Welcome to Sophelia's Japan

A blog about adventures, academia, adoption and other things starting with the letter 'A'.
I'm a geek, a metal head, a shiba inu wrangler and a vegetarian, and I write about all of the above. You have been warned!

Smiley hikers

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Dog on Back- Flashback Friday

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Enjoying the view while the human does all the work... excellent shiba-ing!
Back when we just had the one dog... and no kids... and no car, we were a bit stuck on how to transport him around. We found this carrier which is actually for toddlers but modified with a dog insert and thought it was the perfect way to get around by bicycle with dog safely on one of our backs. Like most things we tried with Hayate, it didn't work out quite as planned. He enjoyed it, but his favorite part of the experience was biting the back of the man's head. The man tried wearing a helmet to discourage this, but then Hayate developed motion sickness and vomited all down the man's back. The man called it quits at that point.

Today I am tagging Yurikachan for the "five days challenge". Yurika, if you would like to participate, post a photo every day for five days and write a story to go along with each photo. Your story can be fiction or non-fiction. It can be a short paragraph, a page, or a poem. Each day, please select one person to carry on the challenge. It's just for fun, there's no pressure to join in ;)
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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A Pheasant Surprise

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Photo from this site (is it cheating if the picture isn't my own?)
We live right on the edge of a suburb, with farms on the lowland side and forested mountains on the other. Looking for places to go running I explored some new trails and found a path running between forest and some secluded fields tended by bent old women in huge sun hats and leather-faced old men who wear gumboots all year round. It was shady and peaceful, the soft earth absorbing even the sound of my footfall. I rounded a bend in the path and startled a wild pheasant foraging in a cluster of spring flowers. With a sharp cry and a dazzling flash of emerald feathers he took flight, his wings releasing the sweet scent of daffodils and bluebells into the air.

Today I am tagging Erinn of Off on a Whim for the "five days challenge". Erinn, if you would like to participate, post a photo every day for five days and write a story to go along with each photo. Your story can be fiction or non-fiction. It can be a short paragraph, a page, or a poem. Each day, please select one person to carry on the challenge. It's just for fun, there's no pressure to join in ;)
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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Introducing Cricket

OK, so, I don't want to post identifiable pictures of the kids on the blog. However, since I figure all newborns more closely resemble potatoes than their adult selves, I am classifying this one as non-identifiable. This is Cricket at about 12 hours old.
Welcome to the world
My chirpy little cricket
Buds become blossoms

Many thanks to Helen of Inn by the Sea for giving me a kick back into blogging with the "five days challenge". The idea is to post five photos, one per day for five days, and to write a story or poem to go with each photo. For each day that we post we are supposed to invite one person to participate.

I'm inviting George and Erika of Japan, Home Sweet Home. George and Erika, if you would like to participate, post a photo every day for five days and write a story to go along with each photo. Your story can be fiction or non-fiction. It can be a short paragraph, a page, or a poem. Each day, please select one person to carry on the challenge. It's just for fun, there's no pressure to join in ;)
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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The End of Further Adoption Aspirations (For Now, At Least)

So this happened.
Hello people of the internet, I have a confession to make. It turns out that no matter how difficult it may be to secure condoms, making your stash last longer by assuming some days are "safe" is, in fact, unsafe, irrespective of smart phone apps and scrupulous charting.  In other words, I am pregnant.

Although we never wanted Tiger to be an only child, this isn't exactly what we had in mind. Although it does not necessarily disqualify us from ever adopting again, it will make it a lot harder and restrict our options. Many agencies and some CGCs will not accept applications from couples with biological children at all. Others require that biological children be a minimum age before they will accept applications. On top of all that, what modest savings we did have in the bank ear-marked towards further familial expansion are now having to be redirected to the insanely expensive business of preparing for a newborn. Even though everything it is safe to do so is being purchased second hand and plans to cloth diaper and breastfeed should cut down on costs, honestly, it's still a struggle. Especially factoring in my lost income.

