December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

From Our Family To Yours:

Wishing you the old-fashioned pleasures of home and happy memories, and all the joys of Christmas.

December 22, 2012

Plain, Helicopters and Automobiles (Part II)

“Apocalypse Averted”
We are still here! Lots of mirth out there given that on December 21 the world was supposed to face a cataclysm or a dramatic shift in consciousness when the Mayan calendar ended. For me, the only shift I felt was the glee inherent to the transition to Christmas holidays.

Courtesy of Fox 12 TV in Portland, Oregon

“Origami Gone Wild”
One reason I am lucky to be working in the automotive sector is that I get many opportunities to drive different types of vehicles and witness how their marketing is developed and executed. Mobility is my mantra. The words become reality when the rubber meets the road. However, as a regular driver I am well aware that part of the ownership experience is the tune-ups or repairs that go with having a car.

To wit: we had our car serviced recently. I was quite satisfied with the way we are usually treated by our local dealer. One element of the generally excellent customer service you receive in Japan is the amount of small gifts they give you to show appreciation for your patronage. Tissues, coffee/tea while you wait, and doting on you while diagnosing the car’s problem or as you wait for the keys to be handed back to you after they fix it.

This time around, they gave the girls some cardboard you-fold-it promo gifts featuring their newest model being rolled out….in the form of a tissue holder!

I was intrigued. The Japanese have perfected the art of paper folding over centuries and the "origami" tradition remains strong to this day. The girls clutched the bright red puzzle given to them at the dealer showroom. Yet even as we got home, it retained their attention, which is unusual. Then we constructed the tissue box, and you can see for yourself that it is nicely thought-out and eye catching. Happy kids, happy parents, and cheap and effective marketing.

December 1, 2012

Plain, Helicopters and Automobiles (Part I)

“The Happiness Dashboard”
The Rising Family is a happy family. We lead a plain but satisfying life in Yokohama. For example, Lady E. will soon reach six years old; she is blossoming and is high-octane curious about life. Talkative, like her dad. M. is also speaking at length without need of an audience and laughing at her own jokes. She has staked her claim in the family unit and is a lovable little nutter.

The danger of a joyful family that is blessedly free of major problems is that it lacks the drama or fodder for stories that you, dear Reader, might find interesting. In that sense, “plain” is a pain. I soldier on nevertheless, and offer the following two tidbits from our Yippie Yokohama existence.

"Orange Hawk Down"
Background to this anecdote: The V-22 Osprey is a multi-mission, tilt-rotor aircraft with a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) capability. It has been in use in branches of the US armed forces since 2007. The V-22’s development was long and controversial, and it has been plagued by a reputation for glitches and accidents. Once the Department of Defense announced the V-22 would be deployed to Japan there has been a long and pronounced public outcry about potential safety hazards and potential for crashes in Japan’s densely populated urban areas.
Courtesy of the US Dept. of Defense
Flash forward to the present: I am a childish man. That said, I occasionally indulge in “man toys.” One such purchase was a cheap, remote-controlled mini helicopter. I brought this with me when I recently took the girls to a local park that has a wide open green space, perfect for takeoff and landings. Or so I thought.

Amid a lull in the usual jumping, screaming and climbing that goes with such trips to the park, I snuck away and pulled out my toy for a test. The trial showed the mini-heli had two directions: up (very, very quickly) and straight down. Immediately after this test I was surrounded by a gaggle of kids, mostly young boys, who materialized out of nowhere. Feeling very much the middle-aged pied piper, their enthusiasm was infectious—more tests...go go go.
Test flight #2 was memorable. The helicopter went straight into the heavens, remote control was severed at about 50 ft high, and it plummeted straight down into the sidewalk where the crash impact split the nose off the fuselage. Carnage!

My helicopter was mostly destroyed, but I was laughing my ass off. Why? Immediately after witnessing the crash of the mini heli, the group of kids surrounded the downed helicopter and, almost in unison, cried out: “It’s the Osprey!”
Who says kids these days don’t follow current events?

