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”.


High school baseball is really, really popular in Japan. It’s not just that lots of boys play it, although that’s certainly true; the annual national competitions are televised live, and are often the main news items while they are happening. There are two, one in spring and one in summer, and the summer one is, I believe, the main one. This year’s has just finished.

The competitions are held at Koshien (甲子園), a place near Osaka. One team represents each prefecture, so before the main contest there are competitions in each prefecture to choose the team that will go to Koshien. Just going is a difficult goal for many high schools.

There are a number of private high schools, and a few state ones, with famous baseball clubs. They recruit from all over the country, with baseball scholarships, to build the strongest team possible. Indeed, a couple of months ago some of them got in trouble for being a bit too enthusiastic, and breaking the rules limiting what they are allowed to do. It’s very competitive, and one of these schools nearly always wins. Naturally, as they draw from across the country, they are mostly located in the major metropolitan areas. Waseda High School, in Tokyo, is one such, and they won last year.

This has led to popular manga featuring the tournament. The plot is as follows. A completely ordinary state high school somewhere out in the sticks (Tohoku, Shikoku, Kyushu) puts a baseball team together under difficult conditions (no proper club house, for example), and wins its way to Koshien. At the main tournament, they have to fight hard through all the rounds, but make it to the final. In the final, against a very strong school, they go three points behind. In the bottom of the ninth innings, the main character hits a home run with all the bases loaded, gaining them four points at once and meaning that they win Koshien.

This year, North Saga High School, a perfectly ordinary state high school from northern Kyushu, where the baseball club uses a shipping container as a storeroom, won Koshien after being three points behind in the final. In the bottom of the eighth innings, one player hit a home run with the bases loaded, so they won when they got the other team out for nothing in ninth.

As you might expect, such a storybook ending made the news in a big way.

Still Warm

Yesterday, the highest recorded temperatures reached 40.9 degrees, in two places; that’s the highest temperature ever recorded in Japan. Today seems, to me at least, to have been a bit cooler, although maybe I’m just getting used to it. Maybe tomorrow morning the news will tell us that it reached 41 today.

The news this morning included an amusing report on Yamanashi city, the previous record holder. Last year, they made tee-shirts: “Yamanashi — Hottest Place In Japan”. The plan, apparently, is to slightly modify them to read “Yamanashi — Third Hottest Place In Japan”. In Japanese, this is the change from 日本一 to 日本三, and thus can be done by simply adding a couple of lines to the design.

It’s a Bit Warm

The first item of news on the morning TV show this morning was about the weather. Temperatures in the Kanto area (around Tokyo) reached 40 degrees Centigrade (that’s about 104 Farenheit) yesterday, and were predicted to be similar today. Yesterday saw the seventh highest temperature recorded in Japan since records began.

It is, indeed, a bit warm. Normally I can manage without air conditioning, but not at the moment; it’s a bad sign when the air conditioning is set to 28, and still has to work constantly. I am managing with it turned off part of the time, but Yuriko needs it on when she’s around. We’ve invested in some shades to go outside the windows, which should cool things down a bit, but lots of other people seem to have had the same idea, so we haven’t actually received them yet.

This is not good timing. The earthquake in Niigata a month ago knocked out the Kasiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station, the largest in the world, and one of the ones supplying Tokyo. Thus, Tokyo Electric has significantly less supply than normal, and is facing significantly higher demand. They’ve been running adverts on television asking people to use less electricity. Yes, they are paying good money for adverts saying “Please buy less of our product”.

The forecast is for the heatwave to break over the weekend, which would be nice.

Catching Up

I’ve let the blog slip a bit this week (book reports get written in advance, in case you hadn’t guessed), but today I have a bit of space, so this entry will be a quick overview of what we’ve been up to.

On Monday, we had another appointment at the clinic, and got to see more ultrasound pictures of Yudetamago. She’s still growing right along the average curve, which is good, and there were no grounds for concern.

