December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas 2021

Yuletide greetings from our bunker in Yokohama. We had a wonderful Christmas at home, and hope you did, too. It’s our – and the world’s -- second COVID-flavored Noel! Ohmygoodness it’s an Omicron Christmas!

Credit: Agence-France Presse. Looks like a Christmas Tree ball, no?

We try to give the Rising Daughters™ a chocolate advent calendar every year. It builds anticipation before Christmas and prompts them to appreciate their general good fortune each day before December 25. This year, though, each passing day in December brought new speculation about the seriousness and trajectory of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. You’d think that might cause some resurgent anxiety, but “au contraire, Pierre.” After 21 months of pandemic life, we, along with billions of other people, seem to have learned to live with the lurking threat of the new variants as well as the sea-sawing restrictions on going out or travel. 

Omicron is out there and spreading fast. But, today, we managed to forget about it. We chose to have a carefree, Disneyesque day together filled with laughter, presents, and a food fiesta. 

Exchanging digital greetings with loved ones and friends was a big part of it.

Credit: breakingbourbon.com

A parting gift I brought with me from Tennessee also helped ease my mind.

In other words, we’re grateful to be healthy and happy. I hope your Christmas was as good as ours was. Merry Christmas and take care, all ya’ll!

November 28, 2021

Elena’s World Vol. 5 Part 2

The mists of time have clouded recollections of how early-teen me thought and felt. So I’m appreciating Lady E.’s changes with respect and curiosity. My only request for this round of Q&As was that she be genuine. One hope is the following verbal exchange provides an accurate depiction of this wonderful young person in bloom, and captures her moment in time for future enjoyment.
Courtesy of the Japan Times; typical exam hall in Japan
What is your greatest challenge now?
It’s juken (ed.:it means studying for entrance exams) to get into high school.
Q: So your challenge right now is getting into the high school you want to get into.
A: Yeah.
Q: Why is that important, because it's a tough high school to get into?
A: Yeah, but if you get into that school it’s a good thing.
Q: If you don't get into the school you aim for, what happens?
A: I’ll probably get into another school that's ranked lower.

What makes you happy about the way the world is now?
I’m in a part of the world that is relatively peaceful. And, I am not worried about the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been going for a year, things are getting normal again here now, and I’m not worried about getting it. Soon I am getting the vaccines.

So you’re not worried about getting sick from COVID?
No, because I don't go anywhere. At first, when we still living in America, I was a little worried about getting COVID are first, but it's like normal now. It's everywhere so…so people have gotten used to it. Some of my friends got COVID but they were OK afterward.

Do you believe in an afterlife?
Oh, it’s happier to think that there's heaven. Then, thinking that there's nothing left when you die... I think there's heaven.
Q: Do you think you'll go to heaven?
A: Well, I haven’t done anything particularly bad, so yes.

What makes you sad about the way the world is now?
I feel a little sad that lots of people have died because of COVID. But some people are just going around without a mask so those people, it's their own fault. But it's genuinely sad for workers who work at hospitals that get sick.

What goals are you trying to achieve these days?
Getting into certain high schools. That’s all, really, right now.

Any other questions you want to answer or any other things you want to tell your future self when you read this on the blog?
I just hope I have a stable life, enjoyable, happy life, and not in any crisis. Yeah, enjoying life and genuinely being happy with friends.

Do you think you're a good person? What makes you interesting?
I don't think I'm a bad person. So…what’s interesting so far is that I have lived in three countries.

Are you nice or are you mean?
I'm nice. I think I'm nice. Well, it depends on the person. If the person is doing a bad thing, I don't care about them, but if I care about them I'm nice. So I'm nice to you guys, my family.

And do you have many friends?
I think so. I'm not lonely; I have friends to be with. I have, like, a lot of people who I can talk to you, but not really close. When a person says, you know, they're friends with somebody, but they're not that close, I don't call them friends. I have like six… no I have like 10 close friends.
Yeah, I think I have friends. I also have friends in America, there are a lot of them.

Are you getting along with your sister?
Yes. I'm nice to her. But we fight.
Q: Do you think you fight more than other sisters in the world?
A: No, I think other sisters are as bad as us, from my friends’ stories.

Last question. How would you describe your relationship with your little sister, The M.?
Awful, terrible. And wonderful, good. And one more way--close to each other.

Are you really sure about that?
Yes, for sure.

