Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gobble Gobble Wibble Wobble Do a Noodle Dance! Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving has always been a really important holiday for me. My father's family lives in the San Francisco Bay Area (Why my father migrated to Nevada has always been somewhat of a mystery) and thus I didn't get to see them often. Our trips down were seasonal really, we'd come down for spring, summer, and fall holidays. Spring was Easter break, the 'long' trip. Summer was Summer vacation and Cousins' Week. Fall was Thanksgiving, our last chance to see our family before the winter snows made travel over Donner Pass too dangerous.

Before those who have never been over the Sierra Nevada in winter start giggling (Or those who drive it regularly winter or no), please remember that we're talking about a single mother in a small, front wheel drive compact car attempting to go over a pass that does get shut down often in the winter, or at least gets chain controls. Not to mention that getting stuck up there has happened before...

In any case, Thanksgiving was the last chance to see family until either March or April and while a quick trip, it was almost always fun. Mom would yank my sister and I out of school the Wednesday beforehand (And of course any chance to get out of school early...) load us up, and we'd be off to Bay Area in the annual race to beat the traffic. Certainly we had our share of adventures along the way, for example the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake managed to cause some issues, mainly the collapse of the Cypress Viaduct meant that our normal route to Grandma and Papa's house was gone, which ended up with Mom getting lost and winding up far, far from where we were supposed to go.

But usually we'd arrive and then the next day would be the big day, and boy was it. My family normally seats around 20+ for Thanksgiving and would serve turkey, stuffing, rolls, salad, mashed potatoes, peas, candied yams, corn, Quiche, olives, stuffed celery, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and mincemeat pie. Not to mention all the snacks that came before and after, the wine, sparkling apple cider, etc. The table would stretch from one end of whomever's house we were at (It rotated every year) to the other and groan with the weight of the food, plates, and cutlery. The kitchen would become a mini-war center overseen by various aunts, mothers, and of course Grandma in which foods that had been more or less cooked at various houses were heated up and served while dishes would be washed and the dishwasher loaded and run non-stop. In the mean time, various uncles and Papa would be watching TV (Usually a football game), enjoying a pre-dinner drink, and yelling at various cousins and kids to either settle down a bit or not eat too many snacks and spoil our dinners.

We various cousins and kids of course would be ignoring this and tearing trough the house and outdoors like loons and sneaking as many snacks as we possibly could.

The magic time would be right before dinner when the turkey finally came out and raids on the kitchen would start in order to claim that magic prize, turkey skin!

To this day, my aunts have never managed to serve a non-bald turkey. The skin is always stripped before we get close to carving.

And finally of course, dinner, with family and catching up with what happened since we last saw each other, high dinner theater of the inevitable political argument, and finally clean-up with a chance of a possible ice and whipped cream war started by my grandmother.

It was glorious.

The rest of the weekend would be spent digesting and the start of Christmas shopping on Saturday. Sunday, we'd get into the car and race home in the hopes of not getting trapped by snow while listening to Christmas music; or rather, my sister and I would pray for snow on Sunday so that the pass would shut down and we'd have another day off from school.

Now as a kid, I liked Thanksgiving, but it was Christmas and Halloween where my heart belongs (Kids are kids and free candy and presents top turkey), but as an adult when I started making my own trips down to the Bay Area Wednesday night after classes would be over with at university, I started to really appreciate being able to be with my family.

And then I moved to Japan.

If any time of the year gets me homesick, it's Thanksgiving. As noted, it was the last time that I would normally gather with my whole family for the year. I missed the foods, I missed the traditions, I missed my family. Japan does have family gathering type holidays, two of them in fact and we do gather, but they are in late summer and New Year's and we gather at Beloved's parents house. There's also a lack of turkey in Japan as well. So for 7 long years, I didn't really have Thanksgiving. Oh, sure, I'd try to make something special, maybe have some chicken on the day, and I would give thanks, but... it wasn't Thanksgiving.

