Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Hey Everyone,

Yes, indeed, there is an official Japanese term for those people chanting at baseball games en masse. Contrary to popular (okay, my) opinion, even though they seem too organized to be otherwise, these folks are neither hired nor supported by teams. When I quizzed my seniors' group about this phenomenon, one woman shook her head emphatically and said, "They are not hired by the team, they are....aaaaahhhh (searching for the correct words)....Private Crazy Fans."

I think this may be my new favorite saying. I mean really, who hasn't known, or hasn't been a PCF at some point in his or her life? Those lovable goofballs who buy $100,000 RVs, pack them full of team toilet seat covers and toasters and then spend their existence (at least 6 months of it) following college or professional football teams from place to place? Yep, PCFs.

Or what about the ones who strip naked from the waist up in sub-zero weather and paint themselves team colors? Obviously PCFs. Or how about those folk at the Republican National Convention who are swearing their undying love and admiration for some woman they have "known" for less than a week....Oh my God, they are so PCF!

Sorry, I couldn't help it.

But seriously, if you think about it in an existential type way, we are all private crazy fans about something. We all chant, if not in unison, at least in duty to something in our lives. So my question to you is...when and how have you gone PCF in your life? Come on, post your nutball obsession out there...dare to comment. Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Sound of Silence

Sigh. Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are over--yesterday was The First Day of School. Always a bittersweet day for moms, I think. On the one hand, you are all wistful that they are one year older, one year farther away from ruffled dresses and Barbie Doll lunchboxes and holding your hand in line...

But on the other, if that's the price of freedom, I'm paying. My First Day of Solitude was absolutely grand. No one complained of boredom nor did anyone slam a door right after the ear splitting shriek GET OUT OF MY ROOM or MOOOOOOOMMMM, MAKE HER STOP WHISTLING/SINGING/EXISTING NEAR ME. The first day of school is like having a Zen temple right in your own house. It's pure, unadulterated bliss.

To make my nirvana state complete, I witnessed a bonafide miracle before the girls left for school. T. had been on duty the night before and was sleeping in. As I entered the kitchen, grumbling about having to make "nutritious" lunches again, I noticed that the coffee maker was askew. I went closer. It was HOT. I thought, well my husband is kick-ass but not even he would get up and make coffee at 6AM when he just went to bed 3 hours earlier. I poured a cup....strong but not too strong. In fact, it was....perfect. I was still sitting there staring at the machine in wonder when C. said, "Can I have a cup of the coffee I made?"

Wow. I get all choked up thinking about it. All the whining, sneering, screeching of the last few pre-adolescent years just all of a sudden made perfect sense. Yes. I made this child. She has survived to 12 years old. And she can make a great cup of coffee without prompting.

You hear a lot about the first teeth, steps, words, day of kindergarten but really, folks, nothing compares to this. I want to make up a bumper sticker that says HONOR STUDENTS ARE ALL FINE AND GOOD BUT MY CHILD MAKES ME COFFEE IN THE MORNING. HOW BOUT THEM APPLES?

I am not sure that will fit on Frank, though.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Buy Me Some Edamame and Octopus Balls)

Hi everyone,
Well, my life is complete. I have finally experienced the Great American Pastime in Japan. That's right, Baseball in the Land of the Rising Sun. My good friend Hirano-san managed to procure 4 free tickets for our family to the Yokohama Baystars versus the Somebody-or-Other Dragons. We took the train up to Yokohama and wandered around the stadium trying to get in the right entrance. We wandered mightily...life is damn hard when you are illiterate. But it was a gorgeous summer night, the sky was clear, a warm breeze blowing, so we didn't mind looking like idiots too much.

We ended up in the away team's section, although it took us two innings to figure that out. But I guess it doesn't matter since we are technically the Really Away Team. Although it might have annoyed those around us, we had a fabulous time cheering both teams on. The Japanese take cheering to a whole new level. Practically everyone has these long, hollow, plastic batons that they hit together in rhythm with a dozen memorized chants. Each time their team is up to bat, the cheering section stands up and chants IN UNISON (even the preschoolers) until the next team is up. If their team is at bat for an hour, they chant for an hour.

It was interesting to watch the different styles of team chants--one was accompanied by a horn section and giant flags (imagine an Asian oompah band if you will, indeed if you can), and the other went acapella but with a more intricate rhythm. It is possible that they were only saying, You Guys Suck, Our Team Rules, but it all seemed like such civilized fun. Nobody got up in our section and screamed at the referees or threw peanuts (no goobers!!). They calmly drank their beer and ate their bentos in between cheering gigs.

Unfortunately, our fun came to an abrupt end. One minute the weather was perfect--salary men were coming in late from work to meet their wives and ecstatic kids, loosening their ties and hailing down the beer ladies--the next, a cloud covered the sky with the speed and impenetrable darkness of octopus ink. In a matter of minutes, Japanese folk were huddling under umbrellas and putting on rain jackets. Not the cheering section, however. They kept up the beat in the pelting rain until their team was done at bat.

Oh yeah, not us either. Guess who forgot to bring rain gear...I mean, besides the two slacker Japanese teens next to us? I swear to God, these people are like Uber Boyscouts with special divinity skills. They pulled rain stuff out of thin air! Unprepared, as usual, we scurried to the train and on home.

