Saturday, April 29, 2006

Imperial Housecleaning

Today my mother-in-law returned from her weeklong housecleaning trip to Tokyo. She paid good money for the privilege of getting up at 5AM to clean the imperial residence with others. I suppose, for her, it was like a good Catholic going to the Vatican to help clean up. When she was born, the Emperor was still divine. She has a calendar with pictures of the royal family on her wall. Anyway, she said that she got to see the Empress and Emperor and the Crown Prince, who offered their thanks, and also shook hands with Prime Minister Koizumi. There was also some fun stuff thrown in, like a musical and a pro baseball game. My mother-in-law showed me her commemorative photo - a bunch of women in white aprons.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Home Visit

So I was on the Internet checking out Ayun Halliday's food blog when the doorbell rang downstairs, heralding the arrival (fifteen minutes earlier than expected!) of Jio's teacher. She was here for the Official Home Visit, which every parent in Japan must endure during the primary school years. Japanese mothers, I've heard, start cleaning their houses a week in advance and make a big show of serving tea and treats. My husband said that some parents give teachers gift certificates to Sogo. I can't remember the word he used, but it sounded like "protection money," which in our case might have been apt. Anyway, our home visit was decidedly anti-climactic since the teacher's already been to our house three times. She - and the principal - have seen my living room at its absolute messiest. I did clean up, but I didn't serve tea or treats. I was going to, actually, but I was unprepared and it would have seemed awkward for me to jump up in the middle of our fifteen minute conversation to put a pot on to boil. And besides, she probably forced herself to drink tea at the three or four houses she visited before mine. Nevertheless, I'm sure that my husband would be APPALLED to know that I didn't serve refreshments. Not only am I the anti-education mama, but also it appears that I'm the anti-hostess.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Meaning of Cake

The boy who scratched my son was made to apologize to Jio. His mother apologized to me twice in person. She also called here last night to apologize to my husband, but Yoshi was not satisfied. He said that the mother should have come to our house with her son and a box of cakes to apologize.

This got me to thinking about all the situations in this country where people don't eat dessert in which you are supposed to show up with cake:

- when you go to someone's house for the first time
- when you go to someone's house for the second/third/fourth time
- when you have received a monetary gift and want to express gratitude
- when you have rear-ended someone in traffic and want to apologize
- when someone rides their bike into your car and you want to make sure they weren't injured too seriously
- when you want to thank your sister-in-law for babysitting

And, in an example from Gwyn Helverson's short story "...all mixed up...", when you miss out on your koto recital due to measles thus irritating your teacher.

The Lilia Poems

Three poems that I wrote about Lilia appear in the spring issue of MotherVerse. Check it out.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Visit

Last night Jio's teacher dropped by with a big bag of bread. It seems that she was aware of the problem Jio was having with that other kid and she wanted to talk about it. I know that teachers, my husband included, often visit students' homes, but it's still a bit disconcerting to have people drop by when the house is a mess. I guess Japanese women are obsessive about housework for just this reason. Anyway, I let her speak with Jio privately for awhile. I wasn't eavesdropping or anything, but I overheard her say "At school, I'm your mother." Uh, no. I don't think so. I'm the Mommy ALL THE TIME.


So the little girls suddenly became sweet and nice to Lilia, but last night Jio took his shirt off and I saw this huge gash down his back, like someone had raked him or something. I asked him about it, and he told me who did it, but he didn't want to talk about it anymore. The kid in question went to the same kindergarten as my son and they sometimes played together, but I had the feeling that he wasn't altogether in control of his emotions and sometimes lashed out. I don't think it's a case of bullying, but my husband is convinced that Jio presents himself as a victim and doesn't fight back. I think he's learned to restrain himself because Lilia is always biting him and pinching and pulling his ears and he doesn't hurt her back.

