Saturday, February 28, 2015


Hey Infidels! Flashback to December 21, the winter solstice, shortest day and longest night of the year. We plot to counter the darkness with lights—many, many millions of them—through the Mother of all Festive Season illumination fiestas called “Jewellumination.” We opt for this day because Festivus was on a school day. I drink six cups of coffee prior to entering the cockpit of our car, strap in the Rising Family Members and we motorvate into the heart of suburban Tokyo, to Yomiuriland. It is an old-school amusement park operated and run by the Yomiuri Group, the parent of the Yomiuri media conglomerate which owns the eternally evil Yomiuri Giants baseball team. I choke back bile at the thought of my entrance fees somehow going to fund future Giants players’ paychecks, but relent for the kiddies, who are flying as high as I am just on anticipation, not caffeine.
Yadda yadda. We arrive at 1100 and man we are PRIMED. I brandish our tickets and we force our way into the park. 
Elena preens a little after showing her go carting skills. Equally competitive, Marina is smart and mean to her sister on the carousel, yet shows a neo-religious bent after exiting the haunted house and bursting into adorable tears. Naomi cackles, causing me to burst into tears myself. More coffee, hola! While navigating a rising tide of families and young couples, we wander around in the warmish sun, hitting the roller coaster, spider ride, racecars, and octopus tentacle gyrating g-force contraption. These attractions and rides emit hisses, CHUNKA-CHUNKA sounds, fueling the frenzy of consumption, which is tamed only by the incessant safety messages broadcast by bored teenagers who check our tickets and decide our fate. The backbeat is sounds of jingling pocket change and wallets creaking open to keep the party going.

I buy cotton candy for the kids after lunch, keeping their sugar levels optimal. The wife and I hoover espressos on the sly. Time going by fast. Elena and I board the special “Looping Starship” ride, which, at the top of its parabola, stops for about 30 seconds upside down. Cosmonauts! Marina burns holes into us with envious eyes as we exit the ship arrogant, insolent, and adrenalized!

I make amends with “M” by allowing her to take command of the teacup ride. Spins, and the lack of real food together with several hours of abusing caffeine, culminate in a bit of not-unwelcome vertigo. This prompts a thought—I should double-down get a higher view of the place! But we hit the Ferris wheel too early—first up at around 1600 because we were concerned about long lines. Elena got annoyed with me because I shunted her into the Ferris wheel capsule: hey old man I can get into this thing ON MY OWN. So she acted all pissy throughout the up-down arc, but we ignored it and snapped a few photos of the amusement park vista.
Just before 1700 it was getting dark and our Family Unit relocated to where the Jewellumination parade was going to kick off. I’ve captured a few images, both in my brain and in a video. This day will henceforth be known as The Day That Elena Discovered Taylor Swift.
Funky music. Amazing, splashy lights.The whole ensemble cast gyrating around the three parade cars and everyone—young couples, families and the park staff--all seemed to sip from the cup of Christmas spirit. It was just a treat to watch. I had another wave of caffeine hit just then so my memory is questionable, but I am pretty sure the Friendly Doggy Snowman morphed into a version of Harvey, the Irish spirit in the guise of a giant rabbit who was James Stewart’s mischievous chum in the movie of the same name.
The Parade became a sensory stew of thumping music, dancing snow queens adorned by colorful chem sticks, and bright LED lights dangling from the tree boughs all igniting at precisely the same time. This reached a rather pleasing crescendo of sounds and carnival smells: I saw Jefferson Airplane-style psychedelic blobs; my temporal lobe lit up in ecstasy; I heard gasps of delight and witnessed ear-to-ear smiles on the faces of nearly everyone around me.

After the parade events concluded, we took the illumination Light Tour throughout the entire park area. There were over 3,000,000 LED lights advertised and we saw 2,999,999 of them. My God the Japanese are thorough people—it was such an endless visual delight. Obvious care was taken EVERYWHERE to ensure the godliness in the gaudy. 
The spectacle of seeing the bandit roller coast seemingly float in the air, its bright colors whizzing around the darkened track way up in the black sky. The LED Light Tour took us about an hour and oddly I had REO Speedwagon as my internal soundtrack the whole time. 

