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The biggest day of the year for schools in Japan is Sports Day “運動会” (undokai). The kids practice for a full month before the event. The biggest events are the individual sprints and the class relays. Four boys and four girls from each class are chosen to be part of their relay team and all of our kids were chosen this year. They go early to school each morning to practice and also practice during afternoon recess.

Robbie won his individual sprint for his grade last year so there was alot of talk about whether he would win again this year.  There is some pretty stiff competition. He was hopeful he would come in at least 2nd. Drum roll please…. first again. His form has really improved over the years but it’s probably mostly his competitive spirit that brings him across the finish line.(Click in the lower right-hand corner of a video to see it full-screen)

Brianne came in second for her individual sprint. Her form definitely looked great this year and her long legs are definitely an advantage.

We weren’t quite sure how Sarah would do for her sprint – we thought with her laid-back temperament she might stop to pick some flowers on the way. But she did great concentrating on the cone that she was running too and came in second.

Robbie and Brianne were in the same relay race – the 4th through 6th graders run together. Unfortunately their team was disqualified because of an illegal hand-off but both of them did great running and passing the baton.

Each of the kids class dances were fun to watch.  Robbie’s 5th grade class with the 6th graders did 組体操 kumitaiso which is pyramid building. In groups anywhere from 2-20, the theme was famous places around the world. They did about 20 different pyramids (the Great Wall, the Grand Canyon). Robbie’s much smaller friend was on the bottom for alot of these which provided a little comedy – hee, hee. Robbie has had bruises on his knees for a month now due to being on the bottom of the 20 person pyramid. This video is of the Statue Liberty.

It was a fun day ! (click on a picture to see it larger)

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Over the past week 2 weeks we have celebrated both Sarah’s 7th birthday and Robbie’s 11th birthday. One afternoon we had a blast having 9 of Robbie’s friends over for a party. They played bingo, “pass the parcel”, water balloons and then ended with an hour of water gun fights at the park next door. A few years ago a friend said that anything to do with water was perfect for a boys party and she was definitely right.

Sarah celebrated her birthday with us and a good friend from church, Shoko and her husband, as well as friends that were visiting from the US, the Mahons. Highlights for her were a unicycle, Wii sports resort, Disney puzzles and a Zhu Zhu pet.

Robbie loved his gifts of books, Othello, bey blades (metal tops) and a Kindle. He’s in book-lovers heaven. Brianne wasn’t left out either, getting a few gifts in the midst of all the celebrations.

Brian and I are so thankful for these precious gifts from God and are so proud of how they are growing up. Every year just gets more and more fun.

Last week was Sarah’s Opening Ceremony for 1st grade (the new school year begins in April in Japan). Like her kindergarten graduation, this was a formal affair. The main goal of the 3 year kindergarten system in Japan is to prepare them for 1st grade, so there is quite a bit of build up. We loved going to her ceremony, seeing her answer “here” when her name was called in front of the assembly, and then meeting her teacher and seeing her classroom. Who their teacher will be is kept a big secret until the first day of school. Sarah’s teacher’s name is Mrs. Ooishi (means large stone) and Sarah seems to like her so far. There are 27 children in Sarah’s class, including two of her close friends.

For about a month before 1st grade begins, the main topic among the moms is “have you gotten all her things ready yet?” The reason is there are ALOT of supplies to prepare. It begins with the $300 (if you buy the cheapest on sale like us) backpack and ends with the 600 name stickers that we put on her many items. Gym clothes need the iron-on name tags and  the math set with flashcards is several hundred pieces. Thankfully, my mother-in-law Barb was here to help me. We spent several evenings labeling all her items. It was fun for me, as I kind of like tedious work and, as this is my third time around, I kind of (sort of) had a clue of what was what.

Later this week I have an open house for Sarah’s class where we get to eat their school lunch with them. I’ll get some good pictures and you’ll see the real scoop from inside the elementary schools here. The way they do school lunches still absolutely AMAZES me.

