Friday, January 06, 2012

New Year's Letter... Looking back on 2011

I wrote a end of the year letter to my uncle in the USA and thought it would be good to share it with you all on my blog also. 

Dear friends and family,

2011 was a very hard year for us in Japan with the earthquake and tsunami. I was teaching a class on March 11th when it hit. The shear power of the quake was frightful. It felt unlike any quake I’ve been in. It felt evil. I’m 480 miles south of Fukushima. It would be the same if you felt an earthquake centered Los Angeles all the way in Tucson.

Mia at the start 2011.
Down here near Osaka the earthquake did not affect us so much, but I feel like I should try to do more to help the victims. Some prices when up. There was a shortage of batteries for a while. Life soon returned to normal, almost too soon. I think one of the most amazing traits of the Japanese people built up after thousands of years living in a disaster prone area is the ability to stoically get up and keep on going after a disaster. At my work the next day everyone was right there getting things done with little to no talk about the quake. I’m sure at home and among friends things were different, but work was work. There might have been an element of trying to keep a strong face for our students also.

The quake was the most defining moment of the year for us, but there were many good things also.

During the spring break at the end of the school year here we spent the night in Ako at the western border of Hyogo, prefecture. There we ate the most amazing Italian food and spent the night at a ryokan (a Japanese style inn that serves dinner and breakfast) with a hot spring that had outdoor baths overlooking the Seto Inland Sea.

In May we went up to Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture to visit Yuko’s friend there. We stayed one night at a great little ryokan that had a perfect opaque white sulfur hot spring. I got to ride the local train and explore the town and its many mineral water springs set up for drinking. The weather was just perfect up in the mountains and it reminded me of eastern California and the Sierras.

In the last few weeks over winter break we were able to spend the night at a ryokan in Wakayama. The hotel is on it’s own island and you have to take a boat there. We went with my former coworker who’s wife is also Japanese and they have a son who’s a year or so older than Mia. I guess I’m officially middle-aged now that I’m doing family stuff with other families.

During summer break we got a quick trip to Tucson in. It was great seeing Mia swim in the pool. I miss the dry heat in the desert. Japan is so humid and wet in the summer. The trip was fun but we didn’t many activities or go many places. I got to drive all of my sister’s stuff in a giant U-Haul truck from Los Angeles to Tucson. Driving in Japan is fun, but I miss American roads too. Especially going through the Mojave and crossing the Colorado.

Mia's first birthday.
We really didn’t do much on the trip because on our first night in Tucson Yuko woke me up at 4 am complaining of massive stomach pains. So after getting Mom to watch Mia, I drove her down to the local hospital where she was admitted to the ER. It was scary to see my wife in such pain in the hospital. She was a bit scared too and worried about her English—although the staff complemented her on how well she spoke. While painful, it was just a kidney stone. After a CAT scan and some other tests she was released later that morning with some painkillers. The staff was very caring with her despite having to deal with the strange, loud, crazy and somewhat scary people who were in the ER with us. It was a learning experience for us both. I have to say that the quasi-public health care system in Japan is 1,000 times better than what we have in the states. Frankly, one of my biggest worries about returning to the US is health care and health insurance. This short trip to the ER cost $6,000! Thankfully we had travel insurance that covered all the costs.

So for the remainder of our trip we basically spent around my mom’s house, as Yuko was in bed in pain a lot of the time. Despite that we all had fun and we’re looking forward to going back again in 2012.

In America I bought a hiking backpack to put Mia in. It’s turned out to be so incredibly useful and fun. We didn’t get to use it much in Tucson, but in Japan I use it instead of a stroller. There are so many stairs and uneven roads that strollers are just so inconvenient. It’s also a lot of fun because people in Japan just don’t use them so everywhere we go Mia gets a lot of attention. I break it down this way: 75% because she’s so cute, 20% because of her saddle (the backpack), 5% because of her horse (me). And that’s a generous 5% I’m giving myself!

Before winter got started I’d take Mia out in the backpack 2~3 times a week. We’d walk town the river by our house to the bay or take a train out someplace and walk between two not so distant stations and take a different train back home.  She gets such a kick out of it and always perks up when I get the backpack out.

Mia in the backpack hiking up to a temple.
We’re also using the backpack when we go to temples. We’ve been to quite a few this year. It’s always fun to strap her in and climb up the ubiquitous long flight of stairs up the side of a mountain to the temple The temples are all always so peaceful with nature and fresh air all around them. The break from the crowded and dirty cities is always refreshing. The monks, temple workers and other visitors all just adore Mia and her happy personality too.

Mia has grown so much it’s quite amazing. She only just began to walk in August and she’s basically all about walking now. Her comprehension is quite high in Japanese and English. She can say many understandable things like mom (mama), dad (da), train (dencha – the Japnese word), food (mamata – that’s her own word), please (peeez), thank you (atto – after Japanese “arigato”), Blues Clues (Buooo – children’s TV program), Peek a boo (Nai nai ba – Japanese version), Nao (Naooo – Our neighbor’s son’s name), see you, bye-bye and so on. She’ll also just carry on for minutes at a time in her own special language. I’m so proud and just blown away by how smart she is. She’s also such a happy baby. She’s not scared of other children or other people. I like to say that she’s great at aisatsu, or greetings, a very important part of Japanese culture.

Mia at the end of 2011.
I’ve been busy working 6-day weeks (5 at school and 1 at the bar) and not having enough time at home. Last term I had many special assignments that really killed me as I did most of the work myself. Thankfully, they all finished without any huge disasters and I got a ton of praise from my coworkers, vice principal, and the principal himself. I’ve decided I need to do less time at the bar for my health and to free up some time so I could start attending classes online. My hot spring review and information website ( also needs so much more work that I just can’t get myself to do. On the other hand, I’ve taken some amazing photos this year and made some incredible worksheets, classes and videos at work including the website for the bar I work at ( Because of Mia I don’t get to take long train trips anymore, but I still was able to get a few short local trips in. Going on a little adventure now and then is so much fun and I never want to stop doing it. Back in America I’d drive across the desert and small highways, here I take local trains and walk around sleepy villages. Soon enough Mia and I will be going on these adventures.

Thank you for reading my little blog. I don't do as much with it as I want but I hope to have some extra content about taking trains and more restaurant tips up in 2012. We hope you’re all in good health for 2012 and that it turns out to be a great one for you.

Yours truly,
David, Yuko and Mia


angryparsnip said...

Best letter ever !
I can't believe how much she has grown...

cheers, parsnip

Anonymous said...

I just ran into your blog, bouncing from link to link on blogs that have to do with Japan.
It sounds like you have a great life and wonderful family in Japan.
It was nice to read your New Years greeting, even though we've never met.
I hope you accomplish all that you hope for 2012.

David Kawabata said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the comment and kind wishes. Maybe we'll bump into each other sometime in Osaka. You look like you've got a great deal going on here too. I wish I had time and skill to post in Japanese. Still not there yet, trying however.