Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Favorite 5

This year in Feb. Taiga turned one.  Raising this happy and healthy boy has been the best thing that could have ever happened to us.  He didn't start walking until almost 14 months but has been quick with his tongue.  It's interesting how he's learning to put together 2-word phrases.  He knows the word "no" (one of his most used words!) and he knows the word "more".  Today when I asked if he wanted more milk, he answered "no more".  He also even blurted out a 3-word phrase, "one more please".  For me, this is such a fun and interesting time to watch him learn and play with words.  Some say when you're raising a bilingual child, the development is slower as they have 2 languages to input/output.  Taiga just loves to talk (jabber), so maybe it won't affect him.  He's also forming quite a personality.  He loves to entertain us and make us laugh.  :)   Click this to see Taiga "GO"!

In March, we met my parents in Hawaii.  Taiga only gets to meet his CA grandparents once a year.  This was also just a couple of weeks after 3/11, so the time away and being together with family made it that much more special.

In June, Aki turned 40.  I still tell her that she looks like she's in her 30's (and that we both look the same age, JK!).  We celebrated her birthday at the Shangri La hotel in Tokyo.  It was our first ever stay at a 5-Star hotel and I would love to make it an annual event. 

Summertime was nice.  We live just a couple minute's walk from the sea.  There's a rocky beach and there's a swimming pool that's only open from mid-July til the end of August.  Japanese summers are miserably hot and humid so this was a welcome relief for us.  It's still free for Taiga to enter and just a few dollars for adults. 

Party! Party! Party!  This year's parties were a blast.  I'm really lucky to have such good friends and students.   (pictured are CEH summer party at Shalamer, Halloween party at Shalamer & CEH x-mas party at Ohashi)
Note:  I've posted each and every month for the past 5 years.  From next year, I'll only post sporadically.  Please come back and check.  Have the best "Year of the Dragon" in 2012!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Like Hike

I did something I almost never do but think I could really enjoy; I went hiking. A student of mine and her husband led our class and my family up Mt. Kintoki in nearby Hakone National Park. It was a beautiful clear day and the views of Mt. Fuji were magnificent. Mt. Kintoki is just 1213 meters (3980 feet) high. It's only an hour's hike from the car-park to the top. From the top, the views of Fuji-san, the Pacific Ocean and Hakone are stunning.

"A Golden Boy"

Long, long ago,in a mountain called 'Mt.Ashigara' there lived a young boy called 'Kintaro(Golden Boy)' and his mother. His father had been a samurai,a warrior in the Capital but he was caught and killed in a battle.His mother,who ran away from the enemy,brought Kintaro into the deep mountain."I must make my son a brave samurai like my husband at all cost." said she to herself.The two hid and lived in a cave. She picked up the fruits or nuts or berries for his food instead of good meals.Though she had been very beautiful,now she lost her beauty. Her beautiful clothes became dirty and worn out, but she loved him and fed him well.Soon he grew up to a high spirit lad. Everyday he played sumo wrestling with many animals living in the mountain. He threw away one animal after another. "Dear Bear, it's your turn. Come on!" He wrestled with the huge bear, which was no less strong than he was. After a long match, he defeated the bear.After the wrestling, he ran in the forest with animals. He was taught how to climb trees by a monkey, how to run in the woods by a deer.One of his friends was a big carp living in a river, which was saved by him when it jumped on the bank.He sat astride the carp and enjoyed going up the steep fall of the river. When it was raining, he spent all day with animals in a cave. He gave foods to rats, squirrels, foxes, badgers, monkeys, rabbits, bears and so on. He was very popular among them. Looking at her son, his mother prayed for God, "May he be a brave samurai!"Several years had passed, and spring came. One day,he went on an expedition to the next mountain with animals.He sat on a big bear, with his hatchet on his shoulder, accompanied by a rat, a squirrel, a monkey, a rabbit, a raccoon, a fox, a boar, and a deer. They really enjoyed the expedition.

