March 6, 2008

Playground Adventures and Misadventures

Going to the playground for hours every afternoon has been entertaining and rather educational for the whole family.

Ilena has had lots of time to watch and observe. It's quite striking watching these young kids, most not much older than Jacob, playing so nicely together with no grown-up intervention or adults in sight. (Kids on Rokko Island are dismissed from school, from where they head to the playground until around 6:00 when they have to return home.) It certainly is different than back at home. Children learn independence at a very young age, and they really seem to thrive in it (It certainly helps to be in a country ranked the 2nd safest country in the world!).

For now, Jacob is happy with his soccer ball in tow ready to have a kick with anyone who looks interested. Lauren is thrilled to do sandwriting (especially now that she can write her name) and hopscotch with an occasional break on the slide or tire swing. But the
the activities that many of the local Japanese kids choose to practice are rather different, and somewhat circus-like. There are groups of girls riding unicycles, boys hopping on pogo-sticks, and jump-ropers everywhere. Unicycles! The unicycle thing is crazy -- there is an entire aisle in Toys R Us devoted to them. It is huge here, and apparently has been for quite some time. Bizarre. And when was the last time you saw a kid pogo-sticking? (Mike was going to write the 1950's until Ilena mentioned that she had a pogo stick when she was a kid and apparently "she was good at it too").

Today, however, there was a bit of an incident. Ilena and the kids were having such a great time playing that they didn't notice someone "borrowed" Lauren's scooter. When Ilena went to get the kids' helmets on to head home, she noticed that Lauren's scooter was gone. They looked all around the playground and couldn't find it anywhere. Lauren was in tears, quite devastated that her favorite scooter (a Shrek scooter hand-me-down from Jacob) was gone. Meanwhile, Jacob went up to the soccer field behind the playground on a desperate search mission. Lo and behold, he came back a few minutes later with a huge grin on his face and Lauren's scooter in his arms. A true hero. He was very proud of himself and got a huge hug from his sister.

By the way, Lauren is a total mini-Ilena. Yesterday Ilena and mini-me made brownies (!) together; our first attempt at baking in a convection microwave. Not quite like at home, but pretty good nonetheless.

Now, as promised, here are some Dave Barryisms from "Dave Barry Does Japan." These all concern language and communication. While written circa 1992, its pretty much equally applicable to today's Japan, in our estimation. Props to Dave Barry - you are one funny man. Everyone should read more Dave Barry:

  • "The way I attempted to learn Japanese was by reading a book called Japanese at a Glance [note - we own this booklet!!] in the plane . . . This is not a method recommended by experts. The method recommended by experts is to be born as a Japanese baby and raised by a Japanese family in Japan. And even then it's not easy . . . The hard part is that the major Japanese writing system consists of - why not? - Chinese characters, which represent words not sounds. So for each word, you need a different character, which means to be even moderately literate you have to memorize thousand and thousands of characters."
  • "Japan is not like, for example, Germany, where everybody seems to speak English better than the average U.S. congressperson. In Japan, you will often find yourself in situations where nobody speaks any English. And the weird thing is, English pops up everywhere in Japan. You constantly see signs and advertisements with English words in them, and you constantly hear American rock music being played in stores and restaurants. But to the Japanese, the English doesn't seem to mean anything. It's there purely for decorative purposes, like a hood ornament, or a SPEED LIMIT 55 sign."
  • "[T]hey don't really care what the words say, they just like the sound. It's the same with printed English words. The Japanese don't care what they mean; they just like the way they look. They especially like clothes imprinted with English words, words that often seem to be chosen at random. This results in a phenomenon that has vastly amused thousands of English speaking visitors: the unintentionally hilarious T-shirt."
  • "The Japanese are not big on saying things directly . . . . [T]he Japanese are extremely reluctant to come right out and say no, a word they generally regard as impolite. To the best of my knowledge, in all the time we traveled around Japan, nobody ever told us we couldn't do anything, although it turned out that there were numerous things we couldn't do. Life became easier for us once we learned to interpret certain key phrases [as follows] (English Statement Made By Japanese Person/Actual Meaning In American): I see/No. Ah/No. Ah-hah/No. Yes/No. That is difficult/That is completely impossible. That is very interesting/That is the stupidest thing I ever heard. We will study your proposal/We will feed your proposal to a goat."
Finally, we leave you with a picture that Mike took this morning (go-go gadget camera phone) during his commute of a woman wearing a beautiful kimono walking amongst the suits:

That's all for now folks.


Melissa said...

Is anyone even remotely suprised that Lauren is a mini-Ilena?

Its like telling us the sky is blue. :)

Matthew J said...


Matthew J said...

After getting a stern talk from the big sister on falling behind on the blog...I got all caught up on all the adventures (even provided something for everyone to translate using 'google translate'). Thanks to Jacob for defending his busy uncle! Hope you had a great time at the baseball game! That Dave Barry book sounds like a great read. The pictures are great you guys have posted!

Mike said...

So Matthew wants to be a famous sumo wrestler, huh. Good luck with that! We are also looking forward to your visit!