Posts in Japan
the year that was.
The year in review. Including selfies. Perhaps the most sybaritic piece of blogger trickery imaginable. But. Twelve months ago, at just about this same time, I dove headfirst into the changeover of year. So eager to begin again, I didn't stop to consider what had come before, or what the coming year wanted of me. So. Headfirst with a plan but not much clarity. I didn't achieve many of my professional goals in 2012. A few pieces of writing published, one or two of which I'm particularly proud, but not on the order of what I had expected of myself. And amidst this certain degree of floundering, I don't want to forget to remember what a beautiful year it really was. Now, if you'll excuse me, here comes a picture-laden romp through my memory. Okay. Go.
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Futamigaura Beach

The chef and I were talking about how we haven't really taken advantage of our time here. Three years, and almost nothing to show for it. No pins on maps denoting sights seen, no marker lines crisscrossing this island representing journeys remembered. 

So, Satruday night, we impulsivly rented a car. In Japanese. Eep. 

We picked it up on Sunday morning and drove out along the coast towards Itoshima. We drove along the Sunset Road, which apparently is a favourite for lovers, and surfers, stopping at a German bakery, until we arrived at Futamigaura Beach.

And oh, it was lovely. Blue blue blue water. Clear skies. Waves and cool ocean. And the best, this view.

 

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We were there in the morning, owing to the fact that we keep toddler hours, but the sun apparently sets directly behind the torii. 

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This little girl was pretty stoked about our trip. When we told her that we were going to the beach, she got all our shoes ready for us, and was a torrent of "go! go! go! beach! go!" while the slow poke adults readied our things.

And of course, once we arrived, she ran directly into the freezing ocean. And we could not get her out until we plied her with treats at a cafe up the beach. 


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It was lovely. And I heartily recommend a trip up this way if you're in the area. 

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Sweet Shop

In Japan, adorable children's clothing is hard to come by. Which is totally strange, considering that some of the most adorable lines of children's clothing is produced by Japanese designers (Atsuyo et Akiko, I'm looking at you.) So, imagine my surprise when right in my own neighbourhood I stumble upon the most adorable little kids shop that stocks (almost exclusively) adorable little pieces by Japanese designers.

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Hello, ciel et soeil, where have you been all my life?

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Light and airy, with an indoor slide and a basket full of knitted alphabet balls, this was my kind of place. And some of the gametes inside were real treasures. Like this adorable romper. These little sandals. And these tiny hats. Love. 

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The shop carries cute brands like Wafflish Waffel, Pony Go Round, Hüa Küpü, and Blue H. All designed in Japan, and many totally cute.

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And these little hanging pieces of art? Oh swoon. Love.

Shop Details:

ciel et soleil

1-5-17 Otemon, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka

online shop (open in Google Chrome if you can't read Japanese)

 

 

I was not asked to write this post. All opinions are mine alone. 

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Miyazaki

Miyazaki. Our recent road trip took us there a couple of weeks ago. I knew nothing about this corner of our Island. I just showed up and was like, hey, what's up? What can you show me?

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Green of the most verdant shade. Forests so lush and dense. Hills that bow and wave in echo of the sea. Beaches of the softest sand. The warm Pacific currents. Waves and surfers. 

Circumstances were such that we did not get to explore this little corner of Japan to it's fullest, but I'm pretty sure that we'll be back some day. I want to get to know this part of the world. And my girl, well, she was in love. Sand covered love. I could not get her out of the ocean.

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Who Knew Kyushu

You guys, Kyushu is GORGEOUS. Who knew? 

I mean, I live here, but I rarely venture outside of our little city, so I know only tightly packed apartment buildings, tangles or electric wires and narrow streets, and the occasional cherry blossom. But outside, beyond the territory which we typically roam, there are mountains. And hills. Green green green. Volcanoes. Ocean. And beaches with soft sand and warm water that stretch for ever and ever.

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See? Pretty, no? 

 

I learned a thing or two in our travels of this southern Island. First, if you're planning on vacationing in Japan and using a car as your primary means of transportation, you may want to take out a second mortgage. I dropped near a hundred big (American) ones in highway tolls in one 5 hour day of driving. Whaaaaaat?

Second, driving in Japan isn't really that scary, even if it is all opposite and left. The hardest part is learning not to turn on the wipers when you mean to signal a right turn.

