Down Time

As I sip beer and await the coming of 2011, if I can indeed make it that long, I figured a blog post is a good way to ignore the horror emanating from the television. If you aren’t out on the town celebrating, New Year’s in Japan seems to inevitably boil down to watching one of several mediocre television shows.

My preference is the one where a bunch of comedians are held in captivity for 24 hours, subjected to a litany of humorous performances, and beaten every time they laugh. But even that one gets a bit tedious after a while.

The worst, by a long shot, is the infamous Kohaku. I pride myself to an extent on my musical taste. Japanese music completely sucks across pretty much every genre. Kohaku is five hours of live Japanese music. Unfortunately, the Iguchi family has chosen to watch Kohaku (again) this year.

Aside from watching Kohaku, the other tradition here is to trek to the local shrine just after midnight. It’s about a 15 minute walk, and the shrine is tiny. There are always a few men inside huddled around a kerosene heater, pouring sake and handing out snacks to the townsfolk. I usually go along for what reason I’m not quite sure, since I don’t light a candle or say a prayer or ring the bell. And while the sake is a nice treat, it isn’t worth the walk in and of itself. I like going because it’s a tiny little shrine in the middle of a pretty tiny town, and it’s something I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to do, so I do it. Tonight, however, it is absolutely dumping snow and 15 minutes seems like a longer walk than it otherwise might. So my pilgrimage is in jeopardy, but there are still a few hours before I have to make up my mind.

Shifting gears a bit, it’s always interesting to come here in the middle of winter when Chieko’s parents don’t work. It’s odd to see them at rest, since they work so hard when we come in the summer to help pick watermelons, or at other times of year when there are farm-related tasks to do. Even their own gardens keep them busy. As they’ve gotten older and no longer have children to support, and thus don’t need to find other work during the winter, her parents have more time to pursue hobbies. Chieko’s dad does a lot of painting, and her mom  does…I’m not quite sure.

This time they were eager to challenge us a game of ping-pong. They’ve got a table set up out in the barn, with a kerosene heater and plastic draped on either side of the table to conserve heat and keep errant balls from rolling too far away. Quite a different scene compared to the summer, when the floor is filled with watermelons and there are swallows nesting in the rafters.

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Here area  few more pictures from inside the barn. For me it’s interesting to see all of the clutter — tools, fertilizer, vegetables, various other random things. They are very different from the clutter I have seen in America barns and sheds, so it’s interesting to me. It’s also interesting to things that I’m used to seeing/using during the summer stored away for the winter. What’s another word for interesting???

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So there’s what stands to be the final post of 2010 — not particularly New Year’s oriented but perhaps somewhat interesting? Hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year’s eve, and a prosperous 2011. And heres to a New Year’s eve 2011 that doesn’t include the atrocity known as Kohaku!!!

Going Out With a Whimper

With each visit to Chieko’s parent’s house Ray is increasingly mobile and more aware of his surroundings. It didn’t take him long this time to find the gong/bowl thingy in front of the family shrine, and to subsequently spend a lot of time banging it.

If you aren’t familiar with this element of Japanese culture, it’s common for the eldest child of the family to keep a Buddhist shrine dedicated to the deceased parents. On the shrine are pictures of the dead parent(s), and there are always flowers adorning it. Chieko’s father places a small bowl of rice on the shrine each day, and at the moment there’s a pineapple as well. The other element of having the shrine is that each morning family members kneel in front of it, offer a prayer to the grandparents, light a stick of incense, clap their hands, and ring the gong. This is the first thing Chieko always does when we arrive here. The rest of her family, including here, always light incense and pray to the parents/grandparents when they wake up in the morning, so I also associate the smell of incense with breakfast in the Iguchi household.

Long story short, Ray is doing nothing short of earning himself eternal damnation here.

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We arrived in a pretty heavy snowstorm last night, though it was only bad for the final hour or so of our trip. Otherwise it was just rainy and windy. Today the skies cleared and it was a beautiful, snow-covered day. We went out do something (literally, anything, to get out of the house and enjoy the sun), and I of course wanted to take some pictures. I took about four before my battery crapped out on me.

