Santa’s Workshop

December 10th, 2011

Ok, so presumably when I was a kid I believed in Santa Claus. I say “presumably” because I don’t actually remember believing in him, or not believing in him, and I don’t remember “discovering” that there was no Santa. My parents have told me that I basically “just wasn’t that interested” in Santa himself. But they didn’t say I disbelieved, so, I guess, at some point I must have believed in Santa.

Now, my older son is at an age where he believes in Santa (apparently, a nursery school discussion concluded that there was a split over whether or not there were any gods, but pretty much everyone agreed there was a Santa). He asks a lot of questions, not because he’s suspicious, but just curious. That has prompted me to think about Santa more than I ever did before, and there’s something I don’t get.

Santa, says the conventional wisdom, lives at the North Pole (or Finland, as the Japanese believe). There he has a workshop manned by elves, making toys for boys and girls.

When I was a kid, I knew what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted GI Joe, Transformers, Robotech, Mask, He-Man. All of which, I knew, were made by companies like Mattel and Hasbro, and all of which, I knew, were available year-round in retail stores. These were clearly not home-made toys crafted in a workshop. And yet I don’t recall that part of the Santa story ever seeming weird to me. So Santa spent all year making toys for girls and boys, but I didn’t know a single kid, ever, who received a workshop toy. Every single person I knew received plastic toys from major retailers.

So why didn’t that part of the story seem fishy? At least with my son, there’s much less exposure to the Santa story here in Japan, so he just knows the basic outline: Santa lives up north, people aren’t sure where. He’s fat and has a big white beard and a red suit. On Christmas day he rides a sled pulled by reindeer through the sky, coming down chimneys (or through the front door, in houses without fireplaces) and putting presents under the tree for good little boys and girls. That’s about it. No elves, or Mrs. Claus. No coal for bad kids. And no workshop producing masses of unconsumed goods.

(Actually, there’s one more part of the Santa story my kid knows, handed down to me from my own dad: the existence of Anti Claus, Santa Claus’ brother. Santa brings toys to good girls and boys, but sometimes around Christmas kids are good so they’ll get presents, and then stop being good after they get them. Anti Claus’ job is to go to the houses of girls and boys who don’t keep being good after Christmas, and to take back the toys.)

Undercover Cars in Kawasaki

December 1st, 2011

So there’s a big police station relatively close to my house, and I walk by it every few days. When my oldest son was younger, we’d go to the parking lot and look at the police cars. There were also a lot of undercover police cars (you could tell they were undercover cars because they kept the police lights on the dashboards when parked). One thing I noticed is that none of them had hubcaps. I was curious about that, and the curiosity kept growing, until one day I decided to go in and straight up ask the police what was up with that. The answer: hubcaps cost money, and if the police bought hubcaps, people would complain that they were wasting money.


I Never Thought of That

November 19th, 2011

So the other night, Alex (age 5) asks for Return of the Jedi again as his bedtime story. The story ends with the usual “and because the Death Star was destroyed, and the Emperor and Darth Vader killed, Luke and Leia and Han and all the other rebels lived happily ever after”.

Alex: “But daddy, the Empire’s not gone, right? There are still a lot of Storm Troopers and stuff.”

Me: “No, there’s still an Empire, but the Emperor and Darth Vader are gone, so there’s nobody left to lead the Storm Troopers.”

Alex: “Because Darth Vader turned good?”

Me (a little puzzled): “No, because he’s dead.”

Alex: “But if he didn’t turn good before he died, then he could come back as a ghost like Obi Wan and the ghost could lead the Empire.”

Huh…I’d never thought of that.

Psychological Rejection of Physical Fitness

September 16th, 2011

So in June, I had a physical, and was instructed to lose weight, immediately. I’ve succeeded in that through an unusual regimen of my own creation, called “eating less”. I’ve also taken up jogging, which, although it sounds like a weight reduction technique, for me really isn’t. After jogging, I am very thirsty, and hungry, and want something sweet to drink and tasty to eat. This means that, inevitably, the amount of calories I burn jogging seem to exactly match the number of calories I take in during the course of the hour following jogging. Fortunately, I’m not going overboard — jogging isn’t making me fat. It’s just not particularly making me thin.

But, fine, I reason. Perhaps the jogging isn’t helping me lose weight, but it’s helping me become what they call “physically fit”. When I started jogging, I could jog maybe 15 minutes without needing to drop down into a walk. I now jog for 30 minutes straight. Not running, by any means — a mix of slow and medium jogging — but no walking, either. According to everything I’ve ever heard about physical fitness:

1) I should now be finding jogging exhilarating, or at least not unpleasant, and

2) I should be seeing the benefits of increased physical fitness in my daily life.