This year though, well... This year we have a house of our own and I have two sons who have not learned about this part of their heritage (And given the Japanese calendar, are unlikely to ever make it back to the States in time for it). We also had Beloved's parents coming up for Makoto's 7-5-3 festival and Japan's Labor Thanksgiving Day was the Friday after Thanksgiving Day thus I had a day off to cook so... It was time to have my own Thanksgiving.

Turkey before the roasting
Which was scary enough, yes. My previous attempts at cooking a turkey (One of my aunt's gave me a turkey when I was in college as payment for helping her) was mixed at best. Oh sure, the bird came out great, the gravy... Well, all I remembered was that one mixed pan drippings in with flour. Our gravy was more turkey flavored paste. Thus I concluded that Thanksgiving dinner should be left to wise aunts, mothers, and grandmothers. But this year... I had no wise aunts, mothers, and grandmothers to fall back on as turkey and the trimmings are quite different from the Japanese dishes that Beloved and her mother are so good at. Even worse, the time difference meant that there would be no panicked phone calls back to the States in hopes of getting a wise aunt/mother/grandma on the phone to help with a disaster. And even worse-er, just about everything would have to done from scratch. You simply cannot buy a lot of the pre-made stuff.

But I was going to do it anyway. And I did. Spending Thursday night making the pie and all day Friday cooking I served turkey (Bought from Foreign Buyers Club) in a roaster that came from the US, oyster stuffing from a recipe that has been passed down through my family from my great-great-great-grandmother, cranberry sauce, and candied yams. The smells of the day brought me back home and the fact that my sons proceeded to devour the bird and the trimmings till both of their bellies were large and round proved that they are indeed my true born sons, blood of my blood and Americans in the bone.

I see you trying to get into it!
Actually, it was a bit of a problem as Hikaru kept coming into the kitchen and trying to get me to feed him turkey while it was cooling by pointing and saying "Turkey! Eat!" and when I wouldn't, he'd go and get Jiji, Mommy, or Baba in an effort to get them to give him turkey. He got quite annoyed when that didn't happened and attempted to conduct a raid on the table instead. Somewhere I could hear my female relatives laughing at me as I fought to defend my dinner from a toddler. But my in-laws also took to Thanksgiving dinner, and to turkey skin (I, too, had to serve a bald turkey). In fact, the best compliment I received was Beloved asking me to make this again next weekend, which I am so not going to do, but it was great that it was enjoyed that much.

It wasn't quite the same, but it was Thanksgiving with food, laughter, and family gathered together before the coming chill.

Happy Thanksgiving!
It was glorious.

And it also was a taste, if a small one, of home; a chance to introduce my culture a bit to my sons and my in-laws. It was nice to see them taking to it so well too. My father-in-law even managed to get right into the swing of things with traditional American happily overstuffed on Thanksgiving dinner after-dinner nap. And I didn't even have to tell him about that one either!

Monday, November 26, 2012


Ok the communication tests are done, Thanksgiving dinner has been cooked and eaten, and the in-laws are back where they belong after a long weekend.

Back to the blog!

Going in reverse order, what I wanted to talk about today was Makoto's Shichigosan, or 7-5-3. In Japanese tradition, girls who are ages 3 and 7 and boys who are 5 get dressed up in kimono (Or nice western clothing) and head off to the shrine for a blessing. It's a bit in the way of asking for good health, luck, and fortune along with the kami's protection for the child. Of course, in modern Japan, there's less actual religious feeling behind it and far more "We do this because we are Japanese". It's also one of the few times that Japanese will wear kimono.

Yes, they are beautiful, but so are tuxes and ballgowns and most Americans don't wear them everyday either.

Shichigosan also makes the formal end of babyhood, going into childhood. Girls got to wear obi, the formal sashes on their kimono and boys... get to put on PANTS!


This ceremony is actually rather old, there's a mention of it in Tale of Genji, the worlds first novel, and for some reason it's translated in that book as "The First Putting on of Pants". This has been a non-stop source of amusement for my family. For me, it just sounds silly. For Beloved and Makoto, it's even better as pants do not refer to trousers in Japan, but underpants. And of course, every 5-year-old boy thinks that any mention of underwear is humorous.

