Sunday, September 30, 2012


If Makoto came into the world curious about what it held, Hikaru came in hungry.

He's still hungry.

The second pregnancy was, in my respects, better than the first. we were far more confident in what was going on inside Beloved's body having been through it before. While the first time around we read the pregnancy books as if they were the Bible, the second time we glanced at them from time to time.

Hikaru didn't really have that big of a drama to go with his birth. I got the call while at school, hurried home, took Beloved into the hospital at around 4 and Hikaru showed up just short of 7 pm that day. He was a big baby, but if anything he was, he was hungry.

Makoto ignored his mother's breast when offered, Hikaru not only latched on but started sucking and nursed for a good 15 minutes or so before he finally decided he had enough for the day and went to sleep. It was long enough for me to go back to the house and pick up my mother-in-law and Makoto to meet our newest family member and long enough to call back to the US to inform my parents that they had another grandson, and that his name came from Beloved's grandfather's and that his middle would be Richard, after my step-father.

Today is his second birthday.

Hikaru has proved himself to be a fighter, Makoto was passive when he was smaller, letting other kids take his toys, Hikaru's the one who is taking the toys. Maybe it is the way with brothers, but Hikaru's a scraper and more stubborn by far than his brother.

Oddly enough however, I don't really have that great of difficulty in dealing with Hikaru. I have a harder time with Makoto whereas Hikaru drives Beloved up a wall quite regularly. Sometimes I wonder if my difficulties with Makoto are not related to how close he is to me in terms of personality... Of course, if true that would mean that Beloved's problems with Hikaru stem from...

I think I'll stop that thought there, Beloved does read this from time to time.

It is hard,  think for Hikaru because even on his day, he gets compared to his brother. I usually describe them as Makoto is one of the most beautiful little boys that I have known. Hikaru is very cute, but he isn't beautiful like his brother. Or to put it another way, when Makoto smiles, your reaction is to think how beautiful. When Hikaru grins, you want to grin in return. This isn't to say that Hikaru is ugly, just... he feels so much like a naturally good-humored kid. You just want to laugh when he is around, not at him, but just because that is how he makes you feel.

Two years isn't a very long time in terms of how he will develop or where he will go, but on his birthday I can state that I wouldn't have traded in these last two years for anything. He might drive his parents nuts, he may stand in the kitchen loudly demanding more and more food, and of course he will constantly fight with his brother, but then he's also the one who will be cheerfully grinning at you in the morning.

In fact, should he ever get married and I am asked to state my favorite memory of him, I think it will be thus: Hikaru, toddling out of the bedroom, trailing his blanket, with a wide, energetic grin that doesn't belong on anyone's face at 6 am in the morning, coming over to the table saying "Daddy!" and pointing at my yogurt as he steals my breakfast yet again. That is Hikaru, a kid who knows what he wants and will get it, but will make it all seem right anyway because you just have to laugh with someone enjoying life this much.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's Festival Time, Again?!

First it was the Fall Festival at the local shrine, then it was the Culture Festival at the school that I teach at, and today... Well, today was Sports Festival at Makoto's pre-school.

In Japanese, this is known as undokai and is a serious event that happens throughout a Japanese life. It starts in pre-school, picks up steam in elementary, comes to age in junior high and high school, and can still be found in both college and adult life. This Japan Times article goes into great detail about undokai for elementary school, but we're talking Makoto.

Makoto, who has been practicing his song and dance for the last three weeks, often at the top of his lungs and in the bath.

Race time
But this was Makoto's day to shine. His class had a number of events to participate in: a school song, a race, a ninja obstacle course, giving gifts to younger children, and finally, the parent dance. The first two are pretty self explanatory, the only downer was that Makoto came in 3 of 3, and this was after worrying that he was going to toss a shoe like he had been doing in practice, but even though he came in last for his heat, he was all grins.

The last three however needs some explanation. Makoto's class's theme was ninja, for some reason and their costumes were supposedly ninja.

Apparently even the Japanese are starting to believe the lies of Naruto given that the kids had gold headbands on.

But the whole thing was cute, first the kids raced on their homemade can walkers, then they hopped between two tables, climbed over an inverted L pipe, and then attacked the crow...

Ninja the tengu!
Er... I think. I'm still not too sure as to what that was, but they all picked a fruit (A water balloon) from a 'tree' and then tossed it into the basket being held by a tengu, a crow goblin from Japanese mythology. I'm not exactly sure as to why they did this, or what ninja skill this was supposed to be, but Makoto was Makoto. The poor tengu had spilled his basket of balloons right before Makoto showed up so instead of tossing it into the basket, Makoto very politely went over and placed his balloon carefully into the basket.

This is my son in action. ^_^

The next activity involved Makoto's class giving gifts to the younger children in his school as well as every other young child, i.e. the younger brothers and sisters of the kids in the school. Yes, it was very cute, this dad has no problem stating that the awwww factor was high here, especially as the first time around there was a slight miscount and Makoto didn't get to give his gift, which led to him and his partner poking at it to try and determine just what went wrong.

FINALLY got it!
The best part was Hikaru however as he was supposed to get a gift too. And boy did he try, every time the whistle blew, he'd take off like a bat out of hell just to be caught by Beloved. When his time finally came... He proceeded to run... right to Makoto because he thought big brother was going to be giving him something.

Again folks, awww....

The final event was the all school parents dance. Beloved backed out of this one and I, clad in a suit minus the tie and jacket because I had to head back to school to finish my school's festival, joined the crowd to dance with my son. Of course, I didn't know the dance, couldn't understand the Japanese, and couldn't see the teachers demonstrating the dance, but it didn't matter. I got to dance with my son two times around with the song, smacking thumbs, bumping rears, and then high fives. Silly, yes, but the smiles were worth it.

Finally, undokai came to a close and the school principal, again keeping with the Olympic theme, awarded everyone the gold.

Bringing home the gold
Silly, perhaps, but for the kids who had been practicing for weeks, it was was all worth it. Next year will be Makoto's last so he'll be doing the longer, more physically challenging events to prepare him for undokai at elementary school.

Hopefully by then we can figure out a way to keep Hikaru from trying to sneak onto the field, steal food from other people, or kidnap someone else's daddy to take him on the slides.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's Festival Time Again!