Third, Japanese highway drivers are super slow. 80 km/h tops. Which is why driving in Japan is really not that scary.

Fourth, the food at roadside rest stops is totally delish and in no way greasy garbage. And if you want to explore the wilds of vending machine cuisine, this is totally the way to do it. My husband grew very fond of vendy banana flavoured hot chocolate. I did not.

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Finally, this is a random situation the likes of which I do not understand. The veiw from the other side of the street, though, was amazeballs.

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Pas Possible

“C’est pas possible.”  When I lived in France, I heard this phrase countless times and in countless ways and it infuriated me. It was the rigidity of the answer that bristled. Of course it was possible. Creating gold from stone lead is impossible. Issuing a permit or opening a bank account is, in fact, very possible. You just didn’t want to do it! There’s always a workaround. There’s always an unexplored option or yet-to-be brainstormed compromise. Flexibility. There’s always a way.

 

Yet, after reading an excerptt (linked to on Facebook by a lovely writer friend) from Pamela Druckerman’s Bring up Bebe which appeared, Tiger Mother style, in The Wall Street Journal, the frustration with which I met this phrase has now been replaced by optimism. C’est pas possible might just become my new parenting mantra.

 

I’ve long been interested in the ways, varied and sundry, that parents of the world flout North American parenting advice, yet still, somehow, miraculously (if you’d believe the Searses and Weissbluths of the world) raise well adjusted, happy, functional adults. And, according to Druckerman, the French are doing just that, despite the manifest absence of whirring parental helicopter blades. 

 

Druckerman describes the French notion of a cadre, or frame, which confines children within limits of acceptable behavior. What is outside that cadre is pas possible, and rigidly so. But inside, kids are free to do as they like. For French parents, a firm but polite Non! is what keeps their tots firmly within the cadre. A Non! delivered with authority keeps a child within the bounds of the sandbox while his mother chats, unperturbed, on a nearby bench. 

 

French kids cry it out. They sleep all night, alone by age three moths. Their mothers don’t often breastfeed beyond six weeks. They are not pumped full of goldfish crackers and Cherrios. Yet, they are read to, doted on, and ferried to and from enriching lessons, but family life is not dictated by the needs and wants of the progeny. 

 

Bottom line, it works. French parents love their kids, make them eat their vegetables and sit at the dinner table and their babies grow into adults and they turn out just fine. 

 

Japanese kids, by contrast, seem to have no cadre at all. At least when they’re young. Recently I was with my daughter at a drop in play center, and she was on the receiving end of a pint-sized cuff. While my lizard brain responded defensively, my logical mind, for once, overrode the impulse to shoot dagger eyes at the kid and his mother. The mother of the offending tot did not make any showy displays of discipline; the wee boxer was not sidelined, or timed-out, or even scolded, really. Instead, she proffered an apologetic glance and bow, and then brought her kid to another part of the room. No biggie.

 

It was as if the mother felt that such behaviour was totally possible, in fact, it was inevitable. Kids will be kids, and part of that state of being means occasionally walloping other kids on the head. 

 

In Japan, as I’ve written before, children are not expected to go to bed at a reasonable time. They sleep with their mothers beyond the age that would be acceptable to even the hippiest of North American hippies. Children run freely. Candy is administered liberally.

 

It’s not till much later that the cadre descends swiftly and suddenly, and, perhaps, claustrophobically on Japanese kids. A full, rigorous day in school is followed by an entire evening, and often weekend at juku, or cram school. Kids can’t be kids. They don’t get to play. And when they do get downtime, their faces are glued to all manner of electronic screens. 

 

But. It works.

 

Bottom line, Japanese parents love their kids, let them eat candy, make them study hard, and their babies grow into adults and they turn out just fine. 

 

So, it stands to reason, then, that a parent should not worry so much about what is right and instead do what’s right for them. Maybe for French parents, it’s more desirable to let a child cry it out so they might rest. Or maybe a sharp reproach that corrects a child who is impinging on carefully guarded adult time is what is right. For Japanese parents, perhaps it is right to bypass the hours-long struggle to cajole a sleepless babe to slumber and just keep the kid up till 11 pm. Maybe the value of avoiding whining pleas for candy is greater than the potential damage of tooth decay.

 

Which is where pas possible comes in. For the French, it’s pas possible to allow a child to run wild at dinner or be up multiple times during the night. For Japanese, it’s also pas possible to expect a one-year-old to sleep solo, let alone though the night.

