Superbaby

Mayuki is clearly the most brilliantest baby in the whole wide world ever. Why, only this evening I spent about five minutes discussing world politics with her, and she contributed fully to the conversation.

“So, what do you think about the Annapolis summit?”

“Aaaaaooogugugu.”

“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think. Abbas still has some authority to negotiate for the Palestinians.”

“Ehhhhh-ba.”

“Well, you might be right. So what should we do next?”

“Aaaaooooaaaaoooaaaaooobaaaaaa!”

The important point is that she takes her turns properly. She waits until I finish speaking before making her contribution, and then stops and waits for me to speak. Also, over the last couple of days, she’s become more responsive if I talk to her properly rather than imitate her noises. She also does try to imitate sounds I make, but she’s still not very good at it. Practice makes perfect, though.

In addition, last night she managed to roll halfway over after her bath, and she’s pretty much holding her head up properly. Not quite if you pick her up from lying down, but once she’s vertical she can support it and look around perfectly well.

I had a look in the Paranoid Parents’ Primer with Yuriko this evening, and it looks like she’s right on schedule. Of the list of things she should be doing by four months, she’s doing all but a couple; she’s not very active at reaching out to grab things with her hands yet, although she has started trying to suck them. Given that she’s still got about six weeks to go, I’m reasonably confident that she’ll complete the list by then. She’s also getting close to sleeping through the night, which is also, apparently, something that she should be doing from about three months. (Although not all babies do that. As I have been reliably informed on many, many, many occasions.)

And she’s very clearly smiling at us, lots.

The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy

Another fairly self-explanatory title… The series of Cambridge Companions aim to provide a range of scholarly essays on a topic or philosopher, to help advanced students to get to grips with them. Thus, they are introductory from one perspective, but very far from superficial, which makes them an interesting read.

One interesting thing about this book was the number of important medieval Jewish philosophers I’d never heard of. Given that I’ve studied medieval philosophy in some detail, that was a little surprising; not even the names had come up with any frequency. Of course, there were some, Maimonides and Gersonides, most notably, of whom I had heard; I’ve even read Maimonides. One question running through the book is the degree to which Jewish philosophers engaged with Christian and Islamic philosophers in the period, and vice versa, and in many cases the evidence for engagement seems fairly slender. Maimonides and Gersonides are exceptions, which might well be why they were the two I’d heard of; I’ve tended to approach medieval philosophy from the Christian direction.

Another interesting point was the discussion of Judah Halevi, an early twelfth century philosopher who wrote a book known as the Kuzari, dramatising the conversion of the Kazars to Judaism. In this text, he apparently argued that the Jews were racially superior to all other people, and that only Jews could ever be truly virtuous. Conversion was not an option; you had to be a genuine blood descendant of Israel. It’s the first time I’ve come across clear ideas of racial supremacy in a medieval context; the Christians were big on ideological and religious supremacy, but don’t seem to have cared very much about races. Jews (or Muslims) who converted to Christianity were just as good as those who were born that way. Of course, Halevi may have been isolated; certainly, Maimonides seems to have been much less racist. But it was still something of a shock to come across such a pure form of racial supremacy in a medieval text. It’s also something of a shock to come across Jews being racist; they are normally the victims of prejudice in the period. (Not just in the medieval period, either, of course.)

The book also discusses the origins of Kabbalah, albeit somewhat indirectly. Kabbalah tended to be mystical rather than philosophical, and some of its practitioners were opposed to philosophy. Similarly, there was a strong current of medieval Jewish philosophy that thought Kabbalah was a load of rubbish. However, there was also a group, quite important in some areas, that combined Kabbalah and philosophy, generally in a Platonic way. They influenced some Christians who were important in the Renaissance, such as Pico della Mirandola, and that seems to be how Kabbalah broke out of the Judaism and found its way into the mainstream of European occultism.

The book covered far more than I’ve mentioned here, and I now feel like I have a much better grip on what was happening in Jewish philosophy in the period, which should help when it comes to studying Christian philosophy from the same era. It’s rather specialist, but I think it’s a good book.

