December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas Message

To my family, friends and random folks who may be reading,
best wishes and heartfelt good cheer; Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We had another terrific Christmas; feel lucky and blessed.
Started with a morning coffee...

The girls were naturally THRILLED about EVERYTHING today.
It was contagious. We simply had a wonderful merry olde, sepia-toned tyme.  

And check out this funky "impressionist picture" application on my camera.

December 24, 2013

Winter Solstice

It is Christmas Eve and I am mulling over autumn’s passing and winter’s grip. Thinking positively, the winter solstice (a few days ago) means the nights are getting shorter and the light of day is longer. So, astronomically, things are heading in the right direction.

Like a tube of toothpaste nearing its end, I want to squeeze the last bit of summer out and make it last as long as I can. Here are some of the highlights of Sept-Dec ’13:

To keep the dream of summer going, we visited Tokyo Summerland in mid-September. The heat and humidity is still formidable in Tokyo at that time, but most public outdoor pools have already shut their gates. Tokyo Summer is for summertime die-hards: a huge indoor domed pool and artificial wave water park that is open nearly year-round and, from July to September, offers more outdoor aquatic fun with a maze of whirlpools, waterslides, and fake waterfalls.
The Rising Daughters are water babies. Lady E. is coming along nicely in her swimming lessons, and M. seems to following the same trajectory, making me proud. At Summerland Marina mastered the meaning and ill-timed public use of the word “asscrack”--once again following in the steps of her elder sister (see “Gonzo Parenting”, Jan. 2011). They enjoyed squirting random people with their water pistols, receiving shrieks of delight from young women in bikinis, all crying “cute.” 

In my book, there is everything right with a theme park dedicated to the pleasures of summer all year round.

With swimming no longer an option after September, we switched to observing fish and even touching them at the Aburatsubo Marine Park. It features an enormous aquarium and numerous displays for sharks, dolphins, penguins and sea lions.
The day we were there, they had this spellbinding live stage performance of a popular kiddie cartoon—imparting youngsters with morality though tales involving men in very tight grey rubber suits flinging themselves around the stage area fighting the bad guys. It was Captain America-meets-Crispin Glover chaos, and I enjoyed the show more than the girls did. I love that s—t!

And Marina is learning to drive.

My wife and I insist that the Rising Daughters embrace culture as much as they have fun being active. Thus, we have studied many of the world’s finest art treasures.
Courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Int'l

Being classy people, we are teaching the girls the fine art of “passing wind” without being discovered.

Even in October, E & M were out meeting their fans…

..and trying out new ways to get around.

Alas, come November’s chill, I got bogged down in the trench warfare of my email inbox at work, and we had fewer activities of note. One major blow to the head, and I wake up to find that it is the end of December and I am on vacation. And so it goes…

November 30, 2013

For a few weeks more...heat

We’re on the verge of December as I write this and yet I am still thinking about summer. Gord Downie said it best: “we live to survive our paradoxes.” Mine is that I was reared in northern climes but have morphed into a creature that thrives on the great gales of energy unleashed amid hot, muggy summer temperatures. In that spirit, here are a few anecdotes from the Hot Zone, the peak heat of August. The soundtrack for this time is the sonic euphoria induced by listening to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” or the entire Steve Miller Greatest Hits album. The flavor is watermelon and cucumber salad washed down with judicious amounts of light American beer.

Summer trip to Hiroshima
It’s the family, stupid. After the night ramble down the 800 kilometers of expressway between Yokohama and Hiroshima, I was ready to revel in vacationland. So…Carp/Tigers baseball with a bud; 10th wedding anniversary with my beautiful and indulgent wife; BBQ and pool fun for the kiddies to escape the oppressive heat (at least 38-39 degrees Celsius every day); and, finally, a spell camping at the beach on the Japan Sea coast. From my journal: “Morning at the beach in Hamada: 1) really terrific swimming 2) Elena happy 3) Marina produces a tape-measure-worthy turd.” Awesome!