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I made another trip later on in the day, by which time the sky was the same color as the snow-capped mountains. I managed a few decent pictures, but missed my chance earlier in the day.

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These pictures look pretty much like every other one I take here in the winter, which makes sense since I drive around on the same roads look at the same mountains rising up out of the same snow-covered landscape. Hope that’s not a problem!

The next two days are forecast for a bunch of snow, so it should be a cozy new years here. Looking forward to it, and then a quick debauch trip to Tokyo on Sunday for a night. I don’t anticipate having any good stories to tell while we’re here, but hopefully I’ll have a change to take more pictures to post here. Until then, back under the kotatsu I go…

Stormin

The day after Christmas, and at long last we are on vacation. The last few weeks have been nutty, so I’ve been looking forward to the next two weeks as an opportunity to reset my sanity and figure out how I’m going to cope with the stresses of parenthood that we’ve been dealing with lately.

Although we did have to work on Christmas, at least it was a white one. It’s been snowing off and on since Friday and we have a solid covering, though nothing even close to the 80cm (2 ft-ish) that the news forecast last night. I’ve worked every Christmas since I came to Japan, and while I have no religious attachment to the holiday, it always bugs me on some level to be working. At least we have a New Years to look forward to, which is a much bigger deal here and they do do it right. For a nation of over-worked people, New Year’s day is pretty off-limits in terms of doing anything productive. We’ll head to Niigata on Wednesday to spend time with Chieko’s family and ring in the new year. Until then, we’re in full decompression mode.

Today I took another ride down to the beach with Ray. The weather system that is bringing us snow is also kicking up some pretty sizable surf, and I was curious to see how it measures up to previous winter storms.

For whatever reason, the wind was blowing offshore today when I got down to the beach. Usually this kind of storm brings severe onshore winds that prevent any decent picture taking with their barrage of snow, salt, and sand. Ray was sleeping in the car and I was wary of spending too much time trying to get good pictures, so these are all kind of plain. But you can see that the waves were pretty large.

I love strong, stormy weather conditions, and in that regard Kanazawa is pretty unique in my experience. Winter snow storms are always accompanied by thunder and lightning. Generally, there is loud thunder clap followed by a downpour of some form of frozen precipitation a minute or so later. Also, these clouds remind me more of summer rain storms than a winter snow storm — they are so dark and ominous. The weather here is much more exciting in the winter than the summer.

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Happy holidays to all. Not sure if I’ll get another post up before we head out of town, but should post something from Niigata — certainly lots of picture opportunities there. Night.

Back From the Void

I should be in bed already so I will attempt to make this brief. I have backed away from the precipice I was ready to fling myself off of at the time of my last post. For the moment everyone is healthy, and that makes a big difference in my ability to embrace sanity. Ray had his IV out on Thursday night; I was surprised to see how long the part that was in his hand was — a good centimeter long. Heebee-jeebees.

Today was spectacular weather-wise. I was hoping for more non-Ray pictures given how nice it was and how much time I spent outside, but it didn’t turn out that way. Took Ray for a drive down to the beach, during which he slept. At the beach I put him in the stroller and we walked around the paved paths that weave their way around the area. In the afternoon I jumped on my bike and rode out to the countryside in search of winter. It snowed a little bit during the past week but it’s mostly brown around here. Higher up the mountains still have snow. I was thinking we were in for a doozy of a winter but I’m starting to think it won’t be that bad. Kind of disappointing, but winter in Kanazawa usually is! (Based on the fact that enjoy long, cold, dark, snowy winters. Kanazawa does dark OK, but is otherwise mediocre.)

