Robert & Roberta Adair



Stories from Robert & Roberta Adair

white cherry blossoms in front of a blue sky

Reflecting on ten years of life and ministry in Japan

Few things remind me of how much I’ve changed in the 10+ years living in Japan than sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms). I remember first-term Roberta rolling her eyes a little at the way people gushed about sakura - like they were really special or something. I remember thinking grumpily, “They are overrated and impotent. Why didn’t they plant something that actually produces fruit rather than all of this flowery nonsense?” I remember on a really rough culture stress day shaking my fist at a tree and bellowing, “You couldn’t even produce a peach, you impotent tree!” (She’s beauty and she’s grace, she’s Miss United States.)

Fast forward to now, and I’m regularly organizing mini-excursions to see sakura with friends. They bloom for such a short time, and I anticipate these adventures, plan my days and meals around them, and delight in them. I have come to love the emphasis on beauty for beauty’s sake rather than for production and usefulness. I gush over the different varieties, the different shades of white and pink, the different shapes of blossoms and petal formation, and the different experiences viewing them when they are budding, in full bloom, and falling ("like snow!"). I love seeing gnarly, ugly trunks spouting these delicate, fragile flowers - the contrast between rugged stability with momentary beauty gets me.

I have come to love the emphasis on beauty for beauty’s sake rather than for production and usefulness.


girl sitting in a cherry blossom tree


sakura 1


sakura 6


Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought of other ways I’ve changed - whether my perspective has shifted to “it’s not wrong; it’s different” the whole way to “it’s not wrong; it’s very, very good!” This is a very incomplete list and growing list. In no particular order: 

  1. I used to think that trees in Japan were “pruned within an inch of their very lives! Let them be freeeee!” Now, I often find myself thinking, “Wow, there isn’t a lot of space here, and it’s amazing that Japanese people have found ways to add green anyway.” The art form of making trees fit a space impresses me (and reminds me of Dr. Seuss illustrations). Bonsai trees - carefully trimmed and controlled over decades - can grow in a yard that’s not quite a yard, and I have a deepening respect for people committed to this long-form, natural art. I also still love big, wild trees and still pretty much stick to planting annuals in our modest planters. (I haven’t changed that much ;)

  2. I used to miss being able to find any and all out-of-season produce. In my first several years, if I wanted to make apple crisp but couldn’t find apples or wanted to put a few strawberries on a cake but couldn’t find strawberries, I’d get grumpy. But now - most days - I love it: mikan (mandarin oranges) in the winter followed by strawberries in the spring followed by peaches and grapes in the summer followed by nashi (Japanese pears) and apples in the early fall then persimmon just as winter approaches. This predictable pattern means that produce tastes amazing and it also helps mark time. I’m thankful for the push here to eat more seasonally (and locally), and I assume we’re healthier, eating better tasting food, and leaving a slightly smaller environmental imprint because of it. Again, this one felt “imposed” on me rather than something I purposefully pursued, but I’m grateful. (We also eat a lot of frozen broccoli and other stuff from Costco.)


    Produce 2

  3. I used to roll my eyes at parasols. When I first came and saw so many people carrying umbrellas in the summer, I’d think, “The sun isn’t your enemy!” and made all sorts of judgmental assumptions about peoples’ vanity. Now I realize that it’s more humid here. Sunscreen is both uncomfortable and sweats right off, so hats and parasols make a lot of sense. They are effective against the heat (not just sun rays), and I’m also impressed by people proactively taking care of their skin.

  4. I used to think the rain and haze was a drag. I heard myself complain about the wet and compare Japanese skies to Pennsylvanian skies All The Time (now I just do this Quite Often). I am in the process of accepting that we live in a different climate - that this isn’t Pennsylvania so stop comparing it to Pennsylvania already. I’ve also come to appreciate beauty in fog and clouds. It was pointed out to me years ago that Japanese art is rarely bright and blue-skied but is instead cloudy, misty, and nuanced. Mystery is beautiful, and Japan has helped me see this.

    Mystery is beautiful, and Japan has helped me see this.

    Fog 2

    Fog 1

  5. I used to think my way was (shhhh) better. One example of many is that I’d feel disoriented (and defensive) when I’d drop someone off at their home and they wouldn’t go inside but would wait until I drove off. In the US, the driver makes sure the person dropped off gets inside safely whereas in Japan, the person dropped off makes sure the driver leaves well. This one is small, but it felt uncomfortable to me for years - and what was uncomfortable to me often got interpreted as wrong. Yet now it’s not only in the “not wrong; just different” category, but I see it as quite lovely. I love getting our boys involved in waving people away when they leave our house after dinners or after they're dropped off after playdates.

I’m not posting these to say I’ve arrived. Nope, I still occasionally struggle, compare, and complain - yet I hope I’m also growing, learning, and changing. Being past the 10-year mark, I want to remember that I used to think one way and now I think differently. Hopefully I can be patient and kind when I hear others having similar reactions and attitudes as I did. And if I see some frizzy foreigner shaking her fist at trees, I hope I will take her on a whimsical picnic and let her bellow about peaches in peace, imagining her going from accepting to valuing to celebrating the differences.


sakura 1


sakura 2

This post for go2japan has been shortened from the original. To see Roberta's full post (and read about her stealth weed whacking aspirations), please visit the Adair Update post here.

Roberta Adair

Bethany Panian HoRoberta grew up in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University. She served for three years in Kosovo with The Christian & Missionary Alliance. After completing her term she enrolled in Wheaton College. Robert, raised in Texas, is a graduate of Texas A&M University. From 2005-2009 he served in southern Japan with A3. Like Roberta, he returned and studied missions at Wheaton College in 2009, which is where their paths converged. After meeting, dating and getting married, they discerned that God was leading them back to Japan. They are currently in Japan through a strategic partnership between A3 and SIM, reaching Japanese people and strengthening the Japanese church.

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