Tachi Neputa Festival – Goshogawara 2009

Neputa war-gods descending upon the city

We crossed over the bridge into Goshogawara at dusk. In the distance, I could see an assemblage of fierce, heathen Neputa war-gods descending upon the city. Entering the human world through the doors of an enormous warehouse, the Neputa shown brightly, illuminated from within.

Without changing pose, they floated through the streets. One Neputa stood tall, arms raised in triumph. Another held a knife to the throat of an enemy, whose face was twisted in a pained grimace.

As I walked with my family toward the center of the city, the sound of rhythmic drum grew louder and louder. The beat was punctuated by the shouts of “yattemare”, meaning to fight or throw stones, by costumed, dancing haneto mortals, who were dwarfed by the magnificent creatures. I pulled my children in close beside me and we walked down the densely crowded sidewalk to get a closer look.

pickleonstick Vendors selling sake, beer, yakisoba and skewered hot dogs, pickles, and yakitori lined the streets. They enticed passersby with by sing-sing lists of their wares.

We settled at the corner of an intersection, the first in the parade route, and did our best to mingle with the crowd.

When I looked upwards, I noticed that, while we were surrounded by buildings, the were no power lines running along the street. (I later learned that the streets were specifically designed to accommodate the Neputa’s annual visit, and that all electric and telephone cables for the structures along the parade route were run through an underground tunnel system.)

Slowly, ushered by haneto dancers, some of whom were very young, the enormous creatures moved towards us. The Neputa were about 22 meters tall and were made of sculpted metal scaffolding, covered in brightly painted washi to depict Neputa warriors. The Neputa stood on wooden platforms covered with images of with waves, flowers, stars and war scenes. Inside the Neputa, strung along the scaffolding, were strands of light bulbs that made the towering gods glow in the darkness. We had an amazing view.

Each group of dancers paused to perform in front of us. When they noticed our obviously foreign presence, they purposefully danced next to us (see 1:47 of first video below) and pushed their beautifully grotesque painted faces in front of our wide eyes. They offered some tiny cymbals to my children, but my frightened children shook their heads and refused to play. I hoisted Leah, my youngest, up to my shoulders so that she could see over the crowd. She grabbed my hair and wrapped her chubby little legs around my neck. We found the rhythm and danced together.

A particularly large Tachi Neputa entered the intersection square. Costumed men blew whistles to warn onlookers to stand back. Then, they grabbed ropes tethered to the base of Neputa and began to run in circles around the towering giant. It began to spin. High above the traffic lights and buildings, the Neputa spun like a gigantic top. His face, body and all his decorations blurred into a frenzied whirl.

The Neputa festival is an annual matsuri event that takes place in early August in various cities around Aomori Prefecture. In our city, it is spelled “Neputa”, but elsewhere in Japan, it is “Nebuta”. Our city is known for the “Tachi” Neputa, which are significantly taller than the traditional sized Nebuta seen in other cities.

Learn more:
Goshogawara Tourist Association: Tachi Neputa
Matsuri (Japanese Festivals)
Aomori Nebuta Festival (Wikipedia)
Matsuri Festival Food – Photo Library

Photo Credit: Yours truly.
Video Credit: My husband Tom :)

10th Wedding Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that ten years ago today, on August 27, 1999, Tom and I were married. Was it really that long ago?

Little did I know at the time how Tom would change my life when I met him 12 years ago at a bowling alley.

Reception Kiss - August 27, 1999
Reception Kiss - August 27, 1999
My friend Becca was bowling on a league for homeschoolers and invited me to go with her to The Palace in Downingtown, PA.

The lane next to ours was vacant but, being a bit of a bookworm, I noticed that there was a stack of books on the table. One was called “Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger.” I was curious. I couldn’t help myself! I picked up the book, flipped through it a few times, and then began to read.

I was just starting into the second chapter and, behind me, a slightly irritated male voice said, “Those are my books.”

I froze.

Not one to be intimidated, I spun around and looked at him in the eyes. “Well! I hope you don’t agree with this socialist author,” I said, sternly. “While I think that Christians have a responsibility to the poor, God blesses some Christians with money. I don’t like the idea of guilt-tripping those God has blessed because they don’t live in self-induced poverty. What about Christians who are poor and who aren’t content? I think there are deeper heart issues that aren’t being addressed.”

