Okaeri (Welcome home)

M’s home. I’m so happy, I kept playing Ayaka’s song, Okaeri, in my head all day long.

Okaeri by Ayaka is the theme song for the J-drama Zettai kareshi.

I spent all of Wednesday cleaning the house, but I guess I had let the house go too long unattended. I didn’t pass the white glove test. But I don’t care. I’m still happy.

Here’s a list of stuff she got me.

  • 5 volumes of the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji) plus a comprehensive index by Iwanami.
  • 3 packs of 3 skinny Post-its so I can flag pages in my books when I do research and lecture in class. I’ll never figure out why they don’t have these in the US. It’s even made by 3M….
  • 14 volumes of the comic book Rookies. This is the comic book on which the current J-drama Rookies is based.
  • 5 volumes of the Japanese history, Nihon shoki (Japan Documented)
  • 3 cooking spatulas made of bamboo. For some reason, I can never find these here in Virginia. They are light, perfectly shaped for sir-fry and they never scratch non-stick pots and pans.
  • 3 bags of karinto, the deep fried rice cracker smothered in melted black sugar. Yum!

As you can imagine, the books were heavy, but she actually sent most of them by mail and they arrived a few days ago. Also, it should be apparent that my idea of presents is usually related to work–although I have yet to figure out a good angle for the comic books. But then, that actually shows you that I’m one of those lucky guys who has a job he actually enjoys. I mean, I read literature-novels, stories, historical pieces–and discuss it with other people, and I get paid for it. Granted, I don’t get paid a lot, but still, you get my drift.

In any event, M’s home and I couldn’t be happier, presents or not.

Home alone

I haven’t mentioned this, but for the past 5 weeks, M has been in Japan. Her mother was diagnosed with Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, a kind of lung cancer located in the small vessels of the lungs that function in the oxygenation of our blood (I think). Apparently it is most prevalent in nonsmokers, elderly women and Asians. This makes M’s mother three for three, not the kind of batting average you want when dealing with the big C.

Fortunately, they found the disease early and the doctors determined it was operable, even though she’s over 80. M went to Japan to help her mother through the operation and for post-op recovery. By all accounts, the operation was successful, and we are, for the time being, relieved. The main issue now is the cost of the operation. Not that we are averse to helping M’s mother out, but we did learn recently that the cost is based on a new system of health insurance in Japan.

後期高齢者医療制度 Kouki koureisha iryou seido

The new system specifically for the elderly can be literally translated as “Medical system for latter term elderly.” This is a health insurance program that is independent from the regular universal health care available in Japan. It is targeted specifically at those who are 75 years of age or older. It is, in other words, a system for those who have lived longer than the regular system can afford to maintain them. Enrollment and premiums are mandatory for all residents and there is now a 10% co-payment for any and all health care treatment that used to be virtually free for those over 65. As you might imagine, there is quite an uproar in Japan among its silver citizens. According to a friend who visited recently, cries of “Do you want to have us die?” fill the airwaves.

There are lots of issues that people point to–long average life span, low birth rate, immigration or lack thereof. It is so complicated, I could never imagine wanting to be a Japanese politician. How do you deal with immigration in a country that believes and prides itself on its racial homogeneity? Do you make people get married and make more babies by what? By threatening to take away their free and consumer oriented lifestyle? Even targeting the elderly is political suicide as the elderly are the most likely to vote on election day. What a mess.

The good news is that the Japanese health care system is not the monster it is in the US. Medical and pharmiceutical costs are reasonable, and helping M’s mother foot the bill, while unexpected, is not a major burden. Thank God for small favors.

But more than anything else, I miss my wife. She’s been gone since the third week of May, and I miss her. She is coming home tomorrow, but now I have to do five weeks worth of house cleaning and laundry. Yikes! I’ll be happy to see her tomorrow when I pick her up at the airport, but I’ll probably be too exhausted to even give her a hug.


Thanks to Booyahman for recommending my last post, The death of seven dirty words. It was picked up by a few others who also recommended it, resulting in more visitors than I have had in a long while. Much appreciation.


