Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Summer Was Over *Last* Week, Honey"

If you've been following along here, you know that my genkan turns into a zoo come summer, and also that my oldest will pick up virtually *any* bug, amphibian, reptile, or crustacean and let it crawl all over him. 

However, this past summer was so hot, all the fish died (papa performed burial rites).  The Kabutomushi have all gone to that great jelly-cup in the sky, and my genkan is clean.  Shoes put away, counter wiped and *visible*, and no bug boxes.    If it weren't midnight, I'd take a picture and post it. 

You know where I'm going with this.  Exactly--I looked out the window today to see him awkwardly trying to carry two bug boxes home from school.  His teacher must have lent him the boxes, I think, since he certainly didn't take any with him to school in the morning.  Teachers in Japan do that sort of thing.

  Since bugs freak Aun' Bef' out, here's a nice big photo of what he brought home:

I know that photo overruns the sidebar, but it's for a good cause:))  Be sure to click on that, so's to see our Kamakiri (preying mantis) in all her glory.  I think she's mugging for the camera, don't you?  I'd post the video I took of it crawling all over his arm, but you probably don't want to see closeups of my husband's underwear...

The other box had a lone male cricket--no spouse yet, which means he won't sing for us.  Tomorrow's homework for Koshi:  go catch some female crickets!  If I have to have crickets in the house, they can at least be singing.

Mata asobou, ne!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Manglish

More from tshirts--or, in this case, a sweatshirt.  Specifically, one of my daughter's sweatshirts.  She was in her "no pink!" phase, so I took her to Daiei so she could pick out her own sweatshirt (with the corollary assumption that she would wear it if she picked it out).  So she picked out a nice, black sweatshirt.  With an enormous pink sparkle heart and gold sparkly letters (Mommy was all...??!!??...whatever, honey, *you* wear it!).  "Sunshine Beauty Girl" in big, sparkly gold letters. 

(...early signs of Goth?  Or she just wants whatever she sees her brothers with?  Yeah, probably that:))

But the heart...

ATTACK HEART!  Whoa--my daughter  is Buffy the Vampire Slayer!  I don't think American (or British, or Australian, or Canadian, for that matter)  parents have to restrain themselves from snickering every time they look at their children's clothing....but that's what I do every time I see my Baby Cici with "ATTACK HEART" emblazoned across her chest.  This is how I use up all my self-control...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Link--Go Clicky!

Just a note, because this is too cool to let anyone wallow in ignorance any longer!  Commenter Daz has put me onto what may be the coolest, yet most unheralded, website ever:

It's down in the Links section under Astronomy Picture of the Day--prepare yourself for some seriously mind-blowing photos!  I'm willing to let my legs get bit by a hundred mosquitos to get good shots of spiders, but there's no way I can get shots like NASA.  So, bowing to their superior technology, go have a look at *their* shots!  Thanks, Daz!

...and another link, seriously wacky, I found clicking around over at the NASA site--

For all those who love a little chemistry in their comics:)) Dozo!
Mata asobou, ne!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Field Notes--Hechima vs. Gouya

Walking the kids to school last week I noticed  a big vine with bright yellow flowers.  Hmmm--what's that?  So I walked home on the other side of the river to have a look.  When what to my wandering eyes should appear...

Hechima!  Ooooh--first time to actually see this...this...vegetable?  Gourd?  I knocked on it (because, well, you would, too, wouldn't you?), and it had that hollow, gourdy sound.  I asked a passing mom (who confirmed that it was, indeed, Hechima) how you were supposed to eat it.  No idea.  Does anybody actually eat this?  Is it used for anything?  Just decorative?  Well, the flowers are bright and pretty and attracted a number of moths and butterflies (and also a good-sized preying mantis):

The lovely flower above, the start of a Hechima below

Oh!  Just went to Wiki.  This is Luffa Cylindrica, aka Loofa.  You know, that thing you can use to scrub with in the shower!  Ah ha!  I probably should have looked it up first.  Consider this liveblogging, then--those oohs and Ah Ha's are real (meaning, I really do get all excited about stuff like this.  As does my mom:))

