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author:スポンサードリンク, category:-,
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sleep training
 Recently we have begun sleep training on my two year old daughter.  Those reading from the United States may be surprised to hear that we have allowed our daughter to be soothed to sleep even now, but starting two weeks ago I started to train her to fall asleep by herself.

Falling asleep by oneself is a learned skill, babies do not know how to fall asleep by themselves and need to be taught this, at a young age, preferably.  The longer you wait to train your child, the harder it can be.  I can speak from experience with my three children!

My oldest, 7 year old Kailo, was trained to fall asleep by himself before he was 6 months old.  We could put him in his crib and say good night.  He would then fall asleep on his own and sleep through until he needed to be nursed. 

My second son, 5 year old Nika, was able to fall asleep by himself and sleep through until he needed to be nursed when he was probably six or seven months old.

My daughter, the youngest was never taught to sleep by herself.  We always laid down next to her, read some books and stayed with her until she fell asleep. Probably because she slept in a futon, different from her two older brothers who slept in an American size crib while we were living in the United States.  So my husband or I would lay down with her in a large sized futon and often fall asleep with her.

It wasn't until I was talking with another parent when they descirbed putting their five year old down to sleep that I became alarmed of the habit we were allowing my daughter to continue.  This parent had to lay down next to their son and he was in the habit of rubbing their elbow until he fell asleep.  A completely natural way to lure himself to sleep.  These habits children develop as a mechanism to help them fall asleep. 

So I started her sleep training on a Monday night.  I placed my chair next to her bed and said, tonight Mama is going to sit down next to you until you fall asleep.  Of course she was very upset and cried.  She cried for thirty minutes.  I didn't give in.  I sat on the chair pretending I was asleep, NOT making eye contact.  I did get up once to get her some water.  Eventually she fell asleep.  The next morning her eyes were all swollen from crying the night before.  The poor girl, I felt so bad. I made sure to praise her the next morning and say, "You slept all by yourself! Good job!"

Tuesday night I did the same thing, she cried for fifteen minutes.  Wednesday night the same thing, a little whimpering maybe cried for 5 minutes.  Thursday night I moved the chair a little bit toward the door, away from her bed.  She noticed and cried a little but eventually fell asleep.  After a week of moving my chair closer and closer to the door I am now outside her room in the hallway.  I expect in the next couple of days I can say I am sitting down out in the hallway, but go into my own bed, or downstairs. Every night she says to me "Mama, sit down?" and I say, "Yes." She has come to expect it and accept it.

This is a typical experience that American families go through, I believe.  Japanese parents may think it is cruel and not supportive of the child, after all Japanese families often sleep together lining their futons up in a row and the children laying down between the parents.

But I think the main difference is that in American families the center of the family is considered to be the parents.  The relationship between the mother and father is very important. (thus the existence of babysitting, dating, spending time as a couple) However in Japanese families, the center of the family is the children. Therefore the creation of a family bed after children are born. 

I'm not sure which is best, I do treasure the time I had with my youngest, sleeping with her in a futon, especially when she was a newborn baby nursing every few hours. But I also know that I need my own private time and my own uninterrupted sleep (young sleeping children do not make great bed fellows with their restless sleep which comes with flying elbows in the face, jerking knees in the back and kicks in the belly).  So whatever your preference, I do hope you get a good night's sleep tonight! I know I will!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 14:23
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Cherry Blossom Viewing (ohanami)
 Well, I have just spent the last couple of weeks enjoying the cherry blossoms that touch us all this time of year.  All of the delicate pink petals have blown off the trees and showered upon us like snowflakes, landing on the ground, still beautiful against the sand and dirt. The tradition of ohanami is like no other I have seen before and is truly unique to Japan.

