Cherry Blossoms

This weekend the cherry blossoms in Tokyo have been in full bloom, so we’ve been to see them. If you don’t know how important the cherry blossoms are in Japanese culture, you could look at my Japan Diary for this time of year, or, indeed, just have a close look at the background for the diary (not the blog). Almost everyone, it seems, goes to spread blue plastic sheets under the trees and have a picnic. This being the nation of conformity (allegedly), who are we to be different?

So, we went to Ikuta Ryokuchi, a park near our home, to see the cherry blossoms. Actually, the park is closer than I had thought; it’s about the same distance as the Forest Park (Shinrin Kouen), so we may plan to go there a bit more often. Today, Yuriko had organised the “Mummies Group”, which is made up of the people we met at the Ward’s parent classes, to meet for a picnic. That meant that there were five babies around six months old, along with all of their mothers and, by the end, four of their fathers. It was my first time to meet some of the fathers, but obviously I’d met all the mothers before. It was also my first time to meet the babies.

Mayuki was, of course, the cutest baby there. This may have been because she was in the best mood; she didn’t go to sleep, and she smiled and laughed nearly all the time. One of the other babies slept all the time, while the other three slept a bit, cried a bit, smiled a bit… behaved like babies. (Of course, Mayuki cried as soon as we got home; she must have been enjoying the outing.)

We actually went to the same place as last year, and went up on the viewing platform to take a picture of Mayuki with the boar. They have the animals of the Chinese zodiac on the railing of the viewing platform, and Mayuki was born in the year of the boar. Of course, we got the cherry blossoms in the background, so that’s a nice picture. We got quite a few nice pictures; I was pleased about that.

Today’s weather was not quite ideal for cherry blossom picnics, but we didn’t let that stop us. Yuriko had made a home-made packed lunch for us, with rice balls, quiche, and pickles; it was really nice. She also baked a marmalade cake, which we shared with everyone, and that was very nice as well. Still, it was a bit chilly and rather cloudy, so we only stayed about three hours. It was good timing, too, because it started to rain on our way home, and now it’s raining quite hard. Quite apart from making it unpleasant to sit under the trees, rain has a tendency to knock the blossoms down. By tomorrow, they probably won’t look as good.

The only downside is I’ve been feeling a bit as though I’ve caught a cold; I hope I’ve not, really, and that it’s just a reaction to pushing Mayuki’s pushchair up and down hills in cold weather.

Sitting Up and Eating

Mayuki has reached the point of sitting up by herself. She still falls over after a while, and supports herself with her hands a lot, but she can sit up. She can even sit up from lying on her back, although she doesn’t do that very often. And then, while lying on her back, she can push herself around backwards fairly quickly. On her front, she’s trying to crawl, getting her legs under her, but she can’t quite get there yet. She can hold the upper half of her body well off the ground for quite a while, though.

Put all this together, and it’s clear that she’s going to be mobile in the near future. The days of being able to leave her somewhere and know that she’ll still be there when you come back will soon be over. That will complicate things, obviously. We can’t make the whole flat safe for her to wander around, so we’ll either need a playpen or constant watching.

On the upside, it should make playing with her more fun.

She’s also started trying to feed herself. That means taking the spoon with food in off Yuriko, and putting it in her own mouth. The food does seem to get swallowed, although obviously some of it ends up on her face, hands, and in her hair. We also tried her with a baby cup yesterday, which she happily held in both hands and put in her mouth. It had baby barley tea in, and although she drank some of it, she was making a very funny face. I don’t think she’s quite used to it yet.

Oh yes, she’s practising shouting again at the moment. At least she’s going to sleep quickly when she’s supposed to. For now.

Law in Everyday Japan

This book is a serious legal/anthropological study of the effects of the legal system on various aspects of Japanese society. It was very interesting, in part because I learned a few more details of what the law in Japan actually is. It made me think that I need to find a basic “introduction to Japanese law for people living here” book, but quick checks around bookshops and on Amazon didn’t yield anything particularly useful. I’ll have to have another look at some point.

Anyway, back to this book. It starts off with a chapter about the lost and found laws, and an experiment involving dropping wallets and cell phones in both Tokyo and New York. In Tokyo, he got 85% of the wallets back, all with the money inside. In New York, he got 40% back, and 25% of those (10% of the total) were missing the cash. His argument is that the Japanese system makes it easy to return lost goods, thanks to the ubiquitous police boxes, and specifies a reward for those who do so, and penalties for those who don’t (picking up and keeping lost property in Japan is embezzlement, and it is sometimes prosecuted). In this case, he says that the system and social expectations all work together smoothly to produce a very positive outcome.