Later that day...  my oldest comes home from school, see these photos and insists that his class (4th grade) is growing this stuff at school.  Really?  Are you sure, honey?  Usually you guys grow some kind of flower or vegetable (last year was okra), and I'm not so sure you can eat this...this...thingumbob.  He insisted that the flower was the same.  Hmmm--I was pretty sure they weren't growing Hechima at school.  But what exactly were they growing?  What else could they grow that Koshi would mix it up with Hechima?  Ahhhh--honey, is the vegetable you're growing at school green and bumpy?  Yes!  Got it--it's Goya.  The bitter-but-edible cucumber-like vegetable, not the spanish artist.  But, well, here's why he was confused:

...very similar-looking flower and leaf.  Well, similar to a 10-year-old, anyway.  The Hechima flower is quite a bit bigger, Goya's is quarter-sized.  But both are, indeed, cheery yellow flowers.  The vegetable, though, is quite a bit different, and as soon as I showed Koshi a photo of this...

...he immediately said, "Yeah!! That's it!"  Thank you, thank you very much.  I expect he'll bring one home one of these days, which means I'd better start hunting up recipies now.  It's most commonly cooked in Okinawa in "champuru" (sounds like "jumble"), a kind of eggy stir-fry.  But Momordica charantia, or Bitter Gourd/Melon, actually grows all over Southeast Asia, China, and the tropics.

See the bumpies?  I've never seen this for sale in a US supermarket, but this time of year in Japan, it's everywhere.  They look like they're related to cucumbers, albeit big, bumpy mutant cucumbers that look like a lab experiment gone wrong.

If I end up cooking with it, I'll post the recipie:))

In Addition:

I stopped by school the other morning to see how the 4th graders' Goya was coming along--

Nicely, nicely:))  No veggies yet, but some flowers on a good-sized, healthy-looking vine!  The vine has male and female flowers, and I'm guessing the flower above is female.  The Wiki page on Bitter Melon has some interesting info on medicinal uses for Goya, and several pics of other phenotypes. I picked up some sauce at the store to cook it with pork, onion and shimeji.  Maybe I'll use egg, too, like they do in Okinawa, where it is said that eating Goya increases lifespan (even longer, it seems, than the Japanese generally).

Mata asobou, ne!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

O-Tsuki-sama! (Mr. Moon!)

Riding east on my bicycle, I glanced up at the horizon and thought, "That's a funny...looking...NOT a cloud!  Ooooh!  The moon!"

I managed not to fall off my bike.

The moon was faintly visible just above the rooftops in the distance--if it had been dark, it would have been the biggest harvest moon I'd ever seen.  But even a ghostly outline of the moon that big is impressive against the pink of twilight.

It's moon-viewing month in Japan.  Round, white sweet dango, one of them yellow like the moon.  You're supposed to sit outside, or on the veranda, eating dango while gazing at the moon.  I actually did that with my husband at the beautiful Sangendo Garden in Yokohama while we were still dating.  Best. Date. Ever!

The moon from our back porch.  Since we're on the fourth floor, we actually have a pretty good view, all things considered.  This means it's time to sing the Rabbit Song:

O Rabbit
Rabbit hop
Look, he's hopping in the moon
In the great round of the full moon
Look, he's ho--o-o-o-pping

(Usagi, Usagi
Nani o mite, haneru
Juu-goya O-tsukisama
Mite, ha-ne-ru)

That's my *favorite* children's song in japanese.  It's stately and slow, almost like a Gregorian chant.  It's positively haunting.  They see a rabbit in the moon in Japan.  So, I think, do the French.  At least, they have a children's rhyme about the three little rabbits in the moon, who eat prunes while drinking wine ("Il y a dans la lune, trois petits lapins...").  In Japan, it's actually two rabbits making mochi, or so I've been told.  I've been here long enough that I'm pretty sure I can see at least one rabbit, and sometimes I think I can see two.  But...shhhh....i don't think there's really any mochi up there...

