Thursday, September 18, 2008
Do not adjust your monitor; yes you are seeing correctly the kid has kanji written on her leg!!! Welcome to the world kid let me introduce you to my friend Mr. Sharpie…this won’t hurt a bit!!! Since my friends are from Brazil (hence they have no kanji characters in their names) their baby was identified with katakana (one of the simplest Japanese scripts that use syllables to make a word). How hilarious!!! It’s not like you can’t tell which kid has foreign parents in the first place!!! The big one!!! All the babies where around 5 to 6 pounds but the Brazilian baby was almost 9 pounds!!!
So I went on my usual investigative rampage - all I was missing was a little note pad and pen – and started asking around if this is a normal practice in Japan. Guess what? …wait for it…think about it…off course its normal, it’s Japan!!! The only thing that varies is where the name is written, my teacher told me her nieces and nephews had their last name written on the sole of their tiny feet. I guess this hospital considered that there was not enough space there and just used the whole lower leg as a kanji canvas.
Apparently a few years back there was a big controversy about kids being mixed up in the hospital and given to the wrong parents. As always there had to be extreme measures taken in order to ensure that it did not happen again. So why don’t we…….write the parents last name on the baby minutes after birth? That sounds like a great idea!!! Let’s implement it immediately even though it might cause some issues like:
1. The ink wearing off after the bay is bathed.
2. Not taking into consideration any weird toxins that the magic marker might have, especially if it’s made in China.
3. Ignoring the fact that the baby might get some type of skin rash due to the ink.
Just write on the baby with a marker bought at the 100 yen shop (1 USD) and he or she will be fine. Once again I love this country. Japan is so quirky all the time that it never let’s me down.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Procedures Related to Baby Birth
A. [After becoming pregnant]
1. Obtain a "Mother and Child Health Hand Book" at the Public Health Center
*The expectant mother should obtain a ""Mother and Child Health Handbook"" at a public health center by filling out a Notification of Pregnancy Form. The purpose of the handbook is to record the progress of the pregnancy, the medical condition of the baby after birth, and the vaccination information. An English version of this handbook is available.
B. [After having a baby]
1. "Within 14 days after birth" Birth Registration at the Ward Office
* You will need: Birth Certificate (Issued by the hospital) and Mother and Child Health Handbook.
2. "Within 60 days after birth" Alien Registration at the Ward Office
Fill out an application. This is available at the ward office.
* You should obtain: Baby's Alien Registration Certificate, Official copies of the Birth Certificate (You need 2 copies) @ 350 yen, Certified copy of Alien Registration (family information) @300 yen
3. "Within 30 days after birth" Status of Residence Certificate at the Immigration Office
*Fill out an application and questionnaire (for parents). These are available at the immigration office.
* You will need: An official copy of the Birth Certificate, Certified copy of Alien Registration (family information), Passports of the parents (and the baby if obtained) and the Mother and Child Health Handbook
C. [After finishing the Birth Registration]
*Obtain a passport for the new baby at the Consulate or Embassy
* You will need: An official copy of the Birth Certificate
D. [After obtaining a passport for the new baby]
1. Transfer of Endorsement - This procedure will transfer the baby's status of residence into the baby's passport at the Immigration Office
*Fill out a petition. This is available at the immigration office.
* You will need: Baby's passport, Baby's Alien Registration Certificate,
2. Re-entry Permit (multiple) at the Immigration Office
*Fill out an application form and Embarkation card. These are available at the immigration office.
* You will need: Baby's passport, Baby's Alien Registration Certificate. A revenue stamp @6000 yen.
3. Update the baby's Alien Registration Certificate at the Ward Office (with new status of residence, passport number, etc.)
* You will need: Baby's passport Baby's Alien Registration Certificate"
After all this stuff you can finally call your child "legal" in Japan. What a pain!!! Notice that all this stuff has to be done within 2 months of the baby's birth!!! I did not have a passport until I was like 15 years old!!!! I didn't actually use my passport until I was in college and actually got a cute stamp on it. My child will have a passport almost simultaneously as being able to distinguish colors and he's going to have a stamp (or various I don't know) before he is 1 year old. This is crazy, how times have changed. What ever happened to simply getting a birth certificate and a social security number? As always, nothing is simple in Japan.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Being pregnant in another country has been quite interesting to say the least. Luckily I have been feeling well and have had no issues with the pregnancy so far (knock on wood) which is quite positive since there is only one hospital with a semi English speaking doctor around our house. The doctor speaks a little English and as long as he keeps saying "genki" - which is healthy in Japanese - I'm happy. Every month we go over to the hospital/5 star hotel (very posh place people) get a sonogram and wait for the word "genki", it's as simple as that. I'm not really sure why I have to get a sonogram every visit but "when in Rome do as the Romans". I have to accept that it's kind of cool to see exactly what is going on inside my belly and I have been pleasantly surprised to see how much this kid moves (a sign of things to come). Everyone at the hospital is super nice and cordial even though I don't know what their saying. Here is a scan of the hospital's brochure so you have an idea what I'm talking about.
