Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 2010 newsletter

Blessings Dear Loved Ones & Prayer Partners!
Greetings to all of you as we await the coming of spring and the many wonderful sights that accompany it. Here it is still very cold, although the last couple of days the temperature has warmed into the lower 50’s we know that we still have over a month and a half of snow weather coming. The area ski resorts stay open usually until the 2nd week or so of May, so even if we are warming up, it may only be temporary. Unfortunately, sometimes this weather is like our spiritual lives. We have our warm days, but too often they are followed by a cooling spell. Don’t you wish you could remain hot for God EVERYDAY! It is a difficult challenge that we all face. Our work here is often caught up in hot and cold days. The country is so spiritually poor, possibly the poorest religious country in the world! Most people say they believe in either Buddhism or Shintoism, but if you ask them questions, they have no answer or basically zero knowledge of the teachings of either. Sadly it has become only a cultural experience for them. Most celebrations have their basis in religion, but are now only performed out of tradition. An example we recently had a national holiday called Foundation Day. It is an old holiday that celebrates the traditional teaching of the start of the country with the first Emperor, Jimmu. National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinen-no-hi) is a national holiday in
Japan celebrated annually on February 11. On this day, Japanese celebrate the founding of the nation and the imperial line by its legendary first emperor, Jimmu, who established his capital in Yamato. The origin of National Foundation Day is New Year's Day in the traditional lunisolar calendar. On that day, the foundation of Japan by Emperor Jimmu was celebrated based on Nihonshoki which states that Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month. In the Meiji period, the Japanese government designated the day as a national holiday. This coincided with the switch from the lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. In 1872, when the holiday was originally proclaimed, it was January 29 of the Gregorian calendar, which corresponded to Lunar New Year of 1873. Contrary to the government's expectation, this led people to see the day as just Lunar New Year, instead of National Foundation Day. In response, the government moved the holiday to February 11 of the Gregorian calendar in 1873. The government stated that it corresponded to Emperor Jimmu's regnal day but did not publish the exact method of computation. In its original form, the holiday was named Empire Day (,Kigensetsu) It is thought that the Meiji Emperor may have wanted to establish this holiday to bolster the legitimacy of the imperial family following the abolition of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The national holiday was supported by those who believed that focusing national attention on the emperor would serve a unifying purpose. Publicly linking his rule with the mythical first emperor, Jimmu, and thus Amaterasu, the Meiji Emperor declared himself the one, true ruler of Japan. With large parades and festivals, in its time, Kigensetsu was considered one of the four major holidays of Japan. Given its reliance on Shinto mythology and its reinforcement of the Japanese nobility, Kigensetsu was abolished following World War II. Ironically, February 11th was also the day when General MacArthur approved the draft version of the model Constitution in 1946. The commemorative holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966. Though stripped of most of its overt references to the Emperor, National Foundation Day was still a day for expressing patriotism and love of the nation in the 1950s. My older students were taught in school that Japan was 2,600 years old coinciding with the start of Emperor Jimmu in the year around 600 B.C. Of course today they know that there were people in the country thousands of years before. Also prior to the end of World War II the emperor was considered a Shinto God. The top member of the National Religion. With the end of the war, General MacArthur told the people that it wasn’t true, the emperor was only a person. So many today still blame the ease of getting rid of their main god as one of the reasons Christianity is having such a difficult time establishing itself. When the nation was told that their national faith was based on incorrect information, they started to wonder about the need of any religion. Today, if you ask most people what is the meaning of the holiday, they have many different answers. Also in our town there is a large Buddhist Temple which is the host to every holiday or festival. It doesn’t matter what faith it is, they invite everyone in. It truly appears to be more of a business than a religious experience. So many of the National Holidays have become only traditional celebrations that have lost most of their original meanings. The western events that they have included in their annual calendar of events have been changed or adapted to their own culture. For example Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December, each child gets 1 present placed on his pillow while he/she sleeps and they eat fried chicken and eat Christmas Cake. Everyone works on the 25th. This month was Valentine’s Day, but it is different as chocolate is given by girls to boys. It is almost an obligation so a woman working in an office has to buy chocolate for all the male members in her office. It has no romantic meaning. To balance it out, on March 14th they celebrate ‘White Day’ when the men buy something white, usually cookies to give back to the girls that bought them chocolate. It is truly just a gift giving holiday that the stores have created and promoted.
On January 31st we had our 5th Sunday singing and it was a great time for everyone.
As most of you know, Zack has been very active with his basketball, and the rewards are starting to come. Even though he has well over a year before he will enter college, he has already been invited by 4 different universities to come and play basketball. He will have to choose by April which one he wants to attend, so please pray for God’s guidance in his choice. We will support what ever he decides, and are so proud of him. The school he (and we) is leaning towards has offered him a scholarship that would save us about $50,000!!!!!! for 4 years of higher education WOW!
*Heather’s father-in-love, Charles Hefner, continues to receive treatment for stage 4 lymphoma so we ask for prayers for him and the family.
We trust God to equip us for each individual challenge and opportunity that He presents. Your prayers and support are vital to our being here. Please pray with and for us that we always strive to walk before God, wherever that may be, and be used as instruments of His love in all we do. Should God ask any of you to partner with us in our outreach for Him, please send any love offerings to: Bethlehem United Methodist Church, for Baranski John Alan Mission Fund, c/o Becky Wack, 1003 Rowan Cove, New Albany, Ms. 38652.
We hold you each in our hearts and prayers with thanksgiving.
In His love & walking before Him, the Baranski Bunch

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Got snow!?!