It's going to be a long time before we can look at adopting again, and that means Tiger won't have a sibling near his age for some of the years when it is most fun to have a partner in crime. He's thrilled to bits at the idea of being a big brother, but I've been feeling an extraordinary amount of guilt. There are three orphanages within short driving distance of our home. It's entirely irrational to think about it in these terms because I know few of the children are available for adoption and furthermore our local CGC has remained adamant that they want us to proceed through ISSJ for future adoptions because they aren't confident in handling the international aspects themselves, and we couldn't have afforded that immediately even without the baby~ in other words, there was no imminent prospect of adoption anyway. But still. We can afford financially and emotionally to raise a limited number of children, and creating one who didn't previously exist reduces by one the number of already existing and waiting children who we can parent. Please understand that I am talking about how I feel here and what our plans were as parents, not in any way criticising others' choices or attitudes. Adoption is a complex issue and I certainly don't see it as some sort of overarching moral imperative, but for us, in our situation, we felt that parenting by adoption was the ethical choice and I rarely fail to live up to a decision I make on ethical grounds.

This is my mea culpa.

Now it's done, the next post will be a funny story about my dogs, promise!
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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

"Back Then."

One of my undergraduate students, during a class discussion in which I had talked about the fringe nature of anime fandom when I was a student, opened his statement with "I don't know what things were like back then, but..."

Back then.

Back in your day.

Days of yore.

I'm 30 years old guys. 30. I know it seems old when you're 20, but does it really deserve a "back then"? f(^_^;
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Friday, 14 November 2014

Look at me, watch me, see me (Flashback Friday)


The thing kids in orphanages said to us most often wasn’t “play with me” or “carry me” but “look at me, watch me.” Whenever we went to play there would be a cluster of children around us all the time, calling out “watch me do handstands!” “Look at me run to that tree!” At school they would be in a class of 30 to 40. They’d come home to an institution where again, they’d be one of 50, 60, even 100. What they wanted most from us was our undivided attention, our focus on them and them alone, even for a few minutes. Look at me, watch me, see me. Tiger’s orphanage had kept a photo album for him, and when he first came to live with us he loved pointing to group photographs and asking me to guess which one was him. It blew his mind that I could identify him as a five year old in his kindergarten class photo or that I recognised him in his baby pictures. How did I know it was him? He would ask me to do it again, over and over. Look at me, watch me, see me.

 In my first year as an ALT I taught a 4th grade elementary class and noticed a gregarious boy with shocking bleached-blond hair who had a gift for languages and was generally charming and hilarious. The home room teacher was going out of her way to be nice to him, and I had been at that school for nearly a year but had never seen him before, so I assumed he was a new transfer student. He was barefoot; maybe he’d brought the wrong shoes for the new school and taken them off in embarrassment, I thought. I asked about him after the class finished. “Oh no, he’s been here since kindergarten” the teacher told me. “He is often absent though. He has many younger siblings and they’re abused, so he stays at home to look after them.” I stared at her, blankly. What did she mean, they were abused? If the school knew about abuse and had for years, why had nothing been done? A few months later the boy, I’ll call him Shouma, moved up into 5th grade, meaning I saw him more often (5th and 6th graders have more English lessons). He was the kind of boy every Shonen Jump manga features; always smiling, throwing his head back to laugh in an exaggerated “HAHA”, holding his rice bowl to his face and shoveling food in so fast you feared he’d choke then demanding seconds with his mouth still full. He loved to make everyone laugh, and he was universally liked, but close to no one in particular. I asked him once about his lack of shoes, and he told me that it was painful to wear them. He pointed cheerfully to cigarette burns on his feet before running off to play. 

At the time I couldn’t understand why no one seemed to be doing anything except being extra nice to him. Shouma is part of the reason I initially did the research that led to this post on the situation regarding child abuse and institutionalisation in Japan. Although ALT support has been reduced even from the low level we had when I was on the JET Programme, we did at least have periodic meetings where we could discuss issues with our peers. I raised Shouma at one such meeting, and another ALT told me that she’d been asked by her school to be particularly encouraging of one female student, because “her uncle rapes her but she doesn’t have anywhere else to live”. We sat silently, not knowing how to help each other. For a long time I was simply angry, and felt betrayed by the school. Surely they had some training for this, why was I the only one who seemed to be worrying about him? As I learned more, I began to understand their position a little better. 