Showa Memorial Park

The main topic of this blog will be today’s little trip out, but before we get on to that I’ll fill in yesterday. As regular readers of this blog will doubtless remember, a few months I rented a storage room near our flat. We’ve been transferring big empty boxes and the like over there, but my transfer of books was going very slowly; yesterday morning I still had twelve storage boxes full in the cupboard in my office.

So, yesterday I sorted them out a bit, and took many, many loads of books to the storage room, filling two and a half boxes over there. It took the whole afternoon, but I think I made good progress.

Of course, there are still twelve full storage boxes in the cupboard in the office. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

Anyway, it’s leaf-change time now, so today we planned a family trip to Showa Memorial Park to see the red and yellow leaves. The park is within Tokyo Prefecture, but a bit north of the main city, and at slightly higher elevation, so the leaves were in their full glory. Even better, today’s weather was absolutely perfect for a visit to a park. It’s been cold the last couple of days, but today was quite warm, with a few thin clouds to moderate the sun, and almost no wind.

The original plan was to leave the house at about 10am, so just before noon we made it out of the front door. We made it as far as the entrance lobby before being intercepted by the caretaker, who wanted to fuss over Mayuki and tell us that she is really cute.

Anyway, we finally made it onto the bus, and we went up to Noborito, to get the train up to Tachikawa, which is the nearest station to the park. You could go from Mizonokuchi, but Noborito is closer to the park, and about the same distance from us. On the bus, Mayuki started crying, but with a couple of months’ experience behind us we worked out that she was tired and fussing because she wanted to go to sleep. And, indeed, very soon after we got off the bus, she was asleep, and we put her in the push chair.

Tachikawa is the last stop on the Nanbu line, and a bit less than half an hour from Noborito. From there, the entrance to the park is about a ten minute walk. All told, it takes less than an hour and half from our door to the park, and costs about 1000 yen return, each (Mayuki is still free). Park admission is 400 yen, so it’s a very reasonable little trip.

And the park is enormous. OK, we aren’t talking “Lake District National Park” size, but for a fully managed park, it’s pretty big. It has a lot of trees; the Showa Emperor is best remembered in Japan for his love of plants, particularly trees, which is why he is remembered in a park. He’s best remembered in the West as Emperor Hirohito, so it is perhaps appropriate that the park used to be a military airbase.

The park has a number of areas, including long avenues of trees that were in glorious yellow leaf today. After walking through those, Yuriko and I had lunch at a restaurant/cafe; Mayuki was still asleep. The lunch was quite good, and entirely reasonable, which often seems to be true of the food in such places here. Then we walked on to a large pond, or small lake, which had some red maples planted around it, and some boats out on the water.

We then started walking north, and noticed the cycle routes down below us, on a different level. You can hire bikes at the park, and then cycle round, and it looks like it would be a lot of fun. It’s fairly flat, so it wouldn’t be too difficult, and the surroundings are nice. We then passed an enormous grassed area, which looks like it would be great for children to play, and more trees in flower or turning leaves, depending on the species.

Finally, we reached the Japanese garden, which was what we were aiming for today. Mayuki was still asleep, but by this point we had noticed that it was coming up to four hours since she had had a feed, so we decided to wake her up. Yuriko fed her, while I made some formula (we’d brought the powder and a thermos of hot water). Of course, the formula didn’t cool down very quickly, so it was a while before Mayuki got to drink it, but she seemed happy enough; she fussed a bit, but after I carried her for a while she was happy to lie in the push chair and look around.

The Japanese garden was very nice; Yuriko took quite a few pictures, and I took a bit of video of Mayuki there. Unfortunately, it closed at four, so we had to make our way out. In fact, the whole park closed at 4:30, and we still had to walk back to the gate, which took about thirty minutes. At first, Mayuki was happy in the pushchair, but then she started complaining, so I took her out and carried her until we were out of the park. While I was carrying her, at least two groups of ladies spontaneously said “Isn’t she cute!”. This happened again while I was putting her back in the push chair to go back to the station, and then again on the bus home. According to Yuriko, it happens every time she takes her out, as well.