 

It’s a mindset. 

 

For me, it’s been exceedingly vexing that my kid climb my leg and whine and cry and scream and flail and throw her snot-encrusted body on the ground because I’m washing the dishes. But until now, it has still been possible. And it’s been equally possible (and equally infurating) that she be unable to entertain herself while I take five minutes to drink a coffee and write a grocery list. And you know what, I’m giving up my ambivalence about that. It’s now pas possible. And I don’t feel one wee bit badly.

 

Pas Possible. Polite but firm. Rigid. Still kind. But, pas possible.

 

Its my new parenting mantra. 

 

Watch out, kid.

 

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30/366

Kids go barefoot in the winter in Japan. No biggie. 

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Also, evidently my one-year-old knows  how to change my camera settings so that I now shoot in JPEG instead of RAW. Now, if only she could show me how change my display so that I can see the histogram, I'd be happy.

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Uniforms and Foreignness

Late afternoon, as school lets out, children pour into the streets, lithe and exuberant. They are unburdened by the texts they must read, the exercises that must be completed, and the kana to be memorized, the heavy load carried by their blue and red leather packs will be ignored until after their okashi. 

 

They all carry the same backpacks. Red for girls. Blue for boys. Subtle differences can be spotted, if you look closely: this one is a pinker shade of red; this cheaply constructed, ignoble in it’s vinyl exterior; this one crafted of the finest leather, whispering of luxury expense, and doting grandparents. But they’re essentially all the same. Same shape. Same size. Same. Same. Same.

 

I asked my friend, a mother to a gaggle of Japanese-born foreigners, if the backpacks were a requirement, a uniform of sorts. “Not really,” she replied. “But what if they wanted, like, a Thomas The Tank Engine school bag, or something? What about individuality? What about personal expression? What about fostering a sense of uniqueness,” I challenged. “You just wouldn't do that. It’s not really done. And anyway, my kids are all blond. I wouldn’t want my them to stand out more than they already do.”

 

Japan is a nation of ingroups and outgroups. Its a place where belonging, and conforming are more important than in any other country which I have ever visited. Japanese wear uniforms their whole lives. At birth, babies are dressed alike, in a kimono provided by the hospital. They enter kindergarten with white shirts and blue shorts, knee socks and blazers. By high school they’re in mao suits or plaid skirts, all sporting the same hair cut --straight black hair, bangs, low pigtails. By adult hood the uniform is less obvious, no less important. Spiky orange hair, fussed over endlessly, and flashy suits for too-cool-for-school young men who hope to emulate red-light district pimps. Sensible dark suits, sensible blue shirts, sensible striped ties for salary men. Perfectly quaffed housewives, in perfectly matched skirts and twinsets, LV bags on the crock of their arms. Young women in the same floral romper, the same pot-pie hat, the same chambray shirt.  Belonging is important. Sameness evokes acceptance.

 

Stella is just starting to notice difference, I mean, for what I can deduce based on gestures and the odd utterance of ammmm!!! (cat). Last week at breakfast, she was mesmerized by a group of caucasian children pictured in a German magazine. She kept pointing to her hair and then stroking her own, as if to say, “Look! they’re like me.”

 

I don’t know when, exactly, children start to become aware of ingroups and outgroups, of difference, of race, of cultural vairances. I don’t know, really, if my child feels left out, if somehow she is, already, at the tender age of one-and-a-half, having a minority experience, longing for role-models who look “like her”, feeling the prick of isolation and exclusion, or if her heart aches, even if only slightly, for feeling different. I have no wise words to offer here, no thoughtful conclusions. I just wonder, and hope that she feels good. (Wise words and thoughtful conclusions would be greatly appreciated from you, though).

 

If she wants one, though, I’ll probably buy her a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack. 

 

 

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Breaking the Rules for Small Style

Excuse me while I commit one of the worst faux pas known to Japan: shoes in the house.

 

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Hai, Shoes!


Japan has a shoe thing. There are outdoor shoes, indoor slippers, bathroom slippers, bare feet for tatami rooms. Some times you wear shoes (malls, train stations, etc). Sometimes you wear slippers (some doctors offices, some restaurants), and in some places, you go sock-footed (the drop-in play center, for example.) It's a bit difficult to keep straight. When you go to a friend's house, do you bring your own slippers (no! learned this one the hard way.) Do you wear slippers when you try on clothes at a store (yes! And also a protective face thing to keep make-up off the clothes which makes me very unlikely to want to try on clothing. Which, I guess is good, because then I won't buy things. But still kind of annoying, if you'll allow me a bit of judgmental snarkery in poor taste.)

