Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Please look out for us this year as well.

Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu

The Pumpkin Daddy is big on holidays and traditions. One of his traditions that I don't like is that we must houseclean at the end of the year. It's a tradition like spring/ fall housecleaning, only it's done at the busiest and coldest time of year, and it just doesn't make sense to me, but it doesn't seem quite right for me to be checking blogs working on the computer while he scrubs dust and mold, so I usually help him or clean somewhere else. Today, I scrubbed the kitchen fan grates and the counters. Since I don't do much frying at home, the grease and dust coating the grates weren't too bad. I managed to get the worst of the mess off, and decided that it didn't have to be absolutely perfect. The kitchen counters look whiter than they've looked in ages. I'm glad I went through with it. The Pumpkin Daddy did a few windows with the Pumpkin Princess, and cleaned the ventilation fans in the 1st floor toilet and the bathroom (note to my American friends: it's a Japanese house, so the toilet and the bathtub are in different rooms).

Another one of his traditions that I don't like is his insistence that New Year's Day must be spent well saturated in alcohol. He's bought a special bottle of sake (rice wine) for the occasion (he hardly ever drinks sake the rest of the year) in addition to his usual beer, and expects certain munchies hors d'ouvres to be prepared by yours truly. I guess if you spent $50+ on a bottle of alcohol, you'd want good food to go with it. If it were just the alcohol, I would grit my teeth and pretend I were a single parent for just one day, but I have to fix food. He doesn't ask much of me the rest of the year, so I guess I will humor him one day out of 356.

Well, the date has changed here. Since I don't think any of you are traditional Japanese, Happy New Year (I am not supposed to say that to you if you are Japanese, because we're in mourning since my grandmother died a while back).

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's almost over.

Mousugu owari.

The year is almost over. I finished my last day of work a few hours ago. There was a party afterward, but I knew that someone I didn't really like (and it's mutual) was going to be there, plus I'm not all that into workplace holiday parties, so I bailed. I gave the kids running the show advance notice that I was going to bail, but not the reason why, so I shouldn't be too badly off. I'm kind of surprised today was the last day of work. I'd thought that perhaps we'd have to go in on Monday at least. Not that I'm complaining, of course.

The other day, the local radio station was doing a segment about top 10 news stories for Pumpkin Prefecture residents in 2008. No. 1 was gasoline prices going haywire, which is understandable considering the lack of local public transportation and our dependence on our cars. The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy was no. 4.

So what would be the top 10 news stories for Pumpkin Palace residents in 2008? I can't think of 10, so I'll be a cop-out and do something like 5.

1. Anticipated arrival of the Pumpkin Prince. Not due until late March of 2009, he's already giving his older sister insecurity issues.

2. Non-arrival of new Pumpkin in October. I miscarried in late March. It's fair to say that I'm "over" it, and the other day I caught myself making jokes about what I overheard while being prepped for my D&C. Another doctor was telling another patient that her husband's sperm count was pathologically low. Yes, it's crude of me to joke about it, but I'm doing it well out of earshot of the patient in question.

3. Semi-successful first year of gardening. I got a lot of cooking tomatos and jalapeno, and the Pumpkin Daddy got a lot of pretty tulips and sunflowers. I got some but not nearly enough cilantro. I feel like such a loser because I didn't get much zucchini. I mean, it's zucchini (unless, of course, you're from the other side of the Atlantic, in which case it's courgettes). You're supposed to have it coming out of your ears by the end of summer. I think it's the lack of natural pollinators in my garden. I probably should have been getting up every morning to pollinate. Emphasis on the word "should".

4. Death of my paternal grandmother. I no longer have any living grandparents. Second consecutive year of "mourning" in which we don't send or receive New Year's cards or wish anyone Happy New Year. Unless, of course, you're not Japanese, and I will wish you Happy New Year.

5. Lehman Brothers bankruptcy induced economic downturn means decreased production at Pumpkin Daddy workplace, which means he comes home earlier than he used to. It's kind of cool coming home to a clean house with the dishes washed and the laundry all put away. Yes, it's a loss of income, but we were never that badly off to begin with, and it just means that we might not be going on a tropical holiday next year. There will still be enough food on the table and the Pumpkin Daddy will still have his premium beer. I compared notes with my co-workers with husbands who work in manufacturing, and they all said that their husbands were coming home early for the same reason.

What are the "top 10 (or 5 or 3) headlines for 2008" for your family?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa brought me a bicycle.

Santa-san ha jitensha wo motte kita.

We went with the "Santa is busy so he gives some presents early" plan, and the Pumpkin Princess found a Winnie the Pooh bicycle in front of the Christmas tree this morning. She and the Pumpkin Daddy took it for a spin after breakfast. We found out it was a little on the big side, but she will grow into it eventually, and she enjoyed sitting on it an being pushed.

I am pleased with myself because I got all my holiday cards out a week before Christmas this year. If the post offices on both sides of the ocean behave the way they should, the cards should arrive by the 25th. If you thought you should get a card but don't, drop me a line.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't call mommy a dummy.

Okaasan wo obaka to itte ha ikemasen.

We're having delayed onset terrible twos, or some kind of insecurity issue thing triggered by new baby brother anticipation. The Pumpkin Princess has become terribly impatient when things don't go her way. The other day, she was halfway through dinner and she demanded to have leftover cake while her plate still held a good amount of carrots, fish and other nourishing things slightly less attractive than the Pumpkin Granny's chiffon cake decorated with pink and green gumdrops on homemade icing. I told her no, she could have cake if she ate all her carrots and a little more fish. She responded with "No! I want cake! Hurry! Dummy!"

The Pumpkin Daddy said, "you must not call Mommy 'dummy.'"

So I'm thinking, yay, cool, united parental disciplinary front, but the Pumpkin Daddy continued, "Mommy is the highest educated person in this family. If you want to call Mommy dummy, get your PhD, and then maybe you can call her dummy."

Um, I don't think that's the point here...

Friday, December 12, 2008

"What should I do?"

"Dou shiyou?"

The Pumpkin Princess was a good girl this year. Except for the occasional episodes of crankiness when she is tired. And that one time she put stickers all over the closet floor in the master bedroom. And when she was "helping" me make pancakes and got more flour on the counter than in the bowl. And the time she pulled out the contents of an entire box of Kleenex, one by one. And...well, never mind. I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing her a Winnie the Pooh bicycle.

The problem is when Santa will be here. If I play by the general rules, she finds it in front of the Christmas tree on the morning of the 25th. However, the 25th is a Thursday and is not a holiday in Japan. The Pumpkin Mommy and Daddy will go to work, and the Pumpkin Princess will go to day care. Thing is, will a 3 year-old girl who has just found a new bicycle in her living room leave for day care without taking it for a spin?

Or, I could decide not to play by the rules and make arrangements for Santa to come on the 23rd. It's the Emperor's Birthday, and a national holiday in Japan. She'll wake up, come downstairs, find the bicycle, and have the whole day to ride it as much as she likes.

So I took an informal survey among the mommies and daddies at work. Two out of three said that Santa came on the 25th, and one said that Santa came on the nearest appropriate weekend or holiday. The two who voted for the 25th had older kids who knew what day Christmas was and where Santa hid presents to lighten the load for the reindeer on Christmas Eve.

What would you do if you were in my shoes? The 23rd or the 25th?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

But it's actually a rabbit.

Demo hontou ha usagi.

We went to Toys R Us to pick out the Pumpkin Princess's birthday present. Unfortunately, we made the beginners' mistake of bringing her along. The Pumpkin Daddy asked her what she wanted, and she picked this battery powered plastic monstrosity of commercialism.


It's a magic wand-esque object that figures in a weekend morning cartoon called Yes! PreCure 5 Go-Go. The storyline follows the traditions of Sailor Moon and Rayearth, in which multiple female characters team up to fight evil. When you press the top and spin the wheel, you get an electronic tinkly sound and a voice that says "I have the Power". OK, I'm paraphrasing, but not much.

Now, you would think that something the Pumpkin Princess picks out so enthusiastically would be something carried by the main character, but this wand is owned by a somewhat haughty purple haired girl who uses it to create a blizzard of metallic rose petals. The Purple Haired Girl is actually a rabbit-like creature that has somehow acquired the power to not only assume a human form, but also transform into a superhero. I think I have a headache...

The Pumpkin Princess doesn't actually watch this show, and I don't think she understands about the rabbit. She probably picked it because it was pretty and sparkly. She spent the good part of an hour using it for fighting evil this evening. Evil was in the form of the Pumpkin Daddy, who was under explicit instructions by the Pumpkin Princess to "kidnap" her favorite stuffed baby lion, and to fall down with a grunt and release the lion when the wand was waved.

