December 24, 2008

Kentucky Fried Christmas Eve

Bet you didn’t know that Kentucky Fried Chicken is a very popular choice for Christmas Eve dinner in Japan.

"Why not give it a try?" I thought, in my continuing quest to explore the interesting cultural twists of my host country. I discovered that the information found on other blogs is true: unless you reserve your Christmas KFC far in advance, you can’t buy it for dinner on December 24 or on Christmas Day. The outlets are just too busy!When I checked this out a local KFC outlet about a week ago, the reservation sheet was completely filled in for a week prior to, and after, Christmas Eve. Lady E. likes chicken, and I am still very curious about the ways Japanese people modify foreign products or traditions to meet local needs, but this rush just to eat yucky tucky is pushing the envelope for me. So we’ll settle for a home cooked meal on Christmas Eve instead.

Background: From what I’ve learned, KFC began operations in Japan in 1970. A life size replica of Colonel Sanders is placed in front of almost all KFC outlets in Japan (see below). But why is KFC so popular on Christmas Eve?

Apparently, the lack of turkey in Japan, and the general lack of ovens big enough to cook the birds in peoples' homes even if they could be purchased, forced a switch to chicken as an alternative. Savvy marketers caught on to these market factors, and since the 1970s Christmas chicken has been intensively marketed as an American-style yuletide dinner.

Just as the same Christmas Eve has become a highly significant date night for young Japanese people on a par with Valentine’s Day (as opposed to spending it with family, which is what new year’s eve is for) the cultural significance of food and fun on Christmas Eve and Christmas itself is markedly different than in North America.

Maybe I’ll try easing sushi and ramen on Christmas Eve when we eventually live somewhere else besides Japan. Nonetheless, a very Merry Christmas from Lady E. and her crew, to you.

December 20, 2008

Rising Excitement

The holidays are approaching and the Rising Daughter is old enough now to recognize that there is something going on; i.e. that old bearded Caucasian fellow in the red suit is everywhere. For Christmas 2008 Naomi and I have been more proactive than in years past when there was just the two of us. Our shopping and wrapping are already done, yet we are still heading to the local malls on weekends with our progeny to sample the Christmas-inspired enthusiasm in the air. I hesitate to use the word ‘spirit’ here…not out of ill will, but simply because the holiday season can get whacky in Japan. Not having the Christian religious underpinnings of the West, Christmas is mostly about having fun, romance (for singles and not-so-singles) and about giving gifts. And if you accept this secular version of Christmas for what it is – and it took me a few years to do that – then you can enjoy a marvelous Nippon-style ‘Kurisumasu’ and add in your own spiritual element as you see fit.

Put simply, in this very Confucian of nations there is absolutely no effort made to coat the commercial nature of Christmas in a veneer of spirituality. The marketing onslaught begins in early November and reaches a crescendo right now. And Japanese people are superb gift givers. It is one of the currencies of this culture. And Christmas is one of the great foreign imported traditions that keep the gifts a-flowin’. Which brings us back to Lady E. and Christmas shopping…

Whenever it has been too chilly to go to the playground (no snow here, back bacon eaters!) we head indoors. Lately Elena has been running amok in the stores, babbling contentedly to herself at times and absorbing the sights and sounds around her. Her wonder and excitement owing to the colors and music of Christmastime is truly infectious. I can almost see the varied images and information physically entering her brain and being processed. It’s more than a little incredible to experience all this with her. Discussing this blog with my uncle Pat last July, he gently reminded me that a few billion people have gone though the complete parenting experience before me. My rational side is fully aware of this, and yet each time the Rising Daughter reaches another stage in her young life I feel as though it is the most amazing, unique thing on the planet and therefore EVERYONE should know. Thus, my desire to impart to you the excitement and wonder of watching her being able to really participate in the Christmas joyride this year.