Not my town's festival, or anything to do with the boys, no, this is my school's festival.

My students' school year revolves around certain events, the biggest, by far, is the culture festival that takes place at the tail end of September, or the beginning of October, every year. It's two days of the kids showing off, well... showing off. The school is opened to the public (I.e. the parents and a few city worthies that got roped into showing up) and the up-coming 7th graders who get to wander in from their 6th grade classes to see what they'll be doing next year.

All joking aside, it is an amazing event. Each of my students participates in some aspect of the festival, many in multiple. They show off their artwork, they show off their clubs, their sports, their class projects and trips. They show off their school work, they preform various stage shows ranging from my group's rendition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, to the dance club's hip hop. They compete in an all school chorus contest that is judged by a professional voice trainer, they compete in an all school sports event (Mainly races, though they also enjoy jump rope), and best of all, they set up everything themselves.

While we teachers help, it's the kids who plan the events, set the stage, run the lights, the sound, and what not. They do the whole program, dividing up multiple jobs among the students so, again, everyone has something to do, but they also have a chance to shine and enjoy the festival.

It's also stressful as all heck with the day before dedicated to set-up so the school is filled with students running everywhere in a panic trying to get everything set up on time and where things are supposed to be. I admit, it's a little worrying to see them attempt to assemble an arch above the school gate (The Keystone Cops comes to mind).

But... it will be a fun time and once it's all finished and we teachers see our now exhausted students out the door to the arms of their families... We get to go out and drink that we survived another year.

In that at least, it does have something to do with the other festival.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So They Say it's Your Birthday...

Makoto was born on the 24th, Hikaru was born on the 30th, so with 6 days between them and (so far) no weekend in the middle, we've spent the last two birthdays celebrating them both before Makoto's.

Of course, we also know that we can get away with that because Hikaru has no idea what a birthday is and Makoto is just all about presents right now. God help us when they're old enough to demand separate birthday celebrations.

For the most part, we're pretty low key. We haven't had a full fledged "Let's invite everyone and their dog" to a birthday bash, and honestly, I don't want to. I have memories of going to them, and a few of having one or two of them, but I don't remember really being impressed with them all that much (Except the getting more presents bit) and I'd much rather keep it small, for now at least.

God help us when they get old enough to demand separate and large birthday celebrations.

Low key by the way doesn't exactly mean that. Sure, we didn't have decorations and a clown, but Daddy was up early (Saying "ow" with every step) because he had a cake to bake and Mommy would be heading out of the house to get the last minute shopping done for the large birthday dinner she was making.

The cakes are my bailiwick mainly because while Beloved is an excellent cook, she can't bake. Even more so, she is terrified of burning down the house with the oven so for the last 5 years, if we wanted a birthday cake, Daddy would have to make it. And I did, with the usual issues of trying to find a cake that wouldn't be too sweet or full of sugar and attempting to get the style right for whatever has been demanded. Betty Crocker I ain't, but so far I've had somewhat good luck with it.

This year Makoto wanted carrot cake... a Go-Busters! carrot cake.

Told ya I can't draw
Of course, carrot cake mix doesn't really exist in my area of Japan so once more it was time to bake a cake from scratch and figure out just how to do something with Go-Busters! as he wanted them fighting on the cake.

I think I've mentioned that I have less than zero artistic skills.

But of course it's unfair to Hikaru that the cake is Makoto style only. Last year for this first I made a small smash cake for the kid, but this year they would share a cake so I didn't have to spend the whole day baking cakes. So I decided to add a Snoopy to it and spent most of Friday trying to draw one.

God help us when they get old enough to demand separate and large celebrations and their own styles of cakes.

Birthday Dinner
I also came prepared for "help" with the DVD of Superman the Movie, popping that in gave me some peace while I busied myself in the kitchen. Still, the cake came out great and done just in time to hand off the kitchen to Beloved who proceeded to make a meal fit for the birthday boys, sushi, karaage (A kind of Japanese fried chicken), fried shrimp, and other yummies.

While that was going on, we had the party. The swag, the singing, the cake, and of course the loud fight over the new toy that Daddy was attempting to assemble which ended when Hikaru bit Makoto on the knee.

Still, at the end of the day we had some good food and a nice celebration for the boys. Both of them ended up watching their DVDs, playing with their toys, and loudly demanding more carrot cake so I think we can chalk it up as a success. Even better, they both also more or less collapsed into bed due to very little nap taking on Hikaru's part and none at all on Makoto's.

God help us when they get old enough to demand separate and large celebrations, their own styles of cakes, and still have energy afterwards... because I think I'll be the one falling over!

Monday, September 24, 2012


I should have seen it coming when I was woken from trying to sleep off a night of partying after helping to carry the mikoshi at the local festival by Beloved telling me that her water had just broken. I should have known that we were going to have "fun" with this one, that our first child was going to be challenging, and one who delights in messing up every schedule he possibly can.

But let me go back a bit, not to five years ago, but back to 2004, the year I came to Japan.

When I came, I left Beloved behind me. She continued her studies at university in Nevada while I was in Japan teaching, so while on paper we had a very long engagement (About 2 and a half years), most of that was spent on other sides of the planet. It was a very lonely time. Even getting married in August of 2006 didn't change the status quo, after a very short honeymoon (Less than a week), I boarded a plane to Japan and Beloved returned to Nevada. We wouldn't see each other until December of that year when Beloved decided to relocate to Japan so we could finally live as husband and wife so I went back to America for her and Christmas.

Apparently we celebrated a bit too much after arriving in Japan as I learned in January of 2007 that Beloved was pregnant.

As with all newly expecting couples, we probably went overboard. Everything was looked at. Was Beloved eating right? Was a car trip to Tokyo in February that year really ok? I had bought two pregnancy books (Great Expectations and Pregnancy for Dummies) and we read them religiously each week, catching up on the stages as Beloved slowly got bigger. Before Makoto was born, we already could tell that he had some affinity for music, he would become very, very active whenever music was played around him (It was somewhat startling to see the shape of tiny feet and hands appear on the side of my wife's stomach).

