December 27, 2007

Japanese Scarecrows

In Kyoto for the holidays, I went for a run in the country and came across these scarecrows. The farmers in the area seem to have a competition or exhibition going. Take a look.

Farmer Lady Scarecrow

Samurai Scarecrow

Kimono Scarecrow

----- Scarecrow

Octopus Scarecrow

There were many others, including a Big Bad Wolf and a snake. If you want to see more, I uploaded some photos here.

December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Christmas Greetings from Kyoto! We planned to come here on Sunday after church in Tokyo, so to let the kids have a chance to play with their toys we opened our presents early on Saturday (good excuse, right?) The next day, Tomomi was down with a stomach virus. Either that or she should have stayed away from some of the leftovers that she was trying to clear from the fridge before our trip. Anyway, she recovered that evening so we made the trip yesterday, Christmas Eve.

It's nice to be with Tomomi's parents. We are relaxing and enjoying great hospitality and food.

I went for a run this morning and found an area where it looks like the farmers are having a scarecrow contest. Myt favorite is the scarecrow in a traditional kimono. I'll take my camera next time and post some photos. I don't have much time to write now--gotta help the kids with their bedtime routine--but wanted to wish a very Merry Christmas to anyone who may read this.

Peace on earth and goodwill to men!

December 10, 2007

Sadness

As a former YWAMer I was stunned by the news out of Colorado today. Although I personally served in "safe" countries, many YWAMers risk their lives serving in countries that are "closed" to Christianity. With several Muslim countries on the list of outreach locations for the Denver base, these guys knew they could face danger. I'm sure they never expected it at home though.

I'm praying for the bereaved families and for quick and full recoveries of the wounded from the base and New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

November 29, 2007

By the Numbers

Beach weather is a distant memory. This will have to be a catch-up post and it will go by the numbers.

599. The height of Mount Takao in meters. It's the tallest mountain in Tokyo (Tokyo is much more than the city). T and I climbed it last Saturday. It's a tough climb for a seven-year-old. He was a trooper.

1. The number of paper clips I paid for the first piece of fine art I ever bought. It's a picture of a rhino in crayon on paper by T.

100 and 500. The number of kilometers I've run this month and since I started logging my runs in June.

4.5. D's age in months. Time flies. He laughs at his own (or even better, someone else's) hiccups. enjoys my falsetto singing voice, (but frowns disapprovingly when I sing in a normal voice), and loves his Mommy.

20. The approximate number of times R shouts "Daddy!" as she runs to greet me when I come in from work most days . . . even though she's been with me most of the day at work and got home just an hour before I did.

26. The number of days until Christmas.

3. The number of days R thought there were until Christmas as of yesterday. We've been telling her that Christmas is in December. She knows that December is in just a couple days. Put two and two together and when is Christmas again?

9. The number of years Tomomi and I have been married. We celebrated our anniversary last month by getting a babysitter and going out for a nice Italian dinner. Had to take D with us, but he was on his best behavior. I've got a wonderful wife!

September 17, 2007

Beach Day

We went to the beach with some friends today. T and R had been looking forward to it for days. ("Tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow, we're going to the beach, right Dad?") We planned a 5AM departure to beat traffic and the kids had no problem waking up at 4:something. T was running, jumping and blabbering so much that I had to tell him just to sit in a chair and not get up unless he really had to (I had to finish my first cup of coffee before dealing with that much energy at that time of day).

It was a beautiful day at Kujukuri beach in Chiba prefecture.

Catching some rays

Sand castle? Cake?

For T, a day without baseball is now unthinkable. (That's our friend David playing catcher.)

She left it all out there on the beach.

September 16, 2007

Baseball!


T. (and R. to a lesser degree) has been all about baseball for the past month or so. We play catch or practice batting whenever we have a chance. Yesterday there was a sample lesson for a baseball school that practices at Hikarigaoka park, our favorite hangout. I had never heard of a baseball "school" before, where there are teachers rather than coaches and classes rather than games, but then again, this is Japan. We went anyway because the the price was right (free!).

T. and R. both participated and had a blast. There were warmups (with parents), throwing lessons, batting lessons, a sales pitch (sorry, bad pun) for the school, and some freestyle batting and fielding. The picture above is of T., R. and another kid working on their grip while waiting for their throwing lessons.

If T's interest in baseball persists, we'll look for a team for him to join.

September 6, 2007

Running Again

I should be out for a run right now but instead I've been stuck in the house, glued to the TV screen, watching people's umbrellas get blown inside out, tiles fly off of roofs, and storm surge crash over breakwaters. We're in a big typhoon, hurricane for you western hemispherians. Since I can't run, I figured I'd write about running.

