Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Thoughts on Education

I have been thinking about yesterday's post and why I am so irritated with my children's teachers. I think it's partly because whenever a teacher says something about my kids' abilities, I feel that they are criticizing me. Part of me also believes that these kids are at a disadvantage because my Japanese is inadequate. I am learning new vocabulary words from my children's first grade Japanese textbooks. I thought I would understand everything up until at least third grade!

At the deaf school, it was hammered into the mothers that our children's success in school, nay, in life, depends on our efforts. (No one expects the fathers to do anything, by the way.) When Lilia was three (!), her teacher was always telling me that if I couldn't find a way to make her buckle down and study, she could forget about college. (I'd said that my future hope for my daughter was that she go to college...)

I never really had any problems with school. Everything came pretty easily to me, so I'm a little frustrated by my kids' difficulties with basic math. Also, it drives me mad when Lilia's teacher insists that I teach her math because there isn't enough time at school to work on it. I am not the special ed teacher! We send Lilia to deaf school where she works one on one with her teacher because she needs help.

For the record, I believe in the value of education. I want them to learn all this stuff. I help them with their homework every night. I guess I'm worried that I won't measure up.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Anti-Kyouiku Mama Speaks Again!

My son is seven and started first grade this past April. He is at school until 4PM, and every day he has at least three pages of homework. Yesterday when I went to pick him up, his teacher said that he wasn't as quick at subtracting as the other kids (most of whom, I suspect, are doing math drills at juku), and could he stay half an hour after school so she could work with him. On the one hand, it's nice of her to offer to tutor him. On the other hand, I find it irritating that everyone has to be at the exact same level at the exact same time. I think this is a feature of Japanese education that I will have to learn to deal with.

Jio is a bright kid. He knows how to subtract and I'm sure he'll memorize the basics soon enough. He already spends plenty of time studying. I want him to be a well-balanced kid, y'know?

In Tuesday's Japan Times there were some quotes from Tadanobu Tsunoda, author of the controversial book The Japanese Brain, which asserts, among other things, that native Japanese speakers listen to insects with a different part of the brain than non-Japanese native speakers. I'm inclined to take most of his findings with a grain of salt, but I'm willing to believe him when he says, "I have examined kids around exam time, and their brains were all tilting to one side, to the left. Once they stop cramming for exams, their brain balances back toward the right. But for those kids who are always at cram schools, their brains get fixed in the wrong spot and I fear that in the future they won't be able to create anything new." Hear, hear.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Foreign Wives Again!

In spite of my aversion to the way foreginers are portrayed on TV here, I can't stop watching "My Wife is a Foreigner." Last night's show featured Seema, from India, and the Russian Olga.

Seema struck me as a very smart and capable woman. She's starting her own business and she prepares an ambitious Indian breakfast every morning. But of course, the poor husband has to hop across the street to his mother for Japanese lunch, and the inlaws were going on about cultural differences. The most irritating part, though, was when the couple were in the studio with the Japanese "talents." One, a rather abrasive Japanese woman, told Seema that in Japan it's wrong to criticize your husband in from of your mother-in-law, or something like that. C'mon! These people have been married for eighteen years! I've had similar experiences, people trying to tell me about my Japanese husband when they've never met him, as if all Japanese husbands are alike and I can't possibly understand Japanese culture on my own.

I didn't have any issues with the Olga segment, though I did wonder about the live-in mother-in-law. But Olga seemed really sweet and cheerful, so maybe she's cool with the arrangement.

Last week there was a perpetually cheerful American wife who got all teary when thinking about her inlaws and told them, on national TV, that she hopes they will live together again one day. Puh-lease! She just makes the rest of us look bad!

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Writer's Life

Today I got four rejections in the mail. That must be a record for me. One story went all the way from Japan to Philadelphia and back in just two weeks! That one came back with the dreaded printed form, as did another. Another letter was in response to a pitch to an educational publisher for a series. They passed on my idea, but said they'd keep my name on file. The final one was a printed rejection form with scribblings in the margins. That was for the story I most want to publish - a baseball story commissioned by Jio last summer. The editor wrote that my ending was powerful, which makes me happy because I am so weak on endings. I've gotten enough encouragement on that story to keep me going for awhile. I'll keep sending it out till I can't think of any more markets.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Laundry Quandary

So. A couple weekends ago, my son Jio decided that he wanted to take the laundry down off the poles. Great, I thought. That can be Jio's special job. I let him get started. Later, I found my mother-in-law out there helping him. I told her that he could do it by himself, but Jio thought I was being mean to her and said it was okay for her to help. Even later, she said, rather pointedly, "You're so lucky to have a son who helps with laundry." I replied rather testily that it's normal for kids to help out around the house.

Well. The very next day, I came home to find all of my laundry taken down and folded. My mother-in-law had never done this before in the year that we've lived hee. Not even when it started to rain and I wasn't here. I can't help but think that she is trying to spare the heir from the drudgery of women's work, if only unconsciously. After the second time she did it, I told her that Jio had been looking forward to taking the laundry down and that he was the laundry guy. She didn't believe that he really wanted to do it, and then she said that she had too much time on her hands anyway.

I do feel a little bit sorry for her not being able to drive (her decision) and being stuck at home all day, but I would rather she occupy herself with her own business. After all, if she is taking my laundry down because I am supposedly too busy to do it myself, it's hard to kick back with a magazine after I get home from picking everybody up from school. It would be nice if she would develop some hobbies or do some volunteer work or something. I really don't want to be responsible for keeping her entertained/busy.

