Monday, April 25, 2005

Shoes aren't allowed on train seats, either!! Posted by Hello

Rules, rules, rules...

Last week Thursday we visited The National Children's Castle with some friends. Somehow, the English name sounds more auspicious than the Japanese “Kodomo no Shiro (Child’s Castle),” but I guess they know better than I do what their name is. It also seems ironic to me that this “castle” is just around the corner from one of the hippest—so I hear, I myself am not claming to be hip!—areas of Tokyo, Omotesando. But even trendsetters have children, and they have to play somewhere, right?
Our original mission was to wave at my friend’s four year old daughter from the pool observation deck. She was below, faithfully participating in swimming lessons with about 19 other children of more or less her age and size. At least four teachers were in attendance, which made the number of children slightly less shocking. Having accomplished our mission, we were off to explore some of the other areas of the castle.
Allegedly, there are several floors of activities to keep small people busy, but we focused our attention on one room in particular.
On one side of the room there was an enormous wooden play structure. The other side of the room was covered with mats, which were topped with board books, cushions and a couple of much smaller scale plastic jungle gyms. This being Japan, the mat side of the room was no-shoe land. However, there were signs all over the play structure saying “please play with your shoes on”.
At this point, I don’t know if I need to describe what I spent the next hour doing. I suppose I will, just to humor those of you who haven’t recently been exposed to the workings of the two year old mind.
At first, Koji wanted to be into the play structure. Unfortunately, the more he tried to actually play on it, the more it became apparent that it was just a little bit too big for him. If he was just one inch taller (or if more of the height he has could be found in his legs….), he would have been all set. Alas, no, so the baby side of the room beckoned. He charged off the play structure and onto the mats, shoes and all. I shouted, “Koji, take off your shoes!” which was really my attempt to show disapproving bystanders that I was aware of the shoe conundrum and getting ready to do something about it. A response was not expected; after all, the kid does not actually know how to take off his own shoes, not just yet.
I captured him and removed the offending footwear. He played on the mat for 18 seconds, and then ran off towards the play structure. Cue my yelling for the benefit of anyone who might notice a small round boy running and climbing in socks: “Shoes! Shoes!” The next step was reuniting the shoes and Koji’s feet so he could give the play structure another try. And so on.
Taking the shoes off and putting them on again, seemingly ad nauseum was pretty annoying. But I don’t think that’s what really bothered me about the situation. I think it was more that I didn’t really care whether he wore his shoes on the mat, or played on the play structure in socks. Complying with a rule that didn’t seem to have much function other than to remind me that I’m in Japan, the Land of Rules now, was not enjoyable.
I love being in Japan. But the rules! They’re everywhere. I’ll need a separate entry to expound! Suffice to say, the part of me that thinks “I know better than you” is alive and well, sadly.
So, it’s hard to say when we’ll go back to the Children’s Castle. Probably as soon as it rains, or whenever I have much more savings in my patience account!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Out with Miffy, In with Doraemon?

Here you see Koji and Aogu with Doraemon, who was in town for the Cherry Blossom Festival at Roppongi Hills (a huge shopping center/office complex/movie theater/hotel place nearby). Doraemon is a popular cartoon character here in Japan. If you want to know more about him, read this article: Posted by Hello

Best Seat Out of the House, er, Room

When we play in the garden on the roof of the Ark Towers Lobby, Koji always wants me to sit on this panda. He sits on the deer that's just a few feet away and a little easier for him to climb! Posted by Hello