November 25, 2012

Doubly Grumpy

Yomiuri Giants win Japan Pro Baseball Series
The Yomiuri Giants won the Japan Series in early November, defeating the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 4-3 in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series at Tokyo Dome. They won the series, 4-2, thereby capturing the baseball crown in Japan for the first time in three years--and their 22nd overall.
I can’t help but note the alignment of the baseball stars, since the San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series by sweeping the Detroit Tigers 4-0. Thus, the Giants on both sides of the Pacific have triumphed. I have no animosity toward the SF Giants. I thought their 2010 Series win was a kind of cosmic denouement to Barry Bonds’s career, even though he had already retired by 2007 season. Moreover, the 2012 SF Giants 2012 were talented and the win made sense.

Still, I just cannot get behind a Yomiuri Giants championship because they stink too much of the stacked game that the NY Yankees run: pugnacious national popularity, league dominance due to deep pockets, and, in my view, no soul. So a pox on the Yomiuri Jiantsu. Blurrggh—I’m puking as I write this.
Courtesy of the Japan Times

2012 US presidential election:
I’m just glad it’s over. Here’s another Brian McFadden comic.
Courtesy of the New York Times

October 30, 2012

Summer’s Really Over: Punchin’, Scratchin’, Screamin’

“Now I’ve got you, ya slow little bitch,” I cackled as my scooter passed the other sad sack middle-aged driver on his commute home from the train station. I thought: I am racing another working stiff from my neighborhood on a 50cc scooter for no other reason except than I am really bored. Oh man, that’s so sad.

Not sad in the sense of “unhappy or miserable.” More like, “hapless or pathetic.”
This little Friday night fever episode aside, last weekend we had a balmy 25ºC (that’s 77ºF) two days, and then the bottom fell out.  I realized that with baseball season nearly over, I had to accept the fact that summer truly had come to an end.

So, in celebration of the summer of 2012 and all the good stuff that happened to the Rising Family, I have put together a parody of the classic 1979 Journey hit, “Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'” from the Evolution  album. This is about the Rising Daughters, and the sibling chaos we endured over the summer.

Punchin’, Scratchin’, Screamin’
You make me scream, and I want ya to die
When you touch my toys
Punchin’, Scratchin’, Screamin' at each other

(Elena) I'm never alone, not by myself
You're always, always so’s hell
Little sister, go away, and let me play

You're buggin’ me so hard, every every day
You're annoying me, you little turd
Oh what can I say
You're buggin’ me so hard

(Marina) It won't be long yes, 'til you're at school
Then it’s just me and Mom, ‘cause I’m still only two!
And you’re at school, now who’s the fool?
(Elena) Sis, you’re buggin’ me so hard,
Oh every every day
(Marina) I think I’m gonna fart
To make you go away.
‘Cuz I dig Elmo, SpongeBob he’s not.
 Now it's your turn, girl, to cry
 Na na na na na na


September 23, 2012

A Trip Supreme – Ich Bin Ein Vancouverite

…and so we landed in Lotusland. The sight of Grouse Mountain triggered a time warp back to my not-so-troubled youth. I recalled when Lady Van first seduced me around 1986, beckoning me with her mystic charms, perched on the edge of the continent with promises of escaping adolescence. The second phase of my infatuation came a few years later, when mere words from native son Douglas Coupland added to her allure while a recession prompted an exodus of Ontario youth to her shores. I had to do something more dramatic than just fly out to be with her; instead, I took a motorcycle trip across the continent in 1994 that ended up there. Since then, even an ocean can’t keep us apart and so I drag my family along to for a stopover in Vancouver whenever we go back to Canada for a visit.
Now back to the trip supreme tale:

As Tourists: we landed and checked into the (Sort-of) Comfort Inn. The luxury of my parent’s house was quite different from the reality of budget lodgings. But fear not! We jumped into a blinding array of sights, rambling around, just doing stuff.

Stanley Parkof course. Perfect for the kids. The tour of Vancouver Aquarium this time was far better for us than the last. Perhaps it was because we weren’t temporarily insane from jet lag like in 2008? Found the fish and other aquatic animals have a far better deal than their captive counterparts do in Japan. Dolphins don’t jump through hoops any more—don’t they have KPIs like the rest of us? Besides more living space and better union breaks, I think the aquarium has given the marine animals the vote. Only in Vancouver. I sound like Allan Fotheringham.

