Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Japanese Household in America

Our family lives in America, but in many ways, we attempt to maintain some aspects of a Japanese household. From the outside, our home is almost stereotypically American, particularly for California. A moderate sized, ranch-style home with a front and back yard, built in the 1950s, you can't really get a more generically American home. But on the inside, there are a number of little tweaks we have made and practices we hold to that have made our home, at least in some ways, distinctly Japanese.

Let's start with the most commonly know practice: not wearing shoes in the home. Growing up with shoes on at all times, at first I found this a bit odd but have come to love it. The one drawback is that the space before your front door is always crammed with endless rows of shoes and baskets and house slippers.
The same goes for the back door, too!
Taking off shoes at the door may make a bit of a mess, and sometimes leads to some awkward conversations with friends who come over for the first time, but it definitely cuts down on the mud, dirt, dust and the constant vacuuming that come with it. And besides, not wearing shoes means you can slide around the wood floors in your socks!

Toys and nicknacks are another instance where our house is a bit different. While the kids have plenty of American toys, there are a number outliers that help to identify our household as Japanese. In Mimi's room, a koinobori (carp flag) that she made hangs proudly, waiting to be taken out on Children's Day.
Kuri has developed an obsession for train sets, particularly those made by Tomica in Japan. These sets create amazing little worlds for plastic engines and miniature cars. We started small...
...but these sets have a tendency to take on a life of their own. The exponential growth of Japanese train sets in our home is in no way related to Kuri's father's penchant for model trains and cars. That's just a vicious rumor.
Like all kids, Mimi, Kuri, and Mari have a wide arrangement of plush toys. But amongst the usual bears, horses, dogs, bunnies, and cats, you'll come across a cuddly UltraMan in our collection.
Our nicknack shelves even betray that this household has a bit of a Japanese bent. Sumie's, as one might expect, has plenty of Japanese items, including Japanese dolls, a tea set, and a fan.
But even mine, the shelf of a boy obsessed with Star Wars, has succumbed to a strong Japanese influence. Outside of Ben Kenobi, a few radio tubes, a tinker toy Land Rover, and an old CHiPs motorcycle, everything else is straight out of Japan.
Food and food prep tools are another way in which our household has a Japanese tinge. As I have found, no Japanese household is complete without a pot for boiling hot water for tea and a rice cooker, both of which are always readily available. Regarding the rice cooker, this will invariably be made by Zojirushi, National, or another Japanese manufacturer. Accept no substitutes.
With the rice cooker will come a massive storage box for rice, holding at least a 15lb bag. In most of these storage bins, just like ours, you'll find a cup that has given up its first job of holding liquids and has been relegated to scooping rice for the rest of its life.
A portable hot pot is another big item. Ours allows you to make nabe or do yakiniku (Japanese BBQ with thin meat) right at your own table. You'll need plenty of small plates on hand as well. Not as many as your would for a Korean meal, but still, small plates are a much needed commodity in a Japanese household.
When it comes time for school lunch, we don't brown bag-it. Mimi takes a bento each day.
And, from time-to-time, even our drink bottle caps get into the Japanese spirit.
When it comes to furniture, our place is a bit different, too. Instead of a trundle bed or an air mattress for extra guests, we have a slew of futons that can sleep four adults or ten kids.
There's at least one electronic item made by Sony...
...and at there's even an a Washlet to keep everything unmentionable clean.
Our favorite piece of Japanese furniture is perhaps the most unique. It's a kotatsu. As you can see, our coffee table is a little different. We removed the top and put a large blanket over the frame, then put the top back on. In a traditional kotatsu, there's a heater built into the table. For ours, we just bought a huge heated carpet, which does the trick quite nicely.
These tables are fantastic for cold nights as they hold in all the heat under the blanket. Mimi loves to cuddle up under it when she watches cartoons...
...and she likes to read her little brother stories when they're both nice and cozy.
Even Mari, who is still learning how to crawl, appreciates the cuddling that occurs when you have a kotatsu.
There are a number of other things in our home that are slightly out of the ordinary (I couldn't bring myself to show our collection of chopsticks), but for the most part, it's a home like any other here in the US. We just like to think we're trying to apply a bit from the best of both our worlds.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

So This is 40...

And so it has come to pass. 2016 found me not only welcoming a third child to the world (our wonderful Marichan), but also reaching that much feared milestone: 40. Years. Old.

As you would expect, just about everyone I know asked me, "So, how does it feel hitting 40?"

"It's a lot like 39," was my standard reply, but the question got me thinking. If I'm expected to live to 80, I'm smack-dab in the middle of my life. As such, I decided I'd take a look at how life now stacks up to when I was 20, the mid point of my life so far and well before these munchkins came along. 
Similarities:
I can't help but think I'm hardwired for certain things, or at least can't give up some of what fascinated me in my youth. So much has remained the same.

