Sunday, 29 June 2014

Common Sense in Child Welfare (Personal Observations)

Remember this?
Obviously common sense is culturally encoded, not actually common. One of the most interesting things for me about living in different cultures is observing the differences in "common" sense, the things that are so taken for granted that no one thinks to explain them. When it comes to parenting, "common" sense varies so wildly even within the same culture that it's hard to draw comparisons, but in the case of the officially patrolled boundaries of parenting (for example, at what age children can legally be left home alone, whether or not "spanking" is considered abuse) we can more easily draw some very general comparisons. Slightly less reliably, the advice and concerns social workers express can be another indication. I want to talk about some things that have surprised me about the way our social workers and other support people have approached our adoption experience. I'm not criticizing any of these differences, even if I sound a little cynical; in some cases I prefer the Japanese approach and in some cases I have been left scratching my head, but I am very grateful for all of the support we have received.

Co-Sleeping and Family Baths

When we were matched with an eight year old, one of my first thoughts was sadness that co-sleeping would probably not be an option. In Australia (AKA AusOMGPEDOPHILEStralia) having an eight year old sleeping in the same bed as foster parents would be unthinkable. Yet, contrary to my assumptions, we were expected to co-sleep. As it turned out, co-sleeping really really wasn't for us. After a sleepless few months we gradually transitioned first from sleeping in the same room but different beds to then sleeping in separate rooms. This really bothers the social workers and gets brought up every single time we have a visit, and was even included in the report submitted to the courts for the adoption application. They have ascribed it to "cultural difference" despite me saying that I have no cultural objection, I just really don't enjoy getting kicked in the face and feel that I am a better parent after sleeping than I am when sleep-deprived. Almost a year in, when speaking to a psychologist about self-harming issues yesterday I was told "it's probably because you make him sleep alone". Although not sleeping together seemed to be the most upsetting, they were also quite displeased that we don't take baths together. We somewhat redeemed ourselves by making periodic trips to onsen together, but it still gets brought up from time to time. It's funny that our failure to do two things Australian social workers would absolutely black list us for doing (and possibly have us arrested for) earns such displeasure.


There is a huge emphasis on eating. For the first three months pretty much all anyone asked Tiger was "do you like your mama's cooking?" When I expressed concerns about some violent incidents and talk of suicide I was asked "is he eating? If so, there's nothing to worry about." The courts asked me to provide example menus. The bento I made for his school picnics were described in detail by the teachers to the social workers and feature in our documentation. The psychiatrist asks every month about his appetite but never about his drawings, what he has been saying, how his relationships with friends are or any of the other questions I was expecting.
I got good marks though ;)

Self-Harm and Suicide

I have tried not to violate Tiger's privacy on this blog, so I wont go into any details, but to me for a child to self harm or talk about suicide should always raise red flags, and especially if the child is already "high risk" in other ways. Yet, these issues have never been addressed in depth or treated with the seriousness I expected they would deserve.

Violence and Discipline

 No one, from social workers to psychologists to the court, has ever asked us if we use physical discipline (we don't). It's very common and not illegal here, so it may not really be surprising that no one has asked, but given that everyone is aware that he is a challenging child I was expecting some kind of advice on or scrutiny of how we handle discipline. On one occasion Tiger told his teacher that I had given him a blood nose. She mentioned it in passing and excepted my explanation* without making a big deal of it... which was a relief for me but also quite troubling objectively. If he were being abused and had opened up to a teacher he probably wouldn't have bothered mentioning it again after that response. Likewise, despite having been on the receiving end of violence from Tiger, in one case I was actually meeting with a social worker with this bite mark on my arm:

 I wasn't offered any advice or support for keeping myself safe.

*It's actually quite funny, Tiger probably has a brilliant career as a lawyer ahead of him... We were arguing about something or other (whether gumboots were necessary on a rainy day, I think) and he got a blood nose. He is prone to them and gets them quite often. At the time he told me it was my fault and I asked how on earth that was the case when I was standing at the other end of the hall. "You're so annoying my blood-pressure increased and that caused the nose-bleed" he replied.