Well, with regards to 1…there are people who don’t like watermelon, or spinach, or shellfish. That may seem bizarre to folks who like that stuff, but there’s no accounting for tastes. Tastes are what they are. I don’t like exercise. Exercise that happens without noticing it (like when I was into rock climbing), sure, but exercise like sports, or working out, no. So, 3 months into my jogging regimen, I dislike it more than ever. But, hey, maybe I’m not losing weight, and maybe I hate doing it, but at least I can enjoy the physical benefits it brings.

No. This part truly doesn’t make sense. I can now start jogging out the door, and not stop until arriving back at the house 30 minutes later. But god forbid sometime during the day (even an off day, where I haven’t jogged in the morning) I forget a library book I’m supposed to return, or Tony’s diapers, or the like, and I have to jog two minutes back to the house to pick them up — inevitably, I’m winded and exhausted by the time I arrive. My body has apparently, begrudgingly, accepted the fact that it is now capable of jogging 30 minutes when dressed in jogging attire and listening to a podcast, but if I ask it to jog 3 minutes any other time, it informs me that its union has voted to reject overtime and working off the clock. We’ve had a long working relationship so far, so it’s willing to accept 1 minute of jogging when not scheduled to do so, but no more than that, or I’ll have to take it up with the union rep.

So, can anyone give me any ideas about why I should bother continuing jogging?

Being sick has seriously improved

September 5th, 2011

Sure, it still doesn’t feel good, but thanks to my phone, now I’ve got internet radio to listen to, games to play, an internet browser…I may be stuck in bed all day, but at least I’m not bored.

Random Picture Quillion

August 10th, 2011

I just liked the name of this restaurant.

Notes: “Quillion” is a number Alex has invented, defined as “one less than infinity”.

Whenever I Open My Computer

August 4th, 2011

…I seem to be confronted by unnoticed past errors. Seriously, pretty much every time.

What prompts me to say this is that I built my current PC last year, reusing some older components, like my former HDDs. HDDs which are now pretty cramped, prompting me to buy a 2TB drive. The 2TB drive, just like my former 250GB drives, is SATA-3.

Unlike the former drives, though, THIS TIME I’ll connect the drives to the SATA-3 ports, not the SATA-2 ports. Man, a whole year with unnecessarily slow transfer speeds…the motherboard SATA-3 ports must have thought they offended me somehow.

Loss of Plausible Deniability

August 2nd, 2011

I guess the point when you can no longer say “I’m just watching this kid’s show because my son, sitting next to me, is watching it”, is when you and your wife start up the DVR and watch the show…after the kids have gone to bed.

“Afraid of the Dark” – Not Really a Thing in Japan?

May 25th, 2011

When I was a kid, growing up in Texas, my room, like the room of every kid in America, had a light switch, which was used to turn on or off the incandescent light bulbs in my room. Switch on: room brightly lit. Switch off: room pitch black (except for whatever moonlight might filter through the blinds on a clear night). As a result, whether or not I was afraid of the dark was something that I faced each and every night. Fortunately, I was not particularly afraid of the dark (didn’t even have a nightlight).

Japanese houses, however, are different. The typical Japanese house doesn’t use incandescent bulbs in every room. Instead, they use big circular fluorescent bulbs. The other trait about these lights is that they have, built in, a kind of “super nightlight”. You can set the light to “On”, which is fully lit, “Off”, which is pitch black, or “Dim orange”, which makes the room dark enough to sleep, but still light enough to read books with big letters, as long as you’re willing to eventually screw up your eyesight. A lot of people use this “dim orange” setting every night to sleep, as you can wake up and go to the bathroom without stumbling in the dark, banging your toes, or stepping on things.

My son sleeps with the “dim orange” setting each night. He doesn’t like to go to sleep with the light off. He can, but he really prefers the orange light. Which prompted me to think of the expression “afraid of the dark”. There’s no Japanese equivalent with the same feeling of “set phrase”. Sure, it can be expressed, and easily, but it would be the equivalent of, say “scared of bears” or “scared of sharks”. Sure, those are relatively common fears, but they don’t carry that sense of “set phrase”, like “scared of heights” or “fear of flying”.

I’m guessing that there are just as many kids in Japan who are scared of the dark as their are in the US, but because of the lighting used in houses, it just doesn’t come up much. The only time my son’s fear of the dark comes up is when he wants to use the restroom after sunset, and he has to go up to the dark upstairs to the bathroom, or the dark downstairs to the bathroom. It’s certainly not a daily occurrence. So fear of the dark has a prominence, in the US, that makes “afraid of the dark”, as a set phrase, so well established that it can be used with no sense of awkwardness as the title of a horror movie, or scary children’s book, or video game. In Japanese, using it as a title would be like titling your book “afraid of loud sounds” or “afraid of leaving the curtains open when you go to sleep”.

Random Image 724

May 19th, 2011

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