After enjoying several ohanami seasons in Japan when I lived here as a college student and a teacher, I returned to the United States and yearned for the picnics, the celebration, the appreciation for nature in ohanami.  Several times I wanted to lay down a blanket and have my own ohanami under a flowering tree in a park or at home, but it just wasn't the same.  Ohanami festivals around Japan are a clear celebration of Spring.  And so much FUN!

My parents are visiting from the United States so it has been a great time of year for them to enjoy cherry blossom viewing.  We have had several picnics, went to a festival (matsuri) and bought specialty foods and treats for the kids.  Everyone from young children to senior citizens are out enjoying the first of the Spring weather.  It has been glorious. 

Cherry blossoms can be seen in so many nooks and crannies of Japan.  They will surprise you when they are in full bloom as they line the banks of a river, lead one up to the remains of a feudal castle or circle the school grounds.  They are a symbol of new beginnings, the start of a new school year and the coming of Spring. It is important to make the effort to go out and enjoy them at least once a year.  Did you have a great ohanami season this year?
author:jumpstart, category:-, 14:30
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Lewd behavior
 The weather has been really nice the past few days. I have been able to enjoy the Spring sunshine in the mornings and go for short walks before I start work.  It has been refreshing and it gives me a chance to organize my day in my mind before I get started.

This morning I was walking near the Seto Inland Sea, enjoying the smell of the fresh ocean air.  I could hear the birds chirping and smell Spring in the air.  It was wonderful.  Just as I neared the ocean, two older gentlemen, most likely fishermen from the nearby marina, were standing talking about the days catch. The one man, with no regard to any passerbyers, including me, opened up the fly to his pants and proceeded to take a leak right out in the open, in the public, near the grassy, tree area.

Now you may be surprised to hear that this did not shock me.  No, in fact, it is quite the common sight.  For those of you reading this in the states, you may be surpised, but for those of you reading this in Japan, may feel a little embarrassed (?), I'm not sure, but I get really aggravated when I see this!

Japan is famous for the number of convenience stores it has on just about every corner.  In fact, the rather remote area we live in even boasts its own Circle K.  In every convenience store there is a public bathroom, in almost every public park, there is a public restroom, that's what kills me!

In fact, one day I was driving with my family and almost hit a man who was peeing over the ditch next to a public park....which has a public restroom!! It was about 50 meters away, but this man chose to just stand there in front of the world and go pee!

I think the thing that upsets me is that these men have no regard for the other person.  How does it make the other person feel if I stand here and go pee?  To me it is arrogant, rude and selfish behavior.  Not to mention the same behavior will get you arrested in the United States. God forbid my sons grow up to take a leak in public, I'll come running after them and give them a beating!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 14:36
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Saying goodbye - Salaryman's transfers
This year I am losing two students due to their father being transferred to another location. I am so sad! Both of the students will be first graders starting this April.  I have been teaching one of them since he was 3 years old and I have seen him grow and blossom.  However, it is a good time in their life to move, I think.  As they enter first grade they will start elementary school along with the other students and have a fresh start together.

The life of a salaryman is not easy.  Living in company housing certainly has its benefits, but not having the freedom to set up your own home must be hard. Also, knowing that a transfer may come at any time makes it hard to plan for the long-term.

I think in the US, in most cases, we have more flexibility (imagine that!) and more say in transfers.  For example, if the employee requests a transfer, they are likely to be granted.  But in these economic times, I guess we are just thankful to have a job!

So, today I must say goodbye to one of my students. His mother is very dedicated and has given me great encouragement in growing and expanding my school.  Not only has she introduced friends, but has volunteered to write her opinion of my school for my website.  Her son is very shy, but a gifted child with the great ability to read and write.  He will be successful in anything that he does, especially with the support of his parents. Thank you and farewell! We will miss you!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 10:45
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Eating me out of house and home
Have you ever heard the expression, "eating me out of house and home"?  Well, my 7 year old son is doing exactly that!