We used the formula to keep her quiet on the train home, and then fooled her with the empty bottle to keep her quiet in the bus. Over all, though, she was a very good girl all day, and at least she was awake and looking around for part of it. Obviously, she won’t explicitly remember any of it, but it might shape her attitude to parks, or something.

We are planning to go back. It might only be three times a year (spring, summer, and autumn), but it’s probably the easiest really big park for us to get to. I can see it playing much of the same role in Mayuki’s childhood as Etherow did in ours.

All in all, Yuriko and I had a really good day. We think Mayuki enjoyed it too.

Lunching

A couple of days ago I had lunch with Declan Murphy, the head of the international office at Yamasa, the Japanese school where I studied. I did mention to him that it might be a good idea to update the “fortnightly” newsletter on the home page, but apparently he’s been short of staff again after having one of his staff poached by Waseda. And Yamasa isn’t leaving him much free time, as they are full, and so there are lots of students sending him lots of emails, just like I did, about whether they can come to the school. Apparently, they’re about to make the decisions for April student visa admissions.

We spent most of the time talking about Yamasa and life in Japan for long-term foreigners. Declan has been here far, far longer than I have, but after four years I think I do qualify as long-term. One thing that we’ve both noticed is that, at least in Okazaki and Kawasaki, foreigners are no longer remarkable. There are still relatively few, but we are part of the expected scenery. In Kawasaki, some people even spot that Mayuki is half-Japanese when I’m not there, which suggests that it’s common enough for them to know what it looks like, and to think it’s a sensible hypothesis.

The other thing I notice, keeping in touch with UK newspapers as well as Japanese ones, is that the Japanese media seem, if anything, to be less hostile to immigrants than the UK equivalents. Partly, this is a matter of scale. There just aren’t as many immigrants in Japan, so claims that they are taking all the jobs and housing are implausible. On the other hand, a lot of the articles about foreigners in the Yomiuri podcast are “normal”; they are just about a foreigner or group of foreigners in Japan doing something interesting, such as running a restaurant that brews a particular Korean speciality.

Japan’s reputation for being unwelcoming for foreigners really doesn’t seem to be deserved.

Certificates

Today I was back into Tokyo to do more bureaucratic business.

First, I went to the UK Embassy to pick up Mayuki’s British birth certificate. We now have documentary evidence of both her nationalities, which is good, because it means we can apply for both passports. Given that they have expiry dates, and are not cheap, we won’t be doing that until we actually need them, however.

One thing I don’t think I mentioned about the security procedures last week is the fact that you have to search yourself. You pat down your own pockets to demonstrate that you don’t have any dangerous objects hidden in them. Of course, the security staff watch you do that, but they only watch.

Then I had to go to the Miyamae Ward Office to renew my gaijin card. Because it has a photo on, you need to have it redone every few years, so I had to get new photos taken (there was a machine in Shibuya, so that was easy), and take my passport in so that they could double check my visa and passport number. Now I have to wait four weeks for the new one to be issued, but it appears to be free. At least, they haven’t issued a bill yet.

When I first received my gaijin card, I remember looking at the expiry date and thinking, “Well, that’s completely irrelevant to me. I’ll be gone years before that.”. Now I’m looking forward to getting a card that has my current visa status on the front, rather than written in on an already-crowded back. Oh, and my current address on the front, too. And I’m hoping to have permanent resident status before I need to renew it again, which I’m now pretty sure I will need to do.

Other than the hassle of having to go to the offices, both bits of bureaucracy were painless. Mind you, if it took more than one train to get to the UK embassy, that would have the potential to be substantially more painful. I’m thinking that we won’t move out of Tokyo until the necessary visits there are all done.

Mayuki’s Literary Leanings

Following on from her “googoo” experience, Mayuki has, once again, proved that there are certain things she has only ever seen written down. Today, sneezing, she managed to actually say “Aachooo!”. She is clearly practising to be a baby in a book.

We are also having fairly long conversations. These are a little limited, as she is still not very confident about her consonants, or indeed about vowel sounds other than “aaa” and “ooo”, but I make other sounds as well to encourage her. The key thing now is that she will nicely take turns, making a noise, then waiting for me to make a noise, and then making another noise when I stop. It’s impossible to be sure at this age, but I wonder whether she’s playing at talking, like Mummy and Daddy.

