Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Juvenile Amusements Tokyo Japan

Juvenile Amusements Tokyo Japan

I don't usually take sports photos, but I recently took one of my daughter engaged in a new sport that I invented, a sport called newspaper running.

I invented this sport in response to daughter Cornucopia's invention of library book running, which involves charging, with great enthusiasm, along a race track made up of library books. I thought that if the library found out that we were doing this then Big Trouble would ensue, so I invited Cornucopia to share my enjoyment of my favorite broadsheet newspaper, the International Herald Tribune.

She participated and enjoyed, to the point where I began to think that possibly this activity is something you could franchise, if you spiced it up a little with, say, samba dances and/or small animal sacrifices, or vodka-drinking races, or something like that.

So, at home with daughter Cornucopia, I'm heavily into the books/newspapers scene.

Recently, my wife had the problem of what to do with Cornucopia on a Monday that was a national holiday. I work Monday through Friday regardless of any national holidays, but my wife's office is closed on such days, and so, too, is the local daycare center.

The hayfever season is in full swing, and my wife does not want to be outside more than she absolutely has to be. But she didn't want to spend the whole day cooped up in the house, either.

She had wargamed this situation with some working mothers at the office, and the idea of going to the Jidokaikan surfaced.

This is run by the city government which controls Tokyo, and it's ten minutes on foot from Shibuya station. It's a five story building with free stuff for ages 0 through 18. Some of the free stuff does, admittedly, have a materials charge, including the carpentry, but you have to be six to do carpentry, and Cornucopia is not yet six.

There is a site for the place which is:

However, this is all in Japanese, and there doesn't seem to be an English option. If your computer is not set up to show Japanese fonts, all you will see on the page is gibberish.

All going well, the address block for the Jidokaikan will be at the top of this blog entry, and, if you were to print it out, you could negotiate your way through the streets by the simple process of showing it to strangers. This always works, providing you ask enough strangers.

So if you were a mother with a kid and wanted some amusement for the kid, you could go to this place, where Cornucopia and my wife spent a number of hours on the Monday in question. The stuff for older kids apparently includes roller skating on the roof.

Another option, if you were the mother of a kid not yet three, would be to take the kid to one of the English tiny tot lessons taught by me, Hugh, at Waniguchi Gakko.

The catch here is that you, the mother, have to attend the lesson. We're teaching English, okay? We're not in the babysitting business. And you, the mother, have to handle any diaper business. And also take charge of your bloody brat, and keep the little animal under control.

For my first couple of tiny tot classes I only had one student, but for the most recent one I had a second student, a little devil called Oni Kappamaki.

Both kids were boys, and they ran around like the demented steam-powered demons which feature in the comic opera VARMINT SEASON (by Wagner, I believe). They also spent some time on top of each other, fighting.

Little boy Oni at one stage cannoned into the CD player which plays for the length of the lesson, cuing the teacher as to the phases, and brought it to an abrupt halt. Fortunately, it started itself up again, and the CD did not skip to another place on the disk.

I was down at his level for much of the lesson, doing coloring and stuff, and he twice slammed into my head with his head, one time knocking my spectacles askew.

The mother observed all this indulgently.

I logged the incident in the tiny tots logbook.

I used to have a Maori colleague who taught tiny tots, but who has now left us to teach little kids in Samoa, and I found a string of entries by her in the logbook, saying stuff like "they completely ignored the lesson and spent the whole time bullying themselves" and "X has absolutely no interest in English and just spends his time disrupting the class."

I also wrote a note to my immediate supervisor saying, hey, this is not what I'm paid for, and I suggest that one of the Japanese staff counsels the mother about her responsibilities. And if there's a recurrence of this kind of thing, then I will speak to the mother personally. And, in my hands, the Japanese language is very much a blunt instrument.

He got back to me saying that the Japanese staff had been instructed to deal to the mother (politely, of course) and I waited for developments.

However, although two weeks have gone by, I haven't seen hide or hair of Oni Kappamaki or his fellow fighter. I haven't had a tiny tots class for the whole two weeks.

I have, however, spent quite a bit of time with Cornucopia.