Sometimes, these horoscopes can be so uncanny. No, no, no, I don’t read them for advice, just for fun. No, really…

Wednesday, Jun 25, 2008

You should be in a fairly hard-working frame of mind right now, and you’ll probably be perfectly willing to deal with any responsibilities you might have at this time. You should be willing to be as supportive as possible right now. And if your family ends up requiring a bit of your attention today, you should be happy to do whatever you can for them.

A lot will probably be expected of you today, and you might be called upon to be of service to a variety of different people before the day is through. You’re likely to be getting along well with your family and will probably feel like spending a lot of time around the house right now. And there may be quite a few things that will need to be dealt with on the home front today.


I have bad eye sight. I’ve mentioned this before, but I can only see out of my left eye–albeit with glasses or a contact lens. My right eye is legally blind. I have a scar on my cornea that prevents me from seeing anything with any clarity. If you taped wax paper on your glasses or sunglasses, you would see exactly as I do. And I mean exactly–since the scar is in the center of my cornea, my peripheral vision is alright, but I can’t see straight ahead. Eyesight notwithstanding, this scar has another unfortunate affect. My left eye hurts when I’m outside. I’m not really sure why, and the opthamologists who I have asked never give me a specific answer, but I suspect that the light refracts abnormally through the scar and ends up striking the retina in an uneven distribution.

As a result, I always wear sunglasses outside during the day, even if its cloudy. And the lens has to be very dark. This often invites the jokes of students.

“Hey sensei! What’s with the shades?”

“Sensei, we don’t know who… or what you’re looking at!”

Anyway, I usually wear my one contact lens when I go out, but when I’m at home, I’m usually too lazy to put them in. Instead I wear my glasses. My eyes are pretty awful and so the glasses are quite thick–Coke-bottle level. I can function adequately, even drive–although with only one good eye, my depth perception is suspect under certain conditions. However, when I’m puttering around the house, it’s no big deal. But when I step outside, say, to go grocery shopping, I used to have to put in the contacts. Not for narcissistic reasons, mind you, but so I can wear my sunglasses, because typical clip-on sunglasses will not fit–Did I mention my glasses are really thick? And besides, most are flimsy and break very easily.

Fortunately, I recently discovered clip-ons called Cocoons. At first, I thought the name was a play on the animal raccoon, but I learned that is not the case. Originally this company created oversized sunglasses that can be worn over regular glasses. They virtually wrap around the glasses like a cocoon. I considered these but they seemed bulky and lacked a certain aesthetic quality. Okay, maybe I’m a little narcissistic. but I learned they also make clip-ons that are fairly sturdy, easy to take on and off, and come with a lifetime warrantee. they working out very well.

Maybe too well.

Since it’s summer, and I don’t go to campus very often, I’m usually at home and don’t put in my contact lens. When I step out to go shopping (or get a beer ), I don’t even think about putting in my contact lens anymore. I just flick on the Cocoons and I’m gone. But wearing a contact lens takes getting used to–especially hard lens which I am limited to because optometrists say that the chance of an infection through a soft lens is too risky if I only have one eye. So I worry that when I go back to school, I will have to get used to wearing contact lens all over again.

Wow… what a boring post this was. But I want to keep writing. I don’t want to stop again, and risk fading away. If you’ve read this far, thanks for putting up with it.

Kids–I’ll take ’em when I can

The other day was Father’s day, but I guess I have no standing as a father anymore. I occasionally e-mail my daughter in Japan, but she hasn’t responded in over a year. I have’t seen her since 1999–the last time I went to Japan–when she was 12 years old. Now she has graduated from a vocational school 専門学校, moved out of the house and is living in Tokyo with her friend, according to her mother. It would be nice to talk to her, but I get the sense that she doesn’t want to talk to me, especially ever since I remarried. She may come around, but all I can do is wait and see.

I also have three stepsons, but they were over 18 by the time I married their mother, Musubichan. As you might imagine, they consider me their mother’s husband but not their father who died in an accident when they were young. So the bottom line is that I am, for all intents and purposes, a non-dad. Kinda sad, when I think about it.


But I have grandkids–my eldest stepsons three boys. They call me grandpa and according to M, the eldest one, KT, who came for a summer two years ago, refers to me when necessary.

“KT, we’re leaving for dinner. Hurry up,” his father will say.

