Stuff I Wish I Knew About Japanese Preschools a Year Ago

If you’re a parent in Japan, I’d like to tell you about a few lessons I learned the hard way related to Japanese preschools:

1. If you want to go to a private preschool, call the school the day your baby is born because there are incredibly long waiting lists. A lot of parents seem to try to plan their delivery dates so that the child is born early in the year to get ahead on the waiting list. Our son was born in September, and by the time we got around to applying for a preschool in November, we were number 25 on the waiting list.

2. The reason you want to call a private preschool is because if the one my son goes to is typical, public preschools are insane:

a) They take my son’s temperature three times a day. If it’s over 37.5 in the morning (my parenting books says that’s the upper limit of a normal temperature) he is not accepted, and if at any time it goes over 38 we have to pick him up, even if it goes back down a few minutes later (which it often does).

b) Every time he sneezes or gets a pimple on his little toe, they insist we take him to the doctor, even though the doctor rolls his eyes every time he sees us and says, “Wow, your pre-school is really strict.” They have also rejected kids even when the doctor gave permission for them to go back.

c) They don’t seem to understand the concept of “day care,” because they’re constantly accusing my wife of being a bad mother when she works overtime or applies for extended-hours daycare.

d) One teacher got angry at my wife for speaking English to my son because she claims he doesn’t understand Japanese as well as the other kids (ignoring that fact that he was the second-youngest in the class).

e) They’re constantly telling us how to raise our child.

f) They give us lectures when we’re (literally) five minutes late picking him up.

Other reasons that I wish we’d gotten into the private preschool near my apartment are that their opening hours are much longer, they let you drop off your child any time during the day (making it much easier to take him to the doctor and letting you use a half- rather than a full-day off), they’re just generally a lot more flexible.

But then again, if we’d gotten into the private preschool, my son wouldn’t have gotten to wear this cool disaster hat after the March 11 earthquake, so I guess that’s something.

Earthquake Sickness

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Sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, I suddenly feel the ground shaking, but when I look around, everyone else is just sitting there calmly. I always feel really stupid, and I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Last night, however, my wife did the same thing, and then this morning I came across an article about ‘jishin yoi (link is in Japanese only).’ ‘Yoi’ usually means ‘drunk,’  but ‘kuruma yoi’ is ‘car sickness’ and ‘funa yoi’ is ‘sea sickness,’ so ‘jishin yoi’ can be translated as ‘earthquake sickness.’

The article defines it as “feeling dizzy or shaky even though there there is no earthquake happening.” Apparently, it’s becoming quite common in Japan due to the terrible earthquake and all the aftershocks these days.

I wonder if there’s a word for my other neurosis, obsessively checking the radiation levels in Tokyo every five minutes (The link is in Japanese only, but the first column is the maximum, the second is the minimum, and the third is the average. The normal level is 0.028~0.079 micro sieverts.)

Fearsome Nio at Entsuu-ji Temple

Entsuu-ji is a kind of a cheesy-looking Zen Temple near Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, but it has some really cool Buddhist sculptures.

These are kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” and they stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that one, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and one, the Mishabe Kongo, (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

Entsu-ji probably isn’t worth a special trip, but you might want to combine it with a visit to the Yoshiwara former red-light district or the Kotsukappara Execution Grounds.

Here is the temple’s homepage (in Japanese only)

Getting there: From Minami-senju Station, go out of the West Exit, turn left, and walk to the stop lights. Turn right and walk north to the next set of lights. Turn left, and walk to the second set of lights, which is a big road called Nikko Kaido or Route 4. Cross the street, and turn left. Entsu-ji will be on your right. You can also take Exit 3 from Minowa Subway Station, turn right, and north on Nikko Kaido/Route 4. Coming from Minowa, Entsu-ji will be on your left.Address: Tokyo, Arakawa-ku, Minami-senju 1-59-11 (Japanese: 東京都 荒川区南千住1-59-11)

TEl. 03-3891-1368

These are Kongo Rikishi (aka Nio),Kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that the one on the left, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and the one on the right, the Mishabe Kongo (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

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G-Cans Water Tunnel

For years, people living by the Tonegawa, Arekawa, and Edogawa Rivers faced the threat of terrible floods during the typhoon season. Every few years, anywhere between a few dozen and tens of thousands of houses would be inundated with water, and as the Tokyo metropolitan area expanded, the problem was only growing worse.

