31 August, 2010

Writing workshop Day 2

These last two days have included two main activities. Being taught about writing for publication and writing.

The first has covered topics like making your writing interesting, organisation, knowing your market, submitting for publication and writing in a Christian way.

The second has been more free choice. Most people here have one or more books they are currently working on. I do not. I do have a number of magazine articles I want to write. Some are stories I told while we visited churches on home assignment. So I’ve been working on those. I got a good first draft on two articles just today. Yesterday she asked us to write a story for quantity – so I wrote a 2 200 word true story in 1 ½ hours. I cannot remember the last time I wrote so many words on one day. I am not sure what I want to do with it now. But it was a fun challenge to write.

Last night our programme ended at 9pm, which is 10pm on my body clock, Hong Kong being an hour earlier than Tokyo. I was so pumped, however, that I didn’t turn my light out until two hours later. And only then because all room lights go out at that time. (This is a place they have youth camps and programmes at – a very useful feature, centrally controlled room lights, wish they’d had them at the campsites I was a leader at in Australia in my younger years). It is pretty usual for me to get wound up at conferences and camps. I am an extrovert after all. This writing business, though, gives a high that is quite impressive. I’m having a great time.

Tonight we have the option of doing a tiny bit of tourism, by way of a short break. We’re taking a ferry somewhere. It will be a lovely sight, all the lights at night. Hong Kong has amazing geography compared to Australia. Heaps of tiny islands and steep mountains. Like Japan most people seem to live close to the ocean. Unlike Japan most people seem to live in massive high rise buildings! Our accommodation is a bit up the side of a mountain. If the smog weren’t so bad it would be a beautiful view. But the darkness hides the murky atmosphere at night time and the twinkling lights on the tall buildings are magical. I forgot to bring the cable which connects the camera to the computer, so I cannot download photos for you to see. You’ll just have to wait.

So, while I’d planned to do some work tonight (our news/prayer letter, for example), I’ve decided to go on the trip. Other things will have to wait until later in the week. Breakfast is late, maybe I can squeeze some in before. Our rooms are light hours before breakfast, so I read for ages this morning before going and checking my email in the lobby (no internet in the rooms).

Now I rave. Good time to stop!

30 August, 2010

Short post on Day One in Hong Kong

I've run out of time to write this post, but I have been doing a lot of writing this morning. Uninterrupted writing, a real novelty.

But it is better than yesterday. Yesterday I got up without an alarm at 4.30 (I'd been awake most of the night) and caught my train, then bus, then plane and then three more buses. I got lost at most of the tranfers! But after a awful start to the day where I fought anxiety and nausea for more than two hours, I made it okay. My husband kept reminding me to expect adventures.

The biggest adventure was when I missed getting off at the correct the bus stop on the bus from the airport, but didn't realise it for about half an hour. God gave me some angels. Two ladies without English tried to help me, then a bunch of kids with a basketball took me on a merry walk, they guided me to another bus which would bet me back on track and I got to my destination not too much the worse for wear. The whole journey took just over 12 hours. Not too bad.

I slept fairly well last night in a strange bed and feel much refreshed this morning. And we've gotten down to writing. I wrote over 2000 words in about 1 1/2 hours this morning. It needs a lot of editing, but it is great to have unbroken writing time! Something I've hardly experienced for years and years.

It has been exciting to meet other OMF writers too. People, just like me, who are doing other jobs and trying to fit writing around those things. Two Aussie women are here too. Names that I've heard and read about, but never met.

Anyway, it is dinner time and I need that to keep going. More later...

29 August, 2010

Japanese women #2

I am travelling to Hong Kong today, but here is a post I prepared earlier. This is the second of a four part series on a book I've read recently about Japanese women. It is highly researched and has some good insights. If you go here you'll find the first post of this series.

Motherhood in Japan
  • The home tends to pivot around the children, not the adults.
  • Japanese mothers tend to spoil their children, boys more than girls are indulged.
  • Behaviour in Japan is not necessarily principled action, but situation-appropriate behaviour. The job of teaching morals and values is something most parents leave to society and schools particularly.
  • A good mother in Japan is measured by how much she does for the sake of the child. School demand mothers work closely with their children, especially in the early years of primary school. We experienced this at kindergarten too.
  • Mothers tend not to promote independence and many Japanese in their early twenties appear immature due to a lack of training for independence. As more women work, this may improve.
  • Men generally take little part in raising children, beyond providing the income for the family and being there at important events like graduations. 
  • The number of children and therefore years of motherhood have been significantly decreased by contraception (this point is not just for Japan). At the same time life-spans have increased, resulting in a long period in a woman's life where she has no children dependent on her. Hence women these days have more time to do something with their lives besides be a mother and wife.

