January 22, 2005
JibJab Video Makes the NewsJibJab.com during a Japanese TV news program (with sub titles). Doubtless another strange impression of life in America. In case you are one of the few people who haven't seen any of the US election videos at JibJab.com, you can follow the link above and catch up. After watching the clip on TV, I went to the computer and watched it again online. I noticed that that they edited out some parts, probably to shorten the video to fit the time slot. I noted that a brief clip of Bill Cinton looking at a center fold (and getting slapped by Hillary) was neatly incised. I was wondering why the editor cut out that section. Clinton is still a lot more popular here than Bush, so maybe it was to protect Clinton's image. Then again, the image of an older male politician looking at dirty pictures may hit a bit too close to home. But the more I think about it, the ex-President of the USA getting slapped upside the head by his wife may be the hardest part to digest. I just can't imagine even the cheesiest Japanese TV show depicting Koizumi being treated that way. It goes against the sense of hierarchy/honor/standing that gives order and ultimately Japan's famed "harmony" to society. And on a practical, the editor (i.e., if it's a he) might be uncomfortable planting that image in the heads of millions of Japanese wives.
About the picture above, the other day I was trying to figure out how to get better indoor exposures with my semi-new flash. I'll put up a longer post at the end of the month. Until then...
January 06, 2005
Building a Hopeful Home in Japan
After talking about our friends and then about some of the tragic stories we've been reading, we changed the subject to a potential disaster that could strike closer to home. Specifically, a powerful, well-known and overdue earthquake fault runs right through my wife's hometown. My father in-law remembers the last time it moved decades ago (he says it lifted him right out of bed and was scary beyond imagination). He has had the house inspected, and the engineer said it's sure to collapse in the next significant shake. My father in-law illustrated by adding, hypothetically, that the kitchen would cave in first and the beam over the dinner table would come down right across his back (he leaned over the table to make that image clear). That's the "older" part of the house though. The new addition, added after HALF the house burned down 20 years ago, is constructed to withstand an earthquake -- sort of. We were sleeping in the new part on the second floor. The problem is that the house isn't bolted to the foundation; and it's sitting on a hillside facing the beach (with some houses packed in between). He further added that workers digging a sewage line several years ago found that, much to his suprise, the house is not built on rocks carted down from the mountains but sand... Anyway, he thinks the whole place may take off like a sled.
Honestly, sometimes you have to laugh if you can. When our twins were born we spent almost two months in that house. I would lay in bed trying to wipe these kinds of thoughts out of my brain so I could sleep. New fathers are very sensitive, I found, about the family nest. Last night, I was worried I wouldn't be able to sleep again, and I literally left the table praying and asking God to miraculously keep the house standing (whether that night or in the future). After the kids were down, though, my wife and I went to a Sento (bathhouse). I came home all warm and slept right away.
By the way, in the context of talking about the real disaster, my father in-law agreed to let us talk to some contractors about tearing the place down and building something smaller but much stronger. He really does have the potential for a long life ahead. As my wife pointed out this morning, the neighboring community "still has the Japan record" (her words) for the oldest living person. It always amuses me when she pulls out things like that: "this place is famous for..." "that place is known for..." and "they have the record for..." Every city and neighborhood in Japan is famous for something if you just have the right guide.
Seriously, though, Tokyo WILL have a huge earthquake at some point, or more than one, and we're living here with our kids. It's like living in San Francisco times ten. That's not a very scientific statement, but the fact is that in San Francisco they think about earthquakes killing thousands -- here they talk about the "big one" in Tokyo potentially killing well over a hundred thousand.
Our present home should be as safe as anyplace in an earthquake, if we're here at the time. I'm not confident about the construction industry (due to it's corruption, poorly enforced standards, and their construction methods).
On a tangent, we've talked about buying or building a house in Japan -- one with 2x4 construction and insulated. Most likely we'd want a home built by a foreign company (US, Canadian or Swedish). These foreign companies are becoming more and more popular. By contrast, the Japanese construction industry has a reputation for corruption, poorly enforced standards and houses that only last 20 years on average. On top of that, the typical houses built by those companies don't look so great (kind of like prefabricated boxes, although I've seen some wonderful looking homes in ads). I want a house that will still be standing and looking great when we're old or at least one with resell value if it comes to that.
This past month the highlight was having many friends and neighbors over on the 26th for a saxophone concert in our living room (by my father in-law). I grew up having lots of family and friends around at Christmas, so I really enjoyed that. I'm encouraged that we're making friends in our community and, as 2005 begins, our roots are deepening here.
BTW, my wife and I have been talking about starting a small business sometime in the future. We're at a very preliminary point, so I can't say much about that now. It's another sign that we're able to think hopefully about a future for our family in Japan.
I hope you can read between the lines that we haven't always been so unbeat. Our first two years here were very hard with language learning, culture shock (for both of us), adjusting to a completely different environment and the birth of our twins all at the same time. Some changes we appreciated, others we grew gradually to appreciate or at least accept, and many things still rub us (or especially me) badly. But we've reached the point where returing to life in the USA would also be difficult. We're in between now. In between and looking forward, though, is definately better than in between and looking back!
Recently I said I wouldn't be posting to the blog much anymore. Well, I tried to qualify that a little by saying I might post once a month. I'm thinking I'll try to post some reflections and introduce new photos once near the beginning of each month. I'll see how that goes. I must say, for the past week it's been a big relief NOT to be constantly thinking, "How would I blog about this moment?"
About the pictures above...
We had about 3 inches of snow in Tokyo last week. Most of it had melted by Tuesday when we drove about 30 minutes to Koganei Park. That's a great park in Tokyo for families and kids -- with lots of people watching, too. The air was full of kites; famillies picniced on the faded grass between patches of snow; a few fathers trudged by on the very level ground hauling kids on bright plastic sleds; roller skaters weaved through pylons on a slab of concrete; one man had brought a wooden box of handmade glider planes launched by big rubber bands high into the air; and I even spotted a lone unicycle rider heading down the bicycle path toward a patch of icy snow. It seemed they had all come out to defy the cold and gray -- because it was the last day of the New Year holiday, a last chance to do something as a family before the dads headed back to work the usual 10+ hours the next day.