Besides, I suppose that Lady E.’s healthy and happy development as a little person is the gift that I am most grateful for this Christmas season. And I hope a similar cheerful state finds each and every one you faithful readers of this blog—all six of you. Heh heh.
Here’s a video of Lady E. from last weekend:

Let’s Illuminate!
Hiroshima City also brightens up the holidays by sponsoring a festival of outdoor displays which illuminate the Peace Boulevard, one of the main streets in downtown Hiroshima. It’s a popular spot for families to drive or walk around in the evenings prior to the new year holidays. From late November through early January, the grassy areas along the boulevard’s sides are opened up to companies and organizations to show their temporary holiday-inspired tributes, the outlines of which are decorated with strings of colored lights. This year’s “Hiroshima Dreamination” has a series of very imaginative and colorful exhibits—a huge altar, a merry-go-round, animals, a sleigh, arcing shooting stars, among others, some of which also which use the stationary trees and bushes. The entire illumination festival probably involves millions of lights adorning the displays and it certainly catches one’s attention.
We went to have a look last weekend. You can see (courtesy of chisa1084 on Flickr) the replica of the Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome.

Two shots of us follow. Unfortunately, a cold drizzle forced us to leave the Christmas lights celebration before we could see all the exhibits, but this did not, err…dampen our enthusiasm for the holidays at all.

November 30, 2008

The Return of Pumpkinhead

One of my favorite nicknames for Elena is ‘Pumpkinhead’, because she had such a comparatively large melon when she was born. I know that’s not unusual with babies, but the moniker stuck.

I have two pictures now of my beautiful, beloved Pumpkinhead, and you can see how much she has changed in a matter of 12 months.

And just because I can….below is one of my favorite recent pictures of my brother, Steve-o.
Good luck on your exams and an early-but-happy birthday, my brotha!

November 29, 2008

Lady E. Loves the Liquid Life

We took Elena to the beach a few times this past summer. As soon as she saw the sea, she would make a beeline for the water and -- not realizing that she couldn’t float – quickly face plant into the sandy shallows. It was HILARIOUS. But it also made us realize that it might be a good idea to start her toddler swimming lessons.
Naomi and I both love the ocean and water in general: swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and camping near the coastline or riverside, as much as we can. Given these predilections, we decided a few months ago that Elena should try baby-oriented swimming lessons to see if she really enjoyed the water. We thought it would also be a fun way for us to interact with her in the liquid realm while the weather is cold.

To find the right venue, we asked a number of our friends and co-workers which pool in Hiroshima offered the best lessons for our needs. We eventually found a fine swimming pool with a very reasonable fee and great access where we could take lessons about twice a week. Naomi and I each take her once a week, usually for about an hour in the section that is reserved specifically for the kiddie lessons. To our great delight, she has literally taken to the water very naturally.

I’ll describe a few things about the baby swimming lessons. First, the instructors are nice, i.e. very patient, and they give us good advice, like:
- always smile and show how fun being in the water can be.
- make sure to keep a good, reassuring grip on the child, with Elena’s face close to your own and maintaining eye contact.
- swish her around gently, she ain’t a navy reserve diver yet.
- blow bubbles in the water and cackle maniacally. This is just for all the Japanese mommies in the same class, pure entertainment…but it also shows the rising daughter she can’t inhale water and she has to exhale.
(This pic is not Elena—it is ‘borrowed’ from her swimming school’s homepage because I don’t have an underwater camera!)

There are many more tips, but you get the drift. The idea is to get the baby comfortable in the wa-wa, then worry later on down the line about actual swimming.

We are still at the stage where she is happy simply clinging to my arm, being guided through the pool’s many distractions (water slides, sinking rings, and hairy daddies), chasing the multicolored floating balls, and jumping off the side of the pool on her own while I wait with outstretched arms. She only recently became comfortable enough to be able to step off into the deeper parts without touching bottom…mentally a great leap. That’s pure faith in action.
And another marvelous thing is that the blowing bubbles exercise we practice every week at the pool is something she enjoys doing in the bathtub at home. Just like Dad!

Who enjoys the swimming lessons more…Elena or me? I will take the Fifth Amendment on that one. All I know is that we’re both worn-out and happy at the end of the lesson. And I am relishing our rising daughter’s introduction to the life aquatic.

October 31, 2008

The Good Earth

Mid-October is rice harvesting season in the western part of Japan. A few weekends ago, we were visiting Naomi’s family homestead in the countryside, which she calls ‘obachan no uchi’, meaning “Gramma’s place.” Naomi had wanted to see the village’s annual ‘kagura’ performance. Kagura (literally, “God-dance”) is a theatrical dance performed in Shinto shrines throughout Japan, commonly held in the fall to give thanks to the gods for the harvest. The annual kagura performance can be likened to the rural Japanese equivalent to a Thanksgiving Day parade.

