October 7, 2010

I never need to look for work, it comes looking for me

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:09 pm by Jane

A few months ago, two major companies in Japan announced that they would be holding all of their inhouse meetings in English – which the majority of their employees don’t speak – and that they would fire any workers who didn’t get their English language ability up to scratch within the next two years.  Several other major companies hinted that they would follow suit.  Most young and not-so-young Japanese are in a state of panic about this situation (imagine that your country had been peacefully invaded by China when you weren’t looking, and that now only fluent Chinese speakers are in line for promotion at any workplace, including your own children and their offspring).  Hence,  I am being absolutely swamped with requests for business English lessons.  I’m giving them seven days a week, in between my cram school lessons, my housewife lessons, my mums-and-babes-lessons, and those annoying JJs.  At the moment there’s a waiting list.  Recently my dentist’s mother asked for private English lessons, and I had to ask her to wait until March of 2011, when I’m pretty certain that there’ll be an opening on Saturday mornings.  And today, one of my young mums told me that her husband wants business English lessons from 7PM every Wednesday night.   Well, Wednesday night (4PM to 10PM) is my only holiday, not to mention my treasured bookclub night when I get to meet up with other expats to talk about how to stay sane and reasonable in this crazy country.  But in the interests of staying insane and unreasonable, I think I’ll just grab every opportunity as it comes, and make the most of it.  After all, it’s not every country in the world that pays me 50 bucks an hour just to sit, talk in English, and smile a lot. 

Only in Japan, right?

October 4, 2010

What the …?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:19 pm by Jane

Is October 1st the new April 1st?  Seriously, I cannot believe what I’m seeing here.  Please tell me it’s all some kind of sick joke.

September 19, 2010

Protected: Double dilemma

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:16 pm by Jane

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RIP Kou-Kou

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm by Jane

One of the famed Kobe pandas has died, during an unnecessary operation, and China is understandably pissed off.  I’m angry too.  What were those arrogant handlers thinking?  Goodbye Kou-Kou.  Whenever I saw you, you were either napping or munching on bamboo leaves, completely oblivious to your legions of fans.  But you will be sadly missed (and you may possibly be known as the only panda in history to start a war).

September 18, 2010

Sonbeam’s latest girlfriend (and a possible explanation for the low birth rate)

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:23 am by Jane

Today I asked the Sonbeam if he had met the parents of his girlfriend Hiromi, whom he has been dating for about 18 months.  No, he hadn’t, because they don’t want to meet him.  Why not?  Is it because you’re a gaijin, I asked?  Nope, they just don’t want to meet or hear about any boyfriend.  As far as they’re concerned, she’s too young to be dating.  Startled, I asked just how old is she14? 

Nope.  She’s 25, and a grad student.  And she’s still not allowed to have boyfriends.

Good luck with that one, son!

September 13, 2010

Teeth not included

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:23 pm by Jane

Most of my mature students are very old-fashioned in their ways of thinking, and believe that a woman is nothing without a man.  A few of them keep vigorously harassing me to find a husband, criticise me for not trying hard enough, and sometimes even offer to introduce me to promising prospects.  Although I laugh it off in public, in private I find it quite annoying – I already live with two bothersome males, why would I ask for another? – so to make things difficult I’ve laid down a few ground rules:  any potential husband has be to a) elderly b) extremely rich, with no living heirs, and c) suffering from a weak heart and/or high blood pressure (obviously exceptions will be made in the case of anyone named George Clooney, Jon Hamm, or Onassis).  This doesn’t deter my students in the least; they’ve simply offered to take me along to old people’s homes on their day visits to their own parents, so that I can sort through potential suitors.  I find this slightly distressing because I’m already at a stage where I’m supposed to start hunting for a wife for the Sonbeam.  According to recent news reports, young people are now too lazy/passive to find their own marriage partners, and various services have sprung up for desperate parents of unmarried children to get together to exchange photos and other details of their wayward progeny, in the hopes of making a match.  According to one mother who’d travelled a long way to attend a meeting, “My son is already in his forties.  If I don’t find him a wife this time, I’ll give up.”  Well, I’m in my forties, so please give up on me!  I already have.  There’s more to life than marriage, you know.