But, yes, five years ago, plus 36 hours, I was trying to sleep off a LOT of sake and beer. The night before had been the Autumn Festival for the town and we had carried the mikoshi. Even better, this year we had donated to it and asked that it be "tossed" up. It was a joke, Beloved's due date was fast approaching (We had been told September 24) and like all women in that stage of the game she wanted it done and over with! Thus I suggested that maybe she should ask the kami for help, you know, to hurry things along.

Be careful what you ask for...

Because, yes, I was awoken by Beloved shaking me to say her water had broken and, sorry, Honey, even though you're hung over...

It wasn't an easy delivery either. Beloved was in labor for 36 hours and in the end, had to be induced. Still, on September 24, 2007 our first child was born.

We didn't know what we were getting, the both of us had agreed to make sure to not find out the sex until he, or she was born, and instead we prepared names for both a boy and a girl. We also agreed that the first name would be Japanese, and Beloved's choice, while the middle name would be English. Beloved chose Makoto, which when written in Japanese, means truth, sincerity, faithful, etc. which is what she wanted for our son to be. I chose Gerald, my father's name. I never got the chance to know my father, but I wanted to honor him.

Makoto, from the get-go, was startling. He cried, don't get me wrong. He howled when he came out, but once he was dried off and wrapped into a blanket he didn't nurse or fall asleep. Instead what I remember is holding him about 10 minutes after his birth and watching him as he looked at everything. It was like he wanted to see what he had been hearing, now that he was out he wanted to find out all about this world and he wasn't going to wait.

Today is his fifth birthday, and he's still not waiting. It's a constant challenge with him, and in many ways it's one where I have to run to keep up. We get reports from his teacher at pre-school that Makoto is, in many ways, ahead of his peers. He works his way through problems, logically (For a given value of logic), he has more empathy skills than his peers, he considers others more and takes a leadership role in the class... and has problems with focusing on things he doesn't want to do, being quiet, and in someways tends to be a bit lonely, even though he's made friends with just about everyone, including a horde of girls.

My mother, it should be noted, laughs when she hears this and gleefully shouts "REVENGE! YOU ARE RAISING YOURSELF!", thus why one should never expect sympathy from one's mother.

Still, for five years, Makoto has been changing and growing. He has taken his first steps, learned his first words in both English and Japanese. He is learning how to read two separate languages, and every day still tells me all about the day that the world was born.

He is my eldest son, and I am very proud of him and love him more than he knows. One day, perhaps like Superman (We just watched it) he will fly like he said he will. Perhaps one day it will be, in the words of Jor-El, the son becomes the father, and the father the son. Perhaps, but for now, happy birthday Makoto. Keep exploring and keep telling me about what you have learned.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's Festival Time

"Wasshoi! Wasshoi!"

As mentioned, fall has come to Nagano. Since it's the weekend of the Equinox, that means it's time for the Autumn Festivals at our local Shinto shrines.

The reasoning is, somewhat, complex. On one hand, you have the rice harvest and a festival is held to say thanks for a good harvest (Many rural shrines also have one in the spring to ask for one), on the other, we need to give the local kami (God, but honestly spirit would be a better translation), his exercise before he heads off to the yearly meeting (In Japan, October is considered the Month Without Gods because they all head off to heaven in order to have a big family gathering). And finally, of course, who doesn't like an excuse to party?

For the last 6 years, this has meant my helping carry the mikoshi, a kind of portable shrine. Ours is rather plain, some of them in Japan are beautiful affairs of gold and lacquered wood, ours is a wooden platform with rice casks and a sake barrel, plus the kami. But, plain as it is, it's heavy and after 6 years, I've gotten the ritual down pat.

The group of us gather at a local community center where we change into our festival gear, white pants, a happi coat, a headband, white tabi (Think ninja footwear), and a haramaki, a belly band.

Except me of course, because finding pants and a belly band in my size has proven difficult, so I head out in bluejeans and a white t-shirt. Still get to wear the tabi and the happi though.

Yes, we carry that, and drink the sake in front
First off, the photo, because one cannot ever get a group together in Japan for a purpose without a photo. The photo also allows us to crack open the sake barrel. We carry the sake around to pass it out to anyone who sees us along with cotton candy for the kids. The other reason for it however is to make sure that those carrying the mikoshi are good and drunk while doing so.

There's three theories as to why this is. The first is religious, the kami is happy when we're happy (I believe I have remarked before, "You've gotta be drunk, it's Shinto!"), the second is just so all that sake doesn't go to waste. The third, and my personal opinion, is that by keeping us plastered, we're less likely to question just why we're carrying, and tossing, a heavy wood platform up the side of a steep hill at night in late September.

Which, yes, is exactly what we do. The mikoshi is supposed to go around the neighborhood, which is accomplished by picking it up (Usually we need about 20 or more men for this) and carrying it on our shoulders while changing "Wasshoi! Wasshoi!" (Either heave-ho or it comes, depending). From time to time, people will stop us to give us an envelope filled with money as a donation. It's then that we've got to get a blessing from the kami for the house which is accomplished by tossing it up into the air and then catching it.

It's also about this time that I'm glad I've been sipping the sake as inevitably, I am the tallest there and the first to catch it so for a second, I get the whole weight.

Rest and food break
From time to time we'd stop to rest and a few times to eat. Along the way families would offer their place as a rest area and a few of them would provide food and more alcohol.

One of them is a challenging sort of place as for some reason, the owner of the house makes these incredibly spicy dishes each year and does so in a way to make sure you're never quite too sure as to which dish it is, until you bite into it. Every year he gets a kick out of people suddenly screaming "SPICY!"

Except for me. Because while spicy, it ain't that bad... Which I really shouldn't have said because this year he took it as a challenge and liberally spooned something he called "topping" on it. I don't know what that stuff was, but it WAS spicy and my mouth burned for a good 10 minutes after eating it.

Thankfully, the sake barrel was near by.

Finally of course we have to get the mikoshi back to the shrine to take the kami home. This being Japan, the shrine is at the top of a very steep hill (For some reason, the Japanese don't consider a site properly holy unless it's high up). So, tired, drunk, and with minor indigestion from eating spicy foods, the lot of us now have to struggle up the hill... And then prove ourselves to be manly men. It's not enough to have hauled this through the town, it's not enough to drink large amounts of sake, it's not enough to face down the fiery foods... no, we've got to get the mikoshi up in front of the shrine and then run, at top speed, stopping only to toss the mikoshi, and with our leader standing on top of it.

