Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harry Potter Controversy

Alright, I know that this has nothing to do with us being in Japan, but I wanted to weigh in on the latest Harry Potter news. Some of you may not know this, but I actually am a really big fan of the HP series, both books and movies. Another thing that some of you may not know is that JK Rowling outed Hogwart's headmaster and all-around great wizard Albus Dumbledore as a homosexual at a Q&A session she had at Carnagie Hall last week. This has been really big news on literary websites.

Before I go any further, I just want to say that I have nothing against the homosexual community. I feel that there are wonderful people who are homosexuals, and I do not feel like their private lives have to affect their friendships with me in any way. That said, I have to express a great deal of disappointment in Rowling.

She has defended her statement by saying that Dumbledore is her character, that he is what he is, and that she can write whatever she wants about him. I agree. But I feel that her method was irresponsible and unkind. If she truly wanted to have a homosexual character in her series then why did she hide that fact until months after the final book hit print? She claims that she only mentioned it because she was asked a direct question about Albus' love life at Carnagie Hall. I feel that by then, the position is too moot to discuss. By waiting to reveal this character's sexual orientation, Rowling was protecting her sales. The fact that Dumbledore is gay does not hurt the story of Harry's maturation in any way. But the same fact has a huge potential for crippling the sale of her very last book. By waiting until after she has raked in her millions for the final chapter to drop such a bomb, it's almost as if Rowling was trying to tell the gay community "I'm fine with you, but not fine enough to make it obvious or supportive in any way."

My second gripe is that the revelation really has nothing to do with the main storyline at all. This is information that does not affect Harry's quest for belonging in the early novels nor his quest for revenge in the later ones. So why tell it? Why ruin the fun of sitting with your friends and reminiscing about favorite chapters? Why make it so that the next time you read the books, you can't help but have an annoying aspect that the author threw out so cavalierly changing your entire perspective? Rowling has made it so that fans cannot have their own opinions about Dumbledore. She has ignored the fact that this particular issue is still a hot button for many people. AND she has neglected to consider that this revelation about Dumbledore's character throws a somewhat inappropriate and unnerving spin on the dynamics between his and Harry's relationship.

I love the books and plan to keep them forever and read them to my children, but I am incredibly disappointed that the author would try to force such irrelevant interpretation on the readers after the fact rather than allowing us to see, discover, and adjust to this aspect of the novels as we read along.

I am including the web addresses of some articles that I found interesting:

Halloween in Japan!!

It is that time of year where we all pay homage to the gods of Nestle and Hershey by trying to induce sugar comas on the kids that bother us in our neighborhoods the other 364 days of the year. Here in Japan, familiar candies are hard to come by. WE can find full candy bars like Snickers and Kit Kats, but they each cost about a dollar and ten cents (for a normal-sized bar... there is no concept of King Size here). We love the fact that there are around thirteen flavors of Kit Kats here. Here are two that I like (Amy could go either way with these):

Yes, That is a Caramel Kit Kat. Me likey.

Now before you grimmace and shriek at the god-slaying concept of combining life-giving chocolate with one of THE MOST bitter fruits on the planet, take a moment to remember that I do not finish things that I put in my mouth if they make me want to gag. I ate this whole bar as if it were going to run away if I loosened my grip on it.

And what would Halloween be if there was not a gaggle of kids dressed up in all sorts of costumes. Now Halloween has not really caught on here in Japan the way it has in America. The people here would certainly NEVER allow their kids to knock on their neighbor's door and ask for food, regardless of the junkfoodiness-to-holidayiness ratio involved in the act. But, they love (read: "show up in hordes that act without restraint or compassion for the poor schmoe trying to MC the thing") parties. I was impressed with how many people showed up to the Halloween party that we had at our church last night. Most of the people that came were students at our school, so it turned out to be part Branch party and part MIA party. The kids loved dressing up and really went all out for it. Observe:

Kako (left) came dressed as a character from an anime that I didn't recognize. Wika (center) was a princess. Note the expression of sheer joy on Kako's face that is a result of having more sugar than blood in your blood.

Chinatsu put a lot of effort into her witch costume, so much in fact that she did not want to be touched out of fear that someone might disrupt the perfection of her costume.

And what blog about Halloween would be complete without a gaggle of shots of the most important man in Japan... CASH?!?!?!?

Cash was a Dinosaur for Halloween

A darn-cute Dinosaur!

We'll try to get some more pictures of him up soon. He is worth seeing at this stage of his development from pupa to larvae.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Autumn Fest

About a week ago, we went to a Chosa (Harvest) Festival in the town of Toyohama. Around this time, each town or neighborhood has their own harvest festival to pay tribute to their neighborhood shrine and honor the gods of harvest. In this festival, there were about twenty different 2-ton real-gold-tassled floats that community members parade around the neighborhood before heading up to the local shrine, and then they swing it around the town square to pay tribute to three main gods. The floats are huge, heavy, and wheeled by a group of about fifty or more people (mostly men) each. Occasionally, the men would hoist the float off the wheels and move the giant float with their own strength. To dull the pain of moving a 2-ton float, most of the men got drunk. So, it was pretty funny.
Here is one of the floats:

You stare at me, I stare at you:

Cash loves Nauto. Nauto loves girls. Girls love Nauto holding an American baby!

The floats light up at night--when the real fun begins!

Fox tries to pull a float without the help of alcohol:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Family Pics

Here are a few recent family pics. Just thought I'd share:
Cash and Mommy have matching jammies!

Cash hanging with Dad at the Autumn Festival:

All three of us--for once!