For those of you in the Ark., Tx., Tn., Ms. areas that are talking about snow...
THIS is snow!
This is my weekly drive to the elementary school in Nozawaonsen village

This is the elementary school playground in Nozawaonsen village.

The kids are having ski practice!

This was out our window on the morning of the 7th

And this is the resort where Ian is working/living this winter!

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Dad likes it...!

Ian had a couple of days off work and ventured back closer to home for some snow-boarding with friends and a home cooked meal ;-)
He was sporting new corn-rows and it looks like Dad approves.

I can't even remember the last time he actually sat for a pic with me! He must miss me a little bit!

Looks pretty good on him but no way could I sit that long to have my hair done!

This is the front entrance to the resort where Ian's working this winter.

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The Dôsojin Fire Festival

OK, any of you who know us have likely heard us speak of some of the crazy (in our opinion) festivals they hold in Japan. I had the opportunity last month to see one their "finest" up-close. The winter season fire festivals are a big deal and one of the top 3 in all Japan happens to be held each January 15th in the small village where I teach once a week at the elementary school. The teachers and staff assured me it was something I shouldn't miss, so with John's blessing, I stayed in Nozawa that day after classes to join them in the festivities.

Let me add that it doesn't begin until around 8pm... I normally finish up about 4pm and then make the 1 1/2 hour drive home ... and they said it would end between 11 and midnite! And I would still have to drive home!! But hey, I was there and it seemed like I should grasp the opportunity! Oh yes! Nozawa is a top ski/snow board destination, with 13 free! onsens (hot spring baths), multiple slopes and LOTS of snow!! And on this particular day it had been snowing since long before I arrived there in the morning and never let up! I went out at 4 to move my car into the teachers garage before the festival and literally had to unbury it from the 2+ feet of snow on and around it! This on top of the abundance there from previous days.

So after the teachers finished up their stuff I went to eat dinner with two of the ladies at a small cafe. The teacher's car had been in the garage all day so was snow-free. We made the short drive to the cafe, enjoyed a tasty meal and nice conversation (relative to the fact that their English and my Japanese are on similar levels - not too great!) and about an hour later set to head back to the garage found her car first needed to be freed from the half foot of snow that had fallen in that short span!! We made our way back to the school to park and they suggested a dip in the onsen to warm up before heading out in to the freezing my great surprise the onsen was in the school basement!! Cool! or actually HOT!!

Then, it was off to the festivities! The location was less than a 10 minute walk from the school so that was convenient. It was amazing to see SO MANY people in this small village! All bundled up and ready to brave the freezing temps and steady snowfall to watch the fire fight! I'd planned to take our good camera in hopes of some good pics but decided against it with the heavy snowfall - good move! Having no extra baggage was the right choice in the sardine packed crowd - not to mention that the snow wouldn't have been good for it's lifespan. I did, however, have the ever-present cell phone ;-) Got a few pics but not so great. Then I shot some video - not great either but the best I could manage in the crowd...the weather.. you get the idea.

So there's 1:59 if you care to take a peek. All that stuff falling is lots & lots & more snow! You can see it piling up on the heads and shoulders of the onlookers.

I couldn't really explain it all to you and make much sense so below is the town info on what the festival is. I can tell you it's a huge shrine they build, the poles decorated for the years' new first sons are elaborate - all to be burned up... There's gallons of sake consumed which explains in part why the folks fighting each other with fire aren't fazed by their singed flesh and soot covered bodies - at least not til the next day.

It was definitely an experience!

The Dôsojin Fire Festival (courtesy of Nozawa Onsen Village):
This festival is one of the three most famous fire festivals in Japan. It is held on January 15th every year to pray for a plentiful harvest, health and good fortune in the coming year. The festival dates back to 1863 and though the location has changed, the festivities remain the same. During this festival the twenty-five and forty-two year old men from the village play a very important role. An old belief in Japan dictates that, for men, these years are unlucky ages. The twenty-five and the forty-two year old men in their unlucky ages construct the shaden (shrine) from beech wood that reaches a height of 18 meters. Every year it takes 100 villagers to build the shrine. The trees are cut down in October and brought down from the mountain, through the village, on January 13th. After the shaden has been constructed, the priest from Kosuge shrine performs a ceremony to endow it with a God. Along with the shaden there are an average of five tôrô (dedicatory lantern poles) erected every year. These poles are made by a family in the village to celebrate the birth of the first son. The tôrô are offered to the Gods in a prayer for health and good fortune. The festivities begin with the lighting of the fire by the twenty-five and fourty-two year old men. A small group of men carry a torch, which is lit by striking two stones together, from the Kôno residence to the festival grounds. The torch is used to start a bonfire from which the handmade torches, used to attack the shrine, are lit. The festival centers around the shaden, where the forty-two year olds sit on top and the twenty-five year olds stand guard at the base. Those who are 41 and 43 years old stand around the perimeter to protect the spectators. Torch bearing villagers of all ages attempt to break through the guards and light the shaden on fire. A dangerous and lively battle ensues. The defenders try to put out the fire by striking it with pine branches. The attack lasts for about one hour, after which the 42 year olds call an end to the ceremony and the shaden together with the tôrô are set on fire in an offering to the Gods. The entire festival can take up to four hours from the beginning to the end, but the main attraction is the battle between the guards and the torch bearing villagers.