I have received many questions from the people that I have already told about my pregnancy and I'm sure allot of people have the same questions so I will address some of these issues independently.
1. Citizenship - The kid will be an American citizen, after he (yes it's a boy and I am not publishing that sonogram picture for obvious reasons) is born we have 30 days to take the baby to the American embassy in Osaka (2 hours by train) and get a social security number and a passport. Even if your born in Japan that does not mean you are a Japanese citizen. You can only be Japanese by blood (mom or dad are Japanese). There are actually lots of court cases in Japan right now because of that. Imagine being born and raised in a place and then told your not a citizen because your parents are from another country!!! The only thing that we can keep is the babies birth certificate as a souvenir after that he will have a tiny little passport and alien registration card just like all the foreigners in Japan. Interesting.
2. Where is the baby going to be born? I'm having the baby in Japan. The health care here is really good, the government cover 70% of all your expenses. I actually had to go down to the Hiroshima city hall and register that I'm having a baby. I thought this was strange but actually they give you a mother's book where the doctor record your progress during the pregnancy and coupons. I did not know exactly what these coupons where for, free diapers? free massage? no idea since I can't read. I soon found out the coupons are actually to cover your check ups when you go to the doctor. The last check up I went to I had a sonogram and a blood test and only pad about $35 USD. Go Japan that's all I have to say.
3. Is someone going to help you out after the baby is born in January? Yes, Orlando's parents are going to come and help out in January. I don't have a final plan yet until my due date is more fixed, up to now it's January 15, 2009 but it could vary 2 weeks before or after so it's tricky.
4. Maternity clothes - What do you do when all the women around are 5 feet tall and weigh 90 pounds max? well you order clothes from the US because guess what, NOTHING FITS!!!!!!!! So I gave a huge donation to Gap maternity and had my very nice mother in law send it to Japan (another huge donation for duty taxes upon delivery). I have to wear something!!!! even if it's a waste to pay so much for something your going to use only a few months. "Shoganai" - there is nothing I can do - in Japanese. For the record, maternity clothes suck no matter which country you buy them from.
5. Cravings - How do you deal with craving if your live half way around the world from your home country? You have very nice people that send you things. I've only really had 2 craving Froot Loops and plantains. My parents actually send me plantains all the way from Puerto Rico and I'm happy to report they made it in one piece. I recently figured out how to order plantains from a Philippines online store here in Japan and I paid $30 USD for a batch and I don't care, it was a matter of life or death. I also had a box of Fruit Loops send to me from a very good friend in Michigan. I have not figured out where to get these, since cereal (especially sugary ones) are not popular in Japan, but where there is a will there is a way.
Last but not least I just wanted to thank everybody for their good wishes and gifts. I am very grateful to have such good friends and family that ship me books, Froot Loops, Plantains and all sorts of baby gifts to Japan. Orlando and I joke around that we have never received so many boxes consecutively in the whole 2 years we have been here. The good thing about being in Japan is that there is no storage space, so people have to get rid of their stuff quickly, that's where we come in. So far many of the our foreign friends here in Hiroshima have given us their baby furniture and contraptions that they are not going to use anymore. I have no idea how to use or put together some of the stuff we already got, but I guess I'll figure it out 4 months from now.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
In general our lives in Japan are pretty normal (hence why I have not written in this blog for a while). Our jobs and surrounding are different but we are the same wacky kids at the core. We are already used to all the bright lights with kanji symbols and nothing really shocks us anymore. Oh look another wacky “Engrish” sign that has horrible spelling or simply can’t be understood. At first I would laugh until I dropped but now I simply appreciate the fact that they tried to translate the information into English in the first place!!! Oh look another temple or shrine – wooooopy duuu. I definitely think our acceptance of weird things has increased greatly in the last few years to the point that we just ignore the girls dressed in full doll costume walking along the streets.
