What I Like About Living Here (In Photos)

August 26, 2017

I’ll start with a quick confession. Most of the blogs I post are actually self-serving. I try to learn to laugh at myself for the mistakes I make, or I try to force myself to process something I feel like God is trying to tell me. And I love to write. All that to say, this post, in its own way, is no different.

Culture shock, loneliness, exhaustion, homesickness affect 99% of people who live in another country for a long time. (Disclaimer: I have no basis for that “statistic”, but I am sure it’s somewhere around there. It’s a lot of people.) There are, however, studies I have read that warn you this tends to happen between 6-18 months of living outside your home country. The things you do in your normal routine are still hard, but you are very tired of the “adventure” of everyday life. In this hard season, sometimes it’s good to remember the things you love about your new home. And that is what I hope to do.

I am writing this intro to help avoid the “my life is wonderful, just look at these photos” vibe that might come from a post like this. And to be actually honest with myself and those of you who read this.

To start, the nature views. You often have to journey a bit outside of Tokyo to get them, but they are incredible.

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Now for the more typical Tokyo beauty – the amazing city itself. Busy streets, huge buildings, a nearly overwhelming level of lights and sounds.

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On a related note, the wall art. There is your regular graffiti here and there but I love the little joys of stumbling across something beautiful.

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FOOD. Often BOTH well-presented and delicious, wherever you go.

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Relatedly, the cafes. We are coffee junkies and since we are also currently students, it is a special and awesome treat to go to one of these beautiful places to do some Japanese homework.

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The festivals. Some we go to on purpose, but the majority of them we have stumbled across on our way to the park or the store. I love all the colors, food, music, dancing, and joy that surrounds these events.

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The parks. Because I am the mother of a toddler who is mostly only happy outside – we have seen a lot of parks here. They have not disappointed.

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Lastly, a special ode to my automatic bicycle. Jeff gave me the money he had been saving for a bike for himself and I bought this wonderful piece of equipment. Emerie does not love trains but we both love to explore and this thing has gotten us to many of the fun, exciting, and beautiful places I photographed. Not to mention the smile on my face as I bike down big streets and through little neighborhoods, soaking it all in.

P.S. You will notice I have not included in this post the thing I most love about this place – which is the people I have met. Two reasons: 1) I don’t necessarily have pictures of everyone and I don’t want to leave anyone out. 2) A larger majority of people here than in the States are concerned about their face being online. Probably smart.

On Being Illiterate…Temporarily

June 29, 2017

Being illiterate where you live is a disorienting experience. It is at the same time frustrating and interesting, hilarious and infuriating. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of English when you visit Tokyo. A deceptive amount of English, in fact, considering that once I moved here I found that essential places like my grocery store, Emerie’s day care, our neighborhood playground, and post office don’t really have any English at all. Nor do many of my neighbors or friends who I meet at the park or church speak much English either.

In light of this, and with the helpful insight of people who came before us to this crazy city, we are dedicating the first 2 years of our ministry to language school. 10 hours (average)/day, (about) 45+ weeks/year – consumed with learning to listen, speak, read, and write in Japanese.

So I thought I would share with y’all a few of the interesting, frustrating, infuriating, and hilarious things about learning Japanese. As that is almost 100% of what I am doing these days anyway, and incidentally the reason this is the first post in a very long while…sorry.

Assessing where I stand

One of the first things you will hear when people talk about learning Japanese is the word “honorifics”. This is a boring grammatical word for one of the most interesting and complicated aspects of the Japanese language. In a conversation with someone I have to figure out where they are in the social hierarchy – how old they are in relation to me, how well I know them, what position in the company/group they have, etc. – all in order to determine how to talk to them. This goes far beyond the “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” this little Southern girl is used to. The way I bow, the subject matter I discuss, the sentence structure I use, even the actual vocabulary may change depending on who is talking.

The best example and the first one we learned in class are the words for giving and receiving. Let me try to get this right.

