Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations

Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations

Tombstone of Makoto Okamura, courtesy of NHK Documentaries

Makoto Okamura was born in Japan and was educated as a  traffic and urban planning engineer. His career goal was to serve developing nations to improve their infrastructure. His work took him to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A Life Cut Short

On July 1, 2016, five ISIS terrorists stormed a popular bakery and killed twenty-two people, seven were Japanese nationals, including Makoto Okamura. He was 32-years old and engaged to be married. 

Makoto Okamura, courtesy of NHK Documentaries

Grieving Parents Speak Out

Makoto’s parents want his story to be told again and again. On the one-year anniversary of the Dhaka terror attack, they spoke about their son to NHK Documentaries.They were the only family that accepted the invitation for an interview. Here’s the link to the NHK documentary.

 

 

Their Greatest Fear Was Assuaged

Makoto Okamura, courtesy of his Facebook page

Though nothing will ever completely erase the Okamuras’ pain, they found a small bit of comfort, thanks to the crew from NHK Documentaries. You see, until the NHK crew came to their home, the Okamuras believed their son was tortured before he was killed. Their greatest fear was that Makoto faced his death alone. That wasn’t so. During the making of the documentary, NHK heard of a man that helped one of the victims. They tracked him down and interviewed him. When they showed the young man pictures of the victims, he identified Makoto as the man he was with during the attack.

A Guilty Heart

The man that was with Makoto is a Bangladesh citizen. At the time of the attack, he worked at the bakery. That night, he heard the gunfire and hid inside the walk-in fridge. As he closed the door, a hand reached out to him. A voice asked for help. That was Makoto. The two hid together in the fridge for hours in hopes they would survive. At times they did squats to keep from freezing. Other times they held hands for comfort. Hours later, ISIS terrorists forced the door open and ordered both men to lie on the ground. ISIS killed Makoto, but spared the Bangladeshi when he was able to recite a verse of the Quran.

Makoto still haunts his thoughts.

He wishes there was some way he could have saved Makoto. He lives with great guilt.

But, Makoto’s parents are grateful he was there, and that Makoto didn’t die alone. It is a small thing that is everything.

The Tombstone

Seven stars for the Japanese victims and a paper crane for world peace

When the Okamuras had Makoto’s tombstone carved, they asked that it include a paper crane to symbolize world peace. Seven stars hover above the crane and stand for Makoto and the other six Japanese that were killed that July evening.

 

 

The conji read, “death by terrorists” and have stirred controversy in Japan

They had words carved into the stone that have caused some controversy. They say, “death by terrorist.” The Okamuras felt those words were important. They want people to remember their son and why his life ended. This was a big deal because such proclamations are frowned upon in Japanese culture. You don’t dwell on the negative. You avoid speaking about unpleasant things. That’s why writing “death by terrorist” on a tombstone has stirred such polarizing feelings in the country.

 

____________

One final note:

The police shot and killed the five ISIS terrorists. When authorities attempted to return their remains to their families, they refused to claim ownership because they had brought shame to them and their religion. The terrorists were buried in a potter’s field without markers.

 

In-depth article that focuses on victims:

http://www.thedailystar.net/dhaka-attack/who-were-the-victim-dhaka-café-tragedy-1249711

New York Times story on the attack and victims:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/04/world/asia/dhaka-victims-were-a-diverse-group-of-global-citizens.html?mcubz=1

Japan Families Fly to Bangladesh in Shock:

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bangladesh-attack-japan/japan-victims-families-head-to-bangladesh-in-shock-after-attacks-idUSKCN0ZJ0GS

 

Tombstone Stories Debuts Tomorrow

Tombstone Stories Debuts Tomorrow

Tombstone in Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle, Washington

Those that know me best, know how much I love cemeteries. The graves hold the remains of people that lived, struggled, met some challenges and failed at others. It is the story of us. The tombstones themselves not only bare names, but hold history, culture, politics, tragedy, and love on their carved faces. 

Tomorrow my new blog begins. I will share a tombstone with you, and more important than that, I will tell you the story of the person buried there. Tomorrow I begin to show you how the dead still live, still teach and still force us to confront complicated issues.

Nothing is black and white. Maybe that’s why most tombstones are gray.

