2016 Year in Review and My 3 Words for 2017

We didn't get Christmas tree this year. This is what I ended up doing.
We didn’t get Christmas tree this year. This is what I ended up doing.

Wow, 2016, what a year. I bet many people just cannot wait for this year to be over. This being the last week of 2016, I thought it’s time I wrote my annual year in review.

Just like for many people, my 2016 was a challenging year. I don’t mean this to be complaining. There were plenty of great things that happened this year as well, but this year was definitely the “work” part of Hero’s Journey. I know there is a reward at the end of these challenges, and I am willing to work for it, but man, it sucks to go through the actual “work” part. That’s ok. I am old enough and know better to quit.

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5 Must-Do Things to do in Japan with kids

This is an updated version of a post I originally contributed for YummyMummyClub.

I grew up in a small town in Japan. It’s been almost 20 years since we moved to Canada, so my children were pretty much raised as Canadians. We try to go back to Japan as often as possible, and it’s great to see my kids get so fascinated with my home country. Here are 5 Must-Do Things in Japan with your children.

1. Visit a Family Restaurant

Photo credit: Osamu Iwasaki
Photo credit: Osamu Iwasaki

Family restaurants(FAMIRESU for short) are everywhere in Japan. They are reasonably priced and kid friendly. For some reason, Kids Meals are called “OKOSAMA(Child) LUNCH” And yes, they are served all day, not just at lunch time. It usually consists of little bit of everything (spaghetti, meatballs, etc.) and a little mountain of rice with a flag on top. When my son first saw it, he thought that was the greatest thing! Make sure you take a photo.

2. Visit a Shrine or Temple

Zojo-ji temple in the rain
Zojo-ji temple in the rain

3. Check Out a Festival or Two

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Some festivals are huge and happen annually, so be sure to check the local event schedule of where you are headed. But if you are lucky, you might just come across a small fair near the shrine. Unlike North American fairs, there won’t be any rides, but usually a strip is lined with all kinds of different vendors selling snacks (candy apple, cotton candy, OKONOMIYAKI savory pancakes, etc.), toys and masks, or have a game booth. My favourite is KINGYO SUKUI -“scoop the goldfish” game!

4. Character Goods Store

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If you have a daughter, (no, scratch that, boys will love it too) you must go to “Character Goods Store”—such as Sanrio and Kiddy Land. You’ll be overwhelmed by the number of character goods (most famous of all is Hello Kitty). From underwear, handkerchief, hair clips, note books, bento boxes,stationery,stuffed animals to chopsticks, you can find all kinds of wacky fun things with your favourite character on it. There are plenty of fun things for boys as well (my son loved Cup Noodle shaped erasers), and these tiny things make great souvenirs for friends back home.

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My favourite, Rilakkuma

5. Ride on a Bullet Train

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A New Moon Over Tohoku

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Yesterday, I attended a screening of a documentary film, A New Moon Over Tohoku by Japanese Canadian Filmmaker, Linda Ohama. Linda is a third generation (Sansei) Japanese Canadian known for her film, Obachan’s Garden.

A New Moon Over Tohoku is about the people who suffered from the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, in the Tohoku area of Japan.

Linda said it all started because of her granddaughter. When they first found out about the earthquake and tsunami, the granddaughter, then 7 years-old, asked her what they could do for them. Eventually, Linda flew to Japan to volunteer in Tohoku area.

As she got to know the people in Tohoku, they asked her to create a film to tell their stories. Initially, she turned it down. This changed when she first visited the “No-Go” zone near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Seeing the traffic lights still working and changing the lights in a ghost town, she cried. Linda then decided to interview the people in Tohoku, specifically, in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Two and half years later, the film is being presented here in Canada. A New Moon Over Tohoku premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival late last month (September 2016).

Linda has brought guests from Japan for the Canadian tour. Inlcluding, Mrs. Kanako Sasaki, an acupuncturist who appears in the film and tells us her survival story. She was treating a patient when the earthquake hit. The film tells the story of how she got her patient out and then tried to locate her own family. Then the Tsunami hit her town of Otsuchi.

Kanako described the scene after she got scooped up in Tsunami “Hell”, as people, houses, and vehicles swam by her. She tells of how the tanks on boats exploded, floating by, and setting fires to homes with people still trapped inside. Kanako herself was swept up and carried by the rising waters flowing through the streets of her village. Finally, she was rescued by friends and neighbours. Once rescued, and despite being injured herself and still soaked in cold, wet clothes, she continued on through the night helping others. Her story is so powerful, it made my cry.

Soma Nomaoi Samurais
Soma Nomaoi Samurais

The film introduces the stories of many other people and places, such as the people who have homes and businesses in the “No-Go” zone. Included is a Samurai family who are determined to continue their tradition of Soma Nomaoi (Samurai festival with horses). Other powerful and movies stories include those of mothers concerned with radiation and how they feel guilty about letting their children be exposed to radiation, and how they feel oppressed for not being able to speak their mind honestly about their fear of radiation and at the same time not wanting to isolate themselves for speaking out… All the complexities, fears, and concerns of the people affected in the “No-Go” zone are expressed and examined.

