Monday, 30 October 2006

Where are we?

So on Friday last week the little ‘un finally reached the ripe old age of 18 months, so I figure it is about time to take stock, look back and see how we got here, or something like that. So in no particular order, this is what he, and I suppose we, have achieved in the last year and a half:

He has grown from a promising 3.23 kgs to a much larger 10.99kgs, and from 51cm to 81.9cm (that’s a foot, but still under 5 foot so he can join the club)
He has spent two weeks in hospital with a dodgy oesophagus, but this now seems to be working just fine
He can now not only walk forwards without bumping into too many things, but he can also walk backwards (though bumping into more things)
He can help get himself dressed and undressed, a marked improvement
He can now deal with water being splashed on his face, which for some reason took what seems like an awfully long time
He has a full mouth of teeth, head of hair, hand of fingers and foot of toes. Indeed all appendages seem present and correct
He knows when he is doing something he shouldn’t, but still does it anyway, like trying to play with the computer or with daddies CDs
He gets excited by trains, though worryingly not cars at the moment
We have a first year book of his that is full to the brim of advice, wishes, photos and information we have already forgotten
We have realised that taking videos is important, not for now, but for much later. We know this as neither I nor the Guru can really remember what he was like at 3 months old, so now we take more footage to remind us of him now
You really can sit for an hour at lunchtime talking about kids to your colleagues, but only those with kids themselves
He can identify a whole bunch of animals, though saying their names is tricky
His favourites are elephants, snakes and cows
Masie, Teletubbies and Baby Shakespeare videos rock!
Pulling as many books as possible off the bookshelves is FUN
I spend all day every day at work wishing I was at home with him and the Guru, so we’d better win the lottery damn soon
Climbing is good
No, climbing is dangerous!
He doesn’t put everything he finds in his mouth anymore
He can feed himself, just about, and choose things he wants to eat and drink and, more importantly, have a pretty good stab at letting us know what they are
For some reason he loves cookbooks
Brushing teeth isn’t usually too big a chore (not compared to colleagues kids, apparently)
Crayons and drawing paper are cool (as was one of the sliding doors before we stopped him)
He is really good at copying mum and dad’s routines
He loves getting the brush and pretending the sweep up
He will happily sleep through the night but will wake everyone up at 630am because if he’s up, we should be as well
He has had two haircuts in his life
Things that are quite warm he will point at from afar and shout atchee!, or hot!, but things that are really hot he will silently walk up to and touch
Atchee! (hot) sounds very like oishi! (delicious) when he says them, making mealtimes a bit of a lottery to know what he is going on about
Most of the words he says are Japanese, but he understands words in Japanese or English that are thrown at him. The few English words he says are apple, banana and mama
He likes mud and muddy puddles
He is not so keen on asparagus
But marmite toast is a great way to start the day (though not as good as pancakes or French toast, apparently)
The balcony is a source of unparalleled mystery
Stickers are great
There is very little left in any drawer below a height of three feet
He smiles all the time
I am the luckiest dad alive

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

To you it’s a potato, to me it’s a potato, but to Sir Walter bloody Raleigh...

So on Saturday we did something that was quintessentially both Japanese and autumnal, and luckily it involved mud. The Japanese, you see, are really, at heart, all sons and daughters of the soil. If you listen to any Enka song (enka = original Japanese pop music, or maybe folk music. Maybe folk/pop music. Not sure about this one, but it is very 50s, I suppose, but without Elvis style pelvic thrusts, but with men in bad suits, women in kimono and a lot of heartfelt wailing. It is also phenomenally popular and was the reason for karaoke. I digress). So, if you listen to any, or pretty much any, enka song it will be about a wistful longing to jack in the salaryman lifestyle and return to the ancestral rice fields of Toyama, or other such rurally depopulated for very good reasons place, and retake the reins of the rice/shiitake/sea cucumber farm, or whatever you do to take control of one. No one really does this, of course, because being a farmer is bloody hard work and is, like most things in life, better left to the professionals, so come Monday morning the salaryman is back selling flood insurance to the selfsame rice farmers because it is what he is good at. So that’s enka.

Anyway part of the Japanese psyche is this desire to return to the soil (not in the literal sense of being buried in it, but to till it), but as most people don’t do it, mainly, as mentioned, because it is hard work, they kind of give it a go in spring, when little kids (and adults too) go off and plant rice er, saplings? Sprouts? Little baby rice plants at least, for a couple of hours until they realise that it is back-breaking work and best left to the professionals (whereupon the professional farmer, who is a darned sight cleverer than the dumb townies, gets out his Acme rice planter and lets the machinery get on with it). But in autumn, much like harvests everywhere across the world, everyone gets the urge to pull things out of the ground, which is what we did.

