Everyone Has Gone Home

Everyone has now gone home. I had to get up at 4am to get Mum, Ray, and Silver to the airport, and then come back here to get Dad and Joy on the train to the airport, so I’m quite tired. However, everything went really well, and I plan to do a diary entry with pictures in the next couple of days. Of course, I didn’t get much work done last week either, so I’m going to be busy this week. I think it’s called “life”.

Busy Week

Mayuki’s Hatsumiyamairi (the Japanese equivalent of a christening; more when it’s happened) is this weekend, so large portions of family are arriving in Japan to attend. So, last week I was trying to get work cleared ready for the invasion, and this week I’m coping with the invasion. Mayuki is fine, as are we, but I’ve not got much blog time right now.

Waiting for Wolves in Japan

This is a very interesting book, concerned with attitudes to wildlife in the mountain villages of a small region in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. It’s more interesting than that makes it sound, because that draws in attitudes to nature more generally from all across Japan, although the focus is on the one small region where the author did fieldwork.

Throughout the book, he considers the perspectives of three groups; farmers, foresters, and hunters. However, he makes it clear that a large number of people belong to more than one of these groups, because it is very hard to make a living doing any one of them exclusively. Indeed, many residents of the villages have other sources of income as well. The central focus of local attitudes is the damage that wild animals do.

After an introductory chapter explaining the basic situation in Japanese mountain villages, the following chapters consider one type of animal each: Wild Boar, Monkeys, Deer and Serow, Bear, and, finally, Wolves. Wolves stand out because they are generally believed to be extinct in Japan, although there are a few who believe that they are still there in the deep mountains, and the debate is largely about re-introducing them.

None of the animals are subjects of pure hostility, although the damage they do to crops and tree plantations is enough to inspire farmers and foresters to commission hunters to employ lethal force. There is still a recognition that post-war forestry policies have left the animals with little choice about where to get their food, and the declining and aging population of the villages means that it is increasingly difficult to simply scare the animals away.

The clearest message that came from the book was that the rural areas of Japan need a new approach. Since no Agriculture and Forestry Minister has lasted longer than a couple of months this year (one suicide, two resignations, and one who lost his job when the Prime Minister who appointed him resigned), it seems rather unlikely that any leadership will come from the centre. This may be all to the good; it seems that the people living in the mountains believe that the people living in the cities neither understand nor care about their problems, so it is probably better for them to change things for themselves.

The problem with local change is that, when half of the village population is over 60, there isn’t a great deal of surplus energy, and the villages tend to be poor. Since an effective policy is likely to involve tranforming the forests on the mountains, among other things, it’s something that needs long-term commitment, substantial resources, and a lot of energy.

It seems quite possible that people will simply cease living in the mountains of Japan. There are already a number of villages that are completely abandoned, given back to the wild. I’ve seen a couple of documentaries visiting them, and they’re rather eerie. There were no disasters; everyone simply left, when the local authorities could no longer afford to maintain basic services, or when there was no-one else willing to live there. I’m not at all convinced that this is a good trend; the cities are already very crowded. But the imagination and leadership necessary to reclaim the mountains, and create a way of life in which both people and animals can survive, seems to be almost completely lacking.

One Month Checkup

Today was Mayuki’s one month check-up. She’s fine.

Right, well that’s that, then.

OK, a bit more detail, although there really isn’t a lot more to it. I had an interview with a potential new student immediately beforehand, so I had to go straight to the clinic from Mizonokuchi. Fortunately, I made it in time, arriving a couple of minutes before Yuriko arrived with Mayuki. She’d put her in the push chair to take her over, so today was the first proper use of the push chair. Mayuki had also got a bit cold, so we’ll have to look into wrapping her up more when we take her out next.

Both Yuriko and Mayuki had check-ups, and most of Mayuki’s checks happened while she was taken off into the back of the clinic. We could hear her crying; I don’t think she appreciated the importance of the event. However, we were pretty soon in again for consulation, and I got to hold her. That was when we were told there were no problems. Her weight is still on the low side, but it’s right at the bottom of the normal curve. Obviously, that’s OK, because it’s on the normal curve. We just have to make sure it doesn’t go down. (Or, rather, keeps going up at the standard rate.)

The only other thing was that Mayuki’s spots are due to insufficient washing, so I’ll have to start scrubbing a bit harder in her bath. Well, now I know I’m supposed to, that’s not too hard.

So, mother and baby are doing fine.

Shadowrun, Fourth Edition

Shadowrun is a cyberpunk roleplaying game with elves and magic. It’s set in, in this edition, 2070, after magic returned to the world in 2012, awakening dragons, elves, dwarfs, orks, trolls, and magic. The player characters are freelance criminals who do dubious work for corporations. Although, since large corporations are effectively countries, they might better be described as freelance secret agents. The ethical background of the player characters is, to say the least, rather dubious. Despite this, it’s a game that I’ve liked since the first edition, and I have the rule books for all four editions, along with some supplements. I’ve even managed to play it, once, which is more than can be said for a lot of the games I have on my shelves.

