Monday, 28 July 2014

Where do Babies Sleep in Japan?

So after my own little pity party the other day about the down sides of going home to give birth, I have sucked it up a bit and things are going along a bit better now.

Now we are facing the next issue:
Where is this everyone going to sleep when we come home from the hospital?

Sleeping situations in Japan are rather different from my own country. In NZ, often the baby will have their own room straight away or a cot beside mum and dad's bed for a few months which then gets moved to a separate room. Some parents practice co-sleeping, too.

Here in Japan, lack of space and various other factors influence where babies sleep. In small houses it might not be practical for baby to have their own room...ever! Often families all pile into one room with futons spread on the floor. The futons are put away each morning and that room then has a different purpose during the day, which could be a living room for example. 

In my house in Fukushima, we have a very western layout with bedrooms, so when we get home baby and I will be in my room and Amelia and DH will sleep in a different room, so hopefully they won't hear every scream and cry at full volume during the night. DH works long hours and gets up early so I don't expect him to do night duty, well not on week nights anyway. He is also in charge of Amelia and any problems she might have during the night and before 7am! Note that Amelia is 3 and still doesn't have her own room. I don't really think it's a problem, she can go to sleep by herself and quite frankly most 3 year olds end up in Mum and Dad's bed at some point in the night anyway. In the future, I imagine Amelia and Maruchan sharing a room and even a bed if they want to. In summer its hot at night and using the AC in several rooms is not very cost efficient, so we will probably all just pile in together anyway! As long as we get some SLEEP, that's the main thing.

Here in Tottori, we do not have the problem so much of lack of space but lack of separate space. We are living in what is effectively the living room, but have totally commandeered the space as a sleeping/playing area. This area is shut off from the rest of the house by some sliding doors that don't shut out much noise at all. So of course the baby and I will sleep together, in this room. But then there is Amelia, she takes about an hour to drift off to sleep once in bed, during which time she does some singing, talking to herself for quite a while to process the day's events. So that could wake up the baby, who I have probably spent ages trying to get to go to sleep. I don't want to kick her out of our room but maybe she can move slightly to the left and have her futon in Nana's room which is on the other side of the sliding doors that will need to be opened at night during the hottest part of summer to share the AC, which we (thankfully) have in this room. 
We are sleeping on futons, but its not safe for the baby to sleep on one as well since we have Sebastian, the dog who makes himself comfortable on various futons during the night/day. Then there is Amelia. I have a feeling she might not always feel kindly towards the new baby so will need to be able to sleep in a bed where she can't poke or prod. So we are going to get some kind of actual baby bed/cot to use whilst we are here. It's going to be fun finding a spot for that and 3 futons (including DH's) in this room!

As you can see from the photo, one futon takes up quite a lot of space! Sebastian is making himself comfortable there - a favourite day time nap spot. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Down Side of "Going Home to Give Birth"

So far I have talked about the good things about going home to give birth. Now time for a bit of a reality check. 
We have been at my in laws for over a month now. Things have been going well but recently seem to be going downhill. As we near my due date, Amelia is getting increasingly worried about this new baby coming. Her old sleeping patterns and routines have also been hard to maintain here, where we do kind of have to fit in with 3 other adults and their schedules, too. 
Amelia likes a good routine and I believe that children can never have too much sleep, but it has been a struggle to get through the nap/bed time prep especially. This has resulted in many meltdowns of epic proportion leaving the grandparents rather shocked at the change in behaviour in Amelia in the last month. 
Accompanying this is the loosening of our established rules or boundaries that keep our day running smoothly at home, because other people are around and say "ok" or "just this once". I
try to set boundaries in advance but you know how it is when people want to treat their only grandchild or niece. 
Usually when we come to stay its only for a few days then we go back to our home and regular life, it doesn't matter too much if things get out of kilter, but this time we are planning to be here for at least another month, perhaps two. Lots of things for me to have to deal with and the baby hasn't even arrived yet. 
In hindsight I could have handled this much better, if I had asked my in laws in advance to try to help us stick to the routine and timetable that Amelia is familiar with. You might think I need to loosen up a bit! But I have found especially for my own child, everything and everyone is much happier when we all stick to the plan.

