Sunday, July 30, 2006

Anyone Can Join Meguro Library - Lending Library Tokyo Japan

Anyone Can Join Meguro Library - Lending Library Tokyo Japan

Sunday 30 July 2006

My wife somehow discovered, how I have no idea, that anyone can join the Meguro library system, regardless of where in Japan they live or work.

All you need is ID from which your address can be verified. If you are a foreigner residing in Japan, then you will have such ID in the form of your alien registration card.

My wife was of the opinion that I had previously been a member of the Meguro library system, but I had no recollection of ever having done any such thing. But, yes, I certainly wanted to join.

Yesterday, Saturday, having parked our two-year-old daughter Cornucopia at the daycare center for a few hours, my wife and I took the train to Meguro station then walked to Meguro library. On the way, I recognized nothing, not the station precincts and certainly not the big outdoor swimming pool that we walked past. This was, as far as I was concerned, unknown territory.

Then, when we got inside Meguro library itself, I realized that I knew this building, and knew it very well. Yes, I had been here before, not once but many times, and I knew that the foreign books were up in the top right corner, and I knew, also, that the library held stocks of a range of English-language magazines, including THE NEW YORKER.

But I could not remember at what phase of my life I had visited the library, or how I had made my way through the streets to this place.

Revisiting Meguro Library was like arriving at a building which I had explored not in this life but in a different life, in some prior existence remote from this one.

As my wife was filling in an application form on my behalf, a librarian approached us and handed me an English-language information pamphlet. The section headed "For whom who use the library for the first time" included the message that "You can make a library card if you don't live in Meguro City, too."

A couple of minutes later, my wife handed me my new card to sign, and I realized that, yes, I had previously had just such a library card, adorned with a picture of a long and slender fish, which the library's English-language pamphlet informed me was sanma-kun, aka Mr Mackerel Pike, the Meguro City public libraries' symbol. Sanma-kun means something like "Master Sanma," "kun" being an informal variant of "san", a label you might apply to a schoolmate friend rather than something to use with an adult's name.

One picky little English teacher point at this stage: I don't think that Meguro can go round calling itself a city, since, to get technical, it is a ward, Meguro Ku being better translated as "Meguro Ward" rather than "Meguro City". The actual city of which it is a part is the city of Tokyo, which has 24 wards, one of which is Meguro.

Meguro Ward, then, is a part of Tokyo.

Similarly, I live in Kohoku Ward, and it does not go calling itself "Kohoku City" but, rather, acknowledges that it is part of the city of Yokohama.

Living in Kohoku Ward as I do, I have a card for the entire Yokohama city library system, one branch of which is within toddler distance of my house.

If you live in the city of Tokyo there is, really, no Tokyo city library system which you can join. The Tokyo city administration only runs two libraries, one a big reference library which I have never visited, and the other a lending library which is, I think, the Hibiya Library. Most of the citizens of the 24 wards, then, are dependent on whatever library system their ward provides.

While I have indicated that Meguro cannot legitimately term itself a "city", it is, nevertheless, enormously larger and more complex than some of the hamlets in New Zealand which go round calling themselves "cities", an example of such a place being the little town of Whangarei, which, when I was a child, was calling itself a "city" even though it had barely thirty thousand people.

Having borrowed five CDs and five copies of THE NEW YORKER, very much my favorite magazine, I left the library with my wife, who led us to the French restaurant where we were to dine.

On the way, we passed a distinctive overbridge which spanned a road which was heading downhill, and suddenly I clicked, and realized that I knew where I was, and knew how to exit Meguro station and get to Meguro library, the place we had just visited. Go down the hill until you reach the river, turn right just after you cross the river, and you will find the library on your left.

I had made that trip not once but many times, though, once again, I could not remember during which phase of my life I had visited it. Nor could I explain to myself why, if I had previously been a patron of the Meguro library system, I had somehow quit using it.

The restaurant was very nice. A pleasure to eat without a widget at the table trying to lay its hands on your uneaten tomato, the capsicum you were saving for last or anything else it fancies.

We had a proper adult conversation for once, and my wife asked me if I was handling things okay, managing to both take daughter Cornucopia and do my job. And I said, sure, I can handle three hours a day, though that does take me pretty close to my stamina limits.

"I'll be okay unless they fire me," I said.

And explained about the problem that I have with finding files in a timely fashion.

If I do lose my job, it's not a catastrophe. There are other jobs. There is, in Japan, no large pool of unemployed Westerners, since you can't afford to hang around jobless in Japan on a long-term basis unless you're in some kind of job. Plus, I have a spouse visa, recently reviewed, so I'm legal to work at any job in Japan for the next three years, so I can walk into any job for which an employer needs a worker suddenly.

At the last company I worked for, which did quite a bit of corporate teaching, one fiftyish teacher teaching in Yokohama unexpectedly dropped dead of a heart attack. The client was appropriately sympathetic, but asked if they could have a replacement English teacher. Next week, please. And that put our recruiters under real pressure, because it's not easy to magic up a spare English teacher out of nowhere.

Usually there's quite a lead time in recruiting people, and, when I first came to Japan to teach at Waniguchi Gakko, the Japan-based company which recruited me did so on the basis of an interview which one of their recruiters conducted with me in New Zealand in January of 1997, but I did not arrive in Japan until early May.

On the way back from the restaurant I had another recovered memory experience, and asked my wife if this was the area which, years ago, we had visited to seek out the manuka honey from New Zealand which we like so much. Yes, we did come to Meguro for that purpose, and found the honey in a cake shop, on sale in extremely small jars at an extremely high price.

So that was, all round, a successful day, a trip back into the past, with the library card setting me up for the future.

On the way home, my wife told me she would show me how to use the library's website, and would be able to pick up any items that I ordered online at the library's Nakameguro branch.

Once you've joined the Meguro library system, you can borrow a generous twenty items at a time, versus the six which the Yokohama city library system allows us. You can keep items for two weeks, returning them to any branch of the Meguro library system, and, if they're not overdue and if nobody else wants them, then you can renew them twice online.

I saw in the English-language pamphlet that you have to "register a password", but my wife told me that you can do this online.

Items that you can borrow include books, magazines, sets of comic books and CDs.

I borrowed an eclectic set of CDs, including one heavy metalish CD by god knows what band. It was labeled in a gothic script which I could not read, heavily Germanic. I borrowed this one by accident because I dropped a bunch of CD covers and, recovering from this minor mishap, accidentally took to the library counter a cover the gothic script CD, which I had not intended to borrow.

I also borrowed, amongst other things, PILGRIM by Eric Clapton; a jaunty CD of some kind of jazzy African music called Folon, apparently by a Salif Keita.

Also a CD which seems to have the title "Alice Cooper" and so is, presumably, by Alice Cooper, who, up until now, is just a name that I have seen in passing in magazines such as ROLLING STONE.

I took Alice for a spin and did not hear anything that I immediately recognized.

As far as THE NEW YORKER goes, I enjoyed reading a review in the May 29 issue which has, on the cover, amongst other things, the rubric "The movie from Hell," glossed as "Anthony Lane on 'The Da Vinci Code'".

The review would have you believe that this is, if not the very worst movie ever made in the history of the world, one of the very worst. Which it is.

I didn't understand most of the movie, and I couldn't figure out why we were supposed to care for any of the characters.

It was a hideously murky movie, most of the action unfolding in the course of a single night. It reminded me very much of the American version of GODZILLA, another movie which was incredibly murky, presumably because it is easier to get away with special effects if you keep the lights turned down low.

THE DA VINCI CODE has cropped up on a number of occasions when I've been teaching English, and none of my students has given it a recommendation, though those who have read the book say that the book is much better than the movie. That, in my opinion, wouldn't be difficult.

