Thursday, September 28, 2006


I've started sitting in on Lilia's math class once a week so I will know how she is learning and have a better idea of how to help her. Actually, all of the mothers are encouraged to do this. I may start sitting in on Japanese, as well, although my presence tends to be a distraction for Lilia. Anyway, here's what I learned in the last math class: in Japan, there is a right and a wrong way to write the plus sign. First, you write the horizontal line, then the vertical line. Now that's one thing I never would have known if I hadn't been sitting in.

In other news, today is my birthday. That means there will be no cooking - at least not by me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


D. is leaving. Next year, Lilia's clasmate D. will integrate into a regular public school. So while once there were six, in the spring, there will only be three - and one of them is autistic and doesn't spend much time with the others.

I am happy for D., and I think it's the right thing for him. He is bright and uses his cochlear implant well. He hardly uses sign language at all anymore, and speaks very intelligibly. Plus, he can read and he's good at art. One of his paintings won first prize a couple years back in a national competition of deaf school students. Of late, he has been show-offy and disruptive, writing math problems in kanji, for example. Clearly he needs more of a challenge. Some kids at his new school may wonder about his apparatus, and he may have a hard time keeping up with conversations, but I think he'll be fine.

I wish Lilia could integrate, too. In the past, I thought that the deaf school - a place where her first language, JSL, is the predominant form of communication - was the best place for her. Also, I would worry about bullies if she was in public school. But with everyone leaving, it just gets lonelier and lonelier. And while I don't want my daughter to be the sacrificial lamb, I don't think that Japanese people will learn to be truly accepting of the disabled unless they go to the same schools.

Unfortunately, I don't even think it's an option. D. is going to a school with a "deaf track," but the teacher who helps the deaf kids has no training in special education and doesn't know sign language. A principal at another school with a "deaf track" said that deaf children could only attend his school if they could communicate verbally.

For awhile, at least, Lilia will stay where she is.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Zip Zip My Brain Harts

My friend Sean introduced me to the work of South African photographer Angela Buckland . She is the mother of an undiagnosed disabled child and she takes up the subject of parenting disabled children in her photographs. The recently published Zip Zip My Brain Harts includes images from five different series. The first, Dysmorphic Series, deals with the frustration that Buckland felt as her child went through numerous inconclusive tests. Images of her son Nikki's skull are juxtaposed with those of his physical abnormalities. These photos are haunting and disturbing, but never freakish.

The second series, named Stickytape Juice Collection after the words of a cerebral palsied child with a love for language, are of clothing "lovingly" altered to accomodate and disguise a child's disabilities. These shots also raise conflicting feelings: is it better to try to hide a child's disability, or be frank about it and deal with the stares?

"Where's Nikki?" named after Buckland's son's tendency to run away, explores the stages that parents of disabled children are said to go through - shock, loss/grief, rage, confusion, relief, acceptance, and hope. My favorites of these are of Sibongile, a Zulu girl with cerebral palsy. Specifically, I love the one of her being carried by her caretaker aunt, piggyback style.

The photos in the final series, "Shadow Catching," are elusive, mysterious, and beautiful, as many disabled children are to their parents.

The accompanying text written by researchers of disability issues is worth reading, too. Although South Africa's cultural mix is different from that of Japan, these words from the introduction apply here as well:

"There is a tendency for disability in South Africa to be a secret. The challenges that face families of people with disability are also often hidden away. Part of the reason for this secrecy may be that disability is sometimes seen as a shame or a disgrace, something to hide away, a source of stigma. These reactions are rooted in the idea that disability is freakish or monstrous, an idea that continues to haunt the ways in which disability is seen, and to affect the experiences of disabled people and their families.

"But what if disability were considered ordinary or everyday? What would looking at disability be like then? What if disability were considered not so much as the sign of incontrovertible difference, but as just one among many differences that there are already between people?"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Yesterday my was son's first sports festival at his new school. I didn't know quite what to expect, or rather I didn't expect the right thing. I thought it would be like the sports festival at the deaf school where there were tents set up for spectators as well as students. I was wrong. We arrived later than everyone else to find that families had set up folding tables with parasols all around the field (dirt lot, rather), as if at a barbecue. All I'd brought were a couple of "sheets," squares of plastic, to lay on the dirt. My sister-in-law showed up with a couple more sheets, but we didn't have anything to shield ourselves from the sun.

My son arrived at school a couple of hours before the event began. I guess they had to do some last minute setting up because of the typhoon the day before. At any rate, when I arrived, he was sitting alone under the students' tent with a shippu (What do you call those things in English???) on his neck. Apparently he'd pulled a muscle and it hurt to run.