He arrived home from school today, ate two bananas, a piece of toast and drank a big glass of milk.  We will eat dinner around 6:00 and he will eat a good dinner.  Then after dinner he often eats several mikan (tangerines) or any other fruit, rice crackers, or anything he can get his hands on!

This morning before he went off to school I made french toast, his favorite.  He had two thick slices of bread, sliced apples and a glass of orange juice!  The bread in Japan is sliced thicker than in the United States.  In Japan they call it shoku pan, or bread for a meal (I guess).  It is probably equivalent to two slices of sandwich bread in the United States. Granted he has a long walk to school and doesn't eat lunch until 12:30.  I like him to have a big breakfast to hold him over until he gets his school lunch. But he has a huge appetite and he is only 7! What's going to happen when he is 15, 16, or 17? I think I will have to bring a van to go grocery shopping!

For a boy who doesn't express himself very much or talk about what goes on at school, he certainly worries about his next meal.  Before he goes to sleep at night, he asks me, "What's for breakfast tomorrow?" After fielding his requests we usually come up with an agreement.  The next morning, before he goes to school he asks, "What's for dinner tonight?"  I usually don't have the menu planned and respond accordingly, but I think he puts a lot of thought into his next meal!  Sometimes my five year old son asks the same thing. I bring him to school and after I have said goodbye, he'll run to catch up with me, and say with a smile "Mama, can you make curry tonight?"

It's funny, I think my children assume that I am their personal chef, or that cooking at home is my full-time job.  Do they forget that I work and have other responsibilities?

I must admit, that I had to smile the other night as I worked quickly in the kitchen making dinner.  For my oldest, who is fascinated with the Guiness World of Book Records, he said to me "Hmmm Mama, it smells great.  You should be in the Guiness World of Book Records."   How can a mother not feel all warm and fuzzy all over after a comment like that?
author:jumpstart, category:-, 15:14
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Warm toilet seats
 In my last entry, I wrote about how desperately I missed my clothes dryer from the states.  Today I will turn the table and write about how I desperately missed my Japanese toilet  while I was in the USA.

After living in the Japan for several years, my husband and I moved back to the states (well for me it was back to the states, for my husband it was his first time).  It's funny how after living in a foreign country you adopt cultural practices and ideologies that are not from your own country.  I can remember crossing the street and bowing instead of waving to the car that stopped for me. 

Anyway, for those of you who have never been to Japan, Japan has two styles of toilets.  Japanese style and Western style with its unique improvements over the porcelain John that so many of us used growing up.  Yes, granted there are still Japanese style toilets, especially in public restrooms and buildings (even brand new elementary schools have Japanese style toilets - I don't get it.) The Japanese squat toilet, boggles the first time users - which is the front, which is the back,and what to hold on to so that you don't fall in!  Try helping a 3 year old squat on one of these for a poopy.  ( I can remember asking my son when he was 3 or 4 if he was okay using the public toilet by himself.  He said yes, yes I am okay.  He was taking a long time, so I decided to go in and check on him.  There he was doing a balancing act, trying to SIT on the toilet to go poopy.  I had to remind him you can't sit on it, you have to squat so your bottom doesn't touch the toilet......ug just think of the germs.)

But back to the Western style toilet....Japanese are famous for having a knack at adopting a technology and improving upon it so that it is like no other.  The toilet here in Japan has so many gadgets that it requires an electric outlet to not only warm the seat, but warm the water...what do you need warm water for? ...well for the spray to help wash your ...you know.... But the feature I think I like the best is the warm seat.  Especially in the winter.  Most Japanese homes are not heated throughout. Only the room you are using is heated so that they are closed off with sliding doors, shoji or any other door.  So if you go into the bathroom, which is not heated, it is really cold.  I think that's why many people use heated toilet seats.

