Friday, July 28, 2006

Believe in the Dream

What's worse, do you think? To be ahead the whole game and then lose 11-10 at the bottom of the 10th inning (like Yoshi's team two years ago), or to be behind so far early on that you know by the sixth inning that the game is forever out of reach?

Things didn't go well today. Kita High School's players were tired after yesterday's game, it was hot (over 30 degrees centigrade), they were nervous. They made lots of mistakes while Tokushima Shogyo's team made very few. Tokusho was cool, poised. They showed a sense of entitlement. Their school makes it to Koshien all the time. The Kita Ko players didn't play as if they thought they deserved to be there, although they did.

I propose a new logo for their next towel. Instead of "Reach for the Dream," which implies a goal just out of one's grasp, I think they should change it to "Believe in the Dream." Clearly, Yoshi is a great coach, to have built this team from literally nothing and brought it to the finals two of the past three years, and his players have shown in past games that they are very talented.

The only good thing about the loss is that I won't have to feel guilty about our trip to the States. It would have been a dilemma if I had to choose between watching my husband's team at Koshien and visiting my family.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Baseball Diaries III

Today's game was at 10AM. I watched most of it, up till Yoshi's team fell behind by one run in the seventh inning with only one out, and then it was time to take Lilia to therapy (speech, physical, occupational). It takes about an hour to get to the therapy center from our house, so I figured it was over by the time we got there. One of the therapists checked the results on her cell phone and told me that Tokushima Kita High School had won with a score of 8-5. Hooray, hooray! The final game is tomorrow. Let's reach for the dream everyone!

As a postscript to "American Boy"...

Today, after therapy, I told the doctor on call that we wouldn't be around for awhile because I'm going back to America. I said, "Amerika ni kaeru." Jio, who went along today, was very distressed by my words. I guess to him it sounded like I would be returning to my country for good. Jio doesn't "go back" to America. He just goes. He doesn't even want to live there, although he enjoys occasional visits. He said, "Don't say 'kaeru.' Say 'Amerika ni ikimasu.'" Okay, so next week we're going to the United States.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sometimes My Daughter Makes Me Tired

So this afternoon I left the twins alone in the living room for a few minutes and then my mother-in-law called up to me. I went downstairs to see what was up and found Lilia with a hammer and nails, about to put up a picture that she had just colored! It was good that my mother-in-law had chosen that moment to pop in. Otherwise we'd have a hole in our less-than-a-year-old wallpaper.

Last week, I came upstairs for maybe five minutes. I heard the sliding glass door open downstairs, so I knew Lilia had gone out on the deck. I ran down to find her outside, completely naked, and covered with fingerpaint!!! The deck was slimed with fingerpaint as well - huge mess. She looked up at me and signed that she wanted a piece of paper!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

American Boy

Yesterday was my son's last day of school. Apparently they had a big cleaning session and a ceremony. The teachers also passed out report cards and homework. Jio brought home a little book about himself that he made in English class. On one page, he had to write where he was from. He wrote "I am from America." Well, he was born in Japan and has never actually lived in the United States, so this was very surprising to me. The last time we were in South Carolina, he identified heavily as Japanese. I'm glad he's embracing his American side, but I hope it doesn't mean he's feeling alienated. Tonight he told me that some second grade girl at school called him "Gaikoku-kun," which means "Mr. Foreigner." We had a long talk and I hope I said the right things. He doesn't often bring up stuff like that, and I think it's extremely important to keep the channels of communication open.

Baseball Diaries II

Yoshi was kind of worried about yesterday's pitcher, a talented, but immature second year student. I knew everything would be okay, though, when I saw that the other coach was using the same pitcher as the day before. The kid was obviously tired. He pitched well on Sunday, in the rain no less, but he gave up five runs in the first three innings. Yoshi's team, Tokushima Kita High School, wound up winning 10-3. The game was called in the 7th inning due to the slaughter rule.