Reaching a cliff, they found a wide river flowing at a great speed below them. "It is so fast we can't cross the river." said Kintaro."I'll push a big tree and make a bridge of it" said the bear, and pushed it in vain.The boar bumped against the big tree, whose leaves shook a little."Ok, I'll try." said Kintaro, and stood in front of the tree.He pushed and pushed it. To their surprise, the tree leaned and fell down between two cliffs with a big noise.Everyone jumped with joy. Then somebody spoke to them from behind. "What a powerful boy you are!"There were a samurai and his followers standing."My name is MINAMOTO-NO-YORIMITSU. Why don't you be my follower?""Can I be a samurai?" asked Kintaro with a surprise."I'm sure you'll be one of my brave followers." said the samurai.He returned to the cave where his mother lived and said to her; "I'll be one of the brave samurais in Japan like my father."Tears of joy ran down her face, though it was sad to part with him. When he left the mountain, the animals as well as his mother saw him off with sorrowful faces."Thank you for your friendship. I'll never forget you. I love you,Mom. I am sure I will return home in the future." said Kintaro, waving his hands again and again.A few years later he became an excellent samurai named 'SAKATA-NO-KINTOKI’. In the Capital,he was chosen one of the famous four trusted followers of his master and got rid of demons living in the mountain called 'Mt. O-O-E.’He invited his mother in the Capital and lived together happily ever after.


むかし、むかし足柄山に金太郎という男の子と母上が住んでいました。父上は京の都の武士で敵に捕らえられ殺されてしまいました。母上は、敵から逃れ、小さな金太郎を連れて山奥に入りました。「この子を夫のような一人前の武士にしなければなりません。」親子は洞窟の中にかくれ暮らしています。木の実や野イチゴなどを取ってきては金太郎に与えていました。かつてはとても美しかった姿も今は色あせてしまいました。着物も汚くなり、擦り切れていました。しかし必死に金太郎を育てました。金太郎は元気のいい男の子になりました。森に住む動物と遊んだり、相撲をしたりして毎日を過ごしていました。「くまさん、次は君の番だ。さあ、かかってこい。」熊も金太郎にはかないません。相撲のあとは森の中でかけっこです。鹿と競争です。木登りは猿から教わりました。川では大きな鯉が友達です。鯉にまたがると急流下りです。雨の日は、洞窟の中で、ねずみやりすやキツネやたぬきやさるやうさぎやくまたちとおしゃべりです。金太郎は森の人気者です。金太郎を見ながら、母上は神に祈りました。 「どうか素晴らしい武士になりますように。」数年が過ぎ、春が来ました。ある日、金太郎は動物たちと隣りの山に探検に出かけました。大きな熊の背中にまたがり、おのを肩に背負い、その後をねずみやリスや猿やうさぎやキツネやタヌキやいのししや鹿がついていきます。みんな幸せでした。がけに来ると下を激流が流れています。「流れが速くて川は渡れない。」と金太郎。「あの大きな木を倒して橋を作りましょう。」と熊は木を押しましたがびくともしません。押しても葉っぱが揺れるだけです。「よし、私がやってみよう。」と金太郎は大きな木の前に立ち、力一杯押し始めました。するとどうでしょう、木が傾き、大きな音とともに倒れ川の上にかかりました。みんな大喜びです。すると後ろから声がしました。「ものすごい力だ。」そこには立派な武士とその家来が立っていました。「私は源頼光と申すものです。私の家来になりませんか。」「私は武士になれるのですか。」「あなたならきっとすばらしい武士になれるでしょう。」金太郎は母上のところに帰るとこの話をしました。 「私は父上のような立派な武士になりとうございます。」別れるのはつらいけれども母上の目からは喜びの涙が流れました。山を去るとき、母上だけでなく動物たちも金太郎をさびしそうに見送りました。「母上ありがとうございました。ご恩は決して忘れません。かならずお向かいに参ります。」金太郎は何度も何度も手を振りました。数年が過ぎ、金太郎は坂田金時という武士になりました。ご主人の忠実な四人の家来に選ばれ、大江山に住む鬼も退治しました。その後、京に母上を迎え幸せに暮らしました。

Monday, October 31, 2011


"An apple a day keeps the doctor away"

- Hope you are all well as many people are starting to come down with colds as the weather is changing and getting colder. As you see, this month's Blog is about 'Apples'.

