Friday, August 29, 2008

A New Friend

I've mentioned Mixi, the Japanese social networking system (a little like Facebook...a lot safer than MySpace) before on this blog, and recently I was tickled when an Australian woman contacted me suddenly on Mixi and we began corresponding.

She lives in Kyushu, the southwestern island of Japan, whereas I am located in the middle of Honshu (the longest island), so we live quite far apart and have no hope of ever meeting face to face. But I have had such fun "talking" with her. She and I both write these Olympic-sized epistles to each other just about everyday. She is 13 years my junior and her kids are still at the stage where they can have fun as an entire family during summer vacation. She 'gets' my humor and she tickles my funny bone, too.

There is definitely a honeymoon stage in a new friendship. We breathlessly wait for the other's reply and can't answer it soon enough. I'm a sucker for that stage; it makes my heart sing and spirit soar! I feel important to someone new; it renews my faith in my worthiness as a person to get to know. Sometimes in this mad exchange of personal anecdotes and revealing one's secrets it's possible to go too far and learn something we don't like so much, something that puts just the slightest damper on the bloom of happiness. But this hasn't happened with my Aussie friend, I'm happy to say...not yet, anyway...

I'm going to believe the best and continue to share with her and I hope in time we can become the kind of friends that endure through time and space. I have a lot of relationships like that, and I'm blessed and grateful for them.

If you are one of those people, and you are reading my blog today, drop me a line. People just don't comment enough on this confounded blog!!!!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Just Call Me "Oya Baka" Again

[Oya= parent, baka= fool] Forewarning: Proud Mama is going to do some bragging here...

One of the things I've been so proud of while watching my son establish his independence from us and live on his own in LA, is how he has set certain goals for himself each year, and has managed to fulfill those goals within the set time limit.

In the beginning the goals were straightforward and relatively simple: get a cell phone, get an apartment, get a job. But they weren't simple to obtain. Without a California driver's license, it was next to impossible to get a phone; without a phone it was impossible to get an apartment; and without a place to live it was very hard to fill out job applications. Everyone treated him as though he were an illegal immigrant, despite having American citizenship. The average kid would've taken the last of his money and hightailed it home to Japan. But my son stuck it out. And got the phone, at long last, soon to be followed by a place to live and a job to boot. We know God was in his corner, and we're grateful. But I also know my son himself exhibited a lot of guts and determination and it's paid off.

His next goal was to get a job in Beverly Hills at a high-class restaurant, because he had heard that's where you get the good tips. He had been working in a less prestigious Japanese restaurant the first five months of 2007 and felt like he was only spinning his wheels there. He had a number of things he wanted to purchase eventually and needed a better income. So he set out to get a job in a fancy Japanese restaurant in Beverly Hills. He had to enter the staff as kitchen help, but has worked his way up to server, gradually excelling in each job he did on the way. I really have to take off my hat to him. He's proven to be a very hard worker. (His father's boy!!)

Recently his boss acknowledged his hard work by asking him to serve exclusively in the sushi bar corner (where sales are lagging) because his boss is hoping that having a bilingual, top-notch service provider will increase the popularity of that corner. This was an honor and my son was smart enough to recognize it! Since his tip income would initially decrease as a result of this change in his duties, his boss was willing to supplement his income with guaranteed salary, paid out of his boss' pocket! What greater compliment could an employee want?!

There have been a lot of small goals in between...especially in the purchasing of this and that on eBay or some other net auction service, and he has acquired a lot of the equipment he needs to begin producing music in his apartment (which is his ultimate goal and why he moved to LA in the first place). He's been there less than two years and has accomplished so much!

Keep it up, Honey! You can do it! And there's nothing foolish about my believing that, at all.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Foreign Buyers Club (FBC)

One of the reasons I have lived so happily in a foreign land for half of my life is the existance of a food import business based in Kobe, Japan called the Foreign Buyers Club. Originally a group of friends who wanted to order large chunks of cheese, wholesale (therefore less expensive) to divide up among themselves, the current FBC has evolved from that original group gradually growing to a membership in the tens of thousands. My member's ID no. is 217, which tells you how long I've been relying on them (almost 20 years)!

