Boys will be Boys

For nine years I’ve been shrieking, “No toy guns!” and vetoing every attempted purchase of said items.  You’d think it might have had some effect.  But no.

Today we went to a nearby strip mall (yes, they have those in Japan, too) because the kids wanted to get out of the house and had a little money to burn.  We looked at pets for awhile.  I was amazed to see chipmunks for sale.  They looked wild and totally hyper.  One of them kept falling off the exercise wheel, he was going so fast.

Lilia bought a chunky comic book full of sparkly-eyed girls with her money.  I told Jio that he should save up for Legos or whatever, and that he didn’t necessarily have to spend the money he got as a reward for getting 100 percent correct on his kanji test.  (Only the second 100 percent in two and a half years.)  But then, when we were just about to go home, he mentioned something that he wanted to buy.  An action figure, I thought.  I waited at the entrance with Lilia while he paid for it with his own money all by himself.  It wasn’t until we got into the car that I saw what it was – a toy gun.

It’s supposed to be a policeman’s revolver, and it came with a badge.  Okay, so better than a robber gun, I guess.  The funny thing is, he got a toy policeman’s kit for Christmas a couple years ago in the U.S.  It included a vest, a walkie-talkie, a badge, a bullhorn, handcuffs, and a pad of paper for writing tickets, but no gun.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Japanese policeman packing heat, but here, you get the gun.


Bye Bye Bunnies

Today’s activity in Occupational Therapy was to decorate a small box.  The therapist demonstrated by cutting shapes out of colored paper and pasting them on the box, and…voila!  A rabbit!  I thought that Lilia would choose to do the same, since she’s always loved rabbits.  But she shook her head. 

“How about a bear?” the therapist asked.


“How about a cat?  Or a panda?” 

 “No, no.”

“What do you want to make?” 

“Sakurai Shou-kun!”

So Lilia lovingly cut out a head, a body, and clothing and made a box doll of her beloved pop star idol.


Dream Come True

According to, today is the official publication date of Love You to Pieces.  Reason enough to celebrate, right?

But get this:  Lilia has learned to say “Mama”!

We’ve worked on this for awhile.  For a long time, when she wanted my attention, she called out “Ahhhhhhh.”  And then, after she got her cochlear implant, she called me “baba”.  She could hear the difference, but the “m” sound is really hard for her.  I had her touch my nose while I said “mama” so she could feel the vibrations, and sometimes she could do it, but when she tried too hard, it always came out “baba.”  The other day, she commanded my attention and pronounced “mama”.  She was very proud that she could say it without touching her nose.  I’ve been waiting years for this moment.  No one could have given me a better Mother’s Day gift.

Golden Week Report

We are now on the last day of that string of holidays known as Golden Week.  This is the time of year when the highways are clogged with traffic, and every public space is mobbed.  Also, most families have plans to visit relatives or do something fun.  I have been trying to get us through this period without driving too far (gas just went up 25 yen per liter) and without spending too much money.  My husband has had baseball games every day, so we’ve been on our own.

Yesterday, Jio talked me into going to a park an hour from our house.  He told me that the third graders in his class had arranged this outing.  They actually conpsired the week before to get their parents to take them to a science park near here.  We spent six hours in the great outdoors, playing kick ball (also very well organized by the third graders – oh, how smoothly they sorted themselves into teams) and running around, after which I was too exhausted to make dinner. 

Yesterday morning, although it was cloudy, I made sandwiches, loaded all of our gear into the car, and we set out for the park the kids had agreed upon.  Turns out, no one else was there.  It’s a big park, and it was a holiday, but all we saw was a high school kid running laps, and an elderly man on some sort of power walk.  Jio immediately said that he wanted to go home.

I made him play for about two hours.  He skated on his rollerblades, and we hit some balls, and had a picnic, and then we went home.  In the evening, one of the parents called and said that today everyone is going to another park, and that yesterday’s event had been organized by the children without parental approval.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law believes that someone has stolen her keys. 





