Cold War

Cold whirlwinds are raging, making a door bang, empty cans roll on the road and crushed by a passing car, and fallen leaves dance crazily. A typical daily phenomenon I can observe at this time of the year : January to February.

I kind of miss a nice Indian summer we had some time ago. I miss it for sure, but that’s not because I can enjoy a walk on a balmy afternoon. Rather I found it easier to adjust myself to the room temperature. Now, outside weather being as it is, the temperature of the classroom I teach is kept as high as 26 degrees Celsius. The Japanese air conditioner never fails to work as accurately as you can imagine. I hate it.

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(Autumn is the best!)

It is therefore my personal ritual that when I enter the room, I look inside to see what the students are wearing, and how warm it is inside. If the panel indicates it is higher than 23 degrees, I turn it off as I open the door to the classroom. I don’t mention the temperature a bit and the class starts.

Now, I should be waiting for my students to retaliate. At the beginning of the class, students are still nervous. As class discussion goes on, however, tension finally starts to melt and the students come to … to realize it’s too cold. One “frozen” student goes out of the room to turn on the air conditioner and set the room temperature at 26℃. (Our school rules do not say who is responsible for the room temperature, by the way.)

I will never let it happen. A lot is at stake. I don’t have another shirt in my bag. From a 100-minute, passionate talk with lots of jotting on the blackboard at the temperature of 26 degrees Celsius results a lot of sweat. If I keep wearing a sweated shirt for the rest of the day, I will end up seeing my doc early tomorrow morning, and see myself teaching classes in a hoarse voice. Or as the worst-case scenario goes, I will have to take a leave of absence, meaning I am not paid.

Thus an intangible war has broken out. The “war” metaphor may not be the most appropriate because my students seem to be having fun with me in class. But the thing is…it’s too warm in winter. (FYI it’s just too warm in summer, too. Again, the temperature is set at 26 when I need it down to 22! Now, the “teaching is a war” metaphor applies.)

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A sense of community

In early November we hold a community sports day event. A range of games will be played every year, in which different age groups can participate. Since our first son was born, we have taken part in it. This is mainly because the fliers will be distributed from school or directly to families with small kids. I didn’t even know of these events before having a kid.

The events were organized by the local firefighters’ association, together with those women (mostly grandmothers) who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time. The elementary school principal and vice principal are to join us on the sports day (because it is held on the school playground).

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(What is this competition called in English?)

As I grow older, I find these events of greater importance. You don’t actually have to know one another, but just joining this event can nurture a sense of community, and a sense of cooperation. Lots of Japanese citizens, especially younger generations, tend to believe in individualism, but that belief is based on their indifferent attitude toward others in the neighborhood. This sports day event, on the contrary, brings us closer to each other and mix different generations, something that I, when in youth, made every effort to avoid.

I started to learn English because that was the required curriculum. I developed the ability of the English language with a view to being as far away from the Japanese traditional mind as possible. Adopting American culture through English was the best way to keep my attention away from my own community. In my late 40’s, however, that impetus seems to be coming to a halt. I have finally realized how these traditions connect each one of us. I have finally realized that these traditions should be passed on to the next generations. I have finally realized how much we need other neighbors to live a good life.

One TOEFL Speaking question asks the test-takers to choose one thing (out of three) that they would want to do for their children. I did not understand this one choice for a long time: “to give children an opportunity to talk with a community leader.” I can imagine what it is like, but I have never had such an opportunity, nor have I ever known who the hell is our community leader.

Not anymore.

Good old traditions

One important event for us parents this week was the rice cake-making ceremony at my son’s kindergarten. We were asked to help kids make rice cake (well, to tell the truth, we made it for them, and they ate it for lunch). For parents like me, it was quite exciting, too. I just wondered when was the last time I pounded glutinous rice like this? It should be more than 40-odd years back, when I was also in kindergarten. Even in those days, at home we used a rice cake (mochi) maker.

Machines and technologies do a lot of chores for us, but while the task is being done, what do we do? Probably, we use another machine to get other jobs done. With a smart phone in one hand, we listen to music, check email messages, play online games, and most importantly, log onto SNSs. School, in the 21st century, means a lot in keeping our good old traditions from vanishing into thin air.