Yesterday my 2 year old daughter, who is not quite toilet trained, was playing around with all the fancy buttons on the toilet and hit the off button on the seat warmer.  Well the lucky person who sat down on the toilet got quite the surprise when the cold seat shocked them and sent them jumping up from the frigid cold plastic seat.  (I won't mention who.) Needless to say, we quickly turned the power back on the seat warmer!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 09:28
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Laundry - on a rainy day-ug!
 I never thought laundry could cause such stress.  I guess I just allow it to.  I shouldn't worry so much about it, but if I don't keep up with it then it gets completely out of hand.

When I lived in the United States, I didn't feel such stress from doing laundry.  Perhaps because at that point there was only four of us and now there are five of us and as my children grow, their clothes get bigger and the amount of laundry I do seems greater. But, I think there are three main reasons why.

The first reason is that in the United States, most families have a large washing machine and a large clothes dryer.  The key here is the clothes dryer.  It is an appliance that I wish I had here in Japan every day it rains.  I dream of hiring a cargo ship to bring me my clothes dryer (and dishwasher), just to make my life a little bit easier, a little more stress-free and a little more manageable.  It's the rainy days, cold days and humid, rainy season days in June and July that I really miss my clothes dryer.

The second reason is that my washing machine has a timer on it here in Japan.  I set it so that the cycle goes through before 8:00 am.  Then I get a night time cheap electricity rate that is about 1/3 the cost of electricity during the day and evening. The economical person in me hates to run the washing machine after 8:00 am.  I just think of my electricity bill going through the roof. In the states, I didn't have such electric rates, so I would run the washing machine at anytime during the day and then throw them in the dryer to dry, no matter what time it was or what we were doing. Completely stress free, don't you think?

Which leads me to the third reason....if I don't get my clothes out on the clothes line at a decent hour (before 9:00 am) then my clothes won't dry and I will be stuck with jeans that are still damp around the pockets, towels that are still "soggy" and be forced to hang them on my curtain rods throughout the house, which is my biggest pet peeve ever!! I hate the clutter of clothes hung around my house. Not to mention, that they often take on the smell of whatever I happen to be making for dinner (garlic and onions are always nice.)Ug, all that hard work of hanging my clothes on the line, taking them down off the line, hanging them back up on the curtain rods, taking them down again when they are finally dry and then taking a nice big whiff....they smell like dinner!

And my fourth reason (oops I said three didn't I?) clothes my children MUST wear the next day are dirty. In the States knowing that within two hours, one can run a load of laundry, throw it in the clothes dryer and you can have a clean set of clothes is comforting when your children have clothes they MUST wear to school. For example the school's gym uniform.  They only have one set and in the summer, especially the rainy season they bring it home almost every day. What do you expect me to do? Run the wasther on day rates and hang it up on my curtain rods to dry before school the next morning? I guess so.....that's my only choice...kind of....

Today, I am going to the laundromat to dry my clothes in the industrial size dryer.  Yes, it will cost $3 and yes, I have to load the wash in the car and drive ten minutes, but it will be dry in thirty minutes and I will only have to throw them in the dryer once and fold them up once. Fairly stress free.  I really wish I had one of these dryers in my home!!!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 10:15
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Flu season - no school!
 How ironic that the same day I wrote my last blog about influenza and how careful Japanese are in preventing the spread of illnesses,  my son comes home with a note saying that his class has to stay home for two days due to the flu!

Yes, the past two days, my oldest son, in first grade, stayed home because more than one third of his class was home sick with the flu.  In Japan, they ask only the class with the a large number of absentees to stay home.  So even though the other 1st grade class had one or two students sick with the flu, they didn't get two days off (poor kids!) My son was the "lucky" class that got to stay home for two days (poor me!)

So today, off he went to school with a mask on and with strict directions to wash his hands well and gargle! 

My husband and I keep expecting one of our kids to come home from day care or school with the flu....each day we count our lucky stars that they aren't sick and we don't have to juggle our schedules to figure out care for them while we work.