Oh, the things we do for love...

I turned into a princess.

Ohimesama ni natta!

Today we went to a kids' photography studio. The Pumpkin Princess was dressed first in a red kimono and then in a white dress, and the photographer took pictures of her with various props (old fashioned bouncing ball and plastic maple leaves for the kimono, and a sparkly magic wand for the dress). She had hair and makeup done and everything. I was really impressed with the photographer, who used various stuffed toys and props to get the Pumpkin Princess in the mood, and we got quite a few nice pictures. I was hoping to be able to use them as Christmas photos, but they won't be done until the 20th, so I guess that's not happening.

If I know you are not a convicted child molester, I promise to let you see the pictures when I get them. If you can't prove to me that you're not a convicted child molester, you're out of luck :P

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"I touched the pan."

Onabe sawatta.

The Pumpkin Princess burned her hand on Saturday. She touched the frying pan while I was making pancakes. I quickly dragged her to the bathroom sink (after turning off the heat under the frying pan, of course) and ran cold water over the hand for as long as she would let me, which was about three minutes (I was working for ten, but I knew that was wishful thinking). The damage was done on the back side of her index, middle, and ring fingers. She's pleased with herself because she's got Winnie the Pooh band aids on them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

There's a few more.

Sukoshi fueta.

Since Deeje asked, here's a picture of the Pumpkin Daddy's handiwork.

lights 2008

And here's a picture of how the same tree looked last year.

PC010134

You can see how he's added a few more lights to go with the tree's growth.

No inflatable snow globes for us, thank you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Red Nosed Reindeer

Makka na ohana no tonakai san

I think we may have started a trend at the Pumpkin Palace. This evening, I spotted another house on this block sporting Christmas tree lights. It was just a star shape and a snowman shape hung in windows, but that's two more than there were on this block last year.

When the Pumpkin Daddy was stringing up the lights on our tree yesterday, our neighbor across the street, who is about a decade older than the Pumpkin Daddy, came home. A few minutes later, the Pumpkin Daddy swears he heard him humming "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" in the shower. I guess the lights must have inspired him...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three day weekend

San renkyuu

We had a 3 day weekend.

The Pumpkin Daddy came home drunk Friday night. I knew he had a party for work that night because I had to drive him to the train station that morning, so I was not surprised he came home drunk. What surprised me was that he didn't get out of bed until nearly three in the afternoon on Saturday. I pretty much gave up on trying to get anything done other than laundry and getting food on the table.

Sunday, we went to a Shinto shrine for the Pumpkin Princess's Shichigosan. You're supposed to go to the shrine to be blessed for health at ages 3 and 7 for girls and 5 for boys. Some girls go in kimonos for age 3, but the Pumpkin Princess went in a dress (I didn't care to deal with the logistics aspects of renting a kimono, getting it on her, changing a diaper, getting the kimono off her, and taking the kimono back to the rental place). About 5 kids lined up while the priest chanted about health and prosperity and waved paper streamers over their heads (the word for god and paper are both kami).

Monday, the Pumpkin Daddy put lights up on the tree in our yard. I would have pictures to post, but it started raining this afternoon, and I'm not about to go out in the cold rain just for a blog picture.

And the Pumpkin Daddy thinks he is coming down with a cold. We need to get our flu vaccines, but we can't seem to figure out a good time when we're both in decent health.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"A waste of money"

Mudazukai.

So I'm sorting out how much the Disneyland trip cost me...I know, a scary task, but I have to come to grips with reality.

I have a receipt from the gas station the Monday after the trip for 2913 yen, or 23.3 liters or so of gas. I think about 20 liters of that was burnt on the trip there and back, so 2500 yen for gasoline. (Thank goodness for the Pumpkin Prius!)

I don't remember exactly how much was spent on tolls. I'm thinking something like 4000 yen. This probably shocks my American friends, but tolls are expensive in Japan.

The hotel room we picked at the Ambassador Hotel (Standard Floor, Deluxe Room) was 53,000 yen. Yikes! But we really wanted to stay at the Ambassador so we could take the Pumpkin Princess to breakfast at Chef Mickey (6,600 yen for two adults, the 2 year-old Pumpkin Princess ate for free) and since we started planning late, it was the only room available. Other than the suites. Which, um, no. The Pumpkin Daddy also drank stuff in the mini-bar, which came to 1,450 yen.

2-day park passes for two adults were 20,000 yen.

Other expenditures for Day 1 (Tokyo Disneyland Park) follow.

Breakfast: two sandwiches, a large cookie in the shape of Mickey's gloved hand, a lemon muffin in the shape of his head, and a juice pack of apple juice at the Sweetheart Cafe. 1650 yen.

The Pumpkin Princess, after leaving "Tiki Room", started going on about "the thing that shines and goes around my neck".



It took nearly an hour before we figured out it was a crystal Mickey Mouse head embedded with an LED light that she'd seen another girl wearing. 900 yen.

Lunch for three at Grandma Sara's Kitchen (children's platter, seafood and rice in cheese, which is like mac and cheese except with rice in place of the mac, omlette with fried rice, cream of corn soup, Swiss Roll, 2 sodas), 3,486 yen.

Snacks (Caesar's salad and fresh fruit) and beverages (soda and coffee) at Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall, 1,626 yen.

Pictures taken at Image Works, 1,575 yen.

Diamond Horseshoe Revue (Goofy's Frontier Revue) for 2 adults, 7,400 yen. Cute, fun show but really bad food that I don't care to recall, except for the cheesecake, which was pretty good. And the free refills for soft drinks.

Expenditures for Day 2 (Tokyo Disney Sea Park) were:

Drinks (beer and two soft drinks) and an order of fries at New York Deli, 1,247 yen.

Lunch at the New York Deli (3 deli sandwiches, an order of fries, 3 soft drinks), 2,950 yen.

Stuffed Minnie Mouse that the Pumpkin Daddy HAD to buy for his Princess, 3,500 yen.



I put it next to my Pyrex measuring cup so there is a size comparison.

Helium balloon in the shape of Aristocat, 700 yen.



Yes, it's sorry looking right now, like a kitty taken in an animal shelter after wandering the streets for a week, but for a helium balloon purchased 8 days ago, I think it looks pretty good.

Various cute tins and packages of candies and cookies to take to our co-workers and families, 6664 yen.

This comes to a total of 119,248 yen. At the current exchange rate of 97.08 yen to the dollar, $1228.35.

Um, yikes????

I think this is where I go bury my head in the sand. Or something.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Which flavor would you like?

Nani aji ga ii?

Sheri, here they have plain salt, pepper, curry, caramel, chocolate, cappuccino, honey, and strawberry flavored popcorn. Certain flavors are sold in only certain parts of the park, and the guide map they give you has a special section that tells you where each kind is sold. They also have a flavor called sea salt that they sell only at the Mermaid Lagoon (where else?) You can buy special Disney character buckets as well, but I understand Anaheim has those, too. I was wary of the stray unpopped kernel, so I didn't get the Pumpkin Princess any.



Here are some pictures of the candies and cookies we bought, or rather, their containers. Mine (the small Mickey and Minnie tin and the Mickey and Minnie as snowmen package) are unopened because I haven't taken them in to work yet, and the Pumpkin Daddy's are empty (his co-workers told him to take the packaging home to the Pumpkin Princess) so I don't have any pictures of the actual sweets to show, but other than the Pooh chocolate cookies being shaped like Pooh's head, they're plain round or square candies and cookies. The decoration on the top of the snowmen package is a plastic clip that can be saved for clipping papers together.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The story was interesting.

"Hanashi ga omoshirokatta."

The Pumpkin Princess slept until 7:30 the next morning, which is surely a new record for her. I guess all of the previous day's excitement had caught up with her. No matter, we'd planned a late start. We'd made reservations at Chef Mickey, but could only booked for a 9:10 breakfast, which turned out to be more like 9:30. The Pumpkin Princess waited patiently, all things considered. Once we were seated, there seemed to be groups leaving their tables, but no additional groups being seated. This meant the characters made longer, more frequent stops at the remaining tables. By the time Donald stopped at our table for the third time, the Pumpkin Mommy and Daddy were like whatever. The Pumpkin Princess was a bit more impressed.

We went to Tokyo Disney Sea Park, which is Disneyland with a martime theme. It's marketed as a more mature Disneyland (is that an oxymoron or what?) and it showed. There were fewer strollers and more younger couples than the day before. The plan was the same. The Pumpkin Daddy would try to snag Fast Pass tickets, while the Pumpkin Princess and Mommy would follow slowly to meet him later.