I set up the Christmas tree last night and Ray has subsequently ripped off all the ornaments he can reach. Fortunately they are cheap plastic things that came with the tree. He seems to enjoy trying to put them back on the tree, but hasn’t figured out how to hang them by their string (I tried showing him). I can’t believe Christmas is already next weekend. The weeks have been flying by in general, and the last several have been extra-insane. I’ve been so focused on just getting through each day that I haven’t given much thought to the larger context of the year being just about over. We’ll be hard pressed to get any presents under the tree by then, but at least we’ve got some Christmas atmosphere. We have to work on Saturday, but it’s the last day before our winter break starts. Hallelujah.

And so we trod towards the finish line. Night night.

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Broken Record

Same old thing going on here — lots of sickness, lots of trips to sick-kid daycare, lots of trips to the doctor.

In Japan when a kid has a fever they slap a cooling pack on his or her forehead. That’s what Ray got yesterday for his 103 degree temperature.

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When we went to the doctor again today, since we seem to go EVERY FREAKING DAY, Ray got strapped down to a gurney and had needles jammed into him. One of those was an IV that hopefully delivered a medicine that will lower is still toasty temperature. If that doesn’t work, the doctor said Ray might get to go stay in the hospital!!!

Jesus.

By the way, I was sick again too. I had my very first sinus infection. I hear the term ‘sinus infection’ thrown around and never gave it much credit. It was horrible to the point that I stayed in bed most of the weekend and didn’t go to work yesterday. I did go to the doctor (third time in four days for me — suck on that Ray!), and I got some very nice antibiotics and painkillers which had me pinned to the ceiling of my classroom this morning, still blowing ecto-plasm out of my nose every 5 minutes, but feeling no pain.

Life sounds lovely, eh.

Actually, I’m struggling to adjust to this element of parenthood (if you couldn’t tell) — the constant sickness and hours wasted sitting in doctor’s waiting rooms amid a bunch of other sick kids, to see the doctor for five minutes, and then have to do it all again the next day or the day after. I realized a while ago that uncertainty in terms of Ray getting sick was now a part of our lives, but I think I need to take that fact to heart a little more and just count on it happening rather than not. I have to assume we’ll be leaving the house half and hour early to get Ray to the sick-kid day care every morning, and getting home two hours late after taking him  to the doctor every evening. The days that neither of these things happen will be nice.

The other element, the primary one, is concern about Ray’s health. He’s just getting normal stuff from kids at daycare, but it’s perpetual. I can’t remember the last time he wasn’t coughing or oozing snot or puking or feverish or not crapping properly. And the last time we weren’t giving him medicine? I know it’s child medicine, but still. None of it seems to be working — why are we giving it to him. The kid has a medicine cabinet like an 80 year old.

So naturally, back to the doctor tomorrow to see how the meds worked and hopefully yank out the f-ing tube that is still jammed in Ray’s arm. Credit to the doctor for bandaging the hell out of it so he can reuse the IV if need be tomorrow. Until then Ray is a one-armed bandit. There’s a traumatic picture of Ray linked down in the twitter feed if you want to bring a tear to your eye.

That’s about all the venom I have for tonight. Somewhat therapeutic getting it all out here though, regardless of whether or not anyone reads it. I hate to post nothing but my and my son’s health-related woes up here, but that’s what’s going on around the house of Bean these days. Had I been chronicling them more regularly this blog would have lost any element of readability.

Miraculously Chieko has managed to navigate the viral onslaught unscathed. I credit her Japanese genes; I don’t stand a chance against these homegrown Japanese bugs that Ray brings home and I’m feeling it.

New Year’s vacation needs to be here, now. Which reminds me, I need to assemble our Christmas tree. And put on my snow tires, since it’s going to start snowing tomorrow. Would have done it over the weekend if not bedridden. Hopefully Kanazawa will stay true to it’s lame winter self and the snow will melt as soon as it hits the ground, at least until next weekend when I have time to put on the snows! The way things are going around here though it’ll be the blizzard of the decade.

OK, bed time here! Back when I’ve got something positive to say! (By that time I should have my Mac back in action — this Windows machine drives me to a whole other kind of sickness.) Good night.