The one aspect that has changed in our two years here is our understanding of the Japanese people. Simply interacting with them on a daily basis gives you a glimpse into the real Japanese culture. I have come to realize that even though a person speaks English that does not mean that they truly understand your weird western ways (or any of my “unique” humor while we are on that subject). In essence the person is talking to you in English but their behavior and complete thought process is 100% Japanese. The only exception to this rule is if someone had lived in a western country for a few years and had integrated themselves culturally in the process. I have only met a hand full of people who meet this requirement. The majority of the people learn English in special language schools after work and the most fluent ones have gone on some type of exchange (6 months to a year) in an English speaking country at some point in their lives.
As a result of this phenomenon, I have learned to read behind the English words being spoken and look for the true Japanese meaning behind it. A perfect example of this is the use of the word yes (“hai” in Japanese). Once you explain a situation and the next steps that need to be taken to solve an issue the probability of obtaining a “hai” at the end from your Japanese colleague is 100%. The trick is to see that this “hai” does not mean that “yes I will take the actions you suggested” it really means that “yes I heard your concern”. After the situation is “heard” it needs to be discussed in extreme details with everyone and their bosses and their respective superiors until everyone agrees on the correct course of action to take. This is done (after way too many meetings) in order to make sure that there is a group consensus and that the action does not affect any individual or group negatively, therefore my patience level has increased 1000% since living in Japan. According to Wikipedia:
“There is a prescribed and orderly feel to the Japanese cultural and social norms. The goal of the Japanese system is the establishment and maintenance of “wa”, or harmony. On the surface, this aspiration for harmony is respectable, but it is also possible that the pursuit of harmony may cause problems as well. The result of such a uniform viewpoint can lead to the stigmatization of even slightest deviance. ”
At first it was frustrating, now it is just the way things are. I think it took me a while to really understand the “rules of the game” but once you do, everything goes allot smoother.
Another aspect of “the game” that I have been working on understanding lately is how to distinguish between the Japanese’s “honne" and “tatemae”. According to good old trusty Wikipedia:
“Honne (本音) refers to a person's true feelings and desires. These may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one's position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one's closest friends.
Tatemae (建前), literally "façade," is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one's position and circumstances and these may or may not match one's honne.
Honne and tatemae are arguably a cultural necessity resulting from a large number of people living in a comparatively small island nation. For this reason, the Japanese tend to go to great lengths to avoid conflict, especially within the context of large groups.”
Being able to tell if a person is telling you what they really think or what they perceive you want to hear in order to avoid conflict is extremely tricky. In essence if you have established a relationship of trust with an individual they will tell you their honne, in private. If there are other people present (especially if the other person is the most senior in the group) the situation completely changes, everyone suddenly begging acting super formal and really quiet. Even the language changes!!! In Japanese there are 3 different verbs for almost EVERYTHING!!! It all depends if the person you’re talking to is you junior, equal or senior. But the kicker is they all mean the same thing!!! That is an easy way of telling that everyone has their tatemae on. In other less formal situations you have to simply rely on your instincts to know which side of the person you’re dealing with at that moment, it’s hard but not impossible.
You might be thinking that is must be hard to figure these things out but if you ask usually you will get an honest answer out of a good friend. Off course if your in Japan make sure you ask in the right environment (basically anywhere outside of the office). Every culture is unique in their own way, and I’m sure there are allot more social aspects of Japan that we have not experienced, but fortunately we still have another year to figure them out.
If you want to see people who have REALLY emerged themselves in the Japanese culture check out this article:
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Personally most of my first memories of Japan are forever linked with this job. When I began working I did not know much about Japan but many people in the office took the time to teach me about its language and culture. Some of them invited me to participate in various sporting events (volleyball, softball and golf tournaments) and work related activities (Hanami party, end of the year party etc.). In general everyone in the office was patient, understanding and accepted me the way I am (kind of laud and very straight forward). Even though sometimes we could not fully communicate or had a difference of opinion we always found a way to get our points across due to our mutual respect.
Professionally it was the first time I was able to work in the development of a vehicle from a design concept to a a working prototype in a very short period of time. This experience is truly unique in the fact that the various teams where all geographically separated. Two years ago I would have never imagined that I would be working on a vehicle that is designed in Australia, engineered in Japan and built in Thailand. Each team had a different working style which made this interaction very challenging but in the end everyone came together to complete the job. I believe that I gained allot of knowledge, in a very short period of time, that will be incredibly valuable in the future.