As it turned out the attraction we'd wanted Fast Pass tickets to, Magic Lamp Theater, wasn't issuing them that day because no long lines were expected. So the Pumpkin Daddy got Fast Pass tickets to a different attraction, and we walked through the park to the Magic Lamp Theater. I thought that perhaps the darkness would scare the Pumpkin Princess, but she sat through the entire show and when asked how she liked it, she replied, "the story was interesting." Um, o.k. She seemed a bit more obviously excited about the Caravan Carousel.

We thought she would like the Mermaid Lagoon, but she was not all that impressed. I thought this sign was very Disney, but it was unfortunate that the Japanese just says "staff only."
I was a bit apprehensive when the Pumpkin Daddy announced that the "alternative" Fast Pass tickets were to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. As expected, the Pumpkin Princess started crying about 15 seconds into the ride. Fortunately, we had the "submarine" all to ourselves, so the crying wasn't keeping other people from enjoying the ride.
We had a late lunch of sandwiches at the New York Deli. The Pumpkin Princess likes turkey sandwiches. Who knew? (Turkey as a luncheon meat is kind of hard to find in Japan).

Everything was Christmas. I think the first week of November is much too early for Christmas trees.


We bought some more Disney printed cans of cookies, a helium balloon of the Aristocats and a stuffed Minnie Mouse for the Pumpkin Princess, loaded up the Pumpkin Prius and headed home.

Btw, sheri, I'm sorry I wasn't clear, I would expect you'd bring stuff home as presents, but what I meant to ask was if the tins of cookies are a big thing. I can understand if the cookies and candies are shaped like Mickey's head, but sometimes you get candy that's just plain round in a cute can printed with pictures of Mickey decorating a Christmas tree or something, and I've always thought that was strange. Oh, and while you're helping me out, is flavored popcorn a big Disneyland thing? Here, they've got maps showing you where to find which flavor of popcorn.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"What are you doing here?"

"Doushite konna tokoro ni iru no?".


This past Thursday and Friday, the Pumpkin Princess made her Disneyland debut. We left a little after six in the morning in the Pumpkin Prius, and got to the Disneyland Ambassador Hotel shortly before nine. We dropped our bags off at the front desk and the Pumpkin Daddy headed to the parking tower. They had a good-sized TV with little cushioned footstools parked around it in the lobby, so the Pumpkin Princess sat happily watching "Snow White" until he came back, and we boarded the complimentary shuttle bus.
That's some serious Disney-fication. Did you notice that even the exhaust pipe has a cover in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head?

The Pumpkin Princess was very pleased. She loves busses and trains.

When we got to the park, the Pumpkin Daddy made a mad dash to get Fast Pass tickets to "Pooh's Hunny Hunt", which is the Tokyo version of "Pooh's Hunny Pot". It's one of the newest attractions in Tokyo Disneyland, so it's the most popular. While the Pumpkin Daddy was running, the Pumpkin Princess and I slowly made our way through the entrance area. The Pumpkin Princess saw one of the Three Little Pigs and squealed, "Little Pig! What are you doing here?" She loves watching the free downloads of old Disney Cartoons at her grandpa's house, and she likes the Three Little Pigs quite a bit. I guess she didn't realize it was a Disney Cartoon.

The two of us headed for the Sweetheart Cafe and bought some breads, sandwiches, coffee and juice to eat as breakfast. We sat eating and waiting for the Pumpkin Daddy. Everything was expensive but tasted quite good.

The Pumpkin Princess did not think much of the Enchanted Tiki Room (she found it too scary) but she liked the Country Bear Theater.

It was time for our Fast Pass tickets for Pooh's Hunny Hunt, so we headed in that direction. I thought it was a nicely designed cute ride and enjoyed it, but the Pumpkin Princess, the love of the Pumpkin Daddy's life whom he wanted to impress with his dedication and dashing skills, was not particularly impressed. She liked the carousel better.


The unimpressed Pumpkin Princess, the broken-hearted Pumpkin Daddy, and the Pumpkin Mommy headed for It's a Small World. The last time I was there (when I was pregnant with the Pumpkin Princess), the filling was coming out of tears in the seats, and the paint was visibly chipped from some of the dolls. The company sponsoring the attraction was a department store that filed for bankruptcy shortly after. I guess the park took the signature ride in their own hands, and things looked reasonably nice. The Pumpkin Princess, however, nodded off to sleep somewhere between the can-can dancers and the Japanese girls with umbrellas.

The Pumpkin Daddy, eager to please his Princess, had meticulously researched the time and route the parade would take. We strolled leisurely to a spot in Tomorrowland he'd figured out, where a "cast member" was just closing off the street for the parade. We essentially had front row seats.

But the Pumpkin Princess slept through the entire thing.

She kept sleeping while we shopped for presents to take home to our co-workers (they'll think you rude if you take time off work to go to Disneyland and not bring them a can or two of cookies or candies. I don't know if this is a thing in the original Disneyland in Aneheim, and I would appreciate if my American friends could help me out, but here, cookies and candies in tins printed with Mickey and Donald and Pooh probably consist of at least half the revenue generated by the shops in the park).

She barely woke up in time for Goofy's Fronteir Revue. The show was fun, and the Pumpkin Princess was pleased. The food left much to be desired, but that was kind of expected. We left the venue just in time for the Electrical Parade.

Then we went back to the hotel. We had a full bathroom with bathtub, but everyone was too tired to run a bath. The Pumpkin Princess slept in until around 7:30, which is incredibly late for her.

Let's see if I can get the second day posted sometime soon.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I've done everything

Mou zenbu yatta

When I decided to marry the Pumpkin Daddy, I was not 100% sure it was the right decision. I had figured out he was funny and nice to his girlfriend (me), but that that didn't always mean that he would be funny and nice to his wife (should it be me?).

I'd entered my 30s and I had dreams of having children. Biology had a time limit (I know, not a statement that would go over well with some feminists, but it's a scientific truth), and I wasn't getting any further away from it. I figured that since I was financially independent, I could afford to take the chance. If all else failed, I could leave and go back to taking care of myself. So I decided to take the risk.

Tonight, I came home very tired. After I put the Pumpkin Princess to bed, I more or less collapsed on the couch. He said to me in a very casual, matter of fact way, "I've already done everything. The dishes are washed and the floor is swiffed. Why don't you go shower and get ready for bed?"

We have been married four years now. He is still funny and nice. So far, so good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I learned a new word.

Atarashii kotoba wo oboemashita.

We have three African visitors at work this month. One is from Nigeria, one from Ghana, and one from Ethiopia. In all three of these countries, all higher (high school and above) education is done in English. In Ghana and Nigeria, all formal education goes on in English. I am wondering how much this has to do with the length of colonial rule (Ethiopia had a few years of occupation by Mussolini era Italy, but that's it) and ethnic diversity (all three nations consist of multiple nations/ nationalities/ tribes/ peoples with distinct cultures, but I think the lack of colonial rule resulted in a "dominant" local nationality/ language).

Sorry about that sidetrack. I'm utterly fascinated by the idea of English as a common language used by people who don't acquire it on their mother's knee. The point I'd wanted to make for purposes of this blog entry was that all three of these gentlemen speak grammatically correct English with mild accents that are neither American nor British.

Anyway, I was talking to the Ethiopian, and we were discussing a very new, very expensive drug used to treat certain types of cancer, and he said "the efficacy of the drug is without a doubt, but so is its financial toxicity."

Financial toxicity! What a dismally descriptive phrase!

I wondered if perhaps this was an African phrase (it doesn't seem to be used in the US. If any of my Brit friends could comment, I would appreciate it) and asked the Ghanaian and the Nigerian. The Ghanaian said "oh, we would say the drug causes 'pocketitis'"

Pocketitis. A severe inflammation of the pockets. The inflammatory process can be reversed if in its early stages. Or something.

I'm hoping to learn some more African English while they are with us. Keep in touch?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What did you do last weekend?