<3  Jennifer

 

Tombstone in Boulder, Colorado
Welcome to Tombstone Stories

Welcome to Tombstone Stories

Steeped in history and symbology, cemeteries make for an amazing place to visit. As I researched my first novel, I walked upwards of thirty cemeteries across the west coast of the United States. I learned about burial customs, religious rites, epidemics and cultural difference, all from walking through headstones. 

Each grave holds a person, and that person had a story. I plan to use this blog be a voice for the dead. I will snap a picture of a grave, research the person buried beneath and share their story with you here. I hope you enjoy the journey we’re about to go on together, and it inspires you to visit your local cemetery.

 

Take a Compliment!

Take a Compliment!

 

Does receiving a compliment make you squirm or cringe? Yeah, me too. And I’m sure the rest of the world agrees with us. 

But, what if we said a simple, “thanks” and then stowed those kind observations away to examine later when we were alone?

Can you remember a recent compliment someone gave you? Maybe it was that you were funny, that you showed initiative, that you hit a homer with that work project, that you looked sharp, whatever comes to mind. Now, take those words and imagine they are a marble. Weird, right?

Now find a quiet place where you are safe and alone. Pull out one of those word marbles and examine it. Hold it in your mind and try to find the grain of truth in it. And now, here’s the really tough part, sit with that truth until it doesn’t feel ill-fitting. Then, tomorrow or next week or next month when your confidence feels low, take out that marble and remind yourself of your strengths. 

Sounds strange, right? Let’s practice together.

If marbles aren’t your thing, try a gumboil approach!

The compliment: “You gave an amazing presentation.” 

The reaction: Squirm, cringe, blush, and a mumbled, “Oh, it went on too long…thanks, though.”

The marble: I gave an amazing presentation (which I know is the truth because that person has no incentive to lie to me AND I spent ten plus hours making that presentation…well…great!)

The quiet analysis: I worked hard and it showed. My hard work was acknowledged by someone I respect.

See? Not so painful. In fact, next time you start the prep for another challenge, that marble may give you the confidence to start strong.

#TuesdayTruth – Be real with your kids.

#TuesdayTruth – Be real with your kids.

The best antidote to the distance you feel from your tween or teen is truth. Lie and that distance will grow exponentially. 

Straight outta the 70s – a photo of me as a kid that’s filtered

My youngest daughter is thirteen. Last night she told me some stuff. I guess I should put “stuff” in capital letters. When she was through talking, she said something I will never forget. And I thought I better pass it along to as many people as possible.

Her exact words were, “Mom, you’ve always been authentic with me and that’s why I can tell you anything.”

Yes. I’ve told both of my daughters the truth. Sometimes they’ve asked about it. And sometimes it’s just felt right to share. They know about my uglies and mistakes and personal bloopers. And no. I’m not going to share my stuff with you. 🙂

I was raised to be real. Thanks to my father, Gary, one of my biggest role models,  I am rarely filtered. And when I became a parent, I watched other parents with admiration and scrutiny. Park visits, malls, school events, and friendships – like NSA – I was always watching. And what I noticed is that many parents weren’t real with their kids. Their children asked them questions and parents didn’t answer honestly. I was struck with how destructive that could be to their relationships. That’s when I set my intention to be real. If my kids asked, I’d be open and upfront. 

My unfiltered self has been well-catalogued on my thirteen-year-old’s social media threads. And her friends think I’m goofy and crazy. And yet, her friends hug me when I see them at school. They sit in the backseat of my car as I’m driving them places and speed-gossip loud enough for me to hear. 

Recently, kids at my daughter’s school have struggled with depression and they’ve talked about it in earshot. And I’ve found myself sharing some of my stuff with them, too.

Those are important conversations. These are important people. And they deserve to see the people they love and respect in bright, glaring lights – not as perfect adults that were perfect, law-abiding, parent-obeying, abstaining teens. 

And I’ll leave it at that.

As always, I love you and hope you have a kick ass week.     – Jennifer

 

 

#WednesdayWellness – Zentangle!

#WednesdayWellness – Zentangle!

Happy #WednesdayWellness!

A first effort by Jennifer Hotes titled, “My skin is the color of love”

Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to a meditative art, Zentangle, and an amazing woman that teaches it, Kellie Fellinge, founder of SoundTangle.

Kellie, tell us about Zentangle and how you became interested:

I received a book about Zentangle for Christmas– and by the first week of January, I was signed up to take the certification class to teach it!  I had no idea what I was getting myself into – I just knew that I had found the thing I had been looking for to spark my creativity and I had a strong desire to share it with others.   