“But Grandpa said that I shouldn’t go out until I finish studying/cleaning my room, so wait a little.”


“Grandpa says don’t leave the light one when you leave the room.”


“Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth.”

I’m not sure if I should be used as a foil against his own father–and they must think I’m really anal–but its nice to think that I have a role to play for somebody. I should also mention that he’s Japanese but doesn’t call me ojiichan. Thank goodness for small favors. He refers to me by the English term: guranpa. This is definitely more satisfying.

Anyway, this is all neither her nor there. My daughter has her own life and I wish her well. If the day comes when she wants to get together, I will be there with open arms. In the meantime, I have my students. I am not their father, obviously, but they are my children, so to speak. I teach them, advise them, encourage them, and sometimes scold them. But most of all, I feel lucky to have them.

(My) Decision ’08

Oman '08
make your own logo

As many of you know, I am usually swamped with work–teaching, grading, advising. You probably also know that I am a J-drama addict. I am currently watching Zettai kareshi (Absolute boyfriend), Muri-na ren’ai (Impossible love), and Rookies (Rookies). There are a few others that the family wants to watch, so I get my hands on them so we can watch them but I don’t really pay attention to them. One of them, Change, seems vaguely familiar–Kimura Takuya is the son of a Representative who dies and he suddenly finds himself thrust into a political campaign he didn’t really want to engage. He narrowly wins because of his honesty and uplifting character. When he reaches the Diet, a scandal breaks out about the Prime Minister and he is forced to resign. The party reputation is tarnished and they need a fresh, clean face to represent them. Yes, the new kid, the young kid steps up to run for party leader, promising henka (change), a different path than the old politics.

Sound vaguely familiar? The Japanese system is parliamentarian, but the parallels are hard to miss. The character is from Kyushu, I think, but it would have been more amusing if he had come from the small city in Fukui famous for chopsticks, Obama.

Speaking of which, the people of Obama are actually considering ways to relate their city with the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate to drum up tourism. I wonder what they plan to do? Rename the high school Obama attended? No wait, the high school is already called Obama. Then how about registering the house where he grew up as an historical site? Oh, I forgot. he’s never been to Fukui prefecture.

Only in Japan…

Anyway, besides being hooked on work and J-drama, I’ve also developed the habit of watching talking heads on TV. I’m no poli-scientist, but I’m fascinated with the politics of our times. I no longer watch American drama–with the writers strike, there was nothing to watch anyway. So I fill up my time watching CNN and MSNBC whenever I’m not grading or watching J-drama. I mean, I have always watched the Sunday morning shows, usually Meet the Press, and now The Chris Matthews Show (which I think is the best on Sunday morning). But I am now mesmerized on a daily basis as I watch Hardball or Countdown or the political segments of AC360, especially when David Gergen is on.

But things were getting bad. I had to make a decision. I just couldn’t spend my time vegetating in front of the boob tube, regardless of how I may justify it–Japanese drama provides Japanese context, MSNBC informs me on politics. Well, I couldn’t afford to go to the Betty Ford Clinic, so I did the next best thing my limited brain could think of–I decided to return to Xanga. B-) Well… at least for the time being. We’ll see how long it lasts this time.

Meteor-illogical event

It’s been truly crazy weather of late. Tornados in the flatlands of middle America. Snow in the Rockies. Floods in the upper Midwest. Yesterday I jogged in the stifling heat–over 95 degrees. It’s been at least 10 degrees higher than the seasonal average since Friday. But at least the heat isn’t destructive, and as a SoCal boy, the heat is something I can deal with. I have learned to deal with the humidity as well, thanks to living in Japan for a number of years.

So yesterday, as I jog through a local park near our home in northern Virginia, I passed a “public house” there. No, it’s not a beer joint, but a county-owned facility that residences can rent for events such as weddings. It is also the local precinct polling location. And yesterday, Virginia held its primary for congressional seats.

The seat up for grabs is Virginia’s US House of Representatives, 11th District. It is the seat that Tom Davis (R) holds. Yes, the honorable Tom Davis whose office helped us with M’s permanent residency. As I believe most of you know, I am no dyed-in-the-wool liberal, but I tend to lean a little left of center politically. Still, Tom Davis did me right and I would have voted for him, if he was running for re-election. But he is not.