Oh, and as an aside, PTA is mandatory in Japan. We have to serve as an officer 1-2x for each of the kids during their 6 years of elementary school. Tomorrow is sign-up day and Brian is trying to get the “Father’s Officer” role for Robbie’s 5th grade class. We’ll see…

Last week was Sarah’s graduation from Kindergarten (the graduation is called “nyugaku shiki” in Japanese). In Japan, we have a 3 year kindergarten system. The kindergarten is separate from the elementary school, so graduation also means saying good-bye to their friends as they will all go to different schools. It is a formal event. Some of the moms even wear Kimono. The graduates wear their school uniform.

Brian’s mom is visiting us here so she was able to attend the graduation with us. Sarah loved having a special guest.

Although there tend to be lots of tears at these events, neither Sarah or I were feeling sad. She thought it was all a blast and is excited to be moving on to 1st grade. My main feeling was relief – 6 straight years as a mom in the kindergarten system was definitely stretching for me. When we first put Robbie in 6 years ago, I could barely say a word in Japanese and knew nothing of all the expectations on moms, including mandatory PTA involvement. As the years went on, I grew more comfortable with the language but often found it challenging to keep up with the “mom duties” –  potato field hoeing, weeding, cleaning, business meeitngs, teacher meetings, required meetings with the dentist and doctors. The list goes on and on.

But I also felt thankful – so thankful for the 3 wonderful Kindergartens our children have been able to attend (two in Karuizawa and 1 here in Shizuoka). The teachers awe me with their dedication and love of children. All of our children loved to go each day and they also became fluent in Japanese. They made friends that they still have years later. I also became good friends with many fellow moms. So, although it was Japanese Boot Camp for me, it was a wonderful experience for us and our children.

So, congratulations Sarah! We are so proud of you, persevering through the days before you understood much Japanese or had friends. Now you have many friends and are ready for 1st grade. We are so thankful for God’s work in your life and His love for you. We love you!

(click on a picture to enlarge)

Ballet

Almost a year ago, Brianne began ballet. She goes with her good friend Yuna, who has been in ballet since pre-school. Since Brianne didn’t start until 3rd grade, she had alot of catching up to do, but she is doing well. She loves the outfits she gets to wear and learning new leaps and twirls. She attends once a week on Saturdays.

Last week she was planning to go until she took an unexpected fall on the way to school and ended up with stitches in her forehead. The doctor told her not to do sports for one week, so she had to skip ballet.

The studio she attends has a recital once every two years. We have not decided yet if Brianne will participate. It is expensive and there are alot of extra practices for the full year before the recital. The next recital is a year from now, so we will need to make a decision in the next month or so. We will let you know what we decide!

(Click on a picture to enlarge)

My friend Jamie and I with our Malay bellhop

We recently attended a family conference in Malaysia. This is our first trip outside of Japan in Asia. Brian has been to visit his brother in the Philippines a few times, but besides that, this was a real adventure for all of us. We found Malaysia to be beautiful, hot, relaxed and very inexpensive! During breaks we especially enjoyed the pool and beach.

Although most of the time we were in meetings, we did have a few chances to venture out. One evening we managed to cram 15 of us into a mini-van meant for 7 and the taxi driver brought us to a local restaurant. The seating was all outside and it was a seafood Malay restaurant. We quickly realized that they spoke no English and the 3 words we knew in Malay didn’t get us very far. Through sign-language we did manage to order some very tasty dishes.

The next day a few of us women enjoyed some local shopping while the guys and kids took a hike through the jungle. I especially loved the locally handcrafted items like bags and jewelry and scarves.

We had a wonderful time and would love to be able to go back sometime. Our kids enjoyed meeting children from all over Asia as well as missing school for a week.

Brianne and Sarah at final performance of their kids conference

Brianne, Sarah and friend Abbie on hike through the jungle

Brian and Robbie at the beach

Brianne took pics of the interesting food we ate

Malaysia hotel pool, with beach just beyond