An apple is a symbol of a teacher and knowledge. Since the 18th century, it's been a traditional present for teachers in the United States (Denmark and Sweden too). Some think the practice originated as a simple gift of food for poorly paid teachers. In the old days, children brought apples to their teachers on the first day of school. They hoped the apples would impress their teacher and the new school year would be off to a successful start. This is how the term "apple-polisher" originated in the 1920's.

Apples have excisted as a wild fruit since prehistoric times and have been cultivated for more than 3000 years (perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated). Apples start to grow in the spring and are usually ready to pick early in the fall. In America, fresh apples are everywhere in the fall. Three quarters of them are eaten fresh. The rest are used to make apple pie, apple juice, apple sauce, etc. The U.S. is second only to China in apple production.

'Apple' is also one of the first words my son learned. He uses it to call any fruit. It is one of the many fruits that he loves.

Click here to see video: 8 months old Taiga eating apple

This month I also bought my first Apple product, the i-phone 4s. As I'm very behind the times when it comes to technology/gadgets, this is a good step in the right direction for me. It's fun to be able to use it to check internet and ask my new friend, Siri, questions or for help. The camera is also amazing.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Typhoon No. 15

Mother nature has been very tough on Japan this year. September brought two powerful typhoons and we here in Odawara were hit by one of them (Typhoon 15 or Roke as it is known outside of Japan). It was probably the strongest typhoon I've experienced here in Japan. It poured buckets of rain and brought a vicious wind to the Kanto region. In our apartment building, we (on the 3rd floor) were spared any damage (except for Taiga's vinyl pool being blown away), but every floor above us reported broken windows and/or water going into their rooms. Odawara city also gave evacuation orders to those living near the rivers. They must do this if the river waters reach a certain level. In actuality, very few people listen to these notices and fortunately the rivers didn't flood. The strong winds also stopped the train lines in and out of the city. Many commuters were stranded for more than 5 hours. Those driving a normal 30-minute drive took more than 3 hours. This was also due to the signals being down as blackouts occured in some areas as well.

In America, we don't have typhoons; we have hurricanes. So what's the difference? Not much. Both are severe tropical systems that have wind speeds greater than 74 mph. Unlike Japan, the U.S. uses names instead of numbers to name them. Before 1979, only female names were used because hurricanes were named after the girlfriends or wives of US Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists. Male names were later added for gender equality.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


What's more summer than the Beach and Baseball? I've always loved the beach. Coming from California, many people (from Japan) imagine that I live near one. Unfortunately, my hometown is about an 80-minute drive away. As a kid, our family would drive to Santa Cruz every summer. I also chose my university, Long Beach State University, because of its location. This is where I learned to surf (well kind of) in a P.E. class. The beaches in Japan aren't bad, but there are a couple of things that make them less desirable than the ones in CA. The worst part is that they are so crowded. Hard to play football or even frisbee on the beach. Japan is known to be a clean country but ironically the beaches can be dirty. Trash can be seen on the beaches and in the water. One reason is that trash cans are few or none. This situation has improved over the years because of volunteer groups doing beach clean-ups and a greater awareness of keeping our beaches clean. Anyway, I love just chillaxing on the beach. Looking at and listening to the waves gives me power.