Many years ago, after FBC had expanded to include breakfast cereals in their selection of goods, I was a little hard pressed to order an entire case of Quaker Life cereal and I didn't have anyone living near me who wanted to divide up the case (usually 12 boxes) with me . I mentioned this to Chuck, the man who founded FBC and continues to run the company, and he generously offered to buy half the case with me, enabling us to enjoy Life Cereal for a few months one year. This kind of personal attention to members' problems or concerns has always attracted me to continue giving them my business. Despite enormous growth in the past fifteen years, the people who man the phones and computers are still as nice as pie and willing to go that extra mile for you.

They first had a mimeographed catalog they sent out to everyone, with only the names of the types of cheeses listed on a few pages. But today there are three colorful, photo-packed catalogs sent annually to each member: The General Store (where you can order cases of stuff as well as individual boxes or units from the states to be shipped to you within a month of ordering), The Deli (which hooks you up to items already imported into Japan that FBC gathers for you and delivers to your door within a week) and The Learning Center (filled with teaching materials and children's DVDs, box games, books and craft items as well as a number of magazines and books for 'grownups').

There is a reasonable shipping charge added to the total order, and a low annual members' fee guarantees you keep up-to-date with their newletters and special offers. Personally, I try to order only when there is a free shipping deal offered.

In addition to everything listed in the catalogs, you can find thousands more on their websites (one in English, the other in Japanese) and if you call the office, they have an even larger data base from which to order. All you have to do is give a bar code, or explain about a product you saw in a magazine, etc and the helpful staff will hunt the items down like bloodhounds. They have expanded over time and have an LA office now and an express service (in which you can order stuff from the states and get it delivered to your door within a week for a higher postage charge).

I can't say enough good things about it. Thanks to FBC, I can continue to bake cakes for my students' birthdays, take in jello desserts, brownies and a pot of chili to church potlucks, open a can of decent vegetable soup for lunch on a day I'm too tired to whip up anything else, and try foods from all over the world. I've enjoyed potpies from Australia as well as shortbread from England. We can buy chicken legs from Denmark or lamb chops from New Zealand. FBC was the source I turned to every time I baked a turkey for Thanksgiving, when my son was young, and I can honestly say I can no longer live without them!!

Thanks, Chuck, Ryohey and all the rest of you great folk on FBC's staff! I love y'all!!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm a Communication Junkie

In high school I had the notion that I wanted to become a disc jockey for WGN Radio in Chicago, because I listened to the late night radio programs and loved the quiet, moody feel to the DJs' voices. When I went to college, I entered the Speech Communications department, because it contained the Mass Communications program, which my vocations counselor advised me to pursue. I blithely took Mass Communications 101 (or some such beginner's course) and had a rude awakening when every student was forced to read five newspapers and ten magazines a week, listen to tons of broadcasts and give massive reports about all this stuff I had no interest in whatsoever. I quickly changed to a Speech Communications major and thus, discovered my one great love: the art of communication.

I had no idea at the time that a speech communications major didn't really prepare a person for any sort of career, and I would be forced to attend graduate school in order to develop my own marketable specialty. But the good news is, studying speech communications helped prepare me for my life in Japan far more than almost any other major would have (except teaching English as a second language, of course). I have fallen back on the tenets of significant communication exchange time and again in my marriage (to a man who stopped using English to communicate with me the moment we got married). And I have used the basics of group communication in my classes over and over.

With the birth of cyberspace, communications developed yet another avenue in which to pursue relationships. I heard about chat rooms long before I ever ended up "chatting" with strangers on Skype, and email became more important to me when money for postage stamps was a luxury I couldn't often afford. But whatever the means to the end, that end is the same--the development and maintenance of relationships through communication exchange. My one great love in life.

