Japan has 72 seasons

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Recently, a link concerning Japan’s seasons was shared on one of my Facebook groups. It turns out that, in ancient Japan, the year was divided first into 24 periods. In each of those time periods, three “microseasons” were described:

The 24 divisions are each split again into three for a total of 72 that last around five days each. The names were also originally taken from China, but they did not always match up well with the local climate. In Japan, they were eventually rewritten in 1685 by the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai. In their present form, they offer a poetic journey through the Japanese year in which the land awakens and blooms with life and activity before returning to slumber.

If you follow the link here, you can read the full list of microseasons, which have lovely names like “Mist starts to linger” (February 24 – 28), “Warm winds blow” (July 7-11) and “Chrysanthemums bloom” (October 13-17).

A couple of things strike me about the list. First, they seem to describe a cooler Japan. This could be Shunkai downplaying the awfulness of midsummer but, given what we know about global warning, it may be that the seasons really have changed now. In lieu of that, it also seems to be that there are some things missing. July 2-6, for instance, could easily be recast as “heavy rains fall” (i.e. rainy season) and, as I wrote about recently, mid February could be called a more poetic version of “fake spring”, like “brief burst of warmth.”

What about where you live? Are there some “microseasons” that vary enough within the regular four seasons that they deserve some special recognition and/or a beautiful name?

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Interracial couple in Cathay Pacific ad

There still aren’t a lot of representations of interracial couples in the media or advertising, though it does seem to be improving a little. Even so, a lot of groups are still missing from those that do get represented. Outside of Asian countries, Asian men don’t seem to get a lot of air time generally and you especially don’t see them shown with Caucasian women. Even here in Japan, it’s rare to see such a relationship depicted; there are plenty of white men with Japanese women in advertising for things such as wedding venues, but it’s unusual to see it the other way round.

Being a white woman, there are lots of images of women like me depicted in other areas of life and so I don’t feel anywhere near as bothered by it as someone of a race that gets little to no representation at all. Still, knowing that couples and relationships like my own – me, a Causian woman and R being a Japanese man – are quite invisible can be a bit disheartening when I stop to think about it. Representation does matter, even when someone is just trying to sell me stuff. It’s validating. It’s a reminder that you are not invisible.

So, this ad by Cathay Pacific is actually pretty great to me. Not only do we have a Caucasian woman with an Asian man, but we have mixed race children too. I have to confess, Asian/white children have long been a source of interest to me, mostly so I can try to figure out what my own might look like and, these days, how Mr. K might (physically) turn out when he evolves from a grumpy baby. I already felt a lot of love for Cathay Pacific as an airline, having used them several times to journey between Australia and Japan (with a stopover in Hong Kong, always fun), but this makes me like them that bit more.

Becoming a new mother

I think that I am maybe possibly settling into this life as a mother now. Give me one afternoon where Mr. K cries and cries and cries and or, God help me, another “growth spurt” and my firm belief in my own incompetence will reassert itself completely, but when I am outside those hellish moments, I can start to think I’m getting my head around all of this.

The last month and a bit has felt longer than I could have imagined yet if I get thinking about October 29th, it still feels like something that only just happened.

I read an article a week before Mr. K was born about the things that one could do for new mothers that would actually help, the things she actually needs, and yes, it’s true. I’m so grateful to the people who have helped me so far and who continue to help me, who show their support in all these little ways and help offload some of the pressure I tend to heap on myself.

Becoming a mother is shocking. I have no doubt, especially after observing R, that becoming a father is as well, but actually birthing a baby, becoming its primary caregiver and having it gnaw at your breasts more times a day than you really want to count and transitioning from the haze of pregnancy to not-quite-back-to-normal and forever a bit sleep-deprived is tough.

There are quite a few stories I could tell about all of this, things I need to get out of my system, but grabbing the time to sit down and do so is still hard. All of this is hard.

I’ve read more articles than I can count, trying to work out what the line between maternity blues and postnatal depression is so I can try to fix myself accordingly because yes, I’ve struggled. I feel like I may have crawled through the worst of my own emotional issues, but I’m still not sure. I read this by Yumi Stynes nearly a month after Mr. K was born, and even if I haven’t gotten to the point where I need anti-depressents myself, it still felt strangely validating to just know that I wasn’t the only person not feeling okay and struggling to admit it. Once I did, though, and acknowledged that there were good reasons for not being fine, that it was a difficult pregnancy, that R working six days a week was not ideal, that I was 8000 kilometres from home and that was tough in itself and perhaps I needed to just go a little easier on myself… that was when things started to improve.

I’m getting there, anyway. Finding new little things to do, taking time to myself and not feeling bad about it, and having largely physically recovered from the birth now… all of this helps. I may even start to improve the blog post rate soon?!

Chocolates of Japan

Hi everyone! I’ve decided to set up a separate blog for my snacks and sweets posts in order to keep this blog focused more on whatever writings I might do. The new blog is called simply Chocolates of Japan and, as the title indicates, I’ll focus more on the various chocolates I can buy hereabouts.

If you’re one of the people who reads this blog for the food posts or you’re just curious, feel free to stop on by!