Living Situation:
  • 20: A four bedroom home in Northern California (Davis) with 5 roommates
  • 40: A four bedroom home in Northern California (Marin) with 4 roommates
Favorite Band:
  • 20: The Beatles
  • 40: The Beatles
Arcade Games in the Home:
  • 20: Gottlieb's "The Black Hole" pinball; "Return of the Jedi" arcade machine 
  • 40: Gottlieb's "Gladiators" pinball; MAME system with 200+ arcade games
Girlfriend Status:
  • 20: none
  • 40: none
Favorite Owned Mode of Transportation:
  • 20: 1975 Porsche 914 (the poor man's Porsche of the 1990s)
  • 40: 1982 Porsche 911SC (the poor man's air cooled Porsche 911 of the 2010s)
Religious View:
  • 20: Agnostic
  • 40: Better informed Agnostic
Fanboy Obsessions:
  • 20: Star Wars, Anime, Tolkien, Stephen King 
  • 40: Star Wars, Anime, Tolkien, Haruki Murakami
Vision and Coordination:
  • 20: Bad
  • 40: Aggressively bad 
Negative Changes:
While I can confidently say the past 20 years have been the best of my life so far, they haven't been free from the unfortunate realities of aging and some of the sadder aspects of simply living a life.

Hair Status:
  • 20: not particularly fashionable, but all there
  • 40: 50% Missing in Action. Have resorted to growing hair on my face occasionally to compensate.
Number of Living Grandparents:
  • 20: Four
  • 40: One (My grandmother on my father's side, who the children love to visit)
Number of Living Genetic Parents
  • 20: Two
  • 40: One (While my father passed away too young, he at least made it to see both his children married, though he missed out on five grandchildren)
Positive Changes:
My childhood was a good one, but the second two decades of my life is when the world really began to open up. Moving two hours away to Davis for college was the largest leap I was prepared to undertake at 20, having grown up in a small town. I had no idea how far this little leap would eventually take me.

Number of States Visited:
  • 20: 3-4 states and Washington D.C. 
  • 40: 30+ states (thank you business travel two cross country trips)
Number of Foreign Countries Visited:
  • 20: 0
  • 40: 5 (Yes, I know, there's still a lot of work to do here, but that's what 40-60 is for!)
Number of Trips to Japan:
  • 20: 0
  • 40: Too many to count
Marital Status:
  • 20: Don't know if it'll ever happen
  • 40: Happily married for 12 years to the only woman I've ever asked for her number
Children:
  • 20: None
  • 40: I still can't believe it: three. They have been exhausting, exasperating, and expensive, but they're also the greatest blessing and greatest adventure I've ever undertaken.
Friends:
  • 20: The Boys (friends from high school and earlier) and a few others
  • 40: The Boys and, thankfully, a few close friends from every changing stage in my life. In just one year in Japan, I made multiple friends that, even though I rarely seem them, will be friends for life. The same has been true of my work in New York.
Where I Feel at Home:
  • 20: Paradise, CA
  • 40: Manhattan, Tokyo, Marin County
Education:
  • 20: HS Diploma
  • 40: BA in Literature, MA in Literature, MA in Education (and a lot of debt)
Work Life:
  • 20: Washing dishes in an Elks' Club; Working in a Music Library (though, to be fair, if I could be paid an adult salary, I'd stay in that job forever)
  • 40: Ten years of working in education, traveling all over the country and to Japan; multiple years of freelance that have let me work from home to be available for the kids
Outlook for the Future:
  • 20: Skeptical and jaded.
  • 40: Skeptically hopeful. I haven't lost my sometimes aggressively skeptical mindset, but it's been tempered tremendously by the two best things that ever happened to me: my wife and kids.  
After making these lists, I found something that made me quite happy. Most of the things that have stayed the same I still love. And looking at the positive vs. negative changes, the positive have far outweighed the negative (though some of those have been heartbreaking). Perhaps this is why, without having compiled these thoughts before, my outlook for the future is now somewhat positive despite all the challenges my wife and I, and particularly our children, will be facing in the years to come. 

I honestly feel this country is on the verge of one of its greatest trials, though I have no real idea what form it will eventually take. If I were 20 now, I'd be furious, misanthropic, and spouting doom and gloom. While the realities we're facing are harsh, living this life, and particularly raising kids, has given me hope that we can work for the good. Indeed, as a father, I have to. Sharing a life with my wife and kids, one that has taken me from small town USA to Manhattan and Tokyo, has taught me that when you take the time to explore, and talk with the people you meet, you will learn, and learn for the better. My job is to continue to let my family explore, talk, and learn.

This family journey is not going to be an easy one, particularly with a late start. My parents had their second and final child when my father was 29, ten years younger than I was when Mari came along. I welcomed our first child at the age of 33. My mother and father welcomed me when they were in their mid twenties. When my father turned 40, he was preparing to teach me how to drive. The day I turned 40 I was still changing diapers on two children.

Though some might argue that it's all downhill from 40, I honestly think the best is yet to come. I'll get to watch my children learn to read, play sports, make music, and discover new friends, foods, and cultures. Lastly, I have to admit that despite the hard work my wife and I have put in, we've been tremendously lucky in our lives. If we continue to work hard, and raise our kids to appreciate the lives they are so lucky to lead, I can't help but feel our adventures will only become broader and more memorable. And maybe we'll help to make this world a slightly better place. I suppose I'll know in another twenty years.

And, extra-lastly, here are a few pics from our recent trip to the snow for those of you who have slogged through this diatribe wondering where all the pics are that usually fill my blogs. Thank you for your patience.