Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Years ago, as a college student, I watched the movie Hiroshima Mon Amour over and over again. It appealed to my youthful infatuation with existentialism, time, memory and, of course, love. It also was my first exposure to footage of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and to the perspective of the Japanese about that bombing. (It may also be one of the sources of my distress about losing my hair last year, given that the movie poignantly portrays loss of hair, both by victims of the bomb in Hiroshima and by the French woman protagonist as the result of her affair with a German soldier during WW2.) This experience undoubtedly has fueled my long time interest in visiting Hiroshima, so I made sure it was on our list of places to see during our recent whirlwind trip of Japan.

We arrived late on December 10, 2010 (Human Rights Day) in Hiroshima after spending a lovely afternoon in Okayama with our friend Noriko.  Noriko told us that her dad was stationed outside Hiroshima in Ujina when the bomb fell and his friends went into Hiroshima right afterwards on search and rescue missions.  Those men and boys got radiation sickness and cancers.  Noriko's dad was spared and later wrote a long book with Noriko about the survivors of the atomic bombing. He died a few years ago. Noriko remains a peace activist, adamantly opposed to nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

Our taxi driver from the JR station to the Righa Royal Hotel, near the Peace Memorial Park, was an older man, originally from Hawaii with an American father and Japanese mother.  He spoke decent English and charmed us with his story of how he came to live in Japan. I kept wondering if his mother was in Hawaii during the war or whether she wound up there afterward.  It was clear from that moment that our journey to Hiroshima was a journey to the past, with shadows of ignominy of the disaster other Americans hath wrought in Japan.

In the morning, I looked out over the city from our hotel perch.  It is humbling to think that we were blocks from ground zero and 65 years ago nothing was standing for miles around other than a few buildings, most notably the structure now called the Atomic Bomb Dome (A-Bomb Dome) which was about 500 feet from ground zero.  We wandered out that morning and first looked at the Dome, a chilling site in the gray sky.  In front, a group of Japanese tourists were getting a lecture about the bombing.  The tour guide had pictures of Enola Gay; again I felt uncomfortable being an American at that moment.

A-Bomb Dome with reflection

A-Bomb Dome 

weeds and plants grow within the A-Bomb Dome

Starting in 1944, Japan conscripted children over the age of 12 to serve in support positions to the military for the war.  In the Memorial Park, there was one monument to those conscripted Japanese children who died during the war and another monument (Children's Peace Monument) for the children who died as a result of the atomic bomb including Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia at age 12, ten years after she lived through the atomic bombing.

Memorial Tower to Mobilized Students

Children's Peace Monument

Memorial Monument For Hiroshima City of Peace "Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil. "

The Peace Memorial Museum was chilling, particularly the photographs and the tattered clothes of those (many of whom were children) who were nearby at the time of the blast and eventually died of radiation sickness a few days later.  There was a chilling display about black rain, which people drank because the heat from the bomb made them so thirsty.  Other chilling sights were the two watches stopped at 8:16, the time in the morning of August 6, 1945 when the bomb purportedly hit.

Photo taken a few months after bombing
Photo after bombing shows epicenter of blast

Pocket Watch
Clothing of children near blast

More clothing
Glass bottles fused by heat from blast

Watch stopped at 8:16 

After lunch, we needed an emotional break so we got a taxi to Hassei, which reportedly had the best okonomiyaki in Hiroshima.  We walked a bit and came upon an outdoor shopping mall filled with Christmas shoppers and revelers.  Quite a contrast to the sadness of our morning in the Peace Memorial Park and Museum.  We sat for some time in a Starbucks and watched the holiday scene.  Life goes on and horror commingles with joy.  An interesting lesson, not unlike some of those in Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Cooking okonomiyaki at Hassei

Shopping mall in Hiroshima 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to Parent is Not Always Apparent

Photo by Ed Yourdon
 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
There are so many articles out there now about Amy Chua and her book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" that I hesitated to jump into the fray.  Since I read the WSJ article excerpt, I have been following the many retorts and analyses-- including David Brooks and Kate Zernike of the NYT, Time Magazine's front page coverage, the LA Times and  Techcrunch.  I will not repeat all the discussion here although I do marvel at how much discussion there has been.  I just want to make a few observations:

  • Amy Chua is a marketing genius.  She decided to write a memoir pitting China against the US for efficacy of child rearing style on achievement.  What great timing, particularly given the recent news that Shanghai children excel in standardized tests whereas US children, not so much. She hit a nerve about our success as achievement oriented parents and nation. 
  • Contrary to David Brooks' ridiculous argument, managing a sleepover is not as cognitively demanding or arduous as other intellectual activity.   While I think social skills are important, I do not think they are intellectually more difficult than academic or musical skills. If that were true, every cheerleader and high school jock would be a genius later and we all know examples of those who could not make it despite their social success in high school.
  • Let's not treat Chua's book as a parenting manual.  It's a memoir!
In reflecting on my own parenting in recent years, I have changed my view somewhat of what I think is important.  My children, who are now in their 20s, are wonderful, bright, inquisitive people who have good hearts and good social skills.  How much our parenting led to these effects is not clear.  Both of my children had very, very challenging adolescences.  I would not wish their or our experiences during those years on anyone.  I frequently wonder if my husband and I could have done something different to have warded off those difficult years.