Basically, it involves storytelling and the reenactment of ritual dances and ancient fables. In the small village where Naomi’s family hails from, they have one major kagura performance every year. This is when the local Shinto shrine -- which usually is deserted and feels slightly neglected -- comes alive with color and warmth as the festive gathering place for everyone in the village.
So we went to see the kagura dance with the Rising Daughter in tow. It started around 2100 on a Saturday night. (The performances are done by semi-professional troupes and usually continue unabated into the wee hours of the morning. The first few acts performed by the theater troupe are suited to small kids, who can’t stay awake until the more exciting segments late in the performance.) So we found a nice spot inside the shrine’s tatami mat flooring and waited for the drums to start. We saw the first three acts, which were accompanied by pounding percussion, periodic chanting, quick costume changes by the actors for different roles, and billowing smoke from dry ice machines which added an element of mysticism at critical points to the fables played out by the actors. This all occurs inside the shrine itself, which is likely hundreds of years old.

Photo credit: Jake Davies

Lady E. was alternately intrigued, bored, occasionally baying out laughter. She sometimes bolted toward the performance area or the steep stairwell, causing us to frantically collar her. Given her excited state, though, I think she had a good time. There were other small children there with their parents, adding to the mayhem.

Surprisingly, given the years I’ve lived in Japan, this was the first time I’d seen kagura. I enjoyed the flashes of color from the bright costumes and manic energy of the dances, although the ancient Japanese and convoluted pronunciation made deciphering the plots impossible. However, just being able to watch the spectacle and be a part of the experience, just feeling welcomed by the people there was more than enough. Naomi’s Dad also seemed very pleased to have his grandchild on hand to proudly introduce to his friends and neighbors.

The next day was harvest time. Naomi’s Dad is a stalwart old-school Japanese, meaning he works his ass off and is reluctant to ask others (in this case, me) to help out so as not to be a burden. Early that Sunday morning, he went out to the family rice fields and began harvesting the dried rice stalks with a small one-person harvesting combine. His younger brother soon appeared, and I was keen to help somehow, so I went out and simply asked what I could do. Astutely sensing the a) opportunity to get another pair of hands to help and b) my utterly hopeless city-boy/office worker/zero experience in these matters, they gave me cursory instructions as to what I could do. And so began my inept, one-day rice harvest apprenticeship, focused primarily on grunt work. I was happy to be a part of the enterprise. So I spent the day working with them. They took the dried rice stalks off the raised poles that were suspended horizontally over the dried rice paddies and fed them into the machine, which spit out the rice kernels into 30-kilogram bags. I untied the rope knots which strapped the long poles (tree trunks) to tripods, which suspended the stalks about one meter off the ground and exposed the rice stalks to the sun. My next task was to haul those bags and load them onto the tiny pickup truck, to be taken away to milling. Then I ripped out the tripods from the rice bed, and lugged all the wooden poles and support limbs to their proper storage place for the winter. Since it was mostly solitary work, I soon fetched my iPod and rocked out while doing this, which amused my uncle-in-law to no end. There is nothing like listening to Rage Against The Machine to get motivated while working in the rice fields.

Working together, we processed a couple dozen of the 30 kg rice bags in one day. I learned something about how that rice magically appears in my bowl at home: we are given some of this homegrown rice every year from Naomi’s folks. And that weekend visit was my brief brush with rural Japan’s farming lifestyle. But in two days, I had had two new Japan experiences that were each rewarding in their own way. Thus—'the good earth.'

Other news: Pumpkinhead (Lady E.) celebrated her second Hallowe’en on October 31st with a wee bit o’ candy.
Until next time...

October 4, 2008

September-A Cruel Month

SLEEP DEP!! September was a tough haul. Why? Because Lady E. has refused to go to sleep at a normal hour for over a month. In late August, The Battle of The Pacifier began when we were ‘advised’ during a routine checkup by the medical authorities here that it was best to stop all reliance on pacifiers to quiet our toddler. And thus the troubles began.