Same World, Different Planet

Hiroko and her husband Daisuke came to visit on Sunday. It's hard to believe it's been ten years since Hiroko and I worked together at Tokorozawa Junior High School. She was the school nurse, and I was the ALT; that's Assistant Language Teacher, for those who have never taugh English in Japan. We were kind of thrown together as the youngest members of the staff. And it didn't take me long to realize what the rebellious kids in the school had already known for a long time: Hiroko's "Health Room" was a great place to hang out.
When a person claims to "feel sick," how can you deny them? Only that person knows the condition of their internals. Question the claim, forbid a trip to the Health Room, and find out how sick they really were when they vomit on you...this never actually happened to me, thankfully. But it explains how lots of students who were just fine but wanted to escape from class for one reason or another were able to take refuge in the Health Room.
Hiroko was good in the Health Room though. It never got too out of control, and those who weren't really sick were found out relatively quickly and sent on back to where they came from. As a fellow teacher, I was exempt from such scrutiny, so when I had a free period (which was often), I would regularly let my time pass with Hiroko in her room. It's hard--make that impossible--for me to remember the specifics of most of the conversations we had. But I do know that she taught me quite a lot of Japanese, as that's the language we were chatting in. In those days I was studying for the Japanese Proficiency Test, and when she was available she was always willing to explain the words and grammar I just couldn't quite grasp.
So last Saturday, Hiroko, who is 9 months pregnant, came here with her husband Daisuke, who is also a teacher. They live in the next prefecture north of Tokyo, Saitama. A couple of geographical equivalents: this is like visitors coming from Joliet to visit Evanston (for IL) or from Salem to Portland (OR) or from San Bernardino to La Mirada (CA) get the idea.
For Hiroko and Daisuke, the physical distance was not as impactful as the ideological distance. My prose is a little too lofty even for me, here, but what I think I mean is, they were like fish out of water!
I'm not really "cool" enough to live here, either, truth be told. But I was a little surprised to hear them saying things like "we feel like we're not in Japan anymore!" and "coming here is like traveling overseas!". There are a lot of embassies around here, and therefore a bigger concentration of foreigners than Hiroko and Daisuke will find in their neighborhood (number of "gaijin (non-Japanese people)". And there are a lot of shops selling couture and other things I can't pronounce or pay for. But I can promise them that just as Roppongi is a world away from Roppongi, Roppongi is not quite as near to overseas as they might think. Then again, how do I quite know where I am when I'm sitting in a dark room waiting for Koji to go to sleep?!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Rain on the Plain Washing Away my Brain

Last weekend the weather was awesome; perfect for "hanami" (cherry blossom viewing), which we did some on Sunday. All bets were off yesterday and today because it was all rain, all the time.
Oregonians (you saw that right, it means, "people from the state of Oregon," which incidentally, is pronounced "Or-ih-gun," NOT "Or-ih-gone"...but all you in Chicago already know this...) seem to pride themselves on not using umbrellas. Why bother? If a person were inclined to break one out with every rain shower, perhaps having said umbrella surgically attached to the top of that person's skull would be more convenient. What I'm trying to say, while utterly digressing from my original point, is that it rains a lot in Oregon.
But it actually rains quite a fair amount here in the "Land of the Rising SUN" as well. And going without an umbrella is not as feasible. Any distance to be traveled in Tokyo is definitely further than that from the American house door to the waiting vehicle, which will almost certainly be parked right out there, if one resides in an American house.
So, how to push a stroller and hold an umbrella? A friend kindly gave me a demonstration yesterday, with the caveat that the handle of the chosen parasol had better be long! Thus crushing my dreams of making it with a 400 yen job grabbed from a convenience store.
Maybe the rain that's been soaking my uncool, hooded head for the last two days has rendered me suddenly unable to cope with public transport. For lo, yesterday I smoothly hopped on the wrong bus. And this is as I'm supposedly rushing Koji back to the room for a nap. ARGH... said mishap was somewhat redeemed by the fact that I ended up right next to the DVD rental shop, where I was conveniently able to pick up that last episode of "24" I had been dying to see...but I digress again.
This incident probably wouldn't be noteworthy, except it happened again tonight! The subway conductor very clearly announced that those who wanted to go the direction I was headed better get off here and change to the train conveniently waiting on the other side of the platform. So I sat in a stupor, fiddling with my iPod instead. Then, the disaster unfolding for the second time in two days started to dawn on me. I had just enough time to stand up and watch the doors close in my face from that alert, standing position.
Ah well, I'm home now, and I'm not so bothered by my second botch because today, some "ojisan" (middle aged to old man) helped me carry the stroller. Granted, this likely wouldn't have happened if I hadn't cruised up to the bottom of a small flight of stairs and then shouted, "Koji, why aren't there any elevators around here?!". Maybe the rain spared a couple of my brain cells after all?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Spring, or just Naptime?