The alternative is that we are actually having conversations in the universal language of babies, and that Mayuki will come back to me in a couple of years saying “But you promised me a pony”.

Shadows of the UK

This is the World of Darkness sourcebook for the UK. That may, indeed, be fairly obvious from the title, not to mention the cover image, but it still seems like a sensible place to start talking about it. Most of the authors are British, as far as I know, and quite possibly all of them. Certainly, I didn’t spot any gross errors as I was reading through, and quite a few points picked up on things that are of contemporary concern in the UK. (As far as I know from reading the Guardian website from Japan, so I suppose that Americans prepared to do research could have managed it equally well.) The proof that at least some of the authors are genuine Britons is the reference to the Wombles. Mind you, I’m not sure that I could work the Wombles into any variety of horror game.

The book was published as part of the general World of Darkness line, rather than as part of one of the subsidiary game lines. However, it reads as though it was originally written as a Werewolf supplement, and then moved after a policy decision that there would be no more regional sourcebooks for the individual games. There is a lot of emphasis on the werewolves of Britain, with details of packs and fully-statted sample members, and much less on the vampires and mages, although not nothing. There is also some material on other horrific things to be found around the UK, both from old legends and from more recent events.

On the whole, I thought it was well done. However, once again I felt that there was too much emphasis on the created characters, who could fit in, with few changes, anywhere in the world, and not enough emphasis on the background of the UK. More UK legends and haunted places, with suggestions on how to use them in stories, or tie them to different kinds of supernatural creatures, would be more to my taste. As a halfway house, maybe have some supernatural groups tied strongly to local legends, and then sketch how they might also interact with other, slightly more generic groups. This isn’t really a criticism of the authors, because they have done a good job of what they were, doubtless, told to do. It’s not even really a criticism of the editor, because I’m not absolutely sure that my idea would be an improvement. It’s more a general expression of something I think should be tried for a regional book. Until it is tried, we won’t know whether it’s actually better.

Yet More Admin

Yesterday I was out for the morning and part of the afternoon, doing yet more admin things for Mayuki. As yet, it’s not quite realistic to ask her to do them herself, so I got lumbered with the job.

The first one was getting her registered at the UK Embassy. This is not legally required; she was born a UK citizen, because I was born a UK citizen in the UK (it gets complicated; I think she would have to give birth in the UK for her children to be UK citizens, unless her husband was), and although I am obliged to register her in Japan, I’m not obliged to register her in the UK as well. This is why there’s no problem with leaving it until a couple of months after the birth.

On the other hand, she can’t actually claim any of the benefits of citizenship until she is registered. Most notably, we need the certificate of registration to get her a UK passport. The required documents for the registration are very easy to get now (hospital birth certificate, my birth certificate, my passport, Yuriko’s family record), but in a few years’ time they might be a bit trickier to put your hands on. Still, the form allows for the applicant being the child in person, so if you have the documents you clearly can register decades down the road. But since I anticipate needing a passport for her before she turns eighteen, I went to get it done.

Security at the embassy has been beefed up since I last went. Now, you have to go through three very heavy blast doors, and a metal detector, before you get into the compound, and two of the doors are an “airlock”, where the inner door can only be opened after the outer one is closed, so that you can’t charge through. Still, going through was completely painless, and the process in the consular section was equally painless; I just showed them all the documents and handed over the photocopies I’d prepared. The next step, paying for everything, was a bit more painful.

The certificate takes a week, so I’ll go back to pick it up next week. Then we can apply for a UK passport for her at any time.

The next step was to look into bank accounts. We want to build up some savings for Mayuki, reasonably enough. The first place I went was Shinsei Bank, which is where I have my main account. The lady there said “If you want to save in yen, you’d probably be better off elsewhere; our yen rates are very low.” So I went around some of the other banks. They all offered exactly the same rate. 0.350%. A little more than a third of one percent. Oh well, it’s a lot better than it was a couple of years ago, when it would probably have been about 0.003%. We’re looking at one-year fixed term savings, because I can’t see Japanese interest rates going down in the near future, but I can see them going up over the next year, so we don’t want to be stuck in anything longer term.

