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

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Habits

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Feeling like a fish out of water...
I used to think of cultural habits as located in the mind, but since attempting to reintegrate into life in Australia I have found my body far more often than my mind either betraying my acquired foreignness, or reminding me of habits I had never noticed I had before suddenly finding myself practising them again. Bowing is, of course, the quintessential physical habit Japan leavers find ourselves unable to control. After time in Japan bowing becomes so ingrained that even when consciously trying not to it can be impossible to stop. I bow in the car, on the phone, even when writing a particularly formal email. As for the latter category, I sat back inside my mind and watched in fascination as my body of its own accord began shaking out my shoes for spiders before putting them on within just a few days of repatriating. It careful checked towels for spiders before drying me after stepping out of the shower. I must always have done it, I suppose, but unconsciously. I was startled to see people in my home town walking around in the rain without umbrellas. I bought an umbrella and within minutes it was inside out. I had forgotten how windy it is down here, with the roaring forties blowing across the island. I stopped carrying an umbrella, but it felt strange. Foreign.
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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Monkey Tourists

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The past few years have seen some really funny and creative tourism campaigns from Oita, a prefecture mainly known for onsen and monkeys. I never got around to blogging about the international toilet festival, which is a shame because is was amazing... anyway, back to monkeys and onsen. This youtube video did the global rounds at the end of last year:

You can read more about the campaign over at Rocket News. Well, with onsen having been done so heavily in 2016 (there's also some synchronised swimming in onsen here), 2017 campaigns are going to focus on monkeys.



Incidentally Charlotte the monkey, presented as the love interest in this narrative, was named after the UK princess. While it seemed like a good idea initially there was some controversy, with more than a few people suggesting that the royal family might not take it in a flattering light.
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Saturday, 15 April 2017

Kyushu Quakes, Remembering a Year On

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This picture shared on facebook HERE by Nelson Surjon, it is NOT mine.

On Thursday night we had the strongest quake we'd ever felt. Tiger slept right through it, unlike Hayate. We saw on the news the next day that it had originated in Kumamoto and seven or eight people had died. We checked in with our friends in the area, tidied up the spills and went about our business as usual. The next night a magnitude 7, the highest on the Japanese scale, struck. I was sleeping Japanese style with the kids (futons on tatami) downstairs while the husband slept upstairs with the still rattled Hayate.
The bowling pin fell off Round One

The quake made an extraordinary sound, like nothing I've ever heard. The closest I can think of is a wave just as it crashes over your head, or the rushing in your ears just before you pass out. As the quake rolled on and on I grabbed the baby and braced myself in the door frame while shouting to Tiger to wake up. Some how neither the quake, my shouting, or the many dogs barking across the neighbourhood woke him. I couldn't leave the doorway with the baby in my arms so I sort of leaned out and grabbed Tiger by his toe (literally) and yanked as hard as I could to pull him to safety. He got a large friction burn from me pulling him across the tatami (tatami burns hurt much more than carpet burns, in my opinion) and then spent days telling people he'd been injured in the quake... technically true but a little misleading.
Stopped when it fell. How goth.