28 August, 2010

Feeling nervous

Tomorrow morning I travel alone to Hong Kong for a week-long OMF sponsored Writing Workshop. Strangely enough I am more nervous about the travel than the workshop! This is tomorrow:

5.26am I catch a train for three stops
5.40 Catch a bus direct to the airport

10.10am Fly out of Tokyo direct to Hong Kong
1.35 pm (Hong Kong time) arrive.
Catch the A41P bus from the airport to Shatin Hospital stop
Hopefully there will be someone waiting at the stop when I get there who'll help me catch the mini-bus up the hill to the site of our workshop.

Believe it or not, it was the first two of these that caused me pain at about 3am this morning. I had a dream in which I woke up tomorrow at 5.30 - too late to catch the train . . . and it all deteriorated from there. Catastrophising about anything and everything that could go wrong. Until I ended up in the little room with rumbling insides.

I'm praying that I'll sleep better tonight. At least I'll be able to get up early and get on with it. I hate nerves like this. They take over your body and mind. They get out of control and I hate feeling out of control of myself.

I'm sure that once I'm in that bus and even more, waiting to get into the plane, I'll be fine. If only I could skip these waiting hours.

27 August, 2010

Shopping on a bike

There are many things different between Japan and Australia. One of them is that you don't do a once-a-week shop in Japan. Shopping trolleys are smaller, storage in the kitchen is smaller and somehow the fruit is riper, so it doesn't keep a week anyway. I also feel a certain amount of peer pressure. I just feel uncomfortable standing there with loads and loads of groceries while I hold up the line of Japanese housewives who usually have about 10 items or less in their baskets.

The other reason why it is not good to buy lots is that when you shop at a local shop you usually don't take your car. It is faster, most often, to ride your bike. And many shops don't have car parks anyway. This is what happened today when I forgot momentarily that I had a bike, not a car outside the shop.

It took some juggling. The eggs survived and so did the ice cream, despite it being 35 degrees or so. The ride home is only 5 minutes. My bag rode slung across my chest instead of in the basket.

This is nothing for many in Asia. I've heard amazing stories of what can be carried on a bike. Including a mattress in Bangladesh. Usually you don't see such amazing heroics in Japan. Probably the most I've seen on a bike is a mum with three kids.

I'm not up to that kind of heroics. I get too wobbly. However it is an adjustment coming back here. Learning again to shop regularly. Mind you it is not such a time waster as going to a big Australian grocery store. The shops are small and turnover fast. You're there and back before you know it...unless you encounter a foreigner trying to buy a week's worth of groceries in one go and holding up the register.

26 August, 2010

New schedules to adjust to

Today we have staggered return times for the males of the family.

5 y.o. finished at 12
7 y.o. finishes at 3.30
11 y.o. finishes at 5.30
Husband comes home at something 9 or 10ish.

Both the first and last of these are unusual. Our youngest is in kindergarten at CAJ. They have a lead-in of seven days of early finishing times. From next Friday he'll begin having full days. 8.25-3.30.

My husband has a meeting at another school related to the interschool competitions that he 'coaches' kids for. This is one is a start of the year meeting, thankfully.

Our new middle-schooler has joined the school cross-country team and trains from 3.45 till 5.30 three times a week now. Sport here is more intense than it is for most schools in Australia. He'll have 'meets' most Saturdays from the 11th of September. His real passion is basketball, but that is not offered until the "winter" season. This will be good for his fitness, as well as a way to make friends. It is an adjustment for me to not having him home until so late. My child is growing up! I don't even have to go and get him. We live close to school and it is safe enough for him to walk home on his own.

Meanwhile my youngest have some "just you and me" time today and tomorrow. We have to go out and get him some more sandals and shorts. Three summers in 15 months has worn our boys' wardrobe down quite a bit. I'm so ready for some cold winter, I tell you!

25 August, 2010

First day of school full of unexpecteds for Mum

Today my boys started school again - for the second time this year. First in Australia in January and now here in Japan at the Christian Academy in Japan (CAJ).

Firstly it felt like any other day. We've been waiting for this red-letter day for a long time, but all was relatively calm (if you don't count our nearly 8 y.o. dancing in the hall at 6.30). In ample time we walked out the door and ambled five minutes down the road to school. Cool hey!

