a church member's family in Tokyo.)

January 2, 2011 (Sunday)
"Winter vacation (so far) = tour of Buddhist temples, gazing at turtles, eating over-priced tofu, and staying at Akira Kurosawa's favorite ryokan.  I love Kyoto!" (My friends and I took a 2 night, 3 day vacation to the Kyoto area.  It was the best vacation of my adult life.  ....I am not exaggerating.)

The Site of Reversible Destiny:  This is an amazing art experience
near Ogaki city.
If you ever have a chance to go here, I hope you will.
It changed my life!!

January 9, 2011 (Sunday)
"Saw a blind guy walk into a post at Ebina station.  It awakened worry and humor in me all at once.
Mostly humor.  ....(Thanks, Grandma.)"  (I am one of those people who involuntarily laughs when someone gets hurt BEFORE checking on him or her.  I know this is off-putting to some, but it's a characteristic I actually embrace.  My mother does this sometimes, and her mother ALWAYS did this.  ...Mom says this trait goes back for generations!!  Ha!!) :)

January 11, 2011 (Tuesday)
"My students fought to sit beside me today.  (Maybe I loved that...just a little.) ;)"  (At our first class of the new year, the kids in my class at Ebina Church wanted to sit beside me during the "Squeeze Game"--a simple vocabulary review we do at the end of most classes.  Each person in the circle says a word they learned that day then says, "Squeeze!" and squeezes the hand of the person next to them to indicate their turn.  ...This is loosely based on "the circle prayers" I love so much.) :)

This is a puppy that one of the children is working on.
We are making relief sculptures!

January 28, 2011 (Friday)
"Just ran into a big group of boys who attended my performance last month and they got sooo excited to see me.  They practiced speaking to me in English.  One boy asked, 'How are youuuuuuu?!' I said, 'Onaka suita (I'm hungry.)' This was apparently hilarious. ;)"  (I so rarely speak in Japanese because I'm really not very good at it! But any time I say even the simplest thing, I get HUGE reactions...like the time I answered "Hai" when my name was called at the Presbytery meeting.  Everyone found that one little word so adorable.  Hahaha!) :)

February 3, 2011 (Thursday)
"Sometimes something happens (something small) and my day is transformed into 'the best day of my life.'
But if someone asked me, 'What was the best day of your life?' I'd likely neglect to tell them about having 2 delicious enchiladas and margaritas for the first time in a year.  ...Nevertheless, today was awesome.
...PLUS, this morning when I passed the elementary school, I smelled rolls--the school cafeteria kind, with all the extra flour on top; the kind I loved to dig the soft center out of with my finger..."  (It's the little things.)

My student Shoko knitted this beautiful scarf for me
after I showed her a photo of the beautiful scarf that
was stolen last year in Memphis!!  How cool is she??

February 10, 2011 (Thursday)
"Just watched a lady in an apron step out of the back door of a coffee house and scatter food scraps to a flock of waiting pigeons, then saw another woman give a homemade rice ball to a homeless man by the station only moments later.  These are not things I often see in Japan, and I feel BLESSED to have been a witness."
We got our first real snow here this week.  This was
along the river between Asahi Church and
Tsurugamine Station.

And that pretty much brings us up to date.
I'm currently trying to get my house ready for something really, really special.
...MY SISTER'S COMING FROM THE U.S.!!!!  I can't wait for her visit!!  I miss her so, so much!

I think we will have a lot of fun!  ...Plus I'm hosting "Flat Katie" during that time for my old youth leader's niece, so the *three* of will be taking many, many photos!!  Yay!!

I have publicly announced my New Year's resolution to blog every 2 weeks...and...I'm gonna go ahead and say it started on the Chinese New Year, February 3, so...I'm right on track!! ;)

One final note:  If you pledged to support my work here in Japan, THANK YOU!  I hope you're doing a better job of managing your commitment than I have done with my blogging. ;)  If you aren't yet a supporter but would like to be, let me know!!  There is info on the right-hand side of this website.  (You will find a link to my "RheAnn in Japan" Facebook page here as well.)  I appreciate --and NEED--all of your prayers and gifts.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.