Have played most of the Alice Cooper CD by now without recognizing anything. All things considered, I rather prefer Fat Freddy's Drop, this being music from New Zealand, a kind of laid-back Samoan reggae. Very big in New Zealand while I was there in 2005 through early 2006, topping the charts, but probably not major on the global scale.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Learning with a damaged brain after radiotherapy: brain damage following radiation therapy

Learning with a damaged brain after radiotherapy: brain damage following radiation therapy.

Sunday 30 July 2006.

Before I underwent radiotherapy for brain cancer back in 2005, the radiation oncologists warned me that, in all probability, I would suffer brain damage, particularly short-term memory loss. And so it has proved.

The radiotherapy finished a bit over a year ago, and I definitely have a damaged brain. In particular, my short-term memory is shot, and I cannot hold a telephone number in my head. I need to have the number written on a bit of paper and I need to be able to see both the paper and the telephone's keypad at one and the same time.

This is doable, easily, with the new phone we have upstairs, the phone which two-year-old daughter Cornucopia has now discovered, and sometimes demands to play with. The telephone is always forbidden to her, so, naturally, on such occasions she heads rapidly in the direction of screaming.

The numbers on the new telephone are huge, and, what's more, each speaks aloud to identify itself when it is pressed. Admittedly, it speaks in Japanese, but I have no problems with Japanese numbers in the zero to nine range.

Some years ago, maybe nine years back, while studying at Auckland University, I had a part-time job with Page One, a call center company. At the time, the company was located in Grafton, the area in Auckland in which I was living, and I could walk to work in less than ten minutes.

I got the job because I was a male who could touch type and who was happy to do the graveyard shift, something none of the mostly female staff liked doing, because you were all alone in the building for most of the night.

Some of the women who worked at the call center were of the opinion that quite a few callers, realizing they were coming through to a call center, deliberately spat out take-this-message telephone numbers at a pace intended to be impossible to process.

But there was no way to overwhelm the heroes of the call center. Even I, with less experience than the others, soon became invincible in the realm of six and seven digit numbers.

Now it would be impossible for me to do that job because my brain has been wrecked to the point where strings of even four to five digits have become problematical.

Unfortunately, for my current job, teaching conversational English at Waniguchi Gakko in the city of Tokyo, I need to get a grip on the student file numbers on the computer-generated schedule which is pinned up on the wall of the teachers' room.

These numbers I transcribe into the notebook which I tote around at work, and I have had trouble finding files, sometimes because I have mistranscribed the number.

Realizing this problem, I decided to make a habit of checking every number. But, occasionally, seven so, errors still slipped past.

The simple cure for this is to check twice.

Once you have faced up to the problem, there may be a work-around, and checking twice seems to be working.

Additionally, speaking of the difficulty that I have in finding the files that I need, at Waniguchi Gakko there is a special problem with certain files, a problem which is really too complicated to explain.

A simplified version of the truth is that certain files have succeeded in escaping into unknown locations in n-dimensional space. These files, which have absconded, cannot be located by ordinary means.

Fortunately, the Japanese staff who keep the school running, and who handle all the administration, can provide you with the secret locations of the otherwise unfindable files, and the location for each missing file is written on an alphabetical list.

This list, the list of otherwise unlocatable files, is pinned up against the wall. In theory, you can glan ce at it and swiftly know where to look for any unfindable file.

Unfortunately, the list is incomplete, and, up until Wednesday, many handwritten annotations were at the bottom of the list, none in alphabetical order and not all particularly easy to read, since writing by hand on a sheet of paper pinned vertically to a wall is not easy.

There was also, up until Wednesday, the drop box problem. The few files which are needed for the day's teaching are retrieved from the thousands and are placed in a box called a drop box.

At Waniguchi Gakko, this was, up until Wednesday, two drop boxes, each divided into three compartments, the first compartment in the first box holding the files for students at two different levels and the last compartment in the second drop box holding the files for the two or three topmost levels.

The first drop box was marked with colored stickers indicating the level, and I was hard put to identify the colors against the dark plastic of the drop boxes. But the labeling of the second drop box I could not see at all.

I told one of the teachers that I could not see the labeling on the second drop box, and I was told that the compartments in the second drop box were not labeled. You just had to know what levels went into which compartment.

This struck me as exceedingly silly, because visiting teachers from other branches are sent to our branch to help out, so there are always newcomers who do not know the secret of the unlabeled second drop box.

(Before they show up at our branch, by the way, the teachers from other schools are already aware of our unlocatable files problem. Waniguchi Gakko has become notorious in the system, at least amongst the teachers.)

Wednesday, the Western woman who manages a group of the company's schools, including ours, dropped by. She had scheduled time to talk with me, particularly about the problem I have in finding files in a timely fashion, something the Waniguchi Gakko manager, who I will call Marcus, had picked up on.

("Marcus" after Marcus Aurelius, the Good Administrator. Which he is. Very professional and knows what he's doing.)

Marcus, too, is a Westerner, because the company that I work for, like most English-teaching outfits in Japan, has a Japanese staff, who handle customers and clients, and a Western staff who (a) teach and (b) manage Western teachers.

Japanese managers are not, as a rule, very good at managing Western teachers, who are not as disciplined as the standard Japanese worker, so things work out better if the manager who manages Western teachers is a Westerner.

I will call the woman who scheduled time with me Nimroda, naming her after Nimrod, the boss's invigilator who features in the novel THE RAGGED-TROUSERED PHILANTHROPIST. In the novel, Nimrod is a great hunter, and the workers can never be sure when he will show up. Nimroda, likewise. Quite properly, I must add, because it is her duty to know what is going on, which she certainly does.

Nimroda knew that I had file-finding problem, and she asked me about this. I took a two-pronged approach.

First, I told Nimroda that I was improving, which was true. Second, I complained about the messed-up list of missing files with its barely legible unalphabetical handwritten additions. (At this point my spell-checker supplies the word "unalphabetized", which is a new one on me, but which is the word I needed to find.)

Face to face with Nimroda, I slagged off at the unalphabetized additions on the all-important list of otherwise unlocatable files.

And I also pointed out that having the compartments of the second drop box going without labels was silly, because teachers who are not from our branch do not know which compartment holds which files.

I complained, then.

As a cancer patient, I have become particularly good at two things. One is putting in eyedrops, and I was glad when, some weeks back, I was prescribed ophthalmic steroids following laser surgery, because it allowed me to employ a skill which I had spent a lot of time and effort in mastering.

The other thing I have gotten good at is complaining.

Before I became ill I did not, as a rule, complain. But, as a patient, I learnt that systems tend to be screwed up in ways large and small, and I came to believe that it is important to complain both loudly and promptly.

Which I did when Nimroda and I came face to face. She said the two problems which I had raised would be addressed.

That was Wednesday.

Friday, I came to work and found the former two subdivided drop boxes had been replaced by one set of drop boxes. All standing side by side in the same location. All labeled clearly in plain English. Plus the list of otherwise unlocatable files had been updated.

And I heard Marcus saying, to everyone in earshot, that the otherwise unlocatable files list was now perfect, and would remain so.

I was impressed.

Nimroda, obviously, is someone who gets things done.

Wednesday I had my face-to-face with Nimroda, chiefly about my file-finding problem, and Thursday I met her again, at one of the company's branches near one of the railway stations on the Yamanote Line which encircles the heart of Tokyo. I was there for follow-up training and she was one of the two instructors.

Follow-up training was very simple, because the skills it tested were my teaching skills, and these are rock solid.

The training was well done.

