Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Day at Kindy... A Big Day

Well - no sooner did L-kun get back to Adelaide, have his 4th birthday, and then have another birthday (he insisted on having a second the following day) - then he was ready for the next big adventure. Kindergarten! Actually, he's only on pre-entry now, which equates to 1x2 hour session per week, but for us it's a big transition. You see, T-chan's been looking after L-kun pretty well everyday for the last four years - and been doing a good job (under sometimes difficult circumstances, as I'm sure every stay-at-home mum knows all to well)... so this is just a big a day for her as it is for L-kun.

Actually, even I think when I see some of these photos how he looks older than just 4 years old... and it makes me realise just how quickly he'll go from small child to big child to young man in the blink of an eye.

And of course, he's sporting some international fashion... his backpack comes from Skip Hop, a US-based company. Even though these were bought in Japan, you can also now purchase them locally in Australia (David Jones department store stocks them). The dog one was a favourite of L-kun. Actually, we're starting to worry about the things that he wears and brings with him - something we didn't need to before. The important thing is food-wise: only water, no processed foods, and no nuts. Thankfully at least, we know that L-kun doesn't have a nut allergy... something that is a real concern these days (but I'm sure was more or less unheard of in my parents day).

We didn't take any photo's at the Kindy (nowadays parents get a little worried about that sort of thing), but when T-chan met L-kun at the end he was all smiles and the first thing he said was "tanoshikatta", I had fun. In fact he was bubbling with excitement all day, and was telling Daddy about the songs they sang and the dance they did.

Apparently he was very chatty - though we don't know if he was speaking much Japanese or not. His Japanese was fantastic coming back from Japan, but his English had definitely degraded noticeably...however in the last week it's picked up again quickly. Children are definitely like sponges at that age... but that also means that now is the time we'll start to see his behaviour dictated more and more by his peers, and less and less by us.

Our little man is growing up.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Welcome Home... and Happy Birthday

 Well this week saw my beautiful (though mysterious) wife T-chan and our wonderful little boy, L-kun, arrive back in Adelaide, after about 2+ months away in Japan. That's a long time, but about on par with our annual family migration. But, whilst it may be "normal" it's still a struggle. I have to say that I was genuinely relieved to  see the two of them coming out of the customs area in Adelaide Airport... safe and sound. I could have happily cuddled L-kun all the way home.

I had taken a couple of days off, and was enjoying spending time with both T-chan and L-kun... especially as it was L-kun's birthday. It's a bit weird to celebrate a birthday after having traveled such a long way. L-kun was still full of beans even after 24 hours of traveling, but T-chan was getting very sleepy by the start of the evening. It's always a very draining time for her to say goodbye to her parents. It's also always a draining time for me to be apart from them all as well (i.e. draining through lack of good sleep, good diet, exercise, and not least of all... cuddles).

We were still able to enjoy a nice birthday cake together, before L-kun went off to bed, and we both followed shortly after... it's been a long 4 weeks since last I saw them in Japan. I was so happy to have them both home, and it whilst it's always enjoyable to have our annual trips, it's also nice to be able to look forward to just plain old 'normal' relaxing time.

Welcome home, and happy 4th birthday L-kun!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Tokyo Wedding Pt 8 ...The Real Party Goes On...

Well, this is it. The last post. Now I'm sure that you're all wondering .... why so many pictures? Well, the first reason is that I took a ####load of pictures. The second reason is that unlike my normal photos, I've been working pretty hard to clean these up... Photoshop has been working overtime.. something I might post about later. The third, and perhaps best reason (if they weren't good enough) is that whilst T-chan and L-kun have been away, I haven't really done much to write about. Stayed home, did lots of work, browsed lots of internet, had a few red-wines, and basically been very quiet.

But I digress. This post is really about the last big thing... the after-party-party. T-chan's parents had gone home (it's sort of tradition that the parents don't attend, to allow the young-un's some fun). They also took L-kun home as well... which meant T-chan and I could have our first night out together in a long time. Of course, when I say night out, I don't mean to suggest a late night. We, I hate to say it, were bushed.

The married couple were however, surprisingly chipper... although that might have something to do with the amount of alcohol consumed. Including by the photographer*hic* as well... 

Anyhow - we arrived fashioably late after having afternoon tea with S-chan's family (reads: lots of ice-cream for our brilliant young ring-bearer, L-kun, and coffees for the rest of us). By the time we arrived, the party had already begun in earnest. Now whilst there had been some videos before hand, and lots of photo montages (I can't help but think Team America here... but that's another story).... they brought out the real videos of family interviews. And they were fantastic (if I get hold of them, I will put them up).... I have to say, once again, Otousan was the star of the show... he's becoming quite the celebrity.

