Tuesday, November 18, 2008


You Know You Live In Japan When . . . .

You walk into the living room and discover that your children have organized a Grand Sumo Tournament for their stuffed animals. Just in case you were wondering, the Bullfrog beat the German Shepherd.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


You Deserve a Break Today

When I first arrived in Japan, I was excited to discover an unfamiliar menu item at McDonald's. A Bacon Potato Pie. It was just like the Apples Pies, but filled with creamy potatoes and savory bacon bits instead. Yum. And in Japan, they still deep fry the pies. This thing was so good, I could not figure out why they didn't offer them in the States. Then one day, my new found friend just up and disappeared. Well, guess what?

"Now, Come Back! KARI KARI outside, TORORI inside ATSU ATSU mashed potatoes and tasty bacon. . . Good for your snack time!"

That is what is says on the pie sleeve and I can't say it any better. You have to count the simple pleasures in life.

So there you have it, the Autumn 2008 McDonald's Japan Update. . . reporting to you live with crumbs on my shirt.



Money, Money, Money

The yen was so strong last week that when Toshi went to the bank, they were SOLD OUT of Traveler's Checks in US Dollars and Euros. Crazy.


Jumping Through Hoops

While Americans were awaiting the results of yesterday's presidential election, mothers throughout Japan were eager to learn the results of an entirely different, if similarly grueling, selection process, acceptance into preschool.

Toshi left the house at 7 am on November 1 in order to line up to turn in Sam's application. We had strict instructions from the school not to line up before 8:00 am; the school opened its doors to receive applications from 9am. Yes, that means that Toshi stood in the morning cold for an hour to demonstrate our keenness to enter the school and secure desirable interview and testing times for our son. We can consider ourselves lucky because the school we applied to will accept as many applications (along with the $120 fee) as are submitted. Other schools, without testing and interview processes (called "ojuken" in Japanese), operate on a first come/first serve basis and this causes parents to camp out in front of the school as early as two days before November 1. We estimate that there were approximately 300 children vying for 70 spots in the school.

Interviews were held in the afternoon of the first and all day on the second. Tests were conducted on the third.

Our interview was scheduled for 1:15 on the 1st. I donned my navy suit (the uniform of Juken Mamas throughout the nation), Sam wore navy shorts, a white long sleeve polo shirt, a grey sweater vest and black loafers with real US pennies in them. Is this important (not the pennies, the get-up)? I didn't think so, however when it was Mina's turn three years ago, I told her prep school teacher I was considering a brown dress for Mina because it complimented her complexion and she cautioned me against such a drastic departure from tradition. Come on! It wasn't as if I was going to dress her in turquoise polka dots! Nevertheless, there is a formula to this entire process and if you want to be accepted, you follow the formula lest you find yourself crying on the night of November 5th, wondering, was it the brown dress? We have been instructed to arrive 20 minutes early. We arrive 25 minutes early and Sam takes about 10 minutes to change out of his loafers, with the realio trulio pennies, into his "uwabaki" (white, slip-on, indoor school shoes). We get our badges at the check in table and are escorted upstairs to wait with our group of six other hopefuls. While we wait we are given two essay questions and a blue book. Okay, I am kidding. We were given a half sheet of paper with two questions - what are your child's strengths and what are your thoughts on religious education? Since I am illiterate, I had time to look around at the other families as Toshi hissed through his teeth and wrote down responses. One mother was writing out rough drafts in a notebook; the father at a different table was wasting his time setting out a dictionary, three pencils, a brand new eraser, his lucky rabbit's foot, etc . . . so you can imagine the frenzy when the teacher announced that we would be lining up to proceed to the next torture chamber, I mean, hall in two minutes. In the main hall, there were various play things spread around and we were asked to play freely as we waited to be called for our interview. The catch? There were five teachers positioned on the sidelines of the hall, watching silently and writing notes! Sam, in contrast to his sister who spent almost the entire time on the balance beam, worked his was from bouncy horse, to ball, to hula hoop, to jump rope (where he insisted on holding the end and made Mommy jump over and climb under . . . in her suit), to balance beam and around the entire circuit again before we were called to our interview. There were two interview rooms, one reigned over by the principal and the other by the head teacher (who just happens to have been Mina's teacher for two years). We got Mina's teacher! This was great because I could relax a little bit, but perhaps I relaxed too much and babbled. They asked Sam his name, his age, his favorite color and if he watches TV or videos. Isamu desu. San sai desu (3). Ao (blue). Minai (bold faced lie, he does so watch TV AND videos). They asked Toshi something about what skills he uses at work that he can also apply to child rearing. Huh? Sam's strengths. Didn't we already discuss these? Thank goodness Sam has so many! Sam's interests. Trains. They asked me what I do when the children fight and I guess Sam learned how to lie so well from me because you can be sure I didn't tell them I just let them go at it or scream "STOP IT!" I knew there was a reason I read all those useless parenting manuals, so I could dutifully recite what a responsible parent is supposed to do when children fight. They asked me if Sam can take care of basic things on his own, like feeding himself, using the toilet and getting dressed. This is where I began to babble a bit and managed to contradict Toshi's answer about Sam's strengths and then mentioned that Sam prefers to eat with his hands still. See? I think I was a bit too comfortable with Mina's dear teacher. Lastly, they asked me if I work. Actually, I think the teacher phrased it more like this, "you don't work, do you?" They looked surprised when I informed them that I teach for two and a half hours every week, then asked me if I had any plans to increase the number of hours I work in the near future. You see, it is very important the the mothers be at the beck and call of the preschool. I informed them that I like my schedule just the way it is. Good dog!

On November 2, we had the day off.

The test was on November 3. One parent, only, is to accompany the child to the test. That would be the mother. That would be me. First we go into a room where there are toys set out on mats. When Mina participated in this exercise, the mothers all sat around the room and watched the children play. This time we were instructed to play with our children. After about ten minutes, the children were asked to make a train and choo-choo out of the room into the big hall - without mommy. I had hoped that Sam, being seven months older than Mina was when she was subjected to this rigamaroll, would be able to tell me more about what he did in the hall than Mina was able to, but no. He told me he looked at a book about a squirrel and an onigiri (riceball). And the teacher said "red." Okay. So, no idea what the test involved, but Sam was gone for about 20 minutes.

Another day off and then we had to go to the school to find out if we would be invited to enter. You go to the school, give them your card with your number on it and they hand you an envelope. Oh, there is lots of bowing thrown in there too, like, you bow, you get out your card, you bow as you hand over your card, the teacher bows as she hands you the envelope, you bow as you receive it, bow as you leave, like that.

So, what is the verdict? We are really good at jumping through hoops.


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