January 28, 2013
April 22, 2012
April 4, 2012
Have a splendid day, birthday girl! May all your dreams come true.
March 21, 2012
So, after almost a 1 year hiatus since my last post, I’m posting something. Big deal, huh? So, all the usual stuff, Christmas, birthdays, allergies, cats, dogs, you’ve read it all here before. But here’s the good news that brought me back. The Son has a girlfriend. That’s not the good news. I really like her. That’s not the good news. She has a great blog. Now you have the good news. Not that the other stuff isn’t good news, because it definitely is. Not only does she have a kick ass blog, but so does her best friend, whom I have also met. It just keeps getting better. Shit, if they break up, I get custody of her, Carrie, and The Son is on his own. Miko, this is mainly for you, because these blogs will have you rolling on the tatami mats. And when you get through wallowing in the laughter, do some posting and let us know how you are. Damned Facebook has taken over the world. That’s where I tend to post now instead of here. Bad girl.
April 21, 2011
I hope everything has smoothed out after all the upheaval there has been in Japan. May your birthday be serene and joyful.
She was born Wednesday, April 13. Kirsty had a home birth, but unfortunately, she hemorrhaged and had to be taken to hospital. But she’s out now, doing well, and she and Dave are loving being parents.
March 11, 2011
Just heard/read about the earthquake & tsunami on Honshu. I got out the map and checked, and discovered that Sendai is on the opposite end of the island from Kobe, but both are on the east coast. Miko, if you get a chance, let us hear from you. We’re all worried. I have a feeling you’re okay, but I want to know for sure!
December 22, 2010
From ALL the Gilbert family!
December 5, 2010
Recently I was asked to pinch-hit as an emcee and singer for a huge kids’ Christmas party (150 kids, a dozen teachers). Although it was at such short notice – I only received the party plan yesterday, and had never worked with most of the teachers before, or sang the songs before - I was really, really determined to do a good job of it. To be honest, with typical gaijin hubris and over-confidence, I was convinced that I would simply breeze through it all, and that everyone would be fantastically impressed with me. How wrong I was.
I bombed. It was awful. It got to the stage that they ended the party early because I had so clearly run out of patter and musical inspiration, and the kids were getting fidgety. I felt just dreadful, and I know it showed because kind people kept coming up to console me afterwards. When I got home I found some supportive emails on my computer, including this wonderful line: “Thank you for your hard hard work and your constant coming today.” Oh, if only my job were that simple!
I still feel awful, I haven’t felt this rotten in ages. I wonder if I should return the money that they paid me (not that they’d accept it back). To be sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. I mean, the kids were okay, thanks to “Santa” (thanks Dave from Australia!) making an appearance at the end of the party to distribute presents, and as for me, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t done any major damage to my career prospects or reputation or anything like that … but my pride has been damaged, and that’s not something I’m used to. Serves me right for being so cocky. Oh well, chalk it up to experience … hopefully not one that I’ll ever have to repeat.
November 30, 2010
This guy apparently came in on a pot plant when I brought some in to keep them from freezing. The first time, he wandered down to the kitchen sink faucet. I moved him back to a plant. Then he disappeared for a week. I figured the cats and found & dispatched him to praying mantis heaven. Then, voila, he was back again today. He’s warming up on the light over the sink. I’m leaving him alone this time. Do you have these in Japan, Miko? They’re quite harmless, and in fact, eat pest bugs. Should I name it? Don’t know if it’s male or female. We could go with a neutral name, like Pat.
November 11, 2010
Gosh, how sad I am to missing out on stuff like this.
November 10, 2010
One of my elderly friends from the bookclub revealed something to me recently: quite some time ago, when he was a young soldier with the Occupation forces, he had a secret affair with a Japanese girl (despite the fact that he was already married to his childhood sweetheart). She got pregnant by him, was thrown out by her family, and died shortly after giving birth. Somehow he managed to smuggle the baby back to the US with a nanny, and eventually was able to raise the child as his own (obviously with the help of a very understanding wife!). That son is now a successful lawyer with a family of his own, and very close to his father and adoptive mother.
By a strange twist of fate, my friend and his wife were posted to Kobe in the 80s, and chose to stay on here after retirement, because she loved the place so much. She does a lot of charity work around here, much of it with children. When I heard this story, I immediately wondered how this woman could’ve been so tolerant about taking on an unexpected Amerasian child, and later moving to the land where her husband had been unfaithful to her. I just don’t understand how she can put her own feelings aside. I don’t think I could do it.
November 5, 2010
Today, when I asked my third-grade class to write their names on the whiteboard, I noticed for the first time that one of my brightest girls is actually left-handed. I was so surprised. It is not common to encounter lefties in Japan, because traditionally they are trained out of it in early childhood (and if I’d had a left-handed child – which I don’t – I probably would’ve done the same thing). A “leave them alone” trend seems to on the rise in modern cities, but it’s still really unusual to encounter them here.