The other aspect of the night was the "question-and-answer"... this was the point where the husband and wife would have to ask a series of questions. Now... let's just say that as H-kun and S-chan had been at working at the same company for perhaps over 10 years together, there were a lot of questions concerning when they started going out together.... come'on... you can tell us.

Indeed - very cutting questions, that left the couple a little lost for words. Now I know the answer, but that, as they say in the classics, would be telling.... so let's just say that they gave an answer.

But the real business of the evening was to practice some more of that whole kissing thing... take one:

Hmmm - definite improvement on the earlier effort... no smiles of mock-horror from S-chan... good.... very good. But, that's how you might kiss your aunt... lets see the real thing... er... now... there may be minors watching... take two:

Ok... let's just leave it there... this is a no-adult-content blog after all (and we have to leave something to your imagination). Let's fast forward to the after-shot, where H-kun is being very reflective of the occasion... and thinking seriously about the institution of marriage... and all sorts of serious things.

Actually - he wasn't thinking about anything serious at all... because, not only was balloon-man (and a strange, balloon groupie) there this evening, we had another special guest appearance. This time from.... Aluminium-Man. He wrinkles, he crinkles, and he's even microwave safe! And apparently he was here to put the hard word on S-chan to see if she really, really wanted to marry H-kun (or something like that). To be honest, I was laughing so hard that I really wasn't paying attention to what was happening. I'm sure it was an ancient Japanese marriage ritual however... very culturally rich, the Japanese are.... a little mysterious though....

And S-chan seemed to be enjoy Aluminium-man's finer points a little too much.... hmmm... either that, or it could have been those suspender stockings (let's leave it there shall we).

The party was a great success, and there was lots of great food and drink to fill to the brim each and every one of the many guests... and it should be said that this party was quite a bit different to the formal reception that we had before. There were a lot more people, and the mood was quite a bit more raucous. It was a time to let the hair down, and also a time to say thank-you to all the well-wishers.... but above all, it was a time to enjoy and celebrate the marriage of these two wonderful people.

The recent time may have been a hard one for all people in Japan, following the horrible March 11th earthquake, yet that wasn't on assembled people's minds tonight. It was a happy, joyous time, and one that shows that love, like life and the flow of time, heals wounds and grounds us in the here-and-now in the prospect of a future. At this difficult time, two lives have come together, to share each other's happy times, as well as sad times. And we were so very happy that we could share it with them!

And what a party it was...Actually, after this, there was even another party for their closest friends.... the after-after-party party. Unfortunately, I have no photos to share of that... but my hat goes off to them. They really know how to get married!


A Tokyo Wedding... Pt 7 Like a Breath of Fresh Air.

The penultimate post... and this was a little bit different. The weather had cleared up - enough for us to venture outside with the family and close friends for another series of photos. And to enjoy the gardens of the Hotel New Otani. The skies may be a little grey - but they say that makes for perfect photography (ok... that most probably matters if you know what your doing in the first place).

Actually, we didn't get to see much of the gardens - although L-kun was happy to explore (you can just make him out above). The gardens are quite well appreciated, and always draws a crowd on weekends - so finding a nice spot and waiting for people not to be overtly in frame was difficult. It's a good thing that H-kun and S-chan had already had their formal photos done in the garden prior to the day.... when there were less people and better weather.

I quite like this shot - reminds me of some 70's tv drama photo... they're the Avenging Couple, fighting crime on the streets and in the chapels. I'd watch that show.

S-chan's doing very well to keep herself going after a very long day (and it's only half finished). I don't know how they did it... but I'm sure they were looking forward to a break.

And H-kun looked on with sweet love in his eyes... I wonder what he was thinking of? Most probably having a good sleep. Weddings are always so exhausting... but so exciting too.

Well - that's a short post... to be honest, I was hoping to have taken more photos outside, but the problem with the Hotel New Otani is that they run multiple weddings simultaneously, and they allocate patches of fenced off garden for the couples... but one of those spots was directly in-front of ours, so for about 15 mins, all you could see in the background were tens of people milling around another wedding couple.

Actually - as T-chan and her parents had gone off to get out of their formal clothes, I suddenly realised that I didn't know where they were, or when they were going to be coming down. All I knew was to meet them at the front lobby. about 40mins later... they finally arrived (I'm  sure the hotel staff were wondering who the strange gaijin was with the camera standing around the lobby).