Amelia and I had an interesting discussion in the shower of all places the other night. She was very grizzly and when I asked her to talk about things, I thought she might say she was tired or hungry - two top sources of grizzles - she said she was worried that there might be two babies or that another baby would come later after this one. I reassured her that there was definitely only one baby and I certainly don't think there will be anymore after this. I also told her that after the baby is born and my big tummy goes away, I will be able to pick her up, carry her, take her to the park etc again. She was very relieved at this. It has been a long pregnancy for her, too and I can see she is pretty over it, as am I! and still a month to go before my due date. It really is amazing what kind of thoughts a just turned 3 year old can have. 

So as you can see, I am really questioning the wisdom of uprooting Amelia from her life/routine and bringing her here for such a long time. If we lived closer to DH's family we wouldn't have had to come so soon, but since it is so far away, we needed to get here sooner. I try to remind myself how exhausting it was getting through all the daily tasks at home and how small our world had gotten due to me not being able to get out and about as much, not to mention not feeling like driving anymore, let alone carrying groceries whilst child wrangling etc etc. 
There are so many good things about being here that I am grateful for, but sometimes, I really just want to go home! Amelia does, too. She misses her daddy and her friends and our house which I know is a very special place for her. You might be wondering why I just didn't get someone to come stay with us in Fukushima. Well  for one thing, pretty much everyone I could ask to come stay has a lot of stuff going on - you many have read the post on MIL's day. So I thought it would be better if we came here instead. 

So stay tuned for the wild and wonderful things that are bound to happen with the arrival (great expression that, as if the baby is just going to show up!) of the baby and being away from your own home. 

Here, let me show you how this works Sebastian. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan

So here is another reason to come to Japan. Universal Studios Japan (USJ) has just opened their new Harry Potter world. Like a week ago. I am a fan of HP, but was not game enough to line up with the 3000 people who tried to go on the first day. In the middle of summer. In Osaka. 

But thanks to Japanese TV which is full of programs that are actually just commercials for various companies, I have been on a virtual full tour of the Harry Potter area several times. So I think I've seen enough to know that I still want to go, though it might not be for another 5 years. And in winter. Definitely winter. The Diagon alley area has snow on the roofs of all the stores. So I think going in summer would just feel wrong. And stinking hot and crowded. 

You can also do things like have a "Butterbeer", buy a frog chocolate or magic wand. In other words, there are many ways to be parted from your hard earned money. But where else in the world can you have a "Butterbeer". 
Amelia has no idea who HP is, but she seems keen to go, and they also have Elmo and Cookie Monster at USJ. Another bonus.

USJ has an English webpage, so if you are planning to come to Japan and go there, you can read about the entry system. You may need to get an extra entrance pass to the HP area and it will have a time of the day when you can go in. These passes are available from inside the park, at no extra charge from what I have read. 

Do you like my "wizarding cape?", it's waterproof, too!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Day in the Life of a Japanese Housewife

So I have been living with my inlaws for a month now.
It's going more smoothly as we have worked out who needs what when, and all got used to each other's excentricities, so to speak and have come to an understanding of who will do what around the house.

Since I am 35 weeks along, I'm not encouraged to help with the housework, but I do wash dishes, vacuumm, hang out our washing and keep our room tidy along with the odd bit of cooking as well as looking after Amelia as everyone is pretty busy during the day. 

Anyway, my MIL is 70 years old. This is a typical day for her. 
In addition to being a housewife she also helps my FIL with growing melons and long potatoes for sale as well as other vegetables and rice for themselves. I should add that my SIL lives here in the same house too and another SIL and BIL live next door. They combine their cooking and shopping so one person does cooking for everyone (5-6 adults and one child), which usually turns out to be my MIL as everyone else goes out to work.

5-5:30am: Get up and start cooking breakfast which must include at least rice and big pot of miso soup, some kind of fish, egg omellete and sausages. Occasionally fried chicken....mmmm.

6-9 am: Household chores such as lunch prep, washing dishes, hanging up loads and loads of wet clothes (Farming is dirty work) and perhaps mopping, vacuumming, other cleaning activities. 

9-12: Farming activities. In summer my MIL and FIL are very busy with their melon houses and other vegetables. It's hot in the green houses and also hot outside so it really is hard work. 

12:00 Lunch time. FIL burns a lot of energy farming so needs a big lunch (He is generally at it from about 6am or so in the summer, I'd also like to mention this is something he has taken up since he retired and has become a full time job), so MIL dishes up more rice and miso soup, left overs from breakfast and perhaps one or two other things she has whipped up.

13:00-14:00 After washing up and catching up on the midday soap opera, a nap for an hour or so.

