Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Japanese election campaigns

I'm now 3 days past my due date.  The house is clean.  The freezer is stocked.  Laundry is done.  I baked cookies.  I'm anxious and running out of things to do to keep busy so I started a research project on something I was curious about.  I apologize if my facts are not 100% accurate but this is my understanding of things through observation and Internet research with a pregnant brain.

Through out my stay in Japan, there have been occasional cars driving around with megaphones mounted to the roof of the vehicle blasting a stream of loud Japanese.  Almost all of them have been women's voices all high pitched and nasally sounding. 

 I have learned that these are political campaign vehicles from my Japanese teacher.  The campaign period lasts for 12 days.  About 2 months ago there was an election and there was a ton of these vehicles. We live off of a bigger street so we would get a van going by every 15-20 minutes starting around 8 AM and going until about 8 PM.  It is very safe to say that this got old.  Even with the windows closed the noise from the vehicles was very intrusive and got annoying.  The loud Japanese that is blasting out of the vehicle is the candidates names and greetings to people out walking around.  What is being said is often scripted and the women speaking are called "Lady Birds" since they are constantly chirping.  People in the vehicle wear white gloves and will wave at you if you are walking down the street.  Apparently, the candidates are not allowed to give speeches when the vehicles are moving.  Speeches are saved for when the vehicles are parked which is why they are often seen sitting outside of train stations or other busy areas such as shopping malls.  Each politician is allowed to have only one vehicle campaigning for them and only 4 people (including the driver) is allowed in the vehicle. 

It seems that recently there has been some backlash against the campaign vehicles as noise pollution and there has been some efforts to restrict the volume that is allowed.  This doesn't seem to be getting much traction as most Japanese are so used to the constant barrage of noise that it does not bother them all that much.

This seems like a very ineffective way to conduct a political campaign but it seems that there are many restrictions to how politicians are able to campaign in Japan.  Email and political campaign websites are very restricted with what they are allowed to post and door to door campaigning is banned.  Television and radio adds are allowed but there is a cap as to how much a candidate can spend on a political campaign. 
Even the number of posters and pamphlets a candidate can distribute is restricted.

Several places around town are boards that have pictures of each of the people running for office.

I feel a little bit conflicted about the number of rules an regulations around the political campaigns in Japan.  On one hand it seems very limiting but on the other hand I can help but wonder how different American politics would look if each candidate had a cap on the amount of money that could be spent on their campaigns.  What if politicians voted for what they believed in without influence of which lobbyists would contribute to their re-elections?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Kurashiki - the cabin fever cure!

Yesterday was my due date.  You might guess that I'm starting to get cabin fever a bit.  The last three weeks I've been keeping closer to home thinking "I could go in to labor at any moment".  Still waiting.  I never thought I'd be hoping to have my body start hurting so much, lol!

After my Friday appointment, in which my doctor pretty much said "I think you have a while" but in a much less direct and Japanese way I told Jeff I needed to get out of the house this weekend.  He came up with a great plan of going to Kurashiki.  It is a really adorable little town a little over an hour away.  It has an older section of town with tons of little shops and a pretty canal that is lined with willow trees.

They do boat rides along the canal.  All passengers have to wear coolie hats.

Pretty bridge over the canal.

Pretty view of the area.

We spent the day enjoying the town.  There was a toy museum that we decided to check out.  It was both interesting and a little creepy.  If I was going to make a movie where toys came to life and attacked people, that it where I'd film, lol!  Some of the mechanical toys were amazing.  My favorite was a doll that would roll down stairs from his head to his feet like a slinky.  There were a ton of bobble heads, tigers seemed to be the favorite.  Shelves and shelves of toy boat and swords, tops and dolls.  There was a room where the ceiling was covered in kites.  When I was a kid we had a coloring book of Japanese kites and it made me smile to remember that book and compare the kites to the ones in my memory.

There was a really cool gift shop attached to the museum where I picked up a package to make origami finger puppets and a little wooden toy duck with a string and wheels.  The wings flap as the wheels roll.  So cute!

The town is known for making textiles.  There were a ton of jeans and denim shops.  There was also a fair amount of blown glass shops. 

We had a delightful time wandering.  We had soft ice cream and eventually stopped a really cute cafe for lunch.  It was a really fun day.  It would be a good stop for someone wanting to wander through a traditional looking Japanese town that isn't super crazy crowded.  For me it was perfect.  I got in a ton of walking and it got me out of the house.  I also got strange looks as I'm very pregnant looking and I don't generally wear the really loose and drappey clothing that most Japanese pregnant women wear so my belly got some double takes.  I'm getting used to it and have even caught a couple of people taking pictures of the blond pregnant woman.  Oh well.

Jeff getting ready to dig in to our delightful lunch
39 weeks and 5 days - very pregnant blond lady

Sunday we did one last Cost-Co run and had a fun afternoon playing games with friends.  If you haven't ever played Settlers of Catan, its a fantastic game.

Hopefully I don't have too much longer to wait...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spring rice planting

I've been doing a lot of walking now that the weather has been nice.  My doctor has also encouraged it and said that it should help the baby come.  Anything to get this baby moving!  Here are a couple of pictures that I think turned out okay from my recent walks.