One thing they told us, right at the start, was not to make notes. There would be time in breaks to fill in the worksheet provided. This was a good move, since I am usually busy scribbling notes, but this time I was under orders not to, so I gave my full attention to the training.

One thing that was emphasized was concept checking. This was something I was taught on the Cambridge/RSA Certificate in English Teaching to Adults course that I did at Dominion English Schools in the opening stages of 1997, the year in which I came to Japan and started working for the company which I have now rejoined.

I got taught concept checking on the Dominion English Schools course, but I must say that I almost never used it. However, Friday, the day following the workshop at which Nimroda was one of the two instructors, I was concept checking like crazy.

I would say, then, that the training was effective.

The challenges, such as they were, turned out to be exceedingly easy.

I had been afraid that I might find myself in a murky room in which it was impossible to see, but it turned out to be the company's standard working environment, a clean well-lit place with bright overhead neon lights, the same lights that I work under at Waniguchi, lighting which makes it easy for me to see the textbook's text, sharp black against a white background.

On the challenge level, things were easy. For example, toward the end, each teacher had to throw out a term for another teacher to explain, and the one I got was "changing room".

"It's, for example, a room at a beach which you go into and take off your clothes and then change into a swimsuit, or something like that."

I got the easiest question that anyone got, but I then gave the hardest question in the dictionary to the computer guy from Texas, who attended the same three-day initial training session which I attended at the end of June.

"What is a check, as in you can pay by check?"

A tough one, because Japanese banks do not offer personal checkbooks, and nobody in Japan pays anything by cash. You go to the ATM and pay by sending money from your account to someone else's account, or you pay by cash at the convenience store (where you can pay a range of bills including bills for utilities). Or you pay by credit card.

Travelers checks are known, but what is the check that you can pay by?

Well, it's a kind of letter that you give to someone, and they give it to their bank, and their bank gives it to your bank, then your bank sees if you really have that money in your account, and then ...

You can fumble your way toward a shorthand explanation, but there is no efficient way to explain "check", at least that I know of.

Back when I first started teaching Waniguchi Gakko, which I did for two years from 1997 before leaving to do other things, there was one lesson which you could not teach without confronting the problem of what a check was. The students would demand to know. This lesson was in one of the highly unsatisfactory textbooks which we were using back in those days.

How do you teach the meaning of "check"? I solved the problem, to my own satisfaction, by simply never teaching that particular lesson.

So I threw the toughest question I had in the direction of the computer guy from Texas, and he, to his credit, took a brave stab at it and did, all things considered, pretty well.

He hadn't taught English before coming to Japan, but had evidently picked up the basics quickly. A fast learner.

Unlike me.

Though I once used to think of myself as one of the smarter people in the room, the painful fact is that I have joined the slow learners brigade.

This fact was brought home to me when my wife, painstakingly, trained me in the routines for taking my daughter to the daycare center.

Amongst other things, there are two aprons which you have to put into the two apron boxes, and three towels which go into the three towel boxes.

And, as I have written elsewhere, the fact that there were TWO aprons but THREE towels was a problem for me.

The daycare kids get one lunch and also have oyatsu, ie snacks, twice a day. It's clear how three meals requires three towels, but I don't understand how three meals requires two aprons. My wife did explain to me why, in this case, three requires two, but I, unfortunately, have forgotten the explanation.

[Later: I became curious about the two/three problem, so my wife patiently explained again. There is one meal and, when widgets eat, things tend to get messy, so on meal demands one apron. Snacks, however, are not as messy, so the second apron serves for both the snack breaks. Three towels because hands are washed afresh for the two snack breaks and the one meal.]

We have now been back in Japan for three months, and I have just realized, just this week, that there are some daycare things which I have failed to pick up on in those first three months, though they should have been obvious at the outset.

I noticed, early on, a sandpit in the playground, but I did not pick up on the fact that the entire playground is itself one big sandpit. One day this week, I saw the older kids playing outside, digging sand, and that was when I realized the whole playground was, in its entirity, a sandpit.

Also this week I realized how to find the door to get in when I return in the afternoon to pick up my daughter. Usually only one of the doors will be unlocked at that time. But which one?

Finally, just this week, I realized how you can tell. A whole bunch of shoes will be parked outside the door which is open, because parents who are picking up kids will have shed their shoes before entering the building.

Plainly, I am not in the Sherlock Holmes league.

The daycare center can be a confusing place, with assorted oddments scattered all over the floor, these oddments including small plastic toys and little kids, oddments which it is very easy to step on and crush out of existence.

On top of this, initially I kept getting attacked by the kids, who would swarm over me, unzip my bag and steal the stuff I was sorting through.

Two things helped me manage the swarming kids problem. First, the initial panda effect wore off. I became, as time went by, a familiar face, no longer the visiting panda which all the kids wanted to gawk at and swarm. Second, I learnt to keep my backpack close to me and zipped up.

Then, this week, after three months, I realized that I could park my backpack up on the shelves at one end of the daycare room to which I deliver Cornucopia. There, it is well out of reach of the four-limbed widgets which go scurrying around the room gleefully expressing their individuality.

Having figured that out, finally, I thought I was pretty sharp. But then, Friday, I forgot to uplift my daughter's swim suit. The kids swim, apparently, in some kind of inflatable pool, but I'm not sure how big this pool is, as I have never seen it, and neither has my wife.

Forgetting to uplift the swim suit is part and parcel of the brain damage deal.

As far as I can determine, the radiation-induced brain damage that I have suffered has the following results:

1. I cannot navigate in the dark, because I get lost in an unlit house, even if I know it very well;

2. I can't take a map displayed vertically at a bus station and match it to the surrounding streets, even if I know the area well, since my mind simply fails to compute the spatial problem;

3. My short-term memory is shot;

4. I forget stuff;


5. Although my skill set for things that I learnt in the past is solid, I find it painfully difficult to learn new things, like the daycare routine.

Mastering the file setup at Waniguchi Gakko was another problem which, initially, pretty much defeated me. My manager, Marcus, acknowledged that the Waniguchi file system is less than perfect, but said that, even so, I was proving to have an unusual amount of difficulty in finding the files.

Perhaps because I am brain damaged, it took me a few days to realize that my file-finding problem was partially attributable to brain damage. Once I realized that, I became more confident, since my experience with the daycare routine shows me that, yes, I can learn new stuff, given time.

Initially, however, I was badly lost amongst the files. They are divided into different levels, some on one side of the room and some on the other, and the textbooks are also in little clumps in separate places, according to level.

When I went to training on Thursday July 27 near the center of Tokyo, I noticed how clean and logical the textbook layout was at that particular school, all the textbooks in one place in a book case.

Wednesday 26, the day before training, Nimroda came by, and, as noted above, had scheduled time with me, specifically to discuss the file problem.

"It seems you have difficulty seeing," she said.

So how was I to answer this?

I decided that honesty was the best policy, so I gave an honest answer. I can read everything in the textbook, even the smallest print, with my spectacles, which are optimized for reading.

However, since they'd obviously picked up on the fact that there was a problem, I gave her some more of the truth, and told her that I was not equipped for a hunter-gatherer existence, and, for example, could not find the dark ball that fell onto the dark carpet in the cubicle into which a child student lobbed it.

I said, and, again, this is true, that I don't generally face hunter-gatherer challenges at Waniguchi Gakko.

And I also told her, and, once again, this is true, that was improving when it came to finding files, and that I expected to improve further.

This, too, was true, and, Friday 28th July, I found all the files, except one, but that one particular student did not show up for class, so, in the end, that missing file was no problem.