Of course, the pants themselves are not what we back in the US are used to, but hakama, the traditional divided trousers used by men over their kimono.

Any case, the whole thing is a big deal, and of course Beloved's parents came up to see their grandson to under go this, bringing with them PANTS! The kimono that Makoto wore was one that he had since his birth, and indeed was taken to the same shrine as a baby in it to be presented to the kami. This time however, he got to wear the kimono and the pants. Hikaru in the meanwhile got to wear... a tie!

He was not impressed.

Still, while it took a while to get all the ties done up right and things jiggered into the right areas, and we had to endure a cold shrine, it was a nice ceremony and both boys came off looking good, Makoto in his kimono and Hikaru in his tie. Makoto came away from the shrine with a charm to protect him, an arrow to protect the house, a coloring book with Japanese myths in it, and the traditional bag of candy. Hikaru just came away confused, but since he'll be doing this in three years time, maybe he'll remember this day with his brother.

If I had just one regret about 7-5-3, it might be that everything for this came from Beloved and Beloved's family. Not, let me state, that this is a particularly bad thing, but it was one where Makoto's American side was more or less buried by his Japanese one. The only thing that was different from every other child at the shrine was that his last name was very much not Japanese. I guess I just wish that I could have had him had something from the US.

Still wasn't going to allow my mother to send over a tartan from my step-father's Scottish clan however. There's staying true to your roots and then there is horrible culture and fashion clashes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


No Goodnight Moon!

No lights!

No Santa!

-Hikaru, complaining that all the fun things that show up at night are off in the day.

Sick Blogger is Sick

Yup. But fear not, it's not cancer (For some reason, when announcing that I've gotten sick to my classes, they respond back with "Is it cancer?" I'm not sure I should be touched that they are so worried about me, or enraged that they're hoping I drop dead and thus they are spared from more English classes). No, I've just caught a cold and between that and Thanksgiving, the impending visit of the in-laws, getting ready for Christmas, and speaking tests at school plus the boys... I'm beat.

Thankfully, I am not the kind of man who drives his wife nuts by reverting back to his childhood and becoming yet another baby she must tend to while sick. No indeed, while I drive my wife nuts when I'm sick, it's for an entirely different reason, namely refusing to admit that I am sick.

This one is my mother's fault, I'm sure.

Pretty much growing up the rule of thumb was if you can get vertical without passing out or throwing up or your fever is below 100, you are capable of going to school. This rule has more ore less been carried on into my adult life, if I ain't barfing and I can get up, I can make it to school and teach.

The fever thing is a bit trickier, but I get around it by just never taking my temperature.

Now back Stateside, this would lead to my boss taking a look at me and then sending me back home over feeble protests, but Japan... Japan is worse than I am. People will come in to work while on life support if they have to. It becomes normal to see hordes of people wandering around in face masks (Think the kind that a doctor wears) marking that they too have gotten ill, but they will still come in to work or to school. It's just the Japanese way.

One would think of course that Beloved would be happy that her American husband takes so readily to this Japanese custom, i.e. needing to be ordered home (It has happened, even in Japan. Usually though it has to happen because I just threw up in front of the principal), but no. The problem is usually that Beloved's first reaction to me getting sick is "Go see the doctor."

This one is my fault, I married the daughter of a doctor.

I have attempted to explain to my beloved wife that it is not as if I am scared of hospitals or doctors, far from it. I'm not particularly fond of them, but I'm not scared. It's just that I don't really like going to them, or bothering taking the time to go to them (See the rule of thumb, if I'm able to get to the doctor then surely I can get to school and teach, right?). I keep explaining to Beloved that not everyone grew up with a visit to the doctor meaning going to the breakfast table, complaining about being sick and having Dr. Dad write you a prescription right then and there. While Japan's national health care system is wonderful and cheap, it's still a bit of a hassle. Add in the language barrier, which can be daunting at the best of times, and I just tend to want to avoid going if I don't absolutely have to.

