Thursday, March 31, 2016

Formation Drills

Dantai koudou

Year of Requirement Part 4

P.E. was separated into girls’ and boys’. Like I mentioned before, Classes 1 and 2 had their class together and classes 3 and 4 had their class together, but we were Class 5, so we had P.E. by ourselves. In American Suburbia, we had Girls’ P.E. in junior high school and co-ed P.E. in high school, and I really didn’t think it was that big a deal to have separate P.E. classes from the boys.

The first few P.E. classes, we had what was called a “sports test.” It was basically a physical aptitude test, where they timed you on 50 m sprints and a longer run (1500 m for the boys and 1000 m for the girls) and counted your pull-pus (for guys) and half-pull-ups (lame pull-up on low bar with your feet extended in front of you) and so on and so-forth. I did very badly on everything but the flexibility test (there’s a joke there somewhere).

Then, P.E. classes proper began. The guys did track. The girls...marched. No, seriously. We marched. We practiced doing “about face” and “march forth” and counting off. I was thinking maybe I was in North Korea or some other communist country where military exercises were part of the required curriculum. Or maybe I’d entered some kind of time warp into 50 years prior when they’d been part of the required curriculum in Japan as well. The P.E. teacher yelled at us if we were out of line. This happened a lot when we tried to run in formation, or turn in formation. I guess the final goal was something along the lines of this:

There is generally a fragment of truth in every stereotype. The amount of truth in lack of individuality stereotype of Japan was, so far, proving itself in its entirety in a P.E. class for 15 year-old girls.

What was really different was swimming. In Suburbia, swimming was what you did in winter because the school grounds were covered with two feet of snow and you couldn’t play soccer. In Japan, it was what you did in the hottest days of summer because if you tried to do anything else, you’d die of heat stroke (the gymnasium didn’t even have fans). Which was fine, I guess, but remember what I said about not having locker rooms? The elaborate technique involved in getting ready was off the charts. It involved towels stitched into elastic waist skirts. The one my mom made for me was chucked long ago, but I think I have one that I made for the Pumpkin Princess...

The big thing we had to do was swim 500 meters nonstop. I did this fairly easily, and when I finished, the PE teacher said “your swimming would be great for when the ship you were on sank.” Whatever that was supposed to mean.

I never managed better than a “3” (of 5) in P.E. It brought down my GPA.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Decor of Dreams

Yume no interiya





TST canvas

Tiny Storm Trooper has got his hands on Daiso art canvas (100 yen each). Given his (somewhat one-sided) devotion to Tiny Vader, things should get interesting. Stay tuned...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The season for departures

Wakare no kisetsu

Here in Japan the school year begins and ends in spring, as does many other things. Tax season is in spring, and so is moving season. Last week, I ate out three times (lunch at work not included). Once as a lunch party, once as a dinner for a guest at work, and once as a farewell party for someone I've worked with almost all of my adult life. Time to move on and greener pastures and all that. I wish him well and hope he will visit soon and often.

I was hoping to run off the excess calories, but that didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I ran on Friday and today, 6 km each. I ran 8 km the Sunday before, and my body hated me until around Wednesday, and it rained Thursday morning. Yes, I know, excuses. This is why I don't think I'll ever run a full marathon.

I've developed a morbid fascination for high-traffic fashion blogs. It used to be that I had a (comparatively) healthy interest in them. They let me see pretty clothes for free (as opposed to shilling several hundred yen for a fashion mag) and if I looked long enough, I could find someone built someone like myself and get ideas on what would be most flattering on my middle aged body. Then, I realized that blogs seemed to have a life cycle. They'd start out as a creative outlet of sorts, run by people who had real jobs and real budgets and real lives and genuine passion. Then, people start to see how cool they are and follow them. Once they get a large number of followers, fashion brands and chain stores start to reach out to them and send them their products to review or include in their blogs, sometimes for a price. The bloggers, of course, are flattered by the attention and the (usually) cool free stuff, so they will include them in blog posts. Their original style and relatability (is that even a word?) deteriorates. Sometimes the ad revenue becomes sufficient enough for them to leave their real jobs and blog full time. When this happens, they will blog for profit. They will write about the products they are paid to wear and endorse, and they will post fewer DIY alterations and crafts (because sewing supply stores have limited advertising budgets.). The blog will more or less begin to fold into itself.

