Thursday, June 23, 2016

Let it rain

Ame yo fure

It’s officially the rainy season in Japan. After nearly five years of hemming and hawing, I finally bought black Hunter Tour rain boots. They cost more than sane people should spend on anything they’re going to wear to walk through mud puddles. But they’re great. They make me dislike rainy days a little less.  No more worries about muddy splashes on pants legs or stockings or tights, and when you get to where you’re headed, you take them off and wear the nice shoes you’ve got stashed in your bag. You can also wear them with thick socks as snow boots (probably won’t work in the American Midwest, you need proper snow boots there, but more than good enough for Pumpkin City!). I didn’t get the sock liners because I once saw our fashion-plate of an administrative assistant struggle for a full three minutes trying to get Hunters with fleece liners off her feet.

I chose Tours instead of Classics because they are lighter and slightly shorter. (The Classics hit slightly above my knee, while the Tours hit me exactly at the knee.) I didn’t want the short version because they would hit me mid calf and I might get the stray mud splash on my upper calf. Plus, this length makes my legs look short. My legs need all the help I can get. They get in the way a little bit when walking, but not enough to matter much. They claim to be packable. The rubber is soft enough to fold over and stuff it into the drawstring bag it comes with. But I don’t really see myself packing them. I’m afraid I’d crack the rubber.

OK, I wrote two paragraphs about rubber rain boots. In another part of my exciting, exotic life, I am doing squats. I’m tweeting with a woman in Canada and another woman in the UK, and we’re cheering each other on. We’re currently up to 45 squats per day, and we’ll add 5 squats a day until we hit 100 (which is 20 less than we did during afternoon training when I was in crew, so there’s that).

Trying to run with the Pumpkin Prince (almost) every morning. We ran three laps around his school yesterday, which is something like 1800 meters. Good for him, and good for me, since this was after I’d run my usual 6k. The family run we signed up for is coming up, and I hope to get a few more runs in before that. Hoping it doesn’t rain.

If it does, at least I get to wear my new boots.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What is a sentence pattern?

Bunkei to ha nanndesuka?

Year of Requirement Part 11

Like I mentioned previously, many of my schoolmates went to juku, or cram school. I didn’t. I had it in my head that my family was poor (we weren’t) and that most juku focused spent a lot of time on math and English (they did), the only two subjects I was better in than most people. I did see that there was a pattern or technique to answering the exam questions, and I thought that an intensive summer course might help me in that aspect.

The school actually passed out flyers for these courses. They were anywhere from one to two weeks long, and run by local or national chain juku. I looked at the flyers carefully and picked the one that spent the least time on math and English. I put on my school uniform and rode my sister’s bicycle to a building near the train station. There, I met some girls from my school. Actually, I didn’t really recognize them at all, but they were wearing the same uniform and they recognized me because I was famous in the school, being the only new person to come to the school that semester. Oh, and the whole “girl from the USA who wasn’t tall, slender, and pretty” thing (see Part 2). We agreed to bike together every morning for the rest of the course (safety in numbers and herd mentality and all that). I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d met the part of the school’s female overachiever set that wasn’t in Class 5.

The classes were what I’d expected. I didn’t quite get to master electrical currents and astronomy and Feudal Japanese history as much as I’d hoped, but I figured I was headed in the right direction. I also decided that I should not study English in any form or capacity for the rest of my natural life. During the English class, the instructor started talking about sentence structure. My plan had been to lie low and keep my nose clean, but this has never been and never will be my strong suit, and when he started talking about “first sentence pattern” and “second sentence pattern” and “third sentence pattern” and I thought he was speaking Swahili or something because I could not understand what he was saying, so I did what I’d always been taught to do since kindergarten in this situation, which was raise my hand and wait to be called on, and he called on me, so I asked “what is a sentence pattern?”

The whole class laughed at me.

(Forget sentence patterns, look at thepattern of my life in Japan so far.)

(Have you ever heard of sentence patterns? Apparently, “first sentence pattern” is SV, as in, “I rowed in university.” “Second sentence pattern” is S+Verb of being +C, as in “I was a coxswain.” “Third sentence pattern” is “SVO” as in, “I coxed the varsity boat in university.” “Fourth sentence pattern” is SVOO, as in “I gave my rowers chocolate.” “Fifth sentence pattern is SVOC, as in “That made them happy.”)

I never studied English. I did, however, study the relevant Japanese. The only way examiners could tell I understood the material was by making me translate it. So I studied Japanese so that I could give them the answers they wanted from me so that they’d let me go to the high school I wanted that would let me go to the university I wanted that would let me have the job I wanted.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Should (I) be a big shot?