The other reason why I avoid stating I'm sick is just that, well... it doesn't feel right in Japan. In the US, when I finally got sick enough to stay home, my routine was pretty well set. I'd spend the day drugged up to the gills with NyQuil and either watching travel shows on TV (One year after a bad bout of the flu, I probably could have given a tour of London after all the shows on it I watched) or spend it in bed reading punctuated by naps. My food would be chicken and rice, easy on the stomach, and I would have as much apple and grape juice, not to mention 7-Up as I could drink. That's how one gets over a cold.

Japan has a different take on it. For one, day time TV in Japan is lacking in intelligence, unless you happen to like mindless dramas and even more mindless talk/variety shows. Two, NyQuil doesn't exist in Japan thanks to very strong drug laws, and finally... Well, Beloved has her own ideas of what a sick person should eat. Rice is involved, yes, but rice gruel. With veggies. And enough ginger to choke a whole team of horses (My mother swears by zinc for colds, Beloved, ginger). To say it is bland would be an understatement.

But there is one final problem, rest. When I'm sick enough to want to stay home, I want to rest. Not sleep per se, but just read (My idea of perfect relaxation) or TV that's interesting, but not particularly challenging. What I have discovered however is that both boys do not have "Daddy is sick" built into their vocabulary. Indeed, if Daddy is home that must mean he is available for playing, making things, being asked to settle fights, book readings, tickle attacks, and just talking to when nothing else is going on. And if Daddy is lying down... Well that just means jungle gym time.

And you attempt to tell a toddler that he's not allowed to watch whatever Thomas DVD he wants just because Daddy doesn't feel well and would like to watch some TV.

I'll just keep working, I get more rest at my junior high school anyway.

Monday, November 19, 2012


You know, first you go to Appleland and then you go over and then you go to the station and then you go across and then you go up onto the narrow road and then you go next to the tracks and then you go across and up and up and up and then you go left and there's the pinecone place. -Makoto on how to get to the park next to the hospital

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas is Coming...

I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet!

But, the thing is... we've got to get started on it a bit early. One, the relatives are coming. Makoto is having what is known in Japan as a Shichigosan (7-5-3) in a bit more than a week. I'll go into more details about it later, but mainly the idea is for children of ages 7 and 3 for girls, and 5 for boys, go to the shrine to get prayed over for good luck. They also get to wear kimono for the first time.

It's a big deal in other words, so my in-laws will be coming up. And as they are coming up, we're doing two things. One, I am going to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, since they have never had it and since it's been 8 years since I've had it. Two, I am, under protest, getting out the Christmas decorations.

Beloved's folks have been intrigued by our Christmas preparations since I spent a good chunk of change and got myself a nice, US made, Christmas tree (Most Japanese Christmas trees look... well... green pipe cleaners comes to mind. The first one I had in Japan came equipped with light up chili peppers, I ended up feeling like I was celebrating Christmas at Chili's or possibly Taco Bell). Especially since last year when we moved into our new home and we had rigged the house for Christmas lights they have wanted to see it, so I have been asked to do the tree trimming a wee bit earlier than planned.

Actually, it's a bit more than a wee. I have a rather strict set of rules, NO Christmas music till after Thanksgiving and NO decorations/trees should be out until December and if I could work my will, anyone who does else should be boiled in their own pudding and buried at the crossroads with a steak of holly through their heart!

Bah! Humbug!


Any case, this time however I must admit that it is unlikely that Beloved's parents would ever make it up here for when we normally do the tree so... just this once... and at least it is after Thanksgiving day.

But, this has pushed back other pre-Christmas events. For example, the annual letter writing to Santa happened last Sunday. Makoto has been giving us ever longer gift lists everyday as he comes up with more and more stuff to ask for (Usually after seeing it on TV) and has been doing so since Halloween. In an effort to end it before they overtake the whole house, we did our Santa letter.

This year was a first though. Makoto wrote it. I helped him with writing the draft, but the final letter is all in Makoto's handwriting, which is pretty good for a 5-year-old. It's currently waiting for Santa Post to open back up in Canada before being sent away.