Therefore, I really was surprised to see someone unabashedly writing with her left hand. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that since my NZ days.
One of my Japanese cousins is naturally left-handed, but was trained out of it when he was a kindergarten student. He ended up becoming ambidextrous, and once bragged to me that he could hold a pencil with one hand and a pair of chopsticks with the other. Apparently he got really good grades at school because he could eat and study at the same time, thus saving a lot of time and effort. I can see the merits.
“My sister and her boyfriend are having their wedding in an overseas resort next October. I will find it hard to save the money required for my husband, me and our two children. I don’t want to borrow the money or put it on a credit card. We recently moved house and spend all our money on our house, nursery fees and supporting the four of us.
My sister is having chemo for breast cancer and tried to make me feel guilty by asking how I would feel if she died and I hadn’t been to her wedding. I really resent being forced to spend money I don’t want to spend, when if I had the money I would buy furniture or childproof the garden.”
I was personally astounded that almost all the comments generated by this post were hugely critical of the writer. Some even told her that she would regret it for the rest of her life, if she didn’t show up at her sister’s wedding. Leaving aside the fact that the sister is undergoing chemo, is it ever okay to try and emotionally blackmail someone into spending possibly huge amounts of money (well, YMMV) and take valuable time out from work and housekeeping just to indulge someone’s princess fantasies? (And let’s not mention the fact that statistically speaking, it may not be the only wedding for the sister anyway.) The writer mentioned honestly that she would rather use the money for improving her home and taking care of her children, and came up for fierce criticism for that as well.
Is it just me, or is the bridezilla being the selfish one here? If she really cared about her nearest and dearest, and wanted them to attend her special day, then she would have a simple ceremony and a garden party much closer to home – and then have her honeymoon in the exotic resort, if she so desired.
As a houseguest once said to me when I apologised for the smallness of my home, “it’s not the place, it’s the people.” In this case, I agree.
(By the way, this issue seems to be a relatively common one in some western countries. It’s far less of one in Japan, where the parents of the happy couple are expected to stump up for the majority of costs.)
November 1, 2010
On a whim, I called Benjamin and he came running! And no food was involved, either. That was the first time in my 10 years of knowing him that he has ever responded to his name. Unfortunately, now I can’t replicate the result, no matter how much I call him. I wonder if he’s playing mind games with me? Cats seem to like those.
Anyway, I’ve been smiling all day about this.
October 31, 2010
Recently I read a (North American-based) blog that was a celebration of female financial independence, which I’m all for.
One of the posters announced that she was divorcing her husband of 20 years because “I’ve decided that if I have to support my husband for the rest of my life, I may as well be divorced and be happy.” Another poster shared that she was ditching her husband because throughout their 16 years of marriage she had been the main breadwinner, and she ultimately didn’t see the point in keeping on another mouth to feed. She very cleverly worked out a way to keep their two kids and set up a trust for them, not to mention finding a way to pressure her ex-husband for child support, despite knowing that he earned far less money than she did.
Now, imagine that the roles were reversed, and it was a man happily announcing that he was going to dump his wife, because she didn’t contribute her fair share of the household expenses. Imagine the uproar, even in your own mind.
A prefectural governor in western Japan has submitted his resignation on the grounds of old age. At 76, he was the second oldest governor in Japan (the oldest is the irascible governor of Tokyo, aged 78). I have to admit that when I heard the news, my first thought was “what? He’s still young.” My next thought was, “good riddance!” Japan is a country ruled by elderly men, many of whom have never worked a day in their lives at real jobs, and are totally and utterly out of touch with the people that they supposedly represent. I can’t wait until they all die off, and are replaced by the younger guard. Who knows, a few women might even get in there too.
October 30, 2010
I was somewhat surprised to learn that this is still an issue here. I remember when I first came to Japan I had to battle sexual harassment on a nearly daily basis, not only in the workplace (I actually quit two jobs because of unbearable harassment from male colleagues) but on the trains too, as I’ve posted before. Most people turned a blind eye to it. However, the issue has come to the forefront in recent years, and public awareness has greatly increased as a result. Young men especially are very aware of the ramifications of being accused of this sort of behaviour. In fact, in my workplace the men are unfailingly polite and take great pains to keep their distance from their female co-workers, even to the point of avoiding being alone in a room with us. I actually feel sorry for them sometimes (and a bit sorry for myself … I kind of miss the innocent workplace flirtations. Don’t you?).
She’s beautiful, she has 15 photogenic kids, she recently divorced their father, and now she has managed to hook herself a new husband. It makes me wonder why I waste my time working, frankly.