There would be relatively little a social worker could do to intervene. If the parents could be persuaded to give up the children voluntarily they would almost certainly have been separated and placed into different care situations. For an older child who has been responsible for keeping younger siblings alive, feeding them and sheltering them from blows with his or her own body, to be separated and have no idea what had become of them would be the cause of intolerable anguish. The most likely outcome for Shouma would be placement in a large orphanage, with all of the attendant issues that come with institutionalisation. I don’t want to suggest that abuse is ever OK, but there is some research to indicate that abused children may fare better than neglected children and even the best large scale orphanages offer little more than benign emotional neglect and at worst are sites of abuse themselves. I don’t know what the school’s reasoning was, but as I did more research I came to feel that perhaps trying to get social services involved would be unhelpful and potentially damaging. I moved from rage at the teachers to rage at the entire system. There are many wonderful individuals who have dedicated their lives to trying to improve the system, but Japan still fundamentally fails its most vulnerable. I watched Shouma whenever I could. When the kids were working quietly at their desks and he no longer felt the centre of attention, his face changed. I saw a different Shouma. He seemed much smaller, somehow. 

When he graduated elementary school I cast my eyes around the auditorium throughout the ceremony, wondering what his parents looked like. Wondering if I had the courage to try and say something to them in my imperfect Japanese, which becomes even worse when I am trying to communicate something emotional. I watched him as everyone gathered outside afterwards for photographs. He parents weren’t there. No one had come to watch him. He kicked off his shoes and walked home alone, his diploma in one hand and his shoes in the other. 

A few weeks later junior high began. The rules are stricter there; he had to dye his hair back to black. He took the opportunity of the new environment to ramp up his class-clown act. I remember one class in particular he’d taken down a wire coat hanger (we use them to hang cleaning rags to dry in the classrooms) and twisted it into the shape of a giant erect penis, which he held in his crotch and complained loudly about how stiff it was. The teacher said “put that down immediately” so Shouma used his other hand to try to bend it downwards, but as soon as he released it, of course it flicked back up again. “I’m trying” he yelled brightly, “but it just won’t stay down”. The entire class was in hysterics and even the teacher had trouble keeping her stern face on. As the year progressed, though, cracks began to show. He was an incredibly clever kid, and the pace in elementary school is so slow you can probably pay attention 10% of the time and keep up if you’re bright. By junior high though, everything accumulates quickly and if you missed the key point last week you’ll find yourself with no idea what is going on in this week’s class. His innate intelligence stopped being enough to carry him through, and he grades dropped badly. His need to be the centre of attention and make everyone laugh became increasingly painful to watch, and as the other kids got used to him he began pushing his behaviour to further and further extremes trying to get reactions.

My desk at the junior high was opposite the school nurse’s, and she would often treat minor complaints there rather than in the infirmary. We saw a lot of Shouma. One morning he came in early, before classes had begun, asking for a dressing for what looked to me like a large burn on his arm. As she patched him up the nurse quizzed him in her kind but firm way: “How did you get hurt like this so early in the morning?” “I fell on the way to school” he answered. “If you fell outside there would be dirt and debris in here, but it’s clean” she chided. “I feel in the corridor, inside school but on my way to class” he amended. “It’s pretty bad” she said, “shall I send someone to clean up the blood in the corridor?” He shifted uncomfortably. “I cleaned it up before I came here” he said, looking at the ground. I listened curiously. I assumed the elementary school would have notified the junior high about his home situation, it’s the kind of information teachers are usually careful to share, but I wasn’t sure. I asked the nurse if she knew he was being abused and she said “oh yes, I know, he lies about all his injuries. But until he tells me for himself there’s nothing I can do except treat the wounds.”