Although the teachers managed to convince Jio to participate in the relay and the pom pom dance, he sat out on a couple of other events. He was pretty miserable the whole time.

Meanwhile, Lilia wound up playing with the only other disabled kid at the gathering, a little boy with a stub where his left hand would have been. I was happy to discover that there was another disabled sibling.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I can't say that I approve of tying up one's eight-year-old son and kicking him in the head as a means of consciousness-raising, but the idea of disabled wrestling is interesting.

Friday, September 15, 2006

One Chrysanthemum

Joan Itoh Burk, who is a member of my online writing group, has just published her first novel. She'd written the novel before joining the group, so we can't take any credit for it, but we're very proud of her. Here's what I wrote in Eye-Ai magazine:

"Misako Imai has the gift of second sight – or maybe it’s a curse. At the beginning of Joan Itoh Burk’s astonishing debut novel, One Chrysanthemum, as the wind of a typhoon “dances a garbage can down a dark Tokyo street,” Imai has a vision of her husband with another woman. She realizes that he lied to her when he told her he would be staying late at the office on account of the weather. Another storm, a year before, churned up the bones of a young woman from the pond waters at a nearby museum. Misako’s grandfather, a Buddhist priest, has been keeping the bones in his temple, while he tries to figure out what to do with them. Throughout the following chapters, Burk expertly weaves Misako’s story with that of Kensho, a gangly mixed blood Buddhist priest interested in clairvoyance, and the mystery of the bones."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Eastern Hospitality

There is this thing that my mother-in-law does that drives me up the freakin' wall. Although we supposedly live in separate quarters and lead separate lives, whenever I have guests, she hustles over here with a tray of refreshments. I know she's just trying to maintain a certain standard of Japanese hospitality, but this bothers me for several reasons. One, is that I would like to offer hospitality to my guests in my own way. For example, as an American entertaining foreginers, I think it's more polite to ask my guests if they'd like something to drink, and then offer a selection. In my experience, my foregin friends answer honestly. When my parents are visiting, they are always getting irritated when unwanted drinks and snacks are foisted upon them.

Also, my mother-in-law's entrance always turns everything all formal. Everyone must start bowing and being gracious and speaking Japanese. I would like for my house to be a place where my foreign friends can relax. I would like to be able to relax.

Last night, Jio's friend's mother dropped by to pick up Jio for soccer. The deal is that I will watch her daughter while the boys are off playing sports. My friend and her kids and her male guest from Australia all came in for a moment while Jio changed his clothes. And then my mother-in-law appeared with her tray. I know she's just trying to be nice, but I felt so irritate with her.

We had a little chat today and I tried to explain all of the above, but I'm not sure how much I got through to her. She told me a story to demonstrate the importance of ningen kankei (human relations). She seems to have gotten the idea that Americans are all businesslike in their dealings with each other, but that's not what I meant to say. Also, she pointed out that there was a male guest and he must be given special treatment.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bonding for Beginners

My short story, "Bonding for Beginners," is now up at Tales for a Small Planet.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Frustration du Jour

Actually, there are many things that frustrate me on a daily basis, but what I thought about while driving my kids to school this morning was speech therapy.

Before summer vacation, Lilia's homeroom teacher asked me to consult with the speech therapist at Hinomine, the place where Lilia does PT and OT, about exercises that she could incorporate into the school day. Lilia's teacher has a degree in deaf education, but apparently doesn't know much about speech therapy.

Lilia had speech therapy once a week in kindergarten. Her teacher there wasn't a specialist either, but the exercises (blowing up balloons, etc.) seemed somewhat effective. Although now I'm wondering what kind of progress Lilia might have made had she had a highly qualified speech therapist.

Over the past years, teachers have blamed Lilia's lack of speech on me, for speaking English around the house; on her cerebral palsy (though her physical therapist says there's no problem with her mouth and she can eat just fine); and on her use of sign language. (Why bother to speak when you can sign?) The teacher she had for the first two years of kindergarten said she wasn't like normal deaf children, whatever that means.

At any rate, Lilia is a very vocal child and she has finally gotten to the point where she can utter two syllables in one breath and can make all the vowel sounds. I believe she can do better.

So I asked the speech therapist at Hinomine to suggest some exercises, etc. He said that he would need some time to assess her. Over the next month, I brought her once a week to him after four hours of school and before two hours of OT and PT. It became clear, pretty quickly, that he couldn't engage her/control her. Lilia is a very willfull child. She tends to tune out or try to escape when she finds something too difficult.

After a month, the speech therapist announced that he couldn't do anything with her, and that she'd be better off in a group setting where other children would motivate her. And by the way, there is no group speech therapy at Hinomine.