A brief rant about remote controls

This morning I spent about ten minutes looking for the remote control for the TV because Lilia wanted to change the channel.  Yesterday I was frantically searching for the thing because the volume was way too loud: another ten minutes.  There are remote controls strewn all over our house – five or six (or more) for the various a/c wall units, one for my portable radio, four to six for the various TVs, DVD players, and video players, one for  the overhead light in my children’s room, and I think there’s even one somewhere for the kerosene heater.  Needless to say, they are always getting lost, running out of batteries, or generally confusing their users.   Things were much simpler when all you had to do was push a button.

And why, may I ask, do the Japanese need remote controls for portable radios and overhead lights?  Many Japanese people live in tiny apartments, so in theory, one would only have to stretch across the room to turn on the radio or light. When the kids use the remote to turn off their light, it invariably gets lost in the bed covers, and then the next evening, I have to feel around in the dark to find the remote so I can turn the light on!

 Maybe the problem is me.  Japan is said to be one of the most (if not the most) technologically advanced nations in the world.  I am more of a Luddite.  I wrote my novel by longhand in various spiral notebooks.  I cannot figure out how to work the video phone feature on my mobile. 

My husband, who is very tech-savvy, told me that he feels sorry for me because I don’t know how to use my cell phone for anything except making calls. Meanwhile, I just want all of those remote controls to go away.

Yesterday on Bizan

I’ve been working on an essay about Bizan, the emblematic mountain of Tokushima.  Here is an excerpt:

 Although I purchased a round-trip ticket on the ropeway, I decide to hike down.  How hard could it be?  I find the shortest route on the map, one that I think will take me to my starting point, but almost immediately I wonder at the wisdom of this decision.  All morning I have been tramping up and down concrete steps and sidewalks, but this is an actual hiking trail.  The steep, narrow path is strewn with dry leaves, which may be slippery.  I don’t have a walking stick, and instead of a backpack, I’ve got this handbag hooked over my arm.  There is also the question of snakes.

Nevertheless, I begin to pick my way down the incline, imagining Moraes nearly a century ago in these same woods in his kimono.  I grab onto tree trunks and seek purchase on protruding roots and rocks.  My thighs burn with the effort.

The forest is so dense that I can’t see the city beyond.  No one is on the trail behind or ahead of me.  No one knows where I am.  It’s an odd feeling, here in this densely populated country where I am so seldom truly alone.  All I can hear is the wind in the trees, and what I take to be birds rustling the leaves as they forage for food. 

Although I’m tempted to pull out my field guide and try to identify a plant or a bird – were those gray-tailed birds that just flew past starlings or brown-eared bulbuls? – there are no stumps for sitting, no spots for rifling through my bag.  I keep going until I spot a paved road through the trees.  The trail seems to suddenly drop off to this road.

It’s a couple of meters down.  I start looking for a sturdy branch that I might be able to use to vault myself down, and then I see a businessman strolling up the road.  Maybe he’s out for his daily constitutional.  Crouched here on the side of the mountain with my Louis Vuitton bag, I suddenly feel ridiculous.  I hold myself very still and hope that he doesn’t notice me.  When he’s out of sight, I manage to scoot down without scraping myself on the rocks and I walk a ways down the road.

The Language of Laundry

How is this for irony?  Whenever my mother-in-law is mad at us, she leaves our laundry alone.  We can tell that she is in a good mood when she starts messing with it again. 

Once in awhile I beat her to it, and she apologizes for not taking down the laundry.  “It’s not your job,” I muttered the last time that happened.

Last weekend, when I was off interviewing for the Eiken (standardized English test), my husband told her very sternly not to touch our laundry.  He took it down himself.

The following day, my mother-in-law complained to me that the son she had raised had been rude to her about the laundry.  She took it down yesterday anyway.

Omiyage Guilt

I went to Kagoshima hoping to see some ash, (y’know, because of the volcano), but all I saw was the inside of my hotel.  I had a good time, though.  I conducted a writing workshop, which I thought went pretty well, and met a lot of interesting people.