We love Richmond! I daydream, sense that if we moved here our lives would be as perfect as those depicted in IKEA catalogues. Even the Chinese food at the mall is Michelin-guide delicious. And here – no xenophobia intended – I feel like I am back in Japan thanks to my being among the small minority of non-Asians strolling the streets. Plus, I was “shushed” by one of the stern-faced producers of one of the Hollywood North TV shows that were filming as we strolled around Steveston. Overall, in two words, Richmond “felt right.”

Next day-Pacific National Exhibition: cruising for parking spot off East Pender St., an older Asian woman flagged us down and we parked in her nearby garage for $15. I enjoyed stiffing the outrageous parking prices of the city-run lots. We went to the PNE’s livestock area, walked among the rides.

Elena enjoyed it--like when we were in Guam, she reveled in being less constrained by rules. Got all you can ride day tickets for Naomi and Elena, and they went on a frenzy of mom-daughter bonding.

Marina seemed OK with being stuck with me most of the time. I went on a few rides with Elena. For lunch, we snorted back some plutonium-flavored poutine. I gambled toonies on the roulette wheel with zero luck—goddamn carnies. It was outrageous family fun; like a six-hour John Mellencamp song.

Nearing the day’s end, I caved in—despite my spidey senses telling me don't do it--and decided I would ride The Revelation. It is a 160 ft. tall skyscraper rotating arm with cockpit seats on both ends. Looked like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it provided the expected rush for this aging adrenalin junkie. The g-forces and the view were worth the extra $20 cost. Highly, absolutely and ecstatically recommended.

Soggy Granville Island: it had to rain at least once, right? I had a great coffee moment at the Granville Island Market (filled with retirees): swilled a freshly brewed gustatory masterpiece fashioned by a surly barista, then I perused the Georgia Straight while the Rising Daughters were magically docile for a few minutes. I took that as a sign and bought some very special healing crystals…Had you there, didn’t I?  Just messing with you, Reader. I am not Yanni.

Our trip clock was winding down. Day before departure for home, we took an afternoon drive out to Horseshoe Bay and basked in the view.

Returning to the hotel via Hwy 1, with perfect timing we crested a hill offering a nice view of New Westminster just as the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” played on the local classic rock station. A Perfect Moment.

After the kids fell asleep, a couple of nights I skulked out of the hotel room and took off for catch-ups with old friends in Vancouver. Like my friends in Ottawa, this is another reason I love to travel. We connected the dots between the years, information garnered from random stay-in-touch emails, and our present lives.

The night before we returned to Japan, we went on a night cruise in the car to downtown Vancouver. This is something we like to do in summer nights regardless of location. Drive around, suck in the summer night air, and the kids fall asleep in the back seats. Vancouver’s night scenes, new to our eyes, engaged the eyes and mind.

Excuse me, while I kiss the sky (in the City of Glass).
(Courtesy of the Internet.)

That’s it.

September 16, 2012

A Trip Supreme - Ottawa

Over two weeks have passed since our return; I have decompressed and can type objectively. Finding the right word to encapsulate the entire trip has proved elusive. Instead, like a good free jazz session, I will boil down the disparate, loosely defined elements to concoct a demi-glace of memories. Beware of the aftertaste as I offer only fleeting glimpses, banal thoughts, and silly sensations of our summer retreat to Canada.

Ottawa: lush and green despite local obsession with the “dry” summer (no wildfires threatening Kanata, now were there?). After four years since our last visit, I again appreciate the space and envy the ample elbowroom between people—an extrapolation of the expanses between cities, towns, and buildings. Curiously, only during this trip do I sense that the road lanes are definitely narrower than in cloistered Japan. Or maybe because the vehicle was larger? One warm evening, I introduced my family to the Britannia beach neighborhood and Naomi felt the same kinship with the place that I do. Must be the aquatic link and squadrons of shithawks patrolling the skies. Later that week, together with my brother and his girlfriend, we enjoyed a tour of the capital’s sightseeing spots while perched on a London-style double-decker tourist hauler. All the while, I ignored the ironic voices in my head and enjoyed the moment.