What I did not say was that my file finding problem was an inevitable consequence of brain damage. I am confident that by now I am far enough up the learning curve for my performance on the file finding front to be more or less acceptable, and I expect to continue to improve.

The following day, Thursday, I was surprised to find that Nimroda was one of the instructors at our workshop. So I made sure that I switched on and concentrated.

"And?" she said, at one point, indicating a word on the whiteboard, a word I was supposed to supply as one of the key elements of feedback.

"Praise," I said, reading the word indicated, and reading it easily without spectacles, because I don't need spectacles for anything further away than my outstretched arm.

I was right under Nimroda's nose for the entire session, so she was ideally placed to observe, if she wished to, that I could read when it was necessary for me to read the small print on a role card.

And, of course, anything teacherly that I was required to do I could do.

My take on brain damage from radiotherapy, as I have experienced it, is that it is something I can live with, although there have been, as indicated above, some rocky moments at getting started on my new job. Or, more exactly, my resumed job, the job I quit back in 1999, fully expecting never to return.

Well, I'm back. Back with the same company and back teaching at exactly the same school.

I returned home on Thursday with more homework to do as a follow-up to the training session.

The homework presented me with a challenge to my confidence. One problem involved sequencing, and I came to the conclusion that one of the examples provided by the directing staff was wrong.

But I'm brain damaged, right?

So how can I be sure of this?

And if I show up saying "This is wrong!" then I'm going to look very, very silly if, in fact, it is correct, and Marcus gently points out to me why it is correct.

For the exercise, you read a text then have to sequence a series of steps which relate to the text. You are given a timeline which is marked with points starting at A and running through to F, and you have a list of six steps which you have to put into chronological order by writing the appropriate timeline letter against the correct step.

The two steps already sequenced by the directing staff are something like "A. The man unexpectedly acquires a widget thanks to a trip which his wife takes to hospital", and "E. The man takes his widget to the daycare center for the second time."

The relevant text reads something like "At the daycare center, they hadn't realized the widget's delinquency before because every time the man had taken the widget to the daycare center he had left the widget's handcuffs on."

The step which has to be F, the final step, is the one that reads something like "The daycare center discovers the true horror of the widget's delinquency."

Another step which has to be plugged in is "The man forgets to put the handcuffs on the widget."

The way I figure it, certain steps must be in the following order:

i. The man takes the widget to the daycare center for the second time.
ii. The man forgets to put on the handcuffs.
iii. The daycare discovers the widget's true nature.

Item iii must be F, the final step, and item ii must be E, the penultimate step.

I tried doing the homework assignment on the train heading back to where I live, and E seemed to be out of sequence, but I couldn't tell quite how.

Then, Friday, coming home from work, I took another shot at it.

The widget's delinquency is discovered on the final occasion on which the widget is delivered to the daycare center, the occasion on which the man fails to leave the widget in handcuffs.

My analysis was that this final occasion cannot be the second occasion because the words "every time" force the meaning "more than once." You don't say "Every time I've been to this restaurant the food is lousy" when you've only ever been there once before.

That's my logic, and that's the case I'm going to argue. But before I hand in my homework I'm going to meticulously dissect the text.

Of course, if one of the sequencing examples provided by the directing staff is wrong, this means that many bright, intelligent university-educated teachers have let the error slide past them without practice.

But I have been taught, and still believe, two things:

First, just because someone has written something down on a piece of paper, that does not mean it is true. (That was a lesson which one of my linguistics lecturers back at Auckland University kept hammering home, and it stuck.)

Second, despite everything, despite the fact that I can't avoid acknowledging that, in at some respects, I have joined the slow learners club, I am, nevertheless, of the opinion that, in some ways, I am still one of the brightest people in the room.

That said, as I finish this, I'm finding certainty elusive. My thesis is that "every time" forces the meaning "more than one time". But can I prove this? Efficiently, economically and beyond rebuttal?

Finally, to my shame, I fell back on, of all things, a Microsoft product, the Microsoft dictionary which was part of the package of disks which came with my latest version of Word. No entry for "every time" but "every" was defined as "used to indicate each member of a group without exception", and I think it is fair to say that "one", as in "one previous time", cannot be "every", as in "every time."

My thesis, then, is that the word "every" cannot be used to mean "one" in native speaker English, and so, if E is the penultimate step in a sequence of prior events described with the words "every time", it cannot be the "second" visit.

The words "every time" cannot be used to mean "only one other time" unless we take Humpty Dumpty's position, which is that when I use words they mean exactly what I want them to mean.

In my job interview, in the phase in which you have to analyze your own weaknesses, I came up with intellectual aggression as one of mine. And, yes, the old red-jawed crocodile is most definitely there. Up and at 'em, and take no prisoners.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The daughter bows her head in penitence

The daughter bows her head in penitence.

2006 July 23 Sunday.

Yesterday, Saturday, my wife, Murasaki Nishikawa, had occasion to have words with our daughter Cornucopia, who is aged two.

"Who pulled all the tissues out of the tissue box?" demanded my wife.

"Cornucopia," said Cornucopia, with a beatific smile.

My wife responded in uncompromising terms which made it very clear that this act of vandalism for the Cook-Nishikawa household. My wife then, quite properly, demanded that Cornucopia apologise.

"Gomen nasai," said Cornucopia, apologizing in polite Japanese.

She accompanied this apology with a bow, a bow quite well done, I thought, her hands at her sides and the head dipping low. This was the first time that I had ever seen my daughter apologise and, up until that moment, I had had no idea that she had mastered the art of bowing.

Generally speaking, Cornucopia has been quite good recently, though she has evidently failed to internalize the lesson of the last book she borrowed from the library. This book, her choice, the one book she selected from the shelves, is an obake book, a book about an obake, that is, a spook.

The book is called NENAI KO WA DARE DA. Which translates as WHO IS THE WAKEFUL CHILD? (No question mark in the original title, perhaps because Japanese, formally speaking, does not use the question mark, even though question marks are used in Japanese novels and other documents.)

We see various night scenes, including a tick-tock clock which, just like the one my wife and bought in London on Portobello Road, goes "bong bong bong!" when the mood is upon it.

Then we see the obake. And the child, the nenai child, the "doesn't sleep" child, which is clutching some kind of toy. The obake snatches up the child and carries her off into the night sky, taking her to the world of the obake clan. We gather that the child is never going to get home.

I was a bit shocked by this brutal ending, but my daughter is a big fan of this book, and, when her mother dropped by at the library on Saturday, two more obake books were delivered into Cornucopia's hands.

Not having internalized the message of exactly what happens to bad children who don't sleep, my daughter woke me recently at about five in the morning by kicking me. My wife was surprised, later, to find me sleeping downstairs on the couch.

In the morning it was discovered that Maisy mouse had unaccountably vanished from the upstairs bedroom and was nowhere to be seen. My thesis was that Maisy was snatched by the obake, but the mouse later turned up tucked in under the rattan stand which sits in the upstairs bedroom, one of the things I bought from the junk shop.

Today, Sunday, we went to the library as a family, with Cornucopia opting to walk, holding one of our hands in each of hers.

At the library she borrowed two books, one in a format which I have never seen outside of Japan, twelve sheets of cardboard in an envelope, a large picture on one side and text on the other.

En route, Cornucopia spotted a kyuri, that is, a cucumber, which was stuck up on a little stand outside a gate. I told my daughter that it was a food offering for the spirits of the ancestors, who return to this world once a year during the obon season.

My wife corrected me. The cucumber is not a food offering. Rather, it is a mode of transport which the spirits of the ancestors will use to travel from and to the world in which they now reside.