Today, I felt like a 770-point drop in the Dow Jones because I was up until midnight yesterday, driving the Rising Daughter and my amazing wife around in the Hiroshima night, hoping the thrum of our car’s engine would lull Elena to sleep. I felt like a character in Stephen King’s classic, “Christine.” We’ve been doing these night cruises, or similar sleep-inducing countermeasures, for over six weeks now. The other tactic I’ve employed is the ‘night stalker stroll’, where I roam the paths around our neighborhood after 2200 while our toddler contentedly rests in the crook of my right arm, singing along with songs from my iPod.
(Above photo) While we are near the center of the city, we still have a peaceful path through rice paddies 50 meters from our apartment building.

Lady E. seems to like a little night air before she finally nods off. I’m aware that it’s a stage, but she adamantly refuses to go to sleep without some kind of fuss—such is the right of small children. Even with a thirty-to-sixty minute siesta in the afternoon, these days she won’t go to sleep before 2300 most nights. So, our creative energies are laser-focused on new ways to get her to go down and grant us a few hours’ respite. We’re like a toddler sleep think tank…this has improved my innovation skills, and Naomi and I realize Lady E. is at a new stage in her young life. I am also aware that most parents go through these phases and our tribulations are nothing new to most people, but hell, it is still fun to write and think about why this stuff happens.

The weather has been warm and we are slowly – and reluctantly -- easing into the autumn. Over the past summer, we took Lady E. to the beach a few times, where she showed a fearless love for the ocean, to the extent that she would joyfully scramble into the waves and promptly sink…repeatedly. This made us think that early swimming lessons for her might be a good idea. Thus we have started baby swimming lessons at a local pool. It’s a load of fun because all three of us can participate in the excitement and learning. And so the good ship SS Elena floats on….


August 31, 2008

Sayonara, Two-Wheeled Friend

Kawasaki Eliminator ZL750A (b. 1987- d. July 29, 2008)

Background: I was involved in a minor traffic accident while driving my motorcycle home after work one recent summer evening. Suffice it to say, I suffered no serious injuries and the other person involved accepted all responsibility for the collision. However, my great two-wheeled friend, the Kawasaki Eliminator ZL750A, suffered terminal damage and is now no more, having gone on to bigger transcendental journeys. Naomi and I took many remarkable trips throughout western Japan, Kyushu and Shikoku on her over the years, and leaving her behind is truly hard to do. To celebrate my venerable touring buddy, I crafted six haiku in her honor, one for each of the six years she served me faithfully on my journeys brief or long. Fair winds and full sails!

Motorvating tranquility
blurred screeches of contrition
tasting pavement.

Crunch of metal
sordid humidity of summer
you are but wind.

Front forks contorted
soaring paradigms of providence
too steep to mend.

Bravado on cellphone
focus elusive, wind lulling
you screwed the pooch.

Fortune’s cackle
blue skies betrayal, sneering
engine silenced now.

Young coltish gasp
midlife loyalty through the tempest
73,795 yelps of freedom.

August 28, 2008

For Immediate Release

August 28, 2008


HIROSHIMA, Japan—From July 13 through 25, 2008, the Family of the Rising Daughter (FRD) visited Vancouver, BC, and Ottawa, ON, during Elena's inaugural trip to Canada. It was Lady E’s first journey to her other homeland, initiated so she could visit her many Canadian friends, fans and relatives. According to participants, the trip was an unqualified success, which featured:
- A civilized first trip aboard the Shinkansen bullet train from Hiroshima to Osaka.
- A long and exploratory first flight aboard Air Canada.
- Two beautiful days in Vancouver punctuated by an enjoyable meal and visit with friends in Burnaby. BONUS: Not planned, but a surprise tour of a hospital Emergency Room in Richmond provided firsthand experience of Canadian health care!
- Eight days in Ottawa with a staggering schedule—a sumptuous Fiesta of Food and 64-degree pool dive display hosted by longtime good friends; Lady E. being baptized; ‘new’ Granddad achieving a hard-earned and well-deserved retirement (with accompanying grand retirement party with NASA-certified Super Ultra Deluxe BBQ gift); ‘new’ Grandma doting the entire week on the Rising Daughter’s every desire and mood; a visit to Uncle’s AndrĂ©’s Cabin; and a dizzying array of other activities.
- A travel program which resulted in two tired but elated parents, and one happy toddler.