Family: The point of this trip was being with family. Every wonderful and occasionally exasperating moment of it. Mom made a tremendous effort to make us feel completely welcome: the downstairs bedroom was sparkling; a new bathroom was installed just for visitors, and this main course was topped off with an array of playthings for the Rising Daughters that would shame Toys ‘R Us. 

We sucked the marrow from the ten days. Examples: my extended family came for a mid-summer “Thanksgiving” dinner. Nearly two decades since I’d last seen my cousin M., who now has a very happy family not unlike my own. In general, Grampa and Nana did their best to keep the girls occupied.

We took a trip out to Calypso water park, which was splash-tastic. On the way back, we dropped in on some other relatives and found that my other cousin R and her husband had produced the cutest little girl on the continent: “L.” Here she meets “E” and “M”. We Are Family.

Old, Irreplaceable Friends: I am lucky to have remained friends with many fine people who tolerate our whirlwind visits with generosity of time and abundant humor. I am grateful that our personalities still jibe in defiance of the passage of time. We had a visit that featured mammoth, delectable burgers, and ample good cheer. Bringing family with me meant no booze, though, as did the afternoon time frame. With myself entirely to blame, such hyper-catch-up visits are like speed-dating except these are people I really want to talk/drink/swim with for more than a few hours. Next time!

Fishin’ and Drinkin’. This vacation timing was such that I could join the infamous Father-Son Camping Weekend that Steve-O and Dad have been attending over the years. Canoed in and out of the camp spot with my uncle Pat, who has a human hard drive of great stories from his globetrotting over the years. He was kind enough to mentor me on long-forgotten canoeing skills, otherwise I’d still be going around in circles on the lake. And no chicks allowed! Key words: canoe, bivouacking, beer, cussing without remorse, fish in beer batter, nasty snoring and enormous, horrifying farts issued with extreme prejudice.

The main leg of our trip home thus ended, and we lit out for Vancouver.

August 13, 2012

Rising Daughters are Hosers, too

Summer vacation this year was a trip to Canada to visit family. Lady E and Ms. M, growing up and being socialized primarily in Japan, are now in the Great White North(west). It’s a curious process to see them endure the long trip over the Pacific and then adapt to the new environment as they embrace their Canuck roots.

The Long Hop: Unlike our prior trip to visit with Lady E this time the 14 hours we spent airborne went easily—low expectations breed positive outcomes.
The girls slept a fair amount during the Pacific hop. The people sitting next to us were compassionately understanding of the situation. No screaming ensued; only 22 trips to the toilet.

Vancouver Airport: Disembarked the plane, and amazing First Nations art everywhere captures the eye as we entered the arrival gate and throughout the airport facilities; a very cool way to be welcomed home for me.

The girls were craning their necks at times to figure this new imagery out.

I noticed many half-Asian kids in the Immigration line with their parents. Felt like a real-life Benetton ad—we are not alone!

Jet Lag: Omnipresent concern. Tried to modify our sleeping hours but alas first day plagued by nod-outs, slurred speech (without the benefit of alcohol) and odd behavior. (Kids were fine, though.) Initial few hours together spent doing the work-ups to transition Nanna and Grampa from Skype People to real flesh-and-blood sentient humans who provide lots of food, love, attention and toys.

Work-related: I felt compelled to connect with work email--responsibility trumps common sense. Picked up Infiniti JX. This super-CUV thoroughly trumped the driving experience provided by Dad’s very good Chevy Impala. Rising Daughters enjoy the sunroof options. Thus ended days one and two.

July 25, 2012

Traded to Oblivion

The NY Yankees have acquired 10-time all-star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki for…ah, who cares? I despise the Yankees. Yes, this is another rant against the Evil Empire…starring ICHIRO. The Seattle Mariners let him go, that I can understand. But why wear the pinstripes, Ichiro, for crying out loud? 

Courtesy of The New Yorker
Ichiro has been the rare Japanese guy that transcends the country’s overpowering culture of humility. I’ve asked my Japanese friends what they thought of him, and they’d say: “oh, he’s full of himself, don’t be duped.” I’d think—good for him. He was/is a terrific hitter and seemingly a class act, and I think the country could use a few more people like that who excel on the world stage rather than stay in the home islands safety zone. So in that sense, moving to a big market, big ambition team makes sense. But for chrissake, Ichiro, why not the Dodgers?