"Transort?" said Cornucopia, who is currently operating in vocabulary soak-up mode, catching and repeating just about any new word you say in her presence.

With this in mind, there are certain things I try not to say in the presence of my daughter, but sometimes the effort of self-control is difficult.

On the way home, Cornucopia gathered up three pieces of fruit. Ume. Plums. These, unripe but fragrant, are scattered along the roads between our house and the library.

Cornucopia, who had walked to the library, also chose to walk home again. We returned to the house with my laundry, my work shirts and one pair of black trousers.

Today, at home, my wife put me on the scales. My weight was down a bit a couple of weeks ago, but today it had recovered to 69.6 kilograms, a weight which I am comfortable with.

A cool and cloudy day today here in Yokohama, with no rain, though there has been catastrophic rain elsewhere in Japan, particularly in the southern island of Kyushu, and our TV screens have been dominated by disaster scenes. Just like New Zealand, Japan is an extremely steep and mountainous country, and, when it rains heavily, parts of the landscape tend to launch themselves downhill in the form of the landslides which, in New Zealand, we refer to as "slips".

One of the good point of our location, high up near a ridge, is that we are nowhere near one of Japan's typically flood-prone rivers, and it is impossible for our house to be inundated, even if the ice caps do melt.

As I type this blog entry, I am listening to Pink Floyd's DARK SIDE OF THE MOON through a pair of magnificent headphones which are plugged into my computer. I have my daughter Cornucopia to thank for these headphones. She recently discovered them inside a big red paper bag while she was looting stuff from inside of a cupboard in our one traditional Japanese-style tatami mat room.

These are truly magnificent headphones which, at my insistence, my wife and I bought when we acquired our stereo, some years back. We bought that particular stereo because it was small enough to just fit into the cramped space we had available at the place we were living in at the time, in Hiyoshi, which is also in Yokohama, and not far from where we live now.

For some reason we ended up never using the headphones, but they are coming in handy now because, just yesterday, I trashed my cheap computer earphones when I somehow got one of the earphones caught one of the castors of the sitriser in my personal room. And, when I tugged the gadget free, the entrapped earphone got destroyed.

I plan to get a replacement set of earphones at Best Denki on Friday, unless I can locate the old earphones which I have, I think, somewhere in my personal room, probably (if it IS in my personal room) in the box of electronic stuff (wires, cables and connectors) which is sitting to my right under a heap of other stuff, including the big tramping pack that I used to use back in the days when we went hiking.

Having the music blasting into my ears at such high quality is like rediscovering music all over again. Though I am careful not to have the volume up TOO long. I'm not sure how long I'm going to live for but, at this stage, I'm reasonably confident that if I go and trash my hearing then I will live long enough to regret it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Don't Mess With My Seaweed

2006 July 22 Saturday

I was planning on heading to the barber's here in Japan so, in preparation for the expedition, I trialed a useful piece of Japanese on my wife. What I intended to say was "Leave the parting as it is" but my wife informed me that what I had actually said was "Don't mess with my seaweed".

The phrase that I came out with was "Wakame sono mama". The term "sono mama" means "leave it as it is", and is something you could say, for example, at the cashier's in a convenience store, to indicate that there was no need to put your purchase into any kind of bag. Just leave it as it is, thanks.

However, I confidently used the word "wakame" thinking that it means "parting". Actually, it means "seaweed". The word I needed was "wakeme", and one vowel can make all the difference.

(Over the years, in the classroom, while teaching English, I have quite frequently heard Japanese students of English saying things like "I know for a fucked" when they mean "I know for a fact". On such occasions I have made a point of correcting the vowel to the "a" in "have", without ever elaborating on the reason why I was picking up on that particular pronunciation point.)

Thanks to the assistance given by my wife, I was able to sally forth confidently to the barber's, confident that my parting would not be messed with.

If you're living in Japan it really helps to know some Japanese, because then you can say how you want to get your hair cut.

You can also use your Japanese to obtain useful information as and when you need it.

At Waniguchi, for example, I found my way to the local stationery shop. Go down the road from Waniguchi Gakko, take the first right and it's on the left.

When I got to the stationery shop, I was able to use my Japanese in a clumsy but communicative fashion, eventually getting across the desired meaning, which was that I desired to purchase an indexed address book with the index in Roman letters rather than Japanese script. They told me they had no such thing but cheerfully assured me that I would be able to buy just such an item at the bookshop just along the road from the bank. Did I know the bank in question? Yes, I did.

Thanks to the useful information obtained from the stationery store, I ended up at the bookstore. There I was told that they did not sell address books of any description. However, they gave me a useful piece of information. They cheerfully informed me that I would be able to buy the desired address book at the stationery shop, which I would find easily if I went down the road, took the first right then looked for the shop on the left.

Despite my Japanese skills, then, I drew a blank as far as the address book was concerned. However, earlier, in the stationery store, I was able to successfully purchase a hotchikisu, a stapler, which I approximated as something like "hotch kiss". (The name derives from the brand name on the German staplers which, way back in history, brought the stapler revolution to Japan.)

At first, in the stationery shop, they didn't understand what I was on about, but I only needed to take two shots at it before they got the meaning, as there are no competing Japanese words in the hotchikisu range.

The more close competitors a word has, the more exact you have to be with the pronunciation, as in the case of "wakame" and "wakeme". (And, similarly, "I faxed her" and "I fuxed her". And, to take a pronunciation problem which one student had, the difference between "Quantas" and "Kuntas".)

Although my pronunciation was not entirely accurate, I did, nevertheless, get my stapler. If I'd been unable to communicate verbally, I would have mimed stapling two pieces of paper, or, if all else failed, I would have hauled out my notebook and would have drawn a stapler.

(I once had a Japanese student, an architect by profession, who was sent to Indonesia. He was housed in a house which had a number of staff members, all there to assist him, but he had no language in common with them. So what did he do? "I am an architect, so, of course, I can draw. So I drew.")

Without needing to draw, I was able to achieve linguistic success, my purchased hotchikisu the proof of this.

My reason for buying a stapler was that I need one for work. At work, some pieces of paper need to be stapled to the cardboard folders which contain student files, particularly the all-important mark-off sheet which shows you which lessons have been taught and which have not. Since the same students tend to recur during my morning shift, it is in my interests to do my best to maintain any files that I come across, since I will quite possibly be needing them again in the near future.

I need a stapler, then. But, although there is a stapler in the teacher's room, it is not easy for me to find.

My eyesight is adequate for teaching because, when wearing my reading spectacles, which are optimized for reading at book-holding distance, I can read even the smallest print in the textbooks. I have, when required, the visual acuity necessary to read any kind of documentation, from textbooks onwards.

Only one thing has defeated my eyesight since I started teaching, and that was the text on the back of the small button batteries which my wife dug out of the electronic keyboard of our daughter's jungle noises book. But my wife was able to read the tiny little engraved letters, and so we ended up getting the necessary batteries successfully.

But because I have a visual field defect, my eyesight is not adequate for a hunter-gatherer existence. I cannot easily hunt through the visual complexities of the world. Locating small items such as dropped pens, intruding mice, discarded hand grenades and the like is very, very difficult for me. Certainly, I am not really capable of hunting down a cunning and elusive stapler which has the habit of transmigrating through metaspace to emerge in the teacher's room in an unpredictable quasi-random fashion.

I quite simply can't hunt down small missing objects in an efficient fashion, and that is a problem for me in a teacher's room which is Time Pressure City.

The stapler is not the only object which has eluded me recently. A few days ago, a teacher who was teaching English to a five-year-old kid lost the ball that he and the kid were playing with. The ball ended up in the cubicle in which I was teaching.

"Could we have our ball?"

