February 28, 2016

The rules of having fun

Japan loves stability, hierarchy and public order. I’ve observed a tendency among Japanese to believe that the country’s vaunted social order and love of punctuality are qualities embedded in the Nipponese DNA. It isn’t--it’s learned behavior, environmental conditioning, social engineering--call it what you will. Wherever you go, there are signs or instructions which tell people what is OK to do and what isn’t. Sometimes there’s noise pollution, too, in the form of public broadcasts. Nothing nefarious--it’s all done with the public good and general safety in mind, but there’s a bit of a Nanny State complex going on here. For example:

“When stepping onto the escalator, please take care. Please ride the escalator with your hand on the rail. Do not do XXX and XXX.”

“The train is coming to a stop. Please be sure hold the hand strap.”

I don’t hear those kinds of announcements piped into the public airspace in too many other countries. Especially so politely. If it were Canada, it would have to be something like:

“C’mon, buddy, keep off the grass.” 

“Hang on. Or you’ll fall over. Your responsibility if you’re dumb about it.” 

“If you destroy public property, that gives us an excuse to raise your taxes again.”
Come to think of it, the Japanese aren’t too far from the “peace, order and good government” mantra that Canadians flock to. 

Recently we went to the Yamato Yutori Park in Atsugi, near Yokohama. The park was created in 2014 by Yamato City after the US Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces released some land next to the NAF Atsugi runway where Navy fighters/cargo planes and MSDF sub-hunters are stationed. The park itself is an amazing piece of work. Immaculate grounds. Thoughtful design with safety in mind, but not boring. Pleasant and amusing things to do for families with toddlers through to pre-teens. Several ballparks and soccer pitches for tournaments. We really appreciate this park and have been visiting it regularly. 

So what’s the point of this post? One of the park’s play areas features huge white jumping pillow mounds that are kept inflated with compressed air so the kids can jump, roll, and generally go berserk. Many of the parks that have these jumping pillows try to keep elementary school age “big kids” in separated from the pre-school kids, who get their own space. 

Order is paramount. You must sign in at least once with name and age. And, at Yamato Yutori park, well-intentioned retirees in bright, distinctive jackets patrol the area and scold any kids who dare to do headstands, backflips, or body rolls on the jumping pillow/fluffy domes. So it’s policed merriment.

I just dig the way rules are hammered into kids’ heads by soft, fuzzy, cute characters. Case in point, Yutori no Mori Park’s Rules of Fun below (all translations mine).

And we’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘till the geezers take our funning away.

February 8, 2016

Elena’s icy bloody Sunday

January 10th…a day that began with delight but ended bloody. Sound ominous? Let me explain.

Scuttle skating at Kodomo no Kuni Rink
My wife and I had decided we would take the girls out skating this year. Like having a “real” Christmas, I was resolute to provide them some Canadian content by strapping on the blades. So, off we went to Kid’s Country (Kodomo no Kuni) which has an outdoor rink during winter. As mental prep, I told them that I first put on skates at two years old and played ice hockey until junior high school. This left them visibly unimpressed.
Changing tactics, I said if they didn’t moan and complain about the skates, and gave it a real try, we’d “think about” a sugary celebration after the skating was done. That got their positive attention. To my surprise, Elena had remembered some of her previous ice adventures, and took to the idea immediately. Marina was a real gamer and didn’t complain too much once we adjusted the skates to her feet. It was her skating debut.
I coached them all a bit even though I felt my own lack of ice time would affect my authority should I dump it on the ice. Luckily for me, there were about 5,000 people crammed onto the regulation rink’s space, so there was no way to fall over. It was like a mosh pit at a Rage Against The Machine concert.
And yet we managed to have a wonderful afternoon in the sun; it was about ten degrees Celsius out, yet the ice was firm, with Zambonis periodically prowling the surface, thus just a little bit of Canada was magically transferred to Yokohama for the afternoon. The Rising Family™ had some good old-fashioned fun. No budding Kristi Yamaguchis in this lot, though.

Tenacious tooth tale
Lady E. lost a few teeth over the past few years and she currently sports a gap between her two upper front tusks that would make Vanessa Paradis proud. We are taking metal countermeasures for that; namely, braces. But her remaining baby teeth keep popping out—she’s at that stage.

After a wonderful day of skating and then dinner at Kappa Sushi, the kids went to bed. Soon afterward, Elena came out of her bedroom and said that her latest wobbly tooth was hurting. She demonstrated with a probe, visibly in pain. I said she had to choose whether she wanted to wait or to take matters into her own hands. To my surprise, she chose the latter.
She was sniffling and quite agitated, so I knew was time to shift into Dad Mode. She wanted help, and my mission was to take her mind off the pain. So we used ice cubes to numb the gums, and I started in with distracting chatter. Gave her a toothpick and showed my boyhood technique to push and prod, twist and pull the errant tooth, then lift it up by its exposed bottom edge, and gently rip the remaining roots to pull it out. It’s painful. Almost as painful to watch your child in pain.

As her discomfort grew, so did her determination to get it over with. I was proud of her fortitude. I shifted into Barack Obama mode:

Me: “You can do it, E-chan. Say ‘I can do it.”
She repeated “I can do it” several times with genuine conviction. And she eventually pried the tooth out. I was – am – extremely proud of the toughness and guts she showed me.
We packed her gums with Kleenex to stem the bleeding, and she went back to bed, looking slightly satisfied. This ended one rather special Sunday for the Rising Family.

All I am wondering now is when will Elena finally put the tooth under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy to come?