Yes                           NO NO NO

He had to go and ruin it all by joining the Bronx Bombers. First Hideki Matsui, now Ichiro. When will the madness end? Sayonara Suzuki. Buh-bye!

June 30, 2012

E-Tales: Guam Diary Part II

Sat., Dec 24: Roused from sleep at 0530. Bundled into car with groggy sister, chirping parents. Rented Honda gets nothing but verbal abuse from Daddy. Sign: Dededo Flea Market. Suspect spelling error. Cars and pickup trucks parked pell-mell. Makeshift chicken hutches, tantilizing smell of BBQ (at 0630?), and inescapable Eric Clapton, Extreme and Journey mix on loudspeaker system. Dad crows about bargains to be had; his code for cheap Dr. Seuss books. Mongrel dogs meander, somehow seem friendlier to me than coiffed canines back home. Marina freaks out when viewing creepy array of Barbie Dolls with no clothes—how childish. Mom and Dad try to blend in but it is blatantly obvious, even to me, that we are not locals. We all have a tremendous amount of fun and enjoy this place very much. We are flea market folk anywhere. 
Late breakfast at Denny’s different from hotel. Parents hoover coffee and toast. Dad reads paper. I prefer the main course of whipped butter with some pancakes on the side. M follows suit. She is under my spell at last! Waitress derogatory about rival server in other section. Wazzat all about? We board rent-a-car again—no booster seat debut. Remainder of morning spent touring Guam in car. Brown jungle leaves lie on rural highways. Palm tree fronds droop over lonely side roads as whelping, tethered dogs lunge at our car when we drive by. Absolutely stunning ocean views and lush green hills capture the eye. Bus stops look like huge mushrooms. Daddy goofy, enthuses about “authenticity.” Sign: Marianas Military Museum at US Naval Station Agat. Daddy looks at Mommy. She shakes head decisively. Oh thank you for that, God.
Hungry now. Arggh. Just gimme some Cheetos or I will start screaming, man. I am bought off with vague promise of “almost there” and Chuck E. Cheese…”soon.” What is this enchanted eatery?
Arrive. Go through doors framed by vivid colors and huge animated characters that I have never seen before. Booping games and other manic kids surround me. Feeling generous—tow sister around. Parents let me wander unsupervised. This place is my Shangri-La. Never. Want. To. Leave. Rubber pizza and nuggets go uneaten—too busy, man.
Returning to tourist strip and hotel; stop at Piti bomb craters. Mom grumbles about entrance fee as we descend below waterline. Sibling loses mind at sight of fish outside, performs toddler version of The Twist. Caused by our mood or this place?
Dinner followed by car night cruise about 1930. Windows down. Muggy air. Slowly tour the illumination strip in Agana Heights…see delightful red, white, blue and green Christmas lights hung on giant jungle flora and fauna…this is some wacky shit, but so….zzzzzzzzzz.

Sun., Dec 25:  Minor elation of hearing “Merry Christmas” from Mommy seared by realization all presents are back in Japan, teasing. Just a few surrogate gifts now. I accept the loss; Marina oblivious. Daddy insists on dumb photos of us parked in front of a tropical Christmas tree. I submit just to get my Frosted Flakes and guava tang. Hotel staff slightly grumpier today. I dig that. We go swimming in the morning. Clear, salty water and real fish swim around my feet. THIS IS AWESOME! Dopamine surge. But somehow can’t put my head underwater. Eventually we all wade in surf together. Feel like a character in John Updike short story. Utterly conventional, superior fun.

Afternoon: we go to the Underwater World Aquarium. Walked by huge duty free shopping emporiums. Mommy recounts her vomiting outside one during a prior visit years ago. Whaaa? Mommy did stuff before I got here? Pass another ABC store (ubiquitous) with canned James Brown. Think: the Godfather of Soul is like chocolate ice cream—never fails to bring out the funk. I do feel good. More walking and Chinese food for dinner.
To cap off the day: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Ask for more SpongeBob Squarepants. Denied? It’s only 2200! There are no words. Only tears.