I confess it here and now. I am a communication junkie. Nothing thrills me more than an email from family or friends. I'm delighted beyond belief when someone feels compelled to write a comment on my Mixi diary or this blog's post. Communication is the affirmation of our existence! We live! We love others! They love us back! Communication is a celebration of LIFE!

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Good Time Was Had By All

My inlaws held a family reunion yesterday so we could meet our nephew's new bride. She's a lovely person, and I was happy she was an excellent English speaker! That takes a lot of pressure off me, as I can be more myself with someone I am just getting to know.

We had an incredible spread of great food. Sushi, salad, tempura, veggie dishes my mother-in-law made, and lovely cut fruit for dessert. I provided the brownies and snacks for later; my husband brought the French champagne! We all pigged out and talked a mile a minute. I was glad I had brought the Dominoes, because we had a nice game of Mexican Train in the afternoon.

All told, a very enjoyable time with the people I love best in Japan.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Jealous Type

The Master's Lap is MINE

All tuckered out

Asia is the name of my son's cat. He adopted this cat when he was living with some housemates who didn't take the greatest care of her. He loves animals and was very drawn to caring for Asia. By the time he decided to move out and off on his own, the housemates had already gotten a new puppy and were rather relieved, I think, that he wanted to take her with him.

Looking is all she can do anymore

Asia is very territorial. Not just of the prime places to sleep in their apartment, or of her food dish, etc. but of my son! Whenever he is talking on the phone, she invariably tries to get in the way and disrupt the call. Since we are in very different time zones, we often end up talking in the wee hours of his morning, after he gets home from work and Asia is ready to settle down for a sleep after eating. She knows when the caller is a woman, and that is the time she makes the greatest effort to be naughty (to distract him from the call), or to hop up on the desk and walk back and forth in front of him, whipping her tail up in his face, to discourage him speaking into the receiver.

My son and I use Skype much of the time to communicate, so he sits in front of the camera/mike attached to the computer. It never fails that Asia will come and rub up against the mike, causing a loud eruption of feedback. He used to say, "Say hi to Asia, Mom" and I would knock myself out trying to sweet talk that cat, who would in turn just get more perturbed that her master was talking with another female. So I finally gave up.

Please let me out!
Ah, the Great Outdoors...

Asia used to live outside much of the time. She had my son trained to get up at five and let her out, or in, or feed her, or whatever, and when they moved, it was to an apartment on the fourth floor. No more going outside. This caused not a little stress for Asia, I'm sure. He was able to catch her peeping out the windows longingly more than once, and I'll share those shots with you here. She's a really fat cat, so the folds of her stomach hang down when she gets up on her hind legs; it's really funny and cute.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Next Generation

I enjoy family traditions. I had a number of them in my own childhood that defined a sense of security and order in the year's events. Family vacations in the station wagon. Thanksgiving dinners held up at Grammy's in Wauwatosa. Opening Christmas stockings after church and dessert on Christmas Eve. Playing games together as a family on Sunday afternoons.

After moving to Japan and marrying my husband, I had a new family to fit into, and new traditions to be maintained. The most consistent one has been The Gathering of the Clan at Gramma's house in Nagoya. My mother-in-law is Gramma, and she and Grampa have been wonderful hosts time and again for our family reunions.

This coming Sunday, there will be another such gathering at Gramma's in Nagoya. We are all getting together to meet my nephew's new bride. They live in Tokyo and aren't able to join these reunions very often (in the ten years they've known each other before tying the knot), so the entire gang will come (all except my son, who lives in LA). I am very psyched about this!

There will be my parents-in-law (2), their three children (the eldest son is my husband) and spouses (+6), and all their children (except my son, so +5) and spouses (+3, 'cause only three are still single) and the great-grandchildren, too (another 3)! The span in ages will be 6mos to 84yrs!! Nineteen people in all! (All in that tiny living/ diingroom????) Well, it should be an interesting experience.

