Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Summer Scenes

“It all depends on your perspective.”
Our in-laws sent a bunch of home-grown veggies to us in the mail. This potato sat on our kitchen sink counter for a few days. After a few days I had the temerity to ask Naomi “who sent us the potato shaped like an ass?”

It’s a heart, a***ole, and it’s from my mom,” she replied.
I guess I failed those Rorschach tests in elementary school, too.

Lady E’s imagination is alarming at times
Elena spent some time on an art project at school just before the summer holidays began.
This is a pen holder. It shows just enough lunatic genius that I feel I must share it with the world. When she proudly presented it to me as a gift – because I really do like her chaotic use of color – the first thing that came to mind was paraphrasing an old Stephen King novel: that girl, at times, “is crazier than a shithouse rat.” But they say the same thing about many artists. I like her unbridled, enthusiastic art.

I bought a little propane gas BBQ (the grill is about 40 cm x 30 cm) with the cute name “California BBQ.” Its size is scaled to match our modest front yard. And believe me, we are lucky to have this much space in cramped Yokohama/Tokyo! I did a little Rube Goldberg tinkering and affixed the gas grill on top of our old charcoal BBQ underbody. And it does very nicely, adding just a bit more flavor to our summer evenings.

Some views on summer festivals from E. and M.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Multiple Matsuri Madness Part II

Geriatric Dancing Terminator
Remember the cheesy David Lee Roth EP from the 1980s called “Crazy from the Heat”? It’s a perfect metaphor symbolizing our leisure time of late, namely uncomplicated frivolity in the silly season.

For example, a side story from the previous “Part I” post. I’ll title this the “Geriatric Dancing Terminator.” Here’s what happened. The group of kids that went onstage just prior to Naomi and E. & M's group got a surprise bonus: they ended up dancing with a very, very intoxicated older gent wearing...err…non-traditional summer festival clothing.
When the group of kids and moms filed on to the stage, the drums and music begins, and the Geriatric Dancing Terminator shambles up the steps…then furtively begins to sway around the stage, feeling the music take hold, feeling the funk, when the power of the drumbeat takes over and the animal rhythms kick in. This guy was Rock and Roll. He was in touch with his inner Hendrix, just letting his Freak Flag fly. Because was older – clearly a respected member of the community – nobody said anything nor gently interfered, and he kept on channeling Stanley Kubrick. So he did his unique Ramble On. When the music was over, the dancers descended the wooden staircase, and a craggy, satisfied smile appeared on his face.

I saw my own future. Sometimes you gotta say “WTF.”

Goldfish & Life & Death
The following weekend meant visiting another nearby neighborhood’s summer festival. This particular matsuri is held at a community center with a small adjacent creek deliberately filled with goldfish for the kids to catch and take home. It amounts to organized mass murder of the fish.

As they have done over the past three summers, the Rising Daughters tirelessly hunted down and captured a squad of goldfish and some squiggly-brown-thingies that we dutifully took home in plastic bags to acclimate to our small aquarium. As has happened the past three summers, by late evening the fish started dying off and sinking to the bottom or floating to the top of the water. The difference this year was E. and M. started to grasp the pattern: bring home goldfish, put in mini-aquarium = they all die. So we are now forcing the girls to bury the departed fish in our humble front yard so they grasp the finality of their choice to bring the hapless fish home. It’s all part of our Parental Master Plan, imparting lessons on choices we make, life and death. Heavy shit, I know. Alas, that broad plan is not working all that well, but the stop of the annual fish massacre is a start. I still think Marina has a streak of Robespierre in her.
The next day, there were a few survivors from the original 15 fish. Before we left to visit longtime friend JK and old friends from Canada, the McK's, who were visiting him in Japan, we convinced E. and M. to let the remaining fish go free. The girls agreed, and we let them go in the creek where they were originally captured.
So there may be some budding “actions have consequences” and a sprig of “development of a conscience” happening in the Rising Daughters after all.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Multiple Matsuri Madness Part I