Yesterday morning I heard that a lot of flights were being cancelled due to snow in Tokyo.  There were some doubts about my own flight to Takamatsu.  I had a few minutes in which I could have bought the obligatory souvenirs, but I wasn’t sure what to get.  Apparently sweet potatoes  are big in Kagoshima, but so what? They’re big here, too.  I also saw a lot of sausage in the kiosks, but I was worried that I’d be stuck in the overheated airport of in some overheated hotel room if my flight was cancelled, and then the sausages might spoil.  Plus, I’d grabbed some cookies that were leftover from the convention, and I figured everyone would be happy with those. 

My flight, as it turned out, was on time.  Everything went swimmingly.  My husband said that there had been no fighting with his mother because, well, they hadn’t spoken to each other all weekend.  She popped over when I returned, but I was kind of tired and distracted and suddenly felt guilty about not having any Kagoshima-specific omiyage for her.   It occurred to me that the merlion cookies were too obviously from Singapore and that I couldn’t give them to her after all.

A couple hours later, which was around 10PM, she popped over and said she wanted to talk to my husband.  I herded the kids off to bed, while she told my husband that she wants to move out.  I thought, “Oh, no!  It’s because I didn’t give her any omiyage!”

Luckily, today there was a “Kyushu festival” at the local Sogo department store, so I popped in and got some black sugar products from the  Kagoshima table.  When I got home, I gave them to my mother-in-law.  Now everything seems to be fine.

Leaving the Interior

This past weekend I flew up to Tokyo for two literary events.  The first was a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators showcase, at which eight of us presented our recent and forthcoming works for children.  Interestingly, one illustrator, Youchan, had just completed a Japanese book about a deaf child at school.  Another, Naomi Kojima, spoke about translating the letters of a legendary children’s book editor, and my friend Holly and her illustrator did a presentation on the making of The Wakame Gatherers.  (For my interview with Holly, click here.)   I was lucky to meet Yuka Hamano, the illustrator for my own forthcoming picture book, Playing for Papa, which will be published by Topka Books in Spain.

The following evening I was on a panel along with Alfred Birnbaum (Haruki Murakami’s first English translator) and Barry Lancet, Executive Editor of Kodansha International, at the Society of Writers, Editors and Translators New Year Party.  I read a few pages of Losing Kei and talked about the book.

 I had a great time.  Unfortunately, while I was gone, my hubsand and mother-in-law had a big blow out which had nothing to do with me.  My mother-in-law said, however, that it happened because I wasn’t here to act as a buffer.  Also, she had some self-esteem issues because Jio didn’t eat all of the bento she prepared for him.  And my son said he didn’t feel well and stayed home from school yesterday, although he had no fever, did not vomit, and had a healthy appetite.

In Japanese the word for wife means “woman of the interior.”  See, I’m supposed to stay in the house all the time.  Look what happens when I go out! 

This weekend I’m going to Kagoshima.

Hair Cut

In Japan, the stereotypical occupation for the blind is shiatsu masseuse, whereas for the deaf it’s cutting hair.  Indeed, there is a vocational track at the local school for the blind for massage, and at the school for the deaf for aspiring barbers and beauticians.  So I guess it’s sort of appropriate that yesterday my deaf daughter gave herself a hair cut.

I was busily cooking supper, and she was across the room, crouched behind the kerosene heater.  When I went to get her for dinner, I saw hanks of hair strewn all over the floor.  She’d used children’s scissors – the very scissors she’d been using to cut construction paper minutes earlier.  I was in such shock that I couldn’t even muster anger.  I told her that next time, if she really wants a hair cut, she should tell us and we’ll take her to a professional.

She’s always signing that she wants to get a hair cut, even when her hair is fairly short.  I thought that she liked to go for the bag of snacks the barber gives out at the end, or for the racing car chair.  As it turns out, the bangs really were bothering her.