The other thing that happened was the buying of the ornaments. One of the traditions of my childhood was that each year, my sister and I would get one ornament. My mother always explained it as a way of making sure that when we got older and moved away and finally had Christmas trees of our own, our trees would be  filled with ornaments that had meaning. They would be things that we had treasured and had since our childhood.

And she was right, in Nevada are my Christmas ornaments, waiting for the time when I can finally finish shipping everything over to Japan. And I miss them as many of them have very special memories attached to them. I admit, some I probably wouldn't want to put out any more (The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one that reads Cowabunga! Merry Chritmas Dude! on it comes to mind), but many I would. I miss hearing Mr. Spock saying "Shuttlecraft to Enterprise, shuttlecraft to Enterprise. Spock here. Happy Holidays. Live long and Prosper."

Since the boys were born, I have kept up the tradition. Both boys got a first ornament for their first Christmas, and both have ones with picture frames with photos from that moment. What has been hard was that, well, Japan doesn't really do special ornaments. They do have Christmas trees, yes, but not things like Hallmark Keepsakes. Instead, they go for generic balls.

Thankfully, I found a company that does do Hallmark and even better, ships to Japan. So the last few years minus last year when I was stateside, I've been ordering from them and haven't been disappointed. This year however the tree is going up early, so we had to order early.

Makoto, for some reason, wanted the Amazing Spiderman ornament. He hasn't seen the movie, but that's what he wanted.

Hikaru... Oh boy. We flipped through a few pages with Hikaru getting excited about Snoopy and other ornaments till he saw it. It was the Lionel Steam Engine based off the old Nutcracker Express toys that just about every boy hopped to see skirting the tree come Christmas morn many moons ago. And he, Hikaru, MUST have it. It didn't matter what else I pointed out, his demand was always "SL! SL! SL! SL!"

They arrived yesterday, which was a bit of a problem. Makoto has this Christmas ornament thing down. He knows what they are and that they belong on the tree. Hikaru however...

"Hikaru, that's not a toy. It's an ornament."
"No, Hikaru. Look, Jiji and Baba (Beloved's parents) are coming next week, then you'll get to put it on the tree, ok?"
"Ok." Two seconds later, "SL!"

This morning was just a repeat with Hikaru loudly complaining that the SL was no longer where he saw it last (Daddy has hidden it with the rest of the ornaments).

Somehow I think that when it comes time to trim the tree, the old song "Do you hear what I hear?" will be answered with "SL!"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Studying With Children


As noted before, I'm currently attempting to learn how to read Japanese, or rather, read one of the four writing systems used by the Japanese. The general idea is for me to complete about one lesson per day, say about 20 to 40 kanji or so. So far, weekdays have been generally pretty good. While I'm busy at school, I usually have some downtime that allows me to chew through most of them, although sometimes they follow me home.

Weekends however... Oh boy. Try 5 minute interruptions from the boys, usually alternating. The first one will almost always be Hikaru who comes tearing into my office in tears. Why, you may ask, is my youngest in tears? Because big brother did something, usually attempt to take a toy. So, comfort toddler, yell at 5 year-old, kick both out of office, go back to kanji.

5 minutes later and Makoto is coming through the door, this time to complain that Hikaru won't do what he, Makoto, told him to do and since last time I yelled at him for hitting Hikaru, he wants me to get the toy this time. Tell Makoto he needs to share, tell Hikaru to share with Makoto, kick both out of office, go back to kanji.

Again Hikaru shows up, this time because Makoto, trying to color, kicked him out of the room so he decides to bring the toy that makes noise into Daddy's office to play. Physically remove toddler from office, yell at small boy to let his brother play in the room, go back to office, close the door, go back to kanji.

Makoto opens the door to tell me Hikaru pushed him and now he hit his arm on something. Comfort 5-year-old, yell at two-year-old, kick both out of office, go back to kanji... what kanji was I on again? I don't know! Too bad it's not annoyance, because I'm sure I'd remember that!

Makoto and Hikaru this time demanding things to color. Growl at my beloved children, print out something, threaten to ship them both to Timbuktu in a cheese crate, go back to kanji.