Hills reflected in a lake with water plants

reflection in lake
Dogwood blossoms

A sunny day along the little river.  This little river has a fun collection of fish, turtles, birds and nutrea (orange-toothed semi-aquatic rodent).  I have been enjoying looking for animals along my walks.
Recently, they have started putting in the spring crop of rice.  First the fields are plowed to loosen the soil, and remove any rocks or debris and make them flat and level so that they don't need to use extra water to have the whole field with standing water.

Plowed field
Next the fields are flooded.
Flooded fields
Rice is started in little tiny plots with each plant separated so that its roots don't get all tangled up.  these remind me of the little starter plants that I get for my garden back in Boise. 
Little rice starter plants
The little starter plants are then planted in to the flooded fields in rows.  Some fields are large and some are tiny.  Space is not wasted in Japan.

Rice field planted in neat rows

Little but pretty rice field planted
I'll try and take some more pictures as the crop matures and is ready for harvesting.

I'm sorry the fun travel pictures have slowed down a lot.  I've been trying to keep closer to home (or at least the hospital) since I'm getting really close to my due date.  We have plans to do some traveling a month or so after the baby is born so if that is what you are really interesting in, please be patient.  In the mean time, I'll do my best to try and keep things interesting with more local information and pictures.

Monday, May 18, 2015

My love/hate relationship with Amazon

In some ways Amazon has been an amazing resource to get things that I can't seem to find in Japan, either because they just don't have it here or because I can't read the packaging well enough to figure what things are.  The downside of getting packages is trying to get rid of the boxes.  I've talked about Japanese trash a little bit a few months ago but today I'm going on a full fledged rant. 

I really truly believe that recycling is a good thing.  I recycle as much as possible back in Boise.  I even save my glass bottles and take them specially to the big bins that they have for glass recycling, but I really miss my big blue can that I can chuck everything in and pull out to the curb once a week.  I understand that the Japanese system of making people sort their own recycling materials is more cost effective and I have heard from other people that if you do not sort your trash correctly, they will find you and tell you.  So far Jeff and I have not gotten yelled at which (from what I have heard) is a bit of an accomplishment.

We are ordering bunches of baby stuff right now so I got a couple of boxes from Amazon last week.  Here is what happens.

Here is my pile of Amazon boxes

This is what happened once I got all of my stuff out of the boxes

this is what has to happen in order for the Japanese trash guys to actually make it go away
Cardboard has to be bundled up and tied.  The bundles have to be no larger than 50x50x20cm.  The paper and cardboard need to be separated out by types of cardboard and paper.  So, your milk containers need to be separate from your cardboard boxes since one is corrugated and the other is not.  Oh yeah, this only goes out once a month as well so if you get a bunch of packages have fun finding places to store your cardboard until trash day.  There is no way to git rid of one type of garbage when it is a different day.

So by the end of the month our pile of cardboard looks like this.
We are always super happy for cardboard day cause we always seem to have a ton. 

Here are the trash instructions off of the Higashihiroshima city web site.
Simple, right?
This is the trash schedule.
And yes, each color is a different thing so there are 7 different types of trash.
This is what our collection of trash cans looks like in order to keep all this stuff sorted.
combustible garbage (stuff that is not recyclable and things like kitchen trash), general plastic (PET bottles are separate)

PET bottles (bottle labels have to be pulled off the bottles and the caps are recycled in general plastic), cans and glass, cardboard and paper

The overflow goes in a closet if we accumulate too much of one type of trash.

The other thing that is interesting with Japanese trash is if there is a holiday, they do not collect the trash that day and they do not have makeup days.  In Boise, for holidays, they usually make up the trash day.  That does not happen here.  If you look at the calendar you can see the days that they don't collect trash.  These are important things to be aware of.  I can tell you from experience that making fish on the wrong day when there are some bones or something that needs to go in the trash can really be a bad thing when there is no outside can.

As much as I like how much can be recycled in Japan, I am looking forward to getting back to the big blue recycle bin in Boise!

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Jeff and I decided to take a small road trip this weekend and ventured off to Takehara.  It is a small town about 40 minutes from Saijo that is famous for it's influence on bringing Whiskey production to Japan. 

Masataka Taketsuru, who's family had owned a sake brewery since 1733, went to Scotland in 1918 to study organic chemistry.  While he was there he worked in Whiskey distilleries.  He married a Scottish woman and moved back to Japan.  He eventually opened his own distillery which is still in operation and is called Nikka.  Japan makes roughly 5% of the worlds Whiskey and has a reputation for having excellent Whiskey.  I happen to like Whiskey but due to pregnancy, I have not been able to do any tasting in Japan.  Something I hope to remedy after I give birth. 

There is a small historic district in Takehara which was fun to walk around and included to old family sake brewery of Masataka Taketsuru.  There were small restaurants, a couple of temples and some craft shops.  Takehara is also known for making bamboo products and the name Takehara means bamboo field. We also found an amazing toy shop with carved wooden toys and puzzles.  We think we ordered a really cool puzzle in which 5 little elephants fit together to make one big elephant.  We are not 100% certain about this due to some language issues but the shop keeper was an amazing nice man.  It was a nice place to wander around a bit.