In the early 1990s, someone came up with the idea of huge underground discharge tunnels for the rivers to prevent flooding. Construction started in 1993, and 13 years later, the G-Cans Water Discharge Tunnel was completed. It’s a really impressive structure, and and the facility is open to tourists. I visited this December and found it to be really impressive.

There are a bunch of videos here. The website and videos are in Japanese, but just click on “broadband” or “narrowband” to watch them.

Official Site (mainly in Japanese):

No More Mikan Roulette

After years in Japan, I decided it’s time to stop playing mikan (aka satsuma orange) roulette and figure out how to get a sweet,  tasty orange.

According to this homepage (link is in Japanese only), there’s more to a delicious mikan than just sweetness. It’s the balance between citric acid and sweetness.

Apparently, you want an orange with a sweetness factor of around 10 and a citrus acid level of 1.2. So how can you tell which oranges are going to have the right balance of sweetness and citrus?

Size: The big ones always cost more so they must taste better, right? Well, actually the small ones are sweeter, so go for the “M” or “S” size.

Shape: There are some varieties of mikans that are meant to be round, but in general, flattish ones are better. It’s also good to look at the bottom because is should be slightly indented. Among the fast-ripening varieties the ones that should be more roundish are called wasei unshuu (Japanese: 早生温州) and the ones that should be flat are called gokuwasei unshuu (Japanese: 極早生温州).

Color: You can sometimes find greenish mikans early in the season that are sweet, but in general, the darker the orange, the sweeter it is. Apparently, mikans early in the season sometimes have orange coloring added (link is in Japanese only), so they are going to be sour. Most places stop adding coloring to mikans that are produced after the beginning of November, but there are some that do it throughout the season, so coloring isn’t the best way to choose an orange.
They say you can tell that a mikan has been colored by looking at the stem. If the stem is really yellowish near the fruit and brown at the top, it’s probably had coloring added.

Hardness: Juicy mikans are not necessarily sweet, so choosing one with a loose skin or that is very soft doesn’t mean you’re going to get a sweet one. Usually the juicy ones are less flavorful. Touch the skin, and it should be a bit soft, but with resilience. Ones with hard skin are usually not ripe yet.

Stem: Surprisingly, all the homepages I checked emphasized that examining the stem is an most important step in ensuring you’re going to get a tasty orange. Thin stems are better because they come from thin branches, which apparently makes them sweeter. Also, check the stem’s color. Mikans’ stems turn from green to yellow as they ripen, so a yellowish stem means the orange will be more flavorful. Darker stems mean less taste.


The Hardest-working Homeless in the World

Japan must have the hardest-working homeless people in the world. I think I’ve seen about two panhandlers in the 17 years I’ve lived here.

I did some reading about them on this government survey and this blog. It says there were about 25,000 in Japan as of 2003, with 7,757 in Osaka, 6,361 in Tokyo, and 2,121 in Nagoya. It seems Osaka has finally found something it can beat Tokyo in!

An amazing 64.7 percent of homeless people do some kind of work, and 73.3 percent of those do some kind of waste collection. In 2003, about 35.2 percent of homeless people had a monthly income of between 10,000 and 30,000 yen, and 18.9 percent had an income of between 30,000 and 50,000 yen. However,around 2004, the price per kilogram for aluminum went up from 80-90 yen to between 150 and 170 yen, so they are probably earning more.

Japan’s homeless are a lot older than in other countries. 23.4% are between the ages of 55 and 59, 22% are between 50 and 54, and 20.3% are between 60 and 64.

Sign Trucks

One of the latest trends in Japanese advertising is the sign truck. They started appearing a few years ago, but these days if you go somewhere like Shinjuku or Shibuya, they’re everywhere. The trucks drive around and around in a short route through an area with a lot of people, and often play music as well.

According to the website of an ad agency that specializes in sign trucks, they’ll get seen by 400 people per kilometer, 48,000 people per day, and 1,056,000 people per month. They’re not cheap though, and a small 1-ton truck costs about a million yen ($10,000)  per week. The big 40-ton trucks cost more than 2.5 million a week.

This one is advertising the popular new game Monster Hunter 3.

This one looks innocent and says “A must see for women who are worried about finding a job.” When you visit the website, though, it turns out its recruiting female sex workers.

Ikukuru is an Internet dating/marriage site.

This one is a singing duo called Nezumi&.Seiko

This truck advertises satellite TV.

If they’re out of your budget, you could try one of these ad-cycles (adokuru).