September 11, 2010

Mind playing tricks #209,839

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:11 pm by Jane

This morning I woke up smiling from an extraordinary dream.  I dreamt that I was attending a reunion with some old classmates who I hadn’t met in more than 20 years.  I was so happy to be with them again!  I reminisced with them about the good old days, I rejoiced as they shared their career successes, and I couldn’t help but get a bit misty-eyed when they proudly showed photos of their talented kids.  All in all, it was great to see my old friends. 

Then I woke up … and realised that none of those people exist in real life.  In other words, they were all completely figments of my imagination. 

Oh well, at least my imaginary friends are happy folk!  That’s something, isn’t it?

September 5, 2010

Born to be mild?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:45 am by Jane

I make no secret of the fact that I’ve had a remarkably easy time raising the Sonbeam, mainly because I ignored him and outsourced his care as much as possible during those crucially formative years, and then spent the bulk of his adolescence guilt-tripping him about it (as opposed to doing things the other way around, as many parents do).  In fact, I can honestly say that my delinquent puss Ben has given me far more sleepless nights than his human “brother” ever did.  So far the Sonbeam and I have had exactly five serious arguments, and two of those were based upon his facial hair choices.  The other three were about his educational decisions, which I firmly opposed, but ended up grudgingly paying for anyway. 

Recently we had our sixth argument.  It was about him getting a motorcycle, which I am against for all sorts of personal and ecological reasons.   I just don’t see why he feels the urge to get a bike.   We live in a city with an extremely comprehensive public transport system, and in fact most of Japan is accessible by train or ferry.  Bikes are dangerous, they pollute the environment, and they get stopped all the time by police (who apparently have nothing else to do in Japan but attempt to apprehend bike thieves, which is nice I suppose).  Furthermore, the flimsy Japanese scooter bikes are virtual deathtraps when in comes to collisons – I’ve twice witnessed bike and car collisions, and in each case the bike rider ended up mashed all over the road, whilst the car got barely a ding. 

In other words, I just don’t want him riding around out there … unless I’m riding pillion, and we’re going shopping.

September 4, 2010

This gave me the best laugh I’ve had in a while

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:00 pm by Jane

Housecleaning.  Polishing?  Waxing?  Dusting? Wood?  Silver?   Sorry, but the last thing I ever bothered polishing was an old coin I found on the street on my way to work (I bought a cup of nasty coffee with it, which got me through the train ride).   I never bother dusting until at least two of the three occupants of this household have started sneezing.  And you won’t find an awful lot of wood or silver in my humble, state-owned abode; just miles of plastic and formica.  As for waxing, well, let’s not go there.   Frankly, I can’t understand the mentality of an educated woman who chooses to dedicate her life to doing housework, and telling other women how to do it.  But I can totally understand why she insists on the necessity of a “variable-speed vacuum cleaner.”  In her words, it can be used for so many things.

September 2, 2010

Protected: It’s cute when it’s a puppy (with a note added by Karen)

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:47 pm by Jane

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August 27, 2010


Posted in Uncategorized at 3:29 pm by karen1945

Shut up about the damn mosque

August 26, 2010

Now that’s what I call optimistic!

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:27 pm by Jane

Today one of my mature students casually mentioned that her favourite aunt (86, former midwife, current globe-trotter) has just bought a five-year diary. Nobody could understand why I laughed so much.   I guess you have to be a gaijin to understand these things.

August 23, 2010

I’m a bit suspicious of the looks of some of those “female” guards

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:15 pm by Jane

But otherwise … yawn.  We’ve been doing it for years.

August 15, 2010

Dust in the wind

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:49 am by Jane

I’ve  just been reading about the average cost of funerals in various countries.  In the USA it’s about $5,100, which seems a bit dear to me.  In Korea, it’s a more reasonable $4,300.  In Germany it’s only $2,300, and in the UK, a paltry $1,400 (which means that NZ is probably around the same, if not cheaper).  And in Japan?  A whopping $26,000 just to give Granny a decent send-off, and by the way, it’s likely to be a cremation not a burial because there is no space in this country. 

All I can say is, crikey!  Don’t spend that money on me when I’m dead, spend it on me when I’m alive and able to enjoy it!

By the way, in recent years in Japan more deaths than births are recorded annually.  This means that morticians are now more in demand than obstetricians.