We didn’t go anywhere during the month of July, but man did we dance. Nothing too mysterious about why:  it is summer “matsuri” festival time. No, NOT Festivus. It’s our neighborhood’s slew of weekend dances celebrating the upcoming Obon holidays, where people honor their ancestors through the special Bon Odori dance and enjoy summer food and general merriment. I’ve written about all this before so I will not re-state what loyal Rising Daughter blog readers already know: it’s just about pics of Ladies E. and M. to mark the passage of another year.
One bonus: Naomi was “nominated” as the local kids’ association chairperson, which meant she spent many a weekend afternoon sitting in long meetings. The meetings culminated in the festivals, but it was a Long March for her. Here’s three cheers for Naomi, the Queen of Kaichos.

We kicked off the dances with an afternoon at Marina’s kindergarten. One major difference this year compared to last was that she was smiling and happy to be there. Last year, she seemed to think she was being fed to the lions at the Coliseum. Weather was warm and humid, of course. I get a kick out of watching the first-year kids trying to walk around with the mini-shrine. It’s all being filmed by hordes of proud parents and grandparents as though it’s a White House news conference--me included. Games for the kids and chatting with other parents are the main attractions.
Next weekend was the neighborhood’s Summer Obon Dance, open to everyone. Instead of her “happy coat” – the blue cotton garment with the red symbol on the back from the prior weekend – Marina donned her summer yukata. Looking very cute, I must say. As was Elena, too. They both enjoy wearing their summer yukata.
The girls had practiced the dance moves for the bon odori dance during many weekends prior to the festival. When their time was called, up on the stage they went for their five minutes of dancing.
Naomi led the kids around for two songs, effectively capping off her responsibility, then sealed it off with a triumphant procession around the shrine with the kids in tow while another group danced onstage. Then she popped a beer. Miller-o time-o!

Part II coming soon!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Canada D’eh

I calculated that I have lived over 45% of my life so far outside Canada.

Does that make me any less Canadian? Naw. Maybe even amplifies my quiet, steely, beaver-toothed pride in hailing from the Great White North.

Just another day over here in Japan, of course. But I had a cold one after work and used my imagination to attend a philosophical BBQ and hit the pool.

I am…

And not to get too uncomfortably political on ya, but I just gotta post one more thing:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Four More Seasons

We are heading into musky, verdant high summer. The plants adorning our house add a dash of tropical to the otherwise desert/austere look to our abode. “These days, our place looks like a 1970s adult movie,” I quipped to my better last weekend, prompting rebukes and derision from her.

I once showed you what our apartment in Hiroshima looked like in the midst of the four seasons. Here is the Yokohama version:
(Full disclosure: the heaviest snowfall in five years)



Monday, June 29, 2015

Blech! Sunshine and Saccharine

I was sizzling in the sun when I had a musical bonding epiphany with my youngest Rising Daughter, Lady M.
During Elena’s annual school sports day Marina and I spent several hours under the morning sun wandering around the tightly-controlled confines of the schoolyard navigating the hordes of moms and dads, grannies and grampas all vying for the best videotaping vantage points. 
We were already tapped out and decided to take a break at our humble lunch spot in one of the shaded areas of the school.

Sweaty and bored, I pulled out the trusty iPod Shuffle and settled into my foldable chair, when she surprised me by asking to listen along with me. Why not? I thought, and handed over one of the ear buds. She surprised me by liking the music. Perhaps it was fluky because the Go Gos oldie “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Vacation” happened to be next on the playlist and she instinctively liked these girl-surf-pop tunes, bobbing her head along with the beat. “We ga da beat,” she said, cackling.
Then, “Lithium” by Nirvana, the loud-quiet-loud structure captivating me yet again and prompted M. to do a head bob, mimicking my own (last seen in 1992). Hmm. A budding music fan? We shall see. She later lost the ball when Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash hit our eardrums, prompting her to scrunch her nose in disapproval, remove her bud, and scamper off to watch another one of Elena’s events.
Such is the slow tempo to life on these early summer weekends, completely at odds with the frenzy of weekdays. Same as it ever was.
Beyond that, Crazy E. has embraced sleepovers so we were the grateful recipient of time off when she stayed over at a local chum’s house. Payback came in the form of our hosting her friend the next weekend. All fine and well, but the chattiness prevented regular sleeping patterns.  The next day I found out those eight-year-old girls who stay up until 0200 the previous night gabbing possess a certain kind of fury fused to a late-afternoon crankiness that is hard to deal with. Not pleasant, I can tell you.