Meanwhile, the blog fans start to wonder if they can run a "successful" blog for themselves. "Successful" means lots of followers (and hence, potential ad revenue). So they try to get the attention of potential readers by posting comments in high-traffic blogs of  a similar genre. Thing is, you can't always say something interesting about a series of photos of the blogger wearing the same dress striking similar poses in front of the same building, so the comment will go something like "Love the dress! (blog link of commenter)." As will the 30 other replies to the post. Which is kind of silly and also kind of pathetic, but relatively harmless.

There are more disturbing stories. The most disturbing is the idea of credit card debt for blogging. Blog content for fashion blogs means new clothes and accessories. There are only so many photos you can take of the same pair of skinny distressed jeans. New items are a must. So some less cerebral would-be bloggers see their fashion purchases as a professional investment, when in fact they are about as reliable as investments as sending your much-too-talkative six year-old to intense tennis lessons in the hope that he'll become a world-class tennis player. The net (pun intended) result would be the same: lots of debt, and not much else.

(Though the six year-old might learn focus and discipline and become the tennis team captain of a shit xxx school team in university and play in a shit xxx school league as he earns his technical degree and graduate and be his boss's tennis partner and kick some xxx @$$, which might help his career. This is unlike rowing, which very few people do after graduating university. But I digress. I should probably add that since this is Japan, the six-year-old's chances of getting a full athletic scholarship into a decent school to play tennis and study something worthwhile are much slimmer than in the US).

Another disturbing (but less harmful) story is the blogging community and the social scene. They put on the guise of being friends, but have a tangled web of failed friendships and romantic relationships. The saddest pattern is when a would-be male model is hanging on a big-name blogger for financial reasons and the potential to associate with fashion brands.

Anyway. My fascination with high-traffic blogs has become a bit twisted. I don't see anything like this happening to me anytime soon, unless the makers of Tiny Vader want to sponsor me and send me a Tiny New Order Storm Trooper when it comes out.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Changing clothes


Year of Requirement Part 3

The public high school I’d attended in the US was a good-sized school with about 800 students per year. The building was fairly large and we had two gymnasiums (not including a gymnastics room, indoor track and weight training area) a heated indoor pool and a big auditorium. If you had Biology first period and P.E second period, and the gym was on the other side of the building, you had 4 minutes to get to the other side of the building. Of course, the gym and pool had gender-separate locker rooms with showers.

In my new school, there were about 5 classes of about 42 students for each year. The classes were identified by a number (I was in Class 5, or “Go-kumi,” or 3-5). The students stayed in the same (numbered) classroom while the teachers came to you. And when I say the students stayed in the same classroom, I mean it. Every single one of the students, from the kid who had very recently been mainstreamed from the Special Ed program in a neighboring school, to the kid who’d later go to Kyoto University and major in physics (and also get a master’s in nuclear physics from the same school), would take the exact same classes in the exact same group.

We went to the music room for music, we went to the science lab when we had science, and we went to the gym for P.E. P.E. was interesting because we had to change for it, but there were no locker rooms, so you changed in the classroom. Classes 1 and 2 had P.E. together, and Classes 3 and 4 had P.E. together, and the class was divided into Girls’ P.E. and Boys’ P.E. So for those classes, the boys changed in an odd number classroom and the girls changed in an even number classroom, so no one saw each other.

But I was in Class 5.

To change, each gender more or less shifted to either side of the classroom. I learned quickly that I should wear my P.E. shorts under my skirt every day. The P.E. shorts, called buruma or “bloomers,” were awful. They were basically navy blue panties in a thick synthetic knit. It was like wearing just the bottom half of a leotard. They didn’t have legs, so if you weren’t careful (or sometimes even if you were), you would be showing butt cheek and cellulite (and in my case, stretch marks). They were also very hot, especially in the humid Japanese summers.

To change into your shirt, you pulled the shirt over your head and around your torso, then undid the blouse buttons and pulled it off, without pulling the P.E. shirt up. It took skill to change without flashing bra line, and even more skill to do it without flashing navel. The P.E. shirts themselves were o.k., but they were made of a thick cotton-poly jersey that was hot in summer, especially if you were wearing it under your cotton-poly uniform blouse.

During the cold months, we could wear our long track suits over the whole thing, but when it was warm, we were required to take them off, resulting in 15 year-old girls giving their  teachers and classmates (which would, of course, include 15 year-old boys) a full view of cellulite and butt cheek. You really have to wonder about the teachers who made those rules. Most public elementary and junior high schools switched to knee-length shorts and synthetic fiber shirts shortly after I graduated from university. I am happy for today’s kids, but also a bit jealous.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

Thirty six hours later

Sanjuu roku jikan go

My body hates me.

