Friday, February 22, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Winter

I thought I had experienced winter before moving to Japan. Turns out my 26 years of life in California did nothing to prepare me for real, honest to goodness winter.

Snow has always been something I loved. Taking trips up to the mountains to play in the powder were the best part of winter. When I was about 8, I even asked Santa to make it snow for Christmas. I always thought living in the snow would be the best thing ever! My childhood self would squeal with delight if she knew I was living in the snowiest city in the world with a million or more people.

I'm prefacing today's post with that because I don't want to give the impression I'm anti-snow. Far from it. It's just, my adult self now has some perspective 8-year-old Kathryn couldn't even begin to imagine. Living in the snow is a pain in the behind!

So, this is for all my California friends complaining about the "cold" winter. I feel like we're only scratching the tip of the ice-berg in our new appreciation for the winter-wonderland. If you have anything to add, leave a comment.

-The love/hate relationship with the snow plow:
       Snow plow: clearer of roads, I do love you. But yesterday, when you dumped your pile of snow in front of my driveway... yeah, that wasn't cool.
See those piles on either side of the plow? Those are driveways. Good luck residents.

       Also, do you have to drive so slow when you're not plowing. You block the whole road. Both lanes. :/ I just want to get home before the baby gets tired of sitting in her carseat, either pull over or go faster!

-Where'd the _____ go:
       The thing with snow is it accumulates. Rain washes away; it absorbs. Snow just keeps on piling higher. For the first full winter in Sapporo, I didn't know there was a park across the street. Then one spring day (mid-May, I think) I spotted the top of a jungle gym.
There's a jungle gym and swing set under that snow pile, but you'd never even suspect it. 
       Landmarks too, are obscured. I have to relearn how to navigate the city in the winter and then again after the thaw. 
       Stephen's had to learn to be careful about where he leaves the snow shovel. We lost one to a snowdrift that piled up over night. Which brings me to my next lesson...

      I am so thankful to have a dear husband who shovels the driveway. Both times I had to do it ( both times because the snowplow buried my exit) I thought I was having a heart attack later in the day because my left arm hurt so bad. Turns out, my shoveling muscles in my left arm are much less toned, if not non-existent.

-Wear the right shoes:
       I have a pair of warm boots. They're cute and fuzzy and I love them. The problem is there have virtually no tread on the bottom. I bought a pair of galoshes with a flip out cleat that I've dubbed my "safety boots." Not as cute nor as warm, but I've stopped falling on my butt when I walk around, which is a plus.

Plan wisely when you leave the house:
       Hat: check. Scarf: check. Coat: check. Gloves: check. Are you socks warm enough, because cold toes get old fast. Did you grab every single thing you might possibly need for yourself (and your baby if you've got one of those), because walking back into the house after managing to get into the snow covered car is NOT  an option.
       Plus, if your primary mode of transport is walking (like mine), you're going to look like a lost sherpa as you run your errands because heaven forbid you forget an essential item when it starts dumping snow on your walk home from the grocery store.

My baby sherpa, modeling proper snow attire. 
And another pic of the bundled up baby for good measure. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bringing Laughter to the Tutoring Center

Some time last year it hit me that living in Japan as a limited language foreigner is a lot like being a small child. I can't read. I can't write. I don't have a high vocabulary. I may even be worse off than a small child; even they know the cultural expectations and processes like lining up their shoes, something I ALWAYS forget to do.

I guess it's fitting that I just started attending an after school tutoring program geared towards young Japanese children to improve my Japanese.

Kumon is pretty much standard around here. I'm willing to bet there are more Kumons in Japan than there are Starbucks in California.

Like I said, it's an after-school tutoring program. Kids go there to practice reading, writing, math, and English. Often, foreigners, like me, will go to learn kokugo (the country's language) Japanese, rather than Japanese geared towards foreigners. The benefit is you can learn Japanese how Japanese do. You have the vocab; the idioms and sayings; the common children's stories; and other things that make language what it is.

My first day was last Thursday. What a humbling experience, let me tell you! There is nothing like reading a kindergarten reading passage out loud while a room full of 7 and 8 year olds watch you in amusement as you, a grown adult, stumble through.

People, so you understand, although I've never been the best student, I'm grade-level at the very least. Being semi-illiterate is a bit of a blow to my self-esteem. Having that fact highlighted by 1st and 2nd graders turns the whole thing into a comedy show. I'm choosing to be glad I can bring laughter to the otherwise quiet classroom. ;)

Then, I had to fill in some worksheets to have the teacher grade. When she took her red pen to my work and started circling EVERYTHING I nearly died.

Until I remembered circles mean correct. It's "X"s that mean wrong. Blargh, even how they grade is different!

Turns out I did well on my first worksheet, and only had one error in my handwriting (Yes, handwriting is graded, too).

I go back today with a stack of homework for them to grade. This time, I'm hoping for lots of red pen circles!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Peanuts, Crying Children, and Ogres' Underwear

When we moved here 2 years ago, every one was gearing up for the weirdest holiday I've ever heard of. Let's let that sink in, this is a weirder celebration that pranking friends all day; dressing up and begging strangers for candy; OR even waiting for a rodent to tell us if spring is on the way. Yep, it's THAT crazy, friends!


The day where children all over Japan are scared witless by big monsters called Oni and throw peanuts at them to make them go away. While the kids do this they chant, "Oni wa soto; fuku wa uchi" (monsters/evil out; happiness in).


Our first week here our host family showed us a home video of the father dressing up as oni and trying to get in the house as the daughters chucked peanuts at him. Well, the oldest threw peanuts; the younger daughter cried and hid behind her mom's legs.

Crying is pretty much a mainstay of Setsubun. Moms I've talked to about it share how the schools have people dressed as oni come so the kids can throw their peanuts. Then they take a class picture, which is mostly a group of red-faced crying children.

Maybe it's like how I think it's hilarious seeing pictures of kids freaking out on Santa's lap.
heartbreaking, yet hilarious
Although, to be fair, people don't expect the kids to freak on jolly old St Nick's lap.

At play group last week, we sang a setsubun song about oni's underwear. It was pretty funny. I told an American friend and she said it was a common song that her daughters learned at preschool, too.

I've found the words for you so you can sing it, too!

To the tune of "Funiculi, Funiculi" (The traditional Italian song)

Oni no pantsu wa ii pantsu
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Tora no kegawa de dekiteiru
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Go-nen haite mo yaburenai
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Ju-nen haitemo yaburenai
Tsuyoi zo, tsuyoi zo
Hakou, hakou, oni no pantsu
Hakou, hakou, oni no pantsu
Anata mo, watashi mo, anata mo, watashi mo
Minna de hakou oni no pantsu!

and the translation:

Ogres' trunks are good underwear
They are strong, they are strong
They are made of tiger skin
They are strong, they are strong
Wear them for 5 years, they won't tear
They are strong, they are strong
Wear them even for 10 years, they won't tear
They are strong, they are strong
Let's wear them, wear them, ogres' underwear
Let's wear them, wear them, ogres' underwear
You, and me, and you, and me,
Everyone let's wear them ogres' underwear!

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