When we got there the boys didn't know what to do. So many kids in the playground. So few that they knew. So many parents milling around. I was overwhelmed at how hot it already was at 8.15! Thankfully at 8.25 the whistle blew (the playground is small enough that a bell isn't necessary at that time) and all children disappeared. Mine disappeared with hardly a farewell, so keen were they.

The next ten minutes were my surprise. Within moments I'd run into people I hadn't seen for a year or more. One family we knew from our church here but didn't realise our kids were in the same class. Another family we'd first met at our son's Japanese kindergarten five years ago, but are now at CAJ. I saw two special ladies with whom I'd shared deeply at a women's conference back in 2008. And an Australian lady came up an introduced herself to the apparently famous Australian on campus - me!

I'd realised that I had the morning (first day was a half-day only) to myself, so had planned to do some boy-free non-food shopping, but those plans were quickly changed when a Canadian friend asked if I was free now. She was busy inviting people over to coffee at her house to welcome a lady from her mission what had just enrolled her children at CAJ for the first time and was therefore new to the community. I said, "Yes, actually, I am free."

So I spent the morning with a bunch of other ladies. We sat around all morning, catching up, getting to know one another and sharing. We prayed too. It was fun and special.

The group itself was interesting - Taiwanese, Thai, Canadian, Brazilian, Australia, US and Japanese Christian women, all fellowshipping around a table. This is one of the joys of missionary service. We laughed. I also nearly cried a few times.

Somehow the whole day got a bit emotional - good and bad. Excitement at that my boys were finally all at school here in Japan. Shock at the realisation that I could suddenly change plans, if I wanted to, without discussing it with or explaining it to anyone. I shared about an issue close to my heart with a friend and became teary. I heard about a 7th grader whose Mum had been killed a couple of weeks ago by a car as she walked to the train station here in Tokyo and deep emotions began to rumble. My new middle schooler stayed nearly two hours after school for a cross country meeting and practise and coming home so excited his words wouldn't stop long enough to eat lunch at 2pm. My nearly 8 y.o. becoming close to hysterical with excitement midway through the afternoon.

Then the straw the broke the camel's back. My husband came home from school, rescuing me from death-by-crazy-children. Soon after he reminded me that we needed to call a special number in Australia to activate our new credit cards (replacements for expired cards). He did it himself and succeeded easily. I tried and failed dismally.

To confirm my identity I had to give them certain information - pretty standard stuff.  However we've moved and not a mere cross-city move. Before we left Australia we'd gone to the bank and changed all our details so that everything went to my parents' address. So I gave the operator the details I believed that the bank already had. Partway through the exchange I looked at the letter which came with our credit card and realised with horror that it still had our old address on it. Therefore, I'd presumably been giving her incorrect information.

Believe it or not, in the background of the operator there was a large amount of noise - more than in my house. Apparently her colleagues were celebrating something or other. So I found my self shouting over the noise and getting more emotional by the minute.

She couldn't, for security reasons, say to me, "I'm sorry, but you've given me the incorrect address." That simple phrase would have helped a lot! After a bit she advised me to go to my nearest branch to check my details with them!!!! I practically shouted at her, "But I'm in Japan." "Oh," she says and put me on hold again.

When she came back she said told me I'd have to hang up, check my details (in less polite language it would read - 'get your answers sorted out, you incompetent') and call back later. At which I burst into tears, hung up and raced to my room, sobbing. Gasping-for-breath type sobbing.

I could hardly fathom why I was so upset. Probably it was the insinuation in my mind that I was incompetent on top of an already fairly emotional, hot day.

Thankfully my husband eventually came up and talked to me, reassuring me that I wasn't incompetent, merely still under quite a lot of transition stress. Then he cooked dinner. I stayed lying down, reading until dinner time.

So, that was my day. Not your ordinary run-of-the-mill day. Thankfully!

Oh, and the boys had good days, from what I can tell. I asked people to pray for them. But forgot to ask people to pray for me.

24 August, 2010

Our new car

Our new car is finally registered in our name - after much running around and paperwork.

My husband wrote this as his Facebook status in the middle of the running around we've done since we bought the car nearly three weeks ago:

David now has the next piece of paper so that he can email it to an office who will send him a pile of pieces of paper that he has to take to another office so that he can get a piece of paper and two metal plates that says he owns the car (which he then has to email to another office so that the insurance company will be nice to him). Adult life is fun...