I asked where it was and he pointed at it, but I could not see the dark ball against the dark carpet, and, in the end, the teacher had to come right into the cubicle and retrieve the object.

I told him that if the ball ended up in my cubicle again then they wouldn't be getting it back.

I hit a similar problem, the problem of the small invisible object, when I and my two-year-old daughter Cornucopia were using the Internet together up in my personal room. I had clearly and unambiguously tasked Cornucopia with the job of monitoring my Internet so she could update herself on the contents of and other such important sites.

But, somewhere along the line, Cornucopia lost the plot, not for the first time, and I emerged from a hypnotic Internet daze to find that she had been messing with my stuff while my attention was diverted.

Quite a bit of my stuff, including the contents of an entire box of rubber bands, which had ended up sprawling across the floor.

And she had also gotten her hands on my address stamp. Her hands were inky with black ink and the cap of the address stamp was missing. Without it, the ink would dry up, so I wanted the cap back. But how to find it in my room? I could have searched for ages.

In the end, I called on the assistance of my wife, who, earlier, had dropped in on our father-daughter Internet session, and had offered to remove Cornucopia from my personal room

Once her assistance was requested, my wife almost immediately spotted the missing cap, which was sitting on top of a dictionary in a shadowy recess of the bookshelf which stands to the left of my desk.

Similarly, faced with the problem of hunting down the elusive stapler, I have been resorting to the simple expedient of asking the other teachers where the stapler is. I asked for help in finding the stapler at least five times in the working week just gone, and on one occasion a fellow teacher told me "It's down the other end of the room". I went there but couldn't see where the stapler was, so said, frankly, "I can't see where it is". The other teacher kindly went and got it for me. However, I figured that Hugh's constant requests for the stapler could, potentially, become an issue.

Since the hunter-gatherer component of office life is very small, I don't see my inability to hunt down wayward playballs and absconding staplers as being a serious demerit. But, even so, I felt I needed to solve the stapler problem.

And the simple solution, the smarter animal solution, was to go buy my own stapler, as these things are very small, very light and, additionally, very cheap. So now I have my own, tucked away in the small backpack which also contains, amongst other things, my reading spectacles, my pencil case, the novel I am reading on the train, a flashlight, my emergency supply of water, my collapsible umbrella and my raincoat.

My week ended, on balance, as a success. I conquered the stapler problem and, yes, I got my haircut done to my satisfaction.

The one place where I failed, sort of, was at the conveyor belt sushi place. My ambition was to extend my sushi-eating range by sampling the mysterious "suzuki" which I saw a customer order on the previous week. But they were out of suzuki that day. So next week, then. Maybe.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Development of the Daughter

Development of the Daughter

Saturday 15 July 2006

The development of my two-year-old daughter Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa continues apace, to the point where she can now understand the concept of a deal.

During the week, one morning she was reluctant to have her temperature taken, even though the thermometer now being used is the one which delivers a temperature in just thirty seconds. So I said to her, in English:

"If I do beep beep beep, you can have your orange."

And she went along with that.

In regards to the daily morning orange, of which she gets three segments, there has been a development. She has taken to ritually refusing it, saying, in Japanese, "It's not necessary," that is, "Iranai," a statement which lacks the polish of adult politesse.

However, having refused the orange, she always says, once I have peeled it, "I'm going to eat it."

I don't know why she refuses it, but maybe it's an act of independence, something to prove that she is not a helpless orange junkie, although the fact is that she is.

That much I think I understand, but some things I find puzzling, particularly her speech, and specifically this "Ya!" that she keeps coming out with. It seems to signify "No" but I haven't encountered it before.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think it's possibly a cut-down variant of "iya," an expression of rejection, meaning "I'm not having anything to do with it."

My big dictionary says that "ya" is an arrow, a plain, a house, a field and an expression equivalent to "Oh boy!" It can also mean "Hi" but, as far as I can tell from the dictionary, it does not normally mean "go and get jumped on."

In addition to having demonstrated an understanding of the art of the deal, as explained above, this week Aiko Cornucopias astounded the world by delivering her first pun.

Cornucopia hiccuped and her mother said "Hiccup," and Cornucopia, with scintillating wit, made her first-ever pun:

"Hick! Kick!"

All going to plan, movie rights to this pun will be auctioned later this year in New York.

In addition to making her first pun, Cornucopia has mastered elements of the library system.

The local library, which is near the supermarket which we generally visit on Saturday mornings, has a great selection of children's books in Japanese, and quite a few children's books in English, presumably because a lot of Japanese parents are eager to expose their children to English at a very early age.

Initially, when we first visited the library, Cornucopia's technique was to haul books off the shelves by the armload, heaping up the loot on the floor as if anticipating that we would drag it all home. But now she understands that we cannot have them all.

On the previous Saturday, she accepted that we could only have one, as I already had five cards out on my card, and there is a six-book limit. As a resident of the city of Yokohama, Cornucopia naturally has her own card, but there were six books out on that card, too.

Books are a big part of my daughter's life, and recently she showed me a book adorned with pictures of two hippopotamuses.

"Unchi," she said.

Meaning "poop".

This was a patent misidentification so I patiently explained that we were looking at artwork depicting hippopotamuses, not at heaps of excrement.

Cornucopia then opened the book to a page which showed the formidable posteriors of two hippopotamuses, one humongous, the other large, standing on a surface which was daubed with what was, indubitably, unchi.

I graciously conceded the point.

"Yes, Cornucopia, you are right. It is unchi!"

Unchi is a big part of the lives of small children. The relevant verb is "deru", meaning "to exit", and from time to time I hear, for the side room which holds the toilets which form part of the daycare facilities, the triumphant cry of a small child:


Meaning "It has issued forth!"

Unchi having issued forth, polite things you can say to the child in question include "O medeto gozaimasu", meaning "Congratulations", or "Pachi pachi!" (which is a childish way of saying "Clap clap!")

The unchi must, on all accounts, be acknowledged and praised, assuming that the child is your own.

Many of Cornucopia's books feature animals, and I am a little curious as to why our culture (Western culture and Japanese culture equally so) is so heavy on large African animals. We don't have elephants, hippopotamuses or crocodiles, but such animals are everywhere in the culture, everywhere from the daycare playground, where there is a slide in the form of a blue elephant, to Cornucopia's "Maisy" books.

One book my daughter has played with quite a few times is ELMER'S CONCERT, which is loaded with African animals, and has a built-in electronic keyboard of animal sounds.

I have my doubts about the authenticity of these sounds, particularly the dawn chorus cry of the crocodile, but, since we don't have crocodiles in our neighborhood, for all I know, perhaps this really is what crocodiles really sound like.

This book was given to Cornucopia in New Zealand by her New Zealand grandparents. Unfortunately, through long use, the batteries eventually ran more or less flat, and the dawn chorus of the African animals became, in large measure, inaudible.

My wife unscrewed the battery compartment and dug out three small button batteries which looked formidably high tech, not the kind of thing you would find at the local convenience store.

I was tasked to go to Best Denki, the electronics emporium at Hiyoshi, where I produced a sample battery which was marked, cryptically, with the legend "AG 13 X6 Nova cell".

An expert was produced from the inner recesses of Best Denki, and he offered a battery which might fit the bill, though he could not guarantee this, and threw the English word "risk" into his Japanese-language conversation.

Since the batteries were cheap, I bought three on spec, and, as soon as my wife inserted the first one into the battery compartment, it was clear that the product supplied would work. And soon ELMER'S CONCERT was as raucous as ever.

(Book authored by David McKee, published by Random House Children's Books, London, ISBN 0 09 950321 2.)

