Japan and marriage

Yesterday in one of the schools where I work, I noticed that a baby announcement had just been written on the chalkboard in the staffroom. I asked another teacher about it, and she said that a wife of one of the teachers had just had a baby. I was a bit shocked because hubby was there at work! I don't understand all the cultural ins and outs, but I think he felt like he just couldn't leave work for the birth of his baby. I read this article on the BBC today, and one of the stats shows that only 0.16% of men in Japan took paternity leave in 1998. Maybe it's gone up a bit since then, but I don't really know. I disagree slightly with this article when it says the power ranking for women is 38th in the world. I think women in Japan do have quite a bit of power, as far as I can see. They hold the purse strings in the family and make most of the decisions about the children's upbringing. I feel sorry for the dads who work until midnight and hardly ever see the kiddies. But I can understand why many of the young women are choosing to marry late or not at all. They can live at home with their families, and spend their money as they like (on travel, clothes, etc.). Also, I wonder when the women who work outside the home will begin earning pay equal to men's.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan's women wary to wed

Okay. Here is what you have all been waiting for - the wedding pics. Well, actually I am still jet-lagged at the moment, so this one is just to keep you going. I think it is pretty good though. What you don't get with this picture, though, is all the different shades of kilt that were rustling around that day. You'll just have to wait for that!

We're back...

... but we feel terrible!

Great flight (thanks Korean Air!), and our luggage arrived intact with no problems (despite the crystal wine glasses we were carrying - seriously!) but their is no escaping the 'lag.

I have been told that it is easiest to travel from East to West. (Or was it West to East? See - that is what jet-lag can do to you!) But in my experience, the relevant directions are "Towards Work" or "Away from Work", and it is definitely the former that is harder every time.

Well, I had better get ready for work now, but do check back in the near future to see a selection of our wedding pictures.


You may remember a couple of weeks or so ago how my aunt in Malawi had asked us to try to locate an air filter for the Mitusbishi Pajero that the Anglican bishop there uses for his work.

Well, having located the part in Malawi itself, they sent a staff person off to the local garage to have it fitted. Unfortunately, on the way to the dealership he was stopped by an armed man. (I don't know if it was a man, but let's assume it was.) Anyway, you don't argue with a man holding a gun. You do whatever he asks you to - even if it is really stupid. So, when he demanded the keys, the driver handed then over immediately.... and the gunman ran off with them, leaving the car and driver behind!

Now, with the filter fitted and the locks changed, the Pajero is back on the road - and somewhere in the bush there a failed theif is the proud owner of some nice, shiny keys.

Up to Malvern

Okay, I don't think we are going to be able to access the Internet too much over the next few days, so here is a quick run-down on what we will be doing here in England:

Tomorrow, we will be heading up to Malvern, a picturesque country town between Bristol and Birmingham, where my brother, Paul, will be getting married on Saturday. Between then and Sunday evening, when we will be spending a lot of family and wedding-preparation time, and (I hope) enjoying some relaxation in our bed and breakfast.

Our flight back to Japan leaves on Sunday evening, at around the same time as the newlyweds will also be leaving for their honeymoon in South Africa. After the long flight and time difference have taken their toll, we will end up arriving in Japan in the evening on Monday and will go back to work on Tuesday, so that may be when we get to do the next blog - and post the pictures.

Doesn't time fly...

... when you return to your home country and there is so little time and so many people to see!

Over the weekend, we attended Rupert Benjamin Everingham's dedication ceremony. (Not a "christening" as was pointed out several times: A child cannot be made a Christian; it is something that he will have to decide for himself when he is older.) Rupert is a great baby: Very placid and gets on with his exploring on his own quite happily. Although having baby-sat him for just a couple of hours yesterday while Claire was out at James's school was enough to make both of us wonder whether we could handle having even one little Rupert of our own. He was not badly behaved or anything, but having to look out for him all the time was more tiring than I had thought it would be.

Having come back from Bristol yesterday evening, we were then picked up by our friend Craig Hook this morning to travel into London to see his wife. Mel has been very severely disabled since she had meningitis last year. However, both she and Craig are great fighters and with a lot of help from God, they have come through many difficult times since then. She is currently residing in the Hospital for Neurodisability in East Putney, London, where she seems to be receiving excellent rehabilitative care and prepares to return home. Craig is working on the other end of that process as he prods the system along so that this return can occur by Christmas this year.