14:00-17:30 Back out farming, shopping, perhaps visiting a friend or going to one of  her many hobby classes in calligraphy or painting.

18:00 Get dinner on the table. This usually consists of multiple dishes, also lots of vegetables and fruit. She seems to eat as she cooks, sitting down to eat something she just cooked while other things are frying on the stove behind her. 

19:30 Clean up kitchen, prep for tomorrow's breakfast, painting or writing for class homework, folding mountain of washing. 

21:00 In bed. Gotta get some sleep to do it all again tomorrow.

Do you feel as tired as I do reading all that? This is obviously her summer timetable, winter is a bit more quiet with no melons to look after. But she also likes to make a lot of things herself such as pickled Japanese plums (Umeboshi), Miso, jam to name some of them. She gives 15 kilo Amelia piggy back rides, and chased Sebastian down the road the other day no problem when he managed to escape and chase a cat. 

You might think, well what's everyone else doing? They should be helping out round the house too. And I have to say everyone does their bit. FIL is busy doing most of the heavy farming but he also a member of the fishing group and has to help put out their net and haul in the catch quite often in summer and is the chairman of the community centre = lots of meetings, family representative at funerals and memorial services of which there are many in a traditional neighbourhood like this. BIL brings home all kinds of nearly passed used by date goodies from his job at a store where he works crazy hours and SILs help with cooking and cleaning when they are home in the evening and weekends. So basically I am the weakest link at the moment, but since I am growing a whole entire person inside my own body, I get to take it easy especially since my MIL especially doesn't want anything to happen to her unborn grandchild! 

Me, not earning my keep! 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Going Home to Give Birth: 里帰り出産

In Japan, many women go back to their own family a few weeks before their baby is due and stay there until they are ready to go back to their own home again after the baby is born. This is called "Going home to give birth" in Japanese or "Satogaeri Shussan".
I often hear that the whole time is about 3 months altogether.

As a New Zealander, this idea was completely foreign to me when I first came to Japan. Why would you leave the comfort of your own home and separate yourself from your husband (chances these days of not living in the same town as your parents are also high) for 3 whole months?
For my first child, I had organised, NZ style, for my mother to come and stay with me for a few weeks. Unfortunately there was a earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster that spoiled those plans and I decided to evacuate and in the end it was too terrifying to contemplate going back there so I went to New Zealand, which turned out to be about 3 months away by the time I came back.
So in effect last time was also a "Going home to give birth", but not as I had planned.

Are you insane? You are going to live with your in-laws for 3 months?!...Without your husband!

This time I have done something different by moving to my parents in law's house. When I told Japanese women friends my plan they look stunned! For many women, going home to their own family is a very reassuring experience, especially for a first birth, being looked after by your own parents is a real treat. However, I'm not sure that many women would choose to go stay with their in-laws. Obviously in my case, NZ is a lot further away than Tottori and a bit easier for DH to get to when the time comes. I also happen to get on well with my in-laws and they are very kind to me. Amelia loves it here and I also don't have to do much/any cooking, cleaning, dog walking or child minding in the last 6 weeks when just moving at all is a real challenge. So far we have been here for nearly a month which went well enough considering everyone had to get to know what Amelia's need, likes and schedules were. And she has gotten to know everyone else's schedules too and that they can't always hang out with her and play, she still needs to go to sleep by herself etc.

So how does it work changing hospitals/doctors near the end of your pregnancy?

Well, as this is quite common, it's fairly simple. I just told my current doctor what my plans were and he encouraged me to get down to my in-laws sooner rather than later. The doctor provides a letter of introduction and a summary of your notes for you to take to your next doctor.
I "reserved to give birth" at the clinic in Tottori and had my first, very pleasant appointment there last week. I had visited this clinic before when pregnant with Amelia after we had to leave Fukushima during the 2011 disaster and was impressed by it then, so I thought it would be safe choice.

How is this experience different to in NZ?

Well it's different in that here it seems that we often have to work around what the doctor wants and thinks is best for you. In NZ, it is much more what you want as long as it is safe/possible.
My first clinic in Iwaki didn't ask me anything about my "birth plan", but that was one of the first things they asked me when I went to the clinic here in Tottori. So it just depends on which hospital you go to. This clinic seems to encourage a very natural style of child brith which is great for me since I did a home birth last time and this time having to go to a clinic during labour is a bit daunting actually! DH and Amelia are also welcome to be present during labour, which is nice if you want your children to be  with you. Not sure if we will do that but just having the option is refreshing and not always available at every clinic here, the children being present part that is.