The last day of work I was surprised to be asked to stand up and give a speech just as I was about to leave. I was caught completely off guard by this request. Later my husband told me that this was a custom in Japan and it was pretty common around his office. A little heads up would have been nice but hey no hard feelings. So I stood up told everyone (the office translator expressed everything I said in Japanese) that it was a pleasure to have worked with them. I also stated that it was my most sincere hope that they had learned a little about me and about Puerto Rico. I think I did accomplish this because at the begging of my job one of the first things people ask you is where you from are. Every time I answered Puerto Rico they just looked at me with a blank stare. Then I would tell them that it is a little island in the Caribbean. The most common response was like the pirates? That is what happens when you let Johnny Depp represent a complete region of the world in a Disney movie. Go figure. I guess my co-workers realized that Puerto Rico was a real country when the National team played the Japan national Volleyball team. The next day everyone came over to my desk to ask if I had seen the volleyball match my response was mochiron (off course in Japanese). I did receive a few gifts that day as you can see below:
Side note: These chopsticks where the simplest but most significant gift of them all. I received these from one girl in the office who I had little interaction with due to the language barrier. She gave me these in a little bag and said "good luck". The most amazing part of it is that I could tell she was very sincere, this is coming from someone I could not even communicate with!!! Amazing!!! I guess I left a good impression.
After my speech I received more gifts!!!
As you can see from my face I was not very amused at the time but then I realized that I needed an apron and an Eco bag anyways.
I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work while living in Japan - "some other beginning's end". Now I will concentrate on finding my "new beginning" here in Japan, whatever that may be.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Check out the view from the back (I apologize for my bad paparazzi skills):
What is it? I have never seen this before. First I thought they where some type of kimono, which look something like this:
Then I thought well maybe they are some type of yukata (summer kimono) as seen below:
Obviously I was wrong in both of my assumptions so I asked the source of all my Japanese language and culture, my good old Japanese teacher. To my surprise it's a whole different type of Japanese wardrobe!!! Lucky me, more things to learn!!! This new attire (for me) is called a Hakama.
The Hakamas are traditionally worn by men to formal occasions or martial arts events. Recently it is considered fashionable for young women to wear them. These Hakamas are worn specifically for university gradations. Since the Japanese school year ends this week it is common to see them walking around town (always in a group off course). My teacher said that since the hakamas are typically only worn once in a girl's life that most of them are rented just for the graduation ceremony. I love this girl's hair!!! Niceeeeee
These are allot more colorful and interesting than togas, don't you think? Here is an interesting video I found on you tube taken last year at a gradation ceremony:
Side note: I asked what do people normally wear for high school graduation in Japan. The answer is that they wear their school uniforms in a small ceremony at their respective schools. There is no senior prom or anything like or any big celebrations. I asked why to my almighty sensei and she said the graduates are too busy cramming for their University entrance exams and don't have time for any of that stuff. So basically if my family lived in Japan my parents would have not spend all that time and money in 3 high school graduations!!! Shhh don't tell them..
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Monday, March 03, 2008
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a Maiko presentation at a local department store. I went to this activity last year but I only had my cell phone camera this time I was armed with my trusty mini canon. I was able to take some "real" pictures and video. Here are the Maikos performing:
According to wikipedia:
"Maiko are apprentice geisha, and this stage can last for years. Maiko learn from their senior geisha mentor and follow them around to all their engagements. The onee-san/imouto-san (junior) relationship is extremely important. Since the onee-san teaches her maiko everything about working in the hanamachi, her teaching is vital. She will teach her proper ways of serving tea, playing shamisen, and dancing, the casual talk of conversation, which is also important for a maiko to learn for future invitations to more tea houses and gatherings. The onee-san will even help pick the maiko's new professional name with kanji or symbols related to her own name."
I actually saw their onee-san during their performance. She caught my attention because she put a tape (remember those?) in the Sony player (off course) in order for the show to begin. She was basically the old school DJ of the presentation. Here is a picture of her that I took in my best paparazzi style:
The Maiko's exposed skin in the back of their neck is supposed to be "hot". You be the judge:
Unfortunately I was not able to get really close to the Maiko because there was a mob of people there to see them. The 2 ladies behind me moved because according to them I was too tall (I'm understanding allot more Japanese now). I'm only 5 foot 6 inches by the way, which translate to giant in Japan. The moral of the story don't assume the people next to you don't understand your comments just because they look different.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
I guess it really does take a village and Japan is very good example of that.