I personally visited the Tohoku area back in 2013. All the places I went to were hard to visit, but Okawa Elementary School that had lost 70% of their children, was particularly heartbreaking. Yesterday at lunch before the screening, Linda told me about a father from Okawa area. This father had lost his only child, a 12 year old girl who was at Okawa Elementary School. Linda said, “He said he was so lucky.”

“I thought I misunderstood at first. He lost his only child. How can he be lucky? But he said he was so lucky he got to be a father.”

I couldn’t hold back my tears.

Linda says many people in Tohoku turned negatives into positives like this. I think they have no choice, in order to continue forward.

But it’s not all sad. The film also features brave, happy, and optimistic people.

The screening in Victoria was a success. It is an emotional film. There were not many dry eyes in the theatre, but I was particularly grateful for Kanako (with her daughter, Sera, who is also in the film) for coming all the way to Canada to share her story. Her wish was for this film to be seen by as many people as possible, not just in Canada and overseas, but also in Japan. She also asked us to remember to be grateful for what we have, as you never know when it might be gone.

As I said my goodbye to Kanako, I offered my help in any way I can. She said, “We have just only begun.” I am grateful for this new friendship.

There will be more screenings in Japan starting in December. If you want to book a screening for your community or organization, please check out the film website.

Living Brave

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I just finished the Living Brave Semester with Brené Brown that started back in January.
This past 5 months, thousands of people around the world and myself learned together on what it means to live wholeheartedly. This was by far the best course I have ever taken.

The course covered key learnings from Brené’s books, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.

We had new lessons open every Monday with lesson videos and exercises. Every few weeks we had breaks, (so that those of us behind can catch up), Live Q&A sessions (where my question got picked!), as well as weekly message videos from Brené.

It is impossible for me to go over everything I learned in the course, but I wanted to list a few things that made big impact on me.

1) Community and language

Watching Brené’s videos every week and doing the live Q&A really gave me the sense of community. One of the students called us “Living Bravesters” and it just stuck, and we all started calling ourselves that. Love it.

Another community was a Facebook group I created for us Japanese people who are interested in learning more about wholehearted living. I love that we started using the language from Brené’s books. One of the group member mentioned her son was talking an entrance exam for college and I called it his “arena”. Other friend was doing new things in her business and that put her in front of a large group of people – that was her arena. I really love that we started using the word “arena” as a place we are going to be brave, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, The Man in the Arena (The title Daring Greatly comes from this speech)

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2) Values

One of the most memorable lessons in the course was one of the earliest one. Brené used the metaphor of lantern and called it “How values light the way”. Imagine a lantern. The flame in the lantern is your core values you hold. (We did exercises to find what our core values are – mine are Courage and Kindness) Your values will light your way. Without the lantern and the flame inside it, it will be dark and you will be lost. Or, even when you have the lantern and the flame, sometimes we leave it somewhere and stray from our values. This was such a visual example and made a lot of sense to me. When I catch myself acting outside my values – like being snappy at someone or being afraid – I picture the lantern and go back to my values.

3) People Are Doing The Best They Can

This is THE biggest learning for me from her book Rising Strong. In case you haven’t read the book, let me ask you a question.

“In general, do yo think people are doing the best they can?”

How did you answer the question?

My answer was NO.  I just turned 41, and most of my life, I thought people were slackers, and I was super judgey.

This comes from perfectionism. To get the proper context I highly recommend you read the book, but we learned that when we believe people are doing the best we can, our lives are better and I feel kinder towards others, which is important to me as one of my core values is kindness. Our best is all different.

This was such a huge learning moment for me, every time I think about it, I get shivers and get a little chocked up. What have I been doing? Every time I think of the chapter in the book, it makes me want to cover my face and sob…

4) It’s all practice

We learned all these great things to help us live more wholehearted life, but we are all human. We slip. 

When we’re tired, when we are afraid, when we feel threatened….we act out way outside our values.

I’ve learned to be kind to myself, and to remind myself this is a lifelong practice. I remember in on of the weekly update videos Brené said, if we catch ourselves slipping….to celebrate it. Because it at least means we know we are slipping. The important thing it to catch us when we slip, and try again without berating ourselves.

I feel bittersweet to have finished this amazing course. There is another Living Brave Semester next year, but meanwhile there are two shorter, exciting courses coming up.

Self-Compassion with Kristin Neff and Brené Brown

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We are supposed to talk to ourselves like we talk to someone we love. But why is it so hard?

“The Self-Compassion workshop combines the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion to enhance our capacity for emotional wellbeing.”

This is a four-lesson online workshop that opens on May 16, 2016.

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting

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“What would it mean for our families, our community, and even the world if a critical mass of parents raised children who knew their worth? Children who navigate the world believing, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” It doesn’t matter if your child is 4 years old, 14, or 44 – parenting is a lifetime commitment. “

Six-lesson course that begins September 26, 2016. The format sounds very much like Living Brave Semester with new lessons opening every week but mostly self-paced.

For both of these courses, I have a 30% off code so please let me know if you are signing up!

Thank you Brené, and thank you all Living Bravesters – it’s been a blast. See you in the next course 🙂