Mon., Dec 26: Daddy looked pale this morning. Croaks out “watermelon vodkas.” Hmm. Maybe leave him alone best option. Last breakfast in hotel. Nice lady puts everything I ask for in an omelet. I decide not to eat it. Many other guests coo at Marina in her high chair. That little bitch. “They” are right: there is always someone out there younger and cuter. Swimming one last time. Used to salty water and warmth. Decide it’s OK to live here. Mommy and Daddy seem bummed today. Not my fault. They need to work on time management skills. Tension-filled suitcase packing as I ponder The Simpsons. Mommy switches to The Weather Channel. Why did Mommy not respond when I bellow at her to change the channel back right now? Out of hotel by lunchtime. Who is this man Tony Roma and why do my parents want to go there so badly? I’m not hungry. I ask for ice cream: “OK.” I love Daddy. Later, I ask for one more ice cream: “No.” Scratch that. I hate Daddy.
Afternoon: Last views of this warm, fragrant place framed by taxi windows. Airplane ride cool. Sister sleeps—spiritual cavalry. I get plenty o’ juice and coloring books to work. Then back on solid ground. Dark out. Cold in Yokohama but somehow futon feels better than plush bourgeois bed. No need for midnight pee; all is well.


June 26, 2012

Getting Tattoos=Rad Kid Cool

Lady E. came up to me last week, says: “I’m ready to accept greater responsibility for my own life decisions. I’m five now. I want a SpongeBob tattoo to commemorate this great virtual mentor of mine for the rest of my life.”

I thought: Her sound logic shows developmental progress; feelings of veneration for SpongeBob indicate emotional maturity; and she acknowledges the permanence. And it’s just a boss idea.

I reply: “OK, Elena—sold. But one condition. I want a piece of that coolness, so we ALL have to get tattoos.”

The bargain struck, we had a Rising Family Assembly® to decide what the most awesome tats were that we could get. Elena wanted to keep the SpongeBob motif, but Marina doesn’t quite grasp the whole underwater/Bikini Bottom thing yet. I wanted the famous “screaming chicken” (seen best on the Bandit 1977 Pontiac Trans Am) for all of us, but the girls nixed that idea.

The only thing more badass would be pirate ink, Naomi said. Lady E. was all over that—elementary school buccaneer chic ahoy! So cool! And thus the Brigand Rising Family was born.

Check it out. Someday, when Marina is 50 years old in...well...48 years from now, she will think back to how lucky she was to have such a progressive family. Lady E's tribal thorns are very proto Red Hot Chili Peppers.

You know what they say: the family that gets tattoos together, stays together.


My satire aside, we don't want to go to jail for child neglect and so I must write in small print these were just temporary water tats. Duh! And we do like tattoos, just not on our kids. The adults in the family have two small ones, so I am not trying to offend any inked folks out there.   

May 31, 2012

E-Tales: Guam Diary, Part I

Kids grow up fast, they say. By chance, a few days ago I came across Elena’s diary. I was astounded by the revelations in her daily musings about the life of a five-year-old. I’d like to share a short sample of her take on our trip to Guam last December.

Wed., Dec 21: Departed Yokohama in dead black of night. 0400 up; Daddy annoyingly giddy. Cab driver spiteful; senses we are going to tropical climes? Arrive at the groggy-feeling train station. Little sister—what’s her name again? oh yeah, little miss shitbag—insists on walking up and down aisle on airport train shuttle, collecting laminated instructions on how escape in the event of emergency.  Mommy looking stressed. Airport: on time. Dad lugs our bags grudgingly. Immigration: whaaaa? Won’t let me through? Stare hard at Immigration Guy. Dad sweats the interrogation. Bureaucrat utters something about wrong stamp in my passport. Moron. Parents talk through it. We glide through airport; board aircraft. I screech; demand business class. They give it up—suckers.

Flight good. I work on my art. Marina poops diapers. 33,000 ft. and reeking. Mommy drinks too much. Daddy pretends he doesn’t hear us, reads magazine. Arrive. Warmth and mango smell. Have I been here in a previous life? Palm trees look confident. People drive slower here; look happier. We view Tumon Bay from the windows of our Nissan Murano cab. Water looks like popsicle blue. Hotel room OK, more Havana 1959 than Guam 2011. Marina freaks out; thirty minutes’ screaming equals new dimension of hell.  Sleepy now. Why don’t people speak Japanese here? Daddy drinks local beer; happier than usual. Sign: ABC Store. What, they don’t know their ABCs yet? Morons.