Some of his other examples were less successful. The most spectacular example was that the law passed to regulate and restrict love hotels seems to have had the effect of massively expanding the business. (A love hotel is a hotel that rents rooms by the hour for the purposes of sex. At some hotels, married couples are the largest single group of customers; this, apparently, does not apply when the hotel is next door to a night club.) This, he argues, was because the law defined quite precisely what a love hotel was. It was therefore a relatively simple matter to avoid the definitions and not be a love hotel, while still serving that function. The presence of the definitions forced the hotels to be a bit less tacky, and the existence of regulation made them seem somewhat accepted. So their image improved, and they became more popular. Given the soundproofing of the typical Japanese apartment, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not what was intended.

He also discusses the structure of the governing body of sumo, changes to bankruptcy legislation, and other topics, making the book rather miscellaneous. As a result, it doesn’t really have an overall conclusion, beyond “the law makes a difference to the way Japanese people behave”. That would seem extremely obvious, were it not for the fact that some people have, apparently, denied it. The point is made very convincingly, however, and the case studies along the way are extremely informative. A recommended book.

Birthdays

It’s been a while since my last update. Sorry about that.

One reason is that I finished the first draft of my first novel on Thursday. More about that at a later date: watch this space!

The main reason, however, is that after finishing the novel I was extremely tired, which is doubly unsurprising. Writing is tiring, six month old babies are tiring, and I have both. However, we did have a good Easter weekend.

Easter is not celebrated in Japan. Yuriko did a web search for decorations and the like, and found that a few egg distributors and chocolate companies are trying to promote it, but it hasn’t caught on yet. That doesn’t mean that it won’t, but for now there are no chocolate eggs on sale in Japan, at least outside the main international market near Roppongi. So we made our own. Well, Yuriko made them. Silver brought us some egg moulds when she came over in October, and Yuriko melted Dars bitter chocolate to fill them. That was a success, and she wrapped the eggs in silver foil, with shiny stickers for decoration. They looked pretty good, in the end. And they tasted good, but then, they were solid chocolate. (Actually, I don’t need to use the past tense; we still have a couple left.)

The other celebration was a joint six-month birthday party for Mayuki and our friends’ daughter. This is the English-Japanese couple who live about twenty minutes’ walk away and had a daughter within a week of Mayuki’s birth. Yuriko sees a lot of the mother (the Japanese one), but I don’t see quite so much of them; something to do with having to work. Fortunately, Sunday is a day off for everyone, so we got together for a joint first birthday party. If you add their ages together, they are one, after all.

The mothers prepared dinner, which was English style, while the fathers took the babies to the park; Shinrin Kouen, in this case. The weather was really nice, so we sat on the grass for a while and chatted about life in Japan, while trying to stop his daughter eating Mayuki. Then we went to their flat, and had the dinner, with birthday cake, “Happy Birthday” songs, and lots of photographs and video.

I’m planning to take things a little easier than normal this week, since I have no looming deadlines and I need to get over finishing the novel. That might just mean slightly more frequent blog entries, if you’re really lucky.

I Was Right

A while ago, when writing about the Conan book I had read, I said “Oh my god, it’s Dungeons and Dragons.”

A week ago, Wired had an article about Gary Gygax, which included the sentence: “[Gygax] was a fan of the Conan the Barbarian books by Robert E. Howard and wanted to try to capture that sort of swashbuckling action in a war game.”

I also said “D&D is often described as “Tolkienesque”, but the basic narrative structure is not very much like Tokien at all.” The Wired article continues: “Interestingly, he loathed the major fantasy touchstone of the time, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. It was so dull. I mean, there was no action in it,” Gygax says. “I’d like to throttle Frodo.””

So yes, I’m just gloating about being perceptive. Mind you, I write these games for a living; I’d really better be perceptive about them.

Estimates

I just ordered a book from Amazon US; Amazon Japan didn’t have it in stock, and, with the weak dollar right now, it was actually cheaper to order it from the US, even including the shipping. Today, I got the ship confirmation email from Amazon; that was expected, as it was in stock when I placed the order, and they estimated that they would ship on March 14th, which it still was in the USA.

The estimated delivery date is March 16th.

I will be very impressed if that turns out to be correct.

Holding the Baby

Yuriko has gone out again today, to a special meeting associated with her kimono class: there is a chance to see Okinawan kimonos and eat Okinawan food. She couldn’t really take Mayuki, so I’ve been left looking after her. Since I have no lessons, it is possible, but I’m trying to do some work in and between. Fortunately, Mayuki is being a really good girl. Right now, she’s asleep, and has been for about a quarter of an hour. Before that, she was sitting happily beside my computer, smiling and talking to me. Yuriko says that she (Mayuki) didn’t sleep well last night, which seems plausible — I seem to remember waking up quite a bit as well — so maybe she’ll stay asleep for a while and let me get some more writing done.