Once I finally got on the train everything was pretty normal, quiet as always. Once I got off the train something unexpected happened to me…culture shock. After being in Japan almost 2 years everything seems pretty normal now and I accept it as the way things are and I don't think about it twice. This morning was different. As the train doors opened everyone got out and the mob of people started walking toward the office building. At one point the mob of people was so slow and so similar (EVERYONE in black coats) that I could not help but think "OMG I'm an extra in a zombie movie". Seriously it was like a scene from every zombie movie you have ever seen (my personal favorite is Shawn of the dead but your entitled to your opinion). People were just stomping forward without saying one word to each other or more amazingly not even bumping into each other. It's a mob without chaos!!! Only in Japan my friends, where everyone is so polite that they won't cut in front of you in any line and they will quietly and orderly wait their turn even if it freezing cold!!! A few minutes later a car was trying to pass right threw the small alley way that the mob was walking through and guess what happened?
A. Everyone just stopped walking and formed a traffic jam
B. Everyone charged at the car and started pounding on the windows (once again I've watched too many movies)
C. Everyone just got out of it's way and waited for the car to pass
If you guessed C you are the winner!!! Sorry the only prize you get is knowing that you have read this blog so much that you are in touch with the "Japanese way". I'll report back if any of these days the zombies attach me while exiting the train…if I make it. Yes I have an active imagination, there worse things you know.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
Check out the pictures of the car in it's Australian website:
The reason I'm including these links on the blog is because if I have to hear about this car every day so do you!!! Welcome to my world...
Sunday, January 27, 2008
We did not even plan on going to Bali until we realized that it was one of the only countries in Asia where anyone of our group (6 people from 3 different countries) did not need a visa to visit. You could actually obtain a visa on arrival (a first for me) by simply paying 10 USD at the airport and in an instant one of the immigration officers would print out a 15 day visitors visa and stick it in your passport, just like that. Caution: At the end of your trip you also have to pay 15 USD to be able to go out of the country and they only accept the money in their currency, Indonesia Rupiahs.
I really did not have high expectations fro Bali. I thought "Since I come from a tropical island why am going to one for vacation?". Boy was I wrong!!! In reality Bali had allot to offer in terms of its rich cultural, natural beauty, tourist facilities and activities.
I actually found the exact same complete dance on youtube if you want to check it out go to:
The third must do activity while in Bali is to visit one of their many Hindu temples.
I was really impressed by all the rock carvings inside the temple. This was a completely new experience for us because in Japan you can either go to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrine. It is definitely worth seeing for yourself.
The fourth activity I highly recommend is the absolute bargain shopping. As you all may already know where there are tourist there is allot of shopping!!!
You could practically buy any high end, medium end, no end brand for a few dollars thanks to the incredible conversion between the Indonesia Rupiahs and the US dollar (1 USD = 9,336 Indonesia Rupiahs). Every time I bought something I always felt like I made a killing. If you really think about it since the average person in Bali only makes around 200 USD a month if you bought something for 20 USD then they have already made 10% of their monthly salary in a few minutes!!! So at the end of the day; who really made the killing?
The last activity I would recommend is just relaxing by the pool or on the beach. To be honest I was not very impressed (neither where my friends who have experienced the Acapulco and Sao Pablo beaches) by the beach at all. I consider the beaches of Puerto Rico to be the best world wide!!!
On the other hand considering that it is actually snowing in Hiroshima while I'm writing this I would gladly "sacrifice" and go to the inferior beach right about now.
I was very surprised to see the amount of people who asked me about Bali once I got back to Hiroshima. Many of them already had booked flight and hotel reservations to Bali during their kid's February break from school. Once again I had underestimated Bali's tourist appeal. I can only hope after reading this you (the reader) don't make the same mistake.
We went to our small corner of the world (after a 2 day journey from Japan-> Detroit 1 night -> PR) , Puerto Rico (http://www.gotopuertorico.com/), for the holidays this year and in hindsight it was the best decision we made the whole year!!! This year we got the opportunity to reconnect with lots of our old friends in our 10 year High school reunion. It was really nice seeing everybody again and conforting knowing that you did not have to explain to them your life story because they where actually there with you half the time, while it was happening. Most of the people in my class don't live in Mayaguez (my home town of about 100, 000 people) anymore but we still have good memories of our town which for the most part, include each other. I realized how well my old friends knew me when one of them asked me if I was starving in Japan because of my extreme pickyness with food. A person would know that after having countless meals with me and watching me pick out the food I did not like!!! I was very pleased to tell her that now I basically eat anything, but I only changed my ways when I moved to Japan a little over a year ago. Maybe that is why I used to be soooo skinny?!?!? See for yourself in our prom picture from 1997:
And now in 2007: