Monday, May 24, 2004
"Why did you come to Japan?"
It's one of those questions that you hear all the time. One of my colleagues said at lunch today that most of us out-of-towners come here for the money. I guess it could be true. However, it seems to me that a fair number of people come here primarily for the experience. Once you've been here for a bit, and your camp is properly set up, then I guess the money starts to add up a bit--depending on one's lifestyle, of course. But that's how it works everywhere, isn't it?
I always get nervous when someone asks me that question. I guess I'm most afraid of offending the person who asked the question. It's a fair question. But what is the motive for asking it? What prejudices or (mis)conceptions are propelling it? Is what I say going to reinforce a stereotype? I feel like I'm once again standing in front of an officer at the airport's immigration filter. When they run the bar code on my passport through their computer, what pops up on the screen? How many things do they know about me that I don't have a good story for?
I didn't come here for the money. And that's not the reason why I moved to Korea back in the summer of 2000, either. If you ask me, the money's not that good in Japan anyway. To be perfectly honest with you, it was quite a bit better in Korea. My reason for coming to Japan is a little bit more involved than that. The 'involved' part of it refers to the person I came here with.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
Here are the lyrics to the song that Yakult fans sing when they score a run. It's more fun if you're holding an umbrella over your head while singing it! (In hiragana and English.)
はなのみやこの、はなのみやこのまんなかで それ！ やっとなそれ よい！ よい！ よい！
やっとなそれよい！ よい！ よい！
Kutabare Yomiuri, kutabare Yomiuri, kutabare Yomiuri, kutabare Yomiuri, Ah-
Odori odorunaraba choito Tokyo Ondo. Yoi! Yoi!
Hanano miyakono, hanano miyakono mannakade sore! Yattona sore Yoi! Yoi! Yoi!
Yattona sore Yoi! Yoi! Yoi!
This is the song that is also sung during the seventh inning stretch, so you're guaranteed to witness it at least once per evening. (They sang it three times during the game this evening.) I'm not entirely clear on the meaning of all of the lyrics, but I do know that the first line simply reads, "Go to hell, Yomiuri". That's enough to get me to sing it!
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Aunt Michiko and her daughter, Ruka, were downstairs this evening. Michiko is Yasu's wife, and they live on the second floor of the building--right next door to me. Michiko is probably getting to the point where she's trying to decide when to let me into Ruka's life. I started taking care of Miyu when she was a bit over a year old, and Ruka just had her first birthday this month. The good thing is that Ruka isn't scared of me. Miyu never was either, come to think of it. But Ruka has gone through a few periods where, if she hasn't seen me for a while, she totally forgets that she's met me before and that she liked me last time. Her short-term memory seems to be holding up a bit better these days, and I could tell that Michiko was relieved to see that Ruka was smiling at me (rather than bawling because of me).
Miyu didn't take a nap today, so she fizzled a couple of times while we were playing. By fizzled I mean that she threw a fit. She doesn't always like having to say something in two languages in order to have her requests met. Japanese, naturally, is her first response to any situation, stimulus or provocation. If I pretend like I don't understand what she's trying to say, or don't give her what she wants, she's prone to hitting the floor wailing. When she's well rested, she'll opt for the 'cute' approach and pretend that she doesn't understand what I'm asking for either. Tonight, however, her energy reserves were low. Consequently, she got rather pissed when I didn't give her the pink flashcard simply because she was demanding it in something other than English.
She rarely fizzles when it's just the two of us. We often go for long walks to the playground, and we never have any problems. She has her grandmother and mother wrapped around her little finger, so the bulk of her tirades are when they're around. Tonight was just fatigue. We spent about an hour, in between bawling sessions, shopping out near the side door. We bought groceries at the supermarket (shoe cupboard) and toiletries at the pharmacy (slipper rack). She drove us down there, and she always leaves her money in the glove compartment of her little car. I've tried to tell her that it's not safe to leave money in there, but she never listens. She loves to be busy, so I always ask her to do lots of things for me. She cooks pizza for me in the living room, and makes fantastic messes in the process (which grandma gets to pick up.) She runs up and down the hall in a huff anytime she remembers that she's forgotten something out in the dining room.
Monday, May 17, 2004
Back during Golden Week, the Yakult Swallows were nearly golden. I went to all three of their home games at Meiji Jingu stadium against the Chunichi Dragons. I sat in my habitual location in the last row of seats at the top of Section D. Some of the nicer people I've met since moving to Tokyo have virtually engraved their names in the picnic platform that marks the very back of the stadium in right field. They get there early before every home game, and they chat for a couple of hours before the first pitch gets tossed. They have a tarp that they tape to the green, concrete deck, and they line their shoes around the perimeter before sitting down to a paperboard box of sake.