My goals when my children were younger were to instill high self- esteem and encourage them to have many social experiences so that they would have good social skills when they were older.  My daughter started going to sleepovers when she was 3 years old.  We also had them play lots of team sports to teach team work and responsibility.  School was important but not as central as it was for me.  My social skills were hampered by having few play opportunities when I was growing up.  So I focused on academics and doing things by myself.  I wanted my children to have a different experience.  Most parenting, I suspect, is either trying to replicate what was done to you or trying to change what you perceive was done to you.  "Why didn't you get a 100%?" was a frequent question to me that I took to heart, even when it was said somewhat light heartedly because I had usually gotten the highest grade in my class in any event.  I tried to avoid putting that type of pressure on my children, but I suspect that I did it anyway whether or not I said it out loud.

Although I am pleased with the adults my children have become, if I were to do it again I might focus on a few different things:
  • Resilience.  I think that supporting the development of resilience is very important and research supports that belief.  Unfortunately, developing resilience requires undergoing and overcoming hardship.  It is hard to watch your children suffer.
  •  Delay of gratification.  In We Have Met the Enemy, Daniel Akst lays out the research  (mostly by Walter Mischel) showing the correlation between delay of gratification and later success and wellbeing.  Of course, correlation is not necessarily causation and I do not agree that ADHD is merely an artifact of not learning to delay gratification.  However, even with distracted, antsy kids, one could do more to teach delay of gratification --e.g. organizational skills and planning do seem to help.  Again, however, it is harder with these types of children than the child who comes wired to pay attention and follow rules.  
  • Emphasize effort and achievement.  I think I spent a lot of time praising my children for their efforts (although they may disagree!) but not pushing them to work harder toward an achievement. It is tough to know when to keep pushing and when to back off, particularly if you also want to foster social skills and creativity.  I am not sure even now what the right balance is.  But perhaps rather than emphasize so much social interaction in reaction to my own upbringing, I should have encouraged more alone time for thought and intellectual activity.  Learning how to be alone and deal with boredom relates to delay of gratification and resilience as well.
Luckily I do not have to experience a do-over.  I try hard to keep my snout out of my grandchildren's upbringing (although again my son and daughter in law may disagree!).  And it is so clear to me that my grandchildren are wired differently from my own children--with their own particular personalities and needs.  Perhaps the best parenting skill of all, one even Amy Chua claims both she and her parents have, is unmitigated love for one's children, even if you do expect a lot from them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kicking It in Kyoto - December 6, 2010

We arrived in Kyoto on the beautiful and fast shinkansen from Tokyo.  Although our JR Passes did not allow us to take the quickest shinkansen (nozomi),  the one we took, hikari, was still quite fast and sleek looking. (A few days later when we traveled to Okayama and Hiroshima we discovered that all shinkansen are not created equal as we experienced a downgrade to a slower, less comfortable train even though it was still called hikari.  That route is run by JR West whereas Tokyo- Kyoto is run by JR Central, which are different companies.)
Shinkansen 700

The first treat of the train trip was seeing Mt. Fuji from much closer than our hotel in Tokyo.  I got a few good shots and my husband got even better shots.  We had reserved seats in a mostly empty car and the two hour forty minute trip went by quickly.
Mt. Fuji taken from shinkansen

Kyoto station is an amazing architectural feat.  We admired it briefly before we headed to our hotel at the station, the Hotel Granvia Kyoto.  Since we were at the station, we were able to come back frequently to watch the travelers, the Christmas shoppers near the Isetan department store, and the escalators to the sky--about 12 stories worth.  We also discovered the underground Porta mall with our favorite breakfast spot, Starbucks where I ate a small mixed sandwich (egg, potato salad, cheese) every morning with my nonfat latte.
Kyoto station  evening 

In my previous blog, I described our first activity after we checked into the hotel--heading off to Okutan for a terrific tofu lunch.  What I did not tell in that entry was how crabby I was in the taxi on the way to Okutan.  In my mind's eye, Kyoto was a quaint little city with plenty of old buildings and authentic historic sites (like geiko and maiko--after all we all read Memoirs of a Geisha).  In reality, Kyoto is a big city (population is about 1.5 million in about 320 sq. miles) with plenty of uninteresting boxy large buildings from the 1960s and 70s, with pockets of beauty and history.  I looked out of the taxi at a place that seemed to sprawl forever and wondered why I had wanted to spend four days there.