Finally towards evening, having gotten through half of what I needed to do, Beloved calls me downstairs. It seems that Makoto is falling asleep so she wants me to play with him so he doesn't nap right before dinner (Once Makoto is asleep, it's impossible to wake him up without having a temper tantrum). "But," says she, "Only if you're done with your kanji, but I'd really like it if you could."

*sigh* "Of course."

"Are you done?" says Beloved.


"But, you had so much time!"

Resolved, remove the baby-gate from Beloved's hidy hole where she retreats to get away from her children and install it in my office, making sure to ducktape the latch so that Makoto can't open it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post Election 2012

The great thing about being in Japan is that even though I am from a swing state (Nevada), I get to miss out on most of the insanity. When I wanted to partake I had to go online to get it and when I was done with it, I could disconnect and go back to Japan where, while the election was important, is a bit more concerned about the silly people in Tokyo than the silly people in Washington DC.

Still, as a father of two tiny Americans, I did want to talk to my sons a bit about the election and it was very important for me to start to impress upon them that they must vote when they are of age. While, technically, they will have two short years in which to vote in two different countries (The voting age in Japan is 20), I want them to be thinking of voting as something that isn't just a right, it's a duty.

It's also an obligation in my family. See, my family believes that political arguments makes for great dinner theater and every four years sees at least a few people shouting across the dinner table at Thanksgiving about the previous election. Actually, we shout across the table regardless of when the election was. Then we get into the ice cube and whipped cream war, but that's another story.

Still, there is one cardinal rule that my family follows, which is thus: if you are of age to vote, and you didn't, you are not allowed to argue or complain about politics as you didn't use your chance to change things.

It's this, plus a sense of duty, that was impressed upon me as a child. I remember going to the polls a few times with my mother to watch her vote so that my sister and I could see that there was nothing to it. When I turned 18, my mother drove me down to the city clerk to register and took me to the polling place that year so I could cast my first vote. I've voted in ever general election since, even after coming to Japan.

So it was with that in mind that I showed my sons my absentee ballot and told them what I was doing. Hikaru of course wasn't too impressed once he found out that Daddy wasn't going to let him color on it in crayon. Makoto however was a bit more interested.

Said he, "You need to pick Obama, Daddy!"

Me: "And why is that?"

Makoto: "Um.... you know... he's from America and you're from America so..."

Me: "Romney's from America too, Sweetheart."

Makoto: "Oh." Much thought. "Um, who likes Go-Busters! more?"

Which is probably not a bad basis for deciding on whom to vote for, all thing considered.

As for the Japan side, we haven't had a general election yet, but one should be coming up soon. The last time however Beloved took Makoto to the polls with her to see her vote and he got the prize that all children love on Election Day, the I Voted sticker.

In Japanese of course.

I'm assuming that she will take at least one of them with her when she goes again. Hopefully though she'll remember to get Hikaru to leave the crayons at home. I doubt that the Japanese government accepts ballots in crayons any more than the US one does.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mommy Fall Down and Go Boom!

So Sunday was supposed to be my day of drunken debauchery. Kinda, actually what I did have was a day long drill with the firefighters where there was two separate drinking parties scheduled. Usually these parties after a day long event see us at a local snack or hostess club. For those who don't know, the idea is a place to go and drink overly expensive and watered drinks while singing karaoke, munching on snack foods, and flirting outrageously with the girls who are there to make guys happy.

Now before this raises eyebrows, let me clarify, no, we're not talking about THAT kind of happiness (At least not at the ones we normally go to), instead, ala Teahouse of the August Moon, these are girls who normally pour drinks, light cigarettes, sing, and fluff our egos to rather silly heights via flirting and putting up with us in general.

Or in my case, I go to drink, get drunk enough to inflict my singing on people, and listen while the girls tell me my Japanese is sooooo great because I said yes to them and then proclaim their ignorance of English and either attempt to get a free English lesson off of me or find ways of avoiding me because the concept of having to speak English scares them. This is probably why Beloved has no fears that I would ever run away with a bar hostess.