On Sunday morning she declared that she wanted to go to the park with the seesaw. We don't usually go to any such park, but I remembered having visited one in the locality. I had my wife help me draw a map, then we went forth to see. Yep, if you head downhill from the daycare center, cross the railway crossing, take a left and head up the hill, then the first left will lead you down to the park.

It's the biggest of the four parks that are within walking distance, one at a community center near the daycare, one near a supermarket and one a few minutes beyond that.

And it had a seesaw, but not one that goes up and down on a fulcrum. This one was set on a big spring, so you bounce up and down rather than going right up and down in the air. Fine, because it was easy to use.

Then Cornucopia wanted to go to the park with the biggest slide, which we call the big park, though it is actually smaller than the one we call the small park.

The small park looks smaller because there is a bunch of climbing equipment stuck in the middle of it, with two slides.

We ended up doing the seesaw park, the big park (which is actually small) and then the small park (which is actually bigger than the big one). Then Cornucopia wanted to go to the library, so we went there, and she very efficiently chose six books, the maximum she could get out on my card.

Then, in the afternoon, she played with the neighborhood kids, outside in the air, which was getting pretty cold toward evening.

Monday, she had a fever, and my wife ended up taking Monday, Tuesday, and today Wednesday (7 March 2007) off. I volunteered to stay home, but my wife needed to take Cornucopia to the doctor because she wanted to get more medicine, and I am not doctor-taking-competent.

If Cornucopia still has a fever tomorrow (and the daycare mandates that the child must stay home if the temperature is 37.5 Celsius or above) then I will take a day off work and stay home with her.

Last night, when Cornucopia was really hot, my wife asked me if she should use the emergency suppositories which she has on hand for use in dire emergencies. These would, supposedly, bring the temperature down.

This question took me way out of my depth. I have the hazy notion that very high temperatures can cause brain damage in little kids, but I don't know at what point this cuts in. So I finally suggested that we hold off on the suppositories unless the temperature spikes above 40 degrees Celsius.

I have no medical training apart from what I received as a medic in the New Zealand army, and all that was oriented toward the medial needs of strong young healthy people. They still remain strong young healthy people even if they've just been shot, so you don't have the medical issues that you have with people who are very young or very old.

Today I got home from work absolutely exhausted. My wife was trying to persuade Cornucopia to have a nap, so I had a bite to eat then headed upstairs, meaning to crash out for a couple of hours.

Cornucopia infiltrated the bedroom and tried to wake me up.

"Computer!" she said.

I have the image-manipulation program Irfan View installed on my ThinkPad. If you open one image in the folder, then you can jump to the next by simply pounding on the spacebar, which Cornucopia will enthusiastically do at a pace of about 120 times a minute, putting the ThinkPad through yet another of her computer survivability tests.

The hell with this computer business. No, I'm tired. I'm asleep.

In response to the fact that I was manifestly asleep, Cornucopia leaned down hard on my throat with her forearm, determined to wake me up. The attempt failed, and she went downstairs again.

I slept like a log from about 1430 to 1730, having finished my shift, as usual, at 1310.

That evening, Cornucopia's temperature was a record, 39.5 degrees centigrade. But she was genki, as we say in Japan, ie upbeat. In fact, she was not just genki. She was manic.

We have some English study tapes in a series called KIDDY CAT, which we got off the "take these books for free" shelf in the library, where people deposit books that they don't need. And, as well, videos and card games and stuff like that.

The KIDDY CAT videos feature listen and repeat segments. And the one Cornucopia likes the best also features chanting.

Normally, she just watches passively, but this evening, watching the one single video she is allowed to watch each day (otherwise she'd do nothing but blob out all evening in video heaven) she was listening and repeating like nobody's business, and was also going gung ho on the chanting.

Her spectacularly upbeat behavior was uncharacteristic, and reminded me of my own behavior last year when I was high on dexamethasone, taking an oral dose of 16 milligrams daily. I was fluent, verbal and euphoric. I was flying high on drugs. And me thesis was that Cornucopia was doing the same.

What the hell had the doctor prescribed for her?

