Thursday, August 12, 2010

10 best things about summer in Japan

Okay, this is a bit country-specific, but since I'm right in the middle of a sweltering summer, without wife and kids, here in Japan, I thought I'd take some stock. It's a great place to spend summer, if it weren't for the damnned heat.

10. Festivals. Right. "Matsuri" are everywhere, yet these "parties in the street" can be further broken down, and in fact account for quite a bit of Japanese summer goodness. For instance:

9. Fireworks shows. These things are amazing. Go on for what seems like hours. One thing they could lose? The "sponsorship announcements" before each blast.

8. Girls wearing Yukata. The cotton "kimono" is of course less formal than its silk cousin. Fun. Easy on the eyes, too.

7. High school baseball. Right, seems strange, right? Imagine "March Madness" in August. In Osaka. With young high school guys going for it, giving their all, then crying at the end. Crack open an Asahi and turn on the Koshien tournament.

6. Iced Coffee. I swear. This is, aside from beer (and water with a lemon squeeze) the best summer drink around. In Japan you can buy it in cans ("Georgia" or "Boss") cartons, plastic bottles. But perhaps the best way is prepared by your favorite Kissaten (coffee shop) master. In Japan they have "gum syrup" to pour into your iced coffee so you don't have the problem of undissolved sugar crystals in the bottom of your glass. Actually, I kind of like that part. Another best part? The sound of the ice tinking in your glass as you take the first sip...

5. And now that were half way home, and have broken into the food/beverage category, I'd like to submit: SUIKA BARS! Suika (Watermelon) is of course a summertime treat. Leave it to the geniuses at Lotte to come up with a frozen ice candy version, which includes chocolate seeds! Definitely top 5. Maybe higher.

4. It will end. Right. One of the best things about experiencing the hot, swealtering humidity of Japanese summers is remembering that October is now just around the corner, with blue skies, cool air, colored leaves and feasts of the harvest. It's coming. I promise.

3. School's out! Well, yeah, for just about a month. And the schools give mountains of homework. Then you've got the semi-mandatory (read: "socially enforced") Radio Calisthenics starting at 6:30 every morning in the local parks. So yes, there's room for improvement, but summer vacation is still SUMMER VACATION!7

2. Music Festivals: Fuji Rock, Kodo, etc, etc, etc. Get sweaty grooving with strangers.

1. Did I miss anything? Kingyo sukui (goldfish scooping)? So-men (child thin wheat noodles in sauce)? Fu-rin (little wind chimes to make the breezes seem breezier)? Summer vegetables? Those puffy, summery cumulus clouds? Cicada catching? Swimming in the pool?

Let me know what makes your list for the best things of summer in Japan.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

10 more for Wednesday

10. Yuki called today to say he was sick with a cold and would take the day off. That, by itself, is not a good thing. It does, however, open the day up to other possibilities.

9. Getting Things Done: Family car needed to go in for "Shaken," the bi-annual check up, registration, oil change and tax bilking. Never cheap, at about $1000 US. But the car got in, and out, without much fuss. Check 'er off.

8. Ayumi the Volunteer continues to comunicate her feelings, thoughts, concerns. All while helping fill out a grant application. I think this girl, "raised" at I CAN since 15 years ago, is a keeper!

7. Getting Things Done (II): with 40 free minutes before 5:00, I thought I could sneak in a trip to the mall (JASCO) to submit our grant application. All recepts put in the "I CAN" box on the 11th of each month are totaled, and 5 percent is given as a voucher to spend as we like. Great for printer ink, games and toys for I CAN. Though the man in charge of the program was not in, it felt good to have the application out of my hands and into theirs full weeks before the deadline. I also snuck in a visit to the Board of Education with a similar result: the man whom I promised to bring Free School data from the Tokyo conference was not in, however, one more pile of paper moves from my desk to his. Promise fulfilled.

6. Pick up kids and dinner together! Dinner together is (sadly!) a rare event in our house. Emiko's stewed hamburger steaks were excellent, to boot.

5. Show me the Money!: When I tried to make an airline reservation in the morning, the representative said, "OK, fine, please deposit your money by Friday." After a flurry of phone calls, 3 people came by to give me wads of cash. Excellent!

4. One of the homestay participant mothers is a native of Kumamoto, and knows the actual island where I CAN is trying to set up a support school system. Dolphins galore, she says. New consultant?

3. Asking Emiko for help getting the kids ready for bed. While not a "best 10" item, this exchange colored the evening for us: When I requested she postpone her blogging till after the kids were asleep, she exploded with "After all I do around here!" noise. She is not feeling herself lately, and work issues and childcare issues are not easily dismissed for her. Anyway, asking for help had this benefit:

2. Kids in bed a bit earlier. This has been an issue because the next morning is determined by what happens at bedtime. This has helped.

1. My own bedtime more reasonable, a rare 11:pm futon entry. Alarms set for 7:am.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Discipline (self-)

Here we start another set of consecutive blog posts. I wrote here earlier that "Powers of Ten" are important and valuable because that number, that nice, round, 2 digit number 10, is just enough items to make us stretch...just a little. So here are my 10 best from yesterday:

10. Good poo-poo in the morning. Yes, showing my age as an old(er) fart. However, as starts of the day go, this and a hot shower make for a pretty good one.

9. Smooth, non-demanding Monday at work. This week, for me, started slow...which was about the pace I needed.

8. Winter Olympics on TV. A nice change from the usual silly Japanese "comedy" that otherwise would be blaring.

7. Deepening friendships. My Canadian friend, B, is a giant of a man who has been living here in Japan for about as long as I have. J-wife, 3 "half and half" kids. We kind of pass each other in the office between English lessons, but we had a first real conversation today. First, messaging via Facebook, then in real life. Seems he has decided to send his kid on our I CAN's homestay program this year. (see #1)

6. Good conversation with Y at our English school. Spending an extra hour there, instead of just rushing in and out for lessons only, leads to better communication, better relationships between staff, better English lessons and school overall. (Duh.)

5. Winning a game of backgammon. Not a biggie, but better than losing! Doubles rule.

4. Getting home before 9:pm. This means 1) I kept a promise to my son -- when in fact there were chances to break it. I was glad to have the chance to test my keeping of boundaries, and glad to pass the test. 2) More time at home: more hugs with kids and conversation with wife (see #2)

3. Nibble from I CAN potential member. We will be graduating our last, best member this spring, so I am "requiring" 3-4-5-6 new members for our free school in the spring. I still love it when the phone rings with these kinds of calls. "I found your website..." she said.

2. Good practice of spousal listening! Wife E. had a crappy day today, and wanted to vent about it. Sure, the Olympics were on. My "impulse" was to grunt agreement/condolence while my eyes were on snowboarding, but I suspected that this was important. I made a conscious effort to keep eye contact, to listen to her story to the end (hint: it was not short). Result: she felt listened to, and even said thanks!

1. Along with Canadian B. above, a late night phone call led to two more homestay participants meaning: at present we have 6 members, meaning the trip is a "GO!" I will close the applications this evening, but there still may be 2 or 3 or 4 more coming. AMAZING how much energy I got from that call. Hell, I was washing a sink full of dishing literally singing a tune when E. came in and said, "Are you OK?" Made for a great end to an excellent day, and good payoff for 2 months of hard promotion work.