From my soapbox, I could see that he was a head taller than me. Dark hair, nice Italian olive skin, and yet had hazel-green eyes — in fact, the same color as mine. He had about a two-day old shave, and looked to be very strong. He was speechless. He wasn’t used to girls who voiced their opinion.

Becca rescued him.

“Oh, I see you met my friend Sarah from Indiana. Sarah, this is Tom.”

It turns out, he was writing a paper for his college economics class, and the prof had challenged him to write on economics from a Christian perspective. I was pursuing a career in journalism –- I wanted to be a war-correspondent –- and loved the opportunity to write about interesting topics. I gave Tom my email address and asked him to send me a note. He didn’t write for two weeks.

That night, I stayed over at Becca’s. While we were in our sleeping bags by the coal stove in her parent’s family room, I asked her about Tom. “Tom Albrecht? Well, he’s not really my type [she later married a blond-haired, blue-eyed military guy] but he’s really smart and he’s witty. Still, I can’t imagine kissing him or anything.”

(Some how the kissing line has stuck in my memory. Little does she know how fun it is to kiss him.. I think I’ve kissed him over 9,000 times at this point.) :P

What Becca failed to mention when she introduced me to Tom was that I had moved from Indiana, where I had lived for a few years with my family, back to Pennsylvania. She forgot to say we had known each other as girls, and recently had reconnected. But, God had plans to again cause my path to cross with Tom’s.

My sister Bethany was taking a pottery class at the Chester Springs Art Studio and had made friends with a girl named Megan Catranis . Megan brought Bethany to church – Immanuel Presbyterian (Now Olive Street Presbyterian) – where she caught Tom’s younger brother’s eye. I’m not clear on the details, but Tom and Matt were at the Catranis’ house and Bethany’s name came up. Bethany Phenicie. Phenicie is not a common name, and Tom said, “Hey, I met someone named Sarah Phenicie. She gave me her email address but I didn’t see a point to writing to someone in Indiana.” Megan’s dad was like, “You idiot. That’s Bethany’s older sister. They just moved from Indiana. WRITE TO HER.”

He emailed me that night and invited me to see Empire Strikes Back.

That weekend, he picked me up in his little white late-80s Le Mans hatchback. I sat in the front passenger seat. Four guys were crammed in the back. A thick, black glove was stuffed between the window-crank and the door. I was told not to touch it or else the window would fall down.

I was the only girl, even out of the crowd of friends who met them at the theater. Tom’s brothers had snuck in a bag of homemade beef jerky and passed it back and forth over my head throughout the entire film. I had never giggled so much in my life. I can still remember that I wore my favorite multicolored crocheted sweater – which, after a few repairs, I still own!

Tom and I began to see each other, but never wanted to admit we were falling for each other.

When Tom brought up the subject of commitment in dating, I flatly told him that I “wasn’t interested in getting married or having children” and that I wasn’t thinking in that direction at the moment. He just calmly said, “I understand. But, I want you to know that I like spending time with you and that if that’s all you’re willing to give me, I’ll take it.”

We’d go to Fennario, a wonderful coffeehouse in West Chester, PA, and play chess for hours while talking. I was always in trouble for getting home late.

After one such date, we both leaned in and kissed each other as if we’d been kissing each other forever. It was the most wonderful, memorable kiss of my entire life. Who knew such a big, strong guy could kiss so tenderly? It melted my cold heart. We sort of pushed each other away and were like, “What was that? We’re not even dating!” We retreated to his car and talked about the “what ifs” and decided that we worked well together.

Two weeks later, I moved back to Indiana with my family. My heart stayed in Pennsylvania.

One concern Tom had expressed to me over cappuccinos and checkmates was that, while I said that I was a Christian (religious convictions tend to come up when you’re exploring a person’s mind), I had never been baptized. My answer was that I didn’t feel ready. His answer was that I was required to obey God, not to make excuses. Before I left for Indiana, he gave me a copy of “Lord of the Saved” by Kenneth Gentry. It was about the problem of Christians who give lip service to God but do not surrender their hearts.

Heart convictions drive out fear and, a few months later, on the Easter Sunday, just before my 18th birthday, I was baptized at Wallen Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There were about 500 people in attendance. I’d been a Christians since I was four, but had been fighting the need to obey and be baptized. Suddenly, my Christianity wasn’t an uphill battle. Scripture actually made sense. I realized that when I yielded myself to God, The Holy Spirit could actually work in my heart and teach me.