Anyway, as I was running/walking by the public house, I noticed the sign “vote here”. I had forgotten it was election day. So after I returned home, I showered, did a bit of work and then set out to vote around 6 PM. There was virtually no one there, so fulfilling my civic duty was pretty painless. I then headed for a local watering hole called Famous Dave’s on Chain Bridge Road. It has pretty good ribs but that’s not why I went. I needed to whet my whistle after four consecutive days of running outside at least one hour each day.

There, I saw the regulars–Matt, the bartender, Gary and his girlfriend Debbie, and a few others. After my third beer, we begin to hear thunder. Oh crap, another summer thunderstorm. These are fairly common, actually, but can scare the shit out of me. We debated about which is the scariest natural phenomenon. I insist its thunder, because even though it’s random, you can’t escape it if it has your name on it. The others blanch when I tell them that an earthquake is no big a deal–I’ve been through many, including the Sylmar quake of 1971 and the big one in San Francisco in 1989. I’d rather be in the middle of an earthqhake than be struck by lightening. Then suddenly someone said, Tornado.

“What?” we all looked out the window. “There’s no tornado,” we laughed. But we did see hail falling from the sky and getting larger right before our eyes.

“Doesn’t it hail when a tornado appears?” someone nervously suggested.


Well, it hailed for about fifteen minutes, getting as large as small walnuts at one point. But it ultimately subsided with no sign of a tornado. Whew…

This weather is crazy. I mean, 95-plus degrees in the afternoon and hail in the early evening? How illogical is that? Is this a by product of global warming? The thought of a dented up car crossed my mind, but when I checked it out later, there didn’t seem to be any damage. Fortunately, the thunderstorm was just another freaky summer storm in a summer of unfortunately freaky weather everywhere else.

Backward camel

Holy moly! It’s freakin’ cookin’ outside. It’s 95 degrees, 45% humidity and feels like 102 according to weather.com. But I didn’t need them to tell me. I feel like a roast cooking over a low heat. If it would only melt off the fat…

Still, I went running outside for an hour. Well, more like walking and jogging a bit. I didn’t want to kill myself. As I walked through the park, I saw an acquaintance with her three year old daughter and we exchanged greetings. I reminded the little girl that she should make sure to drink lots of water because of the heat, and she proudly showed me her water bottle.

“Where’s your water?” she asked.

“Me? I’m a lemac.” I told her.

“What’s that?”

“You know what a camel is, right?.”

“I know,” she assured me.

“Ah, and you know that camels have a hump, right? What’s the hump for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, that’s where they keep water, so they can cross the desert without drinking. Do you have a hump?”

“No!” she cried out adamantly.

“That’s why you have your water bottle. And where’s the camel’s hump.?”

“On it’s back.”

“Right. And I don’t have water because I have a hump too. But its not on my back,” I said as I patted my stomach. “That’s why I’m a lemac. I’m the opposite of a camel.”

The girl’s mother forced a smile at this corniest of jokes. But I didn’t care, my audience was the little girl. Unfortunately, she didn’t laugh. She didn’t even grin. She just stepped up, patted me on the stomach and asked, “That’s all water?”

My Office

Messy as usual

I gotta stack of papers to grade: Midterms for Bungo (literary Japanese) from last week, and today’s Lit class midterm. Well, it’s the 12th week of the semester so its really a latter-term exam. I do this to bring relief to my students. They are usually drowning in study during the 7th through 10th week when every oher prof gives midterms. My students don’t have to worry about me until now, when they have nothing else to do… well, relatively nothing else to do. It also allows me to test them on more stuff, exactly eleven weeks worth of stuff. I mean, what’s an exam if its not comprehensive, right?

Anyway, back to grading for me. The lit exam was seven pages of multiple choice, true/false, fill-ins and matching. Piece of cake, if you ask me. There was also an essay component, but I give them the topic 24 hours in advance on-line, and they have to submit it typed and formatted. This allows me to grade the essay normally (read: strictly). But that’s the nature of a take-home, even if its partial.

Okay, okay, I’m going. Back to work…