Japanese company employees who are low on the totem pole are dispatched to popular cherry blossom viewing sites around the city (and around the country) to hang signs "reserving" a spot for their company cherry blossom viewing party. The really unlucky ones have to stay and hang out with the sign, sitting on the requisite blue tarp, until the big bosses arrive. Posted by Hello

Human Jukebox

The idea of a "song request" reminds me of the Top 10, or Top 216, or whatever it was that Casey Casum used to have on the radio when I was in high school. As far as I could tell, fans of the show would write letters (on paper, with stamps and all, I imagine!) to Casey, ask him to play a certain song and explain why the song was special. These requests were nearly always unbearably cheesey, but they must have had some appeal because people (real or fictitious? Maybe Casey's staff was in charge of writing these "letters"?!) kept requesting week after week.
Now I'm back in "song request" land, but the context is a bit different: it's Koji, who loves music, asking me to sing certain songs. Here are his current favorites, listed by the names he calls for them by (unfortunately not ranked in Top 6 countdown order):

  • Happy ( whom, you may ask? nearly anyone whose name is known to Koji is game. "Mama, Papa, Koji" are the most common requests, but little, and big friends like "Calli, Jenny, Ashleigh, Riley, Chloe, Meg" etc. get lots of play too)
  • Jesus (loves me, this I know...)
  • A C (someday he'll get the missing "B" in there)
  • Cho Cho (Japanese song about a butterfly)
  • Pach (Japanese song that teaches kids "eyes," "mouth," "ears," and "head". "Nose" is left out, being an unimportant part of the face?!)
  • Veggie (the theme song to "Veggie Tales". If you have ever tried to sing this song, you know my pain!)

If I tried to pretend that I hate being a human jukebox, that's what I would be: pretending. To say that I love it would also be an exaggeration, but I do enjoy karaoke more than most people. And since getting out to an actual karaoke establishment is sadly not a common accomplishment for me these days, you'll find me behind Koji's stroller on some Tokyo corner, belting out, "BROCCOLI/CELERY/GOTTA BE/VEGGIE TALES".

Friday, April 08, 2005

Rudeness is my Job

Costco and I go way back. Since high school I've been eating cheap hotdogs and buying my paper towels 20 rolls at a time, thanks to said retailer. My partiality to Costco is extensive and shameless, so when I consider that I lived here in Japan for several years in the 90s without Costco, I wonder how that was possible.
Now there is no need to endure separation anxiety, for Costco has wisely opened several warehouses here in Japan. Two of them are within reach from the Tokyo area. But a trip to Costco is now just that, a TRIP. No more jumping in the car to run and grab a gallon of milk or a ream of paper.
Thankfully, Aogu's brother Ken and wife Aya have a minivan, a membership to Costco and kind, patient hearts. So we have a tenative deal that we will trek to Costco with them once a month. Yesterday was our second trip since arriving here exactly one month ago. Koji and I got on the train at around 12:50 to ride to the station nearest Costco. After finally arriving at 2:20, we made a beeline for the hot dogs!
Koji hadn't forgotten his main attraction at Costco. As we were in the elevator going down to the main floor from the parking lot, I asked him what we should eat at Costco. He didn't reply; I should have known better than to try and have a conversation with him in an elevator, where he is preoccupied with "pin-pon (Japanese sound effect for pushing a button)".
But after we exited the elevator and headed for the door, without any prompting, he started shouting, "hot dog!". Once we polished off some hot dogs and clam chowder (not together!), we were off to shop. Let's just say we took our time.
Around 6, we were in the parking lot with our two carts, partially blocking the open parking spot next to the minivan as we tried to cram all our goods in the back of the vehicle (Honda Stepwagon--so versatile, how come Honda doesn't distribute these in the States?). Suddenly, someone started backing in to the open spot, quickly and a little too close to me and our purchases. I was alarmed, and I said, "What is he doing?" in a rather loud voice.
Then, a woman who was on the other side of the offending car and apparently with the man inside shouted back at me, "You're the one who's in the way!". I was shocked! The fact is, I was in the way, but I thought it would have been alright for her to ask me politely to move?!
This incident is probably not worth all the "press" I'm giving it here, but it was a big deal to me because I am used to--maybe even a little jaded to--Japanese politeness and the idea that every last man, woman and child in this country is automatically courteous in every situation. Now that I put it down in words, I see that my expectation was a bit unrealistic. Nevertheless, I think I have no choice but to try and increase awareness of my own politeness or lack thereof. Though I may sometimes be unconsciously lacking in this area, I don't want anyone, Japanese or otherwise, thinking that rudeness is my job.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Old Fogeys?