To get to work some days, I have to pass through no less than five cities, with populations ranging from 90,000 to 2.6 million people. In total it takes me about 20 minutes on the express train. How’s that for efficiency?
This case really shocked me because the victim lived in the same neighbourhood as one of my JJs groups. Violent murders are relatively uncommon in Japan, and those that do occur are usually domestic in nature. By the way, it is quite common for criminals to turn themselves over to the police (as this perpetrator did), usually at the urging of family members or friends. I have no idea why this kind of peer pressure works so well here – probably the shame factor - but I appreciate that it saves a lot of police time and public money.
October 21, 2010
This cat has a sense of humor, I swear. I laughed, hard, at the last minute or so, and I’ll bet you will too. This video is adorable, and even the titles add to the fun. Maru has star power!
October 20, 2010
Kobe made it into the Michelin guidebook. Two small restaurants in Kobe have officially been granted three stars each. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kobe is a foodie’s paradise, and a place where you can indulge almost every culinary whim, but from a chef’s point of view it can be a tough nut to crack. The people of this small but sophisticated city welcome all and any influences from around the world, especially from Europe and China, but they are also extremely fussy about the quality of their food, and demand value for money. Right now, I’m kicking myself for walking past one of the above restaurants (Ca sento) on dozens of occasions, and not bothering to stop in on the grounds that I didn’t want to pay 50 bucks for lunch. Now, if I want to go there, I’ll have to pay more than twice that, and go on a months-long waiting list!
My timing truly sucks!
October 18, 2010
I’ve just found a flyer for a newly opened luxury hotel in my mailbox. A one-night stay in a standard room will set you back around 80 bucks. The suite room costs $250 for the first night, but the rate goes down to $200 if you book for more than two weeks. Oh, and did I mention their beauty treatment services? Depending upon your body size and the amount of hair you have, you can have a shampoo-and-cut for as little as 5o dollars!
Did I also mention that this was a dog hotel?
And need I mention that the last time I stayed in a hotel, it was a sleazy dive in Osaka that cost 45 dollars a night. And as for my haircuts, well, they cost 30 bucks tops, including shampoo. I sure am glad I’m not a Golden Retriever, they go up to 150 dollars just for a shampoo and set, not to mention the various options available starting at 10 bucks each!
(Oh, and why the heck does any dog need a set? C’mon, it’s a dog, not a beauty queen!)
October 15, 2010
Two more private students have regretfully cancelled their lessons for this month, because of having to take care of elderly mothers. That’s several hundred dollars that I’ll be out of pocket this month. I love those students, and we’ve been together for years. The problem is, should I keep setting aside their regular lesson times in the hopes that they’ll be back soon, or should I fill them up with new students? I just don’t know what to do.
Senile old women in their eighties and nineties are becoming the bane of my existence! They are ruining my life, not to mention the lives of their daughters. It’s hard for me to imagine that I’ll be joining their ranks, one of these days.
According to a recent survey, 90% of train groper victims in Japan don’t bother reporting their experiences to the police. Train groping is an extremely common crime here – although admittedly until a few years ago most citizens weren’t aware of the fact that it was a crime at all, hence the prevalence of posters and announcements informing passengers that “groping is a crime, and punishable by law!” in almost all train stations – and most women in big cities have been victims of it, especially during rush hour. Many train and subway lines have attempted to alleviate the situation by introducing woman-only carriages, and I always try and ride on these not so much to avoid groping, but because they are less crowded (men still make up the bulk of rush-hour commuters), and smell a whole lot nicer than the regular carriages.
To date, here are my worst experiences – amongst dozens – so far on commuter trains and buses:
1. On the bus, on my way home from high school in NZ, a bespectacled young man mashed up to me, and tried to put his hand on my knee. I later found out from schoolfriends that he was renowned for targeting young women in school uniforms, and was advised to give him a swift kick in the shins the next time it happened. I guess the uniform fetish isn’t an exclusively Japanese thing after all.
2. In Kobe, a man grabbed me between the legs and attempted to rub my crotch while I was standing on a crowded commuter train … with my young son at my side. I was too embarrassed to make a scene, but on the walk home from the station I told Sonbeam what had happened. He was really angry, and said “Mum, you should’ve told me! I would’ve done something.” Like what? He was 9 years old at the time.
3. When I complained about train gropers to a Japanese boyfriend, he insisted that “women like being touched by strange men, you should relax and enjoy it.” To be fair to him, he was really astonished to learn from me that women do not appreciate that kind of attention, and was swift to inform his friends about it (I think a few of them even gave up groping as a result). It’s all about conditioning. And communication.