Pretty much our last toss barely clears our heads. But... it is done. The mikoshi comes to rest, the kami returns to his shine, and the lot of us get blessed by the Shinto priest. Finally, we take the mikoshi back to where we started from to finish off the sake, eat, and drink some more.

Except that I didn't. as much as I would like to have drowned my pain (Because 4 hours of carrying a heavy wood pole across my shoulders meant they were now black and blue), but I couldn't because I knew that Sunday morning was Thomas time and my sons would wake us up early.

And more than that, it was the day of the boys' birthday party and I needed to get the cake baked.

But hey, at least we finished the sake.


Superman, Superman, what do you see?

I see a fart looking at me!

Friday, September 21, 2012

He's Getting Braver

Yesterday, while sitting down to a late dinner (Birthday weekend is upon us, thus did Daddy have to make a trip to Toys R Us after school), the following story was related to me by Beloved.

Makoto picked a flower.

Ok, let me expand that, Makoto picked a flower out of one of the flower planters at school, said planters contain flowers that his class is growing for their up-coming Sport's Day Festival. The day before yesterday, Makoto was confronted by Beloved and his teacher about this and, well, lied. He told them that he had found the flower outside of the planter and that he, Makoto did not actually pick it.

Now the teacher and Beloved both knew Makoto was lying, or rather, they suspected him of it, but they didn't actually see it and couldn't actually charge him with it. That's what made his actions yesterday morning that much more surprising. Makoto admitted that he had indeed picked the flower, had in fact done so because he wanted to bring it home and give it to Hikaru (Everyone now, Awwww). He then said that he would apologize to his teacher for this.

It gets better.

Beloved, as per Japanese culture, went with him to apologize as well (Her son did it after all), but Makoto told his teacher that he needed to talk to her and went with the teacher into the classroom by himself, with no mother to provide support. There, embarrassed because his friends were standing there wondering what was going on, he admitted what he did, apologized, and bowed.

I called him over to confirm this story (Always get it from the horse's mouth after all) and confirm it he did. He was scared he said, but he knew he had to do it.

I was so proud of him I thought my heart would burst.

It's kind of a mix, on one hand he's following Japanese culture to apologize for causing distress to another, but on the other hand, he also was following a more American idea of standing up and admitting your faults by yourself. It's all Makoto though, and was a good moment.

Until I was informed that Hikaru got into a fight at nursery school with his friend and both toddlers were trading punches.

A father's work is never done.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How On Earth Did I End Up Here?

Makoto has started soccer. I don't know how this happened, except I do have a slight suspicion that him being born from a soccer loving mother might have had something to do with it.

Either way however, my eldest went to a free-interest event held on Monday by a licensed soccer coach. Now, I admit that my own attempts at soccer were more than half-hearted. Back in the day I spent one, and just one, season playing youth soccer. To say I didn't enjoy it would be an understatement. I didn't like the drills, I didn't like the running (I still don't like running), and I didn't enjoy the game at all. Of course, part of it might have been due to our team, the Jedi (Which for some reason I thought had something to do with jets) having won, if memory serves, one game and tying two, but after that one season I very happily put away my soccer ball and shin guards and put on a baseball cap for t-ball and never looked back.

But I digress.

This wasn't a try out, it was an interest session as I said. Japanese sports don't exactly run in seasons, so Makoto will continue to swim even in winter and his soccer team will play soccer every week, just moving into the local gym once the snow flies. Makoto had been encouraged to go to the session by both his friends from pre-school and his mother so I had no real say in it. That said, he obviously enjoyed himself and the coach seemed to be very good with little kids, getting them to drill by making it fun. They started off with place kicks into the goal and then moved into tossing the soccer ball and then kicking it in between sitting, laying, and standing on it with their heads.

And for a bunch of little boys, this of course was just fun.

During the breaks, my son would come streaking back to Beloved and I covered in sweat and grinning to claim some cold tea and making sure that we were still watching him. After the drills, the coach moved into playing, which I admit he did brilliantly, starting off the 'teams' (Greens and blues) first two on two, then three on three, and finally the whole teams to get the idea down about getting the ball and kicking it into the goal.

He's WAAAAAAAAAY back there
That's when we noticed something a bit odd about Makoto. While just about all the boys would be in a giant clump trying to kick (or pick up, we're talking 4 to 6-year-olds here and the no hands rules are a bit hard to enforce), Makoto would constantly be running in long curves trying to catch up with them. Now, yes, some of the boys were a year or two older than he is, and thus bigger so it makes sense that they might be faster, but Makoto is rather fast himself. The only thing I can figure out is either, a. Makoto enjoys running far more than actually kicking the ball. B. Makoto hasn't quite worked out that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, or C. Makoto has absorbed the science documentaries I watch from time to time and is aware that space/time is actually curved. Either way, this was a very happy little boy who got to run and run and run, but not actually kick the ball.

But it didn't matter, at the end of the hour when the coach called time and had all the kids line up to say thank you to him and then to the parents, Makoto came running over to state that, yes, he REALLY wanted to play soccer as well as swim, so couldn't he do both, please?

 The tally, in case you're wondering is soccer on Wednesday, local swimming on Tuesdays, and swimming at a local sports center on Thursdays. Thus without meaning to, we have apparently developed into overachieving parents, the ones who put their kids into EVERYTHING.

And it's getting worse, Beloved wants Makoto in kendo, I have stated I want him to try Scouts when he gets old enough, and the both of us want him to develop his obvious musical talent/interest. How the heck did we end up here? Especially when both Beloved and I loudly proclaimed that we wouldn't do that to our sons?

And yes, I mean sons for as Makoto was busy practicing soccer and running, Hikaru spent the time trying to show that he could kick the ball too and complaining when Beloved and I wouldn't let him run into the soccer field to play soccer with his big brother and his friends.
So does not understand age limits
Mein Gott im himmel, we've created a pair of monsters!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Following the Leader

In Nagano the soba is in bloom, the dragonflies crowd the sky, the apples ripen on the trees, and the matsuri kick off. It's fall in other words.