The FRD’s journey to the Great White North also contained spiritual and geographic elements which added value to the experience for all members. Lady E’s christening gave her a faith to believe in going forward throughout life. The comparatively chillier climate in Canada yielded a reminder that the Rising Daughter clan's current region of residence has many wonderful advantages, the weather being one of them. Finally, working closely as nuclear family unit, the trip was a great opportunity to take the initiative, take the journey, and grow together with new experiences that only travel can provide. Thus, the FRD evolved into an enhanced version of the traveling couple motif firmly established by the FRD's parents prior to her arrival in January 2007.

“My first trip to Canada was an unqualified, outstanding success,” said Elena R. Daughter, using telepathy to communicate her words. “After flying a total of 19,020 kilometers over two full days of air travel, staying in Canada for nearly two weeks, visiting a hospital emergency room and getting baptized, I was completely satisfied with the service I received. I am proud to note that my parents, grandparents, great-granny, other family and friends did an outstanding job in meeting my every need, 24-7. Even when I was full-on screaming in the airplane…err…airplanes.”

“Traveling vast distances with someone under two years old is all about the challenge and sense of achievement when your progeny actually sleeps on the ten-hour flight home, or you gain less than ten pounds despite a daily gorging on delicious Canadian foods,” remarked Rising Daughter father and trip sponsor, Chris X. “We’re convinced that Lady E. has what it takes to join us on adventures in new and exciting destinations in the future.”

“This family is always in pursuit of the Next Big Thing, and this trip was one more step in our beloved Rising Daughter’s ongoing conquest of coordinated motor skills, jet lag and amenable grandparents,” said Rising Daughter mother, Naomi X, trip co-sponsor. “We are looking forward to future trips--we are committed to pushing ourselves to deliver maximum family vacation performance in everything we do and with every person we meet on the way.”

The Rising Daughter’s inaugural visit to Canada continues a long series of successful ‘firsts’ for the globe-trotting tot from Hiroshima. With plans for progressively challenging and no-doubt entertaining visits in the future, she continues her tolerance training to increase her discomfort threshold before screaming, raising the standard to world class levels in anticipation of future overseas travels.

- Ends -

Osaka International Airport stroll

At the Vancouver Aquarium

With old Hiroshima friends, the M's.

With even older Ottawa friends!

Typical vacation day with Grandma

Happy family at Andre's cabin

'Super Late Sneak Peek' CX-9 drive

Granny K & The Boyz

Goodbye to Grandma and Grandad


July 31, 2008

July Was Busy! And hot!

The summer heat just melted my desire to do...anything...during the month of July.
Plus, we were one busy family unit this past month, so this post is merely a teaser for the highly engaging descriptions of what we actually did -- which are to follow next month. Heh Heh.
Why so busy? Well, in early July, our Rising Daughter started to learn how to play the piano under the guidance of her pal Liam.

Also, Elena also started driving lessons.

So you can see why we’ve been so occupied. And this doesn’t even cover the two weeks we spent in Canada. That is the subject of the next post in August!
For those of you loyal readers who mentioned you enjoyed the blog while I was in Canada -- thanks for reading.

June 25, 2008

Rising Daughter’s SIN

Hey, my little girl’s not even thinking about sin or religious beliefs! I’m talking about her Social Insurance Number, which is the last bit of identification we need to get her Canuck profile up and running with The Powers That Be.

We needed a SIN number to start our little one’s education fund in Canada, you see.

Government proposes, bureaucracy disposes. And the bureaucracy must dispose of government proposals by dumping them on us.

-P. J. O'Rourke

Bringing a new life into society entails paperwork with the authorities no matter where you live. However, Naomi and I, being the social misfits that we are, managed to literally breed a few bureaucratic gaps that needed a lot of paper to bridge. For example, Naomi had decided to keep her maiden name -- which I am all for – and it’s something she will share with Elena here in Japan. Owing to a variety of local customs and laws, and because I am not Japanese, Elena cannot use my family name here. Fair enough. Canada, ever flexible and accommodating, allows us a choice. It’s a paradox for one little person to have two official identities, but that’s the reality. The upside is that it will offer more choices for her later in life. Regardless, with a little patience, much paperwork and translation, and forking out a fair amount of coin over the past year or so, we’ve managed to receive passports, health care coverage, birth certificates and official Hoser and Nippon government IDs (see the I….AM….CANADIAN….TOO post from April).