This week, Yuriko’s mother was in Yokohama for the International Esperanto Conference, and Wednesday was a day off for excursions. So, instead of going to see tourist sites in Japan, she came to see us. I was working most of the day, so, more specifically, she went shopping for baby things with Yuriko. They bought lots, and had it delivered here, so that it all arrived on Friday. We now have almost all of the basic necessities, plus a push chair, which we can’t use immediately. The only things I think we’re missing are the cot itself (coming), and nappies. There was another moment of it all seeming more real when I looked at the baby clothes Yuriko had bought, and realised that we were going to be putting our daughter in them.

I did have time to have dinner with Yuriko and her mother on Wednesday, and we went to a relatively new soba restaurant near Mizonokuchi station, which was nice. We talked about the baby, and about Esperanto, and I discovered that I can already basically read Esperanto. It’s based on European languages, so a background in English, French, and Latin makes it pretty easy. Since it was designed to be easy, I might be able to learn to speak it fairly quickly, too, but I don’t think it’s a high priority.

Work has been busy. I’m doing preparatory reading for a new writing project, and it’s been taking a lot longer than anticipated. I’ve nearly finished now, though; I suspect that I will actually finish tomorrow. Then, of course, I have to do the writing. I might be able to get it done before Yudetamago is born; I certainly hope so. However, that depends, to a certain extent, on exactly when she decides to join us.

My teaching is in a slightly odd state. On paper, I have plenty of students. However, with the summer holidays, I’ve had rather less than I’m aiming for every week for the last four weeks. So, I might get a brief period at or above the target level, before I have to take time off to help look after Yudetamago, and everything gets disrupted again. While freelance work definitely has its benefits, stability and predictability are not among them.

We have a few things left to do before the baby arrives, and then we’ll be as prepared as we can be. Of course, there’s no way we can fully prepare for the event; all we can do is look forward to it.

Ante-Natal Class

Yesterday we had another antenatal class, this one at the clinic where Yuriko will be giving birth. As a result, it had a very different focus from the ones provided by the city. It had almost nothing to say about post-birth child rearing, focusing on the final stages of pregnancy and the birth itself.

I learned quite a lot from this. Apparently, Yuriko has to keep her feet warm, and thus should be taking baths and wearing socks. She is evincing a certain level of resistance to this idea, probably because the ambient temperature is about 30 degrees. The doctor also says that she should be aiming to walk for about two hours per day, fairly briskly, to build up her strength for the birth.

The clinic has three basic policies about birth. The first is that it should be as natural as possible; this is one of the reasons for the emphasis on weight control and exercise beforehand. If the mother is well-exercised, there is more chance that the birth will go smoothly without medical intervention. Obviously, if medical intervention becomes necessary, they are set up to do that.

The second is that the mother and baby should be together as much as possible. The baby goes in the same room as the mother right from the beginning, unless there are medical problems.

The third is encouraging breast feeding from the first day, even from immediately after birth. They avoid giving formula unless there is a serious problem, which apparently leads to crying babies in the first day or so as the milk comes in.

From what I’ve read, all three of these seem to be good policies. There’s another one that doesn’t get listed as a basic policy, but which is just as important from my perspective; they are very positive about getting the father involved. While I shouldn’t have to deliver our baby, I will, apparently, have the chance to cut the umbilical cord.

We were shown the birthing room, which has quite a lot of medical equipment in in case of emergency; the impression given was that most of it is not normally used. After birth, the baby is first put on the mother’s chest, so that she can say hello, and then briefly whisked across the room (about two metres away) for all the immediate post-natal tests. Then it is given back to the mother, who has a couple of hours to recover in that room before moving to her own room. The father is allowed to be there throughout, and to take photos and videos in the final bit. They discourage filming during the birth; he’s supposed to be supporting the mother, not taking photos.

They also provided the very useful concrete information on when, exactly, you should go to the clinic. For first babies, it’s when the contractions are five minutes apart, or if the waters break. There’s also a list of emergency situations in which you should make contact immediately. That’s very good to have; it’s not like we know instinctively, after all.

At the end of the session the midwife confided that the doctor in the clinic is quite strict, and that she’s not heard the “walk two hours per day” instruction anywhere else. This is, however, to make sure that the mothers get through birth safely. And, in these cases, I think that strict doctors are better. After all, the result is not decided by how angry the doctor is or isn’t; it’s determined by the medical reality. Thus, if the strict doctor gets you to take the necessary steps to avoid problems, that’s good.