Can you see the rabbit?  No?  Maybe a little closer look...

If you tilt your head alllllll the way to the right, you can see the rabbit... really.  (Above photos also taken of this evening's moon off our back porch.  I managed not to fall off the fourth floor balcony.)

p.s.--  my daughter just came to look at the pictures of the moon that mommy took.  She insists that she can see the rabbit...:))

p.p.s.--alert reader Daz was smart enough to put Moon Rabbit into Wiki where there is a lovely diagram, just in case the rabbit proves elusive:))  A little history from Wiki:

"The Moon rabbit, also called the Jade Rabbit, is a rabbit that lives on the moon in folklore, based on pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. The story exists in many cultures, particularly in East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle.[1][2] In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang'e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions it is just pounding the ingredients for rice cake."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

comedy of Hair--ors

This piece is actually for my dad because I realized I never told him about it.  And when I thought of the title, it was such an awful pun, I knew this must be for him.  I mention this lest my other readers think I go around on *purpose* thinking of puns like that.  Let me hasten to assure you that it's congential...

When Cici was 4ish, she refused--foot down, lip out, squirmingly refused to let a stranger cut her hair.  Even if I sat in the chair with her.  Even if the stylist put the big smock around both of us.  No. Way. Jose. 

Well, not completely no way.  *One* time she did allow the barber who cut her brothers' hair to trim her bangs, too.  "Great!"  I thought, "Cute, too!  (followed by a big sigh of relief)." 

Short-lived relief as it turned out.  The next time I tried to take her to the same stylist/barber--by the time her bangs were in the vicinity of her lower lip and she was starting to develop an odd tic, well, it was do or die.  So--off to the 100Yen shop to get scissors and a smock(see--no expensive scissors, 'cause I'm only going to do this ONCE, I tell myself subconsciously).

OK.  So.  OK.  So...where's Aun'Bef when you need her?!!?  Aunt Bef, of course, inherited all the hair-cutting genes (on Chromosome 17, next to the stapler/tape/glue genes), leaving me with the need to cut hair, but no actual skill.  Of course, I could have practiced at some point in my life.  My sister did--all her dolls looked like Yul Brynner auditioning for a horror flick, whereas mine sport to this day the same coif they came out of the box with.  I knew, you see,  that if I took her hair out of the carefully arranged bun-with-ribbon that I'd  never get it back that way again.  So, I left it.  This attitude toward hair-styling is readily apparent in most of my school photos.

Darling Cici--you have no ideawhat you're getting yourself into.  Why...oh you want Mommy to cut your hair?  Sweetie--the last time Mommy tried to cut your bangs, they came out looking like the Dow Jones Industrial Average after Black Monday (see photo above).

This time, weeeeell... :

I know.  It looks like I used Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle as a cutting guide.
Ok, so I stink at math--cut me some slack!  I tried using Feynman's sum-over-histories, but I couldn't get everything to cancel out...

Poor kid.
Sweetie, I promise I will *not* show this to your first boyfriend...:))


Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Manglish

As I've noted before, tshirts are the other rich source of Manglish.  I've purchased tshirts for myself before simply because I liked the idea of walking around with something that wacky emblazoned across my chest, knowing all the while that nobody else would get it.

I saw the tshirt above on an elementary school girl in front of me on her bike and thought, "wow--all those words are spelled right!  Surely they must *mean* something...."  But, try as I might, I could make neither head nor tails of it.  Like one of those pentamino puzzles, just when you think you've got it--but, no, there's a piece left over.

From wave
there is hot
we feel
that wild

It does have a haiku feel to it though, don't you think?  Any and all interpretations welcome:))

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday Field Notes

Welcome to Friday Field Notes!

I'm the sort of person who cannot go anywhere without looking at birds, flowers, moss growing out of cracks, stray kitties, planted fields, clouds, cows.