Gaining weight during pregnancy can be very strict also depending on clinics, doctors and even which nurse you strike. I was never weighed in Nz during my last 7 weeks or so as other indicators were that I and baby were fine. Here it's every trip to the clinic, though after an initial lecture on why putting on too much weight was not good and being told to aim to stay under 12 kilos if possible, nobody has mentioned it since. In saying that I have managed to stay under my "limit" so far, I'm not sure what the reaction would be if I had put on more than 15kilos at this point.  Interestingly this time I have developed an intolerance to gluten during pregnancy and can't eat as many goodies as I would perhaps like, which has probably helped as I certainly would like to eat more bread/toast/cake, but Maruchan 2 is still above average in size and weight, so am glad baby is obviously getting the nutrients rather than my thighs.
Obviously there are many other differences, if you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer so please ask!

We are in watermelon country here. This one was mysteriously left outside our front door and no one knows who it's from! Looks a lot like how my tummy feels about now!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


Thanks to Heather for your comment the other day, which gave me a bit of a kick in the pants. I should get back to blogging and let everyone know what's going on in Gaijin Housewife Land.

Quite a lot actually.

1) I started a "low information diet". I stayed off the internet except for email and FB with friends, stayed away from news and have been very happy in my own little world for the last 8 months or so. When something big in the world happens that I should know about, DH tells me. I feel my stress levels are much lower when I limit the amount of technology in my daily life.

2) We found out we are going to be welcoming a new family member. About the time I gave up writing this blog, I found out I was pregnant again which was amazing since some long term readers will remember the trauma of being TTC the first time around. I contribute this time's success to cutting out caffeine completely and using OPKs. The only thing I did differently.

So if you are any good at maths you will know that I am pretty far along now. 35 weeks to be exact. 5 to go until we meet Maruchan 2 - baby's tummy name.

This time we have had no major natural disasters during my pregnancy, so I am still in Japan though this time I am imposing Amelia, my dog Sebastian and myself on my husband's family until the baby is born and for a while after, too, all going well. 

There will be a blog post soon on "going home to give birth" which is kind of a tradition in Japan.
Sebastian: "So how much longer till this one starts dropping food on the floor?"

So at the moment I am in Tottori and DH is at home alone. It's going ok so far but we miss each other. Amelia has her grandparents and aunties to keep her busy and has started going to day care a few hours a week for something to do, which she really enjoys and added bonus I get 3 hours of quiet time 3 times a week for the first time in 3 years! For a few more weeks anyway.
So that's where we are! 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas Partied Out

A photo from the Munich Christmas Market by DH. This is what I wish I was doing this year!
Well it's only the 18th of December, but I think we are all partied out! In the last 6 days we have had 5 Christmas parties to attend. Leading up to it, I was pretty excited about it all. Now I am so happy to have it all behind me. For Amelia, the Christmas Party seems to have become a kind of norm and she seems to be expecting to go to another one tomorrow... We are so worn out from it all that Amelia has a cold, and I actually fell asleep on the floor in the playroom this morning for a few minutes, when I was lying there because I was just so tired! But I have to say that 3 minutes or so did me a world of good!
Thankfully we don't have any more commitments until our own family Christmas celebration which we will be having on the 23rd of December this year as that is a national holiday (for the Emperor's birthday),  and the 24th and 25th are just regular work days here.

Newspaper swimming pool was a big hit at one of our many Christmas parties.
Every year I say I am never spending another Christmas in Japan, and then every year I do. Just like your own birthday, Christmas is as special as you make it. We will be using our celebration day to spend time together as a family and enjoy a nice dinner cooked by me....

Which brings me to the next problem. What to cook for Christmas dinner that is doable in Japan, ingredients and oven size/capability wise. My friends have suggested all kinds of things, but really all our oven can manage is a very small chicken, but then I would have to run it for 2 hours which would probably cause our oven to explode. Anyway, we will probably go with baked chicken legs or something small and easy to manage.

Last night I attempted the great Kiwi (New Zealand) Christmas dessert: Pavlova - a giant meringue that is a cake which is crunchy on the outside and fluffy like soft marshmallow on the inside.
I used my sister's recipe. It turned out quite well for a first attempt with not quite the right ingredients. I thought it would take hours to make, but it was just 10 minutes prep and then 30 minutes cooking and another 30 minutes to cool in the oven.
Sorry, another photography disaster but you get the idea.