I usually drink beer. I make one of the fluorescent-green clad beer children climb to the top of the rightfield bleachers to pour me a draft beer from the camel pack that they haul from section to section. Once that's gone, I refill with cans that I've smuggled in from the dinky convenience store under Sendagaya station. I often go with friends, but I don't mind heading out on my own. The guys at the back of Section D take care of me. They taught me the umbrella song for when we score a run (it's also sung during the 7th inning stretch), and they laugh appreciatively at my deep-seated hatred of the Yomiuri Giants.
After we took care of them pretty handily during game 2 of the series this past weekend, the Giants took us apart last night. It was painful. We're the only other team in central Tokyo (there used to be three), and it's a lot like the whole Mets-Yankees thing in New York. The Yankees have all the money, all the media lusting for them, and all the marquee players. The same is true with the Giants, but perhaps to a more severe degree. Sportscasters are visibly pained on air when the Giants lose, and the amount they spend every year on their players is millions and millions of yen more than the Swallows do. Like the Yankees, the Giants have won far more pennants and championships than any other team in the league. If you want to know how I really feel about this situation, please come join us for a weekend game against the Giants some time. I tend to be a bit more vocal at the ballpark. Section D, back row.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
This may not sound like a disclaimer, but it probably will turn out to be. I live in Tokyo, Japan, and this all started back in September of 2002. I had another blog going at an overpriced internet cafe that I used to go to, but it imploded when said cafe went belly-up. I'm mostly just looking for a place to record my thoughts, and the hard drive on the box that I'm looking at seems to invite lots of pests. Having this kind of stuff on someone else's server, where it becomes their responsibility not to lose it, sounds much less stressful to me. My instinct is to just flat-out write that you shouldn't take anything you read here seriously, but I'll wait until I've posted a few entries (and reviewed them) before I condemn what may lay ahead.
I'm a teacher, and I love my job. I'm also acting as much as possible (which isn't a whole lot) on the side to help pay the bills. I plan to cover both of these areas, and many more, in future posts. Baseball (Yakult beat Yomiuri tonight!), crows, toilets and art will most likely make appearances here at one point or another.
Thanks in advance for your patience and your sense of humor.
Posted by Christopher at 3:37 PM
I play with Miyu (pronounced Me-you) for two hours, five days a week. She is the grandchild of a wonderful woman who invited us into her building and family. Yukiko, the grandmother, sort of just hangs out while Miyu jabbers away, and I try to keep up. Yukiko makes great coffee.
The purpose of the ten hours a week is to try to raise Miyu in a bilingual environment without ever leaving the comforts of her own home. We watch English cartoons together, sing songs, play house and go for walks to one of the playgrounds that are between here and the train station. We live 25 minutes west of downtown Tokyo by express train, so we've got a decent mix of man made and natural surroundings. The bike path that starts in Tanashi runs past the back of our building. If you follow it you'll end up near Tama lake, or so I'm told. I haven't tried it myself. It's close to 20 kilometers from here.
Sometimes Miyu is up for the challenge of playing with me, and sometimes she isn't. This morning, from 10 to 12, she was pretty good. She's two years and eight months old, so she's enjoying a very firm grip on Japanese, and so she mostly speaks to me in that language. I was invited to live at MY Kopo back when Miyu was only 15 months old, so we've witnessed quite a change, Yukiko and I. Miyu can understand nearly everything that I say, but most of what comes back is in Japanese. She has a few stock phrases that she uses, her favorite being, "I don't kno-oow", which she sings out whenever she doesn't care to answer a question. Her mother, Masumi, and Yukiko are a little bit dismayed that Miyu hasn't starting producing lots of English as of yet. I guess I am as well, but I'm not really worried because she's still so young and doesn't truly understand the difference between Japanese and English. What she does know is that Chris doesn't always understand what mommy and daddy say, and only grandma really gets what Chris is talking about.
She calls me Ki-chu or Ki-chi. Never Chris. My name gains two syllables when pronounced in Japanese. It's Ku-ri-su over here. Miyu combines the first two, and modifies the third since "S's" are difficult for her to pronounce. So I'm Ki-chu. I'm like her fourth uncle now. Uncle Yasu is the least popular of the four of us, but he's moving up the ranks. I've never met her father's brother, so I'm not so sure where he fits in. He doesn't live in the Watanabe hotel like the rest of us.
She is a very lucky girl, and not because I'm hanging around. She has a wonderful family, and she is surrounded by relatives 24 hours a day. We live in a nice area, and our apartment building even has it's own back yard and garden. It's a space that's big enough to build one more modern, sardined, earthquake-flexible house. With the notoriously sky-high property prices here in Tokyo, you know that it's no small investment to keep it open. Grandpa, also known as Jiji, tends a crescent-shaped garden of Ume (pron. oo-may) trees, Magnolias and flowers of every shape and shade. He's mostly out there on the weekend. He owns a construction equipment business, so that keeps him busy most of the time. He works very hard to keep the grass as green as possible. Miyu loves to kick the soccer ball around in the yard. Volcanic-black stones, pourous like baked sponges, line the garden and keep the ball from meeting the roses.