(Cultural note: summer in Japan is a time when people’s thoughts take a rather morbid turn.  For various historical reasons, this season is strongly associated with death.  There is even a three-day holiday period in the middle of August when people traditionally return to their hometowns, and leave food and offerings for their ancestors.  I used to think it was horrible, but now I rather like it.)

August 13, 2010

Problem page

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:27 am by Jane

“I’m a woman in my 30s. I have been having a relationship with one of my co-workers for three years, and we have started discussing marriage.  He is much older than me.  My parents were shocked when I told them, especially my father who yelled at me and then tried to sign me up at a marriage broker without my permission.  It is a fact that my boyfriend will reach retirement age at the same time our child (if we have one) becomes an adult. I will then have to play the role of breadwinner, and I may have to care for him in his old age when I reach my own retirement. My parents tell me I’d just be creating problems for myself by marrying a an older man. I don’t want to break up with him, but I don’t want to fall out with my parents, either.”

This is a surprisingly common dilemma in Japan.  One of my friends was in the exact same position, and she decided to go ahead with the marriage against vigorous parental opposition.  Unfortunately her husband died only a few years into their marriage, leaving her with a small child and a fat pension.  She then moved back in with her own parents (who had forgiven her and were thrilled to have their only grandchild living with them) and proceeded to have the time of her life.   In another case, a co-worker of mine – a man in his twenties – fell in love with an older woman, a single mother in her thirties.  His parents were so opposed to the union that he ended up waiting until his father died before popping the question to his girlfriend.   This particular problem is not limited to Japan.  I can think of several similar cases in NZ, and I’m sure you can think of a few of your own.  However, it’s true to say that in Japan, people think of their life decisions (marriage, parenthood, divorce) in terms of how they will affect the others around them, rather than in terms of personal gratification.  And that’s not always a bad thing.

August 4, 2010

Weapons of Math Instruction

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:54 pm by karen1945

Got this from my traveling buddy, and it brought a laugh. Flying has just about come to this. I did tell you all about getting frisked – after I had already been through security and was waiting in line to board the plane. Didn’t I?

A teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession
of a ruler, a protractor, a compass, a slide-rule and a calculator. At a morning press conference, the Attorney General said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

‘”Al-Gebra is a problem for us,” the Attorney General said. “They derive solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes
go off on tangents in search of absolute values.” They use secret code names like ‘X’ and ‘Y’ and refer to themselves as
“unknowns”, but we have determined that they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates
in every country.”

As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, ‘There are 3 sides to every triangle’.

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Obama said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, he would have given us more fingers and toes.” White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the President. It is believed that the Nobel Prize for Physics will follow.

August 2, 2010

You know when you think you’ve seen it all?

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:25 pm by Jane

And realise that you haven’t?

August 1, 2010

Guilt, the gift that keeps on giving

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:50 am by Jane

So there I am last Monday morning, ready to stand up and bravely announce to the pesky JJs that I’m taking a summer break (and may possibly not come back afterwards).  Just as I’m about to do so, one of the more annoying customers makes a heartfelt announcement of her own: she wants me to know that she loves the JJs coffee klatches, that she loves me, and that she looks forward to Monday mornings all week long, because it’s the only day of the week that she can laugh and smile and forget her woes, in good company and with good food.   Then she sits and beams lovingly at me, while all the other customers chime in with “we love JJs” tales of their own.

This 60-year-old woman is presently very busy caring for a husband who is suffering from stomach cancer.  She also cares full-time for a stubborn and bedridden mother-in-law who refuses to move into a nursing home and will only grudgingly accept nursing care for one morning a week (the JJs day, as it happens).  And she herself is still in the throes of grieving for a small grandchild who died last year, whilst providing rock-like support to her son and daughter-in-law.  On top of that she runs a side business selling organic cotton clothing, to bring in some extra money.  And she also coaches local high school students through their English exams, teaching them in her living room every evening.

Now, I don’t like her very much, because she behaves like such a loudmouth and hardly lets anyone else speak (perhaps she doesn’t get a chance to do it anywhere else?), but I can’t deny that she’s earned her dues as a woman.  I have to respect her for that.

And bam!  There goes my summer break.  I’ve cancelled it.  Sigh.  Oh well, winter’s not long off!