There was one other surprising thing. There were four couples at the class, and there was another foreign father. Not only that, but when I spoke to him afterwards, he turned out to be English. They live quite close to us (maybe twenty minutes’ walk, and right on the main bus route), so we’ve swapped contact information. I imagine that we’ll have a lot of issues in common. Our due dates are only a week apart, as well.

Kawasaki is one of the most international areas in Japan, but still, I think that having half of the fathers at an antenatal class be foreign is rather unusual. The midwives’ comments suggested that it was a bit unusual; we had the usual “You do both speak Japanese, don’t you?” questions. So, not only was the information in the class useful, but we also made a potentially very useful contact. A good day.

Japanese Elections

Yesterday were the elections for the Upper House of the Japanese Diet. They were rather more exciting than usual, because the ruling Liberal Democratic Party did not win. The largest party in the upper house is now the Democratic Party (formed by a merger of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party a few years ago, and led by a former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party). It is not entirely clear just how much difference the change will make.

Obviously, I don’t get a vote, but then neither did one of the candidates. She had, apparently, failed to register her residence properly when she came back from the USA, and thus, while she had the right to vote in the abstract, she didn’t actually have the right to cast a vote in any particular place. She was elected, though, so she has the right to vote now…

Anyway, Yuriko had her vote, so we discussed the candidates together and decided what to do. For the upper house, there’s a double vote system. First, each prefecture is a constituency, with a varying number of candidates, depending on the population. Then there is a party list system, although you can also vote for a particular individual on the party list. The constituency votes are first-past-the-post, although for Kanagawa it’s first-three-past-the-post. The voters only get one vote for a constituency candidate, and one vote for the list, though. This makes the constituency vote a bit tricky; the strategy involved is far from clear, especially as each alliance bloc fielded multiple candidates in Kanagawa. (The Democratic Party had two candidates elected, which was presumably the plan.)

As in the UK, the lower house is the more powerful part of the Diet, so the prime minister does not have to resign. However, the upper house does have to agree to bills, as far as I understand it, so this will have a significant impact on politics. Even before that, though, the fact that the ruling party was utterly hammered in the elections is having an impact. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Earthquake not here again

At about a quarter past ten this morning, there was a major earthquake in Niigata Prefecture. Niigata Prefecture is some way north of here, on the Japan Sea coast of Japan, and we didn’t even feel it; I found out from the new headlines on my cell phone. It was an upper 6 on the Japanese scale, which is very strong; if there are no deaths, we will have been very lucky indeed. It seems to have been magnitude 6.8 on the Richter scale.

It’s not been a good weekend, all told. Typhoon 4 was, apparently, the strongest on record for this time of year. It killed at least three people, injured seventy, destroyed or severely damaged a couple of dozen homes, and flooded a lot of areas, causing transport chaos across the whole country.

It’s ironic that this is a holiday weekend. Today is Sea Day, and a national holiday.

Of course, just here we’ve not really had any problems. The earthquake was too far away to have any impact, and the typhoon caused nothing worse than a couple of wet days. It even stopped in time for the summer festival at the local shrine to go ahead.


Today, it rained all day. Quite heavily. None of this “rain before seven, fine by eleven” rubbish. Now, it is true that we are currently in the middle of rainy season, but that’s not the reason. The reason is typhoon number 4. This is the first major typhoon of this season (which, I think, is a little late), but it’s a really big and strong one, and it’s currently passing over Kyushu. The fact that we are already getting heavy rain is a sign of just how big it is.

The forecast is for it to get here by tomorrow, so we are expecting even more wind and rain tomorrow. The expected rainfall is, apparently, 80mm in the next 24 hours. While this is quite a lot of rain, it won’t be enough to cause any problems beyond making it unpleasant to go out. That’s a shame, because it’s the summer festival at Shirahata Hachiman shrine (our local one) tomorrow, and we’d been hoping to go. Still, it’s hardly a major problem.

Kyushu is in a very different situation. They had heavy rain and major floods a week or so ago, and the ground is still wet. The further rain has thus triggered more flooding, mudslides, and general damage. People have been evacuated from their homes, and I don’t imagine they’ll be able to go back in the immediate future now.