I didn't get to watch all of today's game because I had to go give my third year college students their final exam. (There were a lot of students who spelled "tangerine" correctly today, so I was very happy.) The score was 4-3 when I left the house. When I got to my classroom, one of my students, a baseball player, checked on his computer and found that the score was 8-7 in favor of Kita High School in the 8th inning. He checked again after he finished his exam and found that they had won.

On to the semifinals!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Baseball Diaries

Which is worse, I wonder - playing baseball under the hot sun when it's 80-90 degrees out, or playing in the pouring rain? Today was Yoshi's team's second tournament game. It started raining in the second or third inning, but apparently once you get started you can't quit. There were a couple of rain delays, but the ground was getting muddier and muddier, and I suppose those players were getting soppier and soppier. When the score was tied in the fifth inning, the officials finally gave it up. The Japanese term for this is "No Game." Those four hours in the rain were for naught. They have to play the whole thing again, from the first inning, tomorrow.

On a side note, I had something to do with the slogan printed on the official Kita High School towels. The parents or players or whoever had decided to jettison the previous slogan I came up with - "Reach for the Dream" (ripped off from the Olympic theme song a few years back)and replace it with "Let Our Dream Come True."

"No way," I said. "Too passive. This is a baseball team!" I revised it to "Let's Make Our Dream Come True." Still sappy and cliched, I know, but they went with it.

In case you don't know what "the dream" is, I'll tell you. Every high school baseball player in Japan dreams of getting to the Koshien stadium in Osaka for the national tournament. Nothing else really matters.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I know you're not supposed to bribe your children, or at least that's what the so-called experts say these days, but how else do you expect me to get Lilia to do her homework? Yesterday I told her I'd take her to the video store if she'd do all of her homework in the morning and fold the laundry. She balked at first, shaking her head and tossing the prints, but she finally buckled down and did most of it. She wanted to leave half of the math for tomorrow. Ha! I showed her all the homework she had yet to do. This morning I told her that she couldn't go into the wading pool until she'd done her math. She and Jio both are struggling with basic arithmetic, which puzzles me, because I read somewhere that learning a second language early makes math easier.

I let Jio and Lilia watch as much TV as they wanted today so that I could read The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo by Peter Orner, about a volunteer from Cincinnati who goes to teach at an isolated school in Namibia and falls in love with a fallen (in the moral sense) former soldier. So there is the African setting, which interests me, and the teaching aspect, which reminds me of myself, getting off the plane in Tokyo at the age of 22 with no experience to speak of. But beyond that, this book is very funny and the characters are completely real.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer Vacation

Today was the first day of Lilia's summer vacation. Yesterday at school, her teacher explained her homework to me. She has to do about two Japanese prints per day (hiragana writing practice and vocabulary), and two math prints. She also has to write nine pages of her diary, keep track of the books she reads, water her morning glory every day, help fold the laundry every day, and make a piggybank. Oh, and we had to decide what time Lilia would wake up and go to bed during summer vacation.

I can't wait to see what Jio's homework is.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Jio's entire school was supposed to go to YMCA overnight camp today. Proscrastinator that I am, I didn't start preparing the required stuff until yesterday after school. He needed a pair of shoes for playing in/near the water, which he didn't have, so after dinner I packed the twins in the car and went to the mall. I was exhausted, by the way, 'cause I only got about 6 hours' sleep the night before and I'd spent the day in the city. So we bought the shoes, came home, and then I realized we didn't have a decent marker for writing Jio's name on everything. Lilia fell asleep doing homework. Everything was late, everyone was tired. Yoshi volunteered to go the store and buy a marker. I think he'd finished writing Jio's name on everything by the time the phone rang at 10PM. It was Jio's teacher saying that camp had been cancelled due to heavy rain forecast for today.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Final Exam

Today I administered my first ever final exam. I never told my college students that they were my first ever college students and that I was basically making it up as I went along, and they don't know that today's test was my first. Until now, my teaching in this country has been more of a diversion from the usual curriculm. Now that I can decide grades, I feel very empowered.

Aside from all that, I'm hoping that they learned a little bit. They obviously didn't study for the test. I told them two weeks ago that I was going to give them a dictation and I even told them what the dictation would be, but no one got it right.