Really the last question. Any question you want to ask me?
Q from E.: Okay, there's something I want to ask you--are you ever gonna stop drinking beer?
A: Never.
Response from E.: Okay, I hope you live long.

###

November 24, 2021

Elena’s World Vol. 5 Part 1


Subtitle: Lady E. is a resident of the Mercurial Teenager Territory

This blog offers snapshots of in time of the Rising Daughters growing up. This latest round provides an overview of Elena’s current lifestyle and thinking by way of a Q&A. Her environment in Yokohama is relatively unchanged, but this kid is transforming thanks to her experiences and unique personality. She’s a work-in-progress.

A typical teenager: hormonal and icily logical. Querulous yet obedient. Apathetic but overactive in areas they shouldn’t be. And self-absorbed.

These days, society encourages dads to not describe our daughters in gender-centric, stereotypical terms like “pretty” and “my princess.” As my Lady E. teenager learns and progresses toward adulthood, things are gonna get interesting.
Without further ado...
Not her school, by the way
What's been the hardest thing to readjust to since you moved back to Yokohama?
School, especially math. Yes, school in general, but especially math, science and social studies since they’re different from what I took in America.

Anything different about your lifestyle or things that are hard to readjust to?
Something hard is to make new friends. Maybe it's not that hard because I already have friends here from four years ago. So there's nothing especially hard, but in general it’s just different, not that hard to readjust to.

What are your favorite clothes these days?
Ah, favorite clothes. I only wear my clothes two times a week, because I have my school jersey [tracksuit]. So, maybe my jeans, and my band hoodie. It's big, it's like a huge size that makes me look like it's a one-piece black hoodie. That's probably my favorite.
Sub Q: Is it the hoodie from your band days at middle school in Tennessee? 
A: Yes.
Any new hobbies or sports?
I played tennis this year as a club activity at school.

Why did you decide to play tennis?
Because I originally liked badminton but they don’t have badminton available at school. So it was either table tennis or tennis, and mom used to do tennis, and it seemed quite interesting.

What's your favorite ice cream/or candy?
I have a lot of flavors I like. I like the original flavors from Baskin Robbins, and the chocolate banana super scoop ice cream. Also, gummies, chocolate, super tough gummies. Or just gummies in general but hard gummies--stuff like that, and milk chocolate.

Who is more fun to play with, boys or girls?
Girls. Yeah, I don't have any boyfriends. It’s easier with girls and girlfriends. I don't have anything in common with the boys. We just don't talk to boys in my grade. No, no, no, none of my girlfriends have friends that are boys. There's this complete line, a wall between boys and girls in our class.

What's your average day like?
Yeah, well I go to school around 08:00 I usually have five or six classes on school days. I have lunch around 12:25.
What kind of lunch?
A bento box lunch that mommy makes. It’s usually good. It's like different every day.

Do your friends all have school lunches from their moms?
Yeah, well some of them buy lunch but most of them have bentos. Only like two people in our class buy lunch.

Tell us about the past year. What have you learned?
Yeah, we've been here over a year now. But the subjects are all new.
Math is new, I’m studying graphs, and some functions and relations, but it’s just math. We all take the same math. Okay, it's different from America so there's like no algebra and smart people classes. We are all learning the same stuff. I learned new kanji characters, and Japanese history in social studies.

What books are you reading lately?
Reading Harry Potter and this Japanese book that I find interesting. I forgot the name of the Japanese book. I read it a month ago so it's, it's something like 40 days of being somewhere like in a dream, about two people from different times, like completely different timelines. I read a lot.

What’s your favorite TV show these days?
Comedy shows.

What would you like to say to your future self, when you’re 21?
I'll probably be a university student. I hope I'm happy, and have a stable life. Yeah, I hope I'm a not rock and roll star or a TV celebrity. Just living a normal life as a university student. I want to be peaceful. I know I want to be normal. I want to travel, but don't want to do like super high spec stuff. And, I’m watching a lot of American TV shows and Japanese anime shows, so I’m becoming expert in both.

In what place are you happiest?
I'm happy talking to my friends at school or just anywhere in general because it's fun. Also, I like sleeping. So, those two. Yeah, talking to my friends just anywhere, and then doing stuff with my friends and also sleeping and relaxing.

To be continued...