 

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 You should probably know that my girl does not have a "lovie." Instead, she carries around a picture of me with my five best best best friends which was taken at one friend's wedding, many eons ago. Kids are weird, man. 

When I first moved here,  but I didn't grasp the profundity with which the shoe thing permeated daily life. When looking at apartments, we had to wear little plastic booties over our shoes. Once, a friend's young daughter came to visit. When it was home-time, she realized that she had forgotten something inside, and I suggested that she not bother taking off her shoes, just quickly run in and get it. She looked at me as though I'd suggested braised cat for dinner.

 

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There are those GD shoes again! Wut? Were you raised in a barn????!!?

 

Anyway. All this to say, I sometimes let my kid wear shoes in the house because she likes them, or because I like them, or because I don't want to have to wrestle her feet into slippers and face the wrath of flailing angry toddler arms and the shoes are already on and well. You know. Mostly its the third one.

Sorry, Japan. But, basically, I'm trying to avoid this:

 

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You'll notice that my child carefully and deliberately places her body on the floor before flailing around. Sensible little bunny, she is.

 

But, five seconds later, she gave me this, so I'm not too upset. Fair trade. 

 

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(Hmmmm....could I ramble more nonsense about nothing? Probably.)

 

Stella Wore

Dress: Baby Gap (gifted. Thanks Mum!)

Tights: Hippie Fairy Dust grocery store in Michigan (again, Thanks Mum! Look! They still fit!)

Illicit Outdoor shoes worn indoors: Livie and Luca

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9/366

 

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I put my kit lens back on my camera (well, okay, it's Mr. Chef's camera, but part of marriage means that your wife gets to steal all your things) after reading a tutorial on getting the most out of a kit lens. Now, I don't actually remember ANYTHING from that tutorial, but, well, I was happy with this image. It's SOTC.

 

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Christmas Preparations In Japan

Getting ready for Christmas in Japan means baking ginger molasses cookies that look nothing like actual ginger molasses cookies because instead of using molasses you used what you presume to be some crazy kind of rice syrup but you can't really be sure because in Japan you're functionally illiterate. 

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Ho! Ho! Ho!

Dividersblog loopdeloop

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Washi Tape Christmas Garland

I'm not really one for crafts. Or anything halfway artistic. That we've lived in this apartment for two years and my solitary act of decorating effort has been the hanging of about five pictures. This says all you need to know about all I actually know about style and adornments (read: not much). Still. It's Christmas time. And now that I have a kid who is possibly able to form long-term memories and stuff, I thought I'd better just get over myself and do some crafty decorating. Japanese style.

Meaning with washi tape.

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You guys, if you have opposable thumbs, you can totally make this.

And now, I present you with...da dada daaaa!...the washi tape garland.

 

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The instructions pretty much write themselves.

  1. Get some washi tape. In pretty patterns. Christmas colours need not apply.
  2. Cut the tape into two strips, one about 8 inches long, the other about 7.5 inches. Now the secret is cutting your strips in equal lengths, otherwise you'll end up with funny looking rings. Which is cool if that's what you're going for. But. Because I am a genius, I came up with the best plan: I made a template out of two strips of scrap paper and used it to guide my cutting.
  3. Adhere the strips to one another, leaving a bit of the sticky side of one tape exposed. This is a bit finicky, but washi tape is forgiving. So pull it apart and start again. WT will totally get over it. Now get looping. Make your loop. Close it. Repeat. Attach your next loop to the previous. Keep going. 

Doesn't it look pretty?

Washi Tape Garland

 

  Divider leaves dark blue

 

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That U2 Song Was Totally About Japan

  IMG_0859This street has no name. But the intersection might. Who really knows.

Japan, you’re awesome and great and everything, but let’s be real. Your address system is probably the most ridiculous thing ever invented. It makes no sense, is understood by no one, and the only purpose it serves is to keep the location of important buildings super secret so as to prevent foreign barbarians from invading and capturing all your treasure. I know that is the only motivation behind this ludicrous way of making maps.

