Friday, February 02, 2007

Life In Japan Is On Track

Life In Japan Is On Track

The photo shows my daughter, Cornucopia, with a small pig which was part of the zoo which came to visit the local daycare center last Saturday.

I had vaguely thought of getting interior shots of the daycare, but there are obvious appropriacy issues if you're going to start taking shots with the digital camera in an environment where other people's kids are at play.

I thought I had the desired interior shots when we borrowed a 50-minute daycare video from the daycare center. My theory was that I could pause the video and then take screen shots with my trusty screen capture program, PrintKey. But this failed.

I could pause the video and I could capture the screen, but the screen which PrintKey saw was no the paused video but the underlying black of my standard background, so that was the end of that.

Still, we did have the video, and, because it's a home-made DVD, there are no copy protection controls, so I was easily able to burn a couple of copies, one for our household here in Japan and the other for my sister in New Zealand.

Because it's a home-made DVD there is none of this regional encoding nonsense, so the DVD should play just fine in New Zealand. However, the regional encoding issue did raise its ugly head when I was playing the DVD copies to make sure they worked.

The software that comes with my ThinkPad, incidentally, is something called InterVideo WinDVD, very simple to use and does everything I would want it to do.

Anyway, the regional encoding issue:

A dialog box popped up saying my software, which came with my IBM ThinkPad, was set by default for the United States region. I could change it, but, after three plays, further change would be impossible.

This left a nasty taste in my mouth, and I don't think legislators should have permitted manufacturers to inflict regional encoding upon us. My life is split between two regions, the one that contains Japan and the one that contains New Zealand, and, in the natural order of things, I might well want to play DVDs from either region.

Choosing a region was not an enormously important decision, because I can always reset my computer to factory conditions, doing a brain wipe on all my software in the process, and can start over with a new regional selection.

As it was, I opted to choose the region which contains Japan, because we might possibly end up renting some DVDs from the video rental chain Tsuchiya (I think I have the spelling of this right, though I don't guarantee it), a branch of which opened in our neighborhood last year.

Up until we got the daycare DVD I hadn't tried to play any movies on my computer so I didn't know if or how the software would work. In the event, it worked fine, and I found I could fast forward and go back as easily, and that, as indicated already, I could also pause the DVD anywhere.

In lieu of a photo of the interior, all I can say is that it's simple and reasonably roomy.

The daycare is divided into a bunch of rooms, and some of these, for the older kids, have wooden floors, but the area where daughter Cornucopia spends her days has traditional tatami matting, and, in the summer, when you enter the room, the distinctive smell of the matting is in the air.

The daycare video shows the routine of the kids, shows them eating (they all get remarkably quiet during this phase) and playing and having their afternoon nap. I think it's fair to say that my wife and I are very happy with the service that the daycare delivers, and our lives would not really be sustainable without it. The daycare, then, is on track.

Another thing that is on track is my teaching of the tiny tots, the ones in my daughter's age range.

I had my training for the tiny tots classes recently and, on Tuesday 30 January, taught my first actual class. It was with a kid about two and a half years old who I'll called Toku Ieyasu. He showed up with his mum, as mandated by the school's rules.

Because there was just the one of him I had no trouble getting through the forty minute lesson period. Little Ieyasu decided, at one point, that he didn't want to jump like a kangaroo, swing like a monkey, fly like a bird or swim like a fish. The hell with that. He was going to lie down and have a nap. So he lay down on the floor and took his best shot at nap-taking.

What we were taught on the course is that if the kids won't cooperate with the lesson you just gung ho through the curriculum. Which is what I did.

While I did get through that first lesson I realized that I had only a partial recollection of the curriculum. Not my fault. Curriculum materials were distributed during training, but then they were all gathered in again. We were told copies would be at our branches, which they were. But when I asked my trainer if I could photocopy a curriculum sheet, he said, "Yes, but only if I don't know about it." So I decided, well, if that's how it is then I won't make a photocopy.

So my plan for Friday 2 February 2007 was to stay behind after work, get at the curriculum and make notes.

Fortunately, when I showed up for work on Friday, I found I had no students scheduled for the first lesson period. This rarely happens, but it meant I had forty minutes to find the tiny tots curriculum and make extensive notes in a notebook.

I still think it's ridiculous that I was put to this trouble, and I think it's a bit absurd trying to protect the curriculum from the teachers who are supposed to teach it. It's not as if we were in the CIA or the NSA or something like that.