Thu., Dec22: 06:30—Eyes pop open on huge elevated bed. TV squawking SpongeBob Squarepants on Nickelodeon:  what is this shit? Wait…not so bad. Tied on feedbag at hotel breakfast; ate only sugar. Parents oblivious. Little sister quiet, for once. Old marble pillars in ballroom look like my dollhouse. Leave hotel 09:30. Sunny out already. Yay. Sit on hardwood seats on tourist bus; no windows. Feels kitschy but delicious. Wide girth on these folks. Hit Micronesia Mall; coax Dad into many arcade games; roller coaster; boring teacup ride: what am I, three years old or something? Come on. Won lots of cheap stickers from games. Give to sister ‘cuz I don’t want ‘em; win brownie points with parents.
12:35. Lunch. Tried local fare at glitzy-looking food court. Crap. Gimme McDonald’s, please.
Afternoon sun feels nice on neck; usually no ponytail in December. Go to "Largest K-Mart in the Pacific.” Who gives a rat’s ass? Toys look different than in Japan; build quality sucks, though. Japan still has lead in the toy game, I reckon.
Evening: Battle with Mom over…I forget why. Major confrontation. I’m cranky? My ass. Dad avoids issues again by heading to balcony with Bud Light in his mitt. We all sleep well as car horns honk on the tourist drag.

Fri., Dec 23. Another sugar breakfast? Fine by me. Mom and Dad babble about going to waterslide “for you.” Yeah, right. This ain’t Disneyland, folks. Later; eat my words. Tarza waterslide on hill near hotel kicks ass. Water warm like pee-pee here. I could do all the slides because staff pays zero attention to the rules. Rule #1: don’t drown. Everything else is cool. Starting to like these people. Less starchy than back home. Sign: “Tax Free.” Everywhere. Who cares? Spend day in sun; water chutes smoking fun; haul ass up and down hill to various waterslides all day.
Evening. Back to hotel room, out to dinner. Mom and Dad pick steak and lobster place not too far from hotel. Daddy kept going on and on about the goddamn cricket sounds, reminds him of summer, all that shit. I don’t eat any of the swill at the steak and surf joint. Potato chips only, please.

Parents. Suddenly realize they are old. Dad’s breath always smells of stinky coffee in morning; annoyingly chipper. Avoid Mommy until after she drinks her coffee. Hmm…coffee. Intrigued by this magic brew, I stealthily scoff a sip. Tastes like shit. Adults must be insane.

To be continued.

May 26, 2012

More Train Tales

I spend more time commuting now than I used to when we lived in Hiroshima. Besides getting me to the workplace, the train rides offer interesting insights into the Japanese psyche, which still confounds and interests me despite the years I’ve spent here.

Case in point: a man who tends to take the same train as me during the morning rush hour, who spends the entire journey downtown at the very front of the car, standing right behind the driver (separated by a sheet of  transparent glass), declaring each and every stop and other automated announcements about ten seconds before they are actually broadcast. He is oblivious to the norm of near-silence usually observed onboard trains, as he joyously--and in a loud, clear voice –gives his memorized version of the recorded voice announcements. Except for the clickety-clack racket of the moving train, this is the only other readily audible noise in a car with about 100 passengers.

What does this tell us about Yokohama? There is still a collective human heart beating beneath the seeming indifference and distance between individuals created so that millions of people crammed into a limited space can live together without confrontation. My sense is that in Japan there is a premium put on not being a nuisance to others; I get stares at times if I eat a snack while walking in the train station, occasional frowns if my iPod is too loud when wedged against other passengers on trains. Talking on the cellphone while riding the train or subway is a universal no-no. Yet this man, who defies the sacred silence of my morning commute, is left alone to do his thing. Is it the same degree of tolerance that I enjoy as a foreigner when I unwittingly violate public etiquette? Anyway, it’s refreshing to see that this slightly odd, but harmless, behavior is accepted.