Despite Mel's disabilities, we were able to communicate a lot with her, although the conversation was necessarily a little one-sided with us having the advantage in fluency. Mel makes her sentences by working with you to spell out the words she wants to say. You start by going through the vowels, and she shows you where she wants to stop by blinking her eyes. You then work through the alphabet from that vowel until you get to the letter she is thinking of, which she will indicate to you by blinking again. It sounds really slow and cumbersome, but with a little imagination, you can make a guess at the word she is trying to say and she will tell you whether you have guessed right by blinking or mouthing "no".

She is still the same old Mel inside and it was great to see her still enjoying a laugh at the jokes in our conversation.

Now, we have just now come back from seeing Trevor and Meg Saint. Trevor was in the choir at All Saints' Church in Marlow for years - 1939 to 2001, in fact. During a few of these years I was one of his fellow choir members and got to know him a bit then. When we had our wedding in 2001, Trevor had just had a stroke, so Abigail sent her bouquet to him in hospital via Meg. We were surprised to see that they still have it there in their house, dried and in a vase.

First day back

Well, we made it back to the UK safely and on time, having had to endure absolutely excellent service from our Korean Air hosts. They are right up there with Singapore Air and Virgin as one of the best airlines I have flown on.

Anyway, I am writing this in the backroom of my parents' house in Marlow on the computer I bought in 1999 for my MA at Sheffield University. We have just finished a classic roast lunch of roast lamb (with all the accessories) and rhubarb crumble icecream. If you don't know what that is, then you really don't have any idea of what you are missing.

Grandma Munday is with us and I got the chance to visit her new home this morning. I was very impressed as it is much more like a posh country club than an old people's home. It is a little difficult to talk with her because of her memory problems, but it is not as bad as I had been thinking it might be.

Later this afternoon we are off to Bristol, where we will be meeting Helen Brannam first before going on to Paul and Claire Everingham's home. Tomorrow is the big day when we become God-parents to Rupert, their third son, so I hope he gets over his cold by then - for his sake and for Claire's.

Would you like some food with that beer?

Yesterday, when we were flying the first leg of our journey from Nagoya into Seoul, the stewardesses (or whatever the politically correct term is these days) came round with a mid-morning snack at about 10am.

"Would you like a beer with that, sir?"

"Err, no. I think I'll have a juice."

"Orange juice?"

"Have you got any other kinds of juice?"

"Err, no. But we've got six different kinds of beer."

"Hmmm. I think I'll just have the orange juice."

How many people need the choice of six different kinds of beer at 10am - especially having had to get up at 4am to get to the airport for the flight?

Almost ready to go!

Well, the suitcases are just about packed and if we get to bed now we will be able to get 6 hours of sleep before we need to get up and head out to the airport tomorrow morning.

I do a lot better now with Abigail around. She helps me not to stress out too much. She made us a list, so I think whatever we do end up forgetting at least won't be something really important. (That is one of the rules of packing: You will always forget something; you just need to make sure it is not something vitally important.)

We are going to try to keep the blog updated while we are away, but may not be posting quite as regularly as usual. We will definitely be sharing our photos when we get back, so watch out for some major updates then. Another thing to remember is that you can still try to contact us in the UK via my parents' on 01628-473060. Drop us a line and we can chat even if we may not be able to meet up!

All three junior high schools in Chiryu (and probably all junior high schools in Japan) are having a sports festival day this Sunday. So today after lunch the kids were having a rally to get in the mood for some major cheering. Today was just a preliminary, baby cheering session. I took the camera to get a picture of what I saw happening yesterday, but unfortunately didn't get to the baseball field in time for it today. I was watching the marching practice yesterday (all the homerooms are grouped together and march in time to the brass band music), and as the each group marched past the podium where the P.E. teacher was perched, they gave a salute, right arm straight out. I asked a teacher about this and she said it shows respect for whoever is standing on the podium. There must be a cultural nuance that I am missing! I was a bit shocked. I've lived here for three years, and I realize more every day how much I don't understand about this culture. The more you know, the less you know, the more you know...

Extra fiber

Look what I almost had for breakfast: That's right, a nice, tasty oil-covered piece of rubber that came with the raisins. Bought here, packaged by Chooljian Brothers of California.

I've heard of getting extra fiber, but this is ridiculous!