As you can see from the photos, our parking space is a bit squeezy. The width is okay until you realise that we also have to park five bikes. Hence we decided to go for a vehicle that has not only has potential leg room for growing boys, but sliding doors on the side to aid getting in and out in small places.

The third photo includes our front door (which is a bit weathered) and the back of my trusty bike.
At the rear of the car is our trusty "shed". Australians will laugh - a shed? Yes, actually more like an outside cupboard. Handy for storing bike pump, gardening supplies etc.

This last photo is taken the other direction across our front door showing the rest of the front of our house. We stow the two smallest bikes in this little nook.

We're happy to have to car organised. It enables us to go as a family to places that are harder to get to by train, like some shops which are further away from a station. And especially to go on holidays.

However we won't be using the car anywhere near as much as we did in Australia where we drove more than 20 000 km in just one year!

Japan beats Australia

Did you know that on Sunday Japan beat Australia in the Women's Baseball 2010 World Cup? Here's a photo of the winning team. Bet you didn't even know Australia or Japan had a women's baseball team. I didn't. Japan - gold
Australia - silver
US - bronze.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for the cup. It was held in Venezuela. No World Cup is complete without controversy. On the second day a player from Hong Kong was hit, during a game, by a stray bullet.

23 August, 2010

Hanging the washing out in Japan

Hanging your washing out in Japan is a little different too. Here is where I hung my washing out in Australia.

Here is where I hang it out in Japan.

I step out of my bedroom window onto this narrow verandah and hang the washing on these poles and ropes (poles are the traditional way, previous foreigners have left us these ropes as well).

Most of the washing is hung on plastic racks (third photo) with pegs attached. I load these up at the washing machine and haul them out here.

To be honest, I prefer the Australian way. There are just too many things to lift and climb here. I also don't like the idea of clothes, sheets and towels blowing against the dirty railings and building. But there ain't nothin' I can do about it once I've cleaned the railings as best I can.

One good thing is you don't spend much time outside in the blistering heat or freezing cold.

There are good things about this house too. Because our bathroom/laundry is almost on the top floor, I don't have to haul baskets of laundry up or down. It all stays up. It also has a lot of hanging space compared to our previous dwellings, so you don't have to worry about that occasional day where you have five or more loads to get through.

22 August, 2010

House photos continued

I haven't finished showing you all of our house. Two boy-bedrooms and a surprise room remain.

You will find a house plan here. Other photos from upstairs here and downstairs here. Here are some photos that show how close we are to our neighbours.

This is where our nearly 8 y.o. and 5 y.o. sleep. Also known as the play room come Lego room.

Our house is more tidy now that all the toys are basically residing in this one room and are generally played with here too. In our last Japanese house we had three rooms where toys lived. A Lego room (actually it had numerous functions, but was generally known as the Lego room), a bedroom where all the boys slept as well as toys downstairs in the lounge room. This is a good sized room and houses all their toys easily. We're all very happy!

 This is our 11 y.o.'s bedroom. From our time in Australia we've discovered that having his own room improved him no end. So we've allowed him this room. He even has his own desk and two bay windows. I have to admit I was tempted to take this room ourselves, it is so lovely and bright.

Then comes the surprise room. The attic! This ladder comes down in the 'play room' and leads up to a very neat storage place. Actually a place you could even sleep or use for some other purpose (but it is a bit too hot at present with only a small window). The ceiling is a bit low, I cannot stand up. But still, our imaginations have been stimulated by this unexpected room.

Anyone want to come and visit yet? We have futons in the cupboard just begging to be used.

20 August, 2010

The joy of friends

Today something happened that I longed for for many years after we came to Japan.

Two Japanese friends came over for the afternoon.

Some missionaries find friends fairly early on in their country of service, but I did not. After nearly four years here we went on home assignment without being able to say we'd made any good friends (perhaps one or two members of the church we worked in in Sapporo would negate this).

In actual fact it is hard to say what a good friend is when you are in another country. How do you define someone who you like to hang out with, but with whom you don't share as deeply with as friends in your own culture?

Anyway, in our second four years in Japan I found some good friends. These friends were mums at my middle son's Japanese kindergarten. We hung out after bringing our kids to kindy and after picking them up. We ran an English Conversation Club for mums at the kindy. I taught them a little. They taught me a lot. I helped them a little. They helped me a lot.

It was a delight to have them over today.

