Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Prisoner of summer

It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I am captive to warm winds and sunny skies. So I won’t rail against the fact that summer is over, preferring instead to bask in the remaining warmth of my memories. How’s that for a tangled preamble? Here comes the vacation download, stream-of-consciousness narrative mode.

Leaving Yokohama in the dank, dark evening, just as planned, Patton-style, nimbly swooping around the phalanx of 18-wheelers and evading the zippy hyperactive German sedans stealthily zooming onto my six. I deke into the slow lane for the sake of the kids, otherwise it would be ‘Go Time’ with these Teutonic tin cans. Driving…fresh, calm chill of the air conditioner blowing against my brow fuels my enthusiasm for Everything. It is summer vacation time, baby! And feeling, as I did, that something awesome was about to happen. And it was.

Needless to say, the nouveau Third Army, a.k.a. the Rising Family™, made it to Hiroshima intact. The new car’s debut performance on the long haul was outstanding. She can now be called a Trusty Steed. But getting out of the car at 0630 after roughly 11 hours at the helm felt like Arizona cactus needles being rammed into my buttocks because my legs and derriere were long asleep before my brain.

So what do my children want to do once we are functional again and it is 35 to 40 degrees outside (95 to 104 degrees for you Imperial types)? Duh…wade in the river, of course. Thus, we went playing in the local river (Otagawa) that Naomi frolicked in as a kid, with Ojichan and Obachan (grandpa and grandma), trying to catch little brown fish. Gives our kids some experience with the real countryside.
Many hours also spent catching frogs in the rice fields and imprisoning them in teal-colored plastic pail, which I dubbed Stalag 17.

Other random shots:
- Had a morning run with Marina, our first together, maybe 600 meters tops, to go see a pack of wild kittens. Honest.
- Visiting the Peace Memorial Park in downtown Hiroshima was, in actuality, more time spent picking up scores of dead cicada carcasses off the park grounds and tree trunks than spent touring the museum.
- Fireworks at home; and fireworks “on board.’ Long-time stalwart bud S.M. wonderfully offered to host us on his family’s boat to watch the world-class Miyajima fireworks on Aug. 11. Deck chairs and feasting on the stern, later on, all passengers on the bow viewing the fireworks.
Cordite smell on the water. Our kids could meet his kids again after several years. Kid-wise, felt like the Paris Peace talks during Vietnamization. But us erstwhile adults reveled in the absolutely Kickass Fireworks Display and the easy camaraderie of many years of friendship.
We march on, camping was next. At Hamada – camping day #1. My main accomplishment was reading The Descendants here. Popcorn reading, and, no, I don’t think I am anywhere near being George Clooney. Let’s stay real here, for crying out loud. Beach time = nice, slow time.
Rained for a day but kids watched kagura at a local mall instead. Kagura is a Shinto religion theatrical dance with rituals associated with the agricultural calendar; think deep South blues songs derived from oral history, but with dancing snakes that impart morality lessons about being a good citizen. Imagine an Asian Elvis spinning songs with booming drums and cymbals, but with history that pre-dates the birth of Christ. That’s living tradition.

Hamada day#2 at the beach was pristine blue skies and warm water. Beach Boys songs capture the essence perfectly.
Next day we drove on Route 191 all the way to the northeast corner of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Came to Tsunoshima and made the mistake of deciding to visit the information counter because “we have time.” That’s like choosing Betamax over VHS, Blackberry over iPhone, monumentally SuperBad choice. Bumper-to-bumper traffic jam from the entrance all the way to the restaurants. Throngs of people, no restaurant was open. We were stuck in the Tsunoshima area for over two hours. It wasn’t pleasant. Bad atmosphere in the car resulted, too. I was so road-raged and helpless that I swear I saw a gaggle of tropical birds straight out of Disney’s “Rio” forming a team circle and winking at me, as though I belonged with them.
Finally we arrived at the autocamp site about 2030, set up the tent for the girls. Sweaty and tired, all I wanted to do was swim the defeat off my body and have a beverage.  So I hooked up with fellow JET alumni Anderson McSleeman (not his real name). We had made plans to rendezvous at this campsite. We enjoyed a few cocktails; he smartly pulled the plug later that night when I thought I could actually play the ukulele. I’m told that the next morning was great family time with A.M. and his family on the beach, but I underwent virtual brain surgery and cannot recall one second of what we did.

Next day, next stop: Shimonoseki!

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 Patio 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.