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.