Taking Leave: the Book!


TL-frontcoveronlyUPDATED.

Published through Perceptia Press (Nagoya), Taking Leave: An American on Paternity Leave in Japan is currently available through englishbooks.jp in paperback/soft cover format (retail price: 1500 yen plus tax).

I’d love to say the book is available through Amazon; however, it appears that because my publisher is a Japanese publisher, the book distribution laws currently state that publishers can use only one distributor at a time. Meaning that as long as the existing contract is with englishbooks.jp, Taking Leave cannot be sold through Amazon.

This seems a bit weird to me and I’m sure there must be a miscommunication somewhere between the publisher’s and the distributor’s interpretation of Japanese distribution laws.

At any rate, englishbooks.jp does ship worldwide via EMS (Japan Post), so please check out their website if you are interested.

There’s also nifty online preview of the first six pages. Enjoy!

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Farewell, Nursery. Hello, Kindergarten


After turning five in January, our youngest daughter finally made to the end of nursery school (“nen-cho,” 年長). Or so we thought.

We had heard rumors in previous years that the system might change. It turns out that in this case the rumors were true.

The nursery school was becoming a kindergarten. Kind of.

Seemingly like everything else concerning children and education in Japan, it’s more complicated than needs be.

The classrooms in the top three levels now have desks and movable blackboards (kindergarten is three years long in Japan). Teachers have to keep attendance records (before they would of course contact parents if children didn’t come by a certain time, but now attendance is slightly more codified). Students now study hiragana (one of the syllabary systems of Japanese writing) and learn how to read and write. Simple English is taught using pictures.

But the biggest difference is time.

Nursery school is run under the 厚生労働省 kousei roudousho, Ministry of Health and Welfare), and normal hours go from 7:30 to 6:30 (some schools run from 7:00 to 6:00).

Kindergarten is part of the official educational system, run by 文部科学省 (monbu kagakusho, the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Technology, often called the Ministry of Education or MEXT for short). School ends at 3.

So to get permission to leave our youngest daughter at the former nursery school, now the kindergarten, we had to fill out paperwork asking for teachers to take care of her until 6:30 on a daily basis.

On the other hand, whereas Saturdays used to be from 7:30 to 3:00, now they run until 6:30 like weekdays. This is likely because, in the Japanese mind, Saturday is a weekday (i.e., a regular workday).

Administratively, not much has changed, although I wonder if the school has lost a certain degree of independence. Owned by a local Buddhist temple, it’s the oldest of its kind in the prefecture, outside the prefecture capital. Sad to think that the school just celebrated its 60th anniversary just three years ago, only to see the name change suddenly.

So it’s a little confusing. The idea of a combined nursery school and kindergarten is a little strange to most people, and calling the school a “kodomo-en” instead of “hoikuen” takes time to get used to. But at least my daughter is now interested in learning how to read and write. I just hope she still has time to play!

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Who was that Masked Flu Avenger?


IMG_6728Looking back now, I can laugh.

The first week of February was rough. My wife had to work both weekend days, at the end of an already exhausting end-of-semester work week.

I had also had little sleep. The previous month, my youngest daughter had come down with the mumps, then my oldest daughter and I both got it, too (neatly sandwiching Christmas and New Year’s).

That weekend was going well. Until Sunday around noon. It started with a brief chilling feeling. My kids complained the temperature of the living room was too high. To me it was like a walk-in freezer.

Twas the season. For flu. Continue reading

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Kaiten Zushi Magic


Last week, my youngest daughter turned 5. Because three of us (both daughters and myself) were recovering from the mumps, we cancelled her birthday party and rescheduled it for the 14th.

As a reward to both girls for their hard work in setting up fun activities at the party, we took them to a local kaiten zushi (“rotating sushi”) store called Kura.

I remember going to a kaiten zushi restaurant when I first arrived in Japan; things have changed since then (almost two decades ago). Everything’s automated now. The only time you see workers is when you specifically call them using the “yobidashi” call button.

The bottom “lane” of the kaiten belt constantly rotates to bring random selections of onigiri zushi (“handshaped”) and maki zushi (“rolls”). The top lane is amazing: when you special order something, your order zips along to your table and stops as if by magic. We ordered a beef bowl for my youngest (she won’t touch sushi…) just to see the top lane in action. (The bowl appeared to have a magnet embedded in the bottom…or maybe it was a microchip).