Baseball is said to be America's sport, but it doesn't make my top 10 list. This is probably due to the fact that I was a terrible baseball player. I played a couple of years of Little League. My position was right field (where they put the worst fielder) and I was the strike-out king! I never watch baseball on TV but I enjoy watching almost any sport "live". This summer I was able to go to my first Japanese professional baseball game. This was a very interesting experience. Each team has a fan club and they sit in an "official cheering section". If a home game, they sit in the right field bleachers. At away games, they sit in the left field bleachers. They play songs (#1 is "Popeye the Sailor Man"), beat drums, blow trumpets, wave flags and do all sorts of monotonous collective cheering. We saw the Yakult Swallows play the Hanshin Tigers. After a run is scored, Yakult fans open their umbrellas (they bring or buy small ones) and you can see a sea of umbrellas dancing. Baseball came to Japan in 1873. Although the level is not as high as MLB, there are a few players on each team that could easily start on a MLB roster. Games are allowed to finish in a tie. Some of the ballparks are small compared to those in MLB. Another big difference is that Japanese pro teams are named after the companies that own them and not the city that they play in. The Yakult Swallows play at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. Yakult Corporation makes a milk-like drink. The Hanshin Tigers are owned by Hanshin Electric Railway Co. They play at the famed Hanshin Koshien Stadium, the oldest ballpark in Japan built in 1924. This is where the high school baseball championships are held each August for 2 weeks. For these 2 weeks, Japanese professional baseball takes the backseat as more people tune in to watch the high school boys play their hearts out. My one complaint is that I hate to watch a bunch of boys (or anyone for that matter) cry their eyes out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

CEH Summer Party

Each July we (Conrad's English House) have our annual summer party. This last one was our biggest to date. Over 50 people came, including a dozen of my foreign friends. The students at our school always enjoy talking to people from around the world and this night was like a mini United Nations party with Australia, England, Ireland, Canada, Brazil, Spain, Nepal, USA and Japan represented. It's a good chance for our students to use their English in a casual "party" atmosphere. And having a couple of beers usually helps! :) The non-Japanese at the party can also enjoy talking with interesting people (my students) and hanging out with fellow "gaijin".

We started the party off with the "Who am I"? ice breaker. Everyone had a famous person's name taped to their back and they had to ask "Yes/No" questions to find out who they were. Later, we gave away prizes which included some very intricate origami made by Odawara's own "Mr. Origami". Drinks were just 500 yen each so most people got their fill. Japan has an interesting drinking culture. As many folks in America begin to reduce their alcohol intake from their mid-20's, it's probably the opposite here. One good thing is drinking & driving isn't as big a problem here as most go home by train and taxis can be found quite readily. There's also a Zero tolerance law. If you have just one drink and you wait more than an hour, it's still illegal to drive. California's maximum legal blood-alcohol content is .08%.

The venue is always at Shalamer. This is my favorite bar in Odawara. There's no cover-charge as there often is at other bars in Japan (sometimes up to 1000 yen). And the master (owner of the bar) is a really cool guy that can speak English. His lovely wife, Gayla, is also a guest teacher at our school. This is a DJ bar and every night you can listen to great "old school" music from Earth Wind & Fire, The Commodores, Bee Gees, Jackson 5, Kool & the Gang, etc. This is also the only place in town to dance. About every other month, there's a dance party and people come from all the neighboring towns to get down and boogie. This old man goes out there and busts a move from time to time (LOL as you know I can't dance). :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Japanese university students

I have been teaching at university for about 10 years now. For an English teacher in Japan, it's probably the best job you can find. Working with colleagues who come from all of the English-speaking countries (and of course Japanese ones too) can be quite interesting and stimuating. Sharing ideas and learning from each other helps make teaching easier too.