Shuumatsu nani wo shita?
This is a picture taken by the Pumpkin Daddy this past weekend. To my American friends, the background scenery probably looks just downright wrong. To my Japanese friends, the view of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge probably looks familiar. The Pumpkin Family went to Tokyo this past weekend. It was a bus tour sponsored by the Pumpkin Daddy's workplace. We went to the Edo Museum, which shows life in Edo. Edo is what Tokyo was called before the Meiji restoration in 1868. The scene shown is of childbirth. You can see the midwife giving the baby its first bath. The new mother was supposed to remain in a sitting position for seven days, to prevent excess blood flow to the upper body. Many mothers would become sick after giving birth (well, I don't think I'd like staying in a sitting position for a week, even while sleeping, and that I'd become at least a little sick if I did. Thank goodness for modern obstetrics...) The museum looked pretty interesting, but we spent most of the time chasing the Pumpkin Princess and making sure she didn't crawl on the exhibits you were not supposed to be crawling on. Next stop, Tsukiji, home of the largest fish market in the world. And the freshest sushi in the world. There are two pieces missing on this platter. The Pumpkin Daddy and I both started eating before remembering to take a picture. It wasn't cheap, but totally worth it. The only drawback was that the place wasn't all that kid-friendly, and there was no good place to change diapers. From there, the bus took us to the harbor where this boat came for us.

This looks like a futuristic protozoan. It's a new vessel, designed by Leiji Matsumoto, a cartoonist popular in the 70s who has done mostly SF type stuff considered classics. The Pumpkin Princess spent much of the ride asleep. We got to Odaiba, where the above Statue of Liberty was to be found, did some walking around, and watched a street performer. Then it was a mad dash to get to the bus on time. We got home too late for me to start cooking, so we headed to our usual pasta place. Pretty exhausting day, and I was really amazed when the Pumpkin Princess got up at 6 the next morning.

"You're overdoing it!""

Yarisugi!

After Grandmother's funeral, my brother stayed at my parents' place, so we all had dinner there. The Pumpkin Princess was a bit shy at first, but after a while, she started to show off, doing the song and dance she did for the Pumpkin Day Care field day. She was so enthusiastic, she fell over while dancing a couple times. She would fall over and get back up without missing a beat.

I had show off tendencies as a child (maybe I still do, but at least now I realize just exactly how, or rather, how not, talented I am). Perhaps this is hereditary.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Let's go home.

Ie ni kaerou.

(TMI alert!)

My grandmother was a tiny woman, so her ashes fit in the urn without much trouble. My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was a bit tall for someone his generation. When he passed away, and the family passed the bones from one pair of chopsticks to another, and the crematorium attendant had swept everything off the gurney, the lid would not fit. So the attendant did the only thing he could do, which was take out the skull bones, pack everything down a bit, resulting in a distinctive crunching sound, and put the bones of the skull back.

(end TMI)

After the ashes are, ahem, placed in the urn according to tradition, they are taken back to the ceremony hall. When you go back to the ceremony hall or temple, you must never go back using the same road, because the spirit of the dead might follow you back. (This presents an interesting problem in rural areas where there are a limited number of roads.) Back at the temple or ceremony hall, more prayers are offered. According to tradition, more prayers are supposed to be offered on the 7th day after death, but these days, it's so hard to get everyone together so frequently, you'll just pretend seven days have passed and offer another set of prayers at this time. After all that chanting about how life sucks is done, the family will share a meal. and then go home with the ashes, and the ashes are placed at the family alter or some other safe place. They're kept at home for 49 days, according to tradition, during which the family goes into mourning. Mourning is a relative term. You give offerings of food and sweets and whatever else the deceased liked, but you don't cover all the mirrors or dress in black or stop singing or playing the piano the entire time or anything, at least not these days, anyway. I know of a family who went skiing during their period of mourning when their dad died. They put the urn in a backpack and skiied down his favorite slope.

On the 49th day, (these days, however, it might not be exactly 49 days because the 49th day might not be on a weekend) prayers are offered again (with the same reminder that life sucks but it goes on) and the urn is placed in the family grave. The family is left with a tablet-like plaque on which the deceased's new name is carved. This plaque (ihai) is very important, and is the third thing you grab in case of a fire (after the baby and the bank book).

Graves are supposed to be visited regularly, but tradition requires visits on the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 13th anniversaries of death.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I want a car like that.

Aaiu kuruma ga hoshii.

When a Japanese person dies, you pick a good day for the funeral. According to the Buddhist calendar with 6 day weeks, some days of the week are better for funerals than others. "Tomobiki," or "draw friends in" is a bad choice for funerals (but a lovely day for weddings). "Butsumetsu" or "Buddha dies" is a good choice (but bad for weddings). Usually a compromise is reached in terms of proximity to time of death, Buddhist calendar day of the week, and time needed for family travel arrangements.

An alter is set up with a picture of the deceased. They used to use only black and white photos, but these days, color photos are quite common. Around the alter, there are wreaths sent by family and friends. The wake is held in early evening. The Buddhist priest chants about how although it's well established that life sucks, we are still deeply saddened by our loss and how the deceased is now safe in the arms of Buddha. After he's done telling us life sucks, the people who've shown up at the wake offer incense and prayers one at a time (or two at a time or three at a time, depending on the size of the ceremony hall and the number of people who are expected to show up). Family stay with the deceased the night of the wake, and make sure the incense stays smoking until the next morning.

At the funeral, there's more chanting about how life sucks, and you offer incense again. Then the casket is filled with flowers and the deceased's personal belongings and things they liked (cigarettes, candy) and closed. Depending on your sect of Buddhism, the casket may or may not be nailed shut. Then it's off to the crematorium. The hearse is usually a very elaborate gold gilt affair topped with a laquered roof. I have a feeling it's just an urban legend, but apparently Elton John saw a hearse while he was touring Japan and commented that he'd love to have a car like that.

When the deceased and the attendees arrive at the crematorium, incense and prayers are offered one last time, and the priest chants one last time about how life sucks, and the casket (which is wood, btw) is slid into the cremation chamber. During the cremation process, you sit around drinking tea and chatting. When the ashes are brought out on a stainless steel gurney, many of the bones still hold their shape. The family transfer the bones into an urn. Custom dictates that two people grasp either side of a given bone with chopsticks and work together to carry it to the urn. (This is why, in Japan, you never, ever pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another.) The attendant will usually try to steer you clear from selecting bones from the skull and also the 2nd cervical vertebra. The 2nd cervical vertebra is significant in that it is shaped like Buddha sitting in meditation. After most of the bones still holding their shape are transfered to the urn, the attendant will show the family the 2nd cervical vertebra and place it in the urn. Most of the remaining ashes are swept into the urn with a brush and a dustpan. The bones of the skull are the last ones to be placed in the urn, insuring the deceased is right side up in their new home.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I didn't plan this!

Neratte imasen!

I didn't plan things this way, honest, but it just worked out this way. After (comparatively) meticulously describing a recent wedding, I now get to describe a funeral. My paternal grandmother died this past Tuesday, and the Pumpkin Clan (including the Pumpkin Princess) attended the funeral today. She was 91 years old and she'd suffered a huge stroke 3 years ago. She probably died of a combination of pneumonia and heart failure. No one is surprised. We miss her, but we've been missing her for 3 years. Knowing her, she's probably glad to be free of feeding tubes and i.v.'s, and happy to finally be with my grandfather (he died over a decade ago) again and to have gained the ability to watch over her 8 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren all at once. I'm sure she's somewhere where she can have all the fried pork cutlets and peanut candy she wants, with a full set of perfect teeth to enjoy them properly.

She had the standard issue hard life of people her generation. She was brilliant and loved school, but her family's finances (or rather lack thereof) decided that she would finish the required six years of education and then go to work. The job she happened to have was a waitress in the on-site restaurant of the library, which was where she met my grandfather.

Pretty and smart as she may be, she was definitely not the bride my grandfather's adoptive mother had in mind. Great-grandma was actually Grandfather's (much) older sister. She and Great-grandpa were childless, so they adopted her youngest brother to continue Great-grandpa's family line. Great-grandma was a skilled kimono seamstress, and she used that skill to pay for grandfather's university education. She also taught sewing to girls of families well off enough to afford her lessons. She'd probably planned on taking one of her students as his bride. No way would she let some girl who'd only finished 6th grade and was from a family of alcoholics marry her university educated son.

Now, this is where things get interesting. Grandpa and Grandma do get married. Grandma once mentioned that her wedding kimono was borrowed, which strikes me as a bit strange for a daughter-in-law of a master kimono seamstress. A distant aunt mentioned very late at night and under the influence that there definitely were less than 40 weeks between the wedding and the birth of their twin sons (my uncle and dad). It's not hard to imagine Great-grandma's reluctant acceptance of Grandma after receiving the news that she was pregnant with her son's offspring. And if her acceptance were reluctant, she might not have enthusiastically prepared a wedding kimono for her new daughter in law. But all that's lost to history and left to speculation.