Now Japan and the Japanese are quite big on potatoes. They like to chip them, and bake them, and do the usual things that you do with potatoes – however the humble spud will never replace rice as the staple accompaniment to every meal. But sweet potatoes, now they are a different kettle of fish (to use an unrelated metaphor). Sweet potatoes, or satsuma-imo, (yes that is Satsuma as in the place and type of orange and no I don’t know why a potato should be named after it as they certainly aren’t orange but they may originally have come from Kagoshima where Satsuma is so that might have something to do with it) are big in Japan, in a literal and a metaphorical sense, and apparently pulling them out of the ground in October creates a massive nostalgia trip for everyone as it is what you used to do as a kid. So on Saturday morning we embarked on a trip to Asakadai, to the north of Kawaguchi, to do just that.

Now if you, or indeed I, think of potato farms you think large rolling fields, big machinery to pull the goods from the ground and generally things on an oversized scale. But this is Japan and unless you go to Hokkaido, or possible Toyama, farms can be quite small scale. Indeed they can be in the middle of a town, like Asakadai. So it is a 10am start there so about an 830 start for us as although it isn’t that far, there is a change of trains and a spell on the Musashino line which, in very un-Japanese fashion, only has a train about once every 10 minutes! Very poor service, that. Also there is a bus to catch as the farm isn’t very near the station (though only about 15 minutes walk away, as we found on the way back). This particular jaunt has been organized by a local (I think) group that organizes things for kids to do and so is aimed at those from 0 to 2 years old, though quite what a 1 month old kid would want to do in a potato field is beyond me). On getting the bus it was obvious that this was the bus for the potato picking as there were lots of parents and sprogs, all looking eager.

The farm was owned by Mr & Mrs Watanabe, they had a nice old farmhouse and a bit of land surrounding it. They also had another bit of land over the road. Another bit behind the apartment block to the left. And the right. And some more bits round the corner. And so on. They probably had enough land for a large, rolling field, but it was spread over the whole of Saitama prefecture, so the average size of one of his fields was about the size of a large garden. All very odd. Anyway we go there and there are about 30 families, with kids and as this is being arranged through the community centre, and as we have some of the community centre ladies there, we have to do some songs. I didn’t know any of the songs we do, though I did recognize one tune, but every single other person not only knew the words but also all the actions that went with them. All very confusing for your poor reporter – it felt a bit like trying to learn bon-odori dancing that I wrote about somewhere, but this time all the kids knew what to do as well. Stil it was fun. Then we had a little play about pulling sweet potatoes out of the ground. Typical thing, big potato, won’t come out, need extra help to pull, so audience participation is de rigeur. So, 30 families, one foreigner, you work out the odds of me being dragged to the front.

That’s correct. Ladbrokes would not give you odds as it is a sure fire guarantee, more likely to happen that an England one-day batting collapse. Luckily no photographic evidence exists as I was holding the camera, but for some reason, known only to Japanese, I had to put a cat mask on and help pull the recalcitrant sweet potato whilst the young ‘un looked on bemused..

Then we strolled about 10 minutes to field 42a to pull up the sweet potatoes. In typically organized Japanese fashion not only had the irritating stuff like undergrowth been pushed back, but little plot had been marked with chalk dust so you knew you were getting five plants. Now this being a field you expect a bit of mud, so most people, knowing this, would not a) wear trainers or b) well at least not their best ones. But no, most people did so we had the odd sight of adults tying plastic bags over their shoes and around their ankles to protect their designer footwear from the brown stuff. Me? I just wore a pair of old boots and got on with it. And get on with it we did. On our little plot of five plants we found a veritable treasure trove of medium to large sized sweet potatoes. I must admit that it was quite therapeutic, in a get your hands a bit dirty sort of way, mostly as you never get to get muddy in Tokyo. The little ‘un, on the other hand, wasn’t really interested in the whole potato thing at all, but he was into pouring mud over himself and everything around him, which was fun. It wasn’t so much fun for the little girl next to us, who was into finding potatoes. She didn’t find the mud thing a problem, but their 5 plants yielded only a few small spuds, nothing like the half-a-hundredweight that we yanked out, so we donated a whole load to her, which made mum happy but you could see the little girl was far more into the pulling, which she didn’t get to do. Oh well.

And that was about it. Back to the farmhouse for baked sweet potatoes and hand washing, which was fine, and a bit of a picnic. And then, for some reason, they gave us a bag of ordinary potatoes as a kind of souvenir. Not really sure about that, though they were tasty on Saturday evening.

But there you go, fun on the farm. Pity I don’t actually like sweet potatoes...


