Registration, Part One

A couple of days ago, I went to the Ward Office to get Mayuki properly registered in Japan. She now has her Japanese birth certificate, and is, or will soon be, registered on Yuriko’s family record, which proves that she is Japanese. (I don’t get properly registered there; I’m just a footnote.)

The next step was applying for child benefit, at the next window along, which is 10,000 yen per month until the age of three, and then 5,000 yen per month until the age of 12, with an income limit. I’m not particularly close to the income limit, so we’ll be getting it. It’s paid three times per year, and, conveniently, one of the standard payment dates is in October. For some reason, payment starts from the month after you apply, so ours will start from October. The child benefit window is the same as the foreigner registration window. I have no idea why.

Then I had to apply for the one-off payment for the birth, which was another different window, because this comes from the health insurance. It’s 350,000 yen, which doesn’t actually cover the cost of the birth, but does cover about half of it, all told, and so it not to be sneezed at. That should appear in my bank account next month as well.

Finally, at the same window, I had to apply for Mayuki’s free medical treatment certificate. On the national system, we have to pay 30% of the costs. However, Kawasaki City will pay that 30% for all children in their first year, and up to the age of 12 if the family has under a certain income level. I got that certificate while I was there, which is useful.

However, because this isn’t a national certificate, it only works at hospitals in Kanagawa Prefecture. If Mayuki gets ill somewhere else (her grandparents’ in Nagoya, for example), we have to pay and then claim back from Kawasaki. It seems like a little unification of the system would save money.

Indeed, that struck me as being generally the case. I had to do four separate applications at three separate windows, but in the overwhelming majority of cases people with a new baby will do all of them. It would surely be a lot easier for everyone if there were just one application procedure. This sort of vertical division is a widely-recognised problem with Japanese bureaucracy, so I don’t imagine it will be getting fixed any time soon.

The next step is to register the birth at the British Embassy, for which I apparently need my passport and my birth certificate. I have a strong feeling that I didn’t get the copy I needed when we got married back, so I may have to order another one from the UK. I have one more box to check before I do that, though.

Fortunately, there is no legal obligation to register the birth; Mayuki is a UK citizen automatically. To get any of the benefits, though, she has to be registered, and it’s likely to be easiest for us to do that now. Especially as she might well need a British passport in the near future. Still, it means that there is no tearing rush to get it done.

Anyway, she’s properly registered here, and we’ll be getting the benefits we’re entitled to, so that’s good.

She’s also got better at crying over the last couple of days. I suppose she has to grow into it before she can grow out of it, so it’s a good thing, really.

Noises in the Night

Mayuki woke up and cried last night. Yuriko was right on it, but it still took a while to settle her. Fortunately, because Yuriko was right on it, I didn’t need to wake up properly, so I got back to sleep quickly once Mayuki settled.

At the moment, we seem to be working on a pattern where I sleep roughly normal times, and Yuriko sleeps when Mayuki does, which means that Yuriko sleeps large portions of the day as well. So far it’s working quite well. The trick, of course, is that, at least once I start teaching again, I need to be awake during the day, so that I can work, while, as Yuriko is not working, that is less critical for her. I end up doing a fair bit of housework and much of the shopping, but the night is largely being left to Yuriko.

I actually feel a bit guilty about that, but that’s silly. While it’s important that Yuriko gets enough sleep, it’s not important that she gets it at night, at least not at the moment. (We’ll have to work on that as time goes on, but it’s too early yet.) I, on the other hand, both need enough sleep, and need it at night. Working is also a necessary part of child-rearing, after all.

I suspect that one of the most important qualities in the next few weeks, months, and years will be flexibility; adapting quickly to changes in Mayuki’s situation. Attempts to set up clearly defined plans are likely to fail, and have lots of bad consequences.

New Lifestyle

So Mayuki has been home for a couple of days, and I’m trying to get used to my new lifestyle. I’ve changed a few nappies, helped with a bath, and managed to get a full night’s sleep despite the presence of the baby. This was due to Yuriko keeping Mayuki quiet, and thus getting very little sleep herself. So Yuriko sleeps during the day.

And this blog entry was just interrupted because Mayuki started crying.

I’m not sure that Yuriko and I will get to eat together very often. Yesterday evening, Yuriko looked after Mayuki while I ate, then I looked after her while Yuriko ate. This morning, I took first shift, holding her while Yuriko ate breakfast, and then Yuriko took over while I did the same.

