“Taking Leave: the Book” now available!

TL-frontcoveronlyWell, the wait is finally over. My book is ready!

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).

The official book release “party” will take place at the JALT 2015 International Conference, Saturday November 21 at 3:45. I’ll be at the englishbooks.jp display booth with other Perceptia Press authors, signing copies of the book for anybody who brings one or buys one on site. So if you’re at the conference, stop by, grab a coffee and a book, and chat for a while!

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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…” 🎶

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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.

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Come out, damned spot!

IMG_4419One aspect of bathrooms in Japan that surprised me at first was the water everywhere around the sink. I mean, everywhere. Not having a habit of waiting for people to wash their hands in public lavatories, I found it a bit of a mystery: the faucets were always soaking wet, and there was usually water all over the counter and on the floor as well.

It took me a while to figure out that visitors to the bathroom were deliberately dousing the faucet with water after they used it. The point was that, after you do your business, you are touching a faucet with dirty hands. So rinsing the faucet with water is sort of a polite thing to do before the next person uses it.

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The Ugly Duckling in Japan

 Tomorrow is “Coming of Age Day” in Japan, when 20 year olds celebrate officially becoming “adults” in Japanese society.

Today, my family went to a performance by a local civic group of The Ugly Duckling, billed as “a moving story of love.” I wonder.

The folk story of the gosling who is raised with ducklings, ridiculed for being different, and then ultimately discovering his true identity, is a classic, famous tale beloved by those who think themselves outcast, rejected, isolated from society for being who they are.

The musical we went to see was very Japanese in the sense that it started with an announcer asking the audience to repeat the “three words of love”:

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New Year’s lasts one night of drinks and one day of college football in the US, but in Japan the holidays lasts for three days. Actually, for many the New Year’s holidays start on December 29th, giving the typical worker a six-day holiday. In fact, for many this is the only extended holiday of any kind.

For my family, the holiday meant starting with a year-end “o-souji” 大掃除 — basically a “spring cleaning,” but in the coldest time of year. Seems odd from an American perspective, but in a way it makes sense. Especially in central Japan, where the high humidity and lack of central heating leads to mold everywhere (particularly concentrated in rooms on the north side of the house), ending the year with a good scrub is essential for surviving the rest of the winter with catching a major illness. Also, since traditionally no cleaning or cooking is done during the New Year’s Three Days, there’s a lot of food preparation to do on the 30th and 31st of December.

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