The curriculum is realistic, put together by people who know what they're doing, and, because my daughter has a high tolerance for repetition, I can understand why lesson elements repeat.

For my adult students, however, I try to offer new variants on materials which may be too familiar.

Friday, one lesson focused on tourist advice, so I kicked off with my personal spin on this. Where's your hometown? Okay, student A, you're a tourist, student B, you're a tourist information officer, advise student A about your hometown.

One student's hometown was Aomori, and I learnt that in Aomori they have scallop-based seafood dishes. This got me to thinking about scallops.

Every Friday, as a rule, I go to the conveyor belt sushi restaurant near Waniguchi Gakko and eat sushi, my reward for the week's work. Friday, I had been planning to have the moriawase, the set menu, but the moriawase does not include scallop. So I decided to order my sushi servings one by one, which I did.

It's nice to go someplace where you are both recognized and remembered. In Japan, I stand out. A foreigner gets on the train, something that rarely happens, and I think, "Hey, who's the gaijin?" So Japanese people will be doing that to me, and in spades.

So, obviously, the sushi restaurant staff will recognize me. But also they remember.

The first three or four occasions on which I ordered a moriawase, one of the sushi toppings was uni, which is the egg of sea urchins. In a textbook that I work from it is described as sweet but my Japanese students tell me that it is actually salty. I don't know because it looks like disgusting muck and I don't touch it.

I never made any comment about the uni, but I didn't eat it, and, after the first few times, uni no longer showed up in my moriawase. I don't think this change was accidental. Rather, my take on the situation is that it's an example of Japan's really high-quality service-oriented economy.

The other thing that is on track is toilet training. Friday morning, I was upstairs getting dressed for work when I heard Cornucopia call out "Unchi!" She was about to go potty, not on a potty but on the toilet, so I went down to provide applause and congratulations. Very sincere, believe me.

We then said "Bye bye" to the unchi before it was flushed. She noted, with pride, that it was "Sugoi unchi!" An amazing feat of pooping, "sugoi" meaning "amazing."

Getting through the dinner time ration of rice is not as straightforward as it should be, as Cornucopia tends to drag this out. But I have found it possible to hasten her by using "time out."

Before, when we had the old push chair, she would clip the safety belt harness herself, and to hurry her along I would give her a countdown of ten, and would take over the clipping if she timed out, because I wasn't going to hang around all day for her to try clipping. Now, since our new Silver Cross pushchair has a clip which is far too stiff for her child fingers, I do the clipping, and there is no more timeouting.

But she has evidently been programmed by the timeout experience which took place five days a week for many, many weeks. So when I start counting, "One thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three," she makes a scramble for the spoon (she's too young yet to manage chopsticks) and takes a mouthful.

We're also having some success with good manners.

Friday, Cornucopia had pushed her chair away from the table, and the following dialog ensued as she demanded to be pushed back in:

Cornucopia: "Pushy pushy pushy PUSHY!"

Me: "Magic word?"

Cornucopia: "Pleasy pleasy pleasy PLEASE!!"

Me: "Magic word, softly?"

Cornucopia: " ... please."

She understands English reasonably well, but generally never speaks it, though she can when she wants to.

"Morning banana!" she says, this being the one banana she is permitted to have in the morning, the understanding being that if she gets one in the morning then she does not get a second in the evening.

Thursday, when I came downstairs a little late, my wife cued me to the fact that Cornucopia had already had her morning banana. In fact, Cornucopia was still in the process of eating it, and later put the peel directly into my hand. Later still, she came at me saying, with a great show of confidence, "Morning banana!"

If my daughter is ever going to have a career in a big bad company like Enron, she has some learning to do.

Speaking of big bad companies, the company in the news here in Japan right now is Fujiya, a maker of cakes and confectionery. There has been some scandal about the use of expired ingredients, and, this scandal having broken, employees have, apparently, broken stories about rats in factories and the like.

My wife said at dinner, recently, "Poor Peko-chan!"

Peko-chan being a Fujiya mascot, a doll with a cake-licking tongue running happily over her lips, a doll which I think I've seen on the sidewalk outside Fujiya branches in the past.

My wife then told me that our local branch of Fujiya, from which we have on occasion bought cakes, has closed down.

As a bunch of retailers have chosen to boycott Fujiya products, it's entirely possible that the entire company will follow suite before too long.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just FYI, the video store chain is called "Tsutaya" - I used to use rent from them all the time.

By the way, I like the name 'Waniguchi Gakko' - as you most likely know, mother alligators carry their young in their mouths when going from place to place...

2:35 PM  

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