The down side is that our kids aren't really friends. They have girls. We have boys. Our 7 y.o. is very conscious that his Japanese is not what it used to be and he hid in a bedroom most of the time my friends and their children were here.

Still, I'm delighted that we only live a couple of suburbs away from them and can still get together. We've got plans and I'm rejoicing.

19 August, 2010

Stop talking about it and do it.

After twelve months of talking about what we do in Japan, we're finally back doing it! It is good.

Today David officially began work again at CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan). For today that meant he left home at 7.30 and got back after 5pm.

When my boys were smaller, I used to say that for me, that first day after holidays was the worst. After that the household settled down, back into our usual routine.

It has been more than twelve months since David has worked regularly out of the home. In that time most of his "work" was done with us all together on a weekend or during school hours. Only a handful of times was he away the whole day and twice he was away for several days, but other than that he's been around most of the time. It has been a good year. We've shared most things - parenting, housework, enforcing homework, taking the boys to and from school, swimming etc. And lots of morning teas and lunches were shared too! We worked together, played together and travelled together.

I paid part of the price of all that today. The boys seemed to need me to lay down all the boundaries again. To prove themselves against me and just check that I stood solid on my own. We've had so many time-outs today I've lost count. So while it hasn't been as physically exhausting a day as yesterday was (the temperature was down a few degrees too), I am emotionally a bit drained. I just hope that they settle down tomorrow. Did I mention I cannot wait until school starts?

8-year-old girl hangs herself at home in apparent suicide

I found this article this morning. 8-year-old girl hangs herself at home in apparent suicide

There are many issues at play here. Bullying, suicide, maybe depression, working parents and not providing supervision for young children and how much responsibility a school should take in cases of bullying.

But at the end of the day a young girl's life has ended. Very sad.

18 August, 2010

Another day another park

Parks just find us, I'm sure of it. Today we were desperate. One of my early thoughts upon waking was,  How are we going to keep the boys busy today?

The weather has been mid to high 30s (Celcius) since Sunday. Someone even reported 42.5 degrees yesterday, though I'm not sure where they got that figure from. It has been too hot to go outside for very long, that is for sure. "Cabin fever" is usually associated with cold winter weather, but we've got it avoiding the heat.

But I wasn't looking for a park to go to. I was looking for somewhere fairly large, inside that wasn't a shop and that we could get to on a train (still don't have the car sorted) and that didn't cost a fortune.

Asking a lot? Well we found it. We took two trains to Shinjuku, one of the large CBDs in the Tokyo area. It also has some tall buildings. At least one of which you can ascend for free to a viewing platform on the 45th floor. All we paid for all day was our train fares, lunch and drinks.

After rambling around on that floor for a while our 5 y.o. got bored. Who would guess? The rest of us were fairly okay. Thankfully we'd seen this view from the 45th floor and figured there was a park somewhere close by and went in search of it.

Here is what we found.

So that's 5 parks in 13 days.

Tomorrow my husband goes back to work so that will curtail our mobility a bit. The boys are getting better at trains (and so am I), but I'm still not keen on taking them far on my own.

Oh, by the way, here was the view from the top of the tower. Yes, it was a bit hazy today.

This is what the inside of the 45th floor looked like.

After the boys exhausted themselves at the park (in only half an hour) we staggered back to airconditioning and the train and found these on our way. In the midst of a stern working environment (about 6 000 people can work in this one tower alone), these ladybirds seem out of place. But we enjoyed them.

17 August, 2010

I hate teaching children to do household chores

The subject of chores for children is something I've tried to avoid for a long time. I think it is mainly because I have no idea how to approach it. I'm an idealist who'd love to have children who just say, "Sure, I'll do that for you Mum." But I'm finally resigned to the fact that children, and maybe boys in particular, are not motivated to help their parents look after the house. So then the question becomes, how do I motivate them to help out?

From very early on in parenting boys, I was determined that my boy/s would learn how to look after themselves and a house. That includes cooking as well as housework. I don't want them to be a burden on their future wives, but rather a blessing. We have probably done several things right so far - my husband is very good around the house, so he's a great example. From early on I included sticky little fingers with baking and occasionally cooking a main meal. So they all know the basics about following a recipe and measuring ingredients.

It is the more complicated, less enjoyable tasks that I've struggled to get a handle on. For a while we had a family-incentive driven chore chart. The boys rotated between setting the table and vacuuming the dining room floor, collectively earning points that would eventually allow us to enjoy a family treat together. It worked for a while, though I did spend a lot of time fuming, nagging and urging onwards. The boys weren't motivated at all.