Japan is renowned for its cleanliness and the stellar personal hygiene of its people. No argument here about that: anti-bacterial sprays and hand sanitizers at almost every building entrance, white face masks if you’re sick with a cold or to prevent sneezing during allergy season, and a wall of products at every drug store nationwide—all attest to the national attention paid to staying clean and healthy. Usually both sexes do these personal processes in private or stealthily. Yet, given the necessary space, younger Japanese women still apply their make-up on the train, despite public awareness campaigns to try to discourage it.
Why does it persist? I don’t know—boredom? Multitasking in a time-efficient way?  Better than sleeping? I’m not sure, but it sure is interesting to see this very private behavior performed in a very public space.

April 30, 2012

M is Two

There is beauty in simplicity, and the words “happy birthday” have that magical tone that conjures up smiles. Nothing brings me more pleasure than to wish my youngest daughter, Marina, the happiest of birthdays as we celebrated her second year on the planet and with us in the Rising Family. 

The celebration
Joined by longtime friend J.K. and his own brood of young’uns, we BBQ’d and feasted. The cake was brought out and we sang happy birthday. Fueled by the sugar, the kids whirled around the living room in a frenzy. Parents survived with a few drinks and great cheer. Marina seemed a bit overwhelmed by it all, although we did our best to gently prevent a certain older sister from trying to steal too many scenes from the birthday girl.  Attention was focused on our mighty mite, and she beamed with happiness upon receiving a bunch of gifts, especially those from Canada Nana.

The next day, we took both crews to the nearby “Kodomo no Kuni” (Kids’ Country), which is a veritable heaven for little kids: animal petting, fluffy animal rides, tandem bicycle riding with mom, Lord of the Flies-like trampoline jumping—all while being surrounded by a small army of likeminded tykes. 

Happy birthday, Ms. M. We wish you a terrific year ahead.

April 17, 2012

The Art of the Burn: Hanami BBQ

The Rising Family + grandmother were among the throngs who recently celebrated the arrival of spring in Japan. Naomi’s mom had generously decided to visit and help us take care of the manic twosome during Lady E.’s spring break from school. Mom-in-law was terrific help and the girls very much enjoyed her being around. Before she returned home, we decided to partake of the full bloom of the cherry blossoms in our region. Eager to embrace spring, we -- like millions upon millions across Japan -- staked out a nice spot for cherry blossom viewing on a Sunday. Still new to the area, I had sought advice from a lifelong resident and found a popular spot not too far from home.  Since we were competing for a prime location with the locals, with their home court advantage, we needed a carefully crafted strategy, a detailed logistics plan, and flexible tactics to be successful. Sound like a military campaign? During cherry blossom viewing time, no prisoners are taken.

We loaded up the kids and took off for our day o’ fun at 0900. Yes, nine o’clock. Yet, when we arrived, the parking lot was already full. Zoinks! Directed to a temporary lot, I packed up the hibachi and picnic table, and hauled it over to the BBQ areas to find that no reservations were available! After all that effort to get there…I gave my best sheepish I’m only a helpless gaijin grin, laid on some syrupy polite Japanese, and the guy managing the BBQ area sympathized while regaling me of tales of his trip to Niagara Falls. One-two-three, and the kids went off to play with their mom and grandma while I hiked up the hill, filled with cherry trees awash in pink blossoms, to our spot. The hillside was fast filling up with revelers, and it wasn’t ten o’clock yet. I started the rituals of “The Way of the BBQ.”

In Japan, there is set way doing almost anything, and straying from the accepted norms often invites criticism, scorn and ridicule. In any case, despite my long tenure in this lovely country, I don’t hold much to the contemplative way of viewing things like cherry blossoms. Is there a transient beauty in cherry petals falling to the earth that are reflective of the fragility of life?  I mean, come on. It’s just a BBQ and sometimes a lot of booze (the non-family variety BBQ, usually with coworkers).

I prefer to dwell on how many minutes to cook the chicken wings, rather than contemplate my own mortality, as the spring breeze pulls the blossoms off the tree boughs.

The ladies enjoyed my BBQ spread as much as I enjoyed making it for ‘em. It was a pleasant spring hanami for us after all.