Second grade junior high (8th grade) is hard for most kids. Helpfully, in my experience, they all go through puberty at once and get the nasty moody part over and done in the one year. It makes them not very fun to teach, but it does mean they are back to their usual lovely selves by third (9th) grade. Shouma lost something that year. I don’t know how to describe it, really, except that he had always been so bright, and the light seemed to go out. Around that time we were well into our adoption application. Our social worker asked us bluntly “how old are you willing to go?” and hating the idea of having to say no to any child, we settled on 12. I was 28 and in principal in Australia the adoptive parents should be 18 years older than the adoptee, so we were pushing it, but we assumed (erroneously as it turned out) that we’d be waiting for a few years before a placement anyway. Nevertheless, when we said “12” I immediately thought of Shouma. There are children like him all over Japan, and although he wasn’t being placed for adoption I still felt like we’d just said “no” to him. It’s an awful (but necessary, I do understand that) part of the adoption process, listing the children you will say no to. “Yes” I wrote for cerebral palsy. Under autism I wrote “yes if high functioning”. Under Down’s Syndrome I wrote “no” and struggled with myself for days.

A couple of months before the summer holidays in Shouma’s second year of junior high I got a call that we had been matched with a little boy. I was given just a few cursory details over the phone in that initial call. The little boy is now our son, Tiger. But his real name he shares with Shouma, and that shook me profoundly. It was my last term teaching with the JET Programme. On my last day at Shouma’s school he had a fever. He was sitting, slumped on a chair in the infirmary waiting for permission to go home, and missed my farewell class. I wanted to say goodbye but I didn’t want to wake him up. I tried to write him a letter. “I’ll always think of you as the boy with blond hair” I wrote. “You are very special to me. You share a name with my son, and I think about you when I see him.” What else could I say? Like every other adult in his life, for the past four years I had been a bystander to his abuse. I left the letter beside him without waking him up.

I looked at Shouma, I watched him. I saw him, and I did nothing.
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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sunday Surf

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Linkage for interesting reads~ enjoy!

Adoption and Parenting

It is damaging to tell a child that God called you to adopt her. This sets you up as a God-ordained savior to your child. It tells your child that she needed saving and that God did not choose her family of origin to do that saving. If your child comes from poverty or oppression, the message that God called you, an outsider, to adopt her, says that God didn’t care enough about her family or country to solve its problems so that families could stay alive and stay together. Instead, God played favorites and called you to swoop in and get her out of there, leaving her family and people to suffer while God figures out who to call for the next adoption.
Our stories vary. Some of us are in reunion; some are not. Some of us are birth parents; some are adoptive parents. But all our stories are valid and celebrated by all members of our group. When I need support, I know I can turn to my sisters here.

Adoptee spaces and communities are special places, and yet, many of us want to see our voices emerge in the mainstream media where struggling adoptees can feel validated. Our founder, Amanda, said it best recently in this video clip, “I think we need to flip that script,” as she introduced a new adoptee-focused project, Dear Wonderful You. This anthology of letters from adult adoptees to tween and teen adoptees begins the dialogue where no adoptee should feel alone.

It is time for the #NationalAdoptionMonth tag to include ours. If you tweet, please consider tweeting the adoptee voice once a day, and tag it with #FliptheScript and #NationalAdoptionMonth. Let’s elevate the adoptee voice!
In the horrible situation of these twin girls’ separation, I think the most ethical thing to do would have been to perform the DNA tests as soon as possible instead of waiting six months when they were already settled, and unfortunately one of the families would have had to “make the ultimate sacrifice.” I’m sure this comment will not be well-received, but if we expect first parents to do it, I think we can expect one of these sets of parents could have done it as well, because it was in the best interest of both of the children. Of course the family would still love their daughter, but there were other options.