I plan on taking my camera and snapping away, when we aren't eating sushi, my mother- and sister-in-law's great dishes, or playing games (which is MY contribution to the family's traditions through the years, along with a big pan of homebaked brownies). It has been nearly four years since I've seen my nephew. He's a successful adman in Tokyo and is too busy to travel to Nagoya much. He's the apple of everyone's eye, so we are all eager to meet his new wife, too. I hear she is able to speak English, so I hope she won't be too shy to try out her skills on me.

If any of the photos are blog worthy, I'll post them later on!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


My father is colorblind. He had trouble discerning the differences between red and green. As he was an artististic man, I would assume this condition was a cross to bear, but he never complained. He was a great sketcher, and did excellent charcoal or pencil drawings.

He gave me these sketches he made in later years.

His lettering was also the thing of legends. He was asked to make signs and posters galore in his prime. His color blindness was genetic, so as his daughter the carrier X chromosome was passed on to me, but fortunately, my son was unaffected.

I love color and have always loved rainbows, stained glass windows, flower gardens, gemstones, and the satisfaction a new box of 64 Crayolas gave me! But lately I am experiencing a kind of color blindness every time I sit in front of the computer. My monitor is rather old, and the color red looks black most of the time. Every once in a while the true colors come back on and I can even play a game of Solitaire again. But much of the time, I am learning how to tolerate a rather drab world, perhaps much akin to the one my father has lived in all his life.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Twenty-four years and counting...

Today is my husband's and my 24th wedding anniversary. As he is Japanese, and I am American, we are veterans in the world of international marriage. Considering how very different our native cultures are (opposite, in fact), it is more than a little amazing we have stayed together this long and are in as healthy a place as a couple as we are today.

Any marriage involves compromise, but international marriage requires an incredible amount of it--on both sides. My husband is a very tolerant person and puts up with a fussy, demanding wife, just as I am an extremely dedicated communicator with a spouse who rarely puts his thoughts into words. We both have to try very hard and we both go the extra mile. I could never continue on without my faith, just as my husband could never continue on without a beer at the end of the day!

Today, he was out of town, arriving home around 8 p.m. Today I was busy out all day; at church with worship, choir practice and a women's group mtg, and after that, at a class before heading home by 7 p.m. My husband said around 8:20, 'Oh today is our anniversary, isn't it?' and I said, 'Yes, that's right.' Neither one of us said, "Happy Anniversary!" but I don't mind. It's taken a lot of years of compromise for me to be able to say that honestly. My own parents celebrated their anniversary with great traditions eating out, always with a mystery couple my father arranged beforehand, and presents exchanged. My father inevitably bought flowers for her every year. I went into my marriage expecting my husband to act in a similar way. When he didn't I had a hard time accepting that. But I've changed a lot. And he has, too.

My Christmas, birthday and anniversary gifts from my husband are a willingness to work hard to support our family 24/7, and to cook for me when I don't want to face my kitchen, even after a hard day's work. He does laundry (though far below my standards...) and even vacuums sometimes. I cannot complain. He shows me love in his actions every day, although never with fanfare or expecting thanks or praise.

You can't wrap that with a ribbon, now, can you??

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What a show!!

Since Japan is only about an hour ahead of China, the 29th Olympiad Opening Ceremony held last night was televised live in Japan, starting at around 9 p.m. It went till after 1 a.m., so I am a little sleepy today!

As opening ceremonies go, in which the host country treats the world to a taste of their culture, music and very essence, Beijing's entertainment was really breathtaking. You got a real sense of the rich and varied heritage represented in their many races, and developed through the history of civilization. The sheer numbers used in the mass demonstration of drums' grace and beauty in the first number was mind-boggling, not to mention a miraculous show of organization and preparation. And if you can believe it, all those hundreds of men had identical haircuts!