At the beach in Toyohama:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Exciting Discoveries

Here are some things I (Amy) have found these past two days, either while exploring here or at the malls in Takamatsu, the capital city an hour away. A friend took me yesterday, and it was so fun to be in a big city with two good malls. Here are some of my finds:
--A Sports Authority, Body Shop, and Gap
--A Grocery store in the mall (yes, all the malls have grocery stores in them) that had Pringles, popcorn, salad dressing, marshmallows, and spaghetti sauce.
--A coffee shop that sold pesto, Hansen's cola, oatmeal, salsa, every flavor of Celestial Seasonings tea, and Hershey's cocoa.
--A "King Size" store should Fox every need new clothes.
--The Japanese equivalent of Ikea--I can't remember the name.
--A bookstore that had English books and magazine ($20 a piece)
--And today, I went to the Marugame Library and found the English section, which is very tiny but it had "Zeralda's Ogre", a book my mom used to read to us and which I love.

Crazy finds, huh? Well, at least for me! I've never been more excited to get groceries in my life! If that seems strange to you, I remind you that we are living on the smallest island in Japan. It has probably the fewest Americans in the whole country, and, as a result, the least amount of American food.

P.S. What I didn't find:
Candy corn. Chocolate chips. Grape Nuts. Boohoo.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Bottom Biting Bug!

The latest kid song craze in Japan is the Bottom Biting Bug. Fox and I first saw this a week ago on a variety show. There was a woman and a group of girls on TV dancing to the Oshiri song. Later, at the bookstore, the song was playing on a loop on the TV there, and a few girls stood around it singing the song. Apparently, the Bottom Biting Bug was created by an older couple who felt that Japanese people were minding their business TOO much. By "biting bottoms" and being nosy, you get to know people better. So, biting someone's bottom is like a warm, friendly conversation between the biter and bitee. I am posting this, because I can't get the song out of my head, and oh yeah, because biting bottoms to get to know others is so crazy it just might work!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Off House

Today we went to an eco-recycle (read: very nice pawn) shop called Hard Off/Off House. We were so excited to find some cheap things, as Japan is notoriously expensive! We were looking for toys for Cash, since baby stuff is ridiculously costly, and I found a crockpot! We were excited to find some cheap baby toys and took our pick to the counter. Well, once we got up there, they told us that we could only buy things there from Oct. 20-24. No wonder why we were the only customers in the store! Apparently, they spend all month buying from people and stocking their shelves and then open their store for only four days a month for people to buy. Otherwise, they would never have anything on the shelf! At least that's what we figured. Japan is not only super expensive, but Japanese people pride themselves on being frugal. Looks like we know where we're going bright and early on the 20th! ~Amy

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cash Takes A Stand

Today, Cash decided to pull himself his crib! He was so proud of himself, as you can see from the video below.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Harvest Time

Yesterday we spent around a half hour in between our lessons watching the farmers harvest their rice from the firelds behind our house. I was amazed at the contrast between one farmer's harvesting technique and another's.
The farmer nearest us used a self-propelled machine that looked like a mix between a wood chipper and a lawn mower. He walked behind it, pushing it carefully up the perfectly-spaced rows of yellowing rice. His machine automatically wrapped string around the rice stalks as it cut them and then shot them out after having bunched the bound stalks. His wife (I assume that she was his wife) stood at the corner of the field closest to us. She seemed comfortable with the fact that I was photogrpahing her and treated us with a passive neglect. She would speak to us in loud rapid Japanese and then smile before looking back to her work. She bent over the stalks that the man's machine missed and, using what looked like a vey old kamma, cut the stragglers before tossing them of to the side for later binding. After they finished binding several rows of rice, they hang the stalks upside down on poles so that the sun would dry out the stalks and make it easier to knock the rice off.
The operation going on at the field furthest away from us was much less back-cracking. A single farmer rode a machine much larger than the aforementioned farmer's binding machine. This large machine looked like an angry mix between a riding mower and a zamboni. He would drive his machine up the lines of rice, and the machine would bunch and cut the rice stalks. It did not bind them, though. Instead, it pulled them up a conveyer belt to the back of the riding zambower, where the rice was shaken off of the stocks right there. The stalks were ejected out of the zambower's backside. The rice was shot into several bags that were mounted to the side of the zambower. Other farmers would walk around the farmer on the riding rice-eatting beast, picking up the stalks for later burning. Others walked alonside it and let him know when the bags of rice were full enough for changing. Then he would stop while the men on the ground would change out the bags on his beast of burden.
The level of complexity in this second operation led me to believe that the crew working in the far fields was working for a government-owned business. The closer couple were more likely a family harvesting their own personal rice. That is all speculation though, because that is far too complicated of a theory for my meager Japanese to inquire about (never end a sentence in a preposition, evne if you have to put a weird statement in parenthesis the statement... alright? yeah; that's good).
The second operation made the farmer and his wife working so close to us seem worthy of our pity. I wanted to run out hot bowls of the Lentil soup Amy had just made; I figured it would help them replenish their energy. I decided against it as I thought that a hot bowl of food is not the most desired thing when performing manual labor on a hot day. I decided to offer them some lemonade, but realized that the last of our lemon was already used up. By the time I started thinking about just taking them a simple glass of water, I realized that I couldn't hear them working anymore. I went outside to see that they had already taken off for lunch. Luckily, they will be harvesting all week, so I'll have another chance.

The farmer closest to us pushing his mechanical plow.

Him a little closer now

His lovely female assistant

The stalks of rice hung to dry in the sun and the cleared out rows below that

The operation further away from us

The assistant cleared out some stalks from the feeder before switching out the rice bags.

Going again. Notice the size of the rice bags next to the worker on the ground. You could feed a family for a few months with one bag, unless you happen to have all boys. Then that bag would only last three weeks. ~Fox