 

Let’s start with problem number 1: There are no street names. Okay, there are A FEW street names, but not that many. And whatever, let’s not get hung up on details. Pretty much only main roads have street names. And also intersections have street names. Which would be helpful, if you house was located in the middle of one. Otherwise: useless.

 

Problem 2. House numbers are totally random. Houses are numbered in the order in which they were constructed. Meaning that number 10 Nameless Street might be sandwiched between number 17 and number 52. NOT HELPFUL, Japan, not helpful at all.

 

Problem Number 3 - There are no grids. Streets go in any which way. I am absolutely not kidding when I say that I’ve been massively and hopelessly lost five minutes from my front door for this very reason.  

 

Japan, you’re not just messing with dummy foreigners like me.Your own people often don’t even know where the hell they are. Give an address to a taxi driver, and there’s a 100 percent chance he’ll have to consult a map, and 75 percent chance he’ll not be able to find the place on the map, and a 150 percent chance that the whole exercise will make you want to slap yourself in the face with a rotten fish and then recall with much nostalgia Shanghainese taxi drivers and wish that you could go back in time where the only taxi related drama was terror and car accidents. And that’s saying something. 

 

Once, I was so terribly lost that I got into a taxi, gave him the address and then we drove around for 10 minutes looking for the place only to end up EXACTLY where I had flagged down the taxi. Neither of us could tell where in the ever loving hell we were.

 

I then went into the building that I thought *might* be the one I was looking for, and asked some workers inside if they knew the address of that particular building. They did not. They had no idea. WHAT THE HELL???? 

 

So, basically, Japan, if you could please think about reforming the mess that is this craptacular address system my life would be infinitely easier. Thankyouverymuch. 

 

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Is Baby Sleep A Question of Morality?

When I told my dad that my daughter sleeps in my bed, his first response was “Isn’t that dangerous?” This was followed by a string of typical anti-bed-sharing concerns: “she’ll never learn to be independent.” “You’ll spoil her.” And, “That’s why she has sleep problems.” You might think that my dad was being insensitive, but he was simply expressing concern for his only grandchild. After all, how could you begrudge him his negative sentiments towards co-sleeping? Negitive images of bed-sharing such as the one the CIty of Milwaukee published last week are what shape the North American perspective on baby sleep.

 

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These posters, released by the City of Milwaukee as part of a Safe Sleep Campaign, are intended to dissuade low-income city residents from bed-sharing. The message is clear: co-sleeping is a perilous undertaking, and the delivery of this message is gut-punching, striking fear, shock, and horror into the hearts of parents. 

 

Yes, bed-sharing carries risks. But so do a lot of other things. LIke crib sleeping. Eating. Driving in car. I won't delve to much into the figures, Annie at Ph.D in Parenting does a wonderful job of extrapolating the data and evaluating the relative risk (and benefits) of co-sleeping. 

 

But what of the cultural significance of images like the one above? Let’s take a closer look, shall we? The baby is clad only in a diaper. A disposable diaper. She is sleeping on her side, on an unmade bed, loose, smothering, bedding all around. This is hardly the soft, cuddly likeness of well-cared for sleeping babe. These details shout “neglect!” “Bad choices!” “Unfit parents!”

 

The quality of the picture itself adds to the narrative. Typically, depictions of sleeping babies are soft, with a shallow depth of field, and warm, often pink colour cast. This image, in contrast, is grainy, sharp, and cool, having a quality of a picture in a newspaper depicting the scene of some ghastly tragedy. The underlying message: co-sleeping is to be equated with morbidity and mortality, and is a practice of poor, neglectful parents. 

 

Now, imagine a child sleeping in a crib. Peaceful, soft, warm, right?

 

Well, actually not, if you are Japanese.

 

Recently I was speaking to Stella’s pediatrician about baby sleep. He is Japanese, naturally, but completed a Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. The doctor described to me his shock at American parents, banishing their infants to “a little room with a microphone so that the parents can hear” the baby’s cries. He went on to say, “I ask these parents about the condition of their babies in the night and they have no idea!”  Still, almost 20 after encountering solo infant sleep, our doctor was visibly shocked, aggravated, and judgmental when imagining a baby sleeping alone in a nursery. 

 

To our pediatrician, a baby sleeping alone in a crib is horrifying, just as the image of co-sleeping is horrifying to my father.