Mrs. Itoh, our next door neighbor, was also out enjoying the sunset and bringing in the laundry. Kotone, the little girl of the August festival kimono fame (posted somewhere on our blog), rushed out when her mother said I was on the balcony and wanted to be held up so she could chat with me. I asked her how her day at kindergarten was, and she admitted that it was fun, but she forgot what she had done. Let me tell you, it doesn't get any easier to remember stuff when you get older (even when you're as young and sprightly as I am).

Last evening's sunset was absolutely breathtaking. This poor photo does no justice to it! I stood on our balcony for ages just soaking in God's blessing. I also took pictures of each stage of the sunset, but I don't think you want to see all of them!

More noise on the way!

Now this is just what we need in Japan!

As if we don't have enough noise in public places already, now even the flowers are going to broadcasting inane messages and cheesy music whenever we visit a scenic spot.

Visit many touristy areas here, and you will be surrounded by tour groups with mega-phone wielding leaders and be blasted with occasional "public service" announcements and inappropriate music from strategically-placed speakers. I think the Japanese find this noise comforting, as it somehow increases the sense of human presence. However, it can get draining, particularly in electronics stores where it can be hard to hear what each other are saying over the babble.

BBC NEWS | Technology | Flower power turns up the volume

Getting ready to leave

We are starting the preparation for going to England: The winter clothes (long-sleeve shirts and the odd sweater) are coming out from hibernation and needing washing and ironing. (I am writing this while the iron cools from "high" to "medium" before I get to work on some of Abigail's sensitive clothes.)

We have booked a car-parking space with a private car-park near the airport. You can only park short-term (up to 24 hours) in the airport itself, and the prices are a bit silly. Of course, soon the airport will "move" (i.e. a new international airport will open) and we will be bereft of decent parking options. I guess we will then be going to and from by public transport.

The new airport is being built out in the ocean and is slated to open in time for the Aichi Expo (another big waste of public money) in Spring of 2005. If what happened with a similar airport neat Osaka, called the Kansai International Airport, is anything to go by, ridiculously high landing fees will result in many airlines cancelling their flights from there and if there are any flights left going our way, we will end up paying greatly increased airport tax. Oh, and another disadvantage would have to be the alleged possibility of the ground that makes up the artificial island it is built on "liquifying" in the event of an earthquake. All in all, we would be quite happy sticking with the present under-capacity airport.

Now I have spent enough time on this and it looks like Abigail has taken over the ironing....

Quick catch-up

Just so that you, our faithful readers, do not think that we have abandonned you, here is a quick catch-up on all the weekend action:

First of all, on Saturday, I had to attend a meeting in the morning at one of our clients, a car exporter. These people buy second-hand cars (which in Japan are relatively cheap, low mileage - because going any distance takes ages here - and in goog condition) and export them to foreign markets. I had been unhappy about having to go into work on Saturday morning, but earlier in the week we had an email from my aunt Gloria, who is working for the Anglican Church in Malawi, asking if we could enquire about a part for their Mitusbishi Pajero. She didn't know I was going to be attending a meeting at that company at that time, and actually, right then, neither did I, but God knew all about it in advance and had arranged it all.

Yesterday was church in the morning, where we are trying to help a new foreigner (Julia) to adjust to life here. During the service this means me doing simultaneous translation into English and after the service Abigail trying to brief her on all the ins and outs of teaching in the Japanese school system. She is pretty isolated in Nishio, so we are doing what we can to help.

After church we jumped in the car and went to visit Mitusko in hospital. This will be the last time we can go in several weeks (as we are off to the UK on Friday), so we wanted to go and cheer her up. She still feels absolutely fine, so I think being in hospital is a complete bore for her. Anyway, her operation is finally coming round tomorrow so at least the wait is almost over. It is more serious than we had thought, as they are going to remove a lot of different bits and have her under anaesthetic for at least ten hours. But she was encouraged and we managed to make her laugh a lot and prayed with her as well.

Excitement in English class (just bring out a camera)

These are some of my kids. This is a first year class at Ryuhoku Chugakko (junior high).

By the way, two more earthquakes woke us up last night! This is getting old fast. Enough already.

Natural Disaster Day Take 2

Well, we had earthquake #3 yesterday morning at 5:15, though we didn't get out of bed to hide under the table because it was over too quickly. Quake #4 was this morning about 9:00 and we teachers in the staff room all looked at each other in amazement. Not another one! One of the teachers asked me what the word for it is in English (she actually asked if it was "earthshake" and I thought that was a very good description).