Then I become paranoid as I teach children that they are breathing the virus on me...but I don't wear a mask.  How can you teach a spoken language while covering up your mouth and how you pronounce words?  I just hope that the flu shot got it right this year and then when I am done with my lesson, I wash my hands carefully and even gargle!!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 12:06
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The flu season
 It's that time of year again....flu season!  Has your family been hit by the flu this year?

We have been lucky so far this year, but I keep expecting one of my kids to come down with a fever.  This morning as I dropped off my two younger children at day care, there was a sign stating one of their classmates has come down with the flu.  In my oldest child's elementary school class, there are also several children with the flu.

Every year we try to fight away the flu, stomach virus or colds, especially this time of year.  I never was so aware of sicknesses until I started living in Japan where trying to ward off nasty bacterias and viruses is close to an obsession.

Granted, I think living in a densely populated area changes things dramatically from living in the country, where I am from.   There are so many people in a small area that germs spread like wildfire. Therefore there are many precautions put in place to prevent the spread of diseases.

Japanese often wear masks, you know, the ones that surgeons wear when they are in the operating room.  When I first saw this, it seemed very strange.  Why are they wearing a mask? Are they neurotic, so afraid of getting any germs?  But now it has become clearer and I understand it better.  I realize that not only do people want to protect themselves from germs, it is also seemed as the proper etiquette to wear a mask if one has a cold, a cough or if someone in one's family has, for example the flu, so as not to spread germs! (even if one doesn't have the flu!)

At my classroom where I teach English, sometimes students will be absent if a brother or sister has gotten the flu.  The mothers are extra careful.  They are afraid that their healthy child may be contagious, even if they don't have any flu symptoms, so they don't send them to their English lesson.  They are very considerate of others' health!

Another precaution Japanese take to rid themselves of any germs is gargling as soon as they come home from being outside.  Gargling and hand washing is also taught in the day cares and elementary schools.  Some people gargle with an iodine solution to get rid of any germs that may have been inhaled and be in the throat.

The practice of hand washing is ingrained in children.  Japanese are very good about washing their hands before eating.  Sinks are set up with soap in most restaurants or "oshibori" a warm, wet washcloth is provided to each customer who sits down to dine. Even McDonalds has a sink with soap and paper towels in the dining area. They have very good habits when it comes to cleanliness. 

I think these habits and precautions have developed because of the dense population, close living quarters and history of epidemics in the country. If only the number of vaccinations would increase.  As of now mumps, chicken pox and hepatitis b are voluntary (and costly!) immunizations.  But this topic I will save for another day!!!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 11:05
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It's all in the numbers
 In Japan there is great meaning in numbers.  Dishware is sold in sets of five, gifts are given in ones, threes or fives, seven is okay and 8 is okay too, but not nine. Numbered parking spots may be skip over four, people avoid certain numbers on their license plates, some ages are better than others. The Shichi-Go-San ceremony for children are celebrated at their 3,5 and 7 years....I could go on and on... 

Each number has a kanji character and sometimes several pronunciations to it.  Not only is one, two, three pronounced ichi, ni, san but it is also pronounced hito, futa, mi....so that there can be different nuances associated with each number. Four can be said as yon or shi, but shi also means death (of course a completely different character) so presenting a gift in a set of four is considered unacceptable.  Five seems to be the key number. 

This past year I received a gift of big, beautiful red-ripe strawberries from a  student's father.  They were so big that five filled up a plastic pack.  In addition he gave me a bag of apples...how many? Yes, you guessed it.... five.

Each gift is carefully considered and selected.  You can't just throw some apples in a bag and give them to someone, you have to carefully count the number of apples, place them in a clean, preferably paper bag with handles and present them with some humble expression. "Here are some apples I got that probably aren't very sweet." When in fact the person probably went through great steps to make sure they got the sweetest apples they could find.

So many subtle customs....I can hardly keep up!! But I am learning every day and people are very kind to me when I do make the inevitable blunder!
author:jumpstart, category:-, 14:57
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