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.