Given that our oldest daughter had performed a magic show at her sister’s birthday party, the magically appearing beef bowl seemed entirely appropriate as an encore!

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Daddy-daughter vacation (kind of)


Friday, my two daughters (aged 7 and 4) and I set off on a four-hour bullet train (Shinkansen) ride without my wife. She did see us off at the Shin-Osaka bullet train station, but since she had a week-long business trip in Australia the next day, she couldn’t come with us. It was my first time to take such a long trip with just my kids. To tell the truth, I was a little apprehensive. After all, Japan is well-known as a country where foreign dads and Japanese moms argue over who keeps the children (signing the Hague Treaty on parental child abduction has not changed much of this sensitive issue) and I was concerned that shinkansen passengers might think or say something.

Nothing unusual happened. Both of my daughters fell asleep halfway to the end…Kagoshima, where my father-in-law was waiting to take us home.

It’s been a tiring “vacation” so far, and there’s still a full day and night left before I return (my wife comes the day after the fall term starts, so that’ll be another new experience…). But having just visited my relatives in New York in mid-August, the trip has provided yet again an interesting comparison/contrast between cultures.

Not that my family in New York constitutes “American culture,” nor that my wife’s family in Kagoshima constitutes “Japanese culture.” Nevertheless…

In both places, the father (nominal head of household) provided the food and transportation (mainly), while the mother provided the familial/neighborhood contact and clothing. My mother insisted that she pay for new shirts and pants for the kids’ fall classes, while my mother-in-law bought pajamas and towels so we wouldn’t have to bring any (still two days left, so she may buy more…). In both places, the father/father-in-law arranged for a family dinner at a nice restaurant (and in both places the kids sort of (mis)behaved and attached themselves quite literally to new aunts (Japan) and future uncles (US).

There was much more driving (by me) in New York and much more bus/taxi in Kagoshima (I’m too chicken to rent a car and the kids are too young to attempt an overnight ferry from Osaka with our own car). Hot in both places (35C/95F) with random thundershowers in both places (and us without umbrellas…not that they’d matter, likely). And while in the US we went to outdoor public museums (nature) and indoor private tours (Star Trek: Voyages, where my family was volunteering for Trekonderoga), in Kagoshima we went to the city aquarium (where my daughter Emily ran off…because she saw an ice cream vending machine in a side alcove) and a city-run children’s play center.

Overall, we’ve been blessed by both families and cultures. People aren’t so very different, after all. Especially when it comes to kids.

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Self-reliance starts young


4AE785BC-0553-44D7-8E00-862B73957152Two weeks ago, my daughter graduated nursery school. Last week, my grandmother passed away (my daughter’s great-grandmother). Today, my daughter walked to elementary school for the first time. And the cycle continues…

This is cherry blossom (sakura) season in Japan, and it’s not hard to understand the timeless appeal of watching a variety of slender trees briefly burst into soft pink and white flower bouquets that almost immediately begin to flutter apart, scattering tiny fragile petals across yards and roads with every gentle breeze. Whether caught up in the increasing crush of Chinese tourists to ancient Kyoto temples or grumbling while sweeping out my front porch (a never ending task), I can’t help but reflect on the truism of the phrase: We do not have time; Time has us. Continue reading

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The end is the beginning


IMG_5422Our daughter is now leaving nursery school. From her birth to my wife’s maternity leave to my paternity leave, from building a new house to finishing a doctorate to switching jobs, from one daughter to another (who’s a completely different personality…) and increasing sibling rivalry, it’s been a long ride.

“But we’ve only just begun…” 🎶

Continue reading

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“Dutch backpacks” in Japan


It’s the end of February, and our oldest daughter is nearing the end of her nursery school experience. What a ride it’s been.

Now she and her classmates are learning the “goodbye, our nursery school,” song which they will sing at the graduation ceremony in March (yes, like every school at every level of Japanese education, nursery schools have graduation ceremonies…verrrry different from US nursery schools).

The song refers to yet another rite of passage for 6 year olds: the “Dutch backpack” of Japanese elementary schools.

Continue reading

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