Compared to the previous editions, I think that the fourth is an improvement. The rules have been simplified and streamlined, making it look a lot easier to run. At a glance, the general balance of the systems also looks good. By far the largest apparent improvement, however, is the better integration of deckers into the game. Deckers are the characters who deal with computer matrix, and in previous editions they would always have little solo adventures without the other player characters, and then have nothing to do while the others did their thing. That’s bad game design.

The new edition makes use of wireless networking to bring the deckers along, although, as they no longer have cyberdecks, they are now called hackers. Most of the time, a hacker is only partially in the matrix (Shadowrun has called its virtual world the matrix since long before the film came out, but it never seemed to run into a trademark clash), and thus can participate in actions in the real world as well. He can become fully immersed, but this is set up as being something that he does briefly, before rejoining the real world and moving on.

That’s the biggest difference. Shadowrun has a metaplot, which means that the background has moved on since I last looked, but it’s still recognisably the same world. It still feels like Shadowrun, and I still like it. I’m really not at all sure why, though. Some sort of atavism, perhaps, and the same reason that pirates are popular. Shadowrunners are a lot like pirates, after all, in that they kill and steal for a living, but still manage to be somehow heroic. When I played, I think my character was rather less violent than the setting assumed…

Still, it’s well put together, and I like it. Another recommended game.

Better Not Die, Then…

Today, I got a letter from the life insurance company saying that they wouldn’t insure me. I didn’t know I was that sick. Actually, I suspect I’m not, but the combination of asthma, slightly high cholesterol a year ago, and non-Japanese may have put them off. This means that I can’t get really useful life insurance, because that product was the only one that I could both afford and that would actually cover Yuriko and Mayuki. We’ll have to have a look again at various products, but I suspect that the answers are likely to be the same.

So, I’d better make sure I don’t die.

In better news, one of my students today told me that Mayuki’s name was nice. “It sounds very natural, but it’s rare. I’ve never heard it.” This was exactly the effect we were aiming for, so it’s satisfying to hear that we succeeded. Another student has told me that the meaning is good, too, which is something else we put a lot of thought into.

Mayuki is still being good, and work is still going well, so all in all life is not at all bad at the moment. Just as long as I hold on to it.

Atheism and Agnosticism

Recently, atheism has become a a major topic of discussion. One of the most notable proponents is Richard Dawkins, professor of zoology and originally author of The Selfish Gene (which is, incidentally, a very good book). The debate has even made it into the Guardian with some frequency. All this attention to the topic makes me want to write my own blog article about where I stand, because my position is a little complex.

I’m only going to attempt to explain my position, not convince anyone else; I won’t be providing all of the evidence for my assertions. Since I suspect it will get quite long, I’ll also hide most of it from the front page.
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Mayuki is a Good Girl

So, one reason why I’ve not been posting much about Mayuki is that she’s been good. Sleeping, particularly at night, drinking milk, using nappies, and waving her arms and legs around in a generally uncoordinated fashion. Pretty good for a baby of her age, really.

She’s also been cooperative with my teaching; she’s been quiet while my students have been here. This may be just coincidence, but she kept it up for a whole week, so there’s a good chance that she is, at least at the moment, basically quiet enough for me to continue doing lessons here. Alternative strategies may become necessary in a year or so, of course.

So, no news, and that’s good news, because everything is going well.

Growing Bigger

Oops, I seem to have skipped a few days there.

We went back to the clinic on Monday to have Mayuki looked at, and she now seems to be putting on weight at an acceptable rate. We’ve increased the amount of formula she’s getting in addition to breast milk, because she’s still a bit behind where she should be. However, the nurses seemed to think that she would be able to catch up over the next couple of weeks, which is good.

She’s being a really remarkably good baby, all told. She doesn’t cry much, she basically sleeps quietly between about midnight and eight am (admittedly with wakes for feeding, but she’s quiet then and goes back to sleep quickly), and doesn’t complain at all about her bath. In fact, I think she slept through it a couple of days ago. Even more important, yesterday I had my first English lesson since she was born, and she was good and quiet all the way through.

I don’t imagine that we’re going to be that lucky all the time, but overall I think there’s a good chance, at least at the moment, of her being quiet most of the time I’m teaching, which is a relief. I rather need to be doing that, and teaching away from home is, in general, inconvenient. On the days when I have several consecutive lessons, it’s pretty much impossible.

Other than that, things have been going pretty well, settling into something of a routine. The Shinto course I’m taking started again today after the summer holidays, so I was able to go to that; it was interesting, but confirmed that I still have trouble following jokes told as muttered, fast side comments during an academic lecture. I followed just about all of the actual content, though.

If life continues in this general pattern, it looks perfectly manageable.