  1. “Equal” (in the social hierarchy and familiarity to you) gives to equal: agemas (あげます)
  2. Lower gives to higher: sashiagemas (さしあげます)
  3. Higher gives to lower (children/animals): yarimas (やります)
  4. Higher gives to me (or my family): kudasiamas (くださいます)
  5. Equal receives from equal: moraimas (もらいます)
  6. Lower receives from higher: itadakimas (いただきます)

Like I said, it gets confusing. I have to think for about 20 seconds every time they ask me in class. In real life I tend to fumble around and hope my “American-ness” gets me by with getting it wrong most of the time.

This whole concept causes some interesting situations for me. Like with Emerie’s day care teacher (an older lady whose position as a teacher “sensei”(せんせい) to Emerie means I should address her as higher than me, but who addresses me as lower.) This most often means doing something that feels like conjugating verbs every time I respond to her. Which sounds not super hard in theory, but I did not realize how much my speech, especially in a foreign language, was built on more or less repeating as much as possible when responding. Sort of like all my elementary school teachers taught me – restate the question. Well, that is mostly unhelpful to me now as I have to change about 1/2 of the words she says to the more “polite” form when responding. It would be like someone talking to you in past tense and having to switch to present progressive on the spot. Sort of. My response to this is to more or less “ganbate” (がんばて、try my best) and make tons of mistakes as impolitely address her as my friend. All the time. Oh well. She remains very sweet to me despite my many shortcomings (see the previous post).


Now, this is something I didn’t think to expect. Yet again, these things I thought were universal – that dogs say “woof” for example – is in fact not at all the case. There is not a whole lot more to say about this other than to just do a short (very short) list of What does a ______ say?

Dog: wan-wan
Cat: nyan-nyan
Train: gadan-gadan
Duck: gaa-gaa
Pig: buu-buu

Even things like “lounging around” have “onomatopoeias” – in this case, to “goro-goro” (ゴロゴロ). It is supposed to be (as my teacher acted out in a charades-like episode) the sound of someone rolling around on the floor. Seems accurate.

Language as Cultural Insight

This is something I will write more about later, so I will just give you two of the more interesting examples.

  1. The word for “pretty” and “clean” are the same word.
  2. The word used in situations we would say “good luck” actually means “work hard” or “do your best”.

Reading and Writing – in 3 alphabets
…if you can call kanji an alphabet because the characters are only very loosely related to sounds and can be pronounced 3 to infinity different ways depending on the context.

Here is my most recent “essay” (on the first time I went to the pool)

Yes, Japanese has 3 alphabets. 2 are phonetic (one character for every consonant/vowel combo, and one for each solo vowel) and 1 is “pictorial” or character-based. Hiragana is used for verb endings, words that don’t have kanji characters, or words for which the kanji characters are no longer used. Interesting stuff, huh?

Katakana is basically a parallel alphabet to Hiragana, but used mostly for “borrowed” words – words that originated from other languages. These words are usually from English (but not always) and reading katakana often feels like playing mad libs. They are English words…but not really. For example, sakkaa (サッカー)is soccer, and coehii(コーヒー) is coffee.

Here is challenge for you: what does ho-wa-i-to-boe-do mean in English?

And then there is Kanji. These are the thousands of characters used in Japanese written language. It is said that you need to know 2000 of them in order to operate in daily life entirely on your own (read the newspaper, for example). If katakana is like mad libs, then kanji are like riddles. They range from concepts that make sense, like the characters for “self”, “rotate”, & “car” means “bicycle” (自転車) , and “sick” & “place” together mean “hospital” (病院). To concepts that make no sense at all like that “clothes” and “use” together mean “medicinal dosage” (用). To the slightly gender over-stereotypical like the characters “lord” & “person” together mean “husband” (主人) and for wife, “house” & “inside” (家内).

We have about 500 down now, so wish us luck for the rest! (Or just tell us to work harder :)…)

And finally, Japanglish

English (often used in advertising Japanese products) that doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. This subject really deserves it’s own post so I will just tease that for you here with this picture of a store I passed on my way home from writing this:

This is a flower shop…I think…but it’s about 10x more creepy than any flower shop I plan on entering.

I Thought I Knew How to Pack a Diaper Bag

April 6, 2017

Y’all. Here is another episode in the series “Katie doesn’t know what she is doing when it comes to daily life”. Also known as “breaking all rules and somehow still not becoming cool”.