Professional Advice 

The professional advice we have been given from social workers, psychologist and psychiatrist has all been stuff that we took for granted all parents would do. Things like "tell him he is precious" and "tell him how you expect him to behave instead of assuming he knows" or "he may be afraid of abandonment". It is sometimes hard to look sufficiently impressed by these gems of wisdom.


Bullying, on the other hand, has been taking enormously seriously. I made the mistake of using the word casually when asking Ms Smiles to intercede in a very minor incident last year and within a couple of hours two teachers and the vice principal were investigating and interviewing. I actually felt bad for the "bully", it had really been a very minor thing. A few weeks ago a boy who occasionally bullies Tiger told the other kids they weren't allowed to play with him. I think it only lasted a day or two and although I kept asking about it Tiger said they had made up and everyone was friends again. I experienced that kind of clique exclusion even within the tiny circle of other home-schooled kids I knew as a child, and it hadn't lasted long so I didn't pursue it further but I did mention it to the psychologist. She physically flinched and immediately started talking notes, saying that something like that she had to inform the school about and discuss with the teacher. Her reaction reflected the emotional gravity of that kind of bullying for kids, rather than dismissing it as "sticks and stones" or "kids will be kids". 
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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Buying Extra-Large Condoms in Japan


Chart from and therefore probably somewhat biased
Two disclaimers here:
  1. If you use normal condoms in your home country, you should have no problems finding condoms in Japan that fit (if you find regular Japanese condoms tight, try XL condoms. Don Quixote or Condomania will have them if you are having trouble finding them elsewhere). This post is about condoms that would be considered extra-large in a western country.
  2. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT EVER buy condoms larger than you actually need. They will not protect you or your partner. Plus, seriously, who has ever been impressed by a gift that was less impressive than the packaging? ^_~
I had intended this to be an informative post, but I sadly have to admit that even after extensive searching and asking embarrassing questions in all of my on-line Japan support groups I still haven't found a good solution for the problem how to acquire what we need in reasonable quantities without going bankrupt. I'm going to share what I was able to find here, but it is slim pickings unfortunately. If you can offer any advice (that is helpful rather than snide or vulgar, please!) I would be very grateful if you could leave a comment or drop me an email ^_^; This is not a sponsored or commissioned post, but condom manufactures, if you want to sponsor it どうぞ!

iHerb stocks Kimono Micro Thin Large at ¥ 1,331 for a box of twelve, plus shipping (depends on the size of the order but about ¥400) with no restriction on order size I am aware of and prompt delivery (often within a week). Although the kimono size chart shows these as larger than Trojan Magnums, in practice they feel smaller. On the other hand, they really are very thin.

FBC stocks Trojan Magnums at ¥3,224 for a box of twelve, plus shipping (depends on the size of the order but about ¥1000 plus  ¥1000 annual membership fee). Because they ship from the US you can only order one box at a time, and the shipments come once a month, so effectively only 12 condoms per month. Shipping takes 39-45 days from the ship sailing, but the ships come once a month so if you order right after the previous ship sailed you may be waiting over two months for your order. The Trojans are the best fit, but they are quite thick and feel rubbery. stocks:

Trojan Magnum X-Large Lubricated Condoms at ¥ 2,800 + ¥ 910 shipping for a box of 12 (more convenient than FBC if one is only purchasing the condoms, but if I were ordering food as well FBC would work actually out cheaper) and

Sir Richard's Condom Company Extra Large Condom at ¥ 1,315 + ¥ 990 shipping for a box of 12

and that's it, that is all I could find.  

Don't waste your time with these domestic brands, irrespective of claims made about size on the packaging:

They really aren't.