One of my friends suggested that I give her another job that I really don't want to do, like ironing. But now that it's getting so hot, and knowing that my mother-in-law prefers to swelter rather than turn on the a/c or even an oscillating fan, that seems downright cruel.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sign Language

Once a month there is a sign language class for mothers at the deaf school. The teacher is deaf and all the hand-outs are in Japanese with a lot of kanji, so it's sometimes a little hard for me to follow along, but I do my best. Yesterday I learned the sign for romantic love, which is index fingers describing the arc of two straws going into the same glass. Isn't that sweet? Isn't that totally 1950s soda fountain type of romantic? One mother wanted to know the sign for uwaki, which means infidelity. Some eyebrows were raised. There is actually a very high divorce rate among parents at the deaf school. Half of the second graders' parents are divorced and one out of three kids in the third grade have divorced parents. This is pretty high for Japan. So far, all of the first graders live with both parents.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sweetness in the Belly

Last night everyone else in the house was asleep by 9:30, so I had over two hours of uninterrupted reading time. I finished Camilla Gibb's gorgeous novel Sweetness in the Belly, about a young British woman, raised as a Muslim, in 1970s Ethiopia. The prose is beautiful, the story heartbreaking and illuminating - a wonderful work of multicultural fiction. It also presents a compassionate view of Islam, which seems to be missing in the press these days.

It didn't make me want to go to Ethiopia, but it did make me dig up my recipe for doro wat, which I'm going to make for lunch. That's one way of prolonging my stay in the world of Gibb's book.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Second Place

I checked the website for the magazine Kansai Time Out the other day and found out I won second prize in the writing contest I entered last April. I wonder when they're going to tell me! I wonder when I will get my prize money! Interestingly enough, they decided to split second prize between my article and one written by a guy that I kind of know. Coincidentally, we both wrote about Japanese Sign Language. I wrote mainly about Lilia's school and complained about the excessive (to my mind) use of fingerspelling, as opposed to sign language.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What shall I wear??

Four Stories Japan Opening Night

An evening of readings, music,and mingling on the theme:
"A Place Apart - Tales of travel, adventure, and exploration"

July 2, 6-8:30pm
Savannah Rhythm & Blues Bar and Grill
2-10-32 B1F Smile Step Bldg. B1F
Nishi Shinsaibashi
Chuo-ku, Osaka
Admittance free and open to the public

Featuring readings in English by:

Juliet Winters Carpenter, Kyoto professor; acclaimed translator of Ryotaro Shiba's The Last Shogun, Kobo Abe's Beyond the Curve, and Miyuki Miyabe's Shadow Family; and author of Seeing Kyoto

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, poet, essayist, and associate professor at a national university in Japan, whose work has been featured in New American Writing, ACM, Aught, How2, Tinfish, One Less, Moria, Milk, Free Verse, and others

Suzanne Kamata, editor of The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan and the journal Yomimono; author of River of Dolls; and writer of fiction and nonfiction appearing in Poesie Yaponesia, The Utne Reader, Kyoto Journal, and Calyx

Tracy Slater, Four Stories founder, teacher of writing and literature in Boston University's Prison Education Program, and author of essays from The Chronicle Review, Post Road, and Kansai Time Out

Plus music, food, and drinks from Savannah, Osaka's hottest jazz bistro, "where the Deep South meets the Far East."

Hope to see all our Japan friends there.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Dream Houses

I had my freshman students write about their dream houses. Not surprisingly, in this cramped country, most of them wrote of big houses with big lawns and big TVs. A lot of them mentioned a view of the sea. A few mentioned traditional Japanese features like tatami mats and outdoor bathtubs. I was a bit surprised, however, that a number of them included accomodations for their parents. When I was eighteen, I did not dream of living with my parents forever. Going back to the dependence theme, I wonder if they are thinking their moms will do the cooking and cleaning, or if they are thinking that they will be taking care of their parents.

Monday, June 05, 2006


A terrible thing has happened. My mother-in-law, who until now has been very independent, tooling around the countryside in her little white car, totalled said automobile yesterday. She's fine, physically, but she endured quite a shock. So not only has she decided not to buy a new car, but also she is giving up driving. Oh. No.

My mother-in-law is one of those glass-is-half-empty people who thinks she will die soon, although she doesn't have any life-threatening illnesses, and who has been calling herself old for a long time even though she's still in her 60s. My grandparents enjoyed an active social life into their eighties. My 91-year-old grandfather (the only one left) just moved into a retirement complex (his choice), but he still drives a car, has a very sharp mind, and makes his own decisions.

Westerners, I think, tend to be loathe to give up personal freedom even when they are incapable of living alone, but Japanese, like my mother-in-law seem to embrace dependence.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Monkeys Turn Seven

A couple days ago my babies had another birthday. They are, of course, no longer babies,and if you're thinking that I'm yearning for the days when I could carry both of them without breaking my back,you're wrong. Back then they were itty bitty fragile things and we worried all the time about just keeping them alive. Look at them now!

They both requested a Conan cake. For those of you who don't know, Conan is a high school boy trapped in the body of a little boy, due to some spell enacted upon him. He's also a detective. It's not a great cake, but I did my best and the twins were very pleased.