The long distance relationship was difficult to bear. There were a few times we almost broke up. Tom even stole his dad’s brand new Mustang to drive out to see me –- I had thought it was better for us if we broke up. Instead of me breaking up with him in person, we renewed our commitment to each other.

I was attending Taylor Universityon a full, academic scholarship, that included room and board. Instead of going to my parent’s house over Spring break, I flew out to Pennsylvania.

My flight arrived late, past midnight. When I got into the car, I noticed there was a familiar leather cord tied around Tom’s neck. Hoping it still held the little garnet ring I had given him (I was wearing his class ring), I pulled it out from under his collar to check. There was a ring there, but it was platinum and boasted five perfect diamonds.

“Whose ring is this?” I said. It really didn’t click.
“Does it fit you?” he asked.
I tried it on. It was beginning to click.
“Um.. yeah!”

In heavy 95 traffic out of Baltimore, and in the thickest fog and torrential of downpours, with one hand on the wheel of his dad’s car and the other holding mine, Tom proposed to me. “I love you and I want you to be my wife.”

Oh… my rings. The next day, I dented my engagement ring as I dove over a rock while shooting a guy’s extended middle finger during a wild round of paintball. Two weeks before the wedding, Tom lost his job. My wedding ring is not the one we originally had in mind – it’s is actually at $10 sterling silver ring. To me, it represents staying together through life’s ups and downs. I’ve never even considered having it replaced with more valuable ring.

There were a few complications in between our engagement and the wedding but, in the end, my family came to Pennsylvania and my father walked me down the aisle.

As we stood in the back of the chapel on a hot, August Friday afternoon, my dad turned to me and whispered, “I have the car running outside… you don’t have to do this.” “But, dad, I love Tom!” I said. “I want to get married!”

Seeing I couldn’t be persuaded otherwise and that it was really what I wanted, my father, the ex-Marine who once enlisted to go to Vietnam and ended up a Sergeant, began to cry. It was the first time I saw him cry. I cried, too. He tightly grabbed my hand, walked with me, and gave me away. I was 19.

It rained in between the wedding and the reception, which was at the Catranis’ house where I had lived that summer. The fresh, cooler air created a beautiful mist over their pond. People still come up to me and say that our simple potluck reception was one of the most relaxed and most fun of all of the receptions they’ve ever been to.

Some people complain that their spouse is “not the person who they married” and claim it has caused them to fall out of love . Tom and I have changed over the years, but we have changed together… and for the better.

Ten years, five children and a transpacific move later, I am still very happy.

What Do You Do When a Bible Verse Hurts Instead of Helps?


After I posted this, I caught something as I watched again — I said that we aren’t justified through faith. That’s not quite what I meant. To clarify, before someone else catches it:

Galatians 3:7-9 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Ephesians 2:7-9 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

My point was that faith by itself is meaningless. It’s what we have faith in that justifies us.

Have you ever gone through a hard time, read the Bible, and then felt more condemned than encouraged?

Here, I offer some thoughts on what to do in this situation based on the temptation of Christ as recorded in Matthew 4 .

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and feedback.

Do you think this interpretation is correct? What do you do when scripture hurts?

Is It Okay To Tell Her She Looks Fat?

Click HERE to see my guest post at The Dating Papers.

Here’s a quote:

“Do I look fat in this dress?”

Next to being asked to get snipped, this is the dreaded question that men fear most from women.

How can he answer this loaded, Catch-22? If he answers “yes,” he’s in the doghouse. If he says “no,” he’s “not being honest” and God forbid a girlfriend points out the obvious during a trip the ladies’ room.

Believe it or not, my husband Tom and I have had a “do I look fat in this dress” pact since the beginning of our marriage, when I was healthy size eight.

Ten years, five kids and an abdominal myomectomy later, I was considering starting a reclaim-my-body exercise regimen and I asked my husband the dreaded question.

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How Much Does God Want Me to Care For My Physical Body?

Encouraged by this food-for-thought post from desiringGod.org this morning.

I don’t think that being overweight is only attributed to laziness and overeating, and I do think an occasional cigar is good for the soul.