Evening turned to night, and Marina and Elena got a bit cranky as their natural stimulants waned, shrinking Naomi’s cheerful vibe (but not destroying it). I chugged another coffee (cheapo 7-11 brew, but not bad) in the car as we exited the park, satiated and now fully primed for the holidays.
If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, I know for sure that heaven will be a viciously overcrowded version of Yomiuriland—a clean, well-lit place full of sunshine (LEDs at night), the squeals of happy kids and their pleased parents, and happy souls where everybody seems spontaneously joyful. Because that’s how I felt for days after this little adventure. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Crime and Punishment

Belated happy New Year. I am tardy to the party this year partly because I was apprehended by the police for breaking the law. Seriously. I confess to being a crook. A no good, ne'er do well hooligan and general scourge of society.
My crime, mind you, was not that serious. During a commute to the office last week, I was caught by an enthusiastic young policewoman for driving my scooter on the right side of a road’s center white line which separates opposing traffic lanes. For about 20 meters.
Scene of the crime
My punishment was a 6,000 yen fine -- 300 yen per meter – and I think one point subtracted from my license’s accumulated points.
Any loss of points means that I am condemned to sit through a two hour lecture on safe driving when I renew my license at the Driver’s License Center.  
I was tempted to beg for clemency due to the socially-acceptable canard that I was so busy and had to get the office, and the traffic jam was blocking the left side of the lane with only the 20 meters left to reach the scooter parking lot.

But I am an old gaijin now and know better. It is faster and easier to admit one's guilt than expend energy and brain cells arguing against the inevitable. Plus, I was guilty as charged. I took the Confucian cultivation of propriety route: admit guilt, show remorse, reflect on my misbehavior, show my deep shame, vow to improve—all done in about 30 seconds. This enabled me to process the paper faster, regain my freedom, and head on to the office.

Lesson learned? While not contributing to road safety at all, it is lawful and cheaper for me to get off my scooter and push it to the parking lot along the side of the road. Duh, winning!

This criminal masterpiece pales in comparison to another indictment and conviction in Hamada, Shimane prefecture, in 2009. This caper involved my arrest by a sharp young detective who tracked me down after a dogged pursuit of several meters. Upon being nabbed by the stalwart young crimefighter, I admitted to the heinous crime of not fully fastening my seatbelt while operating a vehicle in the parking lot of a mall. I endangered lives while puttering along in a line of cars at 5 km/h. I did the crime, so I paid the fine—the oh-so familiar sum of 6,000 yen. 
One gets used to it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Free Lunch Before Christmas

You know the saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”? Let me tell you that sometimes there are semi-free lunches.

In mid-December, the Rising Family benefited from an online marketing campaign flogging timeshare condos in Hakone, a town not far from Mt. Fuji that is famous among Tokyoites as a weekend getaway destination famous for its onsen hot spring resorts and Lake Ashi-no-ko. 
My enterprising wife had entered an online “contest” offering this luxury experience and we “won.” The catch was that we had to meet with a sales representative of the luxury condo company for 90 minutes to view a video and hear his or her pitch. If we had gone on a weekday the cost of the room and three meals would be 100 yen. Weekends were so popular that the whole family would have to pay 6,000 yen.

Why not give it a try? we thought, skeptical though we are of anything reeking of too good to be true. But I am also merciless in applying my helpless/hapless gaijin act when necessary to get out of tiresome situations. So, if there was any whiff of a scam, we’d simply hightail it outta there before partaking of anything.

The entire weekend unfolding precisely as it was explained to us pleasantly surprised me. We got a weekend in a luxury apartment with a Jacuzzi and hot spring access, three terrific meals for the whole family, in a town renowned for its scenery, for the price of a tank of gas. 

Why did we deserve this bounty? Perhaps a pre-Christmas present from fate or Karmic payback? Beats me. All I know is our salesperson was pleasant and not-too-surprised to see a foreigner show up, we fulfilled our side of the bargain, as did he. Business completed…hello relaxation.

Elena indulged in the massage chair within ten minutes of entering the apartment. 
Naomi lauded the quality of the Japanese food. Marina and I were mesmerized by the UFO-like light vortex of the Jacuzzi at night.
We all considered ourselves lucky to have had this soothing and rejuvenating experience! The only downside is that it may be hard to convince the Rising Daughters to go back to camping when the weather warms up next summer.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to all

Another Christmas has come and gone.
Once again we had a wonderful day notable for its early, excited start;
Skyping with family; some spiritual soul food; some actual feasting; and the delighted shrieks of our rugrats opening their gifts.
A few Santa's helpers dropped off our Christmas cake -- one of Japan's Christmas traditions.
No, we don't eat Kentucky Fried Chicken on Dec. 25 in our household. But I might consider it if we can get a Colonel Sanders clone to deliver it. Kidding.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Know What We Did Last Summer Pt. 2

Part two of our summer trip to Ottawa.
Like locusts the Rising Family continues to devour everything in our path as we enter the second week of vacation at home in the nation’s capital. Our most excellent host is the Lobster King, a.k.a. my dad, and my wife and kids repeatedly indulge in the buttery seafood treat prepared by this crustacean cooking meister from the Maritimes.
Alas, for a few days, the rain dampens our appetite for outside activity, but we adapt. The solution: visit the local IKEA store. I was not surprised to find that the kids’ play area at IKEA in Ottawa is nearly identical to the one we regularly frequent in Yokohama. The difference, though, is spatial: kids are crammed into the play space in Japan while the one in Ottawa “is full” with visibly fewer children bobbing about. More likely, it is due to the perceptual differences governing personal space. Armchair sociologists eat your meatballs and analyze that. The store seemed just slightly grimier, too.