The hatred is especially strong from the glutes and quads.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Little and cute

Chiisakute kawaii

I am typing this waiting for my 100 yen shop nail polish to dry. I don't wear nail polish very often, so I usually end up with a clumpy bottle before I finish. Cheap (but reasonably good) nail polishes are a must.

So. The other day, I was watching TV and 19 year-old Sara Takanashi was on a talk show.

OMG she's so tiny and cute! And she's the Women's Ski Jumping World Cup Champion! And she's so tiny and cute! I want to hold her and cuddle her tell her how awesome she is and put her in my tote bag and carry her around and feed her chocolate brownies and wear matching bracelets with her and the Pumpkin Princess and...and...

I looked her up on Wikipedia and I realized that she was exactly as tall as me. And her official website lists her as being 1 cm taller.

So, I guess putting her in my tote bag and carrying her around isn't an option. But if she wants brownies and matching bracelets, I'm in if she's in...

Ran about 8k this morning, which I haven't done in about five months. It was o.k....I think...get back to me in a couple of days, and I'll let you know how badly my body hates me. The Pumpkin Prince ran about a kilometer on Friday and said he would run every morning, but he hasn't run at all since then, which is probably what one should expect from an almost 2nd year elementary school student (sho-ni). We should probably run up and down slopes a bit before the actual 2k, since the race is notorious for its hilly terrain.

In anticipation of our family 2k this summer (and the preceding training), we went to the sporting goods store and bought running gear for the Pumpkin Prince and Princess. The Pumpkin Prince's stuff can double as tennis gear. Without coordinating anything, they both chose Adidas stuff. Then the Pumpkin Daddy decided he wanted stuff to match the Pumpkin Prince, so he got some new Adidas stuff. I didn't want to be left out, so I checked out the Adidas stuff for women, and it was pastel...which is nice, but didn't match with the rest of the family.

My friends in the US are feeling the effects of Daylight Savings Time. Japan used to have it too. It was during the post WWII American occupation. It ended when the occupation did. Every so often, there's discussion of bringing it back, but after its ending in 1952, it has yet to return.

Thursday, March 17, 2016



Year of Requirement Part 2

We moved into that house two days before my first day of school. My grandmother had taken me to the department store near her house the week before to buy a navy blue skirt and white blouse to wear to school, but we managed to make it to the store in Pumpkin City that sold the school uniform the day before I started school and got the full uniform.

The uniform consisted of a navy blue blazer, vest, and skirt with white blouse, white socks, and low-cut white sneakers. The blazer, vest, and skirt were, I found out later, not machine washable, and were sent to the dry cleaners only once a trimester. The white blouse was a cotton-poly no-iron blend with a plain round white collar that was hot and sticky in summer and cold in winter. The socks had to be white, without any stripes or polo players or alligators, and the shoes were white too. They could be any brand, as long as they were all white. Most people wore Nikes or Mizunos. You were allowed to wear a white, gray or black sweater or hoodless sweatshirt over the blouse and under the jacket in winter, and there was also a regulation windbreaker, which was just that, an unlined nylon windbreaker that stopped wicking water at around the third washing. If you wanted to wear tights, they were supposed to be flesh-toned. I was thinking whiskey, tango, foxtrot because what self-respecting woman younger than 70 wears flesh-toned tights? I missed my Lee jeans.

I also had the regulation school bag, which was a sturdy nylon bag that could be converted to a crossbody or a backpack. I later found out about an unwritten rule that said only 3rd year (most senior) students could wear the bag as a crossbody. Offenders would be shamed emotionally or physically by senior students. Like I said, whiskey, tang, foxtrot.

I’d left the Chicago suburbs halfway through the second (spring) semester in my freshman year of high school. I arrived on the second day of the last year of junior high school. So what did I do my first day of school? This was nearly 30 years ago, but if my memory serves me correctly, I took a standardized test. I was shocked at how poorly I did. In the science exam, I answered half the questions with any confidence. I'd taken a biology class in my suburban high school, so I didn't have a clue about electrical circuits or winter constellations. In social studies, the proportion was more like a third, since I did not know which prefecture was the biggest producer of rice and who was the seventh shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. I figured out the language arts exam as best I could. I did the math OK. Of course, I finished the English exam about five minutes after we started (and spent the rest of the time staring out the window wondering what kind of evil I’d done in a previous life to deserve this happening to me).

I found out later that the teachers freaked out at how WELL I’d done on that test (other than English. They’d kind of expected that one.). They’d braced themselves for someone functionally illiterate, and here I was reading Japanese at a reasonable level of comprehension and doing well above average in math, and and writing legible answers in the rest of the subjects (even though many of the answers were wrong).