Had the at-the-back-totally-wrong-angle-tooth out last night. Dentist told me it would take about 50 minutes. Over two hours later I finally left the surgery. Am in a reasonable amount of pain, mainly from, I think, the muscle strain of keeping my mouth open all that time and him pushing down so hard on my lower jaw for leverage. Had plenty of anaesthetic, which was good, but even that couldn’t hide the times when, getting a bit of tooth out, he twisted and twisted until the piece snapped off. Back next Monday to have the stitches out, but fair play to the bloke, he called here earlier this evening to check I was ok. But now he wants to be my friend and go out drinking.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Bit of an overreaction

OK, I know we’re all a bit unhappy that the Kool Kid has gone and been replaced by [think of nickname] Shinzo Abe, but I do feel that Krazy Kim is taking it just a little bit too far, don’t you? I mean OK, you’re upset, maybe the Kid didn’t pop over to Pyongyang to say goodbye, but that doesn’t really seem to be much of a reason to start letting off nuclear devices, now does it?

As I say, I think Krazy Kim is just smarting because no one told him that the Kid had gone, not even the Kid himself, probably, so he’s just a little pissed by this so decided to throw some of his toys out of his pram. Hope he doesn’t through them quite as far as Tokyo, or indeed anywhere else in Japan, as that could cause one or two tensions. Of course the fact the eyes of the world have been drawn away from North Korea to the Middle East (most bits of it) probably doesn’t help [aside, hey, here’s a really annoying thing – I’m using Japanese Word to type this, which is fine, but every time I highlight something, or use the spell checker, it works but then decides that I am indeed stupid to be using Japanese Word to type in English so decides to go back to a much more useful script like Japanese. If anyone knows how to stop it doing that in xp, I’d be most grateful].

Otherwise it has been quite quiet in Japan, considering we have a new PM. Although he has said that he’s not going to do anything about the ropey old constitution, especially with regard to the imperial succession (note – I had a bit of a dig about the whole female succession thing last post and suggested that Japan was a bit behind. Whilst this is still true I then found out that Spain has a similar policy, so just goes to show that people are dumb all over the world) which caused a bit of a stir. He also said, though I haven’t seen it in the papers, that the plan to make English a compulsory primary school lesson was going to be axed as Japanese kids need to learn Japanese. I can see some sense in the second bit of that, but don’t understand what it has to do with the first bit – I mean, if that were true, best get rid of all subjects except for Japanese history, language, literature and patriotic citizenship lessons for kindergarten kids and upwards. Dimwits, the lot of ‘em.

Talking of dimwits, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara was in the news this week (Ishihara is great if you like racist, misogynist and other ~ist politicians, but he is also great if you want stuff to write about in a blog). In past Ishihara has come up with such gems as ‘watch out, if the big one hits Tokyo the rioting and looting will only be done by foreigners, so kick them out [nb he used the term ‘sangokujin’, rather than ‘gaikokujin’, which is to ‘foreigner’ what n**ger is to those of African-American descent i.e. rather insulting]; on the rape of Nanking by Japanese soldiers “They say we made a holocaust there, but that is not true. It is a lie made up by the Chinese”; and I have a strong suspicion he was the infamous one who said that birthrate would go up if the footy world cup came to Japan because the foreign fans would rape all the Japanese women they found (but I might be wrong in attributing that one to him, though someone did say it).

Anyway a year or two ago he passed a resolution that stated that all teachers at public (i.e. state run) schools, from primary through to high school, must stand and face the hinomaru, otherwise known as the flag of Japan, and sing Kimigayo, the national anthem, during school ceremonies. If the teachers failed to do this they could be reprimanded and sacked. This was, it appears, to make them better citizens, more patriotic and something else as well. So this was passed and not surprisingly a bunch of teachers didn’t do what they were told and were then reprimanded and/or sacked. But in an unusually un-Japanese move the teachers complained about it and took the Tokyo Government to court. Even more unusually, they won. Last week the Tokyo District court of somethingorother found that the rule passed by Ishihara was unconstitutional and that people cannot be forced to sing the national anthem if they don’t want to. Naturally this first of all really surprised Ishihara as I suspect he had paid awful lot of mon...[snip: we would prefer not to publish libelous comments on this blog – rude, yes; libelous, no] and secondly he was really pissed off about it, naturally, so has decided to appeal the ruling (at least I think he has, he was certainly mulling it). But for heaven’s sakes you shouldn’t be forcing people to do this – you can create a just and civilized society so that its citizens might be proud and want to sing the national anthem, but as soon as you start telling people they have to, well, best call Krazy Kim for some advice.

Oh, and found this link over at Ippoippo – if you haven’t seen it it is the interview Bill Clinton did on Fox News where he gets a little angry. So nice to a) hear an intelligent American (ex)president speak and b) for said intelligent American to have a right go at Fox. Enjoy.