There is, of course, a fundamental asymmetry between us. We’re raising Mayuki on breast milk, so I can’t do the feeding. That means that Yuriko will inevitably do more than I do, but I’m doing my best to make sure that she doesn’t feel as though she has to cope with the baby all by herself. And, of course, I want to have chances to cuddle my daughter.

Mayuki is already showing changes. She is much more active than she was immediately after birth, waving her arms and legs around a lot. In the last couple of days she’s started grasping with her hands, and trying to put them in her mouth, but she’s not really co-ordinated enough to manage that yet. Still, it’s surprising how much change we can see in such a short time.

Parenthood is good so far. I gather that there’s quite a lot more to come, however.

Mayuki is Home

Yuriko and Mayuki came home from the hospital today. Mayuki is currently asleep in her cot in the bedroom, and so Yuriko is also taking a nap. Mayuki has been sleeping quite a lot today, which does not bode well for her sleeping a lot tonight… I suppose I have to get used to this.

Anyway, it’s lovely to have them home. I feel more like a family now that they are here, and I don’t have to walk twenty five minutes to see them.

Yuriko’s mother is also here, and was really delighted to see her first grandchild in the flesh. My family will have to wait a little bit longer for that, alas.

What’s in a Name?

Quite a few people have asked me where Mayuki’s name came from, and Japanese names work a bit differently from Western ones, so I think it might be worth explaining here.

Japanese law only allows people to have two names, a given name and a family name. The family name is determined by the name on the family register. The given name is chosen by the parents, but once registered, it is very difficult to change, unlike England. In addition, there are limits on the characters you can use in a name. You may only use hiragana, katakana, and particular kanji. (The kana are the syllabic scripts, like alphabets, and kanji are the ideograms from China.) There are over 2,000 kanji to choose from, but you can’t, for example, use the kanji for “cancer” or “corpse”, if I recall correctly.

Within those limits, however, you have almost total freedom. What is more, if you write the name in kanji, you can choose the way that it is pronounced freely, because the pronunciation is not officially recorded, and thus not officially regulated. It is sensible to choose a pronunciation that naturally goes with those kanji, but that practice is not universal.

Thus, choosing a name for you baby is not a matter of choosing from a list of names. There are popular names, but creating your own is also quite common. Even for the popular names, you can choose the kanji you want to write it with; there are double lists of popular names, one for the pronunciation, and one for the written characters. It is not uncommon for a name to be in the top ten on one, but right down on the other. If a popular sound has a lot of possible, and sensible, kanji, its numbers might be evenly split six or seven ways on the written list. On the other hand, a moderately popular pronunciation with only one sensible set of characters could appear very high up the written list.

One side effect of this is that it always makes sense to ask someone how to pronounce or write their name in Japan. There are many names where you can make a good guess, particularly going from the written form to the spoken, but not always. For example, Megumi, a popular girl’s name, can be written 恵美 or æ„›, but the second character can also be read “Ai”, which is another popular girl’s name. Girls names, in particular, might be wholly or partially written in kana, because they are perceived as feminine. Yuriko writes her name with two kana, for the first two syllables, and then kanji for the final “ko”.

The other thing that some people consider is the number of strokes that it takes to right the name. There’s the practical issue of not requiring a young child to learn lots of highly complex kanji right at the start, but there’s also a form of fortune telling based on the absolute number of strokes, and the number fo strokes combined with the number in the family name. Some people apparently take it very seriously, to the point that baby name books include advice on getting round grandparents who don’t like the name you’ve chosen because it has the “wrong” stroke count. The best way, apparently, is to say that you’re relying on a different regional tradition, because there are lots of different rules for which combinations are good and which are bad.

Anyway, we completely ignored that one.

I wanted Mayuki to have a very Japanese given name, because she’s half Japanese and half English, but already has a purely English family name. Western-derived names, like Anna, are quite popular at the moment, but Anna Chart doesn’t sound at all Japanese. I finally managed to win Yuriko over on this point.

So, the next stage was to think about the sound we wanted. Obviously, it had to be something that English-speakers could pronounce correctly, and that would be fairly easy to spell, and have only one sensible English spelling. However, it also had to sound nice.