So back to square one.


I tend to enjoy movies featuring characters who are writers. "Always" ("San Chome no Yu Hi" in Japanese), which Yoshi and I watched last night, featured two scribes. The first one, Chagawa, lives behind a candy store in a 1958 Tokyo neighborhood. He is, as he drunkenly reminds his neighbors at the corner bar, a one-time finalist for the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. He's also a graduate of Tokyo University, but his neighbors, including the guy who owns the auto repair shop across the way, call him a "literary has been" and tease him about the rejections of his stories that come in the mail.

Chagawa actually does make a living at writing boy's adventure stories. In his own eyes, he's a hack, but then one night, while drunk at the corner bar, he becomes guardian of an abandoned child. As it turns out, this boy, Junnosuke, is an avid reader of Boy's Adventure Stories, and a big fan of Chagawa himself. Suddenly, the writer finds himself idolized.

The second writer in the film is ten-year-old Junnosuke, who is taunted by the neighborhood kids at first, but then wins their admiration and friendship through the adventure stories that he writes.

The stories of these two are woven with those of others in the neighborhood. It's a feel-good flick, offering a slice of life in post-WWII Japan, when the country was just starting to pull itself up by its bootstraps, and the Tokyo Tower, then under contruction, was a symbol of hope. This film was very popular in Japan. It made me laugh, it made me cry. Trust me: you'll like it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's a Boy!

Okay, so you already know that Kiko-sama gave birth to a boy. Arcane and annoying though the rules about ascendancy may be, I'm feeling happy for Princess Aiko, whose future suddenly became wide open. Now she can marry a salaryman and become a housewife, if she likes, as did Aunt (the former Princess) Nori. Or she might be able to go to Harvard and become a diplomat like her mom. And maybe now everyone will get off Princess Masako's back and she can forget about trying to produce an heir. Hopefully she'll have a chance to become well.

I fear things may get more difficult for Princess Kiko, though. Although the wife of the second son doesn't have to put up with the same lofty expectations that wives of eldest sons do, it probably makes a difference when you're mom to the third to the throne.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Win a Free Book!

If you have a kid in the house who likes to read, he/she can win a free book (featuring my story "The Diver") from Blooming Tree Press. All your child has to do is write a short essay (even a paragraph) on "What I Did on my Summer Vacation" and send it to Winners will get a copy of the anthology Summer Shorts, which is a collection of short stories about summer. The winning entries will also be read at the book launch party. Apparently this is open to kids anywhere in the world. For more details, have a look at editor Madeline Smoot's blog.

First Grade Math

All summer long, I was obsessing about Lilia and math. Her teacher gave her something like 30 pages of problems - numbers, numbers, numbers - to do during the month of August. Also, she had two sets of flashcards that she was supposed to memorize. Things started out well. She did two pages of math each of the first few days. Then it went down to one page, then a quarter of a page. Nothing seemed to stick in her brain. Every time she saw 1 + 2, she counted on her fingers. I started getting frustrated. Lilia started getting frustrated. She'd throw the flashcards across the room; she'd crumple up the pages of problems.

Last week, at the center where she has therapy, I asked the doctor if there might be some problem with her memory. He said, "Oh, yes, she's mentally handicapped." The doctor there doesn't really know her. He knows she has cerebral palsy, but he doesn't know her. Her occupational therapist suggested that maybe she was more of a right brain person. She likes drawing and when she builds things out of blocks her contructions are always three-dimensional. Y.'s mother suggested that maybe Lilia would learn better using another method.

So finally, I suggested to her teacher that the math was too hard for Lilia. The woman looked perplexed. Yesterday, Lilia did her math homework all by herself and got everything right. Her teacher said she understood everything today, as well. So maybe it's just that memorizing flash cards doesn't interest her at the moment.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Marquis of Mooikloof

Finally the kids are back in school, and none too soon as it was getting harder and harder to make Lilia do her homework. Finally, I'm getting a little time to myself to catch up on editing and writing and friends. A couple of days ago I had coffee at Tully's with the South African writer Sean O'Toole, who gave me a signed copy of his recently published short story collection, The Marquis of Mooikloof.

Before he became Sean O'Toole, Award-winning Writer, he was an assistant English teacher in Tokushima, on the same government-sponsored program that first brought me to Japan. I met him when we both participated in my friend Andy's writing workshop. I'd published quite a few stories already by then, so I offered to help him find markets for his work, and I even published one of his stories in my literary journal, Yomimono. He came over to my house one day and let my kids crawl all over him while I introduced him to the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market.Now he's famous, in certain circles, at least, in South Africa.

Way to go, Sean!