Today, I’ve been working again, while Yuriko looks after Mayuki. I’m still working on building up a good routine; the arrival of a baby does seem to be somewhat disruptive in that area. Work, however, is now going quite well; I just need to work on the other bits. Since the other bits don’t put food on the table, I have a bit more time in which to get them right.

A Number of Firsts

It is true that a small baby in the home takes up quite a lot of time, even when your wife is doing most of the child rearing. This is my excuse for not writing very many English blog entries recently. However, Mayuki is growing up nicely, and she’s passed a number of really important milestones in the last week or so.

First, she’s said her first consonant. Up until now, she’s been saying “aaa” and “oo”, but a couple of days ago, after her bath, she managed “goo”. This is the first time I’ve actually heard a baby say “goo”, popular representations notwithstanding, which added to the amazement. She still prefers “aah” and “ooh” noises, though.

Second, she’s laughed for the first time. She’s been smiling for a while, but yesterday and today she actually laughed, complete with sound effects. Mind you, there didn’t seem to be anything obvious for her to laugh at, so I suspect she was just practising for the future. She will need to do develop that skill if she’s going to cope with Yuriko and me as parents.

Third, today I got to look after her for a whole day by myself for the first time. Yuriko has gone off to Ikea, and won’t be back until this evening. So far, it’s been fine. She slept after the iChat with America this morning, woke up to be fed, played for an hour or so, and then went back to sleep, which is her current state. Looking at the clock, she’s about due for another feed, so I’ll have to see whether she looks like she’s waking up when I’ve written this. Assuming she doesn’t make that entirely obvious before then.

While spending time with Mayuki is fun even now, I am looking forward to her getting a bit more responsive and interactive. It’s a bit hard to play with her, at the moment, since most of her play involves lying on her back and waving her limbs around while making noises (this is easily distinguished from the crying version of lying on her back and waving her limbs around by experienced parents — and I can tell the difference, too), or lying on her front and trying to do press-ups. She can’t quite manage that yet, but she can hold her head up for quite a while.

She seems to be doing that more than most babies her age, and I wonder whether part of the reason is that she is relatively light. She is over four kilograms now, though, and just creeps into the “normal” band on the graph we were given in the health record book. So, nothing to worry about, and maybe it’s a sign that she’s going to be naturally slender.

Changing the subject, there was one other first this week. For the first time, I started reading a Japanese magazine article without thinking. I do this with English all the time; my eye falls on some text, I read it, and then I realise that I should be doing something else. But until this week it didn’t happen with Japanese; reading Japanese required a bit of concentration, because otherwise the kanji didn’t become meaningful. Another sign of progress. I think my reading speed in Japanese is slowly picking up, but it’s still a long way behind English. Still, I’ve had a lot more practice in English. Maybe Japanese will catch up eventually.

Mayuki

It’s been a while since I’ve written any blog entries, so I’ll write about Mayuki. I’m sure that some people, at least, are eager to hear more about her.

She has been putting weight on, which is good. When we weighed her at bath time yesterday, she was finally over 4kg. Looking at the graphs we’ve been given, it looks like that puts her just within the band of “normal”, which is good. Given how lively she is, and the absence of persistent inexplicable crying, or indeed any apparent problems, I’m not worried as long as she creeps into that band. We are, however, being careful to ensure that she doesn’t fall out of it.

She’s also started smiling more. Today she very clearly smiled at me several times, looking straight at me and grinning. She also quickly, and clearly, changed her expression from slightly moody to happy when I appeared, which suggests that it’s a real smile. She’ll even engage in conversation with me, although her only “words” at the moment are variants on “aaaoooo”. It’s interesting, but she doesn’t tend to say much when I speak English to her, but if I say “aaah” to her, she will often join in. So I do both. I’m also trying individual syllables (mainly “Da Da Da”, granted), to see if she will try to copy those. I’m sure it’s too early for her to manage it yet, but it can’t hurt.

She is also showing clear signs of being female. When I told her that she was beautiful and would grow up to be a beautiful woman, she started grinning all over her face. She clearly understands English already.