So - one more post to go... whew... this stuff is hard work, for you and me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Tokyo Wedding... Pt 6 The Relaxing Begins

Feeling much more relaxed, the couple indulge in some food and drink... actually, there's more than enough drink to be had for the couple, especially the groom who is plied with alcohol during the entire reception from his friends.

Meanwhile, S-chan's friend plays a beautiful piano piece that captivates the room. Music is an integral part of the reception, and often there will even be karaoke machines involved. This is a party after all.

And there's plenty of celebration going on...and plenty of smiles...

One of the treats is that H-kun and S-chan had a number of videos made up. They used to work together in a very prominent Japanese company, and there's plenty of talented friends. One of the videos was a "re-enactment" of their betrothal. They also had a number of video interviews with their families. And a special appearance from a friend over in New York. Overall, it was a multimedia extravaganza... and T-chan's parents loved the video. It must be strange, seeing their son in perhaps a slightly different light.

And speaking of special appearances... there was even an appearance from the magical bouncing balloon man - aka H-kun's former junior, who momentarily stole the show. As I mentioned, Japanese receptions can be quite a production, and there's always a lot of humourous twists and turns.

Here H-kun was asked to hold a decoration (called a kusudama) whilst the above-mentioned ballon-man tried to jump and catch the release string - not an easy task when you don't have arms or hands. After quite a few tries (accompanied by the claps and cheers of the audience) he managed to grab the string between his teeth and pulled... "Gokekkon"... Marriage.

And this of course was merely a prelude to the real purpose - to cheer on H-kun to complete the contract with a kiss, which had (in Japanese-style) been missing so far. Now - one thing you must understand, Japanese of their generation and older are not necessarily into a lot of public display of affection (at least not outside their close friends)... and indeed this was a rare event.

And the effect was somewhat mixed. H-kun reckon's he got a strike, but S-chan's face says it was more like a ball. Not out!.

Now the last hurrah for the formal reception. The speeches. It is traditional for the bride to read out a letter, written to her parents whom she is now leaving officially. These speeches are solemn occasions and are often  real tear-jerker moments, where the daughter thanks her parents for all they have done. Even H-kun has sobered up after the kissing...

Now I have to admit, I was somewhat taken aback when instead of S-chan's parents breaking out into tears, Okaasan and Otousan were the ones that first broke the line, and let the tears run freely. Actually, the whole day was full of tears of joy from them.

Before long, S-chan's proud parents also teared up. It is always a special moment, as their daughter passes from their household into H-kun's. It may be a throwback to older times, but it's meaningful at a deep level.

And then the bride and groom present the parents with special gifts of thanks.

Finally, it's up to Otousan to give the formal speech - welcoming the couple, and S-chan in particular... and unforutnately, Otousan didn't quite make it through before he burst into tears again. It was so enjoyable being part of this very happy moment, but before you knew it, it the formal reception was over.

But this story doesn't quite end there....there's two more posts to go... whew!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Tokyo Wedding... Pt 5 The Return

After a suitably long, or was it short time, the proud couple make a triumphant return to the room, once again accompanied by spotlight. This time however, the mood is much more celebratory, and the couple are clearly more relaxed. And yes... that means costume change. It's actually quite common for the newly married couple to change 2-5 times throughout the day, into a variety of different costumes. One example is the replacing of the white kimono for a much more brightly coloured one (the last time to wear this, as a now married woman of higher respectability and reserve). This process is known as o-ironaoshi, or changing colours.Unfortunately (or fortunately for them), they decided to go essentially with the two costumes.

Unlike before, where they spent most of their time seated at the front table (perhaps a good thing for poor S-chan in her kimono), now they were free to move about, going to each and every table to greet their guests.

And here we see a slightly different view, especially of S-chan's gorgeous dress. The thing to note that for the remainder of the reception, she was followed around religiously by a dress-attendant who made sure that the dress was hanging just perfectly. It's perhaps a very Japanese thing, but to be honest if I was S-chan, I'd be a little bothered by having someone semi-permanently stuck to my bottom.

I like this photo... not because it's well posed, or even well constructured... but I love the moment when the new husband of wife suddenly have to work out the tangle of arms... now is it he over she, or the other way around? Sometimes it's the simple things that can be the hardest to adjust to.

Mission accomplished - now it's time to celebrate (boys will be boys).

A photo with S-chan's family. Slightly more reserved, and a bit less air-clapping going on... but no less excited and happy.

Cutting the cake... actually, we couldn't work out to start off with if this was real cake... when it's that large, it's hard to do much "cutting"... but as is often the case, the cutting is really for show. The real cutting's either already been done, or left to the professionals. We enjoyed the cake later on...