Doolittle in Doigehama
Somehow the schedules aligned where many old buddies (who have also stayed on in Japan) all managed to further align our vacation schedules for a couple of days off as husbands and fathers. The only ground rules are no wives and no kids. We met at the same camp spot we scorched a few years ago. Basically, we exorcised the resident employment demons through revelry with a tempo like a Pixies song —loud/quiet, quiet/loud— dependent on iPad technology and catnaps, punctuated by yet-more BBQ, Costco muffins, fireworks, and random romps into the ocean to cool off and rehydrate. It was two days of outstanding fun. As our middle-aged batteries wore down, quiet snoring in the afternoon sun was the order of the day.

Before I knew it, I was driving the family vehicle back to Yokohama with my friend James riding shotgun, sans family, which had wisely opted to stay with Naomi’s kin for a few more days. I guzzled coffee in quantities that should have stopped my heart in order to remain conscious as I captained the blue ship homeward. We arrived back in the Kanto region in one piece. Before I knew it, I was on a plane, then in the desert of Southern California at a work event, cranking out the words and frequenting Denny’s “for my health.”
At this point, the pace was relentless and I kicked in the afterburners, fueled by Bud Light and the manic elation prompted by seeing the Dodgers and the Red Sox play. The rest is a blur not unlike the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey: “My God—it’s full of stars.”

I jumped a plane eastward and barged in on my parental units for a visit that, to them, likely seemed more like a 28-hour hostage crisis. Then back to Japan via a flight schedule that was more complicated than dollhouse assembly instructions on Christmas Eve after a few fingers of Jameson’s.

And thus I found myself back at home in Yokohama at about 0600 on the first Sunday in September, with the two Rising Daughters groggily starting their day, my brain still somewhere over the Pacific, and the local temperature climbing quickly toward the high 30s with a hootenanny level of humidity to boot. I would…have it no other way. The Rising Family, fully intact once again, christened September with a dip in the local public pool, a dispensing of gifts, and a feast at Red Lobster to celebrate our XO’s birthday.
The flavor of August was a blend of sweat, watermelon and jet lag. It was the best month of this year, hands-down. Yet, September had its own charms…

November 10, 2013

Trick Then St. Nick?

The religious aspects of Christmas are understandably perplexing to a majority of Japanese people given their secular inclination and lack of Christian traditions. Yet the nation has fully embraced the trappings of good old St. Nick, and Christmas is a feast for the eyes and stomach here. Halloween is a different story. 
Sure, people dress up in costumes around the days leading up to October 31. Shopping areas and English language schools are replete with scary-slash-fun images in orange and black. But I am convinced most Japanese folks still do not understand the historical origins of Halloween, and they just enjoy the chance to buy candy and dress up in odd outfits because of costume play’s cultural acceptance here. It is rare to see anyone carving pumpkins or kids going door-to-door to trick or treat. Nobody wants to dole out candy or ask for it—that’s just not customary yet. And that's fair, because a thin understanding of a Western holiday should not prevent people from having fun. Thus, Japan’s version of Halloween is consistent with the nation’s ability to appropriate foreign ideas and tweak them to make it acceptable locally.
What has struck me, though, is the quick turnaround from the Halloween marketing blitz straight into the Christmas marketing carpet bombing. 
One weekend the Rising Daughters were getting pumpkins and spooky pink cats painted and their cheeks at our local shopping mall. Then, the following (first) weekend in November, we were strolling through the same mall being force-fed Jingle Bells by Bing Crosby and visually assaulted by tinsel!
With no American Thanksgiving acting as a commercial/holiday buffer, we launched straight into Christmas.
As William Shatner said: “I can’t get behind that.” But I am becoming a Rising Curmudgeon™.