Empathy

My children do not watch the TV shows that we (their parents) prefer. It is usually the parents who yield, so we end up watching Doc McStuffin, Handy Manny, and other Disney shows. Yesterday was just about the same day, so I was ready enough to turn the channel when I turned on the TV. However, my son, as well as my daughter, suddenly got glued onto the show. It was “the first errand I ran.” Parents ask their child to run an errand and s/he achieves the goal without parental guide or assistance. Children have to cross the street or buy items from supermarket all by themselves, so this type of reality show would be impossible in other countries where safety and security are not considered given.

The child we accidentally started to watch had lost most of the money because she had bought many other things than was asked. But now, she has to buy something additional. My son got excited and said, “She’s got no money! Oh! boy Oh…Wait! I could use a credit card! Yes, that will solve the problem. Got to let her know!”

He was really into it.

The show may cater to those parents who raise or have raised children of the similar age, but it is the children that showed more interest. They can fully empathize with those kids on the show. Empathy does work.

 

Sweet Bean Paste

I haven’t gone back to my hometown for a long period of time. The last time I came home was only a short stay just to attend my father’s funeral. Except for that, I haven’t gone back for as long as … well, I can’t remember. I am just too used to living as a Tokyoite to consider myself someone from a different part of the country. On New Year’s holidays, however, there is one traditional dish that I cannot help fondly remembering: Ozoni. It is a soup with rice cake in it and eaten for the first couple of days of the year for breakfast (or lunch). And not surprisingly, as is often the case with tradition, there are as many kinds of Ozoni as there are regions and prefectures.

The one from my hometown looks weird.

Here it is. (from http://lokomoko.exblog.jp/tags/%E8%AE%83%E5%B2%90%E3%81%AE%E3%81%8A%E9%9B%91%E7%85%AE/

Ozoni

Sweet bean paste (anko) is in the rice cake, which is the main ingredient for this white-miso (soybean paste) soup. Sweet bean paste is literally sweet, but the miso soup is a bit salty with a little umami. As you eat on, the entire color will be dominated by this dark bean paste (which is described as gross by some people, but I won’t). I cannot judge its taste myself. It’s just that I am used to it.

It was just several years after I came up to Tokyo when I realized the above was not the standard in Tokyo. Many people here even refused to imagine what it was like to have anko in the miso soup. I wouldn’t either if I were a real Tokyoite. But I like it anyway, probably because the rice cake is stuffed not just with anko but with my childhood.

The Inch-High Samurai

I attended a long meeting at work, where I was asked to cooperate in the making of the textbooks. They need revising all the time of course, and this time, again, I will be working on the revision. That’s good, though. No matter how many times I had proofread before the completion of the first edition, it was not complete until it was actually used in class. Now that it was used, it is time to make it better by including the feedback from teachers.

OK, that was another addition to my schedule for this winter break.

By the way, my son practiced writing Japanese cursive letters (hiragana) by copying いっすんぼうし(Issun-Bohshi – The Inch-High Samurai). It is an old Japanese folktale in which a boy who never grew more than “Issun” (just about an inch) went to fight against a villain and won, after which a princess swung the gavel left with her by the villain, making the boy into a grown man to whom she got married. Son was still clumsy and was very careful in writing one letter. His writing IS very cursive 🙂 but that’s what everyone will go through. Very cute letters.

The 7-5-3 ceremony

Shichi-Go-San (753) is a Shinto event just after the year’s harvest. They thank Shinto deities for the year’s yields and for the sound growth of children. It dates back 400 years ago to the Edo era. To pray for the children to grow and live long, Chitose-ame candy (pic) is given. Its length represents longevity. Girls who are 7 years old and 3 years old, and boys 5 years old join this celebration, hence 7-5-3, the name of the event.

This is my definition of the event, anyway. Since my son is 5, my daughter 3, both of them joined this celebration this year, I mean, yesterday. We went to the nearby shrine, where lots of families gathered for the same purpose. It was a group prayer where the chief priest read each name of the kids who were present there and said his prayers. (I have to admit that I had no idea what he was saying except my children’s names.) All children must have had a tough time, just sitting on their heels, kneeling on the tatami mat, listening to what they didn’t understand. Was it all for the candy they would get after the ceremony? Well, at least for my daughter, it was.