The last stage was applying for her SIN card. For those of you unfamiliar with the grand Canadian institution called “the Social Insurance Number (SIN), [it] is a nine-digit number used in the administration of various Canadian government programs. You will require a SIN to work in Canada or to receive government benefits.” (Yep, quoted from the Service Canada website.)
There you have it. And we needed it. So I applied for it. And they lost it…in the mail.

To be fair, the long and short of it is that although the new SIN number (and some important other IDs we included to prove the validity of the application) seemed lost, the very efficient people at Service Canada found the errant letter, and sent it back to us here in Hiroshima. That saved me many re-application forms and midnight calls to New Brunswick. Kudos to the Service Canada staff.

End result? We have a winner! Rising Daughter has a SIN number. And after a year of paperwork, we are taking a rest.

June 16, 2008

Politics and BBQs

Elena Supports Hillary to the End
Last week, our little politico and I watched Hillary Clinton’s “support Barack Obama” concession speech in Washington. Now, Elena and I have been arguing endlessly during the primaries about Ms. Clinton’s various campaign twists, especially the halting use of social media to spread her messages. Elena claims that Hillary-chan’s emphasis on “yes, we can!” mainstream messaging was the right call, and she thinks her handlers ruined the Clinton campaign by going negative too early. I keep telling her that no matter what happens, Clinton had the “toughness and experience factors” and non-elitist image that would really be important come November, but that gas prices and other economic realities will trump those any day for the average voter. She agreed that Mr. Obama was the first presumptive presidential candidate that really leveraged the possibilities of the new communication technologies. Man, that kid is brilliant!
Think FDR’s fireside chats, think Kennedy’s use of television, and then think about what we’ve witnessed over the past year and a half.

The Rising Daughter calls me a fossil. But as you can see, she was sad to watch Hillary hightail it. As was I, and it was a great speech. Look at those wistful eyes...!

That H.C. could make such progress for women in America…what kind of inroads will the Rising Daughter witness in her lifetime? Makes ya think, don’t it?

Rick and Naomi’s BBQ
In contrast to the previous post, the most recent picnic we attended was a BBQ hosted by our friends Rick and Naomi and their family. A sizable group of friends showed up for the fun. By the by, I was originally introduced to my future wife, ‘”my” Naomi, at one of Rick’s birthday parties more than a few years ago.

We hadn’t seen R&N in quite some time, so catching up was fun. Our friend Sachie was also there with her daughter, too. I snapped a few photos of the ladies, including this one.
The baby harness intrigued Naomi in that she could keep our two-legged tornado under control. This infringement on Lady E’s innate right to ramble around naturally brought on screeching wails of protest, and the experiment was soon abandoned. Perhaps we can use a modified version next year to put Elena to work plowing the fields before planting the rice seeds?

May 27, 2008

May 2008 Kid Summit in Hiroshima

My comrade James organized a picnic in early May near the Big Arch stadium in Hiroshima which temporarily converted the playground there into a very ‘international’ space. We escorted HRH Lady E to this picnic to meet our friends, all of whom were in “international marriages,” and this led to our cohort of rambunctious “half babies” wreaking havoc in the playground. Why all these quotation marks? Read on.
Many of these friends of ours no longer live in Hiroshima and were just visiting, or would soon be leaving for new places to live. It was chance timing that of our respective paths crossed in May, but I’m sure all join me in thinking it was wonderful that we could all get together for some fun. Elena seemed to enjoy herself among the other kids, all of whom were also of mixed parentage. She didn’t sleep the entire time and she was really hyped up, clearly enjoying all the new people, sights and sounds.
So what are “international marriages” and “half-babies”? This is a good opportunity to explain some of the interesting ways mixed marriages, and their offspring, are viewed here in Japan. “It’s a Japan thing,” but just my opinion, of course.