It’s always a challenge to find the line between enjoying good things God has provided and not letting these things rule over us. I appreciate how Piper points out that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Realizing this helps us to pray and gives us strength when we’re feeling tempted to keep vice overindulgence in check.

How Much Does God Want Me to Care For My Physical Body?

Does having new life in Christ mean that I should expect and strive for better physical health? How much does God want me to care for my physical body?

Good question. He does want you to care for your physical body. A couple of texts come to my mind.

One is that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6). And the context there is not giving your body to a prostitute. But the implication is that these bodies are holy and are reverential.

It kept me from smoking as a teenager! It really did! My mother’s statement, “Son, your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and giving yourself lung cancer for that kind of pleasure would not treat the Holy Spirit rightly.” That worked for me! Still does.

But there’s another text that comes closer. Earlier in that chapter he is not dealing with prostitutes; he is dealing with food. The slogan in Corinth is—I think it’s a slogan in Corinth—”The stomach for food and food for the stomach, and both will be destroyed in hell,” which implied in their docetic way, “Eat all you want. It doesn’t matter what you eat.” And Paul said, “True statement, but I will not be enslaved by anything!” And the context there is food.

The reason people are unhealthy is because they’re enslaved. They are enslaved to laziness, and they are enslaved to food. So they eat too much and they exercise too little. And they have heart attacks and get diabetes. And God would consider that a spiritual issue.

So we should strive spiritually. What did Paul mean when he said, “I will not be enslaved by anything?” He meant, “Christ is your master!”

And a third text that comes to mind is, “The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and …” What? “Self-control,” egkrateia (Galatians 5:22-23).

And again, largely sexual self-control is in view; but it’s the same thing. The word “self-control” is not the best translation maybe, because it’s really a work of the Holy Spirit.

So we should fight against anything that makes us unhealthy. If overeating makes us unhealthy, fight it by the Spirit. If laziness and lack of exercise makes us unhealthy, fight it with the power of the Holy Spirit. That is, believing the promises of God, praying down the Holy Spirit, and then biting the bullet and denying ourselves.

Christianity is self-denial … for a higher joy. And I don’t want my Christian hedonism to be taken to mean that everything is easy. It isn’t. Hardly anything worth doing is easy, until we get to heaven. Then it will all be easy.

He cares about our bodies. He gave them to us. He would like them to be healthy and last a long time, until he takes them.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Getting Rid of Your Social Security Number

Take a moment to click through the buildfreedom link and read the article, there are step-by-step procedures, including a form letter, along with about a half-page of legal helps, to get rid of one’s SS#.

Follow the steps and see what happens. There isn’t going to be a sweet, gentle, cushy, painless way to do it. You’re probably going to get quite a fight, and probably be under surveillance of some sort, for the rest of your life. This is a choice you’ll have to make.

I would also recommend joining RestoreTheRepublic.net/ , where you can network with like-minded individuals.

FWIW, I’m not ready for this fight and still have my SS#.

(Originally Posted 3/6/2008)

I’m wondering what it takes to get rid of one’s social security number, and the implications of not having one.

From buildfreedom.com: “Secrets of the Social Security”.

This document covers:

* Individual Free-Market Economic Power.
* General information on Social Security.
* The Social Security Act.
* “Comment Upon Voluntary Nature of Social Security” – legal brief by Attorney Larry Becraft.
* Three kinds of TG #s: SSN (Social Security Number); EIN (Employer Identification Number); TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number).
* The structure of the SS# – significance of first three digits – ranges assigned to each state – ranges not used – significance of digits four and five – significance of last four digits.
* How to legally change your SS# – copy of relevant TG policy and procedures.
* How to get a new TIN from the IRS – sample SS-4 form – how to use your TIN number for credit applications.
* How Credit Bureaus identify you.
* How to establish a new credit file.
* The common law name principle.
* The Anthony Hargis method to terminate your SS#.
* Other organizations that help you terminate your SS#.
* General advice on operating without a SS#.
* Several ways to open a bank account without a SS#.
* Bibliography on SS# and identities.

This video from freedomtofascism.com also quite informative. It’s more about taxes than the SSN, so it’s a little off-topic for this post, but I found it during my SSN search and the testimony from juror Marcy Brooks made me want to include this clip. She’s my hero. Taxes and Social Security Numbers go hand in hand.