That left far too much choice, so we narrowed it down by looking at kanji. Because kanji are ideograms, they give the name its meaning. Thus, I wanted to give her a kanji name. I didn’t want a name ending in “ko”, even though that’s very common for Japanese girls’ names, because the kanji means “child”. Similarly, I wanted to avoid cute names like “Flower bud”, which are fine for young girls, but less appropriate when she’s fifty and trying to become the first female Prime Minister of Japan. For example. The kanji meaning “beautiful” is also a very common component of girls’ names, but I was a bit ambivalent about that. I mean, obviously she will be, but I felt I’d prefer a name that didn’t focus on appearance. For similar reasons, I wanted to avoid flower names.

So, I went through a drew up a list of characters I liked. One I really liked was 真, which means “genuine, real”, and, in names, is commonly read “ma”, which is the first syllable of my mother’s middle name, “Mary”. Yuriko decided that she wanted to include ç”±, which means “reason”, and is the first character of her mother’s name.

That gave us “ma” and “yu”. “Mayu” and “Yuma” are both possible, but we decided to play around a bit with the sounds. “Mayuko” has that “ko” character, so that was out. “Mayumi” is quite a common name, and has the beauty kanji last. “Mayuna” was another candidate; the “na” would normally be written with the “na” from “Kanagawa”, and is a very popular final syllable for girls’ names right now. But then we thought of “Mayuki”. We liked the sound, because it seemed somehow bright, and it manages to be a bit unusual without being strange. “Mayumi” and “Miyuki” are both common girls’ names, but “Mayuki” is not (yet). So, it sounds like a girls’ name, but not like one that everyone has heard a million times already.

When we looked at candidate kanji for the final syllable and discovered that we could use the kanji for “joy”, which is my father’s wife’s name, that settled it.

真由喜: “genuine reason for joy”.

The Happy Event

Last night, our daughter was born. Mayuki (Ma-yu-ki) was about 2800 grammes, and mother and baby are doing well.

Yesterday morning, Yuriko’s waters broke. We weren’t sure that that was what it was, because the amount of liquid was fairly small, but after checking the leaflet from the clinic, we decided that it would be best to go in and get it checked. We did, and the midwives quickly determined that her waters had broken, so she was admitted to the clinic for the birth. Once the waters have broken, there is a risk of infection, so the birth has to happen fairly soon. They said that they would keep an eye on the situation for twenty four hours, and begin inducing birth if nothing had happened by then; Yuriko had not really had any contractions by this point.

Once she was settled in her room, I came home to do a couple of essential jobs, such as tell all my students that English lessons were off for the next two or three weeks. Then I headed back over to the clinic. (Although it’s only a twenty minute walk, it’s up and down significant hills, so I got lots of good exercise yesterday.)

By the time I got there, Yuriko was having contractions every five minutes. They were still fairly weak (although I’m not sure she thought that at the time; hindsight is a wonderful thing), but things had moved on a lot more than we had expected. On consultation with the midwife, I decided that it was a good time to go and eat dinner. Yuriko got her dinner from the clinic, but I had to go out to eat, or eat from the convenience store. I felt that a proper dinner would probably be a better idea, so I went out.

When I got back, I didn’t plan to go any further than the toilet, so I told Yudetamago “Daddy’s here now. You can get born.” Immediately, the contractions got stronger, longer, and more frequent. Now, I don’t know whether Yudetamago was just doing as I said, but Yuriko said that labour really started just as I got back. It was definitely the right time to go to eat.

As things got more intense, Yuriko sent me off to the toilet. That was also good timing, because when I got back the midwife was there, saying that it was time to move her to the labour room. Once she had gone there, I didn’t leave her side until it was all over.

We weren’t actually in the labour room that long. The midwife said, “It’s going well. Actually, it’s going quite quickly”, and that certainly seems to be borne out by the result. Soon, we were moved to the delivery room. Yuriko said afterwards that it was quite hard to walk from one room to the other, even though they are connected by a single door.

Then the final stage of birth got going. I held Yuriko’s hand, mopped her brow, and encouraged her. Mainly, of course, I encouraged her in Japanese, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to say “Push. Puuuuush.” a couple of times…

I saw the moment of Mayuki’s birth while holding Yuriko’s hand, and then I got to cut the umbilical cord. Then they put Mayuki on Yuriko’s chest for a little while, before taking her across the room to do the initial tests and measurements. At this point, I was given permission to take photographs, so I went to get my camera and video camera. I took quite a few pictures, but I did try to balance it with direct contact, holding my daughter’s hand and talking to her in English, and then carrying her over to Yuriko. (We don’t have any pictures of me holding Mayuki yet; have to rectify that today.)