 

Both my father and my doctor are doing the same thing from opposite sides of the spectrum: they’re moralizing infant sleep, casting their own cultural assumptions on something that really should be a-moral. Westerners, like my father, believe that co-sleeping is inherently risky. While one could argue that intentionally and unnecessarily exposing a child to risk is morally corrupt, that standard can not be applied to co-sleeping. 

 

We can’t say with certainty that co-seeping, when practiced safely, is inherently more dangerous than crib sleeping. Japan, for example, has some of the lowest SIDS rates in the developed world, extended co-sleeping is practiced almost exclusively. Further, for every study that shows co-sleeping is more dangerous, there is another that suggests crib-sleeping carries more risk. Therefore, if we accept that the relationship between SIDS and safe co-sleeping is unclear, and certainly not causal, we have to take morality out of the equation. 

 

 

Is one sleep arrangement better than the other? Perhaps, at the individual, family level. Stella, for example, sleeps much better in her own room, despite the fact that I would love to wake up next to a cooing baby every morning. If I keep her in my bed, she’s up all night playing; in her own bed, she sleeps. It’s a shame that I only discovered this after 14 months of being awake all night. 

 

At the end of the day, how an otherwise loving and engaged set of parents  choose sleep with their child is not a question of morality and has very little bearing on their fitness as parents, but rather speaks to individual circumstances and cultural assumptions. So, let’s lay off the fear and guilt and moralizing, shall we? Maybe an educational campaign of safe sleep in all forms would be a bit easier to swallow.

 

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Vacines in Japan

I thought it would be much easier to get my kid vaccinated in Japan. Turns out, I was wrong. Oh boy, was I wrong. The nuances of vaccines in Japan are much to subtle and serpentine for my poor little brain.  

 

I went into the whole process of vaccinating my daughter with a bit of a lefty-crunchy-granola-crazy-bob-cat mindset. Ohhhhhhh…..vaccines are DANGEROUS, or so I thought, I'd better be careful, and do things slowly and deliberately. Because obvoiusly doing things the hippie way signifies my parental superiority. Obviously. A modified, Dr. Searsian approach to vaccines was what I decided to go with. And that was a huge mistake. This is why:

 

Vaccines in Japan are Different

 

Japanese and American vaccine schedules are different. For a incomprehensible guide to the differences, see here. The Japanese health authorities recommend different vaccines (here), given at different times, some of which are mandated by the government, some of which are voluntary. Some vaccines are given at your local pediatrician's office, some are given at the Ward Health Office. 

 

Mandatory Vaccines in Japan:

 

3 Months - DPT (Diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus)  then again at 4 months, and 6 months & 18 months

3 Months - BCG (Tuberculosis)

6 Months - Polio - and again at 18 months

3 Years - MR (Measals and Rubella) - Total of 3 shots given over a period of several weeks / months

 

The main differences in the schedule are as follows:

 

Japanese babies receive the BCG vaccine at 3 months, and it is not given at all in the US.

The Polio vaccine in Japan is a live virus, given orally, whereas the American version is a killed virus, given by injection. There is a greater risk associated with the oral vaccine, but it also offers greater protection against polio (I know this because a very smart doctor friend told me. So therefore you can believe me. It's okay.)

Japanese kids get measles  and rubella vaccine at 3 years, but American kids measles, mumps, and rubella at 1 year.

 

Vaccines In Japan are Administered More Cautiously

 

In America we're* all about efficiency: get that kid into the office, load him up with needle sticks, and see him back in a few months.  In Japan, in my experience any way, doctors typically administer one vaccine at a time. Just one. This is music to my crazy-bob-cat-hippy hears, but it is annoying on so many levels. 

 

  1. It requires several trillion visits to the doctor's office, each one of which you pay for
  2. Your kid, after one or two trillion visits, begins to understand that the doctor is going to jab her with a sharp pointy thing and preemptively freaks out as you approach the doctor
  3. Veering away from the standard vaccine schedule in any way necessitates a massive planning operation. Some vaccines require a month long vaccine-free period after their administration, while some only require a week between vaccines. Further, some vaccines are given by the pediatrician whenever you want, but some are given by the health office only on about 6 days per year. Wrapping your head around the complexities of the system is well nigh impossible.

 

*I use the term we here even though I'm Canadian. I spend enough time in the US to consider myself an Am-Can hafu. 