Yesterday at 2.30 p.m. we made a visit to the Jesus LifeHouse International Church ( It's closely connected with the Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. Sure enough, there were quite a few Australians there, and within moments of meeting them and hearing them speak, I could feel my speech morphing a bit. I'm always wanting some other kind of accent!
In addition to Australians, there were a number of Japanese in attendance, and people from other countries as well, I'm sure (myself, for example). Though I'm not good at estimating numbers, I'd say there were close to 100 people there. That surprised me a bit, as I knew the church has only been going for less than three years.
The other thing that surprised me was how OLD I was! Most of the people there looked to be university students to mid-20s. Aogu and I were definitely on the aged side of things. And that was a strange feeling. Even at the Vineyard Christian Church Evanston, the average age is supposedly 30 or 31, so we console ourselves with the knowledge that we are still only a year or two north of average! No such comfort will be found at the Jesus Life House!
Overall, though, we had a pretty positive first experience. We met some nice folks and we enjoyed worshiping in a congregation; though I have to admit that we probably would have needed an absolutely terrible experience to be put off going again. After all, it's just a five minute walk from here!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Simple Things

Growing up is hard to do, and a little bit sad. Many simple things are left behind. And there is no way to remember or recover the simple things without seeing them as they are being enjoyed. When I pray, "Jesus, give me the heart of a little child," do I have any idea what I am asking for?
We spent a busy and yet relaxing day today. A couple of subways and a train took us out the suburbs of Tokyo. For the first time since arriving here almost a month ago, we visited Christian Academy in Japan (, the school where Aogu and I first met. The heart of the child was more in us then.
Old classmates now work at CAJ and we went to spend some time with them. Koji was able to enjoy a bit of play with...make that near...their 11 month old son. Next, we all walked out to an "obento" (box lunch) shop to pick up something to eat. Koji met a little girl on the playground where we settled for our picnic. She took him under her six-year-old wing and escorted him carefully up, down, and around the play structure. Perhaps I owe her some money now? That's the most relaxed lunch I've had in some time.
After filling our stomachs and covering ourselves with a fine layer of dirt, we retired back to our friends' place. While we poured coffee into any crevices not full of obento delights, Koji provided free entertainment by "dancing" (jumping up and down) to a Winnie-the-Pooh video.
It was a great visit, very low key but special. Just the Saturday Aogu needed.
On our way home, we stopped at an enormous shopping complex nearby. They are putting on a Sakura Festival this weekend. The Festival is unstoppable, though the requisite cherry blossoms have not actually bloomed yet...after a hot dog on a stick and some octopus balls (takoyaki), Koji had his most entertaining moment of the day.
This better-than-anything encounter occurred when he discovered a rock on the side of a path we were walking on. It was about five inches high and just big enough for him to stand on with both feet leaving a small margin all the way around. He got behind it and carefully climbed on, all without using his hands. After standing triumphantly for a second, he stepped off the front. Then he ran back around the rock (which makes it sound enormous, it was not), shouting his glee and preparing to repeat the performance. Which he did. Again. And again. Yet again. You get the idea.
My friends, though we were out all day and here and there expended a fair amount of effort to see that Koji was enjoying himself, the free and easy, there-any-old-time-you-want-it rock triumphed over all.
Aogu eventually dragged him away, literally kicking and screaming. Had he not, Koji might still be there, reminding me what is in the child's heart.