November 5, 2013

A fistful of summer

I began the summer by taking a plunge in a coffee bath. I feel like I have not slept soundly since. This hot spring contained a respectable amount of real coffee, and that is the right caffeinated metaphor for the summer just passed. As we have now reached the definitive end to the warm months of 2013, let’s take a look back, shall we?

Naomi had found out about this spa, called Yunessun, near Hakone, a popular weekend getaway spot south of Tokyo. It has over 25 different-themed hot spring baths, including a waterfall, aromatic (citrus), Japanese sake, green tea, and the aforementioned coffee spa. They had me at the word “coffee.”
Courtesy of
The kids dove into the blue popsicle-colored spa (I had to keep M. from trying to lap up the water) while I reveled in the wine spa. Naomi had to prevent me from testing the wine spa water. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree...
Visiting Yunessun spa was a unique way to kick off our summer fun and travels.

July was about all about fighter jets, flea markets and a fishing hole.
We found a new park near the Atsugi Naval Air Facility that has a kickass jungle gym, so the Rising Daughters could run amok. Located at the end of the main runway, we had the occasional booming flyover of F-18s either landing or taking off.
On weekends when we had no specific plans, we usually went off to one of many flea markets in and around the Yokohama area. Love them bargain hunts. Around that time, we also found a fishing hold right in the middle of the city which Elena, in particular, has taken a shine to.
 Later, in July, when temperatures began to rise to the sweltering zone, we escaped the heat in the neighborhood’s annual Obon holiday festival, held in the evening, so the girls could dress up in their summer yukata to parade around the festival grounds.
This summer ritual has become a favorite of mine. Elena created a unique lantern at school that was selected to help decorate the festival ground's lights, and she went on stage for her public awa yoshikono traditional song/dance debut.
It was terrific to see her dance around on stage, and Marina was having fun mimicking big sis’s movements.
On the way home, the very intoxicated (and usually very quiet) local barber called me over from across the street and plunked a cold beer into my mitt. I received the blurry but well-meaning picture of this merriment the next time we went in for haircuts. This type of gesture makes our neighborhood nice to live in. Bring on the heat, I said!

October 20, 2013

Pause for the pastime

Baseball is mostly an outdoor game that stretches over three seasons of a year. A baseball season’s length and the pace of the game itself are part of its charm for me and millions–perhaps billions--of other fans. However, I was jolted out of my lingering summer complacency last night when the all-powerful Yomiuri Giants defeated the Hiroshima Carp to complete their sweep of the inaptly named Central League Climax Series of Japanese professional baseball. This means the Giants, a team whose name alone conjures up irrational animal hatred in me, will advance to the Japan Series (the country’s equivalent to the World Series).

I have had a memorable summer and early fall, with a calendar that has kept me bobbing and weaving between fun-filled family activity and work commitments, with scarce time or energy for anything else, let alone stories from the Rising Family. But the Hiroshima Carp’s fairy tale narrative since September and the abrupt return to reality due to yesterday’s season-ending loss compelled me to jot down a few thoughts.

Third-place Hiroshima surprised the Hanshin Tigers with a sweep in the first round of the playoff CL Climax Series even though the Tigers posted a better record over the course of the season. (I caught a Carp-Tigers game with my good friend SDM in August while in Hiroshima during our summer vacation.) 

Hiroshima’s scrappy underdog narrative was riveting, particularly for me, an unrepentant Carp fan since my arrival in Japan; my allegiance continues to this day. Their surge in September to claim the team’s first playoff berth since 1991 was the come-from-behind storyline that captures the heart. Reality, of course, usually overwhelms mythic hopes and dreams, but in my mind, it is the possibility alone that keeps the child in us alive—and watching the game.

Last note. The frenetic summer schedule took me to various places over the last few months. I will soon offer a few tales about that. This travel enabled me to see the Carp versus the Hanshin Tigers, and the Red Sox versus Dodgers (both low-scoring games), so I caught of glimpse of the some of the best teams in the game of baseball on both sides of the Pacific ocean this year. Lucky me. Now, the yin-yang emotions of triumph of winning and the anguish of defeat remind me that soon the game will leave me to face the winter alone.