For the record, the Japanese battery which proved to fit the book was the Panasonic LR44, which, from the label, appears to also be described as the L1154 and the A76.

At Best Denki I also picked up some of the little batteries, about half the size of an AAA battery, that I need for the LED (light-emitting diode) flashlight which I bought to light me up at nights on Japanese streets on which cyclists, all too often, travel recklessly with no lights of their own displayed.

Because the torch was German-made, it never occurred to me that the battery would be a weird "only-in-Japan" thing. Here in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, you can buy these batteries, labeled as size "5", in convenience stores.

So, when I was in New Zealand, I expected to be able to buy the battery desired, the 1.5 volt LR1(G), in Japan a size 5 battery.

All confidence, I went to the camera shop in Devonport. Did they have the battery? Well, they had one exactly the same size. But it was 15 volts rather than 1.5 volts. My LCD torch takes three cells, and I was unwilling to experiment with putting 45 volts into a piece of electronic equipment designed to take 4.5 volts.

In New Zealand, my family was initially convinced that my inability to buy the requisite battery was due more to my brain-damaged condition than to the unavailability of the battery in question. But eventually it was conceded (with a certain degree of reluctance) that the desired battery was quite simply not on sale in New Zealand.

At Hiyoshi, I bought three cells for my LCD torch without difficulty. With similar ease, once in Japan I was easily able to purchase something which had eluded me in New Zealand, a device to convert a New Zealand three-pin electric plug to an earthless Japanese two-pin plug. This I bought with no problem at Bic Camera in Shibuya.

The voltage in Tokyo is 50 cycles at 100 watts -- in Osaka it is 60 cycles at 100 watts - which is a lot less than the New Zealand voltage. But I wanted the plug for my ThinkPad, which has an international transformer which will happily feed on just about any kind of mains power supply you are likely to be able to find to plug it into.

So the battery problem was sorted out and the daughter's dawn chorus was restored to full health.

Friday, my wife asked me if I was okay with continuing to take daughter Cornucopia to the daycare center, and I said it was no problem.

To begin with, it was painfully difficult for me to learn the routines. There are TWO aprons, one of which goes into each of the apron basket, but there are THREE towels, one for each of the three towel baskets. And, to begin with, it was very difficult for me to learn these simple details.

I find my existing skill set is intact. I have installed my igo program on my ThinkPad and find that my gameplaying skills, the fruit of playing the game for over twenty years, are intact. But learning new things, like the daycare routine, is painfully difficult.

However, I have now mastered the system.

As far as teaching is concerned, I have no problems. All my old error-correction techniques are intact, as are the required short and simple grammatical explanations, and the ways of explicating new vocabulary items.

I also remember how to write upside down, a skill I developed some years back during my first two years spent teaching in Japan, working at the same school at Waniguchi.

The advantage of writing upside down is that students can watch a word or a sentence take shape on the piece of paper you are writing on, without you having to first reverse it so they can understand what you are writing.

I never planned to learn how to write upside down, but I naturally fell into it during those first two years, a period in which I was working full time and was teaching far too many lessons in a day.

My skill set for teaching, then, remains solid, and I have no problems with the actual teaching.

My main problem at work is stamina, pure and simple, but I'm only working a three-hour day, which, at the moment, is pretty much my limit.

Last Sunday, as I was sitting at home with wife and child, the phone rang at about 0930, and it was my employer's central office in Tokyo. They were looking for substitute teachers for two schools, that morning, and could I go to one of those schools?

I politely explained that, sorry, no, I had childcare commitments, and that was why I had taken on this part-time job in the first place.

If I wanted work, I could work all the hours god sends. I met one young woman working for the same company who worked 40 hours of overtime in the previous month.

During my first two years of working for the same company I often did work overtime if I was asked to do so at the Waniguchi branch, but, these days, I wouldn't have the strength to work extra hours even if I wanted to.

On my Monday through Friday working day, I generally arrive home and lie down on the sofa and sleep for anything from twenty minutes to an hour, prioritizing sleep before I go online to check my e-mail.

My main problem, then, is stamina, and the three-hour working day means that this problem is manageable.

Friday, though, I hit an entirely different problem, and got to work five minutes late. I was heading in the direction of Tokyo when someone jumped in front of a train somewhere between Hataraku and Miorenji. That was in the opposite direction, but, even so, trains heading toward Tokyo on the Toyoko line halted.

All the intercom announcements were in Japanese, so, for monolingual foreigners, it was, potentially, a very confusing situation.

As I've written elsewhere, a "jinshin jiko", a "human body incident", is part and parcel of what constitutes normality in Japan. A lot of people jump in front of trains, the number running into hundreds each year in the Tokyo-Yokohama area.

I was perfectly happy sitting on my air-conditioned train reading my book. It was the slow train which, if you sit on it for long enough, goes all the way to Kitasenju, on the far side of Tokyo.

I'm done with the daycare by, as a rule, about 0855, and get on the train shortly after 0900. Because it is the slow train, even slower than the stop-at-every-station local train, it is largely empty at that hour of the morning, at least when I board, so I can take my choice of seats.

At the end of my journey, at Waniguchi station, I collected one of the "sorry your worker was late" slips which the train company routinely hands out in such cases. There was no trouble finding these things: a number of staffers were near the ticket wicket holding bunches of these things and shouting out loud to advertise their wares.

I handed in this sorry slip to the Japanese-speaking reception staff at Waniguchi Gakko, but, by the time I arrived, they already knew about the delay, and one of them had found the student files for the small class of just three people that I was scheduled to teach first up that morning.

So I was in the class teaching shortly after arriving at work at about 1005, just five minutes after my official start time.

Friday, yesterday, the day of the train delay, I celebrated the end of the working week by eating out at a conveyor belt sushi place which my wife had earlier taken me to at Waniguchi. It's very near Waniguchi Gakko, the conversation school where I teach.

I finish at 1310 and so, by the time I get to the conveyor sushi place, the few saucers of sushi on the conveyor belt have dried up and are not as nice as they should be. But you can order from the sushi chef, which I did, two saucers of squid, two of scallop and two of salmon roe.

It's currently really hot in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, and a good thing about a conveyor sushi place is that you can drink as much green tea as you want. The teabags are there on the counter and unlimited boiling water is on tap, so you can help yourself.

While I was eating, I realized that the names of all the available sushi toppings were displayed in Japanese hiragana script on the far side of the wall, in a script large enough for me to read from across the room.

So I have decided to eat kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) every Friday from now on.

"Kai" means "round" as in "going round", "ten" means "point" or "piece" and "zushi" is a phonetic variant of "sushi", so "kaitenzushi" means, literally, "pieces of sushi going round".

The good points about kaitenzushi are that, for a start, you don't have to decide, in advance, how much food you want to eat. I am slow to make decisions, so the liberties of the conveyor belt system suit me fine.

Additionally, you can get food without using language, although at this stage I do know the words for my favorite sushi toppings. Squid is ika, octopus is tako, salmon eggs are ikura and scallop is hotate.

I plan to work my way through the whole menu which is up on the wall and try new things.

I heard a guy ordering "suzuki", which I had, up until then, always thought was a motorbike. But apparently it's some kind of sushi topping. My big dictionary defines "suzuki" as a sea bass.

The guy who ordered it seemed to get only one piece on his saucer, so maybe it's expensive. I'll experiment next week and find out.

To finish, one last point on the development of the daughter. Some days back, I thought she had somehow developed psychic powers. Because, as she came down the stairs in her mother's arms, she started screaming for orange even though the orange was nowhere in sight, as I had cunningly hidden it in the kitchen until the time for sharing had arrived.