Erai hito ni naru beki?

Other than ranting about things that happened during a different millennium and taking pictures of my SW figures (and the Pumpkin Daddy's Matryoshka doll), I haven't been doing much.

The Pumpkin Princess is currently meeting her friends at 6:30 every school day to do short runs or play badminton in the tiny park (more like a small lot that happens to have swings, a slide, and a sandbox) about 30 meters from our house. This will help her prepare for the "family run" we're going to do early next month. I thought the tween running/ exercise club would vanish within a week, but it's been about a month and they're still at it! The Pumpkin Prince, on the other hand, won't get up in the morning to run with me. He gets his exercise when he goes to his tennis class, and when I tried running with him a couple times, he could run about 1200 meters without problems, so it's not completely hopeless. The race is supposed to be about 2 km and goes both downhill and uphill, so I'd like to get him to run longer distances a few times before the big day.

My own running...happens. Sometimes. And I think it's good for me when it does. So, I need to find the discipline to 1) get up early more frequently than once or twice a week 2) get up earlier so I can run longer distances before I get to work. Couldn't I run long distances on weekend mornings? See 1)....

Some stuff I've been reading, and pondering, and wondering what I can do to make the world a better place...

The Ugly Secret of Working Moms. Wait, this is new information? This is old news to working moms. (I folded on this game when the Pumpkin Daddy took on homemaking duties, but I lived this until recently.)

'I'm Not Your Wife!' A New Study Points to a Hidden Form of Sexism. Hidden only to those who practice it, not to those who receive it. Everyone knows this happens, but it's nice to see it in black and white in an academic context. O.K., maybe not really, but it's a start.

Let's discuss; if you don't wear makeup to work, you'll be paid less. In Japan, the general consensus seems to be that wearing makeup is a necessary form of professional attire, and not wearing makeup is 1) rude to the people around you 2) a statement of arrogance that you're beautiful enough without putting in the effort. In a twisted way, this might actually be better than things in the US where people in decision-making positions (read: men) say that they prefer the "natural look" but subconsciously deduct points for age spots, pores, and overly bushy eyebrows.

The Families That Can't Afford Summer. (New York Times, so wait until next mont if you've maxed out on free articles!) I remember going to Day Camp and Overnight Camp when I lived in Suburbia, USA, but it was a luxury and not a necessity. My mom was a full-time homemaker, so we could have stayed at home. When the Pumpkin Daddy and I both worked full time, the Pumpkin Princess went to after-school child care. We paid 20,000 yen a month (USD 180 or thereabouts?). For what we got, it was a bargain, especially during summer. We could drop her off any time after 7:30 (with her lunch) and come for her any time before 7 p.m. They made the kids do their summer vacation homework in the morning (they'd be done with their written assignments by the end of the second week) and then they'd do crafts or watch DVDs or play outside or go to the school swimming pool in the afternoon. We don't send her there anymore, and we were a single income household by the time the Pumpkin Prince started school, but that child care was a lifesaver.

And my milk and gelatin DIY Biore nose strip is dry, so I'm signing off! But not before I share how to do a DIY nose strip...

1 part powdered unflavored gelatin
1 part milk (any kind, I've tried dairy and soy and they work the same)
(if you just want to do your nose, 1/2 tsp of each should be enough)

Place in a heat resistant bowl and microwave on high for 10 seconds, and stop when you see bubbles. Touch it to make sure it isn't too hot, and then apply to your nose with a brush (I use a 100 yen-shop nylon paintbrush). Wait for it to dry/ harden, and peel off slowly. Stare at the stuff that came off on the strip for a good several minutes, and then lay a cotton puff soaked with your usual skin lotion (mine's a DIY formula of urea, glycerin, and tap water) on your nose and let it sit for 10 minutes or so (for moisturizing).

(Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist nor do I play one on TV.)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Japanese summers are hot

Nihon no natsu ha atsui

Summer vacation began in mid July and ended in early September for kids in Japan during the better part of the 20th century. (If you think that’s short, it’s even shorter now these days, since you don’t go to school on Saturdays anymore, and there are more official holidays than there used to be, so the school year is longer to make up for all that.) If you were in athletics, the big summer athletic meets ended in summer and you gave up and started studying (unless you were really good at what you did and you went to Nationals or something, which is what happened to one guy in track and another guy in swimming, but they never went to international competition or even collegiate level athletics, which is a reminder that you should never take athletics too seriously, I am looking at you, college age Pumpkinmommy and her squadmates), but if you were not (like me) you still had stuff to do like competitions and school shows, so you had practice during summer vacation.

