Long before Kobe Bryant became the iconic image and hero of my generation...there was the city of Kobe, in Japan. Actually rumor has it Kobe Bryant's parents named him after the famous Kobe beef that comes from the area.
Last week I had the chance to help out with a camp, and we all know I am a camp person...but get this...this was a BASKETBALL CHURCH CAMP IN KOBE! Talk about the most perfect combination. The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if KOBE Bryant was there himself.
I took the Shinkansen down Tuesday after work. From my school, it took me an hour to get to Tokyo station where the Shinkansen leaves. From there it took me around 3 hours to get down to Kobe (it's far!!) and I made a pit stop in Osaka on the way.
There is an unspoken rivalry (I guess it is often spoken of but Japanese people are polite compared to rivalries in the states) between Osaka-Kansai people and Tokyo-Kanto people. The two cities try to differentiate themselves as much as possible so in Osaka people stand on the right side of escalators while in Tokyo people stand on the left - confusing!
Anyway, the reason I stopped in Osaka was to meet up with Kazue, who is marrying my brother-in-laws good friend Jose. Kazue was recently up at my place in Kashiwa with Jose and Ant, so it was fun to see her on her home turf. She took me out to eat Shabu shabu and it was so good! I hope I can visit her one more time in Osaka before she moves to CA to get married!
So after dinner with Kazue I finally made it to Kobe and stayed at a local church with the team of Americans I would be working with. The next day we woke up, met our campers at a nearby station, and drove into the Inaka (countryside) for camp!!
We stayed at this Rugby sports facility about an hour inland from Kobe city. My dad's friend Martin, organizes this basketball camp every year and that is how I heard about it. It combines the four things I love most JESUS + JAPAN + KIDS + BASKETBALL. So perfect
We partnered with a local pastor and his wife and they sent out the info for the camp to the public. In Japan, from a very young age, kids are highly involved in their school clubs so it is hard to find kids with a few free days to spend at a basketball church camp...so this year 7 junior high boys came! Everyone wished there were more kids, but we all understood its the cultural circumstance and were stoked to have 7 boys to hang out with!
On the first day, we played bball from 1-5pm!! The boys were excited to get on the court and if the sweat on their shirt is any evidence, they definitely played hard!
We were all tired that first night...so it felt nice to come into the cafeteria for a nice big meal. Like I said, this is a Rugby sports facility so the chef really cooks some hefty food. We had teriyaki chicken, sausage, cabbage, rice, and soup the first night.
We wrapped up the evening playing camp games (ninja is always a huge hit with kids, especially boys), a time of worship, and a message from Pastor Taniguchi.
Day 2! Wake up call was at 7am, for breakfast at 7:30, and I made sure to get up earlier to take in as much nature as possible. I found a nice spot out on the patio...and it reminded me so much of my time working at Forest Home back in college. There is something magical about that early morning sun on a summer day, with a full days adventure ahead of you, the peaceful moment staring at Gods creation, far from the hustle and bustle of the big city...ahhhh the best.
Day 2 was a crazy basketball day. We played from 9:00-11:50am, had a lunch break, and then played from 1:00-5:00pm!! That is a lot of basketball even for me! We made sure to split things up between fundamental drills, plenty of water breaks, groups games, scrimmages, and the best part - Bible time! There were 5 of us coaches who each shared a devotional throughout the camp. We then split up into small groups to talk to the kids about what they learned.
the gym was SO HOT. I want to guess it was 90 with 110 percent humidity haha. I was sweating just standing there...literally dripping sweat. The good thing is, at Japanese convenience stores they sell frozen drinks so this frozen aquarius (sports drink) tasted like HEAVEN.
For lunch we all ate Hambagu (hamburger patty) with mushroom soup and rice. It was funny being with 7 junior high boys because they ate everything extremely fast. I think one kid ate his entire hambagu in 1 minute.
It was fun sitting family style at camp and I loved praying with the kids before every meal.
Phew! day 2 of basketball ended and everyone was exhausted...but in a good way. After finishing at 5, there is designated "bath" time where everyone washes up in the public bath. Yep, that Japanese life! I wish you all could experience public bathing here in Japan..it is so funny to me how it is so normal for them here but the weirdest thing for foreigners! Lucky for me, there were only 2 other ladies at camp with me so we took turns and went separately. *I don't mind using public baths if I am with strangers, but if I am with people I know, it's weird!
Night session on day 2 consisted of a lot of fun games outside in the dark...an awesome message by Pastor Taniguchi..a few worship songs in English and Japanese...and to top it all off we ate SMORES! Now, smores are not common here in Japan so for most of the students it was their first time eating them. As Americans we grew up with them, but can you imagine being a junior high boy and eating one for the first time?? They freaked out. They all ate at least 4 and some of them we had to tell to stop or else they would be feeling pretty sick!
Day 3 of camp. We all woke up to the classic Japanese breakfast of Miso soup, rice, a few veggies, and fish. (I passed on the fish obvi) but the miso soup was sooooo goooooood.
I've been lovin this song off Hillsongs new album.. "And we owe it all to Jesus/ sin and all its shame deleted/ death and all its chains defeated/ and the light we see is Jesus/ and the air we breathe is freedom" AMEN!!
Last day of camp...we played a full four quarter game all morning and had the best time.
After our game, we closed things off with a short speech about each of the kids and gave them a gift bag of a framed photos of us, a manga Bible (so cool!) and a bunch of other stuff along with one of the camp balls to keep. One kid even ran upstairs after to immediately start reading the manga Bible because he was so curious. Praise God!
Group photo. back row of coaches: Jen, Martin's daughter from Maryland...Russel from SD...Dennis from SF...and JJ from soCal. Front row is all the kids!
After our last basketball session we headed into the cafeteria for...drumroll...CURRY!!! Curry is everyones' favorite comfort food, right? (side note: can you imagine how many basketball jokes could happen if Japanese people became fans of Steph Curry??) The boys dug right in...and we let them serve themselves which might have been a mistake because some of them put SO MUCH curry on their plates. But they ate it all! Every last drop of curry and rice was consumed. It was crazy.
We were so far out in the inaka (countryside) that our gym was the true definition of a "jungle gym" with so much greenery surrounding it. My eyes were in heaven because we don't really get this type of greenery near Tokyo so it was a treat.
On Friday we drove the boys back to the nearest station and sent them on their way. They all were traveling back towards Osaka and it was amazing seeing them just confidently take public transportation like it was no big deal!
It was so refreshing for the soul to be out in nature, and it was even more refreshing to the soul to be reading God's word and sharing His love with these Japanese kids. I was so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a camp like this, praising Jesus and playing sports. It was the best way to spend a few days and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!"
2 Corinthians 5:17