The author, proudly sporting Carp T-shirt in front of the Dodger bullpen.
Yes, we were allowed on the field! For a fireworks show after the game!
Postscript: just saw that the Red Sox are going to Series again, against the Cardinals. Go Sox.

August 29, 2013

Lady E: What I’ve Learned

What I’ve Learned
The bicycle-riding, self-dressing, public school wunderkind looks back on life, family and lessons learned.

I may not “know” much, but I know this: eat all the ice cream you can in one sitting, because it melts quickly and you don’t get a second chance.

Aging is a bitch. I see those mousy little kindergarten girls pouting their lips, strutting their stuff, just waiting for me to show weakness so they can eat my lunch. It ain’t gonna happen.

Nagging works.

So does being outrageously cute, even if it’s transparent.

I love broccoli, other green veggies and everything that doesn’t contain sugar. So, for example, it breaks my heart when I have to give up my broccoli for my younger sister, because she already finished hers. I give her mine because I just want her to be happy, y’know?

Turning on the waterworks with a fake cry is the ultimate tool to manipulate daddy and grandparents. Mommy, not so much.

You know what a salad needs? More cowbell.

You can bullshit a bullshitter. (Case in point: my dad.)

I’m an optimist by inclination, fatalist in practice. Doll houses crack, stuff gets lost, even if we take care. It just…happens. Yet, when I lost a couple of teeth, I got some money. Life is inconsistent and weird.

I categorize my girlfriends into the virtuous and the vicious. Despite my better judgment, I am bored by the virtuous, and tend to hang out with the vicious. Don’t yet grasp why. Boys ain’t on my radar screen—they just are smelly.

I haven’t figured out pathos yet. How could I? I haven’t had that much life experience! But it’s simple, really. You like candy, you eat it. You see someone hurting, you help them. That’s it.

Learn to swim or you sink.

Walking to school isn’t that hard. Follow the road, just keep moving forward, and hold your head high. Just like life.
I like my little sister, simply because I can punch harder than she can. And that’s what she gets for calling me “bossy” or not turning over the TV remote when I command it.

I handle stress by controlling impulses (sometimes), competing with other kids, whining, and losing focus…hey, look at that compelling new cartoon on TV ... see ya.

July 31, 2013

Summer Reading List

School’s out for summer. School’s out forever…well, at least we’re in the silly season before my summer vacation from the office. Which means it is summer reading time. I asked the Rising Daughters to indicate their favorites from our bedtime reading list amid these sweltering summer days. 
The Top 7 and a brief comment on (or review of) each book follows.

Aloha Bear by Dick Adair
“A penetrating analysis of Hawaiian socio-political norms and their integration with culture as seen in the form of the cuddly-wuddly brown bear who often says ‘Aloha’”.

Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
“Gallic tough love, baby.” - Elena

Cat and Dog by Rozanne Williams
“Packed with action. A roller coaster ride… dazzling. You won’t be able to put it down.” -Marina

Generation X by Douglas Coupland
“Still my bible.” - Me

Sally’s Red Bucket by Beverly Rendell
“A literary colonoscopy.” -Elena

Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepherd
“Hunk-verse. Yummy!” -Naomi

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
“This is a wonderful book to read with very young children.—especially in the original Russian! The story is simple and flows easily. The very vibrant colors in the pictures really draw the attention of your kids as you read the book. My kids simply love it. I am certain your children will as well.” – Non-existent Perfect Parent

July 22, 2013

Biker Babes in Toyland

My kids have the need for speed. This is not surprising, given my penchant to let them jump off ledges, poke the growling animals, swing just a bit higher for that split-second weightless joy, and other childhood on-the-job training evolutions (legal disclaimer: within reason). One element of this is the ritual of learning to ride a bicycle.