Typhoon 18 is blustering at the moment. Our building is actually shaking a bit. Stephen talked to our friends Chuck and Julie down in Kumamoto and their building was shaking, and two other friends I've talked to today on the phone said their buildings are dancing in the wind, too!

More wadaiko.

We had 6 students and 2 teachers from Chiryu's sister city in Australia visit one of my schools today. Notice here the poor things had to sit in front of the entire student body to watch the drum presentation! By the way, the 1st and 2nd year wadaiko (Japanese drums) players were superb. I told them that if there is a national competition they would win it. It was just amazing. Lots of energy, dancing, and great rhythm. I was counting the beats, and the main poundings were every 5th beat. I'm not a musical person but I thought that was interesting. The Australian kids were especially amazed when the announcement came during 3rd period that the students could go home because of the coming typhoon, and all the Japanese students stood up and shouted in jubilation! Typhoons are not features of Australian weather, so the exchange students were feeling quite the opposite.

Strike threatens Japanese baseball

Hmm... Tricky one this for someone who is not a baseball fan and gets fed up when three or four channels are showing baseball games most night (and sometimes this will be the same game on a couple of channels!)

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Strike threatens Japan baseball

Second quake

We were awakeded at about 23:55 last night when a second quake hit our area. This was the second moderate earthquake we had experienced here, and both of them occured yesterday.

We felt a mild horizontal shaking while we were in bed, so we made our way to the dining room where we got under the table where we would have been able to protect ourselves from falling / flying objects had it gotten any worse. The light fittings swayed and some stuff moved, but in the end it was OK.

When an earthquake occurs in Japan, immediately it is announced on TV with little maps showing the size and areas affected as well as which coastal areas could be hit by Tsunami. According to the TV, it was a larger one than the previous one, reaching Magnitude 7.3 (the Japanese version of the Richter scale, I think) at it's epicenter, although where we were it just got up to Magnitude 3.

With these earthquakes in Japan and hurrican Frances in Florida, it felt like yesterday was Natural Disaster Day. Fortunately, God protected us all. What this has made us realize, though, is that we need to get prepared for a big one in case it comes. At the moment, we haven't got an earthquake kit ready to grab and run out the door with. Looks like we should stop procrastinating!

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Strong quake hits western Japan

Here is the news of the earthquake that Abigail just wrote about.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Strong quake hits western Japan

Just had a LONG earthquake! We dove under the table and Stephen prayed and tried to calm me down. What a scary thing! The only thing that fell over in our apartment was a paper lamp, though. Phew. Then it was off to the next door neighbor's house for Mr. Saruwatari's birthday party. His birthday was actually yesterday, so last night we took a little presie over and Mrs. S. answered the door. Mr. S and their son, Ryosuke, were in the bath, so we sang Happy Birthday through the vent from the balcony. They didn't hear us, though, because they were being little songbirds themselves! Anyway, it was fun to hang out with them tonight and forget about that nasty earthquake.

Yesterday we went to visit Mitsuko, one of our Alpha group ladies, who is in hospital at the moment. You are probably wondering what this has to do with the picture here.... Well, this is the hospital! We are wondering whether it has some connection to one the many new Japanese religions, with its pyramids and domes! Mitsuko told us that under the gold statue is an opera house, built into the hospital. Perhaps it is part of their rehabilitation program for people with breathing difficulties...

Our beautiful rice fields are being harvested now! We love the green rice fields in the summer months and the faint rustling they make whenever there is a breeze. But now is the time to gather in the harvest and, though we will miss the rice plants, we will enjoy eating the rice itself.

As you have probably heard (and will definitely know if you are in Florida) Hurricane Frances is on her way and heading directly for where most of Abigail's family and friends live in Central Florida. If she does hit (meaning Frances, not Abigail), this will be the second time this year, with Hurricane Charley going through about three weeks ago. This is a once-in-fifty-years-type event, apparently. It seems like the weather is much more active this year: We had our first typhoon back in May, whereas usually they don't even make it up here until August maybe. Last year was the year of the heatwave in Europe and now this year is the year of the tropical storms, it seems. Whatever is coming next year? Hopefully not major snow storms when we are trying to catch our plane at Christmas...

Fushigi News: Bob

Although I had to rescue him from behind the desk after a mysterious fall today (did he jump or was he pushed?), Bob is feeling much more chipper as his post box bulges with fan mail. He would like to thank all two of his fans for their encouraging words.

Bob gets fan mail

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