Although, it was kind of worth it just to have "Fist of the North Star" condoms on our possession...
Seriously, if you have any advice please share!
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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Eating Rice Weevils 米食べる虫を食べること

Image by Swamysk
Periodically we get weevil infestations. We have a lot of grains in the house, and despite allegedly "airtight" containers, zip lock bags, dried chilis, bay leaves and every other idea we have heard of, they still manage to get through. The past few months have been busy so we've been eating a lot of fast easy foods like pasta instead of putting more time into cooking. I pulled out some quinoa flakes the other day to mix into my porridge (I think that's oatmeal in American?) and noticed the tell-tale cobwebbing. Sure enough, the rice, cornmeal, quinoa, instant mashed potato, cous cous, flour and even some of our spices are all infected. At the moment they are larvae, not full-fledged weevils:
Image by Kyopia
 Since we absolutely do not have the money to just throw away that much food, most of it imported, I suggested microwaving or freezing it to kill the larvae then eating it all anyway. This completely freaked out my darling husband, which I found quite interesting... I am (otherwise) a vegetarian while he eats meat. It seems hilarious that he would get squeamish about eating these tiny insects while I, a fourth-generation vegetarian, thought it was the obvious way to go. Don't get me wrong, I think it is gross, but they are going to die either way (if we threw everything away they'd end up incinerated) and after all, insect larvae are an environmentally friendly source of dense protein. Unswayed by my logic, the man has sworn off all grains until the infected batches are safely out of the house.
In the meantime, he refuses to watch me eating my porridge. 
Tastes better with berries.
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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Poverty in Japan


Image by Denis Bocquet
I rely on some academic sources quite heavily in this, but since I started blogging mainly to escape from the necessity to religiously reference everything I write I hope the guardians of plagiarism will forgive me simply listing those resources at the end instead of acknowledging each instance of citation.

Japan is a wealthy, highly industrialised nation with the second highest life expectancy in the world. It is a land of sleek sky-scrapers and nano-technology where everyone has a white collar job and a pet robot. If we children of the 1980s learned nothing else from Gibson and Techno-Orientalism, it was that Japan=the future, and corporate success.

Which is why I was a little surprised when some of the first people I ever spoke to in Japan were living in cardboard boxes, why I was unprepared for a school staffroom with a single shared PC running Windows '95 (in 2009), and why the first time I was told "school lunch is the only meal some of these kids will eat today" I had trouble grasping exactly what that meant.

38 percent of Japan's population (19.7 million people), live on or below the poverty line.  

Japan is a wealthy country. "The Japanese" are not a wealthy people. Although Japan ranked 9th in the OECD for income inequality (2006), poverty is enormously concentrated on families. After income redistribution (ie, comparing net not gross income) child poverty in Japan surpasses the OECD average. In single parent families the situation is even worse.

Single parent households in which the parent is employed have a poverty rate of 50% (2000 figures) compared to an OECD average of 20%.

The term "working poor" doesn't fully capture the situation I'm talking about here. The ratio of non-full time (casual, part-time or contracted) workers has increased from 19% in 1996 to 30% in 2006. The average hourly wage of part time workers is only 40% that of full time employees, and they are likely to miss out on pension contributions etc, meaning they face a precarious situation when they become unable to continue working.

Check out  for disturbing graphs like this:
If we break these statistics down further by age and gender, we can see some sections of society that are extraordinarily vulnerable.

As reported in The Japan Times
This year’s Global Gender Gap Report ranks Japan at 105th among 136 countries, its worst showing since the WEF started the survey in 2006. Japan ranked 101st last year.
Often lost in commentary about Japan's declining birthrate is that for over a decade a quarter of married women of reproductive age reported that they could not afford to have as many children as they wanted. With the barriers in returning to work after having children I wrote about here, the decision to have a child involves not only the cost of raising that child, it entails to loss of the mother's income for what may be over a decade.
Graph taken from Naohiro Ogawa's work, see reference list at the end of the post

Blogger won't let me embed it, but this short report is really worth watching:

This survey shows 40% of retirees surveyed have a monthly income of just 100,000 yen.