Lady E. was a late convert to the two-wheeled life. We bought her this yellow-colored beauty when she was still a zygote, yet despite my best efforts she just did not get the hang of pedaling without the training wheels until early in 2013.
I tried doing practice laps with her in the safe confines of our neighborhood streets: pushing/launching, pep talks about balance, the virtue of being persistent after falling over—patiently teaching my ass off. But I think the prying eyes of her competitors in the ‘nabe had some kind of psych-out effect. Countermeasure: adapt and overcome! We changed training venues, going to a local park for these practice sessions. Then, after several furtive attempts and occasional exasperated tears, all of a sudden, whammo! SWOOSH! off she went, propelled into a new stage of her kid-hood. The promise of freedom that comes with mobility…it’s a powerful moment in anyone’s life.

Marina, quite naturally, wants to be like her demigod sister. She pedals around on her trike, furiously trying to keep up. She’s a gamer. The frustration is evident when she gets “crazy eyes”; eyes alight with a Rasputin-like intensity, followed by a later pummeling of her older sister to telegraph her displeasure if Elena trash-talks or flaunts her bicycle-driving superiority.

When we’re bored, or to clear the mechanism when there has been a crying session, or after a temper tantrum has subsided, I’ve been taking the girls on recon missions through the small residential roads near our house on my emasculating 50cc scooter. 

In turns, they perch on the front seat and grasp the mirrors, and we prowl around. It’s fun, and the glee on their faces is worth the fine that I will inevitably get from the cops here, who are – uhh – not the world’s most flexible when it comes to “no passengers” rules for this class of vehicle.

What the hell, it’s a small price to pay for instilling a love of speed and adventure, and the willingness to do something just a little dangerous (legal disclaimer: within reason).
My favorite Martian

July 2, 2013

We Do Not Negotiate With Emotional Terrorists

Most parents are amateur anti-terrorism experts. My wife I have logged this type of operational experience owing to numerous incidents with our first daughter. Recently, we have had to deal decisively with a second wave of organic terrorism in our home. Our beloved tyke, Marina, has developed into a part-time antagonist with her own extremist agenda. To our chagrin, we recognize she has been using calculated verbal and physical violence to provoke a state of terror in the Rising Family™ in an attempt to impose her worldview on us.

It is incumbent on me that I reiterate, with resolute conviction and moral certainty, our family policy on these matters:
We do not negotiate with emotional terrorists.
(Even if we love them with all our hearts.)

Thus, Ms. M has been indicted by our family court for her violations against acceptable behavior, as follows:

Charge #1: Has used 30-minute ear-splitting screaming and unwittingly hilarious tantrums to try to force her food, clothing, and play choices, and general social agenda, on the rest of us.
Ruling: guilty.

Charge #2: Has used physical and psychological warfare against her older sister to compel compliance with her nefarious three-year-old-kid socio-economic manifesto (i.e. “Gimme your grape juice, bitch. NOW!”)
Ruling: guilty.

Charge #3: Has deliberately blocked view of TV with cutesy mini-kitchen set to coerce other family members to change to her preferred kiddie show (Teletubbies). Related charge: when rebuffed, defendant sprinted around room, screeched at high decibels, and threatened violence with swinging arms.
Ruling: guilty.

Charge #4: “Freakouts Without Cause”, viz. numerous early morning tantrums (before even rising from bed) that infuse the day with dejected gloom.
Ruling: oh man, so, so guilty.

Sentence: no Doraemon cartoons or ice cream until behavior improves.

For the past several months, all efforts to calm with hugs; charm; keep busy; redirect or divert attention; ignore; change location/environment; and other well-intentioned responses to this anti-social radicalism have met with nothing but more 30 to 45-minute terror tot temper tantrums. Therefore, we have countered this tide of tempestuous deeds with our strict adherence to the no-negotiation policy.

Our war on tiny person terrorism continues.