We were in Japan when 3.11 happened. You don't really get over something like that, and we've always consequently been very conscientious about disaster preparedness. However, we were just weeks away from leaving Japan and there were piles of packing and sorting everywhere. One relief was that I had passed the baton literally two weeks before to the new neighbourhood association rep. I had spent a year as the "information officer in the event of emergencies", meaning in a disaster like this I was supposed to monitor the radio, pass on evacuation information etc to the entire suburb. Why did they entrust a barely literate foreigner with this very language heavy and important role? The short answer is, as with most things, because Japan.* Other responsibilities including taking the role call to ensure everyone in the block I represented was safe, something I was also very glad not to have to do since many of our neighbours had typically Kyushu names, meaning the kanji were read in a totally different way to standard Japanese, and I never completely mastered them all.
The supermarket shelves were bare, both because of panic buying and because the highway collapse meant the trucks couldn't get through.
Saturday dawned hot and bright, but in a foreboding, over-ripe way. All around the neighbourhood the fledgling birds of spring had been shaken from their nests and their tiny bodies quickly began to rot in the hot sun. A stench hung over everything. Heavy rain and gales were forecast for later in the day, meaning landslides would inevitably follow. With foundations shaken by the quake we felt we were on the brink of an extraordinary disaster, but no one knew quite how big it would be. Tens of thousands of people evacuated. Our neighbours gathered in nervous groups, going from house to house to form consensus in the unobtrusive way of well established neighbourhoods, discussing whether we should leave to. The consensus was no, but fearfully. The neighbourhood association had generators and other emergency supplies on stand by. On TV we saw a university dorm had collapsed, trapping students inside. We watched all day, as hope slowly faded. A fourth year engineering student, a member of the music club, died. A first year student, who had left home just weeks before, died. There were amazing moments of relief, too: A baby girl rescued unharmed from a collapsed house after six agonising hoursThe magnificent castle at Kumamoto we'd visited on our "let's contribute to the local economy" holiday right after 3.11 was terribly damaged, and the highway we would take to the airport when we left had partially been swallowed by the earth.      We slept in our clothes, torches in hand, and aftershocks rocked us through the night.
Alerts... we didn't get a lot of sleep


*The longer explanation is the the positions are predetermined based on the rotating allocation and the system may not be changed, even for reasons like 'this person is literally incapable of performing the required tasks'. Because Japan.
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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Shower Slugs

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2015 was the worst year for mould yet. Dealing with a little baby and the mould during rainy season was a nightmare, and I was desperate for anything to help. I commented to my sister that it would be great if there were something like aquarium snails that would just hand out in the bathroom eating the mould for me, and she said "maybe there is" and immediately googled this. It sounded good, so we went out to the garden and collected some slugs.


I had bought this mini flower pot as a hide for Tiger's pet snails.



There was plenty of mould for them to feast on :/


They only really took to the grouting, but that's OK, it's the hardest part to clean anyway.


The difference between the slugged side and the not slugged side is pretty amazing. Also amazing: a "gluten free" label on BUBBLE BATH. For all the people with Celiac disease who like to drink soap, I presume.

Sadly the experiment had to be cut short because we had so many textiles go mouldy that the bath had to be used to soak them in very unfriendly solutions for a few weeks so the slugs were evacuated back to the garden. One eventually found its own way back though. It made a little home under a shampoo bottle and sneaks out to help with the cleaning at a leisurely pace.
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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Leaving

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This is hard to write, but even harder to do. We’re leaving Japan. It was not in our plan, but then, so much that happens in life isn’t that I’m not sure why we bother with plans anyway. We’re here until roughly summer, and after that we’ll be heading to sunny/windy/rainy/snowy Tasmania (you’ll understand if you’ve ever visited Tasmania).
It’s not you Japan, it’s us.
Well, it is a little Japan. Tiger needs a change and he needs some support we can’t afford to provide here. We could have tried to find a solution moving inside Japan, but there are other factors, the main one being an extended family situation I don’t want to go into detail about but which requires our presence ASAP. I have a ton of posts in my head waiting to be written down, so I’ll keep the blog going until they run out and then see where we’re at. I don’t know how well we’ll cope with repatriation. I really don’t.
I’ve spent more of my adult life in Japan than Australia.
We came to this decision (as much as it was in our hands, anyway) at the end of summer. Tiger was away at a camp so we sat down that night to hash out the details. We were fast being confronted with the bottom of our very classy $10 bottle of wine when we heard music that just went on and on. Eventually we decided to go and check it out. I strapped Cricket into the carrier and we headed to the park. It was that bruise-purple light somewhere between dusk and true darkness, and a horde of dragonflies hovered at waist height, as motionless as the humid air. A little girl in a yukata called out that she was going to dance and were we dancing too? An old man in his old-man-uniform of dirty-white vest, waist warmer, and plastic slippers complained that the walk across the park was too far. We all ended up at Tiger’s school, where we realised it was the neighbourhood Bon Odori. We’d been too preoccupied to pay attention to the date. We watched the dancers until the purple turned to black and thought about how much we would miss moments like these.
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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Bandaids