I started in sixth grade. My first race was the 10km Turkey Trot in Kona, Hawaii. I finished it in 57:18 at age 11 (weird how I can remember silly things like that but not to pick up bread and milk at the store). I ran off and on and got serious about it in '95-'96 when I ran a couple of marathons in Hawaii (Kona - 3:43:?? and Maui - 3:32:32). After that I didn't really run again until June . . . this June. Yes, that's an eleven-year-gap.

There is a huge park in one direction from my apartment and a river with a trail all along it in the other direction. They are both beautiful places to run. I've been at it pretty regularly for the past few months except for eleven days in the middle of August. That's better than eleven years anyway and plus I have tons of excuses--I had a fever for about a week, guests from back home, our newborn was awake at all hours, and Tokyo had the hottest August on record, blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, I post this to say that I'm nuts about running again. I have more energy and feel more relaxed throughout the day, sleep better and eat better. I'm sure good things are happening to my heart and lungs too. I found a niftyonline running site with an excellent log and a community of good folks. You can see automatically updated snippets of my running log at the bottom of the sidebar on this page (feel free to bug me if you notice a long gap between runs).

The site is runningahead.com. If there are any Tokyo runners reading this, especially in the Itabashi/Nerima area, let's get in touch.

September 3, 2007

Girly Tomboy


R wanted to get all dressed up for our family afternoon at the park but then when we started playing baseball, she was right into that too, even with the dress and faux pearl necklace.

September 2, 2007

Mitsumasa Anno - Picture Books that Teach Math

We recently found a few really delightful children's books by Mitsumasa Anno. He is (was?) a Japanese math teacher turned author of children's books. The ones we read were Anno's Magic Seeds, Anno's Counting House, and Anno's USA. I love studying and teaching other disciplines through literature, which is part of what draws me to Anno's books.

Anno's Magic Seeds is about a wizard who gives a young man named Jack two seeds and tells him to eat one and plant the other. He promises that Jack won't be hungry for a whole year and that the seed in the ground will produce two more seeds the next year so he can repeat the process. Jack obeys and the wizard's words come to pass. For a few years Jack continues eating one seed and planting the other but one year he decides to plant both seeds. That's when the fun begins as the seeds begin multiplying geometrically. Jack eventually has so many seeds that he starts selling some. He plants more and more each year and always eats one each year. It is the reader's job to figure out how many seeds were planted, harvested, etc. Other complications arise when Jack marries and has a baby. Of course his wife and child eat some seeds also. All goes well until the hurricane. Jack, thankful that his family is spared, begins anew with just a few seeds.

The book, besides being a fun, beautifully illustrated story and a challenging math puzzle, teaches about risk, compound interest, the importance of diversification and the fact that good things, especially family, mustn't be taken for granted.

Anno's Counting House is a wordless book about people moving from one house to another. The old house gradually empties and the new house gradually fills with the people and their furniture. The reader (or readee) needs to predict and count who and what moves from one house to the other at each stage in the story. Attention to detail is important.

Anno's USA is one of a series of journey books. Wikipedia describes them better than I could:
In the "Journey" books, a tiny character travels through a nation's landscape, densely populated with pictures referencing that country's art, literature, culture, and history. Anno's illustrations are often in pen and ink and watercolor, and occasionally incorporate collage and woodcuts. They are intricately detailed, showing a sense of humor as well as an interest in science, mathematics, and foreign cultures. They frequently incorporate subtle jokes and references.
There are three pages of Anno's work on amazon.

An interesting web site with math lessons based on literature (including some of Anno's books) for grades K-8 is called SMaRT Books. Check it out and if you have any other reading recommendations, please share in the comments.

September 1, 2007

Geography Quiz 2: Statetris

For those who liked the other geography quiz I linked to a while back, here's one that is similar to tetris. Drop the states in their proper place using the arrow buttons on your keyboard. There are maps of Europe and Africa into which you drop the countries, and maps of the US, the UK, France and The Netherlands into which you drop states (or counties or whatever those European countries subdivide into). My times for filling in the US map was 4:06.7 on the easy setting which earned me a "Very Good" and 7:43.5, also on easy for Europe, for which I was told, "I've seen people do worse." That didn't give me enough confidence to try the even more difficult maps.

Anyway, give it a shot and post your scores in the comments. Here's the link again: Statetris.

August 30, 2007

Welcome to Japan! Here's your heat wave.

I've got a lot to write but the biggest thing that has happened recently is that my parents came out from California to visit . . .


and especially to meet D.


We went to a big "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" exhibit in Sunshine City, Ikebukero. We were herded through something like a maze containing pictures of Thomas characters set up for easy photo ops like this:


Of course the main attraction was the life-size(?) model of Thomas. I think James and Percy were there too. This is what the crowd was like . . .