Any case, to pay the piper however, we DID have a drill and one that required me to get to the firehouse on Sunday at 7:30 in the morning with temps hovering just above freezing. So I did get up early, dressed in my uniform, and was just heading downstairs to sneak out of the house when I found Beloved and the kids up at 10 till 7. A bit odd, but then I had forgotten Thomas. Still, not a bad thing, right? I mean, Daddy gets to say goodbye because he probably won't be home till late.

That's when I noticed Beloved had this... interesting expression on her face. Pain, lots of it. It seems she had managed to pull a muscle in her neck. Enough that even twisting slightly caused enough agony to start her crying.

That's actually how I knew she wasn't faking it. Beloved doesn't normally cry. It takes a lot to get her going, but seeing actual tears...

So what's a husband to do but call off his day with the boys and spend the day with his boys?

Which is what I did of course. Instead of drill and drinking, it was coloring pictures with my sons and watching a Scooby-Doo movie while dealing with the household chores to keep Beloved from straining her neck too much.

Of course, the odd thing was that her neck was well enough to go out winter clothes shopping for herself and the boys while I took care of them either at the store or at the house. Maybe I should check for a bottle of fake tears?

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's Time for Me to Get Learned

I have a confession to make. I'm functionally illiterate.

8 years in Japan and I have what could be termed as a 1st grade reading level (Literally, I know all the first grade kanji, beyond that things go downhill).

Oh, sure, I have excuses. I wasn't supposed to stay in Japan. I've been busy with school, wife, kids, life and just don't have the hours needed per day to devote to learning the four difference scripts of Japanese (Yes, you read that right, the Japanese use four different systems... interchangeably). And of course the old standby, three of the scripts are easy, the fourth, kanji, the Chinese characters that were adopted in Japan for their main writing system is hell.

The list needed to be considered literate is over 2,000 separate character long. Normally Japanese are even literate until they get through junior high and even then, that list is just the start. It's not enough for understanding other more specialized kanji that one might use if he happens to normally be college educated. And it gets worse of course, not only are the kanji a mishmash of random lines, but they have multiple meanings and multiple readings depending on if they are read in Japanese or their original Chinese pronunciation that has been changed into Japanese.

It's enough to conclude that the best thing to do is forget the bloody kanji and just stick with English, problematic as that language is.

The thing is though... Japan is now my home. And yes, you can say all you want about immigrants needing to learn the language and I will be more than happy to come back with all sorts of facts for you, but honestly... where I have been, being able to hold a basic conversation about daily events is not enough. It's not enough that I am reliant on Beloved to this extent (And indeed it is not, in many ways, Beloved doesn't have two small children, she has three). It's not enough that very quickly both my sons will surpass my ability to read as they already have in speaking Japanese.

So, I swallowed my pride and for my birthday asked that I be given "Remembering the Kanji" which is a study guide that people either swear by or at. So far, I'm a swear by guy. The damn thing works. It breaks down the kanji into what the author calls primitives and then helps you assign keywords and a memory aid in terms of a story or image to help you recall and write. It also helped that I ended up finding a website with a community devoted to this model and when I can't come up with my own story or dislike the one in the book, I can borrow (Read steal) a host of others.

And yes, it is working in 11 days I've managed to memorize over 200 kanji. Not bad at all.

It helps to keep my eye on the prize, the idea of being able to read the printed material around me and using that to help improve my Japanese. To be able to converse with my in-laws without Beloved translating, and to be able to help my sons with their school work, beyond English.

The other thing that helps is, well, Beloved and the boys. Although probably not in ways that they really know about, or would like. Yes, they got me the books, but I admit that I have been making free use of them to make up stories. The kanji for 'Child' for example 子 becomes Makoto or Hikaru on Beloved's back. Another kanji that means "But of course" and is made up of the kanji for water and elder brother invokes me asking Hikaru "Did you need to pour water on your elder brother?!" "But of course, Daddy!".

Even one I just learned today, portent works with the story of "When big hairs grow on my wife's legs, it's a bad portent".

And if she ever reads this, it will be a self-fulfilling one.