I would have considered myself prior to this point to be an excellent bag-packer. In fact, it’s a running joke in my family that my sister and I are “the bag ladies”. In high school I would leave for swim practice before school (5:30am) with at least 3-4 bags in tow. Food bag, book bag, swim bag, etc. So I’ve had some practice. More recently I had become an excellent diaper-bag packer. This is a forced skill when you are traveling all over the country and the world preparing to be a missionary while toting an infant. I’ve packed for blazing hot days sightseeing in Rome, cold days doing anthropology assignments in Belgium, humid days playing with my family in Memphis, and 14 hour flights traveling to Tokyo.

But Japanese day care is a whole new ball game. Before I go any further, I have heard that kindergarten here is even more involved in this regard and I know I haven’t seen anything yet. But for now, I’ll tell you about what I know. Which is that it is crazy.

In my head, here are the things I would pack for my child. Diapers, food, extra clothes, paci/blanket/lovie for sleeping. That’s about it. And I would still have considered that a lot. Babies require a lot of stuff for their size. For most of her infancy, emerie could fit inside the bag that I carried all her paraphernalia in. Then I get the list for what I am supposed to bring to day care.

– 5 diapers
– pack of wipes
– change of clothes
– lunch food
– snack food
– her own cup
– bib
– a washcloth for lunch time (for hand wiping)
– “outer clothes” for playing outside (didn’t know what that meant – apparently it’s this homemade suit-like thing that goes over your clothes so you don’t get dirty). Here’s a photo –

– a hat for playing outside- shoes and socks

– a towel for her to lay on during nap
– a towel to lay over her during nap
– a towel for her head during nap
– small plastic bags for diapers (because they go back home with you – it’s expensive to throw out trash here)
– a large plastic bag in which to put the small plastic bags of dirty diapers to go back to your home
– a book in which you must write in Japanese:
— a timeline of her activities including sleeping, eating, playing
— what she ate for breakfast and dinner
— her mood
— her temperature and what time you took it
— if she took a bath
— how many diapers you changed
— date and day of the week
— the weather (of all the things this is actually one of the most confusing to me)
— notes about what you did (typically 3-4 sentences…in Japanese…so emerie does a lot of generic “playing” and “eating”. There is a direct correlation between the growing excitement in her life and my growing Japanese vocabulary).

– all in a diaper bag

There are at least 3 things on this list I have forgotten (on purpose or on accident) every day so far. And I have battled feeling inadequate and frustrated and guilty. Then shifting fully over into self-righteous and dispassionate “who cares if you don’t have everything; does it really matter; caring about this stuff is lame.” Then to laughing at myself and the situation as I write this post.

Emerie, though, knows no different and is loving it. In fact, she cried and reached away from me and towards her sweet 65-year-old care taker, Yamamoto-sensei, when I tried to take her home today. She learns so much every day, and I am learning too. I am learning from her as she faces new situations with excitement and joy, seemingly trying to bring a smile to the faces of everyone around her. I am learning about rules and precision and the importance of following standards for people here in Japan. And I am practicing my “mom talk” vocabulary. Surprisingly, the words for poop, diapers, and peek-a-boo haven’t come up in language school yet…



A Toddler’s Tokyo: There’s Wasabi in my Play Kitchen

March 19, 2017

Mom’s been hogging all the blog space since we got here to Tokyo and I am sure it’s all with boring adult stuff, so I thought I would tell you about my life.

One of my favorite things about living here is that everyone LOVES me. Sounds self- centered I know. But I am a toddler so that’s pretty normal I have heard. Most people we pass smile and wave. They also talk to me. One of the first words I learned here was かわいい (kawaii: cute). Actually at first I thought my name had changed in this new place because that was what everyone was calling me. They also said some other things and then mom would smile and nod which seemed to confuse the people taking to me. Later she starting answering them when she figured out they were

asking questions. Here are the 2 main things they say:

“目が青いですねー!” (me ga aoi des ne? : she has blue eyes doesn’t she?)


“なんさいですか?” (nan sai des ka?: how old?)

I get asked these questions on the elevator, in the store, in the train, in the park, everywhere. And I love it.

Do you want to know what my day looks like? It’s pretty exciting so l’ll tell you.