Talking of getting to sleep, Mayuki has stopped crying so much before she falls asleep. Maybe she’s getting used to me putting her to bed. She did wake up and cry after a couple of hours last night, but after two hours we’re into “waking up in the night”, not “having trouble getting to sleep”.

Anyway, I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to get some more work done.

Spell Compendium

Spell Compendium is a book for D&D 3.5. It does what it says on the cover: it’s a big collection of spells, from lots of previous D&D books, revised and updated to deal with problems found after publication. There are a lot of interesting ideas in it.

A couple of things struck me. The first, entirely internal to the game, was that druids got a fair number of useful attack spells at the same level as wizards and sorcerers. However, druids also get better attacks, better saves, better hit dice, and cool powers; their spells should be consistently weaker than those of wizards and sorcerers, or the game is unbalanced. This is most likely something that will be fully addressed in D&D 4; it would be rather difficult to do it retroactively for third edition.

The other is more general. D&D is very good at what it does. What it does is also pretty close to something I’m interested in seeing done, and done well. I really like a number of D&D settings, for example, and there are many things about the rules that I also like. However, it just misses being what I would really like to see, and does so on a fundamental level. I occasionally toy with revising the rules (with the Open Game License, you can do that for D&D 3), but the number of revisions it would need builds up and up, and I realise that I would be better off just writing another game. Of course, if I do that, I have to make it very different from D&D, or why bother?

So, D&D is rather irritating. It’s very close to something I would like to play, but not quite there. It’s close enough that I keep going back to it and fiddling with it, but far enough away that the fiddling never quite works. I have no doubt that I’ll continue fiddling with it for quite some time. After all, I enjoy myself while I’m doing that.

Oh yes, this book. If you want a big book of spells for D&D 3.5, this is the book for you. As far as I could tell, it does that job well.

Little Baby, Sweetly Sleep

We’ve been changing our daily schedule here over the last couple of weeks. The general advice is that it’s best that babies go to sleep relatively early and wake up relatively early, so we’re trying to manage that. Of course, given that I’m teaching until 8:30 every weekday, there’s a limit to how much we can manage. However, we now eat before the final lesson, and I give Mayuki her bath immediately afterwards. I then get her off to sleep before going to bed myself.

Unlike Yuriko, I can’t make her go to sleep by feeding her, so I carry her around the bedroom and sing to her. A lot of what I sing are hymns and carols, because I can remember them, and they actually work as solo performances. Besides, I’m not going to sing her to sleep with Verdi’s Requiem. And as for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana… Well, “age inappropriate” just about sums it up. Plus they’re both in Latin, which would just confuse her even further.

So, singing carols, I get to sing about the baby Jesus. And it makes me wonder about what that must have been like, if the carols are accurate.

Mary: Joseph, Joseph, he’s doing it again!
Joseph: What, dear?
Mary: He’s not crying! He never cries! Do you think he’s retarded?
Joseph: Darling, he’s the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. [[pause]] He might well be retarded, yes.

Which, of course, leads to wider considerations. Can you imagine trying to play peekaboo with someone omniscient and omnipresent? Or trying to get the dinner done?

Mary: Now, Jesus, are you going to be a good boy? Well, yes, obviously. Are you going to be cooperative? Just lie on this table while I get the bread ready.
Jesus: It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
Mary: Hmm, quite possibly. But if I don’t get Joseph’s dinner ready before he comes home, he won’t be very happy eating words.
Jesus: It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Mary: Yes, yes, Jesus. I know you want me to play with you all the time, but that’s really not possible. Now stay away from the edge, there’s a good boy. Even if it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Oh, don’t make faces like that. Here, do you want a sweetie? Would you like a sweetie?
Jesus: It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Mary: You do want a sweetie! Who’s a lovely little boy, then?

I think I prefer having a normal baby.

Gary Gygax RIP

Gary Gygax has died.

Whether you know who he was depends on whether you’re a roleplayer. For everyone else: he’s one of the two people who created roleplaying games. Along with Dave Arneson, he wrote Dungeons and Dragons, back in 1974. He has, therefore, had more influence on my life, indirectly, than almost anyone else; not only was he responsible for the hobby I spent much of my youth on, he was also responsible for the industry in which I built a career.

I didn’t know him personally at all, but this is still a very sad event for me.