At any rate, it's tough to know how to handle this kind of situation. Jio doesn't want to be a tattle-tale, and I think the teachers are already aware of the potential problems of this other kid. Yoshi wants to inform the teacher of what happened. Something like this occurred before at Jio's kindergarten and Yoshi made a bigger deal of it than it was, and now Jio is reluctant to talk about these things. We need to keep the channels of communication open, I think.

Friday, April 21, 2006


I feel compelled to offer a postscript on yesterday's entry.

Today I brought Lilia with me to pick up Jio. When those little girls from yesterday came out of the classroom, they shouted "Lilia!" and then came over to talk to her. They were extremely friendly and curious. I even taught them a little sign language. Whatever the teacher said to them was effective. I'm really glad that they seized upon that teachable moment.

Some older girls came up to Lilia, too, and said "kawaii," which means "cute," and is much better than "kowai" ("scary").

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Doing It Differently

Now that "Mothering Abroad" has finished its run, my favorite column at Literary Mama is Ona Gritz's "Doing It Differently." I admired Gritz's writing even before I knew that she was a mother with cerebral palsy. In this month's column, she writes about finding her tribe.

Evil Little Girls

Today Lilia had physical therapy after lunch, and then I rushed to pick up Jio. She was in her purple wheelchair, wearing her red braces,and of course she had this coil sticking to her head and her hearing aid. Some older kids were speculating about whether she was a baby, and I patiently explained that she is six and she wore the braces because she can't walk, but she's practicing walking.

Then, Lilia got out of the wheelchair and started crawling on the cement, and some little girls cried out, "Ew! How dirty!" I was annoyed, but I said, "After she washes her hands she'll be fine." I don't know if they were paying any attention to me or not, but they came closer to Lilia and they asked what was on her head. I explained that it was a hearing aid. (I wasn't in the mood to try to explain cochlear implants to six year olds.) And then, they started saying, "Kowai!" I tried to remain patient, and asked "What is scary about her?" But they are only six and they can't articulate that. They came closer and closer to Lilia and one of them was holding a stick. At that point I became pretty pissed off. One of the foreign English teachers appeared right about then, and I said, "These kids need some sensitivity training" and I explained to her what they were saying. Then I did my best to hustle my kids out of there.

I had this vision of Lilia in public school, being tormented on a daily basis by little girls like those, who are probably sent to piano and English conversation class and swimming so that they will be high achievers and make good wives and then fashionable education mamas with Chanel bags, like the ones I saw at the entrance ceremony. I imagined their parents feeling sorry for me because they have such perfect little girls and I don't, and I hated them all.

I write essays and stories and articles about disability issues and I try to be open about Lilia's disabilities, but my intense anger toward those little girls made me realize how far I have yet to evolve.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

An Afternoon on Firefly Hill

I've been working on some picture book texts for Makiand, photographer Makiko Hamada, who lives in the neighboring prefecture, and her cohorts. Makiko photographs mouse dolls made by a woman known to me as only Mrs. Comi in elaborate settings. It looks like my first submission, "An Afternoon on Firefly Hill," will be produced sometime soon. The other books scheduled to come out this year will appear in both English and Japanese versions, so I'm assuming mine will, too. Can't wait to see the results! The book will be for sale on the website.

Friday, April 14, 2006

New Beginnings

Well! This has been an exceptionally eventful and stressful week for me. Both kids had their opening ceremonies in the pouring rain and I also went for the first time ever to the college where I will be teaching to introduce myself to the students in my rain-drenched suit. Not only is the rain cold and wet, but also it makes the traffic really bad in the morning. Before I could get my daughter to school in twenty minutes, but now it takes three times that long!

Jio and Lilia have something like ten textbooks each, and every day they're supposed to bring different books to school. I don't see why they can't just leave the books in their desks at school and bring home the ones they need to use for homework that day. Today Lilia didn't have the proper book for her life class. I had no idea which book it was until her teacher told me when I went to pick her up.

Yoshi might have helped with this if he hadn't been stricken by a vicious virus. He's been out of commission since last Sunday.