 

Your Doctor Won't Tell You What To Do:

 

I've written before that on the whole, I'm pleased with healthcare in Japan. However, once source of frustration is my perception of poor communication between my doctor and me. This isn't necessarily a language thing, rather, it's cultural. It is expected that patients defer to the doctor, the doctor tells them what to do, no questions asked. No discussion, no diversion.

 

I come in, a foreigner, wanting to do things differently. This upsets the relationship balance. Now, suddenly, I'm in the driver's seat, and the doctor is following. He's not advising me, but doing my bidding. Which is not what I want. I'd prefer to be an active participant, involved in the decision making, but ultimately following the doctor's advice.

 

The problem with my atypical approach to vaccinating my child in Japan is that there are all sorts of complicating factors (see above), about which I had no idea. Because I've upset the relationship balance and my doctor is no longer driving the process, he is not warning me about these complications. The result is that now, I have NO IDEA when my child will ever get the polio vaccine because she just got her measles vaccine and all the polio dates are within the one month inter-vaccine rest period and omg gah headdesk. 

 

The Bottom Line:

 

Follow the standard american vaccine schedule, ONLY IF you have a doctor who is used to treating American patients and has access to all of the American vaccines (american polio vaccine, for instance, is hard to get.) If not, FOLLOW THE JAPANESE SYSTEM OMG IT'S TOO HARD OTHERWISE. And above all, DO NOT attempt a lefty hippie fairy dust triple axel vaccine schedule. Because you will not stick the landing. 

 

 

 

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Cloth Diapers In Japan

When I told friends in Japan that I was going to do cloth diapers, they scoffed. “She’s naive. She has no idea about rainy season.” I’m sure that’s what they were thinking. Even I had my doubts, worried that I was about clod-water washes and my inability to source modern, hi-tech cloth dipes. But you know what, you CAN totally do cloth diapers in Japan. And I’m going to tell you how. 

 

There are a few obstacles to using cloth diapers in Japan: sourcing the correct materials, combating damp drying weather, and the lack of hot water washers. I’m going to fill you in on all the tricks that I’ve discovered so that you too can sucessfully clad you baby in cloth diapers in Japan.

  Cloth Diapers in Japan
Diaper Folding Assistant 

Sourcing Materials

 

To cloth diaper successfully, you need a few basic pieces of equipment: cloth diapers (durrrrr), cloth wipes, a wet bag, and cloth diaper-friendly laundry detergent. But where exactly does one get all these items, hmmmm? HMMMMMM????

 

Diapers

Cloth diapering is not nearly as popular in Japan as it is with the North American Crunchery. But it is not completely unknown. You can find basic flat diapers at some of the major baby stores. If you’re looking for something more glamourous than simple pre-folds, however, you can find that too. I’ve come across two wonderful online shops, Loopist and Dreamnappies. They sell the major brands of all-in-ones, pockets, diaper covers and swim diapers. Another wonderful resource for diapers is Etsy. Believe me, the cuteness of the wool diaper covers alone is almost enough to make me want to re-up my diaper stash (don’t worry, Mr. Chef, I’m holding back).

 

Accessories

Dreamnappies and Loopists also carry cloth wipes, wet bags, and all sorts of sundry diapering paraphernalia. Look on Etsy for cloth wipes and wet bags. (Incidentally, I had a hell of a time finding a diaper pail suitable for cloth diapers. I finally found something that was okay, sort of, but it was always overflowing with dipes about a day and a half before laundry day. I waited over a year before I got a wet bag from Etsy. People, do not live by my cheap example. Get a wet bag today. It will change your life.)

 

Using proper laundry detergent is vital for successful diapering. You need to find a detergent that is full of hippie fairy dust and not chemicals. Specifically, you want to avoid dyes, fragrances, and optical whiteners and brighteners. And that’s kind of hard to do in Japan. Typically, I hand cary detergent on trips back from North America. But I’ve also ordered it online. And you can find cloth diaper-friendly laundry soap on iHerb.com.

 

Battling the Elements and Cloth Diapering

 

Most Japanese homes do not have a dryer. So using cloth diapers in Japan means that you need to get friendly with a good drying rack. 

 

All-in-ones are not a good option in Japan because of longer drying times. Pocket diapers are a better option; they dry relatively quickly, taking only half a day in the height of the summer and maybe 36 hours in the damp and cold of the winter. 

 

The secret, then, is to make sure you have a lot of diapers. I have 36. That’s enough to manage even poopy newborndom and still allow time for diaper drying. I use one size pocket diapers because I need so many dipes, it wouldn’t be practical or economical to buy huge quantities in different sizes. 