Here’s an image, even, to encourage you:

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Image courtesy of Me So Hungry

 

All the toys, all the genders

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The style of Barbie – and, naturally, Ken – that I grew up with.

The internet got rather excited this week when a Barbie commercial for the limited edition Moschino Barbie, born of a partnership between an Italian fashion company of the same name and Mattel, featured… a boy.

Then we all came crashing back to earth as we discovered that the whole thing was initiated by the fashion house rather than Mattel, and that the ad itself was intended to be a parody. Sigh.

Still, something is better than nothing. For years, people have been carrying on about the evils of Barbie and dolls generally in promoting gender stereotypes that limit little girls, and self-proclaimed experts have been quite happy to publicly proclaim that girls should be playing with toys traditionally considered for boys instead.

Yet what happens is that, once again, something for boys is considered inherently superior to things for girls and that does nothing to address gender stereotypes. Instead, perhaps we ought to consider that toys and other things targetting for girls have as much value as those for boys. I read an article about exactly that, the idea that liking”girly things” isn’t something to be ashamed of.

I’m going to admit it straight-up – I wasn’t really interested in Lego or cars when I was a little girl. It wasn’t that I was discouraged from it by any stretch; I just wasn’t into them. What I was interested in was my dolls… and the huge, elaborate world my sister and I created for them. More often than not, we played out things that we had read in books (right, fine, usually it started with things I had read in books) and got lost in our imaginary world. Everything from boarding schools (Malory Towers) through to modelling contests (the Babysitters Club, maybe?) through to throwing the dolls in the pool so they could go to the beach (not sure) was done. Far from thinking this was a waste of time, I think it did a lot for our creativity and helped us understand the world.

Also, it was fun.

I’d like my son to grow up being fine with playing with whatever kid’s toys he chooses – it’s part of why I agreed to his pink bouncer seat  (though he’s sadly coming to regard it as “place I get put when I’m crying and somebody needs to rush off to attend to something else for a few minutes”, but that’s another story) – and that he doesn’t have to like or dislike something based on what colour it is. I’m hoping that this will help teach him to regard people as people first, not as whatever gender they identify as… because if we want genders to be valued equally, we need to get rid of this idea that one gender’s things are silly and pointless while another’s are invaluable just because.

“You’ll give people the wrong idea”

It took me awhile to read about Bisha K. Ali’s Facebook post neatly summarising all the things women hear in their lifetime, just because she is not someone with whom I’m exactly familiar and I’m a bit over hearing about female comedians when I’m not that interested in their work yet they seem to be all over the news.

Yet I’m very glad I did, eventually, investigate this because it’s not a skit at all. Nor is it very funny. What can I say? What it is actually is would be aggravating and depressing and oh so true. All those tiny, meaningless statements in themselves that add up to this big, overwhelming attitude and a horrible sense of not being able to win. I think of the girls I teach, the new niece (name still unknown) and I feel a bit helpless.

I have to keep remembering all the badass women I know who challenge things both directly and just by being awesome, I know. I just wish it was a matter of being rather than overcoming.

Defining and renegotiating success?

I read this article, “Why feminism needs a new barometer for success” late last week, concerning how female freedom and success are still defined in conservative terms that concern financial success and a balancing of traditional roles. As the article’s author notes, “empowerment is presented as earning a high income, and “having it all” means an enviable job, a family, and owning your own home. But that’s not every woman’s idea of empowerment.” It goes on from there to examine other ways success might be defined, offering up some more altruistic and self-fulfiling alternatives where money, for instance, is not the end goal.

If the weather is an analogy for my life, I can only hope there are going to be more pleasant months on offer than there in the average year in the Kanto area.

It struck a chord with me because this is something I have been grappling with for several years now. I have spent that time working part-time rather than full-time and dealing with the consequences of doing so. I wouldn’t say I’ve spent all the time I’ve saved productively, and I definitely won’t claim that it has been easy financially, but it has been on my own terms and that’s been very rewarding in its own right.

One thing that I have found difficult is the extent to which, despite my best intentions, my wants are still shaped by the traditional economic values and related social norms alluded to above. I don’t much of an interest in designer clothes or other designer wares, big, expensive nights out are not really something I do, and I’m a bit ambivalent about owning our own house.

BUT! I’m sucked in just as easily as ever by new clothes and the prospect of overseas holidays.. I also spend far too much money eating out and, as already evinced here on this blog, hanging out in cafes and while I might not feel strongly about home ownership in itself, per se, I’d like the freedom to actually own the cats without anyone objecting or renovate or whatever Those are just the things I want. If you factor in long-term necessities, things one might describe as “boring yet important”, such as insurance, saving for retirement, paying off debt, back-up plans should things go disastrously wrong,etc., then the whole thing becomes much more difficult.

Renegotiating the balance between the life I want, the one that is expected of me, and paying for both of the above is something I am struggling with anew now. It is one thing to make these decisions when R and I are two adults who pool our finances for shared resources and otherwise manage ourselves. It’s another when there’s a small, dependent person entering the mix whose needs, for the next while, are going to be very much front and centre. The opportunities we want to give him in life are not free of charge, but some of the best things we can offer – our affection, time, energy – cannot be compensated for financially. The balancing act is becoming ever more difficult.