I get up to mom seeming always slightly frantic getting me my breakfast, packing my lunch and extra clothes in a bag, packing her lunch and books, and filling out my book for hoikuen (day care). Then she straps me to her with her bag and mine and we’re off. This part of the day is usually one of my favorites. We get to get on the train with TONS of people. Like people everywhere – so close I can reach out and grab the straps on their bags or touch their arms. Mom doesn’t seem to love when I do that but the people around me usually think it’s hysterical. They all seem pretty sad when I get there but I see it as my personal responsibility to brighten their day. And I am AWESOME at this. [Below is a picture of us in the rain because commutes don’t care about the weather.]

Then I go to my day care with all my friends. The ladies there are so fun and I have lots of friends. It’s strange, though. They use all different words than we use at home. At home when I was finished eating mom would say “all finished” and I would wave my hands jazz-hand style. Here they say ごちそうさま (gochisousama) and I am supposed to hold my hands together like I am clapping without the clapping part. They are pretty serious about it and didn’t let me get up to play until I did it so I picked it up pretty quick. Now we say it at home too. So confusing.

Mom comes and picks me up after her school and she always looks a little tired but gets so pumped when she sees me run to her at the door. My adult friends at day care fill out the same book mommy does with how many times I pooped, what I ate, my temperature, how happy I was, how long I napped, and a bunch of notes about what I played. It seems to be a lot of over share and I would prefer them not talking about the pooping part or how I don’t eat my vegetables but oh well. Mom has to write the same things every night so I guess it’s only fair.

My favorite days, though, are when I get to hang out with my best friend Eimi all day. Guys, she is the jam. I almost never cry when we are hanging out and we do super fun stuff like go shopping and going to the park. She always laughs at my jokes and therefore I think she is awesome. She uses the same words that my friends at day care use so it helps me understand them. [Here is me with Eimi and her friends. She even invited me to Girl’s Night! I mean, it was at my own house, but still.]

I love my new home, but I don’t always like it.

Here are some examples of the things that I find not so very fun. [And below is a picture illustrate my not-so-happy feelings. I don’t list it, but I am not a fan of dressed up people or robots, either. And there seem to be a lot of those here, too.]:

⁃ The first few days of day care. Remember when I talked about those different words? Well they were super frustrating those first few days and I was pretty sad. I think mommy was sad too and we both cried a lot. But now I know all those words AND the ones we use at home so when she drops me off I just smile and wave bye. Oh yeah, they make me wave bye. I can’t just play and ignore the fact that mom is leaving although sometimes she slips out anyways. Not sure how my adult friends feel about that.

⁃ If I have to be on the train in my stroller for a long time. Like on Saturdays and Sundays when we go on outings. I pretty much force mom and dad to feed me endless fun snacks to keep me happy. Good idea, huh? I know, I’m brilliant at this toddler thing.

For now that’s about all I can think of. I recently figured out that walking everywhere is my total fave and I start a new day care in a few weeks, so I’ll check back in later and let know how things are going! [Left: me and mom with a Setsubun Festival gift from Dad’s teacher. Right: eating onigiri – fish wrapped in rice wrapped in seaweed – at my favorite park.]



Emerie from Tokyo (エメリー)

Wall Decor

February 11, 2017
This week I am in the process of framing and hanging these 4 covers on our dining room wall. And not (only) because it is an incredibly inexpensive form of wall art. These magazine covers represent a period of only a few months, but they illustrate a time that God used to dramatically show me more of Himself and his calling on my life.
I blamed Jeff for a while that he just subscribed to the New Yorker to look sophisticated in the midst of our bite-sized news consumption at the time. But as each of these covers arrived on our doorstep, they poignantly reminded me of the events which shaped that period of many people’s lives in America, including my own. A time when I was slammed in the face with the reality that this world is not as it should be, but at the same moment God was working within and through his Church to bring renewal and hope in a dark and hurting place.
It started close to home. Living in St. Louis during the events of Ferguson would forever change me. I watched as a city threatened to be torn apart by racial division, suspicion, hatred, and fear. I drove through impromptu, raucous protests with a racing heart and sweaty palms. But I saw the church stand up. I observed My home church and others fight against this division and fear to push towards unity. The “uncommon family” I was a part of wasn’t closing its arms around its own walls but reaching out into the city and bringing people in to talk about what true unity through the power of the gospel can mean. I walked in marches of my own singing the hymns of ultimate victory we have in Christ. And it changed me.
Then I watched as the nation reeled in response to the series of painful losses that plagued those following months. And as the whole world turned to the city of Paris and mourned with them in the aftermath of terror striking their country. But in these times, I watched God work through his church to bring hope. To bring messages of peace, not just to people who agree with us. To bring the redemptive, life-altering message that none of us deserve what Jesus offers, but yet he freely gives.