4. The most disgusting incident of all: a respectable looking salaryman sat down next to me, took a used sanitary pad out of his briefcase, and commenced to sniff it while masturbating under his coat. I was so shocked that I burst into tears, and begged the other passengers – including several brawny young men – to help me. Everybody looked the other way; nobody did a thing. Fortunately that creepy man was genuinely shocked by my tears, and got off at the next station. (He actually bowed and apologised for making me cry. How Japanese is that?)
Japan has made huge strides in gender equality in a relatively short time. I’m proud of that, and I think Japan as a nation should be commended for that. Many Westerners seem happy to forget that the progress that Japan has made in the last decade or so, took more than a hundred years in their own countries. They also seem happy to ignore the fact that violent street crime, especially directed against women, is relatively uncommon in Japan even in big cities. To wit, I feel safer walking around my inner-city neighborhood at 10PM than I do riding the train at 10PM. How many Western women out there can say that?
October 14, 2010
I’ve just been reading a problem page in which a 42-year-old working woman (the same age as me) is causing a great deal of concern to her nearest-and dearest-for these reasons:
1. She has started hanging out in bars, and – gasp! – possibly having sexual relations with men that she meets there.
2. She bought a new car – with her own money – without consulting anybody else first.
3. She sometimes disappears on weekend trips alone, doing goodness knows what.
So, you might ask, what’s the problem? Surely she can do what she likes – after all, it’s her life, and her money.
The problem is, she’s married.
October 10, 2010
I’ve posted a couple of times about this lady, and how madly envious I am of her … because in my eyes, she’s living the life that I never had. I’ve spent half my adult life wanting to be someone like her: living with parents who loved her to bits, growing up in the country club set, and attending the best schools in Europe and Japan.
A few months ago her beloved father died in an accident at home. He was a really nice guy. I had met him several times at various events, and liked him very much. He was a well-respected figure in Kobe, a true pillar of the community, and a lot of people showed up for his funeral. Recently I met up with one of the attendants, and was shocked to learn about the true circumstances of his death (sorry, I can’t tell you the details). I was also shocked to learn a few other unpalatable truths about him that were pretty much common knowledge in the expat community. For example, he was profoundly alcoholic and had run up massive bar tabs in every country club in Kobe. He was also an unrepentant wife beater, and even spent a night in the lockup a few years ago when the laws were changed and domestic violence became an official crime in Japan. Apparently his first words upon being bailed out were, “no-one told me the laws had changed here! It used to be okay to beat your wife in Japan!” (Well, it isn’t any more my friend!) His daughter - the aforementioned young lady - was sent to Europe to get her out of the miserable domestic situation, and during her teens and twenties suffered from an eating disorder (which might explain why she’s so damn skinny now, but doesn’t explain why she’s so damm beautiful now). Every time I’ve met her, I’ve ended up writhing in envy about her charmed life and her idyllic childhood. But now I think that she must have been suffering terribly all along, even more so because she and her family had an image to maintain.
We just never know what goes on behind closed doors, do we?
October 8, 2010
The trouble with giving private lessons – especially to well-heeled housewives – is that they tend to cancel at short notice. This morning, for example, I received an email from this delightful lady telling me that she wanted to cancel all our lessons for October because her 93-year-old mother has taken sick. It’s a common situation when dealing the magnificent “Sandwich Generation” ladies who are not only caring for elderly parents, but for their own children and grandchildren as well (how they manage to fit in time for English lessons is a mystery to me, but hey I’m not complaining). Basically, although the pay is good and the conditions are great, there’s no job security at all. On the bright side, there is no shortage of eager new faces willing to take their place, thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations. A few weeks ago I was asked to meet up with a new student in a wealthy mountainside suburb. As you know, all of my students are fascinating to me, but some more than others, especially this lady. My first hint that she was something out of the ordinary was when she picked me up in a huge white Mercedes (extravagant even by Kobe standards). My next was when she introduced me to her constant companion, a fat little dachshund named Ralph with pink ribbons in his hair. And then, after the lesson, when she treated me to lunch in a French restaurant that has an actual Rodin in the courtyard? Okay, that’s when I realised that she and I were going to get along just fine. And so we do! I now take lessons at her splendid home every Saturday morning, spending 90 minutes listening to her brag in broken English about her latest pottery acquisitions (one of her hobbies is travelling around Japan collecting rare pieces) and being fed exquisite tea and sweets from Kyoto. I couldn’t be happier about this situation.
Unfortunately, the only problem is … Ralph. He hates my guts. He starts barking as soon as I approach the front door, angrily nips at my heels as I enter the home, and spends most of the lesson growling at me from under the table. His doting mistress tells me to ignore him, assures me that he’ll get used to me in time (it’s been two months already), and when it gets really bad she reluctantly locks him in another room, but the whole thing just unnerves me. What can I do to win Ralph’s affections? I would appreciate any advice that you have for me. (Bear in mind that he’s a dachshund, and therefore not too smart.)