After my classes, I went to pick up Jio. I could tell, as soon as I got out of the car, that the high school baseball team had lost its second game in the summer tournament. There were a bunch of parents standing around, very still and quiet. This school is a baseball powerhouse. They usually make it to the final rounds. It's a bit of a relief to have them out of the way.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Game #1

One good thing about living here in my mother-in-law's house is that we can now watch the high school baseball tournament on local access cable TV. So while the twins were splashing around in the wading pool just outside the sliding glass doors, I stayed in the cool, comfortable living room and watched Yoshi's first game of the summer tournament.

The opposing pitcher had trouble from the get-go. In the first inning - maybe it was even the first batter - he walked a guy, then he hit another batter with a pitch that was a little too inside. I felt kind of sorry for him and the rest of his teammates. Yoshi's team started getting run after run. It must have been ninety degrees out there, and those other kids looked miserable.

The power went out in the neighborhood during the fourth inning. When it came back on, it was the fifth inning and the score was 11-1. The game was called, putting the other team out of their misery. I don't even think they cried. I reckon they just wanted to go home.

Anyway, Yoshi's team got its first victory and a big photo in today's newspaper. The next game is Friday. Lose once, and it's all over.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Summer Shorts

You can now pre-order the Summer Shorts anthology, featuring my adventure story "The Diver," which was inspired by a true-life girl wreck diver on the Great Lakes. The book is now at the printer's, but order it now and you and/or your kid can dig into it during the last month of summer vacation. (Here in Japan, school is still in session! Summer vacation doesn't start till next Thursday!)

The Forgotten Orchestra

This morning I went to see "Bart no Gakuen," the new movie about the WWI era POW camp in Naruto, where I lived for two years. It was me, and a bunch of elderly people. I thought of my university students who live and learn near where the story takes place and where famous movie stars made the film. They were profoundly disinterested when I tried to talk to them about it. They all want to see "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Anyway, I visited the set last month and wrote about it for Eye-Ai magazine. I was really looking forward to seeing the movie, even though I knew it would be entirely in Japanese and German.

During WWI, German soldiers taken prisoner in China were shipped to Japan. About 1,000 wound up at the Bando camp in Naruto, which was run in highly humane fashion by Colonel Matsue Toyohisa. The prisoners were allowed to bake bread, brew beer, publish newspapers and books, put on puppet shows, teach music to the locals, and otherwise entertain themselves. The director got a lot of flack for being so nice, but everything was under control. (A lesson for modern times?)

In the on-screen story, a German-Japanese love child comes looking for her papa. The colonel takes the poor kid in, even though his manservant hates Germans and refuses to do anything for her. I'd imagine that this storyline was invented for cinema, but this fit into the movie's theme of tolerance.

There were a lot of really nice, understated moments including the scene where Colonel Matsue (played by Ken Matsudaira) wobbles along on his bicycle. And of course, all of Tokushima's trademark features appeared - a vat of indigo dye, Awa Odori dancers, pilgrims dressed in white, the whirlpools in the straits of Naruto.

It was gorgeously filmed, the story was moving and interesting, and the performances top knotch. I think this movie deserves a wide international audience.

As a side note, I thought the timing of the film was sort of interesting. We were reminded of how humane the Japanese Army can be, just as there is talk of launching a pre-emptive attack on North Korea.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Literary Mama

I recently became co-fiction editor, along with Susan Ito, of the fabulous on-line journal Literary Mama. Our first selections will be posted later today. Be sure to check out "Sluggers," by Susan O'Doherty, which first attracted me, in part, because of the baseball. (We're all about baseball in this house, especially now as my husband, a.k.a. The Coach, gears up for the annual summer high school tournament.) Also, readers of this blog may find "Pointed Lessons," by Tania Strelkoff, of interest, as it concerns an expatriate mother in Italy. And finally, please read "Plumbing Problems: A Love Story," Annie Kasoff's wonderful contribution about a single mother trying to connect with her teen-aged son.