Things can only get easier.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Several years ago, the Ministry of Education decreased the number of hours of study at school. The logic was that giving kids Saturday off would allow them more time to relax, improve familial relationships, pursue their own interests, and possibly spur creativity. What happened was parents panicked and started sending their kids to cram schools on Saturdays, so these kids still don't know what to do with their free time.

In today's issue of The Japan Times, I read about a new private boarding school for boys, billed as Japan's Eton. At a cost of 3 million yen per year,it's very expensive, but as one father said, "A child's future is determined by his school, and the school is determined by money."

Eighty of Japan's most powerful companies designed the academy which they hope will "churn out future global leaders who can think independently but also work well with others."

The daily schedule is something like this: wake at seven, sit in class all day, take an hour break to call mom and dad, then do homework till bedtime. And students are allowed to bring no more than five CDs and ten books.

Says Yoshiyuki Kasai, a member of the school's board of directors, "The ability to think outside the box comes from a structured life."

Well, then, with all that structure it sounds to me as if Kaiyo Academy will be a hotbed of creativity.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Japanese Math

I have been busily writing Lilia's name on the various and multitudinous components of her Sansu Set (Math Set). I'd heard tell of the math set up in the Mother's Room, but I didn't really know what it was till I had to purchase one each for my kids. There are dice and magnetized shapes and a board game and flash cards. And, as per teachers' instructions, Lilia's name has to be on each one. Heaven forbid if her dice get switched with someone else's!

Apparently, Lilia is supposed to use this set for the next six years. Apparently, she is expected to keep track of the tiny plastic rods and hajiki (flower shaped counting devices) until she gets to junior high school. Good luck, Lilia!

I think it would be more fun to count buttons or apples or something, but as an American, I guess I'm not in a position to make fun of the way that the Japanese do math.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Last Hurrah

So today was the last big hurrah before the start of school on Monday (for Lilia, at least). After physical and occupational therapy, we went to a park on the side of a mountain. We met up with this American woman that I happened to meet at the library the other day who has lived here as long as I have - eighteen years. We were amazed that we hadn't at least heard of each other before. She brought along her teen and tween and dog, and helped carry Lilia up the mountain. I let Jio run wild, as I usually do, because I was trying to keep my disabled daughter from danger. Then, what do you know, Jio fell down a ten foot stone wall. Okay, maybe it wasn't ten feet, but it was perilously high. He said he slipped on an acorn. At first I thought he might have broken his leg or something. He's all scraped up, but he started running around pretty quickly after his fall. Phew!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Today we engaged in the time-honored tradition of flower-viewing. The photo above was actually taken yesterday while I stopped at a red light on the way home from the library. This evening, we viewed cherry blossoms by moonlight and lantern-light on the slopes of a mountain in Tokushima City. We just walked around a little, but others were drinking beer and sake and eating on plastic mats under the boughs.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Red Beans and Rice

Today two people dropped by with huge boxes of sekihan (celebratory red beans and rice). The first was a friendly neighbor who keeps us in fresh vegetables and is having some sort of shindig at her house tomorrow. The second was my husband's cousin, cousin's wife, and their daughter who is about to enter junior high school. The parents were wearing suits and the daugther was wearing her spanking new uniform. I, of course, was wearing faded jeans with a hole in the knee and a sweater that had dye stains on it. Of course I was wearing no make-up and the living room was scattered with toys and scraps of paper. Anyway, the cousins came to give us red beans and rice and a big box of cream puffs and a roll cake because we ( my mother-in-law, actually, who was off watching her son's baseball team get beat 12-8 in the quarterfinals of the spring high school tournament) gave them a wad of money in honor of their daughter's making it into junior high. (It must be said they gave us a wad, too, to celebrate the twins' going to first grade.) After she came back, my mother-in-law told me that we need to do something similar and soon, and how about if I bake some cakes? Normally people bring fancy store bought cakes as gifts in these cases, but my mother-in-law really liked the carrot cake I made yesterday. Okay. So I'm gonna bake.