People are drawn to Zentangle by the beautiful images they see, but Zentangle is really more than that.

Zentangle:

  • Teaches us to be present and focused
  • Works out our attention muscles (the ones social media and real life tend to atrophy)
  • Allows us to practice quieting the mind
  • Permits everyone to be creative
  • Ignites our work or creative pursuits 

By using pencil, pen and paper (simple tools) – many students tell me it is easier for them to quiet their minds and get that much needed break than if they try to do something like meditate.

Sitting still does not come easy for a lot of people and I like that Zentangle can bridge a gap.

An original Zentangle by Kellie Fellinge

Another bonus? Zentangle is a process that has no expectation – your lines can be crooked or shaky, and you still reap the benefits of practicing – and the result will be beautiful.  Entangle uses patterns in easily repeatable steps – and the basic strokes you already know are put together in amazing ways. If you look at this example, there are basically 200+ straight lines, in three different patterns. If you can draw that straight line, you already have a great start to being able to use Zentangle as part of your creative practice.

What are the benefits for kids? 

Jennifer’s wild kid on a long ago day at Costco

Once I taught a really energetic group of elementary students, coming in from recess full of wiggles on a sunny day – and within a few minutes they were all immersed in their practice, not a peep. It was pretty amazing.  And on the other end of the spectrum a lot of my students are adults who probably feel more like their brains are wiggly from too much energy, too much going on, or being over worked, stressed and scheduled – the calm and quiet that I could physically see in that room full of students is how many people describe what happens inside their minds when they sit down to practice Zentangle.

What I like about Zentangle is that everything is broken down into simple, easy to follow repeatable steps that are really easy to relax into.

 

Your classes are amazing, Kellie. I’ve been blessed to participate in a few. But my readers span the globe. How else can they learn from you?

Luckily – there are Zentangle teachers all over the world who feel the same way I do about helping spark people’s creativity.  You can find a list here: https://www.zentangle.com/teachers.php .  I know from my personal experience that while learning the mechanics from online sources and books was fun, I really didn’t understand how to apply all the benefits until I took a class and learned how to incorporate the focus and relaxation into my work.

I tend to hold more group classes centered around a workplace or school, but I also really love sharing reflections on my blog  which tries to focus on the quiet side, unseen benefits of the practice – exploring all these elements that aren’t quite as easy to post as the completed art work – to help inspire people to really focus on the process, on finding that quiet in their day.  This has also led me down the unexpected path of hosting a podcast on similar topics with my fellow Zentangle teacher Juliette Fiessinger from ArtsAmuse.

 

Tell me about your podcast series! 

On our podcast TanglePod, we dive into things that inspire us. Juliette and I have found over the past few years that sharing insights on ideas like trust, focus and appreciating ourselves provided us with the incentive to keep working on our creative practice.  These kinds of things don’t usually come up in daily conversations – and we were looking for a way to continue to teach and share with a broader audience than we can with our current class schedules.  The steps and philosophies of Zentangle can be applied in many different aspects of life and we explore this as well as a lot of other topics related to creativity. Our podcast is more like having coffee with a friend than it is taking a class – and our goal is to inspire people to think about creative areas of their lives, and encourage them to reap the benefits that creativity offers.

Our podcast is more like having coffee with a friend than it is taking a class

 

What’s next for SoundTangle?

I never would have guessed that I would be here now:

  • Learning to be comfortable speaking in front of a class
  • Learning how to create and produce a podcast
  • Learning from my students each time I teach. 

We are still in the throes of launching the podcast and learning the best way to help make that financially sustain us. Looking to the future – there is more to learn, more to share and I can’t wait to see where it leads. Find them on Facebook here!

 

A final note from Jennifer:

Readers!  I rely on Zentangle when my writing brain is rusty or the ideas simply won’t flow. I spend fifteen-minutes with Zentangle and afterwards, I have focus and inspiration. Give Zentangle a try and let me know how it helps with your daily pursuits.

#FridayFood – Tokyo Station

#FridayFood – Tokyo Station

The weekend’s here. Time to think about food. And I woke up thinking about the best food I had this year. Ramen Row in Tokyo Station dazzled my whole family. Proof two teens and two middle-agers can still agree on something.