(I share this link with a note to register my disappointment at her use of the adjective "broken". I guess it means something specific to her she hasn't bothered to define, but it bothers me enormously. Autistic people are not broken.)
Stop apologizing. 
That was the first rule I made when my doctor told me the diagnosis.  No more “I’m sorries”.  I’ve spent the last 5 years apologizing for my son…how horrible is that?!
I’m sorry he isn’t sharing. I’m sorry he didn’t say thank you. I’m sorry he won’t sit still. I’m sorry he’s having trouble waiting in line. I’m sorry he’s being so loud. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
I cringe when I think of the shame I projected onto him in an effort to help him fit better into a mold I had created in my mind of what my quintessential child would most certainly be like. A few weeks after our doctor gave us the news, I felt that mold shatter into a million tiny pieces. And I remember feeling relief.  Screw the mold.


It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.
But after spending many years mourning the two babies she lost, my mother had other advice too: “Tell as many people as you like. Tell them now.”
“If something does go wrong,” she told me, “you’re going to need your friends. You’re not going to want to lie about how you’re feeling to everyone in your life.”

Philosophy and Science

In the event, the new law has left some intersex campaigners unsatisfied. For them, the main issue remains the practice of surgical intervention to definitively assign gender and thus "correct" the apparent mistakes of nature. Intersex activists accuse doctors of interfering with nature, of making arbitrary judgements based on aesthetics or to fit cultural norms, of calling it wrong (in some cases, surgically-corrected "girls" grow up to identify as male, or vice versa) and of indulging in practices equivalent to the genital mutilation widely condemned when performed for religious or tribal reasons. Silvan Agius, for example, writes that "Surgical or hormonal treatment for cosmetic, non-medically necessary reasons must be deferred to an age when intersex people are able to provide their own free, prior and fully informed consent... The right to bodily integrity and self-determination should be ensured and past abuses acknowledged."
his is quite a nice talk by Daphna Joel on male brains and female brains — she’s making the point that there are no such things. There are differential responses by developing brains to the environment that lead to different structures…but because it is a property of interactions between sexual factors and the environment, it’s inappropriate to call the differences simply “male” or “female”.
If you look at the graphs above, you may notice that Muslim Americans are less likely to support individual or state violence against civilians than are other Americans. In fact, as you may recall from the first graph in this post, Indonesian and Pakistani Muslims are more likely than Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, and nonreligious Americans to believe that violence against civilians is never justified. In other words, it appears that Americans are more ready to justify targeting civilians than are many of the world’s Muslims.
Rather, my purpose is to explore how the very concept of religion — the belief in a higher power, in whatever form it may take — is antithetical to liberating nonhumans from the human perception that other species are ours to do with as we please. Of course, some religions are considerably kinder to animals than others, but there is not one that claims nonhuman animals and human animals have an equal claim to personhood or parity. Similarly, the secular community has been slow to acknowledge what a lack of human exceptionalism means to how we treat other animals. When that association is made by atheist luminaries such as Richard Dawkins (see his essay “Gaps in the Mind,” to which I will later refer), they do not follow up with appropriate action such as going vegan or vegetarian, or becoming advocates for nonhuman animals. Thus, a further purpose of this book is to explore the lack of interest in animal concerns within the secular world and to inspire freethinkers to think more seriously about the other animals with whom we share the Earth.


Amy Chavez’s “Women in Japan” series, first offering 5 “powerful reasons” to be a woman (?) in Japan–you know, if your only aspiration is to be a mother and you are in a heterogamous marriage to a man who earns enough and you have no fertility issues.

As for Okinawa, there's also little doubt that Japan's militarization in response to Perry contributed to its impetus to force the weaponless Ryukyu monarchy to accept its annexation to Japan. In that way too, America helped lower the quality of Okinawan life because most Japanese treated the racially mixed people a little like American whites of the time treated American blacks. However, the Battle of Okinawa was incomparably worse for them than anything they'd previously suffered. In the way that combat stress causes so much mental and emotional disorder, those three months of horror that Okinawans spent in the lowest level of battle hell ripped their society, which had been uncommonly healthy by any standard, to shreds in some respects. The beautiful sub-tropical landscape had become, as an Okinawan survivor put it, a vast field of mud, lead, decay and maggots. The tombs of their ancestors, on which their religious life had centered, were among the ninety percent of structures that had been blasted to rubble and dust. Crime and suicide, which had been virtually unknown before the battle, became, and remain, serious problems.
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