When we returned to Australia, somehow we never got back into the slot. I never instigated a roster of chores while we were there. Occasionally I'd goad someone into helping me, but usually just David and I shared them together. We did have a dishwasher and David wasn't working full-time outside the home, so we did have more time to devote to housework.

But I decided that enough was enough when we returned to Japan. To add to my dissatisfaction with the situation, the boys were bored with too many summer holidays on their hands. So I made up a somewhat complex system that is relatively easy to implement. Each chore has a points rating (different for different aged boys). Each boy has the chores they are responsible for listed for the day they are to be done. There are penalty points for whining, more than one reminder and not doing the job. There are non-monetary rewards for different amounts of points (eg. a donut for 15 points).

I don't want to pay the boys to do housework. No one gets paid to do their own housework. But how to get them motivated? That was my dilemma. I hope I've temporarily solved the problem. As my husband notes, no one motivational system lasts forever with our boys (and most children?).

The other day I read about something called a "Token Economy" that put my heart to rest at offering rewards for effort.
It said, "it is clearly a form of external motivation and ultimately the...child will need to develop inner motivation as well. However a Token Economy can be used as a stepping stone to that end. Unless we have a way of kick-starting desirable behaviour, the child will never get the chance to experience the inner satisfaction of doing well just for its own sake." 
This book is particularly about parenting children who are not easy to teach good behaviour to, but I think the principle has merit. In the process of earning their rewards they are developing a knowledge of how to do the job. Hopefully they will eventually learn that doing housework has its own rewards, like satisfaction at a job well done, satisfaction of seeing dirty dishes clean or satisfaction at being able to take care of one's own place.

16 August, 2010

E-mail and the post bring exciting moments in the heat

The day started slowly. In this heat it is hard to do much else. Before I got out of my PJs (yes, I did sleep late) an exciting parcel arrived. It contained two Occupational Therapy assessments. Real ones. Ones that I've only previously used at my workplace. I can hardly believe that I now own two bona fide OT assessments. I could be able to move forward on this "prong" faster than I previously thought.

After I'd recovered from that surprise, (it arrived faster than I'd anticipated) I hung the washing out. That took recovering from too. It is awfully hot here at the moment. Well into the mid 30s.

Then I hunted out and eliminated most of the dust bunnies and the sandpaper fragments that keep falling off our walls in the stairwell and landing. That took some recovery time too. Vacuuming in the heat is not fun. But I am grateful I have a roof over my head. Those who are working outside in this heat have it much worse.

A couple of hours after that my e-ticket for Hong Kong arrived. Excitement is rising in me and it's beating the fear of travelling internationally on my own. Less than two weeks and I'm on my way to a week of concentrating on writing. Amazing. I can hardly believe that too.

After all this excitement about the future it is back to the Now. Feeding the boys, making them rest after lunch and exploring our local sports centre's indoor pool. Only nine days left until the start school. I am not ashamed of the fact that I'm counting.

15 August, 2010

Which drink will you have?

One of the cross-cultural challenges we have is in choosing drinks when we're out. Each country has their own standard carbonated drinks. Even a year in Australia wasn't long enough for our boys to completely get a handle on what was usually available and what it was called. So at restaurants, fast food counters and various other places where you have to choose, we ended up translating. Something like "do you want orange fizzy or ginger ale?"

However it was long enough for them to forget what is available in Japan. Now we're saying things like, "do you want lemon fizzy or grape?"

If you were confronted with this vending machine, what do you think you'd like? Sorry that I can't get the photo much bigger.

To help, I might say that the Mitsui Cider on the middle row at the right is like lemonade. In the middle at the bottom is something like Diet Solo (sorry non Aussies) and next to it is grape flavoured soft-drink. I think the one on the end is orange, but I'm not sure from the photo if it is carbonated or not. The brown bottle in the middle row is an energy drink aimed at men. I don't know what it contains.

Much of the ones on the top line are Calpis. This is Wikipedia's explanation of that Japanese drink:
Calpis (カルピス Karupisu) is a Japanese uncarbonated soft drink, manufactured by Calpis Co., Ltd. The beverage has a light, somewhat milky, and slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt or Yakult. Its ingredients include water, nonfat dry milk and lactic acid, and is produced by lactic acid fermentation.
 Really, you just have to try it to know!