October 31, 2021

Thanksoween

The Rising Family™ has been in holiday hoedown mode the last month or so. Canadian Thanksgiving on the second weekend of October was the spark. 
The traditional, and ideal, Thanksgiving meal

Our reality--and lucky to have it!
We adapted our festive feasting because we don't have an oven large enough to cook a turkey. Instead, the bird we devoured was a Costco roast chicken augmented by homemade mashed potatoes, fresh veggies, and apple pie and ice cream. Not 100% the “real thing” but tasty enough. What was the same was gratitude for our good fortune. Also unchanged was lambasting each other at the dinner table.

Now it’s Halloween. It’s another holiday that underlines Japan’s habit of absorbing and transforming cultural traditions from abroad and making them fun and unique to its own culture. All that without the drama of tradition or religious meaning. To be sure, Japan’s “Labor Thanksgiving Day”  in late November doesn’t jibe with the North American version of Thanksgiving. It’s a nondescript holiday where people say thanks to their parents for their work. Be that as it may, I’m waiting for some savvy local marketers to turn that holiday into something quirky that fits the local lifestyle. I’m sure there are many Japanese who’ve lived in the U.S. or Canada and would like to see a localized version of Thanksgiving. That would mesh well with the homespun varieties of Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day which are very popular.

I don’t recall large Halloween celebrations when I arrived in Japan over two decades ago, except for foreigners getting together to party. Then again, it’s increasingly welcomed as a good excuse to rev up the costumes and have fun in public, so why not? I suspect the geniuses at Tokyo Disneyland brought in the idea and local companies saw opportunity knocking. It probably caught on first in the Tokyo area, with its many foreign resident enclaves. The annual big cosplay/Halloween parade in Shibuya added spice to enable its further spread elsewhere.
I do recall seeing a Christmas tree festooned with pumpkins at a local mall around 2014. I duly called it the “Christmaween” period between Halloween and Christmas.
Credit/Courtesy of Eric Fell/Instagram
So why not keep that creative vibe going with a new "Thanksoween" hybrid holiday? Just merge them and keep the party going. Eat a huge feast in a costume. That could work!

The way I see it, Western culture and traditions are great and come to us naturally because we grew up with them. I try to husband them in our household so Lady E. and M. grasp the spirit, emotion and traditions of the western half of their makeup through holiday celebrations. That these holidays can sometimes veer in a kooky way when integrating with Japanese norms yields harmless and heartwarming results—for everyone. Traditions are great and it’s OK to do something different. Anything that brings people together and offers some joy is the whole point.

When I see a Japanese version of Kwanzaa or Hannukah, then I’ll know Japan has jumped the shark, holiday-wise. Wait for it! 😏
Happy Thanksoween!

Ed. notes: 
- Today is also the general election for the Japan’s House of Representatives. The vote will decide if the current LDP government will continue to lead with single-party majority, or not. Either way, democracy in action.
- It’s also the opening day of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. Let’s hope the Powers That Be continue efforts to improve our climate plans so the planet doesn’t become a horror show for future generations. Just marking the date for posterity.
 
###

October 26, 2021

Rug-o-nomics and responsibility

Teaching Marina about money has been a long and winding road…with much laughter. We’ve been trying to do the right thing as parents. If we don’t teach the Rising Daughters™ how to manage money, then credit card, “E-Z Quick Loan" or "FastCashBack” companies will. That’s not a risk we want to take. Dollars and sense.

I say “we” when in reality it means “me.” Truth be told, I couldn’t find my own ass financially until my mid-twenties. The university loan repayments started to kick in and the party was over. My lovely wife, however, was born fiscally prudent and rational. I want our daughters to split the difference behaviorally between us parents. At face value, it seems Lady E. got Naomi’s “smart with money” DNA.  And -- I write this with love -- M. was left with my inital slapdash approach to managing money and saving for the future.

Library “Book-o-nomics” is the precursor to this post. It was the strategy I created to get Marina to understand that library books cost money and that lost library books will cost her money. While we were living in Tennessee, she lost a book. I made her go with me to the library to find out from the librarian what happens. We broke down the $20 book replacement cost into monthly payments subtracted from her allowance. Every month I’d remind her why she was $1.50 short of what she was supposed to receive.  I'd show the record of what she’d paid and what balance remained. She followed the plan and paid it back. Lesson learned, right?

Wrong.

