Friday, July 31, 2015

Multiple Matsuri Madness Part 1

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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Ayes Have It – Family Expands

Lately M. cannot be separated from her beloved Doraemon doll. She even gets miffed when we wash him. Naturally, this prompts me to periodically grab him and deliver a series of jabs into his grinning blue head before launching him across the room. Usually in the morning before heading out to the office.

Marina, already displaying more adult behavior than yours truly, takes this with grain of salt and cackles. She loves my comedy.

Thus, we have brought Doraemon into the Rising Family fold. The power of four has become more powerful, and we are now the Freaky Five™.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Long Road

[Preface: this is a combination story that describes our numerous road trips to Hiroshima and back to visit the Rising Sofubo™ (meaning grandparents, i.e. Naomi’s folks). The fecal explosion© episode happened three years ago, but it is still fresh in my memory.] 

January 2012
Just back from a trip to Hiroshima. Usually the return to Yokohama is an 800+ kilometer espresso-fueled crazy overnight drive for yours truly. Having read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in my youth, I reckon I have a bit of organic gonzo because of my self-professed endurance during ability. Nonetheless, driving non-stop overnight avoids the 30 km-long traffic jams which choke the Tokyo area highways during Japan’s vacation periods. I grew up contending with long distances between cities in Canada. Road trips were a fixture in my teens and twenties. I thought: 800 clicks—psshaw!

Naomi’s parents are always concerned about my night driving proclivities. They convinced me once to try driving during the daylight hours “for safety”, especially because it was wintertime. So, I caved one time, and we left Hiroshima about mid-day. A colossal mistake. 

The first couple of hundred clicks went by quickly and easily. Driving between Hiroshima and Kobe was a snap. Once we reached Kobe, though, the population density inexorably constricted the expressway with more traffic and we were snagged in a jam at Nichinomiya (around the 1700 rush hour) which quickly became bumper-to-bumper.
After Osaka it's just a crapshoot

Between Kobe and Nagoya we entered the Maddeningly Slow Zone that sucked dry my enthusiasm for driving and many hours.

Plus, Naomi and the Rising Daughters were awake in the car the whole time, meaning I could never listen to any music I like.
SpongeBob DVDs save the day & night
So, to sum up:
“Snared by Kobe; feeling harassed by Osaka; despondent/without hope by Nagoya.”
- Motorcyclists passing us on the side and in between the middle lanes dressed in snowsuits
As we came down out of the mountains, some notes I took:
- Marina’s constipation mysteriously ends during our trip back. She triumphantly announces: “I got poo-poo,” and she did. I found out later that two doses of laxative, administered the day before to relive her of six days of constipation, had finally hit pay dirt. We were marooned in the traffic more than 20 kilometers from the next service area/rest stop and she triumphantly delivered a diaper full of runny ka-ka that had already leaked into her baby seat and all through her clothes. Nasty stuff. We were all trapped in a moving biohazard until we reached the Valhalla of rest areas to clean up, reload, and relaunch for home.
Lies, damned lies, and highway traffic estimates
- 15 minutes to travel 2 kms at one point near Yokkaichi. Stuck for an hour nearly going nowhere.

- Where do these jams come from? No offramps or merge lanes to other highways…arggh.

- Bizarrely festive air to the frenzy of relieving bladders and bowels, buying crap food, and jostling for parking spots at the ubiquitous service areas which are still packed at midnight with bleary-eyed drivers seeking caffeine for the next leg of the journey.

Solo Trip Home (March 2013)
Instead of being stopped dead in a three-hour traffic jam near Nagoya amid the infamous “U-turn” rush, I breezed through it all, and motorvating solo to boot. Only slight lane weaving on the expressway due to fatigue, and virtually no Mad Max truckers. Although I believe I saw one tattoo-faced fellow lean out of his truck cab and, with a grin, point his arm-mounted crossbow at me before speeding away.
The pinnacle of driving in Japan: cherry trees and Mt. Fuji!
Terrific shots of Mt. Fuji which I could take because the Voice of Reason was not in the passenger seat beside me.

Having made in back in one piece in the early morn, I saw how filthy our car was, inside and out. Without kids on board, though, all I had to do was roll down the windows and go through the local car wash and-- voila! – pristine. Shorn of its dirt and accumulated trash, with the toys populating the back seats washed away, I found I had a brand-new-looking car.