The clinic we went to believes in natural childbirth (with lots of medical equipment around in case something goes wrong), so Yuriko basically had no anaesthetic. I’m very impressed with her; in the end it was almost a completely natural birth. They also don’t wash the baby initially, although they did wipe her down a bit, and they let you rest for two hours in the delivery room, in which time Mayuki got her first feed, from the breast, of course. Apart from leaving to get the cameras, I stayed with Yuriko all that time, and then saw her back to her room. Although the clinic normally keeps mother and baby together, Yuriko was allowed to entrust Mayuki to the midwife for the first bit; they were both very tired.

And then, I came home, to call all my family in England and America and tell them the news and email them some photos of the cutest baby in the whole wide world ever.

I didn’t know quite how I would feel, so it was interesting. There was no overwhelming surge of anything, just a quiet, but very, very strong feeling of love for this new person, and a conviction that I would do anything for her. I don’t know whether you are supposed to get some unique reaction to the first sight of your child, but mine was quite simple. “She’s out! Well done Yuriko! What’s that round her neck? Oh, it’s her arm. She’s born! Isn’t she cuuuuuuute!” (She had one arm and the umbilical cord round her neck when she was born, which meant that she looked a bit strange on the way out, at least until I worked out what the bulge was.)

Lots of people say that you can’t imagine how you wil feel when you first see your own child until you do. That’s not universally true; it was more-or-less what I expected. Of course, I got to actually feel it for the time. I genuinely believe that Mayuki was really cute immediately after birth, covered in blood and with a head the shape of a… well, nothing is normally that shape. I suspect that this ever-so-slightly biased perception will continue for, oh, the rest of my life.

A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism

I’ve been reading a lot of books about bilingual education, and this is the latest. Actually, I’ve read three, and the other two are both recommended in the back of this one, which is quite encouraging. They all have distinctly different approaches, but they also all agree on two points.

First, raising your child bilingual is a very good idea, and very good for the child. Second, it’s a lot of work. You have to think carefully about the language environment, and try to balance it.

I think it’s inevitable that Yudetamago will grow up with stronger Japanese, unless we move out of Japan (no plans for that at the moment), since Yuriko and I will continue speaking to each other in Japanese; I’ll talk to Yudetamago in English.

Anyway, the main difference about this book was that it is more focussed on schools, and on minority languages. This is no doubt due to the author’s background: he lives in Wales, and his children are English/Welsh bilingual. Thus, there is a lot of interesting information on how to set up schools to support bilingual children, and on what to look for in a school. I suspect we won’t get as much choice as we might like, although sending Yudetamago to an English-medium school would be an option, if we had enough money.

Another interesting point was that this book confirmed something I strongly suspected based on personal experience. Older children and adults learn foreign languages faster than young children. The difference is that younger children tend to end up with a better accent, and have more years to study in total. I was convinced that my Japanese was better than a Japanese seven-year-old, and it’s nice to be told that I’m probably right. In another eight years, I might even be able to write grammatically-accurate Japanese.

Overall, I think that this book will be less immediate use than the others, due to its emphasis on schools, but in a few years’ time it will probably be very useful indeed.

New Computer

I have a new computer. Specifically, I have one of the new metallic iMacs from Apple, the 20″ one. (Wait long enough, and that link will point to the newer versions, but for now, it’s the one I have.) It arrived Tuesday morning.

It’s really nice. Big, bright, clear screen, really fast processor (2.4GHz), enormous hard drive (750Gb), nice keyboard and mouse; the hardware is great. I took it out of the box, connected up, plugged in, and put a DVD in to enjoy the show. Box opening to use: five minutes, if that.

Of course, I want to run Ubuntu Linux on it, so that wasn’t the end. Next, I had to download and burn four live CDs from Ubuntu, to find one that worked with my machine and booted it. Then I partitioned the hard disk, reinstalled MacOS X, and restarted again. Next, start from the Ubuntu CD, and install. I had to use the Gutsy Gibbon Tribe 5 testing release, because the 07.04 stable release doesn’t seem to work with this machine. (This isn’t surprising, because the machine is newer.) At this point, it wouldn’t boot into Linux, so I had to poke around on the web a bit to find rEFIt, which I installed, and which worked flawlessly first time.