Pretty little shop with nice plants

the sake brewery of Masataka Taketsuru's family
Interesting gutter cover.  It is not unusually to have some sort of street gutter in Japan because it rains so much.  This one is covered with bent bamboo and I thought it was pretty cool looking.
We grabbed a bit of lunch and then headed over to where we heard there was a nice beach.  It was a very small beach but it was nice to walk at the water's edge and get my feet wet.  The water was very clear and greenish-blue.  It reminded us of beaches in Thailand. 

Islands out in the Seto Inland Sea

Me walking along the beach.  Not so pregnant from behind.  Not sure I'm willing to post anything from the front or side anymore, hahaha
Other little piece of trivia, there is a small island that is overrun with rabbits right across the sea from the beach we were at called Okunoshima.  It is now a popular tourist destination and there is a ferry that goes out to it.  The rabbits were used for chemical weapons testing during WWII and were released after the war and have pretty much taken over the island.  We did not go out there but sounds like something that would be used as a superhero/villain origin story.

It was a lovely day and nice to get out and about.  I've been feeling a bit cooped up as my impending due date is limiting my activities.  It was also Mother's Day and even though I haven't given birth yet, Jeff was super sweet and made me a lovely breakfast and dinner and cleaned the floors.  Yay!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pregnant in Japan: Part 8

I'm now having all of my prenatal checkups at the local hospital where I plan on giving birth.  This seems to be working fairly well.  The hospital is new and the doctor that I have been seeing speaks a little more English than my previous doctor. 

We were told that Jeff and I needed to take a Birthing Class in order for Jeff to be allowed in the delivery room.  The hospital said that they gave this class and set up a time for us that worked with one of my appointments.  I arranged to have an interpreter so that we understood the material of the class.  We showed up and were already to go and... it was about 5 minutes of not very useful information.  In this hospital there is a midwife and a doctor for each birth.  The midwife pretty much takes care of things unless something goes wrong and then the doctor takes over.  The midwife and the doctor are who ever is on shift at that time.  Birthing class was given by one of the midwives.  She pretty much said that all I need to do is breathe the way she tells me to and don't push unless she says it is time to push.  It's that simple.  Any questions?  And that was the whole "birthing class".

Not what I expected.  I wanted a bit more information/preparation than that so I found a Lamaze class on Utube and watched it over the weekend.  It made me feel a little more like I was prepared but I guess when it really comes down to it the big thing is to do what the midwife tells you, lol.

We did get a hospital tour while we were there.  They do things a little different in Japan.  They have separate labor rooms, birthing rooms and rooms where you stay after the birth of the baby.  In the US, everything usually happens in the same room. 

They have both single and group rooms in Japan for after the baby is born.  The single room is a little more expensive but definitely worth it in my opinion for several reasons.  The biggest reason is that if you are in one of the group rooms (holds 4 beds) the father can not hold the baby until you go home.  Yep, you read that right.  This to me is a really big deal since in Japan you stay in the hospital for 5 full days after you give birth.  Can you imagine being a new dad and not being able to hold your baby for that long?  The reason is this, the baby can only be in two places, your room and the nursery.  There nursery is where the nurses watch the babies when the moma's need a break or have a visitor and people can see them through a window (it looks like something I've seen in American movies, all the babies in little bassinets in rows).  In the group rooms men are not allowed so the fathers can not go in therefore they can not hold the babies.

I've requested a single room (also has it's own bathroom and would be quiet, I imaging staying with 4 women and newborns is not a good way to catch some zzz's) but they can not guarantee it since they are first come first serve.  Statistically, I should be able to get a single rooms but there is a possibility it might take a day or two. 

The next thing that is super strange to me is that there are super strict visiting hours and locations.  I can only get visitors from 1PM to 8PM and this also includes Jeff.  Only the husbands and the grand parents are allowed in the private rooms so that means the only person that can visit me and not be out in the lobby area is Jeff.  My friends in Japan will only be able to see the baby through the window in the nursery and can only talk with me in the lobby area.  This also means that Jeff is really limited with the amount of time he can spend with me and the baby for the first 5 days.  They also said that when labor starts and I go to the hospital, if it is not visiting hours Jeff has to leave until it is close to the time of birth and then he will be called back so that he can attend the birth but I might be on my own for a good chunk of labor if the timing is out of whack with visiting hours.  I'm not thrilled about this and I plan on arguing a case that I need Jeff since his Japanese is better than mine but we shall see.  Japanese really like their rules and following them.

Anyhow...  So that's the latest weirdness that I've learned about birthing in Japan.  Oh yeah, and I have to bring my own towels for showing and utensils for eating but they provide 3 meals a day.

Me and the baby are still having a "good course" as my doctor keeps saying.  She is full term already and I've got about 2.5 weeks till my due date.  I'm in the same boat as most women at this point, ready to be done, but nothing I can do but wait.  I'm still trying to have a good hour of activity a day between my prenatal workout videos or walking but both are getting harder as I'm getting more tired and my feet are now so far away...

Till next time!