July 31, 2010

So near and yet so far

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:01 am by Jane

Japan is currently reeling in shock over the starvation deaths of two small children by their 23-year-old mother, a sex-worker.  According to news reports, the young woman originally moved from a rural area to big-city Osaka after divorcing and breaking off all contact with her own family.  She and her two babies lived in a one-room apartment provided by the sex club which the woman worked for, and the children were often left to fend for themselves.  In June of this year she simply decided not to bother coming home any more.  It was shortly after this that the neighbours heard the sounds of distressed young children crying, and some time after that noticed a rotten smell emanating from the apartment.  Finally they contacted the child welfare authorities, who came and called on the apartment on at least five occasions without attempting to enter it. 

Needless to say, it has now been discovered that the children, aged 3 and 1, starved to death on their own, even as social workers were banging on the door (and refusing to attempt to enter it, because of the Rules).  The mother has since been apprehended, and has stated that she was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of childcare, and wanted to have some fun in life.   So far she has shown little remorse.

It’s hard to decide where to apportion the blame here.  Obviously the bulk of it should fall on the mother, who seems to have been little more than a child herself (not to mention her former husband).  And what about the people who raised her?  Obviously they did not do a good job of it, or of keeping in contact with their own grandchildren.  Or how about the neighbours, who waited until the smell of rotting flesh had become unbearable before lodging formal complaints?  Or the social workers who didn’t bother following through with a thorough investigation?  Or the predatory sex club, that didn’t seem to care a fig about the young mother who worked for them as long as she showed up?

Or people like me, who walked past her apartment several times earlier this year without noticing anything amiss … or especially caring anyway.

July 29, 2010

I got the Al’s Hammer

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:30 pm by karen1945

I thought I had already posted this, but realized I hadn’t when Miko asked about it.  The trip was fabulous.  I loved the beauty of the countryside.  So many beautiful towns that were so “Mid-America”.  Very Norman Rockwell and all.  I met most of Char’s family, all of whom I liked and who were warm and welcoming.  One of the BIG highlights of the trip, though was getting to see the 4 exhibits of Dale Chihuly glass at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful for their flowers alone. Char and I turned out to be great traveling companions, and if she ever invites me along on a trip again, I am so outta here.

On the photos, I recommend that you just go through them one by one by using the “next” button, near the top of the photos and to the right. There are parts where there are items to be read, and the slideshow function really does not provide enough time.
So, without further ado, the photos from Char & Karen’s Excellent Adventure

Never a dull moment #987,567

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:45 am by Jane

A few days ago, in a bid to keep some third-graders amused, I dug out an old National Geographic book for children and together we browsed through the beautiful wildlife pictures.  One of the pictures was an unattractive portrait of the much-maligned hyena, and I explained to the kids that hyenas are widely disliked – by humans at least – because of their practice of feeding upon dead animal carcasses, rather than making their own kills.

After the lesson, one of my brighter kids approached me and asked shyly, “Miss, why is it bad for hyenas to feed on dead animals?  Don’t humans do the same thing?”  Well, I didn’t really know how to answer him.   I still don’t now.

Why is scavenging bad?  Surely it’s actually a good thing, for the environment and all?

July 25, 2010

Speaking of fish

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:24 pm by Jane

How would you like to spend the summer in a beautiful chalet in England, sleeping in a luxurious four-poster bed, receiving round-the-clock service and dining according to personalised meal plans?  No problem, all you have to do is be a cat!  (Meanwhile the cat’s “owner” can stay in a cheap backpackers’ hostel, sleeping four to a room, and eating cup noodles three times a day.)

Of course, none of us would ever dream of doing such a thing … would we?

July 24, 2010

Nice and crispy

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:47 pm by Jane

This is really weird and embarrassing to have to admit, but every summer I get a strong craving for fish, the oilier the better.  Usually it’s salmon steaks, but this year it’s a small and fortunately sustainable fish usually known as “capelin” in English, that is only about 6 inches long and is traditionally salted, grilled and eaten whole, heads and tails and all.   Today alone I ate 20 of them, just fish and nothing else!  Imagine that!