Wavy Tokyo

My new digital camera has a panorama photo feature. I discovered that if you tilt the camera back and forth as you pan, you get this kind of cool wavy effect. Please click on the photos to get the full effect of the panorama.

This is the view from my apartment.

This is the Shinobazu Ike in Ueno Park.

Here’s a train platform in Ueno Station.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! I was trying to update this blog once a week, but it looks like I was a little ambitious. My new goal is “a couple of times a month.”
The big reason I haven’t been able to do many updates is that having a baby makes it difficult to go out and take pictures. I think I’ve solved that problem, though, by buying an EVIL camera, the Sony NEX-3. In case you don’t know, EVIL stands for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens. It’s basically an SLR with no viewfinder. You use the screen on the back of the camera to compose your photos, and because there’s no viewfinder, they don’t need to put a mirror inside it, making the body almost as small as a compact digital camera.
Despite its small size, the lens and sensor are great, and the photos are about the same quality as an entry-level DSLR. The ISO is also excellent, which is why I chose it over other cameras like the Olympus Pen. I’m not afraid to take it up to 1,600, or 3,200 in a pinch.
It’s easy for my wife to use as a point-and-shoot, but also offers full control of the shutter, aperture, and focus for me. I’d really recommend it for anyone looking for a reasonably priced, easy-to-carry camera that takes excellent photos.

By the way, if you’re thinking about buying one, Yodobashi and Sofmap charge over 60,000 yen for the double lens kit, but I found it at a little shop called Akiba Oroshiuri Center in Yushima for 50,000. It’s basically an online shop, and they do most of their business through, a famous price-comparison site, but when I went there in person, the owner let me open up the box, and he had excellent product knowledge (Address: Tokyo, Bunkyo-ku, Yushima, 3-27-12. Tel. 03-5818-8135 / FAX. 03-5818-8156). I’ve always been leery of buying from before, but now I think I was crazy for not trying it before.

It’s Tough Being a Japanese Fire Fighter

I see these fire fighters jogging back and forth in front of their fire station almost every day. They run about 100 meters, up and back on this really narrow sidewalk, and I reckon they go back and forth about 50 times. If there’s a slow-moving senior citizen blocking the way, they have to hop the barrier and run onto the road. I guess they can only do it here because they’re not able to get very far from the fire station in case there’s an alarm, but you’d think there must be a better way. Can’t Bunkyo-Ward spring for a running machine for these guys?

Salariman Spending Money

In Japan, women usually control the purse strings, and men are given a monthly allowance that they use to buy lunches, go drinking, and purchase daily items. My wife’s brother recently had his spending money cut, so I’ve been interested in the topic of how much people get. I found this interesting article on the subject, so I’ve translated it below. It’s from an online technology and lifestyle blog called Maikomi jaanaru and is based on a survey by Shinsei Financial.

Salarymen’s average total spending money decreases by 5,000 yen from last year to 40,600

Shinsei Financial released the results of the “2010 Salariman Spending Money Survey” on June 8. It was conducted on 1,000 salarimen between the ages of 20 and 50. The average amount of spending money decreased for the third year running, and salarimen are cutting back on things such as buying bento boxes and eating out, making efforts to maintain their lifestyles and increase their savings.

Salarimen’s average spending money decreased by 5,000 yen to 40,600 yen, going down for the third year in a row. 56.8 percent reported that they had not had pay increases between last year and this year. The number who “received no pay raise” outpaced those who “received a pay raise” last year, and the trend has continued.

When it comes to how allowances were spent, the average year’s amount is 500 yen, but last year it decreased sharply by 90 yen. It has been dropping continuously from 710 yen in 2001, and this year’s amount was the lowest in 10 years. When asked how many times they brought their own lunch in a five-day period, the number who answered that they brought lunches from home, refraining from eating convenience store lunches, going to the employee cafeteria, or eating out, increased from 1.3 times last year to 1.5 times this year.

The number of times salarimen ate lunch out decreased from 1.1 last year to 0.9. Going out eating and drinking after 5 PM decreased from 3.3 to 2.9 times per month, the third year in a row it has gone down. The price paid for drinks decreased by almost 1,000 yen this year to 4,190. Shinsei reported that “The long deflationary spiral seems to have affected the amount spent on lunches and drinking, and at the same time, it can also be said that salarimen’s desire to save money may also have increased greatly.

The original article is here.

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