You writers out there should know that we are always on the look-out for outstanding short stories and novel excerpts by mothers on mothering. Check out the guidelines on the website.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Yesterday was Tanabata, the one day of the year that the lovers the Weaver Star and Herder Star can meet in the sky. Children - and adults - all over Japan write wishes on rectangles of paper (tanzaku) and hang them on young bamboo trees. If the sky is clear and the lovers can meet, the wishes will come true.

Lsat year, Jio wrote, very sweetly, that he hopes to become a baseball player on his father's high school team. This year, to my dismay, he wrote that he wants to become rich. When did my sweet little boy become materialistic?? I guess I should stop saying that we can't afford this and that, and his father should stop going on about how poor we are. And we can talk about how rich we are in other areas. We can enjoy the cultures of two countries!

Lilia wrote that she wants to learn lots of sign language and finish her school lunch faster. Her teacher suggested these things, and she liked the idea. She's very social, so it sounds like she does more "talking" than eating.

At any rate, it was cloudy last night, so Jio shouldn't be expecting his bank account to fill up any time soon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dirt Cheap

This morning I was sitting in Tully's coffee shop in central Tokushima with tears in my eyes as I finished Lyn Miller-Lachmann's eco-thriller Dirt Cheap. For the past few days, I've been heavily absorbed in the story of community college teacher Nicholas Baran, as he fights to uncover the dirty secrets in his upscale neighborhood. See, all those great houses were built on a landfill of toxic waste and that's why lots of people have been getting cancer, including Nick, who is racing to expose the company responsible for his demise. Of course, not everyone in the neighborhood is on his side. If word gets out, property values will plunge.

For those who know him, Nick can be exasperating in his singlemindedness. Also, he doesn't pay enough attention to his wife, he steals rubber gloves from his doctor's office, he lies and burps, but all these foibles just make him more human. We root for him every step of the way.

Miller-Lachmann has created a cast of wonderfully complex characters, including Nick, his wife Holly, his bullied son Tony, and Tony's teacher, the young and idealistic Sandy Katz. She has woven their lives tightly together in this compelling - and important - story.

Rude Kid

Remember a few weeks ago when I got all worked up over those girls who were calling my daughter "scary"? Well, today my daughter did the same kind of thing to someone else. We were at therapy, and this kid - who we actually see a lot - came in, and Lilia pointed at the kid and signed "fushigi," which means, in this case, "strange." I'm not sure what the deal is with the boy's legs, but he gets around by bouncing on his bottom. His feet are sort of backwards and his legs are always straight and he can get himself up onto a table in this smooth acrobatic gesture. Anyway, I was so embarrassed to have my daughter pointing at this kid. I was relieved that probably no one else knew what she was signing.

I think that Lilia is sometimes a little frightened or alarmed or at least intrigued by some of the develomentally disabled adults she sees there. Sometimes their behavior is a little unpredictable. Once, an adult male rolled himself into her Occupational Therapy session. But although she may find them to be "fushigi," I want her to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Four Stories - Osaka

Yesterday afternoon I left my tearful son and cheerful daugther with their grandmother and took the bus to Osaka. I was there to participate in the Osaka debut of the successful Boston reading series Four Stories. The event was held at the Savannah Bar & Grill at the heart of Shinsaibashi (not too far from where I once went to see Hootie & the Blowfish perform). The a/c was out, but they had a lot of fans blowing so it was fine.

We pulled in a crowd of about 40-50 expatriates with a love of literature, including a couple of editors I'd worked with before but never met. I actually invited Ken Rodgers, managing editor of the consistently stunning Kyoto Journal to sit at my table, though I was a little intimidated by him. He has rejected more of my stuff than he has published, but he seemed pleased to meet me and asked me to him KJ in mind for future submissions. So that was cool.

Part of the attraction of reading in a watering hole was that I would be able to loosen up with a drink beforehand. Unfortunately, I found out that I was reading right away, before I even had time to order a glass of wine. I was a bit nervous, and my legs were shaking a little, but everyone listened raptly and laughed in the right places.

It was fun to bask in the limelight for awhile. Today I came back on the bus, to my usual life, where I am the loser mom who's always forgetting to pack her kid's pocket tissues or whatever.