Even though we didn't get to experience the seventh inning stretch (apparently they sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame in Japanese, interesting since there are no peanuts and crackerjack), we still had a fab time. I just love this culture, stealth rainclouds and all.

Living in Japan is somewhat akin to watching a silent film. Oftentimes, it is more effort than I want to expend trying to understand something...you really have to pay attention to how people act, their reactions and their faces instead of extracting meaning from what they are saying. You are not quite sure of where the characters come from, why they do what they do. It can be hard work. Really frustrating. But like a great silent picture, life in Japan has allowed my imagination to take flight outside the confines of dialogue. With just a few visual clues, I am free to fill in the blanks, for right or for wrong, myself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Festivals and Fireflowers

Hello everyone,
It's been awhile since our last update. So much has happened since March, but as is its frequent habit, life got in the way of me writing it all down. Between herding kids at the elementary school (tasers would be useful), keeping up with the girls, teaching english and planning a huge Fiesta party for the hospital, something had to give. This spring, it was linear thought.

Goodness. I really wish that I had written down all that I have experienced in the last 5 months...Cherry blossom viewing, summer noodles at my friends' houses, our first Japanese BBQ, the Hospital Fiesta (and the befuddled Japanese kids staring at the wanton violence as American children gleefully beat down a papier-mache donkey filled with treats...), our trip to Nikko with our pal Steph. Alas, five months of memories can disappear as quickly as the sakura blossoms...One minute they are there, so amazingly beautiful and alive, and the next thing you know, they are fluttering to the ground...

I have plans to start a blog so that I can be more disciplined and regular in my writing. Plus, I can add pictures. I really wish I had snapped one of the two signs I saw recently: "Schnauzerland" (for all your schnauzer needs) and "Goo World" (for ???). Unfortunately, those were seen from the car on our way somewhere. But I think I can access the "Noodles and Gruel" picture we took in the airport in Taiwan last year. Geez, I know you think I am doing so, but it's really humanly impossible to make this stuff up.

Well, rainy season finally left a few weeks ago and we are finally in full-on summer. T.'s parents came to visit a few weeks ago and we had a lovely time visiting Kyoto, except for the incredible heat and humidity. All my Japanese friends warned me. Each and every one of them looked pitiful when I told them (all excitedly) that we were going to Kyoto to see the Gion Festival, the oldest festival in Japan. "Ahhhh, it's very HOT." I thought they were just being Tokyo Weenies. But, Oh. My. God. It. Was. So. Freakin. Hot.

Kyoto is in a valley, thus no breeze in the summer. The temples and shrines are magnificent--Kyoto is an ancient home of the Emperor and former capital of Japan as well as being the birthplace of Japanese Buddhism. There are over 1500 temples and shrines in the area. One day, we visited 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sights in about 6 hours and were lucky enough to see a Maiko, an apprentice geisha, on her way to an appointment in the old town. She looked exquisite. We, on the other hand, looked like we had been "rode hard and put up wet", which is literally what had happened after touring all day in the sticky heat (minus the horse). Our guide took a liking to us and wanted to take our picture at the end of the day to put on his website. I am not sure that snapshot will drum up much business for him.

Tim's parents were troopers...they ate everything we introduced them to except the Barbequed Squid-on-a-stick at the Gion Festival. (Yes, the little blackened tentacles veer off in wild directions from the stick...) They tried yakitori, octopus balls, pancake thingies on a stick, fried spaghetti, sweet potato fries and Japanese shaved ice at the night fair. The festival itself centers around a large parade of 26 "floats", which are actually portable shrines and very tall wagons decorated with elaborate tapestries and paintings, many of which are National Treasures, telling various Japanese folk stories. They do not actually "float" but are pulled laboriously with rope by about thirty young men in the insane heat. Oh, and they don't have brakes or axles. Turning corners is quite hairy, as the musicians perched on top of these things look like they are going to toppel off at any minute, while a billion little guys are running around trying to coax the structures around the turns on bamboo slats. One wrong move, and the whole thing goes over. I know you can't picture this scene in your mind. I am having a hard time believing I saw it.

Unlike American parades, tens of thousands of people are all orderly and pretty quiet except for some restrained clapping when something exciting happens, like the insane turns. BIZARRE. Instead of throwing candy, some of the dudes accompanying the floats gave out fans. Very useful since I don't think people had any saliva left to suck on candy. In any case, there are no shriners in mini cars, no shrill horns, no marching bands, no Bozo the Clown bouncing down the sidelines. I didn't hear one person whistle through his fingers. Like most things Japanese, it was sublimely, strangely sedate.

All in all, it was a wonderful and unforgettable trip. We hope to go back in the cooler weather to see the 1489 temples we didn't get to see the first time.

The rest of the summer has been filled with fireworks, which the Japanese call Hanabi, or Fireflowers. Isn't that a poetic name? We caught a display in Zushi with our friend Hirano-san and his wife. They were the best Fireflowers I have seen since the Statue of Liberty Celebration in 1986. The Grand Finale filled up the entire sky over the ocean with falling gold sparks and a relentless drumbeat of explosions...I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest.

And then it was over. I am learning from my Japanese Experience, that the best things in life are fleeting. The present moment is the best time to experience life's joys, because just moments later, the Fireflowers wilt and dissapate and the cherry blossoms let go and blow away in the breeze, to God knows where.

I hope that you enjoy the remaining, fleeting days of summer, no matter where you are in the world. Life is good.