Logo for a Japanese delivery company – I want to ship myself via mama cat! How about you?

Ramen Row is tucked away inside Tokyo Station. Twenty or so tiny restaurants serve a variety of (yep, you guessed it) ramen! We looked at menus and peeked over the shoulders of diners before we settled on a ramen house in a far corner. We slipped our coins into a machine and pushed a button with the picture of the meal we wanted, and wallah! The machine spit out a ticket. We waited for a minute or two in the queue and a helpful person took our ticket, shepherded us to a table and poured us warm tea.

A few minutes later our ramen came. I chose ramen with chicken katsu, which was fantastic.

Choices, choices, and more choices!

We were so charmed by the concept, our family dreamed of setting up a ticket machine ramen house in Seattle. But, until we make that happen, we’ll have to take another trip to Japan to enjoy our favorite food of 2016.

Happy weekend to you and yours!

 

#MondayMotivation – Look Back to See Forward

#MondayMotivation – Look Back to See Forward

Monday Meh

Glowing fake cheesecake in Harujuku district

I was feeling blah this morning. Monday. Seattle was cloudy and cool. My kid had school even though most of her friends were out spring breaking.

And then I began to blog. I searched through old photos to find inspiration and found photos of our trip to Japan last summer. Wow. What a difference that made to my spirit. It was the best trip our family ever had. The country. The people. The food. The culture. And oh, God! The trains.

Tokyo Museum – me carrying water and failing

So if you’re feeling blah, take a few minutes to scroll through the photos on your smartphone. Find a favorite and make it your new home screen. I swear, it will turn around your mood! Love you.

Chopstick choices! (I picked the red ones)
#MondayMotivation – Love Yourself

#MondayMotivation – Love Yourself

“Love Yourself”

Orchid by Jennifer Hotes

It’s not only a Justin Bieber song title, it’s good advice. No matter how fierce the pressures of job and family and service, steal a few minutes a day for yourself. A better you is better for everyone around you.

Ten Minute Re-Boots

  • Yoga stretches
  • Quick pencil sketch on a napkin
  • Text a compliment to someone
  • Pray or meditate
  • Watch a silly cat video
  • Enjoy a cup of tea
  • Stand outside and breathe deeply

As always, sending you my love. I hope you have a lovely week.

 

 

Two Miles at a Time

Two Miles at a Time

On your mark! Get set! Go!

Running. It works wonders for me. Why? Running two miles a day is free and gives me so much:

  • A good night’s sleep
  • Alleviates my depression and anxiety
  • Burns calories (so I don’t have to fuss over treats)
  • Boosts my mood
  • Helps me concentrate at work
  • Lowers my blood pressure

It’s magic. But, only a few years ago I couldn’t take a step without burning pain in my feet and knees. I didn’t know then, but I had a bone infection due to a poorly done root canal. Yikes. Under stress to finish my first book and unable to exercise in any way, I gained weight. Lots and lots. Too much for my little frame. I suffered:

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Poor sleep
  • Stomach problems
  • Lack of concentration

A new dentist discovered my infection and after two rounds of antibiotics, my bones healed. Technically, I was able to run again, but I couldn’t even manage to walk at a steady pace for more than a few minutes. Each day, grateful to have pain-free feet, I pushed a tiny bit more. I walked a little longer, a tad faster, until I was finally able to jog. And then, after a few months, I ran.

And I’ve never looked back.

I don’t think my genetics (Black Sea Germans) were meant to be marathoners, but I enjoy 2.5 miles, sometimes three. At nearly fifty, I stretch before and after my runs to prevent shin splints. And I write my miles on a calendar, a calendar that tracks my monthly goal. My goal for the month varies. Sometimes I aim to move everyday – walk or run or lift weights. Other months, I set a mileage goal.

Experts agree that exercise has fantastic benefits.

Teens that run 30 minutes a week for three weeks in a row saw a reduction in anxiety and depression and better sleep patterns.

This comes from a study found in Runner’s World. For us older people, the effect is similar. We simply need to exercise more days of the week.

Another study showed that running cut the risk of having cancer in half!

And running increases hearing! Yep. Both facts come from this article in the Telegraph.

So, if you’re willing to feel the burn in your lungs for the first couple attempts, I want to encourage you to get out there and move! 🙂 And then share your experience with us here!

Happy running!