The vacation frenzy continues unabated with a jaunt to Kingston for a Chuck E. Cheese fiesta. I recall our fateful first foray to Chuck’s kingdom in Guam a few years ago. Little did I know that one day I would be willingly drawn all the way from Ottawa to Kingston to once again drop offensive amounts of cash to play video games and taste Chuck’s rubbery wares. Yet the girls had a wonderful romp ‘em stomp ‘em time. Literally hundreds of game tickets filled my pockets, soon exchanged for stickers and sugary treats which fueled further eruptions of chaos.
It never ceases to amaze me how the phrase “OK, only 15 more minutes” can produce such shrieks and cries of pint-sized anguish. One unpleasant memory was my anticipation of a nice visit to Kingston being squelched by the half-hour of high-decibel wailing from the backseat, for reasons long since forgotten, which caused us to cauterize the trip to downtown K–town and head home. No vacation is perfect, but this was a metaphoric roundhouse kick to my groin.

Beyond the day trips, family. They are the real reason, after all, for going home.
You do the best you can with the scarcest resource you have—time. We had some terrific visits with my cousins and their growing families, and with uncles and aunts, all of whom made time for us. My uncle P. hosted us for a wonderful day: Burton’s Eggs & brunch, kids running amok in his backyard, all capped with a visit to Saunder’s Farm. A taste of the country life.
And there were old friends. I got a few nights away. I am aware it’s not wise to describe any ensuing antics on social media platforms. Think of your own. One good thing about getting older is the supposed wisdom that comes with the years. Another is that you get access to more toys. My buds have great toys! Example: we were invited for a terrific pool party. It was outstanding to meet J&S at L&W’s pool and Jacuzzi. Clearly, our young’uns were enjoying la dolce vita. I even got to motorvate around Leif’s neighborhood on his motorcycle.
As our visit with my dad neared its inevitable end, Naomi, Lady E., “M” and I wanted to visit Andy Hayden Park more: chasing geese, enjoying the sunsets and the seagulls. We all appreciate the sheer space, something that is in short supply in cramped Tokyo/Yokohama. The freedom of not worrying about traffic jams and rushing the bird flocks just for the hell of it is an Ottawa activity we savor each time. So three cheers for the Andy Hayden and Britannia Beach parks. And to being able to play catch, even for a short while, with my high school buds. That can’t be purchased anywhere.
Payback #1
In the first “I Know What We Did…” installment, I noted the flight over wasn’t optimal. Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as our first Hell Airlines flight back with Elena in 2008. Still, the girls stayed awake until about two hours’ before our touchdown back in Japan.

Due to extended feasting, I have been spending my autumn trying to work off the tire. (Sigh.)

Epilogue: [Cheese alert] Heading into the cold of winter, as I look back and write these recollections, it leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. [Groan.] The fact is the Rising Family had a great time due to the kind efforts of family (especially Dad) and friends. Thank you all very, very much.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Not much to say this time, folks.
Just trick

...AND treat.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A rite of passage begins

Last weekend Marina participated in her first Sports Day as a kindergarden student. There were weeks of practice prior to the big day and we frequently heard hints of her anticipation and anxiety. Sports day is one of the highlights of the school year and M was clearly excited about it.

Sports day involves various races, events, games and dancing. The activities range from those for the hilariously uncoordinated newbies (first year students), who often seem a chaotic gaggle, and others for schoolmates in the upper grades.
Meanwhile, older siblings watch on the sidelines with a veteran’s gaze and chide the younger kids.
Sports Day is both a ritual and annual rite of passage for parents and children alike.

The grades in M’s kindergarden were divided into first, second, and third-year groups, then further divided into squads with Disney character names. (Here is where my innate skepticism noted branding’s insidious hold on society.) This being Japan, the event was organized with precision and the schedule held even with the packs of easily distracted kids roaming about, surrounded by a ring of camera-toting parents (myself included) and grandparents. The loudspeakers reminded everyone to meet here, take pictures there, teachers go here, teams go there, and so on. I am still astounded when I witness these school events; the pieces fit together like a Swiss clock each and every time.
Although she had practiced diligently and seemed eager before the event, on game day Marina feigned detachment, wasn’t really into posing for pictures, yet she gamely went through the motions: a team player to the end. Naomi was proud, and I remain bemused by the entire spectacle. I should note I have gotten used to it by now and obediently followed the audio prompts and took pictures when and where I was “encouraged” to do so. And, yeah, we were pleased and proud to see our youngest Rising Daughter take another step forward in her scholastic life.