But we finally made it up close and have the photos to prove it:


Because we were in a major heat wave, the kind where they update the death toll on the news every day, we didn't get out and about much. We played cards and did a lot of this:


The annual high school baseball tournament at Koshien was happening all week. Each prefecture in Japan sends their best team. (I think big prefectures get to send more than one.) Anyway, T learned all about baseball: the rules, strategy, etc. It was fun for three generations of Seminoffs to watch the games together. R even got into it and asked if she could have a bat for her birthday.

This shot is my current desktop background. Click it to see it bigger.

Because Papa and Grammy had to leave a few days before R's birthday she got to celebrate early. She loves the doll clothes that she got (because she doesn't get to dress and undress D) and as you can see above, the bat is popular too.


Anyway, we had one day of relief from the heat and spent it a Hikarigaoka Park, our current favorite hangout.





The kids played on the playground and we ate way too many ice cream cones (what else can you do when they keep giving you two-for-one coupons?). All too soon it was off to the airport and back home for Papa and Grammy.

August 8, 2007

70s Flashback with Keith Green

Yesterday evening I asked T what his favorite song was. He said, "Rejoice in the Lord Always." I took out an old Keith Green CD with a medley that included that song, dusted it off, set the player to "repeat" and we had a hoedown. T, R and I danced all around the living room for twenty minutes or so. R got so into it that when I started doing dishes later she said, "Let's keep dancing Daddy." I need to do the dishes now, R." But dancing is much more fun! Just keep on dancing"

It reminded me of attending church in the 70s and early 80s. The songs we sang were the songs in that medley. They are simple, catchy, and all have similar tunes. Click the play button below and to the left of Keith's face (or right on his face depending on your browser) and see if you can listen without smiling and tapping your feet.


video

I recommend all of Keith Green's music. This song originally appeared on "The Keith Green Collection" and it's also on "The Ministry Years: Volume 2"

I'm pretty sure I'm okay with copyright here. Keith Green sold his music for "whatever you can afford." He's dead now. If you are the current copyright holder and have a problem with what I've posted, let me know and I'll take it down.

July 29, 2007

Vegetable Garden in Downtown Tokyo

Our next-door neighbors rent a small plot of land from the ward for 5000 yen (about $45) a year. They often give us vegetables, and this afternoon they took T, R and me to harvest tomatoes. It's just a five minute walk from our apartment and feels like a different world. There are a few dozen small plots, a water hose, a shed full of tools and (I think) fertilizer. We are planning to enter the drawing in February for a plot next spring. The chances are good--most people are too busy to spend time gardening. I've heard that many cities in Japan have land like this available to residents.

July 27, 2007

Explo(ratorium) Itabashi

Tomomi noticed a blurb in our ward newsletter about Ekusupulo Itabashi, an interactive science museum for kids running from July 21 to August 19. They claim that it compares favorably with the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I chuckled over that because the SF Exploratorium is awesome and this is just a temporary ward-sponsored event. I had to eat a little crow because the kids and I had a wonderful time there. We spent several hours and still didn't get around to everything. Besides the educational fun, we loved that it was (1) free, (2) air conditioned, and (3) close--just three stations away in Kami-Itabashi on the Tobu Tojo line. If any Tokyo-ites are interested in visiting and need directions, email me (misterjeremy at seminoff dot fastmail dot fm).

A few photos:

Funhouse Mirror


Driving Simulator

Unlevel House

More Funky Mirrors

Rubber Bands and Pegs

There was a lot more but I was having to much fun to take pictures.

Mystery Quiz

When we moved into our new apartment in March we noticed these signs all around the third floor landing in our stairwell.


They are the symbol of a Shinto shrine. I couldn't get them all into the picture, but they are every couple feet all around the bottom of the wall. I didn't know what to make of them but knowing that Japanese can be superstitious, Tomomi and I gathered that something bad must have happened on that landing.

Imagine our surprise when a few days ago the fourth floor landing (our floor!) looked like this:


I had to ask the apartment manager what it was all about. His answer was something I never would have suspected. Guess what he said. (Put your guess in the comments and in a few days I'll add the answer to this post.)

[Added 8/4] Thanks James, Tomomi and Brian for the guesses. Here's what the apartment manager told me. Some of the tenants in our building have dogs and occasionally let them pee in the stairwell (maybe when they are lazy or the weather is too bad for a walk?). The Shinto symbols are a prayer or a charm of protection from dog pee. They say it works. Hmmm . . . is it the prayer being answered or are the dog owners just less likely to let their dogs pee on a religious symbol than on a blank wall?

D is Home

I was about to blog something else when I realized that I hadn't mentioned here yet that D is home. Let me remedy that.

D is home.

He and Tomomi came home from the hospital on July 16. They are both doing fine. T, R and I are glad to be able to hold him and play with him finally. He's beginning to get his days and nights the right way round but I gotta admit that after two nights I was sleeping right through his cries even though his crib is just two inches from my bed. Tomomi is a saint.