Now the moment that we'd been fearing... the big moment for L-kun. The ring ceremony. Of course, removed from the Christian wedding culture/history (although there are many faux Christian weddings in Japan nowadays), the exchange of rings takes on a slightly different feel. We actually were caught off guard a little timing-wise. We were enjoying ourselves, when all of a sudden L-kun was given the rings and gently guided (thanks to one of the hotel staff) through the crowd. Actually, he really didn't need any help at all... he knew what he had to do.

It's been a while since we've been to a wedding here in Australia, but these sorts of ring pillows (and bears) are quite popular in Japan... and indeed Okaasan made the bears and the pillow (nicely done!). I think they're a brilliant idea - but perhaps that's because we had something very similar at our own wedding.

And the thing that surprised me most (and still makes me all warm and oozy on the inside) is that L-kun walked with such a gentle seriousness. I've never seen this side of him before now. And it was truly AWESOME!

And before you knew it, the package was delivered to the target. Bullseye. A happy couple accept the ring pillow.... with a "omedetou!" (congratulations) from L-kun to cap it all off.

I was so proud of our little trooper at that moment. After starting the day off with a bit of a wobble (not wanting to get dressed or put his shoes on), he had got it all together and peaked with a perfect ring bearer performance!

I'd rather foolishly promised L-kun the biggest ice-cream he'd ever had earlier in the day... but now I really wanted to give him a giant treat!

So, with a quick re-adjustment of the rings, before you knew it, they were firmly affixed upon the respective fingers. I am sure that S-chan breathed a silent (internal) sigh of relief. At last.

And with that, the ceremony now felt like it had reached the "official" level... but there was still much more to come.

And one very important thing was missing.... but that will have to wait... till the next post.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Tokyo Wedding... Pt 4 The Intermission

After a short break to allow some "changes" to occur for the bride and groom, the reception goes into a funny intermission period - a good time to eat, and catch up on some drinks.

 Speaking of which, it's sort of customary for the parents to go from table to table offering each of the guests a drink. Let's just say there's always a staff member around with a top-up bottle if required.Of course,  most of the guests are from Tokyo or S-chan's home which is just outside of Tokyo... so there's lots of greeting for the first time. 

For Okaasan and Otousan, this is a chance to catch up on school and business colleagues of their son that they wouldn't have seen in a long while. Some of these have also traveled a long way. They have a close knit family, and Okaasan and Otousan are well known back in Sapporo...and were rapidly becoming well known here in Tokyo.

Of course, it's a hard time as well... and exhausting work. That a lot of hand-shaking, pouring, bowing and smiling... it's a service done with the heart, but also one that will wear out parents very quickly.

And most probably about now, Okaasan is thinking that it's a good thing that she only had two children and their both thankfully taken care of... a holiday is due!

And S-chan's family were also making the rounds... and of course, each person receives a visit from both families. Of course, Japanese events are filled with alcohol (for good or bad). After all, today is also an opportunity for friends and family to let their hair down a little bit.

Having experienced my own Japanese reception (actually - oddly conducted 5 months before the wedding!) I know how hard these greetings and official duties can be. So my hat goes off to the parents who did a truly excellent job.

Of course not everyone was getting stuck into the vino. Some people were trying their first experience at a fully knife and fork set. He's such a natural. And the hotel made up a special dinner just for L-kun.  You know, I sometimes wish I could wear a bib to go out.  Looks quite stylish and, for some of us, it might help avoid those accidental spillages.

Then again... sometimes things aren't as easy as they first appear. Ganbatte L-kun!

And sometimes... it all just seems like some kind of bizarre torture invented by a sadistic adult to torment and embarrass young boys... Someone should really have a look at these silly things, they must be broken!

When not eating at such events, a parent's got to have a goody bag handy... such that there's always something to keep a young boy interested (and quiet?). L-kun loves puzzle books and it'll keep him occupied for hours. Of course it's a little old school... I guess nowadays children have their own iPads (he scoffs derisively, pondering what life would be like if he had his own iPad).

And of course, amidst all of this indulgence going on, who was I to resist the drink of the gods (ok, those gods who tended to spend lazy evenings getting slightly hammered that is...). I'm partial to a drop of the red, and whilst Japan's not the first place I'd think of when pondering places to drink wine... they actually have a reasonable selection (mostly imported, but quite a growing domestic industry too).... 

But enough about drinks, here's to the bride and groom (whom should be here again, any minute now)... er... <insert throat clearning sound here> any minute now....