I wasn’t quite what my fellow students expected either. I got a lot of “you don’t look like you’re from America.” Um, what is a Japanese person from America supposed to look like? Based on what television and manga told them, apparently, I was supposed to be tall and slender and pretty and athletic and have long hair and an attitude.

Short, check. Dumpy, check. Plain, with acne and coke bottle glasses, check. Can't play ball sports to save her life, check. Short hair, check.

What an utter disappointment I must have been to them.

Well, except for the attitude part.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Let's wear the scarf together

Issho ni sukaafu wo makou

DV hat

DV long scarf

ST long scarf

sharing long scarf

(Hats and scarf designed and crocheted by Pumpkinmommy)

Last week, it got up to 20 degrees (celsius, of course!). Sunday, it only got up to about 6. I was going to send my coat to the cleaners, but I've decided to hold off for a while...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I told you so

Dakara itta desho

When I started running, I said I did not plan to race. I was told that I would want to race once I got into running. I'm still not sure how "into" running I am. To me, it falls under the same category as brushing my teeth and getting a mammogram. (I think I feel more smug about it than I do about brushing my teeth, though, because, well, more people brush their teeth than run.)

I've signed up (or rather, the Pumpkin Daddy signed me up) for my first race. Before anyone tells me "I told you so," I should clarify that this is a parent-child pair 2k. I'm supposed to run with the Pumpkin Prince, so I'll have to get him to run a couple times a week so he can handle the distance.

Taxes are due on Tuesday...not done yet. Can't find my life insurance receipt. I'm thinking of cutting my losses and filing without it.

March 11 came and went. It's...sobering, watching the TV footage of cars being washed away on that day five years ago. And it's stressful, because it's part of the past, and you can't do anything about it. Maybe it's my civic duty to be stressed and upset once a year.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

We're moving.


Year of Requirement Part 1

My father’s work took the family from Japan to the United States in the mid ‘70s. I was three and a half when we moved to the United States and I was fourteen when we moved back. For as long as I could remember, my parents were always reminding me and my brother and sister that we’d move back to Japan someday and that we’d have to assimilate back in. The three of us went to Japanese Saturday School every Saturday. The school was in Skokie when I started going there and then it moved to Arlington Heights. They always gave us a lot of homework.

Keeping up with the Japanese Saturday School homework got really rough in the upper grades, and I stopped turning in my homework and I hid it under my bed (keep in mind I’m doing regular public school stuff five days a week). Then I got found out, and my dad hit me in the face for it. I can see that you can’t let your kid get away with lying, but I still wonder what would have happened if I’d told one of my public school teachers that my dad had hit me in the face for not doing homework for a school that technically has no legal basis and falls under the same category as gymnastics class or piano lessons. This was in 1982 or thereabouts, so it may or may not have generated the anaphylactic reaction of child protection it would now. And, it may or may not have led to having a more functional relationship with my parents now. But that’s another can of worms for another day.

My point is, the Japanese School was hard work and it was taken very seriously, even though in retrospect it should have been more important to do the American public school stuff. We were always reminded that we were going back to Japan and that Japanese schoolwork was HARD and we’d never be able to keep up unless we did that Japanese Saturday School homework, and maybe not even then. It was kind of like bracing for Armageddon for most of your childhood.

Unlike Armageddon, it eventually happened, albeit several years later than my parents thought it should. It was still too soon for us kids, though. We’d been hoping it would happen much later. As in, never. By the time I started high school, I’d begun to wonder if there was any way I could just stay in the US, like go to a boarding school or something (one of my dad’s co-workers sent their son to one of those East Coast prep schools where everyone was, well, preppy), but apparently that wasn’t a part of my parents’ plans. Or their bank accounts.

So, one fine spring day in the mid ‘80s, Armageddon Lite happened. Or rather, we boarded a plane and landed in Tokyo International Airport. We stayed at my grandparents’ place until my parents found a house for us to live. The yen had suddenly risen in value (it was the peak of the bubble economy) and I think they didn’t have enough money to put a bid on a house or something, because I know they ended up borrowing money from relatives to make a down payment on the small, run-down house they bought (and still live in today. The house is semi-run-down now, but it was pretty nice for a while. This situation warrants a whole section in this narrative). Due to the inactivity and stress eating, I think I gained a kilo or two during those couple of weeks, and got stretch marks on my thighs. That weight gain may or may not have sealed my fate for a year of intense misery.