Graph taken from Aya K. Abe's work, see reference list at the end of the post

This post makes some great (but depressing) observations about the lack of public housing, especially in the areas devistated by the tsunami, and how the Tokyo olympics really aren't helping:
According to a recent report on NHK, the city of Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture has set aside a large tract of land for a new public housing project that was supposed to start construction last August, but no construction company even submitted a bid because the local government set the starting bid too low. Builders looked at the project and assumed they would likely lose money on it, so they didn’t even show up. Throughout the disaster area, there are plans to build more than 27,000 public housing units specifically for disaster victims, and by the end of September only 450 had been built. Right now more than 100,000 people are still living in temporary digs.
Will things change once the tax-inspired housing boom is finished and construction of single-family homes slumps again? Not likely. Tokyo needs those workers to build infrastructure and venues for the 2020 Olympics. The Tokyo government, as well as the central government–who has already expressed is feelings for the poor by recently tightening welfare requirements–is more than willing to pay top yen to get the city ready for the big event, which means other construction projects, those with lower priority, will be neglected, probably until the next decade, at the earliest. And public housing has the lowest priority of all.
This article describes the exploitation of homeless as a disposable workforce in clearing irradiated areas.

Shizuya Nishiyama, 57, says he briefly worked for Shuto clearing rubble. He now sleeps on a cardboard box in Sendai Station. He says he left after a dispute over wages, one of several he has had with construction firms, including two handling decontamination jobs.
Nishiyama's first employer in Sendai offered him $90 a day for his first job clearing tsunami debris. But he was made to pay as much as $50 a day for food and lodging. He also was not paid on the days he was unable to work. On those days, though, he would still be charged for room and board. He decided he was better off living on the street than going into debt.
"We're an easy target for recruiters," Nishiyama said. "We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we're easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven't eaten, they offer to find us a job."
For what is probably a larger number of people than you may think, this is what daily life looks like.

Sources not cited in text:
Abe, Aya K."Poverty and Social Exclusion of Women in Japan" in Japanese Journal of Social Security Policy, Vol.9, No.1 (March 2012).
Ogawa, Naohiro "Japan's Changing Fertility Mechanisms and its Policy Responses" in Journal of Population Research, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2003.
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Sunday, 15 June 2014

8 Insignificant Things About Japan That Please and Annoy Me

Between work, child, dogs and all the usual stuff I haven't had time to dedicate to proper posting lately. So, just for frivolous fun, here are eight completely insignificant things that are annoy and pleasing me about life in Japan lately. There's no discussion of meaningful social issues here, just randomness!


Milk only comes in 1 litre cartons. It wouldn't seem like a big issue, but it is really annoying and really wasteful to have to buy three or four individual cartons a week. If you peek behind the counter of a Japanese Starbucks you'll see crate after crate of 1 litre milk cartons... even business can't get larger sizes, it seems. SO MUCH PACKAGING >.<


Eggs have the use by date stamped directly onto them, so if you finish half a pack, buy a new one and set them all together in the fridge there's still no confusion. It's a little thing but quite handy!


My neighbourhood recently added two new categories of garbage, bringing it up to nine different ways we have to separate everything, all collected on different days and different frequencies (for example, burnable is twice a week on the same days each time but non-burnable is once a month on a completely random day). I really appreciate the recycling system and I don't even mind separating it into different categories (even though in Australia all the recyclables get collected together from the same bin then sorted at the recycling centre, so I KNOW IT CAN BE DONE). What really annoys me is having to take garbage out every single day and needing a schedule to know what to take out when because it is that frickin' complicated. Also, our garbage is even collected from different street corners depending on what type it is! There is no need for it to be this complicated!


Light switches glow when switched off. Again, a really little thing, but so helpful! No more groping  along the wall in the dark trying to feel for the switch. It's especially helpful in unfamiliar places.


School lets out at completely random times with no consistency, and I get the times for the following week each Friday evening. That means if Monday is a "there's randomly no school after lunch today" day, I have literally zero business days notice to figure out child care or try to get time off work. The assumption is that every child has a stay at home mother and/or cohabiting grandparents. This increasingly does not reflect the lived reality, but schools seem disinterested in taking responsibility for kids between set hours.


Although these are horribly environmentally unfriendly, I do really appreciate them from time to time! They are sweat absorbing pads that stick inside your clothes to prevent staining (or visible moisture) and also deodorise. Usually I wear and undershirt, but it is SO hot and sometimes I just want to experience the textures of my nicer blouses without having my underarms hosting their own wet t-shirt contest.


