Thursday, September 18, 2008

How to identify your child…Japanese style

This week we visited our Brazilian friend who just gave birth at the hospital/resort. I was very pleased to finally see the facilities, since I will be giving birth in the same place. Everything looked good and at it’s usual 5 star rating. There was only one thing that caught my attention, the way they identified the babies in the nursery. In the west, babies are given a small wrist band to wear with the mother’s name. The other day my sister was telling me that some hospitals actually put electronic bracelets on the babies that would trigger an alarm if the baby is taken too far outside the hospital premises. This all sounds good and normal right? Well please refer to the way it’s done in Japan in the picture below:
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 in Japan

As everything in Japan there is an actual procedure for EVERYTHING and having a child is no exception. This week I went to renew my work visa, which I have to do every year since I came to Japan with a dependent visa (I call it the luggage visa, basically you have the right to eat and breath and that's all) and the nice lady that went with me said "Iddya -san you are pregnant, I will send you the procedure to follow via e-mail". True to her word she sent me the procedure and I found it A) hilarious that an actual procedure exists but not surprised at all since everything here has to be by the book, there is no cutting corners of any kind in any activity and B) overwhelmed by all the stuff you have to do!!! So I decided to share this interesting baby procedure, maybe some one will need it in the future or you can just see how different countries handle foreigner's births which reads as follows:

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

Expecting in Japan

People say a picture is worth 1,000 words and well now I believe it completely. As you can clearly see by this 3D sonogram I'm 5 moths pregnant. There I finally said it (in this case wrote it). Now it's completely out there and no one has to wonder why did I suddenly gain weight in only one spot in my Facebook pictures? The mystery is officially solved.

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.