And winter is coming.

Unlike Game of Thrones, my Iron Throne wouldn't be swords but axes and chainsaws. When we built the house, we made the decision, or rather I made the demand, that we would have a wood burning stove. Said stove would be from America, not a tiny little Japanese one, but a nice sized American one that would put out enough heat to make the winter comfortable.

And boy did it, last winter was the first time I spent the bulk of the cold season happy. The stove kept the house at about 72'ish most of the time (Which doesn't sound like much, except that one must understand that our previous house was lucky to get about 10 degrees C warmer than the outside air and it gets COLD in Nagano, and that was with the electric and kerosene heaters going full bore. At night we might be 2 to 3 degrees warmer than the below freezing temps outside) and we discovered, much to Beloved's pleasure, that laundry placed up on the second floor would be bone dry by the end of the day, no longer did we have to take a week to dry the laundry during the winter, no longer was I slapped in the face by wet clothing in the morning after taking a shower.

The only issue was... wood. Back in the States we did have a wood stove, but it wasn't used as the primary (Actually in our case, only) source of heat for the house so I didn't really get just how much wood a family could go through. It doesn't help that while I'm thinking cords of wood, Japan sells them in bundles. We thought a hundred bundles would be ok, until we learned that we would go through about 4 or 5 of them a day during the coldest part of winter, which lasted a month.

The cost was... annoying to say the very least, though I have to admit that it worked out far cheaper than paying for either the power or the kerosene. This summer however I had been on the hunt for cheaper wood, i.e. stuff that I would have to cut and split myself. And yeah, I got it alright. A friend of mine who owns an apple orchard gave me a few truckloads of apple and pear wood and then another friend got a neighbor of his who was getting rid of his garage to give me all of that wood. Finally, our neighbor, the farmer who always gives us stuff, cut down a pine tree in his yard and gave us that as well.

Yes, I KNOW you're not supposed to burn pine as the majority fuel, but it don't hurt as a starter.

For most of the summer as the days got too hot, the wood more or less lived under blue tarps that I had staked down to protect it from the rains. This holiday weekend though... well, it was time to get that wood cut, the dry stuff stacked for this winter and the wet, new wood, stacked for next winter.

For two days I've been entertaining myself with both my chainsaw and splitting ax, picking up some lovely blisters and some killer sore muscles in the process.

But of course, Daddy cannot possibly be outside playing the warm sunshine without having little boys to play along with him, right?

You do NOT play with these
Day one was just Makoto as Daddy was doing a lot of work with the chainsaw (Yeah, two-year-old and a chainsaw, what could possible go wrong with that combination?) so Hikaru spent most of the day screaming from inside as he saw big brother and Daddy outside 'playing' and he wasn't allowed to do so. Still, even though I got a lot of wood cut, I also had some fun with Makoto. Makoto started off trying to help me by stacking wood (He wasn't too bad) but very quickly we ran into the problem of the wood pile got to be over his head and he couldn't reach. So instead Makoto just got to play, which as I kept turning over stacks of wood meant that he got a nature show right in front of his eyes. He met slugs (slimy things are always a big hit with little boys), ants, frogs, termites, crickets (Jumping Jiminy, now I know why our backyard is so bloody noisy at night), and earthworms. Pretty much anything creepy and crawly that would delight a small boy was there right in front of him. He also got to meet some centipedes, which was a problem. Mukade are not to be trifled with. They aren't dangerous, but as anyone who lives in rural Japan knows, being bitten by one hurts. I have never been, thankfully, but Beloved's stories, plus stories of friends who have, lead me to state that the bites feel something between "Oh my merciful God in heaven!" and "Bleeping beep of a beep!", if not inventing new curses on the spot.

Given that I don't want Makoto to get started on more colorful language just yet, we had a quick lesson as to why he should leave the mukade alone.

I forgot however that if you make something sound dangerous, you make it irresistible to little boys. To distract Makoto from hunting mukade, I told him about earthworms and how they eat and poop out dirt (Yes, I know that's not technically true), which worked. Makoto spent the rest of the afternoon harassing earthworms and gleefully announcing that it had pooped dirt on his shoe.

It doesn't take much to entertain a young boy.

The second day was more ax work than saw work and with Beloved off napping, Makoto and Hikaru came out. This ended up with Makoto taking Hikaru around to see all the friends he made yesterday, Mr. Slugs, the crickets, and of course the earthworms. Both boys spent about an hour outside playing with the frogs (Hikaru: "Frog! Frog! Frog! Frog! Frog! Frog! Frog!"), and the earthworms. Actually it got to the point where I looked up from my splitting to find both boys hunkered down in the dirt, cheerfully waving bye to a pair or frantic earthworms they managed to dig up, both coated liberally with mud and dirt.

They were very happy young boys, and since I was still armed with an ax, I didn't have to face too much wrath of Mommy when they came in and showed Beloved just how dirty they got.

I meanwhile just picked up another log to split and stack, after all, winter is coming.
And two days worth of work later

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Not Go-go-Power Rangers, but pretty much of the same vein.

Makoto has gotten a new love in life, it's name is Go-Busters!, yet another in a long line of super sentai shows that have been on the air in Japan for... well... the oldest actor who played one just showed up again in a  summer show and was obviously in his late 40's.

It's pretty formulaic, good vs evil. Transformations. Teammates and friendships. And of course, blowing stuff up and overly acted fight scenes. All as an excuse to sell toys, but for young boys...

The wise father that I am, I mostly avoid it. Sure it comes on Sunday mornings, but I'm generally chowing down on breakfast and can usually drown out whatever is going on with the TV. True, I usually pay attention when the end song comes on, but that's because both my boys proceed to line up in front of the TV and dance along with it, which is cute enough to incite a sugar attack in just about anyone.

But for all that Makoto likes Go-Busters, he doesn't have a lot of it. Beloved and I have more or less agreed that he doesn't need the plastic toys (Most of the show being designed to separate parents from their yen at the demand of their sons) and even though there has been non-stop howling about wanting this or that blaster/robot/action figure for birthday/Christmas from Makoto, his entire Go-Busters!' collection consists of a puzzle and two coloring books.

Though to be fair, I am planning on getting him some small figures for a Go-Busters! cake for his birthday.

Lacking toys though, Makoto has been on the lookout for anything Go-Busters! in the newspaper. He likes looking through the ads to find the Toys R Us (AKA, the begging catalog) or anything else that looks like it might be interesting, thus why last Thursday I came home to a hyper excited little boy who was waving an ad in my face, bouncing just shy of the ceiling, and screaming that GO-BUSTERS WAS COMING TO HIS CITY THIS SUNDAY SO COULD WE GO SEE HIM PLEASE DADDY????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Uh...., said the wise father, We'll see.

Yes, I DID like the show when I was a boy
Yes, this was probably unfair of me. Time was when my sister and I dragged our mother to a car show in Reno JUST so that we could see the General Lee and KITT from The Dukes of Hazard and Knight Rider respectively, and those were just cars. This would be... a guy in a suit. Obviously not the actor, but still, for a little boy...

The problem was that this wasn't at a store, it was at a model housing park. In fact, this was the same one that Beloved and I had visited (and visited, and visited) while deciding on the plans for our own house. It's not that it was bad, per se, it was more that the sales people were rather pushy at times. A number of times we would spend hours while the salesman attempted to get Beloved to buy a house from them. And when we declined, they would call, visit, or mail us 20,000 pamphlets. Pretty much it was a kind of high pressure tactic that made me reluctant to visit the park again.

The fact that Go-Busters! (Red Buster actually) would be visiting our city would probably have 'slipped' my mind and we would have scheduled something else for the day if Beloved had announced that she wanted to go see a movie. Now Beloved, if you remember, almost never takes a day off. Add in that I still hadn't gotten her anything for our anniversary due to her not providing a single hint as to anything she would like, and, well, I bullied my wife.

No, not THAT kind of tako.
Yes, I did. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. I bullied her completely and utterly. When she claimed to be too busy to look up the movie times, I did so, wrote them down, and left them for her on her computer. When she claimed that the boys would miss her, I deliberately dangled the idea of going to see Red Buster in front of Makoto in order to get him to tell her to take the day off. When she claimed lack of time to watch a movie and get back in time to make dinner, I proclaimed that Sunday would be taco night (And then had to spend a few minutes explaining to Makoto that I meant the Mexican food, not octopus, which is tako in Japanese). In the morning when she claimed to be possibly too busy due to household chores, the laundry was mysteriously hung, the kids' teeth brushed, and general clean up happened before breakfast was finished.

To seal the deal, I loudly told the boys we were off to the Lego Store to look at new blocks for their growing collection, go food shopping for the tacos (Still not octopuses), and meet Red Buster. And, oh, since YOU have nothing to do, having a lack of chores, kids, and husband to look after, nor do you have a dinner to cook tonight, AND I just shoved 5,000 yen down your pants just in time for you to get to the theater; you can certainly take yourself out of the house and go enjoy yourself.

Thus was the bullying done. Yes, I added to a rampant problem in Japan, but it was for a good cause, right?

But, alas, it also locked me into taking the boys to the housing park to see Red Buster.

So the next plan was how to avoid having to go into the model houses. My plan was just not to. If you don't go, the salespeople can't really do anything. When we arrived at the park, there were a number of Go-Busters! bounce houses and games for the boys to enjoy (Well, somewhat enjoy. Hikaru was big enough to go in, but small enough that he couldn't really stand and spent a lot of time crying for Daddy or 'Kakoto' to come and save him. The problem was that we arrived about 45 minutes before the show and we quickly ran out of toys. Even worse, Makoto found out that the park was also having a kind of raffle for a nice food basket. The trick was, to get a ticket for a chance, one had to visit three of the houses and get a stamp from each on a slip of paper.

Now Makoto just heard the word 'stamp' and, protesting father aside, charged into the first house waving said slip of paper. The salesman, hearing the commotion, came out with a big grin to welcome in a family and froze... there, in front of him, was a foreigner. Even worse, this foreigner couldn't speak a word of Japanese!

Er, weeeeeeeeeeeell, he was pretending that he couldn't at least.

I think it confused him even more when said foreigner was accompanied by two adorable boys who DID speak Japanese, and in fact ask for stamps. The poor salesguy gave Makoto his stamp, handed me a pamphlet, and more or less was glad when we wandered out.

This got repeated two more times, with lots of comments about just how cute the two boys were when they would come into a house and then obvious panic when I'd come in without a Japanese spouse in tow. Though to be fair, the second house managed to shove a saleswoman who tried in English to ask me if I was planning to build a house. My answer in English obviously went right over her head though.

Still, we managed to get the stamps, some pamphlets, and a thing of eggs (Which was the prize we won at the raffle).

Then it was showtime... Because, well, The picture says more than I could ever.
Red Buster and the gang
The end of the day was pretty well low key. The boys slept on the way back home, both of them were, and still are, having a blast constructing various Lego cars out of the wheels pack that I bought, and Beloved enjoyed the tacos and loved her day off.

Not too bad... and of course Makoto and Hikaru will forever have a picture of the time that they met Red Buster himself.

I'm sure that will come in handy when I need to blackmail them for something or another when they're adults.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lazy Saturday Morning

For once we didn't have anything going on last Saturday morning. There was no alarm, no need to get up early and get to work or drill, no event, no trips that required any kind of driving, just a chance to wake up slowly. That's what I got to do, wake up on my own time with the sunlight slowly filtering in past the curtains to fall on my still slumbering Beloved and two wide-awake and grinning kids.

Yes, the boys were up and just waiting for either Mommy or Daddy to open their eyes so the play can begin. Sadly, I was the one who did.

Still, lying in my futon with both boys engaged in an all out war that involved them rolling around in their blankets and giggling just to break off and attack the nearest parent (To be repelled with tickling, sending them into shrieks of laughter), it was... nice.

No, it was more than that, it was a feeling that I have come to enjoy as a father... contentment.

And it's not a bad thing at all.