I didn't take notes, or I would comment on everything, but I enjoyed these particular highlights:

*The perfect formation of a filled-in circle (created by LED-covered-costumed adults), with the children in the center painting a green world to entice the birds back, and the birds responding to the call;

*the globe being circled by acrobatic runners, dangling on wires (attached to what, I have no idea!);

*the beautifully colorful, fairy-like flying individuals, also suspended on wires of no known origin, bobbing around like fireflies.

*I loved the Chinese characters for 'peace' (first ancient, then its more modern counterpart) formed by the individual keys of kanji (manned by one human each), again, miraculously timed and in sync with each other.

*They broke the bank in their use of fireworks; frankly it was a little overkill by the end, as I was distracted by how much pollution the fireworks' smoke was creating, and couldn't fully enjoy the beauty of it.

To say it was an elaborate show doesn't do the entertainment justice; there were traditional folk costumes and interesting modernistic costumes, too--all using a full palette of color. Traditional Chinese musical instruments played Chinese compositions as well as more familiar orchestral arrangements. You could sense the national pride of each participant, overjoyed to have this opportunity to shine for the world. I came away from the night's entertainment with a greater respect for The People's Republic of China, due to an elevated recognition of The People, themselves. Not a communistic government, clumped into a division of political systems, but rather a keener view of the faces of the largest national population in the world. It was a privilege to watch.

Thank you Beijing. What a show!!!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Asleep in the Stands

I'm a great baseball fan; always was, from elementary school days following the Cubbies, till now, with my current love affair with Ichiro. (It never fails to irk me that he plays on a team that generally ends up in last place in the American League; sigh.)

Some years I've been glued to the set most mornings, when the night games are televised in Japan, or have set the timer to the VCR, to enjoy a game later on, at my leisure. But in recent years, I haven't had as much fever when it comes to baseball...and I usually forget to even check the TV Guide to see who is playing whom and when the game'll be on. I feel like I'm asleep in the stands!

I root for the teams with Japanese players on them, as a rule; I am fiercely proud Ichiro hails from the area in which we live, only about three towns away. You can't blame me for this. I watch Japanese news, sports and weather every day, and people are always influenced by the media. I see interviews of prominent sports figures and learn to love them, just as the Japanese do. So it's totally natural for me to root for the Japanese Olympic athletes and have no sense of identification with American athletes I have never heard of or see very little of.

But in MLB, my favorite Japanese players are playing with American baseball players, so I have gotten to know and love a lot of the guys on the Mariners, Yankees, & Red Sox teams. I'm also familiar with a number of players on other American League teams they are constantly up against. (I haven't followed the National League since my youth cheering for the Cubs, so I tend to ignore even the NL teams with Japanese players on them.)

This morning I remembered to check the MLB channel rather late, and tuned in to the Yankees'/Rangers' game just after the 7th inning stretch. I thought I'd heard the announcer wrong when he referred to the Yankees' catcher as Pudge. That's the Tigers' catcher, I thought. Then, in the ninth inning, Pudge Rodriguez steps to the plate to bat for the Yankees...wait a minute...huh? When did he change uniforms???

The next batter gave me an even greater start...Richie Sexson (the no. 4 man on the Mariner's standard lineup), pitch hitting for the Yankees. Now, hold up... what is wrong with this picture??? When the heck did these guys get traded to the Yankees? And who got traded away in their places???

Sure enough, I've been asleep in the stands. It's time to start hanging out at again!!!

The Four Seasons

Growing up in Illinois, I experienced four fairly distinctly changing seasons. Winter was the most insistent, coming as early as late October and staying till April, but averaging five to six months of the year. Summer was next longest, solidly occupying the period from June to Labor Day, after which school began again. Spring and Fall were shorter, less predictable, and therefore very precious and desirable.