Here are some photos of firsts.

First time for T and R to hold D.

First bath.

July 16, 2007

Sunshine International Aquarium

Tomomi's parents took the kids and me to the Sunshine International Aquarium in Ikebukuro. These are some shots of the sea life.

Moon Jelly

Sunfish Closeup (R selected the right dress for the occasion.)

If you are in Tokyo it's a nice place to spend a few hours. Here is the official site (all Japanese as far as I can tell) and here are a couple reviews in English. The prices in the second review are out of date but it's more thorough.

July 13, 2007

Walk and Talk, or Sit Down and Shut Up?

I don't remember the exact quote, but I read recently that it's silly how we spend the first couple years of our children's lives trying to get them to walk and talk, and the next few years trying to make them sit down and be quiet. Good stuff for me to think about at this season in my life.

July 10, 2007

Happy Birthday T!

T just turned seven!


Sushi for lunch





Blueberry Cheesecake


Spiderman boxers from Auntie Molly's family


Legos from Papa and Grammy

June 19, 2007

First Stories

About a month ago T had an assignment to fill in the missing vowels in a story I wrote. It was standard drivel about a dog chasing a cat. T did the work well. Today he blew my mind by writing his own "book" while he was waiting for Tomomi and me to come out of a meeting. All the pages are stapled together. The cover has a picture of a dog chasing a cat up a tree and is titled "Dog cachis cat: bifrent storea" [Dog chases cat: different story]. Next comes a table of contents:
  1. Dog and cat
  2. The cat and fish and frog
  3. The dog and the bird
  4. The chikin
Here are the stories:

Dog and cat [An improvement on my story]

A cat wus in a Tree a dog wus borking at the cat skracht the Dog the Dog wus angree the dog chast the cat the cat ran and ran The Dog ran and ran the Dog got the cat The Dog took the cat to Dog's hows the cat is skerd the Dog Let the cat run in the Dog's hows The Dog made a hows for The cat

The cat and fish and frog [A T original]

A cat wus drining water The cat fawnd a fish to eat The cat didint wunt to go into the water beakus cats dont like water The cat sed to a frog go jumq into the water and get the fish but wen the frog trid karea the fish the fish wus to heve beacus the fish is big so the cat is angrea

The Dog and the Bird [Inspired by The Mitten?]

a Dog fawnd a hat But a Bird livd in it so the Dog look for anather place to liv the Dog fawnd cote But a goat wus eating it so the Dog look for a hows the Dog fawnd a skorf ther wus nobuddy living in it ther so the Dog wus lucky Is winter it wus code and worm

The chikin [Inspired by Chicken Little; work in progress?]

a chikin felt sumting fel on the chikin ced its raneing I beder fin the King

I'm really impressed with the initiative T took and with his creativity. I like how the dog in the first story began as an angry cat chaser but then was moved by the cat's fear to let the cat run in his house and even to make a house for the poor cat. I also like the persistence of the dog in the third story who didn't give up on living in an article of clothing even though the first two didn't work out.

T did well spelling the words he already knows phonics rules for and he took educated guesses with other words. I need to teach him how to end sentences with periods. Overall I'm very pleased with his efforts. He just started first grade two and a half months ago.

June 6, 2007

Learn-to-Read Web Site

I teach a "Graduates Class" at my preschool. It's a weekly, one-hour lesson for our preschool graduates and other high level English readers and writers. The past couple of weeks I've been asking the students to go to starfall.com and just play around. Starfall is a online reading course that kids have so much fun on that they learn effortlessly. There are songs, flash movies, games, activities, and stories to read and write.

Starfall is designed for first graders, but can be used as a challenge for kindergarteners or as a review for second graders. There are four levels ranging from the alphabet all the way to folk tales and simple versions of Greek myths and Chinese fables. The web site is free and although there are products for sale, I didn't see any of the annoying pushiness that sometimes turns up on other free sites.

I am not associated with starfall in any way but if you have a child learning to read I suggest that you try turning him loose on the site.

June 5, 2007

BEACH!!!

Tomomi had been saying she wished we could go to the beach before the baby comes next month. Lo and behold, some friends from church invited us to go with them last Saturday (Thanks David and Shinobu!). R talked about nothing else for the week before we went. "Tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow we're going to the beach, right Dad!" The day finally came, the weather was perfect.

There weren't any crowds but that guy needs to work out before his next beach trip.

The water was brisk but not too cold.

R was ready for action.

We dug clams.

And ate them.

It was a wonderful day.

May 28, 2007

No Greater Joy


A few days ago I woke up a little late and the kids woke up a little early. The result was that I hadn't finished my devotions when they came out to the living room. They saw what I was doing and, without interrupting, each grabbed a Bible story book and joined me in silent reading on the sofa.

I couldn't have been happier (and had to wake Tomomi up to take a picture).