Sure, the morning ended in tears when a 'ghost' took a head dive in his blanket and bonked his head on his brother, but for 15 minutes, the world was far away and all that mattered was that late summer morning in a bedroom and my boys enjoying a family moment with their parents that needed nothing else added.

No, not a bad thing, or way to wake up, at all.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Makoto: Daddy, tomorrow let's go on the expressway.

Me: Why?

Makoto: So you can fart on the expressway and then a frog can jump on your face and climb on your head with the cow and everything else.

Me: ... Uh... We'll see?

Gift Giving Wars

A bit late on the bandwagon with this one, but the San Francisco Chronicle's mother's blog, The Mommy Files, had a rather cute story the other day. The short of it was a new set of parents with 14 week old twin boys (Boy are they gonna have a lot of fun) took a cross country flight from San Francisco to DC and in an attempt to pacify the passengers in case they failed to pacify their sons passed out bags of candy with cute little notes attached and an offer of earplugs.

Now I can sympathize with the parents, traveling with kids is difficult sometimes and I admit that my experience with public transportation, such as trains, buses, and planes, has brought home that many non-parents tend to view any child who is having a problem as some kind of crime against humanity.

As an aside, on my last trip home, I requested an aisle seat and was told that the only one left was next to a baby. The ticket agent cringed when she told me this, expecting do doubt that I would start ranting about having to be near a child, I just grinned and informed her I have two small boys... kid noises are NOT a problem.

I'm not too sure I agree with the need to hand out goodies, feeling that kids should have the same chances to go places as adults do, and at least you can understand why they are crying as opposed to the 'adults' who get smashed and loudly talk, but it's a nice gesture nonetheless. What was interesting for me though was how... Japanese it seemed, even though I have no idea if the parents are Japanese or not.

Japan is a land of gifts. You go somewhere, you bring back hordes of small gifts to hand out. You arrive somewhere, gifts. You need a favor, gifts. You cause a problem, gifts. You're born, enter school, graduate, get married, and/or die, you give and get gifts. It's summer or winter, gifts (Though this is dying out). Sometimes it seems as if the whole of the nation is currently working on a rather large bribery system.

Now it should be noted that we're, usually, not talking about large amounts of gifts. Coming back from my in-laws, I got my fellow teachers a box of orange cookies from my wife's hometown. That was acceptable, just as other teachers who went out and about brought in something small to snack on from wherever the winds took them. Our neighbors got something slightly larger, my private students something smaller, it all works out in the end.

Except when it doesn't.

Japan has some rather intricate rules regarding gifts that no one, not even the Japanese, seem to be fully aware of. When to give a gift and to whom usually is pretty simple. But sometimes... Well, sometimes gift giving wars happen. Gift giving wars happen when the party of the first part gives a gift to the party of the second part that the second part feels was way too much for the event in question. In other words, if the parents above had handed out small bottles of whiskey, many Japanese would feel that it would be far, far too much for such a small inconvenience. Then, well, then the balance has been disturbed and MUST be rectified. So the party of the second part returns with a gift of their own. But if the party of the first feels that THAT gift was way too much, well then the balance must be restored by giving another gift.

Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Babies Are Gone

Both boys were born in late September (Hikaru following Makoto 3 years and 6 days). We didn't plan it that way, it just kinda happened. But with the start of September and Makoto now busy stalking about the house dropping "hints" about what he'd like for his birthday and Christmas (He drops hints the way the United States drops bombs) and trying to convince Hikaru to request other toys that he, Makoto, wants because Hikaru hasn't gotten this birthday thing down yet, I'm forced to concede something.

I no longer have babies, I have little boys.

Makoto will be five this year and Hikaru turns two (He's already well into the terrible bit of it) and... where did those babies go? They have been replaced by a pair of very loud and cheerful little boys who run around the house with screaming, yelling, giggling, and fighting. Playing upstairs, downstairs, around the stairs, and trailing a path of mess and destruction in their wake.

Now don't get me wrong, I personally think little boys are a bit more interesting as things go. They come up with all sorts of fun stuff to imagine, they can talk to you, roughhouse a little, and of course, for a father, little boys are that magic age when Daddy is more interesting than Mommy. I mean, be honest, when you have a baby, Daddy is great and all, but Mommy has the boobs and the boobs mean food. You can also take them to more interesting places such as zoos and parks.

But still, what happened to those two small babies that I held cradled in my arms? I'm fairly sure it wasn't all that long ago that I spent a month getting a fussy infant to sleep by singing Christmas carols over and over again. Have they really gotten so big so fast? I mean, it shouldn't have been that long ago that Makoto and Hikaru needed to hold my hand to take hesitant steps around the house, but now they climb up and down the stairs all day long without need of their father.

Yeah, it's great that both kids come to get their books read, but I remember holding a baby who was drowsily sucking at his bottle and tracing the lines of Daddy's face with one small hand.

It just doesn't seem right that such changes have happened so fast that by the time I turned around, those little ones have become someone else.

My babies have gone, in their place I have little boys whom I love to death, but I still remember them when they were babies and I got to wonder... What will they be like when I turn around again?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Good Doctor Cures All Ills

This actually happened before the drill, but I wanted to save talking about it till after.

So the major education project with Makoto is learning how to read. Going slow, very slow, and working on things like letter recognition and phonics. It's been, a bit stressful.

Part of the problem is that, teacher I am, but I always expected to be teaching at the secondary level. I like teaching small kids, but I usually don't handle education of children as young as Makoto. The other problem is that while I have taught reading (And in fact teach it every year), I'm dealing with those said older kids. Yes, it's quite a bit of a jump for my junior high students to go from Japanese and its four different writing systems to English, but I'm not having to teach them the concept of reading in the first place.

Makoto however is a blank slate. The biggest challenge is getting him to understand that reading is possible and just how it's done, let alone doing something like sounding out words. The other problem is that of time, we have to face this at night after dinner is done so I'm usually tired after teaching all day and possibly with a private lesson or two, and Makoto has had enough for the day and wants to play. This means he's less than focused and I am not as patient as I should be. All of this has led to some tears (On both sides truth be known) and some yelling from both sides as well.

But, still, we keep going. Lately I've been working with word recognition. We know the alphabet and we're kinda there on the various sounds, it's starting to tie them together and as the middle step between nothing and reading the first book, I've been using the rhymes of Seuss to get things moving along.