The "sender" is listed as gaikoku, overseas.
I posted this on facebook and four or five friends replied with their own... the gaikoku is so generous, sending so many packages! No matter how many times it happens, the use of "gaikoku" to signify the entire rest of the world and the prioritisation of foreignness over any other information (like, for example, the NAME OF THE SENDER) continues to annoy me.


 I love that children do not live a segregated existence here. They go everywhere with their families, and if they get tired they just sleep wherever they happen to be. 
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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Eclectic Others of the Village

Stolen from HERE. The character for mother is literally a pair of breasts turned vertically.
Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection). Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. 

 In Japanese it is common to refer to everyone using kinship words irrespective of whether they are actual family members or not. All older men are 'grandpa' and all older women are 'grandma'. A running gag in anime is a cheeky young boy incurring the wrath of female characters by calling then 'aunty' instead of 'older sister'. Within families, parents refer to all other family members from the point of view of the youngest child. Fathers call their wives (excuse the hetero-etc-normativity, but in Japan this is how it is) mama and wives call their husband papa. A friend of mine began calling her husband papa while she was still pregnant with their first child. The elder children are called 'big brother' and 'big sister' and only the youngest child is regularly referred to by name.

A couple of years ago I was, without fail, 'older sister'. After we moved into a house in the burbs though, delivery men in particular began calling me 'wife' (a more natural translation would be 'missus'). Then Tiger came along and I became 'mother', or more often the English 'mama'. It's quite surreal for someone not used to the practice to have an elderly doctor refer to her as 'mama'.  So, I'm a mother, お母さん。

I love that my son is growing up an a place where instead of stranger danger, every stranger is his "sister" or "uncle" and "grandma". They aren't just words, either. Walking to school arguing about something or another and the "grandpa" walking the other way stops and says "listen to your mother!" Riding the bus and the "grandma" sitting opposite immediately whips out boiled lollies. Tiger comes home from playing at a friend's house with a guitar made from cardboard and rubber bands; his friend's grandmother taught him how to make it. I am not saying these are essentially Japanese experiences. I am sure they don't happen in big cities where there is little by way of community, and I am sure they happen in close communities all over the world.

There is a strong belief in some sections of the English speaking world that the nuclear family should be an island, that father and mother are the one and only thing a child needs. Yet despite decades of attempts to prove that a family headed by a heterosexual married couple is "best", usually in argument against blended families or same sex parenting or single parenting, the answer research consistently shows is that the best environment is one with an extended support network. Kids who are surrounded by people who care about them thrive. There are times in life, especially in teenage, when you need those "eclectic others", the aunties and cousins and the grandpa who listens patiently. As ex-pat parents we worry about living away from all of our relatives, but the "village" of aunties and grandpas surrounding us reassures us. Three cheers for the eclectic others!
Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:
The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!
and as a paperback from
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.
If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two powerful, inspiring poems, and how they came into being.

‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.

Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’ 

‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.

‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie.

‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.

Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters.
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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Science! Look Mummy, SCIENCE!

Stolen from where it even comes on t-shirts!
I came home from work one day, and Tiger was watching Tom and Jerry. Boulders were rolling down a hill and a witch turned them into dandy lions. "Mummy, SCIENCE!" Tiger shouted, pointing excitedly at the television. The man person smiled and shook his head.

The program was Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz, which is wrong for a lot of reasons but I was at work so it isn't my fault. Anyway. Tiger wanted to know why the Wizard wasn't helping them, and the man person tried to explain that he couldn't actually do magic, his tricks look like magic but really he uses science. Between the man's imperfect grasp of Japanese and Tiger's imperfect grasp of reality, the take away message became magic=science, but this is a big secret. Thrilled with his discovery (he likes being in on secrets), Tiger spent the next few weeks yelling "SCIENCE!" whenever anything fantastical happened on television. While walking to school one day he asked if there was anyone who could really do magic, and I said no, which he didn't like. He thought about it for a little while then said "there are people who can do magic, except it's really science, right?" That's my boy, channeling Arthur C. Clarke's third law before he's even figured out how to brush his teeth f(^_^;

Check out the other posts in the ninth Carnival of Atheist Parenting

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