So, at this point I had two working systems, and I copied my Linux files over from the tarball I’d made on my external USB drive. In the process, I discovered that USB 2.0 is about twenty times faster than USB 1.1. I knew it was faster, but I hadn’t realised it was that much so.

Moving data to the Mac side was held up by the fact that my old machine was not working at all well in Target Disk mode, so in the end I copied everything to the USB external drive, and then copied it on to the new machine. My photos took about four hours to copy onto the disk, and about fifteen minutes to come off again. The old computer only has USB 1.1…

A couple of pieces of software I use a lot weren’t in the Ubuntu repositories, so I briefly pointed Synaptic at the Debian repositories to get them. Then I had fun and games trying to get Japanese input working. The software was easy, but I ended up having to set environment variables in /etc/environment. Still, all working now.

Thus, all told and including sleep and teaching, it took a bit less than 36 hours from delivery to fully-functional. That’s still, I think, fairly fast, given what I needed to do.

And if you understood everything in this post, I am afraid that you are indisputably a geek.

Clinically Speaking

Another clinic visit, another chance to spend twenty minutes listening to Yudetamago’s heartbeat (which is fun, especially as she was being lively and moving round), and more blurry ultrasound pictures which we are assured are a face. But no sign that she’s getting ready to be born yet. I think she might need a bit of encouragement, so I’ll start saying things like “You can be born any time now. Next week would be good. Even tomorrow is OK. The exit is down, by the way, so you might want to move a bit in that direction”. After all, until she’s born we have to keep going for check-ups, and that mounts up.

Still, no problems, and the doctor seemed generally positive and happy, which suggests that things are in a reasonably good state overall. I’ll just have to keep driving Yuriko out of the flat to take her walks.

Ghouls

Ghouls is a book for the World of Darkness, specifically for Vampire: the Requiem. It concerns humans who are given vampire blood to drink. They become addicted to the blood and, fairly quickly, come to regard the vampire supplying it as the most important being in their world. The blood also gives them access to some of the powers of vampires, making them stronger than normal humans, but they do not suffer the limitations; most significantly, they can go out during the day. Thus, they are the perfect servants for vampires, and that is their main role in the game.

This book thus serves two purposes. First, it develops ghouls in more detail as supporting characters, serving the player characters or their opponents. Some ghouls manage to maintain a precarious independence, and they can be allies or antagonists in their own right.

Second, it considers the possibilities of ghouls as player characters. Bound by their addiction and forced adoration for a master who is normally abusive, they are not in a particularly pleasant situation. However, for a series of roleplaying games that are about personal horror, this is not at all inappropriate. Indeed, I think they would make a very good viewpoint for examining the horror of the World of Darkness.

There is, however, a problem. Ghouls are almost all bound to vampires. This deprives them of the freedom to take the initiative in setting up stories and adventures, and this is a significant limit on a roleplaying game. What’s more, it would be unusual for a vampire to have enough ghoul servants to make a viable group, and even if he did, he would be unlikely to use them as a group. Mixed groups pose their own problems. Mixed ghouls and vampires face the problem that ghouls are active in daylight. Mixed ghouls and non-ghouls raise the problem of why the vampire allows the ghoul to associate with the others.

In short, the problem is that, although I can see how to build good stories around a single ghoul, I cannot really see how to work them into a group. The book does do some work towards dealing with this, and, of course, this is not the primary intended use of the material, so this is certainly not a major problem.

On the other side, however, a lot of the detail in the book is unlikely to see much use unless there are ghoul player characters. The information on how different clans and covenants of vampires tend to treat their ghouls is interesting, but player character vampires get to choose their own approaches. Similarly, the detailed rules on character creation are redundant if the ghouls are NPCs, and will thus be created to reach an appropriate power level. The information on ghoul families may be an exception to this; it can be used to create a new and interesting antagonist for a chronicle, or a background for a character who takes on a role other than ghoul.

In sum, this is a good book, with good ideas that make me want to use it. However, I’m not sure just how easy it would be to really use most of the information given here. If it had that extra bit of information, it might be a great book.