Hop on Pop is the current book of choice. Now normally I use this on my junior high school kids to teach them pronunciation (Fox in Socks, a book my speech contest student curse by the time I'm done with them, but yet love getting a copy of after speech, is my choice for intonation and stress). The best thing about the book is that the inner cover contains most of the words used and grouped into their rhyme scheme. This makes it easy, in theory, to point out that the same letters make the same sounds, thus all you need to do is say the same sound over and over and over again, just change the first sound.

With Makoto, this has been slow going. He's great at memorizing (The kid has Panda Bear, Panda Bear What Do You See fully memorized), but actually reading... that's been difficult. It's like the idea isn't quite there and his frustration at being asked to do something by Daddy that he's not so sure of is palatable.

Last Thursday I decided to test him. After all, he had memorized and was, hopefully, reading, a number of the words. So instead of going through the word list, I opened the first page of the book. Then there was a fight.

Makoto howled that he couldn't do it. He didn't want to. He can't read. I kept at it that, yes, he could. He had already. He could indeed read this, really he could! I finally had to grab my youngest into a bear hug and  told him that Daddy believed in him. Daddy thought that HE. COULD. READ!

I talked about how much I love reading and how happy I was when I read my very first book, an experience that I still remember and I still have the book (Are You My Mother?, in case you wanted to know). I told him that we could do this together and then go show Mommy. There was some sniffing, but Makoto settled down a bit, opened the book and...

"Uuuup. P...p...pu... Pup. Pup i... i... is u...p up. Pupupup. C.... c... Cup. Pup is... i... in c... cup. Cup. Puuuuuup. Cup ooon Puuup."

I gathered my son up and took him downstairs. The second time, in front of Mommy, was a bit more smoother.

Pup is up.

Pup in cup.

Cup on pup.

The "click" happened. If you have ever taught, you are aware of the click. It's the teacher's reward. That moment, a moment that is damn near audible, when you've been pounding away at something, trying to twist it and turn it to just the right way for a student to understand. That moment when frustration gives way to understanding, that sweet, sweet moment of education when something is learned, not a fact, but a new way of thinking, that click. It happened.

Makoto read three pages. He's not a reader yet, we still have a long way to go before I can say he can read. The target is still Green Eggs and Ham. But he learned something that I wanted him to get, not the words, not the rhyme, not the phonics, but the simple fact that HE. CAN. READ!

My first book was not Dr. Seuss, my second was. And I remember reading the good doctor a lot growing up and still enjoy reading him to my sons and students. And once more the good doctor has provided the perfect cure for the "I can't do it", because Makoto now knows that he can.

Just how cool is that?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fire, Whiskey, and Wine!

I think I've got a new oath to proclaim when annoyed. I have a few that I keep in stock to haul out whenever the situation calls for it, "Blood and Shale!" (Via the wombat), or "Skuld's Holy Hammer!" (An Ah! My Goddess reference if you're feeling lost) for example. sometimes I mix languages and go for "Nan da Hell?" just for variety and of course there's the good ol' fashion stand-bys of "Bleeping Bleep of a Bleep!" which is usually not said bleeped of course.

Well, it used to not be. Now I've got to watch the language given the two parrots that live with me and myself also having no wish to have to revive my Beloved after she faints from shock from hearing that tumble from her sons' innocent lips.

But I think I can now add in "Fire, Whiskey, and Wine!" as a new one, and for good reason.

Hazmat on the scene!
September 1st was Japan wide disaster drills, it being the 89th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake that leveled Tokyo back in 1923. This year, our neck of the woods was chosen for being the drill site. Now when I saw drill site, I mean something a wee bit more impressive than it sounds. The elementary school was transformed into a disaster of epic proportions that involved the local fire departments, the local volunteer fire fighters (Which was why I was there), the police departments, paramedics  Hazmat, DMAT (Japan's Disaster Medical Assistant Team), Search and Rescue, the Japan Ground Self Defense Force, the gas, water, and electrical departments, local media (Both reporting the event and acting as media during a disaster to provide info), the city's mayor and council, and about a good 200 people acting as victims or volunteers to help out.

Fighting fires... or trees. Either or.
During the event, we were covering what would happen should a major earthquake strike the elementary school, then moved on to injured people, collapsed buildings, flooding, broken water and gas pipes, avalanches, a typhoon, more fires, and a spill of some kind, all within an hour and a half. I don't think we had a drill for an attack by Godzilla, but we might have and I just missed it. Of course, while the drills are going on and we have firetrucks, ambulances, Humvees, and helicopters going around and about, the city was using the fact that a number of people showed up to conduct some education so we also had various simulators for quakes, fires, etc. Chaotic doesn't even begin to describe it, but I guess even THAT helps with getting into the swing of things should something actually happen.

This never happened
So the fire part of my oath was a literal fire, or a few of them, that we were using to train on, in uniform, under the hot sun. After it was all said and done, we also got to set the elementary school back to what it's supposed to be and so we spent about an hour cleaning the grounds so that come Monday, the kids wouldn't know that a helicopter landed on their field.

Such hard work, my company commanded stated, requires us to have a party as a reward. Thus part two, whiskey. A true Japanese BBQ soon commenced, and by true, I mean all of us sitting around grills, cooking slices of beef and drinking whiskey and other hard drinks, and a lot of them. Fun? Yes. Even when it started to rain and we continued to still sit outside, drink whiskey, tell ribald jokes, and eat beef it was fun. But after a rather large amount of whiskey, the clock told me it was time to head home.

Why, you may ask?

Because my day wasn't over yet... The international club was having wine tasting that night that I was expected, as a wine lover, to attend. So I capped out the evening with two glasses of wine and a number of rich foods for the savor of it all. Needless to say, I arrived back at the house with Beloved and the boys having a hard time walking straight and more or less fell into my futon determined to sleep.

But at least I got to use my new oath straight away with "Fire, whiskey and wine! 6:30 is too early in the morning for you guys to wake up!"

Sadly, the boys felt that no, no it wasn't and in fact, it was time for Daddy to wake up and play with them, even if he was feeling slightly delicate that morning.