In other words, if you value your life, you'll choose not to be a passenger in any car that I am driving.  Fortunately for all of us, I live here in Japan with no car.  Just a bike and my feet.  I haven't crashed my bike very many times.  Yet.  Today, though, I did have the presence of mind to finally take the new video camera with the good zoom along while walking the kids to school.  Since there's always something blooming, or growing, or walking in the river, I thought I'd share my field notes:))  I'll just be honest--this is really for my mom, but I figured others might be interested, too.  Mom--we'll just take a virtual walk, ok?  If you were here, I'd show you every flower, vegetable, and bird I see, you know I would:))

For the first one, I thought I'd share my lucky bird.  At least, that's what I've called the Kosagi (Little Egret) from the first time I saw one plucking its way through Fujisawa River.  Pristinely white with starkly contrasting black bill and legs, and the goofiest bright yellow feet when he lifts his feet up out of the water.  I'd never seen an egret in the states, so the first time I saw one here made me feel like the luckiest person alive.  In our little river here on the way up to school, I see one nearly every day.  Still makes me feel lucky.

Next time, I'll try to get a shot of those goofy feet...:))

Goofy feet!  Got them today:)

Those crazy feet make me smile every time I see them.  The effect is even goofier when he's walking...

Friday, September 17, 2010


My baby is ten years old.  A decade.  Double digits.  His first 0-birthday (but not one that will see him receiving birthday cards that start out "Lordy, Lordy...).

Mommy's Little Helper....                                                   

big brother...                           

sleepy puppy..

My Karate Kid...

My Little Slugger...

Mama's Entomologist...

My Botanist...

You have so many faces, so many interests now--who will you be tomorrow?  Next year?  On your next
0-birthday?  I can't wait to see!               love, mommy

Monday, September 13, 2010

Undokai--an Excercise in Translation

That's Koshi there--in second place.  80m dash.

September and October--Undokai time over here.  That's "Track and Field Day".   Well, sort of.  Translating "Undokai" is kind of like trying to translate German Kuchen and Torte to Cake and Pie.  Well, sort of.  They don't really match up much.  Anybody who's been to Germany and eaten a nice german Kuchen knows that the word may look like "cake", but the thing you ate looked a lot more like pie.  Sort of.  And the Torte looks like cake.  So which word should you use if you want to translate English "cake" into German?   And what if you're trying to describe Pie?  It doesn't matter which German word you pick, they won't have the right picture in their heads.   It's a problem--trust me, I've tried explaining it to Germans before.  You go round and round.  Which brings me to Undokai.

  Undo means excercise, Kai means party or meet or meeting or...a few other things (it's an oft-used word).  "excercise party", though, just doesn't quite get the right image across.  Every year somebody here asks me if they have Undokai in America, too.  Well, sort of.  "Track and Field Day", which is what I remember from elementary school, is the event closest in spirit to Japanese Undokai.  Sort of.  The only thing that matches up from what I remember, is the 50yard dash (our school has 40m for 1st and 2nd grade, 80m for 3rd and 4th, and 100m for 5th and 6th).

But we didn't have the Suzuwari:

gold for the red team... 

...and silver for the white team.  

They're sort of like pinata, but no candy inside.  The kids  (in teams) throw beanbags at them till they break open and the streamers come out.  The team that gets theirs to come open first wins points (a group point-getting effort).  This is traditional--I don't think you could go to an Undokai in Japan and not see this event.   The bells (that's what "Suzu" means, "wari" means "break")  are iconic--you see them in any depiction of an Undokai.  An Undokai with no bells would be Christmas with no tree.

There it is--lovely mylar streamers shimmering in the breeze (alas, this year the white team won the Suzuwari).  And unless I am much mistaken, American track-and-field days don't usually include cheerleaders, or big drums:

The Taiko drum...

...and the cheerleaders (girls *and* boys, note)
At one point, during the long "encouragement chant" (this stuff just does *not* translate!), the Red Team turns to the White Team and encourages the other team to do their best ("Gambare!"), and vice versa.  Do we do this?  Somehow,  I don't think so.  That's my oldest, up there on the right and his best friend with the whistle. 