 

Pro-tip: Some Japanese bathrooms have a handy laundry drying feature. Mine does. If I’m in a real pinch, I just set up a drying rack in the shower room, and then set my robot bathroom to drying mode. Hot air blows in, and I’m all good.

 

Lack of Hot Water Washers

 

So, here’s a funny thing: in Japan, washing machines that do hot water washes are, like, pretty much unicorns. But the good news is: they’re totally not necessary.

 

I wash my daughter’s dipes in cold water. And guess what. Nothing happens. They get clean. No biggie. I don’t notice any difference if I wash them in hot water when I’m visiting my parents. Also, to really sanitize a load, a washing machine needs to heat water to like 90 degrees Celsius (that’s 194 degrees for you imperial lovers.) Most washers wont even get that hot. So basically, this is a non-issue. 

 

There you have it. YOu can totally move to Japan with Kids and do Cloth Diapers in Japan. Ta da!

 

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On Danger

The doors open, and we walk into the subway car. Quiet and staid in the florescent light, passengers are engrossed in their mobile phones. The screenless examine at their hands, wordlessly, careful not to catch, accidentally, a stranger’s eye. The train pulls out of the station, and we sit down. Stella looks around, catches sight of a middle-aged lady across the car, then flashes a smile and a shy wave. The lady doesn’t see at first. Stella persists. And then the lady looks up and smiles, welcoming engagement. We’re foreigners. We can break the rules. Stella hops down off the bench, ventures into the aisle, no further than the reach of my arm will allow. The lady hides behind her hands, then peaks through, BA! Stella smiles brightly. The lady offers a hand. Stella grabs it, and is lifted up onto the bench beside the stranger. She sits there a moment, and then comes back to me as we pull into the next station.

 

***

 

We hear the cacophony of children before we see them. Its 2:30. Kindergarten has let out for the day, and the park is full of little ones in white shirts and blue shorts, brightly capped heads darting around the playground. The mothers are gathered together under a tree, gossiping I think. A group of children run up, demanding candy, and they’re off again, mouths full of sweets. A young mother in heals and full make-up keeps half an eye on her baby, not quite waking yet, but crawling expertly. He scrabbles up a rope net on a play structure, unassisted. He’s not even one. A group of girls, barefoot in the cool afternoon, gather at the bottom of a slide. They bound halfway up before losing momentum and  tumbling down again. Boys stand at the top of the slide, waiting. They negotiate, shrieking a little. And then slide down. There are no collisions. No parents hover. 

 

***

 

Early morning, on the way to daycare. Uniformed children, yellow caps and blue leather backpacks walk together on the sidewalk. They are, perhaps, six years old. Then suddenly they’re racing towards the post, clambering to be the first to press the button. They wait. The light changes. They cross the street. There are no adults to usher them across.

 

***

 

I asked my pediatrician about his impressions of America. He completed a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, and spent two and a half years in Boston. He told me, “I am a pediatrician, I love babies. When I see one on the street, I smile.”  It’s true. When we walk through the curtain and into his office, his face opens, almost to the point of a silent laugh. He told me of american parents, and how they would shrink away from him, shielding their babies from the smiling gaze of a stranger. Worried. Stranger danger. “But I’m not a bad man! I’m just a pediatrician!” he told me.

 

***

Kids run free in Japan. They go to bed with tiredness, not with the clock. They play well out of hovering range. They walk to school alone. Candy is offered liberally. They ride in the car in the front seat. Sometimes even on their mother’s lap. They don’t wear helmets. There does not seem to be a low-grade paranoia humming through the air. That paranoia, absent here, governs all parental decisions back at home in North America. 

 

***

 

I feed my daughter whole grains, everything homemade, but I let her share a a piece chocolate with me. And a sip of my iced latte, if she asks nicely. I strap her helmet on, even just for a ride around the block. She rides in a car seat, facing backwards, because its safer. But I’ll leave her alone in the sandbox for a moment while I get her bucket. And I’ll happily let a stranger on the train pick her up or pinch her cheek. She loves the attention. 

 

There is much that I find frustrating about living in Japan, and much that makes my blood boil. Yet, even on doomiest of dark days I can always see that Japan is a wonderful place for little children. And parenting here has clipped my helicopter wings. If ever so slightly. 

 

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