The twins were 6 when April 15th, 1945 swung around. At the time, the family was based in Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony. The end of the war meant Taiwan was no longer a part of Japan, and Japanese had to cut their losses and leave as soon as possible or risk becoming targets of revenge. So the family cut their losses and left. They were lucky in that aspect. Grandpa had failed his draft physical (so he was still around, as opposed to having become the object of a US Marine's war story) and had a university education. He found work fairly quickly after their return to Japan. This is an exception, not the rule. When you're an exception, particularly when you're a positive exception, the general rules will come gather around you. Friends and relatives came to Grandpa and Grandma, people who, like them, had cut their losses and left Taiwan and mainland China but had not fared nearly as well, asking to stay with them a while until they got back on their feet. Grandpa almost always said yes, but the actual figuring out of what and how much to feed everyone who showed up at mealtimes, and how to pay for it, was left to Grandma. But she figured it out. And she put all three of her sons through college. And she cared for her in-laws until they died.

In Japanese Buddhist tradition, when you die, you get a new name. Grandma's new name translates into "seamless". When people came to her for help, she gave it, whether they were family nor not. There were no seams that differentiated "family" and "not family" in her compassion to help others in need.

It's getting late. I'll post about the funeral another day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Have a safe trip home.

Ki wo tsukete okaerikudasai.



At Japanese weddings, you usually take stuff home. Make that you always take stuff home. Here's what I brought home this wedding. Clockwise from the upper left:

1. This big box contained a serving plate and four smaller plates. They were white and an interesting squiggly square shape. China is a common gift for wedding guests. Another common gift is pots or pans.

2. Small bottle of champagne. Contained gold flakes. The label was custom printed with each guest's name and during the reception, the bottle acted as a place card.


3. This box, wrapped in a red cloth, contained katsuobushi, or fish flakes. It's a traditional wedding gift, because "katsuo" can mean "the man is a winner".

4. The flat box on the far right contained rice cooked with red azuki beans, or "sekihan". It's a traditional food served on merry occasions.

5. This box on the front right contained pound cake.

6. This cute little box was given to me by the bride as I left the reception (she had a great big basket of them and passed them out to everyone in a "receiving line" fashion). It contained sugar coated almonds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The most beautiful in the world


Sekai de ichiban kirei

In Japan, the reception is the main event of the wedding. For Shinto weddings, traditionally, no one outside family is allowed in the shrine during the wedding ceremony, and even for Christian weddings, it's common for many guests to skip the wedding and just show up for the reception. Receptions are usually carefully planned, starting with the couple making an entrance into the banquet hall. Then the guests of honor (usually a workplace boss or former teacher) make speeches and propose toasts, and the multi-course meal begins. While the meal is served, there may or may not be one or more of the following, with a costume change (oironaoshi) or two somewhere in between.

1. Kagami biraki, which is breaking open of a barrel of sake (rice wine)
2. Speeches by friends of the bride and groom
3. Cutting of the wedding cake (no face smashing, thank you)
4. Performances by friends of the bride and groom (usually a song and/or dance of highly variable degrees of skill)
5. Letter from the bride to her family read out loud (usually a very emotional, teary event)
6. Speech by the groom thanking the guests for coming
7. Speech by the groom's father thanking the guests for coming

(btw, the Pumpkin Mommy and Daddy's wedding had 2, 3, 4 and 6.)

There is usually no dancing unless it happens during 4.

Of course, no one actually cares about anything except the food and alcohol and checking out what the half of the couple they don't know looks like.

Today's phrase was spoken by the groom in reference to his bride. It is rare for a Japanese man to say something like that about his wife in public, and I thought it was sweet.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Is it real?"


Honmono?

So the wedding was held in a ceremony hall.

The building was built like an old European mansion, and there was a chapel inside the building. The ceremony was standard issue Japanese ceremony hall chapel wedding, which means that a non-Japanese, Caucasian English speaking male in minister garb presides over the ceremony. Note that I said "male in minister garb" and not "minister". The man, whose English had a standard American English accent, may or may not have been an actual minister. It's common knowledge that most of these people, who are always Caucasian males, are often English conversation teachers looking to make an extra buck or two. The ceremony is supposedly modeled after American Protestant ceremonies and is conducted in a mix of American English and Japanese (sufficiently accented for an exotic touch, regardless of the "minister's" proficiency in Japanese). The legality of the wedding ceremony due to its being performed by a fake clergyman is not an issue. From a legal standpoint, the wedding ceremony is unimportant, and what matters is going to the local city office to get your marriage registered. (It's rather difficult to commit bigamy in Japan, since if your marriage is registered, you end up on a national database)

The hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is always sung, which strikes me as a strange choice for a wedding, so if some of my Christian friends could inform me of hymns sung in actual American Christian wedding ceremonies, I would really appreciate it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Got new bills?


Pinsatsu aru?

My net friend Jilly mentioned on a different part of the internet that she loved hearing about customs in different countries. I just got back from a wedding and I went to a wake last week, so today I'm going to talk about money.

The above mentioned bills are not bills as in what I owe the electric company, but bank notes, as in a dollar bill or, in this case, a 10,000 yen bill. In Japan, when you are invited to a wedding, you don't ponder what you are going to get the new couple as a gift. You just give money. In new bills. Something about everything being shiny and new for weddings. In a pinch, I have been known to iron out slightly wrinkly bills to use as wedding gifts. Par is 30,000 yen (slightly less than $300 USD according to this past Friday's exchange rate), and it always has to be an odd number of bills so that it's hard to split (like a marriage should be). You wrap it in special paper packaging called a shugibukuro. The picture is of the one I took to today's wedding. The gold character is "good fortune" or "happy occasion" (sorry, it kind of gets lost in the translation, just know that it means well). The cords are always tied in a square knot or some other knot that can't be untied easily, as a symbol of how a marriage should be. The black blotches are not runny ink, but me trying to blot out my real name, so that you can't come stalk me or something.

The opposite works for funerals. You have to give your "condolence money" in old bills, because new bills suggest you were prepared for the death, which is considered rude. This is kind of ironic, though, because most people who've lived and worked in Japan know that wrinkly bills are actually harder to get than the crisp ones. And yes, I've crinkled and stomped on new bills in a pinch. There is also a "condolence money package" that's very plain and white tied with black and white cords that you must use to wrap your old crinkly bills in. The ties are also in a square knot because square knots signify things that can't be re-tied, i.e. repeated. The rule is that the square knot packages are used for events you don't want to happen again (like weddings and funerals) and the bow ties are used for things you do want to happen again (like birthdays and babies).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

As requested

Gokibou ni kotaemashite

Since Deeje asked for more on "this", here's what we know. I am currently 14 weeks pregnant. I've been issued my mother-baby health book by Pumpkin City (hopefully I'll be able to post more about this interesting object later, but my camera died last week) which is generally considered the time when the chance of miscarriage decreases dramatically. The due date is March 31st if I count on my fingers and March 29th if you are the OB taking ultrasound measurements of the fetus (which is how Japanese OBs figure out due date. It's my understanding that American OBs count on their fingers. OK, so actually they have a little wheel on a card that you can turn around and you align the marks for the date of the last period and it will tell you the due date. I understand the drug reps give out these cards when they've run out of pens marked "Depo-Provera").

I'm not nearly excited as the first time around, but I think it's mostly because I'm wary of getting my hopes up too high after what happened last time. Cautious optimism, don't you know...

In the meantime, I had a horrific toothache last week that kept me from sleeping. I saw three dentists and none of them were sure what was causing it. The third and final dentist suggested cleaning (which the first two did not do), and I thought it was perhaps something dentists said instead of "I don't know what's going on so I'll hedge and bide my time until it goes away, but after his assistant cleaned, the pain subsided some (it didn't go away, but at that point I was going to take what I could get). I still couldn't eat, and felt generally crappy until Saturday morning (I'm not sure if it was from not being able to eat or something else entirely). It still hurts to chew.

Of course I had to Google all this and came across the phrase "tooth neuralgia of pregnancy" which seemed to sound like what I had, but there was only one page that had anything about this, so it's probably not a legitimate concept.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Not a problem!

Mondai nai!

Today was the Pumpkin Daycare's annual field day. The Pumpkin Princess took part in a running race, a dance to the song "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea", and a relay race in which the baton was a helmet and cape (she was supposed to be Ultraman. Never mind that Ultraman doesn't have a cape. Or a helmet.) The Pumpkin Daddy drew lines for the events (circles for the dances, straight lines for the races, and circles, lines, squares and arcs for marching band. Yes, there was a marching band performance by 5 year-olds. The Pumpkin Daycare is full of Advanced kids). The Pumpkin Granny chased the Pumpkin Princess around when she wasn't running races and dancing to Ponyo. The Pumpkin Mommy sat around feeling crappy (I have a bad toothache and I can't take anything stronger than acetoaminophen for it because I am pregnant, more on this later, and I feel generally crappy which I don't know how much is due to pregnancy, more on this later).