The students are for the most part well-behaved good kids. I use the word "kids" because although some of them are mature, most of them (1st & 2nd year students) are still a bit childish and naive. Often when students first enter university here, they are not independent and over-rely on their teachers, etc. By the time they are 3rd year students, they seem to really blossom into young adults. Coincidentally, the age of becoming an adult here in Japan is twenty. They also start job-hunting from this time and if they are really sharp and lucky, they can secure a job even before they are seniors (although in this economy it's very tough to do). Another thing I find interesting is the interaction between the males and females inside the classroom. There is still a shyness in the students that one might find in a jr. high classroom back in the states. Dating does happen (usually in groups), just not as often as it would on a university campus in America. You may have a "couple" in your classroom and never know it as they don't talk together in class and PDA (public display of affection) is almost unheard of.

A complaint by many English teachers in Japan is "Why are my students so quiet?" Asking a question to the class rarely gets an answer. A Japanese proverb: "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down" (Deru kugi wa utareru) helps explain this. There is also influence from Confucianism where students are expected to respect and not to challenge their teachers. This is very different from America's case where students' opinions are valued and speaking out in class is normal behavior.

Entering university is for many one of the most difficult tasks in their lives. As high school students, most will go to cram school every day after school. Most also belong to a club so cram school could start as late as 8:00 or 9:00pm. This is all to gain knowledge to pass the grueling university entrance examinations. These tests aren't cheap to take either. They cost from 12,000 yen ($130) to 35,000 yen ($380) to take. Students taking the entrance examinations for private universities spend an average of 230,000 yen ($2500). This included the train and hotel fees as many had to travel a far distance. It is said that entering a Japanese university is very hard but graduating from one is easy.

Unlike American universities where you can find students of all ages, Japanese university students tend to be 18 to early 20's and full-time day students. Night classes are few. The average cost of tuition is 2.5 million yen (over $25,000) per year. In more than 80% of the cases, parents pay for their kids education here.

Your university years should be some of the funnest in your life. You'll make life-long friendships and memories that you'll cherish forever. I want all my students to have fun, experience and grow. I also wish you to see the benefits of studying English which will make you more motivated to learn English. English can open the door to "A Whole New World". :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weddings and Funerals in Japan

This month I attended both a wedding and a funeral. My friend/student got married at a posh hotel near Tokyo Disneyland. As the guests entered the ballroom, both the bride & groom and their parents formed a greeting line. At this time, the bride wore an all-white silk wedding kimono. This dates back to the Edo era and the traditions of the brides of the samurai. Soon after she changed into a very colorful ornate gold, silver and red kimono. This was decorated with cranes and flowers and other auspicious symbols. Finally, she wore a white wedding gown. During the time when the bride was changing, the guests enjoyed a delicious full-course Chinese meal. Japanese wedding receptions don't have dancing as we do at many receptions in the states but members from the bride's flamenco group performed for us and a professional opera singer (bride's friend) also sang a most beautiful song.

One big difference between wedding customs in Japan and America is the gifts that guests bring. In Japan, new notes (to signify a new start in their lives) are put into a fancy envelope (shugi-bukuro). The usual amount is 30,000 yen (over $300). There is no wedding registry or gift list, and guests do not bring store-bought gifts. In comparison, guests usually bring a non-monetary gift worth on average between from $50-$100 in America. Oh yeah, and you never bring a guest to a Japanese wedding (as it's common practice for a husband to bring wife or boyfriend to bring girlfriend, etc. in America).

Our neighbor, a very nice and cool gentleman suddenly passed away. We live in the same apartment building and also go to his hair salon. Testimony to what a good man he was, more than 2000 people attended his wake/funeral. Japanese funerals (soshiki) are usually (90%) Buddhist ceremonies. As guests pay their last respects, a Buddhist priest (or two) will chant a section from a sutra. Men wear black suits with black ties and women wear a black dress or black kimono. Most people carry a set of prayer beeds called "juzu".

As the priests are chanting, guests go to front where the family members are seated and bow, offer incense three times to the incense urn and then bow again in front of the deceased.