Which brings me to the topic of vending machines. If we just stick to drink vending machines, you find them everywhere in Japan. I've counted at least six of them within a 300m radius of our house. And we don't live in a shopping precinct. Mostly just residential. However, vending machines is a topic that deserves its own post another time. I'll have to go collecting some more photos to show you the amazing variety that can be easily found here.

14 August, 2010

Learning more about Japanese women #1

Since we came back to Japan I've had limited access to books because the school is on summer break. We did get one chance to get books out, the day after we arrived. One of the books I grabbed as we raced around the shelves has proven to be thought provoking and I want to share some of the things I've learned.

"The Japanese Woman. Traditional Image and Changing Reality." by Sumiko Iwao.

The book doesn't have an outsider-looking-in view to it. It is written by a Japanese lady who's had a lot of experience both inside and outside of Japan. Neither does it have a translated-from-Japanese feel to it. It was published in 1993 and I was a little suspicious it might be a bit out of date. However I think my fears are unfounded, Japanese society hasn't changed as fast as the author suspected it would.

Writing book reviews are difficult and I don't really want to, except that after a conversation I had with an American new to Japan I realised that I've actually learned a lot and had much I already had imbibed about Japan confirmed. So here are a few main points. Actually there were too many, so I'll make this a short series of four posts over a couple of weeks.

Marriage and the family
  • Japanese women are traditionally known outside Japan to be largely housewives, with their husbands working long hours. This is no longer a true picture of younger Japanese women. Men, maybe, still tend to be bound by companies who ask them to work ridiculously long hours (not just my opinion, but the opinion of the author). 
  • The traditional picture is what Japan was like in the 60s and 70s when the economy was riding high and women were not required to work in primary industries. In the mid 70s as affluence grew, women began to ask themselves, "What do I want out of life?" From then on women's participation in the workforce has been increasing.
  • Women here traditionally hold the purse strings. In the past (and maybe the present?) they've given their husbands spending money. So they hold tremendous power in the household. They also do pretty much everything that holds the household together, except provide the money to support the household.
  • Women have had considerable freedom. With their husbands earning the wage that supports the household and being away most of the time (for example 6am to 9 or 10 pm hasn't been unusual), their wives have the freedom to do what they want with their time. Particularly once labour-saving devices like washing machines and fridges were commonplace. Also clothing becoming relatively cheap to buy rather than make.
  • With their freedom they've chosen to do many pleasurable activities, like join clubs, volunteer work, follow their interests.
  • Women have been increasingly working, but more often part-time. They still by-and-large take time off during their children's pre-school years. The money they've earned has tended to be for extras, as opposed to essentials for the household.
  • There appears to be a vast gap between the sexes. This may be closing a little, but for the most part men don't understand women and don't make much attempt to find out. Women prefer to hang out with their girlfriends. 
  • Marriage has been a pragmatic situation. It's provided necessary support for the man (who has had to work such long hours that he needs help to live) as well as met the support needs of elderly parents.
  • The author wonders how this is going to change as women decide that they don't want this and choose instead to be single or wait for a man who'll treat them like a friend.
  • Verbal communication between husband and wife can be minimal. Compliments and expressions of fondness tend to be backhanded and indirect.

Sore legs

Today we went to the same park we visited two days ago. We took our new friends and this time we went prepared with a change of clothes. The park has a delightful flowing water-course (man-made, but nature-like). They got wet, very wet.

After a good long play we went to the aviation museum and ate lunch at their all-you-can-eat small restaurant. Very yummy. It was quite reasonably priced, even if we had to wait half an hour to gain entry. We got our money's worth, though. And now I don't have to cook a main meal this evening. Bread with peanut butter, Vegemite etc. will suffice.

Refuelled, we took on the museum. We've been there several times, so much was familiar. But it is still fun! There are lots of hands-on things. Planes and helicopters to climb in and out of and this time, even a pilots hat and blazer to try on.

We made it home without anyone throwing themselves in front of a train (highly possible when our boys get tired and silly) and had some quiet time. I lay down.

I've been finding my legs are getting sore too quickly at the moment. I've blamed it on the heat and my low-sodium diet. But suddenly realised today that it is probably also because I haven't been to the gym since June. Some people go to the gym to lose weight or tone up. I go to maintain my stamina. (The toning is good too!) When I don't, I get tired too quickly and can't keep up with my energetic family.

Too much is going on in the next three weeks for me to conceivably start going again. I'm aiming for the week after I get back from Hong Kong. In the meantime, maybe I could try doing more stairs or something. Actually exercise in non-air-conditioning is not very attractive at present. I don't like swimming, but maybe...