So, as usual, the Pumpkin Daycare Field Day was the usual study in child development. The Pumpkin Princess danced happily when she was supposed to and ran when she was supposed to, but there were some kids in her class and even the class a year ahead of her who just kind of stood there during their respective events. The Pumpkin Granny commented that my younger brother, Y, was just like that, and I said "oh, so those kids are just going to grow up into Y, that's not a problem!"

And my mom agreed with me. "Y's a good daddy to his sons, and he has held the same good job for years. He's doing just fine."

As a parent, I wonder about the Pumpkin Princess's future. I hope she will grow up to be a healthy and happy person. Her inherent personality I can only do so much about, but I ponder how my parenting will affect her ability to deal with the suckage life will throw at her (life throws suckage at you. This is a law of nature, somewhere between the law of gravity and Boyle's law). I don't parent the way I fancy myself to parent. I get impatient and irrational sometimes. Then I regret it, and wonder how badly she's been scarred.

I have this lovely, smart, fun co-worker who said that when she was little, her mother told her she wasn't her kid and that she had no daughter. The words were said in a moment of anger and sadness over some issue or other, and they were untrue. This co-worker said that while she loves and adores her mother, she remembers having been told that to this day.

So the Tomato Mommy and I were discussing this, and the Tomato Mommy said that she would try to remember how much that hurt co-worker, and never say anything along those lines to the Tomato Prince no matter what. I said that while I thought that wasn't a bad idea at all, even if a kid goes through something like that, you still grow up to be someone like lovely, smart, fun co-worker. And if you grow up to be as lovely and smart and fun as she is, you pretty much have it made in life. The Tomato Mommy agreed with me that for the Tomato Prince to grow up into someone like co-worker would be wonderful.

There are moments I remember from my childhood when things my parents did and said hurt me. I remember them, and I wish they were otherwise, but there are so many more fun things and nice things that happened growing up. I've grown up to be a functional member of society with a family and a good job.

What do you think? Can even minor parenting glitches scar you for life and turn you into the Unabomber?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"autumn harvest"

minori no aki

Things that went well in my garden

1. Tomatos. I planted Italian cooking tomatos and I've made ratatouille, pizza, and tomato sauce for pasta. Yay!

2. Edamame. I planted edamame seeds straight into the garden and pretty much forgot about them all summer until they produced small but tender edamame. The only thing wrong with planting edamame in your garden is, if you and your family like them, there is just no way you are going to be able to grow enough. I had five plants and the Pumpkin Princess was always asking me for more.

3. Jalapenos. I bought seeds from an online company and planted them in pots. Not very many of them germinated, and the ones that did were eaten by aphids. I moved the surviving seedlings to the garden, and they didn't fruit until recently, but I have lots of chilies now! I'm freezing them for future use the way my internet friend Jilly taught me.

Things that did not go well in my garden

1. Zucchini. I thought zucchini were supposed to be the prime example of vegetables that out-produce the grower's needs. The plants have grown and bloomed, but so far I have had zero proper zucchini. My friends, the Tomato family, report similar results. Perhaps they're just not meant to be grown in Japan.

2. Cilantro. I bought something like a total of six cilantro seedlings. Two reached maturity and gave me an abundance of cilantro for about four weeks, and then went to seed. So now, I have jalapenos and tomatos but no cilantro. How is someone supposed to make salsa?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's bad for you!

Karada ni warui!

When I got back from Hokkaido, I got, as expected, a rather lukewarm welcome from the Pumpkin Princess. At least she had a pleasant stay with her granny.

Today's phrase is in honor of the poor Chinese babies who drank milk tainted with melamine and developed kidney stones, but whose government hadn't done much to prevent it.

It is also in honor of the current tainted rice scandal in Japan. The sale of rice is regulated by the government. Most of the rice sold as food is domestic, but we've succumbed to foreign pressure and started importing a while back. Which, is in itself, not a bad thing. The down side is that when rice is imported, you don't know the quality of the rice (rice production is heavily regulated in Japan, which makes for high prices but at least if you buy domestic, you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting). Sometimes it comes with a higher than acceptable level of pesticide. This rice gets labeled unfit for human consumption, and is used for things like adhesive. Sounds good, right?

Well, it is. If it worked the way it was supposed to. As it turned out, one company was buying rice for industrial use (i.e. cheaper than the market price for rice intended for human consumption) and selling it to food manufacturers to make things like rice snacks. They were buying rice with a high concentration of methamidophos (pesticide not used in Japan but still sometimes used in China), letting it sit in their warehouses until it got moldy and, more importantly, the concentration of methamidophos went down to acceptable levels, and then sold it to snack manufacturers. They've released a list of companies that have bought tainted rice, and I would not be the least bit surprised if the Pumpkin Family had eaten toxic rice snacks once or twice. It's also made its way into school lunches and convenience store onigiri.

One more good reason to base your diet mostly on whole foods...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Go home quickly!

Hayaku kaette!

When post WWII Japan was occupied by Allied (read: mostly American) forces, the occupying government was known as the GHQ (General Headquarters). After a couple of years of being occupied, the then Prime Minister of Japan quipped "GHQ stands for Go Home Quickly!"

I'm posting this from Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. I'm here for a work conference. I left the Pumpkin Princess with her granny. I'd kind of figured that she would be just fine with her beloved Granny, but I didn't realize just how.

My flight dictated that I would have to leave very early the next day, so the night before, I took the Pumpkin Princess to her Granny's. Shortly after arrival, she announced, "(Pumpkin Princess) is going to go to bed at Granny's house, so go home now!" and she put the strap of my purse around my neck.

So I did.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Are you going to have another baby?

Tsugi no okosan ha?

I get asked this once every so often, and when I do, I tell the truth, which is that I would like for the Pumpkin Princess to have a brother or a sister soon. Like many only children under the age of four, she seems to believe the world revolves around her, and I think she needs a reality check :) Plus, I'll be 37 this year, and everyone knows fertility goes downhill with age. Not to mention the older you are, the more likely you are to have a difficult pregnancy. This is objective medical data, not some kind of conspiracy by old men trying to keep young women barefoot and pregnant. Not that barefoot and pregnant are bad things to be, of course, as long as you also have the chance, should you want it, to wear pretty shoes and have a professional track career.

Still, I find it amusing and annoying that people ask me this question, particularly if they are not close friends or immediate family. First of all, my plans for my family are none of their business. Unless, of course, you happen to be my mother, and know for a fact you will be seriously involved in caring for any children of mine :) But mostly, it squicks me out because, well, you know how babies are made? So when you ask me if I'm planning another child, you are asking me, albeit indirectly, what I, um, do with my husband when we are together. Which, um, seriously? None of your f-ing business.

Literally.

Friday, September 5, 2008

You've become so pretty!

Zuibun kirei ni natta ne!

I got a Facebook account for the sole purpose of keeping in touch with my oldest friend, the Peapod (soon to be the Pea Mommy. Why have I chosen to dub her the Peapod? Well, she has been my friend since 6th grade, and is my first real friend, so she is my oldest friend. Peas are the world's oldest vegetable, so my oldest friend who is currently pregnant with her first child, is the Peapod, OK?). That place is dangerous. I entered the high school I attended when I lived in the US, because I figured people from the high school where I graduated (Pumpkin Girls' High School in Pumpkin City, Japan) would probably not have Facebook accounts. I got a bunch of tiny little pictures linked to profiles I could not access, but I did recognize quite a few familiar faces. I ended up spending a couple hours I didn't have on that site.

One picture was of a beautiful sari clad Indian woman. I recognized her as a girl I'd gone to elementary, junior high and high school with. Her mother spoke limited English and was not familiar with the mannerisms and customs of the US (not unlike my own mother). She dressed plainly and wasn't really part of the "in crowd" (and, as you will probably guess, neither was I), so it made me happy that she looked so happy and beautiful in her Facebook picture.

(btw, I'm on as "Ayako Maidenname-Currentlastname" but I haven't put up any pictures or interesting information yet, so it's not worth checking me out. If you have a lot of time on your hands and you don't know my family names, ask me.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I am so lame.

Watashi tte dame jan.

But in all honesty, when I saw "we interrupt this program to give you this special report" on TV, my first thought was "They'd better not cancel tonight's SMAPxSMAP because the Olympic Gold Medal Softball Team are supposed to be the guests for Bistro SMAP!"

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why now?

Naze ima?

Prime Minister Fukuda just resigned.