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At the end of a long frazzled day of dragging around town on public transport and a trip to the pediatrician for vaccinations I finally got home and Cricket was desperate for food. I cradled him and he started to nurse furiously only to break away after a few seconds crying. I latched him again, and again, furious nursing before pulling away crying. Tired, frustrated and now covered in leaking milk I was getting increasingly agitated and didn’t notice the father figure getting home. After watching quietly for a minute he suggested “why don’t you try the other side?” I flipped the baby over and he latched on… and his whole body relaxed as he settled in to feed properly. I asked in awe “what made you think of that?” and my lovely husband replied “I saw the bandaid from his shots and figured it might be painful to hold him with his weight on that arm.” I’d completely forgotten about the injection. Parenting Tiger is a lot like this, except he doesn’t have bandaids to helpfully warn us of sore spots. I was rushing to try and bring a load of laundry in before the clouds burst and dumped their rain down when Tiger came home from school and demanded toast. I toasted bread and dumped it on the table with a knife and the peanut butter jar then ran back outside. Cue much dramatic whining about how if I really loved him I’d spread the toast, everyone else IN THE WORLD gets their toast spread for them, and how much he hated me. As I dumped an armful of laundry and prepared to lecture him for being selfish and spoiled something about the sad way he was slumped at the kotatsu made me pause. “Have you ever spread toast before?” I asked, and learned that no, he never had, and he felt embarrassed to say so and frustrated because he was hungry. Instead of a fight we ended up having a lovely afternoon practicing on endless reams of toast. All too often, though, I miss the signs and fight when I should be nurturing. If only there were bandaids to warn me.
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Sunday, 10 January 2016

I Wish My Baby Would Read

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Too busy for sleep
I bought a number of useful and authoritative sounding books on baby care, but Cricket just won’t seem to read them. Nor will he listen to professional advice; after he was born I was sternly entreated to burp him after every feed, but he steadfastly refused to produce a single burp. He was passed from nurse to nurse and patted until I feared bruises would result, but no burp made its way out of his little mouth. It did leave him with the rather adorable habit of patting my back in return whenever I put him on my shoulder though. A few days after we came home the baby’s father commented “he doesn’t seem to know how to baby.” It’s true. He never sleeps. Not naps, not at night, never. “Baby should be napping for several hours a day” I read aloud, pausing to glare pointedly at my not-remotely-sleepy-seeming infant. He replies with a gargle and a spit bubble. I hold Super Nanny’s book open to the “suggested sleeping schedule” and wave it in front of Cricket’s face. He tries to eat the book. “Sleep when your baby sleeps” the books all say. I search the index frantically for “my baby never sleeps” but there are no entries. My baby clearly doesn’t know how to baby. His teeth come in and I am terrified he’ll bite my nipple. “Don’t worry” says every source, book and digital, “babies almost never bite.” He bites me. “If they do, it’s almost always a harmless nip of exploration” says every source the baby has clearly never read. Two little holes in my nipple drip blood onto the page explaining how this will totally not happen. My baby doesn’t know how to baby. He ignores the sippy cup I buy and drinks confidently from a glass at three months. He tries to steal food from my plate, spoon, cup and on one occasion my mouth from three months. I print out articles about “virgin gut” and delayed introduction of solids and leave them pointedly lying around, but he persists, screaming for food. I cave and give him sneaky food at four months, but it isn’t good enough, he wants to sit at the table and eat exactly what I’m eating. Cricket’s father entertains his co-workers with photographs of our six month old eating French toast, a whole banana, and lentil stew. He figures out he can make the dogs go crazy by throwing bits of his food to them, and uses his powers for evil. I wake in the middle of the night to find Cricket, seven months, standing next to a large box experimenting with ways to open and close the lid.  I take him to the city playroom and he immediately climbs onto the roof of the play house. He can’t walk, but he climbs like a cat. At eight months the books say he’ll probably drop one nap. “HA” I laugh, my baby doesn’t have a nap to drop! And then he starts napping twice a day, just when other babies are apparently waking up. My baby hasn’t read the manuals. He doesn’t know how to baby.
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