Okutan is across from Nanzin-ji, the head temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, so we strolled over there after we had finished eating.  Most of the buildings on the grounds were closing but I was able to hear some beautiful Zen buddhist chanting as we wandered the grounds.  I walked up to and through the Sanmon, away from the Hatto and headed toward a garden that was still open near the Sanmon- the Tenjuan Gardens.
Side hall at Nanzin-ji - chanting inside

Sanmon from within the grounds


Through Sanmon

Sub Temple of Nanzen-ji from Tenjuan Garden
The garden itself erased all my concerns about the urban scene that flooded my taxi ride to Higashiyama.  I could live in this garden.  Every where I turned was another fantastic scene, sublime and balanced. Autumn colors, water, moss, rocks, structures.  Again, I will let the pictures do the talking.

zen rock garden in Tenjuan garden

entry to Tenjuan garden

well in Tenjuan garden

waterfall in Tenjuan garden pond

autumn colors Tenjuan garden

Bamboo in Tenjuan garden

temple seen through Tenjuan garden foliage

Stone walk on pond Tenjuan Garden

stone lantern in pond in Tenjuan garden

Koi in Tenjuan garden

Another view of Tenjuan garden pond

Moss Tenjuan garden

Room in Tenjuan garden with view of autumn colors

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Eating in Japan- Or How I Gained Weight Despite Walking A Lot

It could have been worse.  I could have gained many pounds from all the delicious food I ate in Japan. Luckily I only gained two pounds.  It amazes me how slender most Japanese people are despite the size of the portions we were served in many of the meals we ate.  The Japanese diet is considered to be very healthy and from what I could see the Japanese walk more than most Americans do (particularly me these days).  There were some hints, however, that diet might change in Japan to be more like the garbage Americans eat.  We saw a number of people buying doughnuts from places like Krispy Kreme.  And McDonald's is making huge inroads with its oversized hamburgers.

At the same time, there are more vegetarian options in Japan than ever before.  I have been trying to be a vegetarian (sometimes I lapse) so my Japanese friends found vegetarian restaurants for us, which may not be completely representative of Japanese food but certainly were different from American vegetarian restaurants.

Our first Japanese restaurant meal in Tokyo was dinner at a Shabu Shabu restaurant on the 38th floor of the Yebisu Garden Tower near our hotel.  Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of the food there, focussing more on the fantastic views of Tokyo.  Here is a photo that looked much like what we ate.  So much for no meat!
Shabu Shabu © 2009 Bermi Ferrer Creative Commons license

The next day, after our trip to Meiji Shrine, we had lunch at the vegetarian restaurant Hanada Rosso (see also here).  I had a delicious vegetarian burger in tomato sauce with side dishes.  The chef, Minako  Hanada, is reportedly a celebrity chef in Japan.
Lunch at Hanado Rosso in Harajuku
We also had vegetarian meals at an Indian restaurant, Nataraj, in Ginza area of Tokyo and at Miko-an in downtown Kyoto.  Unfortunately I do not have pictures of what we ate at either place but both were superb.  Someone else's blog entry about Miko-an has some great pictures of the food and the restaurant. Some photos of Nataraj can be seen here.

My husband is not terribly fond of vegetarian food but he loves tofu.  The very first thing we did after arriving in Kyoto at about 2:30 pm on Monday, December 6, was to head out to find a particular tofu restaurant recommended by his friend from Kyoto and by one of our guidebooks.   Okutan is across from Nanzen-ji and must get enough tourists to prompt the sign saying "We only have Tofu course".  We did not care and were thrilled with the different ways they served tofu.
Okutan menu in english

Sesame Tofu, Yam soup, sake, tofu pot

Baked Tofu with Miso glaze

Okutan (Kyoto) interior
We tried a few specialities in places.  Nara Udon was delicious and a real find after we missed out on the restaurant where we had wanted to go because it had closed.  In Kyoto, we ate a donburi dish, a chicken and semi cooked egg over rice bowl, called oyakadon which is the speciality of the restaurant "Hisago".  We also ate sushi twice in the Kyoto train station, once in a restaurant and the other time in a sushi bar with a conveyor belt (kaiten-zushi) called Musashi.  And in Hiroshima we tried the okonomiyaki, a pancake based dish (although locals call it Japanese pizza) with vegetables, egg, fish (in my case) and a sauce which I am told can be made from ketchup, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and mayonnaise.  It tastes better than it sounds!
Nara Udon
Chicken and egg bowl, oyakadon, which is the speciality of the restaurant "Hisago" ©Reiko Yabu 2010
Sushi and tempura in Kyoto train station

Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima- Seafood special

Then there were the cakes-- probably my real downfall in terms of causes of weight gain--although the portions were not large like they are in the US.   First, we discovered a Christmas roll cake at Starbucks that was a small green tea cake with jelly and whipped cream topping.   Why doesn't Starbucks here have something so delicious?!  The picture makes it look large but it was fairly small. We ate that a lot- splitting it with a cuppa in the evening.  Then we also tried the famous Kyoto roll and some other Kyoto cake in the train station with Kyoto siphon coffee (a great place to eat).   On the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto we shared  lovely pieces of homemade apple and blueberry cake ("my wife make them") in a restaurant called Pomme.
Christmas cake at Starbucks.  YUM!
Kyoto Roll at Kyoto station
Homemade cakes at Pomme on Philosophers Path in Kyoto
Pomme in Kyoto
Another Kyoto cake at the train station
Kyoto siphon coffee in train station
Gaining a few pounds was well worth it to eat all these scrumptious foods in Japan!