The deceased is usually given a new Buddhist name (kaimyo) written in old "kanji" (Chinese characters) that few people nowadays can read. After the funeral, 99% of all deceased Japanese are cremated. This became common after World War 2 due to its efficiency and cleanliness. Also some local governments ban burials. A cremation takes about two hours. Family members return when cremation has been completed.

They then pick the bones out of the ashes and transfer them to an urn using large chopsticks. This is the only time in Japan when it is proper for two people to hold the same item at the same time with chopsticks. This is a major social faux pas if done at any other time.

A funeral in Japan is one of the most expensive in the world. The complete cost including buying a plot averages over 2 million yen (around $25,000). This is one reason guests bring condolence money called "koden". This is given in a black and white decorated envelope. The usual amount is around 5000 - 10,000 yen. Guests are also given a small gift (usually tea or sugar) as they go.

At funerals in America, there is always a eulogy given by the priest and a family member or good friend of the deceased. Japan doesn't have this custom.

Note: Pictures of funeral are all taken from internet.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


My favorite family vacation was our 2-week stay in Hawaii (Oahu/Maui) back in 1982. My dad worked really hard as he was running his own pharmacy, so until then, he had never taken more than a week off. The next time I visited Hawaii was in 1993. I had just finished teaching a year on the JET Program in Okayama and wanted to stay in Hawaii for an extended period of time. I got a job working on the Waikiki Trolley. I started as a conductor (glorified ticket puncher). Then suddenly the bi-lingual Japanese/English staff quit and they needed a "Japanese Liason". They asked me if I could speak Japanese as I had just come from teaching in Japan. I said, "yeah sure" hahaha. When I think back to how bad my Japanese actually was at that time it makes me laugh (not that I'm any good now)! :) Anyway, my pay was raised to 10 bucks /hour and my hours 9 to 5. I wasn't making much but didn't have to spend much either (except for rent). I rode my bicycle or took the bus everywhere and my entertainment was bodyboarding or hanging out at the beach. I call the time I spent there my "working holiday" as every day, even working days were spent very happily.

Earlier this month my family returned from a one-week vacation in Hawaii. It still holds all the charm that it had for me in my teens and 20's. I love the sun, the nice breeze, the daily rainbows, good local food (L & L Barbecue, Matsumoto Shave Ice, Crack Seed Center), North Shore beaches, local people and their friendly casualness, Ala Moana Center and the beautiful sunsets. What made this vacation even more special was that my parents met us and we stayed in a nice hotel/condo together. Taiga could enjoy time with his grandparents and Aki and I could enjoy some time to ourselves too.

The panic from the terrible disaster has gone and life is just about back to normal for those of us lucky enough to live far away from it. We still feel the aftershocks but they're getting weaker. Rolling blackouts have stopped until summer when the use of A/C will probably force them to start up again. Everyone has been cutting down on energy consumption. Self-restraint is being preached by some politicians and many festivals and other events have been cancelled or toned-down. I'm not sure if this is for better or worse. It is part of Japanese culture and I respect it (self-restraint), but, on the other hand, people do need to let out their stress. Businesses also suffer when people stay home. Golden Week just started and I hope people will go out and enjoy life. :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Just a week ago at 2:46pm local time, the worst natural disaster in postwar Japan occured. It has changed the lives of most, if not all, that live here much like 9/11 did in the United States. Although I'm 270 miles (435 km) from the epicenter in Sendai, the uneasiness, stress and worries of it all are still quite strong. This quake was like no other; it moved Honshu almost 8 feet (2.4 m) closer to North America. Our classroom shook violently for 6 full minutes! The first 20 seconds I was standing at the whiteboard thinking it was another one of the 1000 or so earthquakes Japan experiences each year, but then it not only didn't stop but it grew stronger. After a couple of minutes, a wise student said that we should go under the table which we all (5 adults) did. One gentleman ran outside. When the shaking did finally stop, we all walked outside. The streets were filled. Everyone was calling loved ones which jammed all the phone lines. Finally I got mail on my cell-phone from my wife saying they were OK. I had to teach a couple more kids' classes that afternoon. Suprisingly, about half the kids showed up. That evening's adult class no one came because the train lines had all stopped running. Many of our students work in Tokyo and had to stay the night in their Tokyo offices (about 50 miles/80 km east of Odawara).