Japan is in the throes of a heatwave at the moment.  The summers just get longer and hotter here.  Right now in Kobe, the temperatures range from about 27 degrees at night to 34 degrees Celsius in the daytime (that’s around 93F in American), with an average humidity level of 70 percent (and please keep in mind that air conditioning still hasn’t really caught on here, a suprisingly large number of people choose to live without it).   So far about two dozen people in Japan have died from heatstroke, and hundreds more have been treated for it at hospital.  I expect the toll to rise dramatically in August, when the heat really settles in.   In the meanwhile, I’m going to hunker down in my room, hugging my precious air conditioner and chomping on small, silvery fish.  It’s the only way I’ll get through the summer.

Aw, please Ma, can we please?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:58 pm by Jane

Any tired mother who has taken her kids to the beach on a hot summer’s day will appreciate this delightful video (4mins, extremely soothing!).

Rah, Rah, Sis Boom Bah Humbug

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:11 am by karen1945

I’ve been having what I call “cheerleader” nights.   Not the fun it might sound like.  The thing is, I wake up at 2, 4, 6, 8, and I so do not appreciate.

July 22, 2010

I don’t like you in that way

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:25 pm by Jane

I’ve mentioned previously that I joined a gaijin bookclub a few months ago, largely made up of elderly retired males and frumpy housewives with no interest in tea ceremony lessons (I guess these are the only expats with enough time on their hands to actually sit around and read stuff).  I like them all very much, but only one of the other members has become a close friend: partly because he is exactly the same age as me, but mainly because I simply admire him as a person.  I also respect the way that he speaks so lovingly of his wife and child, in a way that is very different from Japanese males. 

One day after a meeting, I asked him out for a quick coffee so that we could continue our fascinating conversation for a bit longer.  He readily agreed, but as we were walking down the road, he suddenly stopped and put a hand on my shoulder.  “Miko,” he said sternly, “I want to make something clear.  There will be no romance, okay?”

Well!  It was all I could do not to snort and blurt out, “Don’t flatter yourself, mister!  I wouldn’t do you for the practice!”  Because frankly, I wouldn’t.  But I did appreciate his honesty, and his willingness to lay it on the line.  In any event, we’ve decided to stick with the group from now on, and not ever be seen going off anywhere by ourselves – not so much to avoid the ghastly prospect of romance (snort!) as to avoid being a target of gossip and innuendo (at the age of 42!). 

God, I can’t wait to get old, so I don’t have to put up with this shit anymore.   Will I ever get to a stage where I won’t have to worry about what folks think?

July 21, 2010

Pass the smelling salts

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:05 pm by Jane

Recently a dear friend confided that at the start of her marriage, she experienced so many mother-in-law problems (sadly common in Japan) that she began to suffer from a certain medical condition that I swear I had never heard of before – I certainly didn’t understand the Japanese term for it.  She assured me that it is quite common in Japan, and that both her own mother and her sister, not to mention countless other friends, had been treated for it.  Apparently one of the major symptoms is hyperventilation, and the most common advice in those days was to simply breathe into a hankie or paper bag until it passes.  Eventually I realised that she was referring to panic attacks.  Now, these seem to be equally common in Western societies, especially amongst women (I had a few of those myself after the Kobe quake) but the way of describing the actual symptoms is vastly different.  Where Japanese women talk of breathing problems, Western women are far more likely to complain of heart palpitations.   I find it intriguing that the same condition is described in such different terms.  

Didn’t they call that “the vapours” in the olden days?  Do men have it too?  Somehow I doubt it.

July 17, 2010

Torn between two lovers

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:47 am by Jane

It’s probably not so funny to the young writer, but I’d love to have this kind of problem now.   As it is, the closest I get to making this kind of life choice is deciding whether to have eggs or toast for brekkie (at my age you can’t have both and still keep your figure).

Youth is truly wasted on the young, I tell you!

July 16, 2010

My Tribute to Ken

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:23 pm by karen1945

Ken really was one of the best, kindest men I’ve ever known.  How I managed to have sense enough to marry him is still a mystery to me.  I did this video as a labor of love.  It’s in the web page linked here. Ken’s Page

July 13, 2010

People who never cease to amaze me

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:56 am by Jane

“Apparently one of the characteristics of a borderline personality is their ability to make their partner think she is the crazy one.” Um, lady, no offense, but I think you are crazy.

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