More backstory. Slime is a viscous, gooey, multicolored glob that you can pound, pull apart, and do all kinds of creative kooky kid stuff. It’s also sticky and oozy as tree sap and IMPOSSIBLE to remove from carpets. For this reason, we repeatedly warned Marina not to use slime in her bedroom and, if she “forgot” and it got stuck on the carpet, she’d be responsible for fixing it.

You guess what happened next. The warnings were ignored. When moving out, even a professional carpet cleaner could not remove the hardened slime globs and stains. We had to replace the whole carpet in her room, costing north of $400.

It was time for Round 2 of taking responsibility-for-your-actions. “Rug-o-nomics” was born.

I did some math and at $2.50 per month—roughly 15% of her monthly allowance—it would take 13 years for her to pay it back. She’d be a college graduate by then. I increased the monthly payback to $7.50 per month to raise the financial pain threshold together with a new incentivized idea. I recalled Marina’s great public speaking effort back in January 2020 at the Williamson County 4H club.

Her topic: Being responsible for your actions. My idea was to get her to rehash her ideas in a long, two- or three-page formal essay about being responsible for one’s actions. Doing so would rehash the responsibility element and need some written work. Perfect combination, right?

Wrong.

She agreed to this new ploy six months ago. Yet no action. She’s still willing to take a 42% monthly drop in her allowance rather than do the essay.

To motivate her, we first showed her how much more money she’d get every month if she did the essay. Nothing happened.

Negative reinforcement though nagging and shaming didn’t work. We tried the positive route again with a tangible thing: how much candy she could buy with an extra 750 yen (about $7.50).

She's done neither research nor writing so far. What to do? We might have to go to DEFCON 1 and threaten complete allowance retraction. My preference remains the carrot over the stick, though.

I do believe that this story will end positively. Goodness knows if I could eventually get my financial act together, so can Rising Daughter #2.

###

October 6, 2021

Knocked-out and Luckless

The Blue Jays took me on a roller-coaster ride of emotion while trying to secure a Wild Card spot in the American League postseason. What an exciting young team. I’ve was attentive to the AL East pennant race this year. During the Wild Card chase I peeked at game livestreams on my smartphone.  
It’s the first time I’ve written about the bluebirds in this blog since 2015. Plenty of convoluted tiebreaker scenarios kept the WC dream alive. Alas, the Red Sox knocked out the Jays despite a 91-71 record for 2021.
There’s always next year, right?

As a double-whammy, I am NOT going to space with Virgin Galactic after all. I was certain that one of my tickets would be chosen! It’s a cosmic letdown, to be sure. It seems Omaze and Branson have conspired against me…this time.
There’s always the next raffle, right?


September 26, 2021

The Vicar of Voting

I’m ecstatic that I voted in Canada’s federal election on Sept. 20.

The Backstory
In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that non-resident Canadians should have the right to vote in a federal election regardless of how many years they’ve lived abroad. I’ve already written about being added to the Canadian government’s international register of electors which resulted from that judicial ruling. The courts and the government did their part. 

I received my voting package via courier in late August, a few weeks before the election writ was dropped. I fulfilled my end of the covenant by quickly mailing the special ballot vote back to Elections Canada. I sent it by registered mail to meet the submission deadline. According to a CBC report, there are about 36,000 Canadians currently living abroad who are on the international register of electors. We have a voice again.

I believe voting rights and citizenship are the cornerstones of democracy and are essential to maintaining an open and free society. That’s why I am making such a fuss about voting. Did you know that in Australia it’s compulsory by law for all eligible citizens to vote in federal elections and  referendums? There’s a fine if you don’t vote or don’t have a valid reason not to. They’re serious about the responsibility of voting in Oz. More than 20 countries in the world  have similar laws. I am happy Canada is taking a step forward by extending the franchise to more citizens.

Also, it’s easy to stay informed about what’s happening in the Great White North. I read Macleans magazine online (thanks, Dad!) . I habitually graze the Globe and Mail and National Post. But voting is an umbilical that keeps me connected.

And my thoughts on this election? I read lots of stories questioning the need for this election. The CAD$600 million price tag to hold it. And the result being a Parliament with a minority government that looks like the previous one. Well, the people voted, had their say. So please drop those minor gripes. Canada is a mature, functioning  democracy. Many nations in this often unfair and chaotic world would love to have our rich nation “problems” of unwavering party positions and stultifying sameness. Choose the half-full glass, folks. We’re the lucky ones.