Which is why, when I moved to the central area of Honshu, Japan, I was so delighted to find that seasons changed rather predictably and evenly, spaced out about three months a piece, and each with its own characteristics that seemed very Japanese to me.

One reason for this is Japan's custom of NOT changing the clocks twice a year to create Daylight Savings Time. You feel the seasons more distinctly due to the changing hour of sunrise and sunset, of how early nature rises in the summer, along with the sun. For example, in summer, the song of the cicadas is really deafening in the early morning, growing more intrusive from dawn's light on, till it inevitably wakens me by 6 a.m. or so. Can you identify cicada song? If you live near any forests, you may know what I mean. I don't have a conscious memory of cicadas in Naperville, although my neighborhood had its share of trees. But maybe I've grown more sensitive to sound as an adult.

The Japanese word for cicada is semi. There is an imitation of their song in Japanese, too. It's like saying (do, re,) " mi, mi~, mi~~, mi, mi~, mi~~" although in my opinion it's awfully difficult to put into the words an accurate verbal representation of their song. (I use the phrase "song" rather loosely here; there isn't much of a melody because it is almost entirely percussion.) All I know is they are really noisy insects and will dominate the airwaves for nearly two months of summer. Only another five or six weeks to go...sigh.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Technological Parade

I live in Japan, the land of technology mania! There is almost always something new being advertised and promoted on TV and at your neighborhood electrical appliance store. The average Japanese person is acutely interested in whatever is the newest, fastest, sleekest, hippest, and most technologically advanced piece of equipment on the market.

My husband is no different, as far as interest goes, but he isn't willing to spend the kind of money needed to actually go out and buy it! So our home policy has always been, "Wait till the price goes way down before considering a purchase." This means that no matter what the equipment is, we wait a year or more before buying it. (Of course, by that time, a new model and a much more advanced version has been designed and is being promoted and sold, causing us to question if buying the older model is such a smart move at that point. Based on this repeating spiral, we end up eliminating 95% of the latest "must haves" on the market.)

So I simply do not get my expectations up at all. Period. I think, we'll never get it, so don't allow yourself to care. Digital cameras, wide-screen TVs, ADSL, a second computer for upstairs (the first one was for the shop, downstairs); you name it, EVERYONE else had one before we ever dreamed of getting one. We never bought a video camera. But I'd wager to bet that the family of nearly every single classmate of my son's had a video camera during the years of recitals, field day events, and all other memorable video-taking opportunities of his school days.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am NOT interested in material consumption of all the latest technology. I'm just saying that it is all around us, and being promoted at a feverish pace, and new technology is constantly being developed and advertised to the point where you just want to scream, "ENOUGH, already!!"

You can never win, anyway. As soon as you go out and get the latest, coolest cell phone, the iphone is invented. As soon as you buy one of those and master its many complexities (all promoted as conveniences, one cannot live without), there'll be something else, cooler and more complicated, making yours obsolete. There is no end to this madness. We can never keep up with not only the Joneses, but also with the Sonys, the Apples, the Panasonics and all their whiz kids dreaming up even more technology.

Yet, if we don't at least attempt to join in the Technological Parade, it is a lonely, alienating road to walk, alone and confused, unable to decipher the latest byword or catch phrase. Once the Parade marches on beyond you, out of sight, it is a frighteningly still and lifeless space you are left in to inhabit.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What's the Trouble?

Maybe I should follow my son's advice and buy a new Mac to replace this computer. My computer seems to be stumbling around in Cyberland. Lately I am having trouble even accessing my own blog, let alone anyone else's. Have I fallen prey to a new virus? Have I set myself up to be invaded by someone's itazura (playing naughty tricks on me) by starting a blog and allowing the world to access my private thoughts? Is someone out there an enemy??

I really hate how paranoid one can sound when just trying to figure out what the trouble is. Sigh.

A few days later...
It turns out that many blogs were mistakenly classified as spam, and possibly my own as well. This problem has been cleared up and now I'm able to access everything again, like normal.