End of the Year

I’ve just written an enormous post for my Japanese blog looking back over the year, so this version is likely to be a bit smaller. The Japanese blog does tend to get prioritised over this one, I’m afraid.

So, from a personal perspective, it was a good year. It was our first full year as parents, and we have largely adapted to having a small child in the family. Of course, Mayuki herself is delightful, and her growth this year has, naturally, been amazing. At the beginning of the year she couldn’t even sit up, but now she’s running around the flat, parks, and shopping malls, and imitating us constantly. She can say “bye-bye” and “hai” (Japanese for “yes”), as well as a few other words that are a bit more approximate, including “Daddy”. For some reason, she doesn’t seem to want to say “Mummy”, but when she woke up last night she was very clear that Daddy was not good enough, and that Mummy had to come, so it must just be something about the words.

She enjoys helping Yuriko to clean, getting the extra vacuum cleaner nozzle from the cupboard and so on, although apparently when she tried to help sweep up leaves on the balcony it was not completely effective as a means of tidying them up. She got a new doll for Christmas, with a bottle and nappies, and she plays at looking after her. In other words, she’s being a typical child, which is good.

She also seems happy; she does shout and scream from time to time, but it’s almost always from excitement, and her crying is fairly limited. We are in the halcyon days, with the terrible twos to look forward to.

Work has also gone fairly well. Ice Yearning has not yet been a great success, but that could be said of a lot of novels, so I’m going to be trying again next year. Actually, this year, in the UK and US, jut barely, so watch out for that. Teaching has been going well, with my students almost all continuing their lessons. I still want to recruit a few more, but only a few. Over all, then, work could have been better, but it was good enough.

Of course, looking at the wider world, things have gone less well, with wars from Africa through the Middle East to Georgia and east to Afghanistan, plus continued terrorism across much of the world. People are still not taking environmental problems as seriously as they deserve, and probably won’t until the crises start to hit the developed world as well. But we can still hope.

I can’t do anything on a global scale, so I will have to concentrate on making Mayuki’s local environment as good as possible, to raise her to be able to cope with the larger problems that are bound to surround her. And, of course, ensure that she enjoys the process of growing up.

Boil the Scrapings from Under His Fingernails and Drink Them

This is, apparently, a standard Japanese phrase: 爪のあかを煎じて飲む. It means “learn from him by imitation”. Yuriko suddenly used it last night, with reference to me, and it was the first time I’d heard it, so there followed a short clarificatory discussion. (“Why do they want to boil my fingernails? What have I ever done to them?”) Yuriko guessed that it might have something to do with the practices of traditional Chinese medicine, but it’s still a rather strange phrase.

The context was that she met some other Japanese mothers yesterday, and they were talking about their husbands. Apparently, most Japanese husbands still think that socks unball themselves and walk to the linen basket in the middle of the night, and are happy to watch the baby occasionally, as long as it doesn’t cry, or complain, or want to do anything. The idea that he might bathe the baby, or look after her for a whole day, seems to be regarded as plainly ridiculous.

This makes it very easy to be a comparatively good husband over here. It also probably explains why, in marriages between a Westerner and a Japanese, the Westerner is overwhelmingly male and the Japanese female. There are a handful of exceptions, but they seem to be very rare. The same bias does not apply to international marriages in general; there are a lot of Filipinas or Chinese women married to Japanese men, so it balances out, at least. But still, I suspect that there are very few Western women who would put up with a typical Japanese husband, so marriages that way probably only happen with exceptional examples. They do exist, and the culture is shifting in favour of the husband helping at home, but Westerners have at least a thirty year head start.

Busy Lives

I’ve not had time to get the diary caught up yet, even though there’s only one entry to go, because I’ve had to do lots of work. Yuriko has been busy as well.

On Tuesday she went to the Taira Children’s Culture Centre for a talk on food for babies from one to two, which was very useful, particularly in convincing her that she didn’t need to panic about Mayuki. Yesterday, she went to the Sugao Child Raising Support Centre for a talk on picture books. She says they were very good, although most of them were for children aged two and a half and up. It is certainly true that Mayuki doesn’t seem to fully appreciate books yet, much as she enjoys looking through them. There is, apparently, a library of such books in the Sugao Children’s Culture Centre.

All of these centres are funded by Kawasaki City, and thus free to use. There is a serious shortage of nursery places in Kawasaki, due in large part, I suspect, to the relatively high number of both children and working parents, but the rest of the child support system seems to be in very good shape.

Today, Yuriko took Mayuki to Ikea, along with Mayuki’s half-English friend and her mother. I’ve not heard the full account of what they did yet, because Yuriko is currently making dinner in the hope that I can eat before I have to teach at half past seven. It’s getting a bit tight…

Day Trip

Today we went on a family day trip to Atami, a coastal hot spring resort town a couple of hours away by train. This means that I’m even further behind on the diary than I was yesterday, because this is a diary entry sort of thing, with pictures. I’m going to have to deliberately set aside some time to get the diary done.

Anyway, we all had a good time. I don’t know exactly what Mayuki enjoyed, but she was a good girl all day, and got upset when we were home and obviously getting ready to send her to bed. I think she enjoys travel; new things to see, and she gets to spend the whole day with Mummy and Daddy. Yuriko particularly enjoyed seeing a house designed by Bruno Taut, a famous pre-war German architect. (Actually, he only designed one floor of the house, so he mainly designed the interior.) I particularly enjoyed visiting a couple of shrines. Fortunately, we both enjoyed the places the other wanted to see, so there was no boredom involved.

We’re trying to teach Mayuki Baby Sign, because it is apparently good for them to communicate before they can manage to frame words. We’re not very good at remembering to teach her, but today at dinner, when Yuriko tried to convince Mayuki that it was delicious, Mayuki tapped her left cheek with her open hand, which is the sign for “delicious”. I don’t know whether Mayuki knows what it means, since Yuriko frequently uses it about things that Mayuki doesn’t want to eat (which isn’t terribly good strategy, now I come to think of it), but she’s clearly connected the word and the sign.

Anyway, I’ll try to get round to writing the diary entry before I forget everything we did.

Five Years in Japan

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my arrival in Japan, as well as Yuriko and my second wedding anniversary.

When I arrived here, I thought that I would be studying for a year and then returning to the UK. I certainly didn’t imagine that five years later I’d own a flat in the Tokyo area, be married to a Japanese woman, and have a half-Japanese daughter. But life often turns out in ways you weren’t expecting, and I’m certainly not complaining about these developments.

It is probably obvious that I like living in Japan. It’s possible that I’ll never go back to the UK, but since Yuriko and I both like the UK as well, it’s also entirely possible that we will. I just don’t have any plans to do so at the moment.

If I did go back to the UK, there are a number of things I would miss. Sushi, tonkatsu, even ramen occasionally; I do like Japanese food. Buses and trains that are clean and run on time. To the point that when they’re three minutes late the staff never stop apologising. Convenience stores open 24 hours (especially when there’s one next to the flat; that’s maybe a little too convenient). Shinto shrines. Teaching English.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have said that the economy was in better shape in the UK, but I’m not so sure about that any more. Still, lamb, decent cheese, and chocolate bars (like Mars bars) are the foods I miss from the UK. And with thirty years of experience, British history and culture still have a very strong resonance for me. While I like Japanese culture, it’s a different experience.

But I like it here, and I’m looking forward to the next however long it is I spend here, with my family.