13 August, 2010

Update on us

CAJ's auditorium and soccer field
We're approaching change again. CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan - where my husband teaches and boys will attend) is starting up. Next week the teachers start to have meetings. The week after the boys start on the Wednesday.

As a result today the owners of the van we've been driving, one of whom is a CAJ teacher, came back. We had to give the van back. We had our first drive in our own vehicle - a whole 300m! From the CAJ carpark where we'd kept it since Monday (shhh, don't tell anyone) to our house. It is still not insured in our name, nor is it registered in our name. We shouldn't be driving it. However, it is nice to have it parked here. I'll post a photo of it parked here soon, once the paperwork has gone through. And you'll see why we were checking dimensions of vehicles before we went shopping.

Movie night in our lounge room.
It has been a long time since the boys were in school. Let's see...8 1/2 weeks with 1 1/2 left. Less than the CAJers who finished school in early June, but the second summer holiday in 8 months! Too much. One thing that helps with the boredom is short-term things to look forward to. This week it has been visitors for lunch yesterday and a movie night tonight.

For the first time in a very long time we've patronised a video store. Last week we had a late movie night and it didn't work very well for our 5 y.o. So tonight we ate dinner early (leftovers, so no prep for Mum) and started the movie at 5.30. Much better, though our youngest was in tears at the end when it looked like the hero might die. Oh, it was "Bolt". Our son recovered fairly quickly though, thankfully.

Tomorrow we go back to the park we visited yesterday. Not because we desperately need to, but our visitors from yesterday want to. They are new to Japan and CAJ and have a 1 and 2 1/2 year old. We'll introduce them to Tokyo Trains and a great park all in one go.

Japan photo #5

We had to buy indoor shoes for school - a Japanese thing that even our American-style school does. Anyway, at one point I stood next to this, can you guess what it is?

12 August, 2010

More parks

We're going for some kind of record, I think. Today we went to the third (different) park in seven days. This one (Koukuu) has lots of memories for us too.

We've played here on many occasions. I've lost kids here (and found them...eventually), had annual kindy picnics here, enjoyed their eucalyptus trees, the boys have climbed trees, played in the playground, climbed rocky hills, played cricket etc. It has a good playground and some lovely wide open grassed areas too.

Some very old wisteria.
Today we went, despite the fact it was drizzling. We needed to get the boys out of the house. The difference now is that catching the train is faster than driving. In our previous house we lived closer to the park and further from a train station.

Aviation museum
A couple of advantages of this park is that there is a free outdoor water play area. There is also an Aviation Museum, which is a great place to go if you want to get out of the house and find some space in bad weather (of which there is considerable amount compared to sunny Queensland where we come from). It is also a somewhat hilly park. You can get away from the crowds here.

There is considerable history associated with this park too. It is the local of Japan's first airfield.

We're hoping to introduce the young couple (and their kids) I mentioned in my last post to this park on Saturday. So that'll be four park visits in nine days. Pretty important to maintain our sanity. These boys of ours are desperately in need of school - and the mental and physical outlet it will provide.

Japanese summer holidays a bit different

Here is an interesting link which gives you an idea of what Japanese do for summer holidays. Quite different to Westerners and this picture!

11 August, 2010

All of a sudden you're illiterate again

Last week during a normal shopping trip I found myself at a loss to figure out which bottle of clear liquid was vinegar. This would not be a problem in Australia. But my poor Japanese reading let me down again. I fooled around on my new iPhone trying to find some help. (This prompted me to get finally get a Japanese-English dictionary installed on the phone.) In the end I made the ultimate move in selection - lifted the lid of a likely candidate and sniffed. Even through the plastic seal I caught a wiff of vinegar! Success, though not in a terribly satisfying way.

Yesterday we met a new teacher at CAJ. He is intelligent and no doubt highly competent in his home country. Yet I was reminded again of how difficult it is to integrate into this country, where not even knowing your English alphabet can help you feel like you are competent. He admitted that their biggest challenge at present is being able to read enough to buy stuff. For example his wife wasn't able to find toilet cleaner in the shop the other day. I know the feeling. It is like a single plane trip has stripped you of adult competency and you are back in kindergarten, but, unfortunately, still with adult responsibilities.

Pictures are a huge help. Cleaning products are more difficult than food because they often don't have pictures that help. It is no surprise that the cleaning products in our cupboards mostly have pictures on them!
Here are some products in my pantry. Can you guess what they are?