Japanese doctors are, when it comes to prescribing, the doctors from hell. They prescribe recklessly because the government pays them every time they write a prescription. The long-suffering Japanese taxpayer picks up 70% of the cost, so patients don't realize how much all the junk they're given is costing.

In our case, prescription costs are no object, because, here in the city of Yokohama, a visit to the doctor's comes free, as do any related prescriptions that you fill at the pharmacy. (An exception is special vaccinations which are not on the normal get-them-for-free vaccination schedule, such as the special flu shots we all had in preparation for the latest flu season.)

Because it's very bad for doctors to have a financial interest in prescribing, this practice is outlawed in the West. The only exception I know of is something called the "chemotherapy concession," which permits American doctors to sell chemo drugs directly to their patients.

This is extremely inappropriate, since chemo drugs can trash your system big time, and a doctor shouldn't be financially motivated to prescribe them.

Recognizing this, apparently Bill Clinton took a shot at abolishing the chemotherapy concession when he was president, but this didn't come to pass. Maybe his wife will do the job, if she gets to be president, since health care is, apparently, her special area of expertise.

Given that Japanese doctors are known for bad prescribing habits, I told my wife I thought it possible that Cornucopia might have been given steroids.

My wife read me the Japanese labels of the drugs, but they meant nothing to me, except that one was a form of penicillin, which made my laugh.

My wife asked me why I laughed, and I said that I laughed because, in all probability, Cornucopia has a virus, and an antibiotic like penicillin will not touch a virus. (Antibiotics work by destroying the cell walls of bacteria, and they don't work on viruses for the simple reason that viruses do not have cell walls.)

When I last saw my Western doctor in Tokyo, I had a virus, and he checked me out, indicated that I wasn't dying, and then said, in effect, and not in very many more words, "You have a virus. Go away."

As I write this, my daughter is sleeping peacefully. And happily. The neighborhood pusher has been on the job, and we can count Cornucopia as a satisfied client.

To wrap up, I'll just comment on the books-for-free shelf at the library. This seems to be something of a Japanese institution. At the local ward office at Okurayama, there is a shelf where citizens can deposit books which they no longer require so other citizens can take them. There is, as mentioned already, a similar shelf at the local library. And, at Meijin Hospital, the hospital I attend here in Yokohama, there is a shelf of books which I guess (I haven't asked, so I don't know for certain) operates on the same system.

I asked my wife on what the setup is for free child health care. Is this a universal Japanese thing? Her answer was that it depends on where you live, but in some places free child health care (that is, free visits to the doctor and free prescription drugs) extends right through to the end of elementary school (or, as we say in New Zealand, primary school).

My wife isn't exactly certain when Cornucopia's free ride comes to an end, but says it lasts at least until she is five. So, while we have a sick child in the house, at least we don't have any worries about any contingent medical expenses. Which is very nice.

When I was living in Devonport in 2004-2005, the local doctor did not charge anything for visits for young kids, I think up to and including age five, but I think this is something he did out of sheer good will. And, even though his services came for free, if you had a prescription to fill then there would have been a cost for that.

If I am at home with Cornucopia, then maybe we will fire up the computer, and watch videos I took with the digital camera, and play with pictures, or maybe open a Word document so she can pound out ABC and the like.

This morning, perhaps under the influence of drugs, she was loudly singing the ABC song, and she had almost the entire alphabet down pat, only she stumbled a bit around about IJK, and she couldn't come up with the last three letters, XYZ.

She's basically growing up as a native speaker of Japanese. But, even so, she's acquiring quite a solid English base.

Whatever we do tomorrow, we will not play one of her favorite games, a game which she invented, and which is called Crash.

My wife blames me for this, because "crash" is an English word, but I had nothing to do with Cornucopia's invention. She came up with this game herself, possibly by watching violent videos at the daycare center.

To play Crash, you need one unsuspecting father who is lying in bed and who, therefore, is vulnerable to attack. You then jump right on top of him, landing on him with your full bodyweight. And, as you do so, you shout, triumphantly, "Crash!"

It's a great game, but I don't think I could franchise it, at least not in the States. The potential dangers are obvious, and, in the sue-everyone-in-sight culture of the United States of America, the legal downside would make the crash concept unworkable. At least not as a franchise.


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