When a doctor thinks you are developing senile dementia, he will ask you a series of questions which include simple addition problems, naming random vegetables, and the current President of the USA. This won't work in Japan, because PMs come and go faster than fashion trends and the doctor himself might quite possibly not be sure of the correct answer.

The Americans lament that they have had continuous one party rule, but Bill Clinton was in office only eight years ago. Japan is where they have regular elections but continuous one party rule for decades on end.

One thing about continuous one party rule is that you know exactly which political party is responsible for what is going on in your country. The crumbling medical system and social security system, the ruinous public school system, the disastrous level of debt, the increasing gap between the haves and have nots, you know that what the Liberal Democratic Party (which, as we all know, is neither very liberal nor very democratic) did or did not do caused it or at least did not stop it from happening.

Quite honestly, I don't think anyone has a straightforward answer on how to make this country a better place to live. But isn't it kind of irresponsible to cop out before your term runs out and create yet another former PM who gets a former PM pension.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

How much is true?

Doko made hontou?

I thought this video was interesting, chilling, and amusing at the same time.

I can't place the show, but judging from the television personalities in the clip, it seems to be from to be a semi-legit news show somewhere between "Inside Edition" and "60 Minutes".

Assessing photographs for their authenticity is a valid academic field. I haven't bought and read the book, but I am convinced that at least the photos shown in the clip are either doctored or from entirely different incidents from the Nanking Massacre. I am more than willing to believe that the Chinese side did not have convincing photographs of what happened. They were overpowered and underresourced. I would not be surprised if none of them had cameras, or even if they did, none of them were able to take photos. I can understand how the Kuomintang thought it necessary to use doctored and unrelated photos for propaganda purposes.

However, I am seriously frightened that the commentators (most of them are not legitimate commentators as in educated and informed critics, but television presenters and personalities) conclude that it supports evidence that the Nanking Massacre did not happen. These people are Nanking Massacre naysayers, and they need to be lumped in the same category as Holocaust naysayers and Hiroshima naysayers. It scares me that they are on television and expressing these views to the general public.

Oh, and could we please use the word "rooster" or "cockerel" to describe male chickens?

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Do you like me?"

Watashi no koto suki?

There are, in fact, people who (gasp!) actually like the Japanese. One of them are the Finns. Finland was under Russian rule during pretty much the entire 19th century. This continued until the fall of the Russian Empire, when Finland became an independent nation for the first time in about six centuries (the Swedes ruled Finland before Russia). The fall of the Russian Empire is closely associated with Russia's losing the Russo-Japanese war. They like us because an enemy's enemy is a friend. Oh well. At this point, I'm ready to take what I can get...

Kidding! About the enemy's enemy, that is. And I'm not sure if Finns actually like Japanese. Since Finland was a part of Russia, I am sure there were Finnish soldiers fighting against the then Imperial Japanese Army. I do know that Finns and Japanese communicate in similar ways (in a way some cultures would call "passive-agressive". Which I can understand. But it works. Most of the time, anyway). I also know that most Japanese who go to other countries say most people were nice to them but some people muttered racist slurs in stage whispers or tried to overcharge them or sell them inferior merchandise, and that most Japanese who go to Finland say that everyone was nice to them.

BTW, grab a Japanese person and chat to them about Finland and they will tell you that Finns like us so much, they named a beer after their favorite Japanese, Admiral Togo Heihachiro. This is not accurate. The Finnish beer label "Amiraali," whose name translates into "admiral" has labels which feature famous admirals from around the world. Admiral Togo's label is the only one imported to Japan on a regular basis :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"(I feel) tired and sick."

Darui!

I'm feeling tired and sick, because, well, I'm sick! No big deal, just a runny nose and mild cough. Before I gave birth, I used to catch a cold once every other year or so. Now, the Pumpkin Princess brings home all sorts of pathogens from day care. Most of them only affect the Pumpkin Princess, but sometimes they make their way into my system.

In the news...the government of South Korea is complaining the name they use was not used in the Beijing Olympics. Well, OK, but look in any atlas (outside Korea), and that body of water is called "Sea of Japan". No matter where you are looking from, that sea is adjacent to the Japanese archipelago, hence the name. It is to the east if you are looking at it from Korea, but not if you are looking at it from Japan, which is why the name you use is not used outside your country.

Now, go do something productive like plan tours on that uninhabited island with no industrial or strategic use that you insist is yours. Um, you've got an obviously troubled man running a crumbling country right next to you, and you go and build a military base on an uninhabited island with no strategic use. Yep, that's practical application of military resources.

(Disclaimer: I am poking fun at the South Korean government, not the general populace, although the opinions of the general populace seem to reflect those of the government to a certain extent.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Wake wakaranai!"

I don't get it at all!

Well, the Olympics are finally over. The competitors did beautifully and it was good to watch.

Except. I have come to the conclusion that Mainland Chinese really, really, REALLY hate the Japanese. In volleyball, the (mostly Chinese) spectators booed every time the Japanese scored. In soccer, every time the Japanese team got possession of the ball, the (mostly Chinese) spectators booed heavily, and cheered madly every time the opposing team got it back. When you think of how the game of soccer is played, that means that the spectators were booing about half the duration of the game, or 45 minutes total. That’s a lot of booing.

The most convincing argument has got to be badminton. Every time the Chinese pair hit the shuttle into the Japanese side of the court, the spectators would shout “Sha!” which means “kill”. In badminton, of all sports. Wrestling, I could understand, but badminton?

Yes, I know, Nanking Massacre and all that, but isn’t that like me shouting at Americans “this is for what you did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki!!!” at the end of the softball final? (I think, the historical/ political perspective of the average American regarding the atomic bombs is rather one-sided and unrealistic, no thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, but it’s got nothing to do with Yukiko Ueno or Crystl Bustos) Yes, World War II was awful but I didn’t start it. I didn’t fight in it. My father was six years old when it ended. My mother, then an infant, nearly died of fever on the evacuee ship traveling back to Japan from Shanghai. My paternal grandfather failed his draft physical. I suspect my maternal grandfather bribed his way out of it. The average Olympic competitor is probably younger than me by about a decade, so they are even less responsible than I am. It’s really disheartening to hear the Chinese throw back their heads and howl “NANKING MASSACRE” every time something happens that they don’t like, and that this includes when Japanese competitors do well in sporting events. Sheesh. For centuries, China was the most civilized country on the planet. So far, the 21st century is NOT one of those centuries.

(Disclaimer: I don’t hate the Chinese, it’s just, that, well, you try pouring foreign aid into a country while your own country is in its second decade of recession, and have the favor returned by being booed every time your country gets the ball. I really, really want to like the Mainland Chinese, partly because there are so many of them to like, but what am I supposed to do if they don’t like me because of a war neither of my grandfathers fought in? I couldn’t find any non-Japanese commentary on this topic, so I wanted to get some English about it online.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

"I don't believe it!"

Shinjirarenai!

My Olympic heros for the moment are, of course, Oksana Chusovitina, and after yesterday and tonight, Yukiko Ueno. She's the 26 year-old ace pitcher for the gold medal winning Japanese sotfball team. Yesterday, she pitched 9 innings against the USA (Japan lost) and then, several hours later, get this, 12 innings against Australia (Japan won). Then, today, she pitched 7 innings against the USA. That's 450 pitches in 28 consecutive innings in 36 hours. All three games were wonderfully exciting, but I expected USA to get the gold.

The only low point in those 21 innings was when Yukiko Ueno walked the American designated hitter Crystl Bustos. She'd got one sent over the fence the last time this woman was at bat. I wish she hadn't walked her, and I wasn't surprised when Yukiko got booed heavily, but I guess anyone who throws 450 pitches in 36 hours gets to walk whomever they want to walk.

Japanese women's soccer lost to Germany and didn't win the bronze medal. This did not surprise me. Nor am I surprised that the (mostly Chinese) spectators booed every time Japan got possession of the ball. It was a decent match so that was a lot of booing. Yes, I know, Nanking Massacre and all that, but seriously, the oldest Japanese player on the pitch was 29 years old. Her father probably wasn't even born yet when August 15, 1945 rolled around, so how does that entitle her to booing when she's playing good soccer?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

She did it!

"Yatta!"

Oksana Chusovitina won a silver medal in the vault. Interestingly enough, it's her first individual gymnastics medal. She has a gold medal from Barcelona, but it was the team gold as a member of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mothers are strong.

"Haha ha tsuyoshi."