“Ain’t no damn thing perfect, son,” murmurs Johnny Cash in my ears as I settle deeper into my chair. Just another summer day.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Marina’s fingers were digging into the lateral muscles in my back as she clung to me like a langur monkey—bawling, chest heaving, tears spilling down her reddened cheeks. We had just emerged from the Space Mountain ride at Tokyo Disneyland. The ride’s shudders and jolts, sudden drops, abrupt curves and hyperspeed tunnel in the pitch dark had frightened her. She kept calm until the first traces of the sunshine outside became visible when the ride ended. Then she lost control and the shock took over: her cute little tears were hard to stem. Happy fifth birthday!

The idea was simple: celebrate our youngest daughter’s fifth year on the planet by taking her to one of Tokyo’s (and, when you think about it, one of the world’s) leading kiddie entertainment venues. Herewith are a few notes on how the day unfolded.

Up at 0500, packed the equipment and the family. Departed home by 0530. Hoo-yah!

Tokyo traffic better than expected; got a space in the first-rank parking lot. We rock! Waited in the park front gates from 0645 until 0830. The girls were excited for obvious reasons, but they were well behaved while we whittled away the time.
Then the gates flew open, people ran toward the attractions like lemmings, and it was game on. We first went to the major rides where we thought the lines would be long, starting with the Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, then just heading out around the park and making it up as we went along.
We also did Star Tours, had a lot of popcorn and crap all day long. Space Mountain speaks for itself: we jumped the shark on that one. Hence the birthday girl’s tears…
Weather was good: not too hot (23 degrees, still short-sleeve shirt OK), not too much sunshine. Luckily, Marina is over 102 cm so she could ride all the attractions. The lines were not onerous, as we had picked a strategic weekday to go; we pulled the girls out of a regular school day to game the system. And we figured out the FastPass system to our benefit: after you register with a ride you want to do but you do not want to wait hours to do it, FastPass will give you a specific time to return to said ride and board it without a wait.

Food? Psssshaw!@#$!! Kind-of ate lunch, then we pressed on. The Toonstown area was OK but both Elena and Marina are beyond it in maturity. We soon figured out the rides we liked and would repeat in Pavlovian fashion, then went over to the main street USA and New Orleans-styled areas. Alas, the Rising Daughters decisively vetoed having coffee there. I enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride, so did Naomi. Watched the afternoon Easter parade. I needed an ice coffee by then to keep going without requisite heart attack.
Then more rides and another parade at 1730, followed by the post-nightfall fireworks and the closing presentation near the castle. It was 2130 by that time, and Marina fell asleep despite the fireworks' dramatic booms and skyline filled with colors, resting her chin on my head because she was sitting on my shoulders.
We rolled home and arrived shortly after 2300. 17½ hours of fun. Seriously, it was fun.

What I learned:
- how to be surrounded by the Disney branding experience at every moment and hustled without regret
- their attention to detail, for example everything is clean
- no shaming works: we bought a ride photo (which we usually, never, ever do, and quite often mock) despite its ridiculous price because it was good quality and there was no upsell/hard sell

- Darth Vader speaks Japanese.
Say what you will about its superior branding or corporate tendencies, Disney sure can put on a show. I took the experience for the first time, drank the many-colored, multi-cultural Kool Aid, and took note of the daylong joy on my kids’ faces…except for the one time Marina was screaming out of fear after Space Mountain. We pushed the envelope on that one.

What a great day. Seriously. Video below speaks for itself.