The most heart-breaking but most beautifully transformative moments, though, was in the aftermath of the shooting at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, SC. When a group of Christians brought a stranger into their midst and then were killed by the very person they showed kindness. But that wasn’t the strongest point of this series of events, was it? Do you remember? It was the shocking, disrupting, but-for-the-grace-of-God incomprehensible moment when the families of the victims stood up and forgave the killer. All while the nation looked on. Such a beautiful display of forgiveness was possible because they knew of what they had been forgiven. They knew they didn’t deserve the grace and forgiveness they had received from their Heavenly Father, so they could offer grace to the killer in their midst. Truly flooring.After pulling these magazines out of our boxes from home, I have been thinking a lot about how those 6 months or so changed the way I thought and are influencing the way I live my life here in Tokyo. I re-watched the eulogy Former President Obama gave at Rev. Pickney’s memorial service. Earlier this month, I had listened to an interview with the speech writer for this (and many other) speeches the then-President gave. He talked about how important this speech was in his memory of those years and how foreign this idea of unearned grace as the benevolent gift of God was to him. This part of the speech was written entirely by the Former President. Although he shrugged it off in the interview, I can’t help but think of how he and many others were thrown into the face of the truth of the Gospel in a way that was utterly captivating. But what I am thinking about much more now is how these events are challenging they way we desire to church plant in Tokyo. In another part of this speech he talks about the role the African-American church has played in history.

“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — (applause) — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.  They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — (applause) — and taught that they matter.  (Applause.)”

Although I am sad this stopped short of identifying the true impetus behind these actions – that we have been radically and undeservingly loved by our Creator who sent his son to take on our punishment and invites us into a relationship with him that this sacrifice makes possible – it was a beautiful picture of the Church’s role in the community where it’s placed. This is why we reach out into places that are hurting, why we push into division and call for unity, why we stand in the face of violence and forgive. I want these pictures to remind us of how we want to love and serve our new home in Tokyo. To let the amazing truth of the Gospel push us into this city with a passion for its welfare and a love for its people that only God can provide.

On a related note of an entirely different tone – does anyone know how best to frame a magazine? I am woefully bad at home decor.

