“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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Taking Leave: 2015 in review

Hello, readers!

It’s almost 2016, so I thought I’d take a look back at this year on my blog about childcare leave, parents and children, and related social issues.

I haven’t blogged this past year as much as previous years, with most of my attention in the early part of the year centered on Amazon Japan’s persistent refusal to remove blatant child abuse images and materials from their sales. We may have to try for a follow-up in a couple of months, to see if things have improved (sneak preview: not likely).

In February and March I was focused on publishing and promoting my first novel, Approaching Twi-Night (see my blog at http://mthomasapple.com for more details!). And from April through the summer I was working…

…and finishing off the long-awaited book version of Taking Leave, which finally debuted this past November.

Anyways, I took advantage of a nifty feature of WordPress that prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog. Check it out below if you’d like.

Thanks for reading in 2015, and see you in the New Year!

Here’s an excerpt from the stats report for 2015:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Taking Leave: the Book!


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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Summer Festival: Beat your own drum!

Four months ago, we gave away our long-used/abused baby barriers. Yesterday, we helped our children celebrate their nursery school’s summer festival. Time flies…


Once again, my wife volunteered to be a member of the Ai-go-kai (愛護会, literally “love protection association,” but basically the PTA…without the T). So she had lots of meetings on random Saturdays leading up to the festival itself. Of course the teachers are there—they help organize the opening and closing performances, and even have their own dance routine and/or cosplay of a folk tale or movie scene (this year they did Peter Pan, complete with flying fairies and Captain Hook with a gigantic metal hook). But the parents are in charge.

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