There's probably very little a mother would not do for her child. If the child is sick, mom will take him to the hospital. If the hospital he's been taken to can't provide sufficient care, she'll take him to a different hospital. If the treatment is costly, she'll find a way to earn enough money to pay for it. It might involve getting better or staying good at her current job, for example. She will find a way. She just will. That's what mothers do.

At age 33, Oksana Chusovitina is currently competing in her 5th Olympic games. If her event were something like archery or equestrian or swimming, it wouldn't be that unusual, but her event is gymnastics, which is notorious for being dominated by pigtailed teenagers too young to get a driver's license. If the country she were representing were someplace like Toga or Palau, not known for their gymnasts, it would not be that unusual, but she represents Germany. Germany's not Romania or the USA, but they are consistent participants of the games. She has been around since she herself was a pigtailed teenager too young to drive. I remembered her name from back then and I noticed her name this time around and thought, no way is it the same girl. But apparently, is is the same girl.

She has continued to compete this long because of her son. She used to compete for Uzbekistan, but she moved to Germany so that she could get better treatment for her son when he got leukemia. She continued to compete so that she could earn prize money to pay for his chemo (I Googled and found an article written in 2005 that her son was in remission, and I couldn't find anything that said he'd had a relapse).

She placed 9th in the individual all around for the Beijing games. She'll compete in her specialty event, the vault, tomorrow (August 17th). Unfortunately, they don't broadcast women's gymnastics much here in Japan since it's not one of our strong events. I hope she does well, though.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Kore mo unmei!"

This is also destiny!

(used in the context of "that's life!")

In the Pumpkin Palace kitten saga, when I went outside this morning, only one of the kittens was sitting under my car. I gave it some more of the homemade kitty formula while wondering how many of the remaining three had turned into pancakes on the road. However, they weren't pancakes...yet.

Apparently there was a cardboard box in the nearby park where the Pumpkin Princess likes to go on the slide marked "please love these kitties". Somehow the kittens had made their way to underneath the Pumpkin Daddy's car, checked out Bistro Ayako with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and gone their separate ways. The local council (kind of a semi-official branch government for the local community of 400 or so families in this part of town) were collecting recycleable materials there this morning, and the box without kitties had become a topic of concern. Three of four kittens had been found under different cars and different porches and put back in the box, and the kitten I'd fed this morning was the fourth and final. One of the kittens was taken by a little boy and his mom, and will have a good home if his dad agrees to a new addition to the family. The plan was to put the remaining three kittens back in the box under a tree and see if anyone would take them home, and then take the remaining kittens to the health department on Monday. It would cost 1000 yen per kitten to have the Health Department take them, but that would be paid for by the local council. Before I had a chance to protest that putting the kitties in an open cardboard box where they could crawl out and potentially become pancakes on the asphalt, the Pumpkin Daddy handed over the final kitten to the local council officer.

The Pumpkin Daddy checked later and said that the entire box was gone, kittens and all. I'm hoping one of the kids playing in the park took them home and convinced mom and dad that she'd get straight 5's (A's) next semester if she got to keep the kittens. I'm hoping it's not some cruel mentally ill person taking them home to torture and decapitate. I regret not having brought the kittens in the house last night, but if I had, that kitten that found a nice home this morning, well, wouldn't have. It's really hard to say which decision would have been right. I'm trying to remember that at least one kitten will be given the love he deserves (yes, I checked while I was pooping him, it's most definitely a he).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"Watashi no sei ja nai!"

It's not my fault!

I am peeved. Last night, we went to a fair/ carnival type deal at the Pumpkin Daddy's workplace. When we got home, I saw something sparkle under the Pumpkin Daddy's car as I backed mine into our covered parking area. I went back later with a flashlight and I discovered that the sparkly things were four pairs of kitten eyes.

I did research on the internet and found out that mother cats will leave their kittens alone for hours to hunt for food, so I thought perhaps that was what had happened to these kittens, and that they would be best off left to themselves.

Well, it's been 16 hours and there has been no sign of mother cat. Since their eyes and ears are open and they will walk for short distances, I think they are about 3 weeks old or so, if what I'm reading on the net is true. I'm beginning to think that they were deliberately left here, after their mother's owner decided he didn't want them. I don't think they would have survived out in the open for three weeks by themselves, and I don't recall seeing any mother-ish cats during the past few days.

The plan for now is to look after them as best I can until Monday (I've whipped up some homemade kitty formula from an online recipe) and fed them from a squeeze bottle), when the Pumpkin Daddy will notify the Health Department. Yes, they will probably end up being euthanized after the three day holding period, but we can't keep them and it's probably more humane than dying a slow and painful death from hunger or dehydration.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what to do, besides two parents with full time jobs and a 2 year-old with a non-kitten proofed house adopting four kittens? In the US, this is where I would call an animal shelter, but unfortunately I haven't been able to find one. The usual solution is to leave them be and wait for them to go away, but I don't think they are mature enough to do that, so if they starve or die of exposure, they will likely do it under my car (which is where they are now after the Pumpkin Daddy took his to the auto shop for a quick repair job) or on my front porch (which is as far I have caught them venturing).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Yatto ochitsuita."

Finally settled

OK, got the old blog posts copied and pasted, and am now ready to leave Yahoo! for Blogger as my primary blogging site.

It's been seriously hot and humid these past couple of days. Today, I was walking down the hall with my co-worker, and she asked "Is it just me, or is it foggy?" And it did seem like visibility was slightly impaired. We went into one of the rooms, and the air seemed to clear. The rooms are air conditioned, and the halls are too, but since the hallways can't be completely shut off from the exits, it seems the outside heat and humidity are more severe in the halls than the rooms. I have been finding myself planning my trips through the hallways to limit exposure to the heat and humidity ("I think I'll cut through that room instead of walking down that hall, and while I am there, I will grab my book and laptop") .

I keep falling asleep as I type this. I think I will turn in early tonight.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Entry for August 03, 2008

"Kanashiku nacchata!"

(I) felt really sad!

Yesterday, I saw a woman who was emaciated, as in, I just came from a Subsaharan African village plagued by drought for the past two years emaciated. She didn't seem the least bit concerned about this, as she wore shorts that showed brittle-looking skin stretched over the bones and tendons in her knees. Eating disorder, I thought to myself, as someone ill with cancer or other disease would not be so cheerfully showing her body like that or be walking outside in the intense summer heat. I felt so sad that this woman wasn't getting the help that she needed, or if she were getting help, it wasn't, well, helping. Which happens sometimes, and it's no one's fault, not any more than it is when someone loses a battle against cancer even though they were fighting with everything in them and getting the best possible care.

Then, I saw two boys, who looked to be about eight or nine, calling this woman mom. They were both morbidly obese, as in, seriously at risk for diabetes and heart disease obese. Behind me, a couple of average looking boys about the same age were pointing at the kids and snickering and saying "Pigsy!"

I had this image of this woman's struggle with food, to want to eat but not being able to, and channeling it toward her children, who consume all the junk food that she sets in front of them. I had an image of the boys struggling daily with their weight, how it keeps them from normal physical activity, sets them up as a bullying target, and puts them at risk for all sorts of health issues now and on into adulthood.

I know that I shouldn't be slapping psychiatric diagnoses and creating imaginary family dynamics about people I don't know, unless they are fictional characters. But this family made me very very sad.

Entry for July 25, 2008

"Aisareteiru"

(I am) loved

I'm posting this from a McDonald's on the way from one outside gig to another. I feel like such a high-tech person. It took me a few tries to get connected to the Wi-Fi, but here I am.

The other day, I was trying to get connected to the Wi-Fi at work. We're not actually supposed to have it, so please don't tell anyone. Shhhhh. One of the ubergeeks at work brought in a Wi-Fi device and connected it to the LAN network without official permission. It's there until one of the network people figure it out and decide it's a problem, or it breaks. Anyway, ubergeek A transferred to a different gig, and no one I asked knew the password or how to get connected. About four different co-workers kept trying to help me (did you try this and this? Did you ask so-and-so?) and they were very nice about it (some of them had semi-ulterior motives, as they had tried before to get connected and failed. They were hoping if I figured it out, I would help them). It didn't work, so I decided that I would ask ubergeek A when I ran into him.

The next day, I went into work and there was a sign taped to the Wi-Fi device that said "password: riceandpickles" ("riceandpickles" isn't the actual password, I'm just using that as a random example). One of the people who were trying to help me ran into ubergeek A and told him I wanted the password. I thought it was so sweet of ubergeek A to do that (if unsafe from a security POV) and so sweet of the co-worker to remember my problem and ask ubergeek A about it. I really felt loved.

Or maybe they are scared of me and don't like it when I am in a bad mood and make it a point to do everything in their power to prevent it.