Lady E & Lady K

At its core, this great country is still a very homogenous society. The overwhelming majority of her people are of Japanese ethnicity and, of course, speak Japanese. The country doesn’t get many immigrants, so foreigners are relatively few in this society and still garner attention for trivial reasons -- mostly in a positive way -- despite decades of government-sponsored ‘internationalization’ policies. The majority of unions between Japanese people and westerners tend to be between a foreign male and a Japanese female (although this is slowly changing), and any kids that result are often referred to as “half babies.” This means half-Japanese, but not in a pejorative sense. Think of hyphenated nationalities: Chinese-Canadian, Franco-American, etc and you get the drift. Invariably, half kids are referred to as “kawaii” (cute) and there are quite a few on Japanese TV these days, because they don’t look fully Japanese, yet speak the language fluently.

Anyway, our group of international couples and their kids did prompt a few double takes at the Big Arch playground. A few of the local Moms took umbrage with a bunch of loud adult gaijin men climbing on the kids’ jungle gym….dangerous. But we all had a good time.

All photos courtesy of The Stig.

May 7, 2008

First Haircut

Lady E.’s hair was becoming an unruly shock of shiny brown that hung over her eyes and curled around the back of her head to form a quasi-mullet. At almost 14 months old, we knew we had to take her for a haircut.
(Check out the difference from a year ago, i.e. her ID mugshot in the last post.)

We kept procrastinating for two reasons. One was that Naomi had already administered a very nice trim of her bangs a few months before, but this rendered a charming K.D. Lang-esque cowpunk effect. So my dear wife was reluctant to trim our daughter's hair again. The second was that our energetic little person enjoys moving around so much we were concerned she simply could not stay still long enough for a proper haircut, or would cause some kind of bloodletting from either Lady E., or the hair stylist.
Inevitably, our child is developing her own personality, one not-so-pleasant feature of which is a penchant for 10 minute-long screamfests when she doesn’t get her own way, or doesn’t want to do something. These are characterized by frenetic waving of her little arms, jackhammer leg kicks, and wails at the same decibel level as a Motorhead concert. This happens as she is laying down wherever she happens to be: our apartment floor, in the middle of a mall walkway, in a restaurant, or beside a busy road—she does not discriminate in selecting venues.
So, naturally, we had vivid images of a haircut inducing a similar episode at a hair salon.
However, as her hair grew longer, our recognition that it could not be avoided grew more acute. Naomi found a nice salon that specialized in kids’ haircuts nearby. And once recent Saturday, the momentous occasion arrived: our child’s first haircut.
The hair stylist was a real pro, sizing up her pint-sized challenge with one glance, and adroitly placed Elena facing her Mom in the barber chair.
Incidentally, the salon featured a cool play area stocked with toys and other diversions. I had a great time waiting for Naomi and Elena, ruthlessly elbowing the little kids out of the way as I grappled for the best toys.
Meanwhile, the veteran stylist murmured a few soothing quips, then snip-snip-snip. Initially, Lady E. was too surprised at the swift assault to react. Then, the expected sniffles and wane cries soon arrived, but it was a manageable crisis. Regrettably, before I could finish my kickass Lego rocketship, The Haircut was over.
"Owarimashita," (finished) said the hair stylist, satisfied with her handiwork.
I reluctantly handed over my half-finished Lego masterpiece to the smirking 2-year old next to me, and left the Etch-A-Sketch in the care of the primary schooler who was waiting with extended, expectant hands.
As you can see, we all survived the experience. Elena still has a full head of hair, nicely coiffed to match her proportions, and we still have our eardrums intact. I’m thinking of a new design for me to build during Elena's next haircut in a few months. And, yes, I enjoyed yet another milestone in our mighty daughter’s evolution into a real toddler.

April 20, 2008


Hey, we got the Rising Daughter’s Canadian citizenship papers! It took a reasonable amount of paperwork and a lot of time, but she is now a Canuck in addition to her Japanese citizenship. She's dual! To celebrate, I indulged in my last stash of Tim Horton’s regular grind coffee while eating an onigiri riceball.

So she is now a hoser in addition to being a (future) sushi eater. And that’s great--double the bureaucratic fun, two or maybe three languages to contend with, and being the brunt of lots of Doublemint chewing gum jokes? Or am I reaching here?