Rolling blackouts started this past week. We lose power for about 3 hours a day. Fortunately, we haven't had to cancel any classes. We're having candle-light classes and students have been bringing their flashlights. These rolling blackouts will last until the end of April and could possibly continue for a full year.

Japan generates one-third of its electricity with nuclear power. The nuclear power plants that were hit by both the earthquake and then the tsunami in Fukushima provided a good chunk of power. Now there is quite a scare going around about the radiation leaking. It's a real and serious problem for those who live within 100 kms of the nuclear plant. Those people should definitely evacuate. As for the 20 million or so people living in the Tokyo area (roughly 170 miles/270 km away), I don't believe they are putting themselves at risk by staying put. Some foreign governments are urging their citizens to return home. This is causing people to panic as they think the Japanese government is being untruthful. Now I am not saying that the Japanese Governenment (or any government) is always truthful, but I ask: Why would they lie about this? If deaths occured now or in the future from the radiation leakage, how would they be able to hide from this? This type of scaremongering is not helping anyone.

Recently some friends and family members have told me to go home. I want them to know that we are completely safe from any radiation leaks where we are. I do appreciate that they are thinking of our safety and well-being but we are more than 225 miles (350 km) from the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. This is a good video explaining the nuclear reactor situation in a way that even I can understand. It's in Japanese with English sub-titles on the bottom.

We'll never be completely safe from earthquakes here but I face that same danger in my home-state of California. There have already been literally 100's of aftershocks and more than 10 earthquakes that registered higher than 6.0 magnitude after the "big" one that registered 9.0. Each one brings a sick feeling to my stomach and images of the destruction I've been watching on the news. After another month or two, things will calm down (earthquake-wise) and my body will stop feeling the movement that it does sometimes even when things aren't shaking.

To sum things up, things aren't rosy but they will get better. I have a lot of faith in the people here. There's a word in Japanese called "gaman" which loosely translates to mean "patience and perseverance". These qualities along with being a very orderly society will help to bring Japan back up on its feet. The people here in Japan feel the love and kindness that is being sent from all over the world. Personally, this gives me strength too. Again, thank you for your love and prayers.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

First Birthday Customs in Japan

Taiga is one-year old! This may not seem like a big deal to you but it was for us. :) He now weighs 10.5 kgs. (about 23 lbs.). It's mostly in his cheeks (hoho). He's not quite walking by himself but uses his pushcart by himself and will be walking any day now.

I want to share a couple of "1st birthday" customs here in Japan. One is for the birthday baby to carry red & white (traditional celebratory colors) mochi (pounded rice) wrapped in furoshiki (wrapping cloth) and strapped on his back. The mochi's quantity is "issho" which represents 1.8 kgs. or about 4 lbs. of rice. The word "issho" has another meaning which is "for the whole life", so carrying the mochi also has the significance of good health and prosperity for the child's entire life. Taiga's name is written in kanji on the mochi.

One more custom is the baby is given a selection of items to choose from. The object the baby chooses is said to represent his/her future occupation. Traditionally, these have been an abacus, a writing brush, money and rice. These days, however, families can have fun by putting out all kinds of things representing different fields and occupations. We laid out a basketball to represent an athlete, a calculator for a business type of job, a bottle of vitamins for a doctor or pharmacist, a piano for a musician or artist and an apple for a teacher. Watch video below to see what Taiga's future job will be. :)

I should mention that when I talked to my students about these customs, only about half of them knew. The other half may come from a different region in Japan that doesn't have these customs or may have simply forgotten about them. I enjoy celebrating using Japanese customs and am glad my wife is very knowledgeable about such things.