Drama club was going to put on a play during the school festival (bunkasai, more on that later, so we rehearsed that. Band was also rehearsing. We were allowed to ride our bicycles to school for practice during summer vacation (you usually couldn’t, although some of the more rebellious types would ride their bicycles and hide them somewhere near the school, and there was this cat and mouse thing they had going with the teachers where the teachers would try to find the bicycles during the day and lock the frame and wheel together and the rebels would try to pick the locks or cut the chains or, better yet, not get caught in the first place.)

The school’s (outdoor) swimming pool was opened almost every afternoon during summer vacation. We were encouraged to show up, either to keep us out of trouble or to keep us out of our parents’ hair, or both. In addition to that, there was a “school attendance day” when we’d go to school and there’d be a short assembly and then we’d go home. I wasn’t quite sure what purpose it served...a chance for teachers to check on kids who might be having problems outside school? They don’t do that anymore because vacation’s so darned short.

Another noteworthy thing that happened that summer was that we had additions built to that tiny run-down house we moved into. The living room and one of the bedrooms were expanded, the bathroom renovated, the tiniest bedroom converted into a closet, and a second floor with two bedrooms added. They built during the summer. When I was supposed to be studying. You know, to make up for the two years I wasn’t in this country? Also, while the renovations were being done on one side of the house, we’d have to move to the side that they weren’t working on. This meant even at night, we were cramped into one or two rooms. So, if I wanted to study at night, I was doing so in the same room as my dad, who would be watching baseball on T.V.

In retrospect, another impressive thing about all this was that until the renovations were complete, we did not have air conditioning during the time of year temps regularly hit the high 30s (high 90s or over 100 in Fahrenheit). This may not sound like much, but when you add in humidity, it was pretty darned uncomfortable.

As I write this, I marvel at how much I accomplished then, and how little I can accomplish now...

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I want to be famous

Yuumei ni naritai

Hello, I'm Matryoshka. 

I love fashion,

sweets (especially with my darling, Tiny Vader),


and healthy living (see my chia/ soy/ banana smoothie?).

My secret dream in life is to become a big name social media influencer, and have brands like Kate Spade and JCrew and Vineyard Vines send me their latest stuff for free and travel all over the world for free and enjoy the sweet life with my darling and have him put a ring on my finger. 

(What's that you say? I don't have fingers because I'm a Matryoshka? An insignificant detail that will not derail my plans for social media domination.)

(Don't mind the human hand you see. It's my intern, Pumpkinmommy. She apparently has blogger aspirations too.)

Follow me on Instagram! 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

There is no homework.

Shukudai ha arimasen.

Year of Requirement Part 9

In my high school in Suburbia, we always got quite a bit of homework. If we did a science lab, we had to write a lab report. In Speech class, we had to write speeches (which were the equivalent of writing essays, really) regularly. We also had Algebra homework and reading assignments and reports for Social Studies.

In my junior high school in Japan, we rarely had homework. If we couldn’t finish a sewing project, we’d take it home, and if we were going to be tested on a recorder piece, we’d take our recorders home to practice, but other than that, there was very little required work outside school. Most of the students were in clubs, or “bukatsu” that had afternoon practices almost every day, and that meant we got home at around six in the evening. Quite a few of the other kids went to “juku” after that. Juku are frequently called “cram schools” but they don’t cram as much as meticulously review material or go over advanced material to give you an academic edge. Or so I’ve heard. (One of the great ironies of my childhood/ youth is that while I’ve never attended juku, I’ve taught in one.) I guess the teachers figured that the kids that would do the homework were already up to their armpits in academics with juku, and the kids that wouldn’t do the homework anyway wouldn’t, so they may as well make things easier for everyone.

(My kids get a reasonable amount of homework from their public elementary school here in Pumpkin City, so I guess this is a junior high school phenomenon.)

I’d say about a third of my classmates went to juku. I was interested, but I figured my parents couldn’t afford it, so I didn’t even ask. I asked my mom for money and I went to the bookstore and look through the junior high school level study guides and picked the ones that looked right, and went through them on my own. I realized I didn’t understand electrical currents very well, so I talked to my science teacher and he offered to give me a special one-on-one crash course tutoring session complete with homework. Once I figured out Virgins Are Rare (volts = amps x resistance) and that the rest was nothing more than a glorified rendition of 8th grade math, it was pretty easy. Everything up to high school physics is just hyperactive algebra. University physics is hard. University physics was when I realized I was stupid. But since university was well before high school entrance exams, I was still convinced that I only had to make the high school see that I was as smart as I (thought I) was.