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.

English as Decoration

Japanese companies often use English words and phrases as decorative motifs on products. They do not worry too much about what they mean, or whether they are actually English, because they are simply decoration. This can lead to a certain degree of incongruity for English speakers; anyone who has visited Japan will have encountered at least a couple of examples.

In the TV listings magazine this week there is an example that goes a bit beyond incongruity. It’s an advert for an idol DVD. This is a genre I’ve not noticed in the west, although it may exist. One or more attractive women pose in bikinis, underwear, or revealing outfits, over the course of a one hour DVD. They do not generally, I believe, include nude scenes.

Anyway, this DVD features a model called Kawamura Yukie. The English strap line is clearly derived from her name.

“Silky body, Yuckey”

Baby News

I’ve got a bit behind on the absolutely fascinating news concerning our incipient child. People with no interest in the entirely normal process of pregnancy can ignore this article.

So, we went to the clinic on Monday, and there’s almost no news. Which is good, because it means that Yudetamago is developing normally. She’s now head down, as she should be, and right on the centre of the growth curve for her age, which is also good. She’s too big to fit in the ultrasound window now, and she was hiding her face again, so we don’t have a 3D picture. It’s early to be camera shy, but maybe we won’t be putting her on the stage.

Last time we went to the clinic, she was in breech presentation. One of Yuriko’s Japanese books suggests that an effective way to deal with this is to talk to the baby and tell her that her head needs to be at the bottom. So I did that. And now her head is at the bottom. Clearly, this works. (In English, as well as Japanese.)

We’ve also had our local-government-provided parenting classes, which provided rather more useful information. It has been mainly the basic stuff: brushing teeth, basic nutrition, home environment, the process of birth. There were partners at all the sessions (even in Japan, they don’t call them “husbands” any more, although they did call them “fathers” at the last one), maybe three, for thirty mothers. The average age of the mothers was about 30, and most had lived in Miyamae-ku for less than three years; that is, apparently, normal.

For the last session, the fathers were encouraged to attend, because there were special things set up for them.

One was the pregnancy experience; they had jackets with breasts and stomach attached, filled with stuff that made them weigh eight kilograms. The idea is that the man tries it on, and finds out how hard it is for the woman to move around. When I put it on it provoked comments like “Yes, well, this is designed for Japanese people, we really need a bigger one for you”, especially after I did a sit up in it. Yes, the exercises are working. I have no doubt I will be very grateful for that post-birth, when I actually will get to carry the baby.

Talking of which, the other experience was giving the baby a bath. They had a proper simulation doll, the right weight, floppy in the right places, and anatomically accurate, for us to practise on. I think I did OK; I didn’t drown the doll or anything. Of course, the real baby might decide to move by herself, something that wasn’t a real possibility.

I think about half the mothers got their partners to come along, and there was a bit at the end where the mothers consulted together, and so did the fathers. I asked if anyone was taking paternity leave, and it seems not. I probably will; being self-employed I can take it whenever I want, as long as I don’t mind not being paid. And I’ll give myself my job back afterwards… However, this still seems to be something that hasn’t really caught on in Japan.

Overall, the lessons were useful, and we’ve made contact with half a dozen other families in the local area, which should be good. For now, I just have to keep supporting Yuriko.