As a Canadian -- in addition to being proudly Japanese -- Elena has to be able to explain the elusive and opaque aspects of Canadian culture in the future. As is common knowledge throughout the world, Canadians form a mysterious, inward-looking culture that is often hard for foreign peoples to fully grasp. This is due to the subtle and refined meanings inherent to the structure of the Canadian language, and incomprehensible local dialects such as Ottawa Valley-speak, or Lower Sackville-ese. Strict adherence to social customs to maintain the harmony between individuals and groups, for example at mall parking lots or peewee hockey games, is also something that Canadians must be able to clarify to perplexed foreigners. It's a tall order even for an adult, so I have decided to begin Elena's 'education Canadiana' immediately.

I decided to focus on the following CanGov-GovCan approved citizenship modules:

1. The Beaver

2. Bob & Doug

3. Canadian Currency

More on this soon. But great news, eh?

April 12, 2008

Cute Phobias Banished?

Babies do cute things; that’s a given. But the most innocent behaviors sometimes produce an even higher cute factor. Take, for example, Lady E.’s odd aversion to two seemingly innocuous items: balloons and an air pump. Huh? Balloons have friendly and non-threatening shapes, and feature bright colors and inviting textures that beg them to be swatted around by little hands. So, when we were at a furniture store one day recently and Elena recoiled in horror when the salesperson handed us a balloon, we were mystified. Why? The sound? Just ‘one of those things’?

We tried repeated exposures to reduce her fear of balloons. Each time she would hobble over to us at high speed and cling in fear to either Naomi or myself. Bizarre.

She showed the same odd reaction to…a light blue foot-operated pump for an air mattress. I thought perhaps it was the sound, but she freaks out at the sight or sound of it. It’s very endearing and I am still puzzled as to why this happens.
Elena is otherwise a typical toddler, and she isn’t afraid of the dark and most animals. Perhaps she's a bit shy around new people. (This is fine with us.)
So why was/is she frightened by balloons and air pumps as the bogeyman? I have no idea.
We were at another department store that has a kids’ area with a room, enclosed with mesh netting, that has balloons propelled about by compressed air. It’s a loud and dynamic mini-environment. We decided to take a chance. I went in (OK, I wanted to go in just for myself, I also enjoy the colorful chaos) followed by Naomi, and we enticed our rising daughter into the fray. She slowly got used to it because Naomi and I were having a good time, too. Judging by the short video below, you can see that she started shrieking happily at the balloons and chasing them about the room.

It was fun to watch and just a little gratifying to see our beautiful daughter conquer one small fear.
Now, about that air pump….

March 20, 2008

My First Online Beer!

I shared my first “online” beer last Friday night. Specifically, I was able to have an Internet-hosted conference call with some great friends of mine, Andy and Scott, shoot the breeze and quaff an ale. And it was free! There is no substitute for actually having a cold one with the boys in person, but this was a close second.

Thanks to Skype and Asahi Breweries, I experienced a brief whiff of a pub night right at home in Mission Control (my computer area). Scott's here in Hiroshima and Andy now lives in Azerbaijan. Good sound quality made it seem that both were there in the room, talkin’ shit and having fun. What a great idea. Hopefully video will be the next step.

I had a “Style Free” pale ale or two during the chat. While the product name is Asahi’s wacky play on English words, for those of you that are familiar with my fashion sense, it’s fitting.

Information technology. It is both enabler of faster contact with family and friends as well as a time murderer if you get mired in endless link hopping. In this case, though, my first online beer at the end of the week felt liberating! You can communicate with people from pretty much anywhere these days…

March 11, 2008

Operation Nose Suction

Situation: Toddler streaming thick green mucus from nostrils for several days in a row. Ability to function as normal toddler compromised. Parental units concerned about near-future viability for outdoor operations. Action required to rectify the snot attack.

Mission: Clear clogged nasal passages of greenish slime and restore sniffle-free breathing.

1. Distract: Employ colorful Elmo sticker while Dad unit does dumb entertaining things to distract attention of targeted child.
2. Disarm: Dad holds child unit’s head and lovingly clasps little arms to suppress arm defenses.
3. Clean: Mom unit inserts suction thingy into child’s nostril, and inhales air through the other tube to suction out yucky green shit. Execute same op on other nostril with surgical precision and speed to take advantage of surprise and prevent effective resistance.
4. Extract: Pull equipment out, leaving no traces for a future enemy force regeneration.

Results: screaming bloody murder during operation, followed by an appreciative sigh of relief as normal breathing through nasal passages is restored. Mission accomplished.
From the parental perspective

From the kid perspective