"Orange! Orange! Orange!" she screamed.

The word she screamed was the English word "orange" rather than the Japanese equivalent, which is "orangi".

"How did Cornucopia know there was an orange?" I asked my wife, as I surrendered the orange.

"We could smell it as we came down the stairs," said Murasaki.

This had not occurred to me as my sense of smell is very poor, and always has been. But the smell of orange had been immediately clear to my wife. Similarly, she had picked up on the fact that I had polished my shoes, as the smell of shoe polish was lingering in our minuscule foyer.

In addition to all my old shoes, I have two pairs of new black leather business shoes which I bought in Devonport, New Zealand, and I have taken to wearing them week and week about, leaving the fallow pair stuffed with newspaper, and leaving the added polish to sit for a week before being buffed off.

When I bought the shoes, I was uncertain as to whether I was really going to be able to return to the kind of normal life in which one gets up in the morning and goes to work, but that, it seems, is what has been achieved.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hanaya Yohei

Hanaya Yohei is the name of a chain of family restaurants which flourishes in Japan. The chain is named in honor of Hanaya Yohei, the dude who invented the modern version of sushi. The invention of sushi took place during the Meiji period, which is quite some years ago now.

There is a Hanaya Yohei in our neighborhood, about twenty minutes away on foot, if the foot in question is that of a two-year-old.

Saturday night, Saturday 8 July 2006, we took our two-year-old daughter to Hanaya Yohei. Her first ever experience of dining at a restaurant.

We experienced some trepidation, not knowing how well our daughter would tolerate waiting for her meal. But my wife had this figured out. As soon as we took our seats, she ordered the curry and udon noodle set for the impatient daughter, and the meal had been served by the time our orders had been taken.

I ordered a set meal which same with an assortment of sushi, a clear soup, some tempura, and some noodles which could be dipped into a kind of cold soup, which could be spiced up with the supplied chopped onions and ginger.

With our meal, my wife had a beer, my daughter had a glass of orange juice and I had sake.

It is sometimes incorrectly stated in Western sources that Japanese people typically heat sake before drinking it. However, when I have asked people in Japan about this, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that you can drink sake heated or at room temperature, as you prefer. There is absolutely no rule on this.

One source which perpetuates the "sake is heated when drunk" misinformation is the 2005 edition of Microsoft'[s
Encarta, which says that sake is "usually consumed hot or warm."

The same crappy Encarta encyclopedia contains a bad error in the section on cataracts, stating as if it were a fact that a cataract can only be removed when mature, though the eye surgeon who removed my own cataracts told me that such a notion is wrong, and that, with modern surgery, a cataract can be removed at any stage of its development.

The same piece of misinformation about the "usually heated" sake cropped up in a book set in Kyoto, a book written by, if memory serves, the American horror writer Dean Koontz. This book, obviously massively researched, had a Western hero who was absurdly knowledgeable about all things Japanese, more so than the average Japanese person could be expected to be. And it contained the same error about sake being heated before being drunk.

Personally, at home I always drink sake at room temperature, but sometimes I have it heated when it is served to me in restaurants, for a change.

At Hanaya Yohei, the sake came heated, which was acceptable to me.

Drinking sake made me think of a major faux pas I committed when I went out with the students of one of my corporate classes. I was asked what I would like to drink first, and automatically ordered sake, because I do not drink beer, and never have.

It was a couple of years down the track before I learnt that I had made a crass social error. The first drink MUST be beer. This is a definite rule, one you cannot bend or break. But I never picked up on that fact at the time.

When I made the error of ordering sake as my first drink, what happened was that the most senior member of the party took the lead and declared that he, too, would order sake. So I had no reason to think that my behavior was out of the ordinary. This is Japan, right, and Japanese people drink sake?

Well, these days, the drinking of sake is becoming a thing of the past, and a number of Japanese people are very surprised to find out that I like to drink sake. Because, very often, they don't.

At Hanaya Yohei, we started out with wife and daughter on one side of the table and me on the other. Half way through the meal, our daughter crawled beneath the table and resurfaced on my side.

But she caused no trouble except toward the end, when she got a bit noisy, loudly shouting "Ba!"

She declared that she liked going to the restaurant and that, yes, she would like to venture to the restaurant again some time.

So the evening was, all things considered, a big success.

Out of curiosity, I punched "Hanaya Yohei" into Encarta, but got a "no exact match found" response.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Aftermath of North Korean Military Aggression

Aftermath of North Korean Military Aggression

Saturday 8 July 2006

On Wednesday, our customary six-day-a-week dose of the current NHK television novel was cancelled as the TV devoted itself to the Korean missile crisis.

Today, Saturday, we experienced the aftermath of this in the form of a double dose of the drama about the young pianist, not from the normal 0815 to 0830 but through to 0845.

This left us with barely enough time to get to the supermarket when it opened at 0900, and it is important to be early to order your free delivery, as the delivery service is strictly limited.

While my wife was shopping in the supermarket, I took my two-year-old daughter, Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa, to the little park near the supermarket. Here there is a big sandpit where persons unknown have left sand molds, little spades and other oddments.

Here, my daughter did a practical test for survival beneath a projected North Korean regime. She passed splendidly on the first part then failed abysmally on the final test.

The first part she did just fine: digging up sandy mud. She dug up more mud than any healthy two-year-old could eat inside of a month. But when it came to the all important part, actually eating the mud, she totally failed. Didn't seem to understand that eating mud (or less nourishing substances) is going to be an all-important part of the North Korean future.

One good thing if the North Koreans take over: inside of a few weeks, we won't hear any more of this "I don't like crusts so I won't eat that part of the bread" nonsense.

Meantime, my creative juices have been bubbling away, and I have the lyrics for a new song, suitable for singing while you are waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road to the daycare center. The music is that of FRERES JACQUES and the words are:

We are waiting
We are waiting
Waiting here
Waiting here.
Waiting for the green light
Waiting for the green light.
Waiting here.
Waiting here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

North Korean missile launch disrupts family life.

North Korean missile launch disrupts family life.

Thursday 6 July 2006.

Yesterday our morning routine was disrupted when our six-day-a-week dose of the current NHK television novel, a slowly unfolding drama about a young pianist, was canceled.


Because the TV was busy with the war with North Korea, the statistics for which are, currently:

1. Number of atomic warheads North Korea has successfully landed on Japanese soil: zero.

2. Number of Japanese cities annihilated by North Korean bombing: zero.

3. Number of Japanese senior citizens hospitalized for panic in the aftermath of the launch of three North Korean missiles (splash!) into the ocean: zero.

By 0815, when the program was scheduled to start, my wife had already left for work. It was time for me to go upstairs to dress, and the theory was that my daughter would sit watching quietly as I did so.

But I left her to watch the crisis news instead.

That worked.

That evening, my daughter damanded an onbu, a piggyback, so I marched her round the house chanting, loudly:

"We are North Korea.
Ka-boom ka-boom ka-boom ka-BOOM!
We have tanks and we have guns
Ka-boom ka-boom ka-boom ka-BOOM!"

Which my daughter enjoyed immensely.

The recent North Korean missile launches have certainly stirred people up. This is the first, the very first time since we met in 1989, that my wife has ever mentioned current affairs to me.

If a big war breaks out and goes badly for Japan then my wife will, perhaps, be pressed into military service. In which case she will learn to iron shirts.

The war still being potential rather than actual, we have decided that we will take my shirts to the drycleaners, where they will wash and press one shirt for the sum of one hundred yen, which is quite reasonable considering what things cost in Japan.

Meantime, today, I'm pleased to report that the piano program was running as per normal.

Or as normal as life now gets.