The other thing I've never seen or heard of at Track-and-Field Day, but which is an integral part of the Undokai, is dancing:

awww....aren't they cute:)  See--something for everybody!  Even the kids who can't run too fast can do well in the dance, or the whole group excercise, or the Suzuwari or the Tama-ire game (throwing beanbag balls into  a bucket up on top of a pole--group game). *Everybody* gets to have a good time. Plus--photo ops a-plenty for parents!! (Sorry about all that alliteration...)

That's the first and second graders up above, below is last year's third and fourth graders (my oldest was in third grade last year) dancing to ....can you guess by looking?

...did you guess the Thriller dance?  They wore ripped up old tshirts with fake blood and marker scribbles.  Really.  And they jumped rope during some of the harder parts of the dance:)  Believe me, this stuff is just beyond cute.  If I told you my kids just had their Track-and-Field Day in Japan, would you get these kind of pictures in your head?  Of course not.  Undokai and Track-and-Field just don't match up really.   The only thing that *is* the same is the dashes--sort of.  See--they don't hand out any ribbons.  The kids run, usually four at a time, and just sit down behind the first, second, third, or fourth place pole:

There's Cici sitting at the fourth place pole, with all the other kids who were fourth.  The third, second, and first place poles are visible to the right.  First place is recognized, but not made too big a deal of.  Fourth place is not disparaged.  The teachers run kids together who run roughly the same speed, so the fastest kid in class doesn't run against the slowest.  That way everybody is encouraged to run their best, because they really might be first if they try hard.   Very thoughtful, no?

Japanese Undokai is really equal parts competition and cooperation, and it's the cooperation part that's missing from American Track-and-Field Day. 

So, now that I've uploaded all these images of Undokai into your brain, you can pull them up the next time I talk about it:))  And not mix it up with Track-and-Field, because they're really only sort of similar.

Mata asobou, ne!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Morning Glories

I realize we're getting on towards fall, but it's still hot enough here in the afternoon that a few rogue cicadas can be heard droning on about the heat.  Summer in Japan is not my favorite season, as I dislike sitting in pools of sweat, but I do like morning glories.  And they are everywhere, as the hydrangeas are during the rainy season.  People string twine up to their laudry poles for them, drape netting over windows for them.  But the best thing about morning glories is that every kindergartner and every first grader grows them at school.  This is beginning science in Japan, and they do it right. 

When my oldest son was 3, he brought his first morning glory home from kindergarten.  He'd been taught how to put the seeds into water to tell which were good and which wouldn't sprout (throw out the ones that float:).  All the kids got nice, deep sturdy plastic pots with stakes and rings for the vines.  They used their fingers to poke "eye, eye, mouth" into the dirt to plant three seeds in--easy to remember, and easy even for 3-year-olds to do.  The teachers helped them prune the plants back, too, so they'd grow thicker.  And, of course, the kids had to water their plants every day.  By the end of the summer, I was convinced that this was the best beginning biology project ever.

We had more fun waiting to see what color they'd be.  The kids learned to tell the difference between a bud and a dead flower head.  Every night, we would count the buds to see how many flowers we'd have the next morning.  And every morning was like Christmas--a rush to the porch to see the new flowers.  Since morning glories bloom and fade in a day, they are the perfect choice for young children to learn about plant life cycles.  Not so much waiting:)  And before too many weeks pass, the green hips begin to turn brown--easy to see when seeds are ready to harvest.

We saved seeds for several years in a row, so we could plant as many colors as possible.
The white ones were my favorites--very elegant, I thought.  Though, being my mother's daughter, of course I liked all the colors.  But the real beauty of morning glories is that you don't need a huge yard to grow them in, or any yard at all.  A planter and some string or a piece of netting will do just fine on even the narrowest of apartment porches (you can see what ours looks like).
All in all, a simple, non-time-consuming thing to do with your kids (or for yourself--why not?) in the summer for the cost of a pot, some string, and a packet or two of seeds.