I Thought I Knew How to Swim

January 19, 2017
I could write a whole series entitled “I Thought I Knew How to (insert daily task here)”, but I will spare you. The stories of how I have broken all the Japanese “rules” are nearly endless. But yesterday I broke several of them, within one hour, doing something I thought I knew very well. I think anyone can relate to this, even if you haven’t moved to another country. When you start a new job, move a new region, or even enter a new stage of life, you can often land in a position where something you thought you were good at (finding the toilet, etc.) suddenly becomes foreign.
So here’s my story from this week.
I grew up as a competitive swimmer. I didn’t swim in college or anything but I worked pretty hard at it in high school, going to practice 3-5 mornings each week before school, 5 afternoons after school, and on Saturdays for most of my high school years. I was also a lifeguard for 1/2 of high school and all of college. So swimming laps is something I thought I knew a thing or two about. Well apparently not. As evidenced by my experience at the local pool this week.
To begin the story, we were enjoying lunch at our place with some sweet neighbors we had met at the park. Topics of conversation were slightly limited since they were speaking to us in English which was their 3rd language, and our Japanese (right now) is awful at best. So we migrated towards local activities. It was in this conversation I caught wind of a local pool, 5 minutes walk from my house, for ¥220 (~$2) per hour. A steal, in my book, since many of the work out centers with pools were upwards of $100/month (not much unlike the States). Needless to say, I was overjoyed about this news.
So 3 days later, I decided to try it out. I was a little nervous, but was so excited to be in the water again that I didn’t care. I walk into building that I think is the right one (we all know where this is going) and wander about for a minute or so before walking up to a window and saying ” すみません” (“sumimasen”, excuse me) to what I discovered was an empty room. A sweet lady passing by and seeing my distress said something to me in Japanese which I hope was “can I help you” because I proceeded to ask her in incredibly broken Japanese where the pool was. Lucky for me, I had learned the word “となり” (“Tonari”, next – as in the next building over) in class that very morning and picked it out of a very long sentence of words I did not understand. So I trek on over to the next building.
I enter into a building with the shiniest floors I have ever seen and a diagram of a pool on a poster. Good sign. I see another poster that says (helpfully in English) “no street shoes”. I take a moment to decide if my shoes are “street shoes” or not, and wanting to err on the side of caution and place them in the helpfully provided plastic bag stacked by the door and make my way downstairs.
Now to get dressed and get in the pool. I am already thinking the whole “shower before you enter” thing that all the American pools suggest but never enforce is pretty important here, so I proudly choose to rinse off before walking on deck. Well, I realized there was no need for that because there were motion-Sensored rinsers poised to greet you on the way out to the pool. A-la decontamination rooms you see in the movies. I guess that answers my rinsing question. 
Whew. All that is over and I can finally do something I know how to do – swim laps. I swim my first 100 meters ( 4 laps) and it feels amazing. I am circle swimming (the opposite direction, ’cause I am so culturally aware), and as I approach the wall at 100 meters I see a small yellow flag waving in my lane. International lifeguard speak for “you are doing something wrong and I need to tell you about it.” I pop up nervously and the lifeguard asks, “Nihongo”? (Japanese?). I ashamedly say “eego Kudasai” (English please). He says oh and in bits and pieces of English, Japanese, and exaggerated hand motions, he lets me know that I am circle swimming incorrectly. Apparently I am supposed to be swimming down one lane, crossing under the lane line and swimming back the other way. What we used to call “snake-swimming” in my swim team days (if I remembering that right). Even though this makes absolutely no sense to me – in Japan, a rule is a rule so I follow along….Only to get stopped about 300 meters later by a lifeguard with a tiny megaphone at the end of my lane. I am still not entirely sure what he said but I am assuming based on his rotating arm motions that I am not supposed to be doing flip turns. I am not entirely sure why or if that is even what he said but I continued on with open turns after that.
Circle swimming:
“Snake swim”:
All the way until (about 15 minutes later) I heard the whistle blow from the lifeguard stand and having been in the profession for 6 years (and being around a pool for most of my childhood) I know this means get yo’self out of the pool. The crowd exits for the guards to – scan the bottom? Take a break? Eat some snacks? – I have no idea, it’s just the rules. I will embarrassingly tell you that this is when I left. And not because I was embarrassed about the mistakes I had made, but because I am simply THAT out of swimming shape. If any of my fellow former swimmers are reading this, please don’t judge :/.
I am greeted by a few incredibly kind senior citizens on my way out, asking in surprisingly good English where I am from. And I start my quest to find where I should pay for my hour session. Oh yeah, I haven’t paid yet. In hindsight I should have known that you pay beforehand (that seems to be pretty universal), but I hadn’t seen anywhere to do so on my way in. Thankfully there was a kind man with great English who struck up a conversation with me so I asked him. He chuckled and said, “Oh yeah, I heard my friend (I am assuming one of the lifeguards who waved me down) telling you that you needed to pay.” Well now I am more than embarrassed. He directs me to a…wait for it…vending machine where I pay my fee and get my ticket to turn in to the pool manager. I will take a brief sidebar here to say that if you don’t know already, Japan’s vending machine game is strong. You can buy everything from cold drinks to hot coffee (with your chosen amount of sugar and milk), place your ramen order, purchase a beer, and do a variety of other things, apparently including paying for your access to the local pool.
I pay my fee (after a few failed attempts) and utter “ごめんなさい” (” gommenasai”, I’m so sorry) about 1000x as I leave. But hey, I found a pool, swam some laps (if I swam 1000m I would be surprised :/), and got to meet some very friendly neighbors. All in all, a great afternoon.