Trash Talk

Every March, we get our Trash magazine in the mail. It’s actually pretty useful and I keep mine on the side of our refrigerator for reference.

This trash magazine shows us how and when, over the course of the next year, to dispose of our garbage and recyclables, and which category various types of items fall into.

In the back, they have a really handy little chart for each neighborhood that lists each month and each day that certain trash goes out.

Over the last year, I’ve noticed that I don’t have to reference it that much, though we still keep it posted. I just know that, for example, it’s the 3rd Wednesday of the month tomorrow, and so I get to throw out all the cans, spaghetti jars and aerosol bottles that might have accumulated under my sink.

Strange, but it’s weirdly satisfying to get that stuff out and deposited under our trash net.

Well, as part our new life in the elementary school system, we have new trash rules.

Sigh.

So, a couple weeks back we got a message in our Neighborhood Group messenger (Neighborhood Group- all our kids walk together to school, we have our own rotation of patrol shifts and PTA paperwork gets passed down the representatives and divisions and gets distributed to all these little groups) about trash. I wasn’t sure what in the world they were talking about.

The next day we get a paperwork packet and a schedule about it that I sat down with coffee to peruse over.

Apparently the first Saturday of the month at 9:30am, we will meet in front of our apartment and someone (??) collects certain items from us (milk cartons, aluminum cans, old clothes, boxes, etc.) which have to be cleaned and prepared in certain ways and separately. The copies they gave showing some examples look like they have been copied since the Stone Age and are basically illegible. But I suppose everyone else knows how it works, so it’s not such a big deal.

Anyhow, somehow the group makes money by doing this and that helps fund things like the small gifts that each group gave to welcome the new first graders.

(I just keep thinking, I’ve never received money for throwing trash out– or for recycling! In fact, I’ve had to pay sometimes to dispose of oversized trash!)

I guess it was time for a change anyway, I’d gotten so used to my trash system and working it in our house… it was getting too easy.

Some might be thinking– well, you don’t have to do it, do you? You can just continue with your own ways.

Yes, you have to do it. No, I can’t just do it my way.

I’d like to, but since we live in Japan, we are part of group culture now.

In group culture, individuals all act as part of the group, all contribute, all “show up” for the good of the group, all cooperate with the mandates of the group.

It would not be good to just do it our way (or not do it at all) because of convenience or because of preference.

I think this is very different than Western thinking. It’s not as “optional” of a lifestyle here.

But, in all fairness, there’s a lot of grace for “outsiders” like us who are coming into groups and into the system. Japanese will help us get started to figure it out, but we have to do our part. And when we do, as foreigners, we gain more credibility within the group (whereas, I think for a Japanese, it’s just a given that you’ll do it). It helps build the foundation for a good witness and respect from them…

And it shows a respect for them and their ways.

And if my years of finessing trash skills needs to be canned, well… so be it.

Daily Dispatches

There’s a special pink-zippered bag among my daughter’s school belongings that I’ve discovered is the most important item.

They call it the Renraku-bukuro (contact/communication bag).

But I call it “The Daily Dispatches” and approach it with a “Sir! Yes Sir!” attitude.

My daughter is the messenger, carrying all-important paperwork, notices and messages from the teacher neatly glued inside the renraku-cho (contact/communication notebook) and returning completed items and tasks the next morning.

But this renraku-cho has been my confoundment these last days.

It all began when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t entirely sure which was the front side and which was the back.

Both sides had a title. Both sides had a label for specific information.

Surely the side with the small bar code must be the back— which made the book Japanese style (binding on the right) as compared to Western (binding on the left). We do it both styles here, so it was a 50/50 shot.

On the inside(front, I assumed) cover, I was told to fill out information regarding my child, the school, and our job, which I diligently did.

At the ceremony, the lady in front made important communications regarding a special yellow paper to be put in the renraku-cho. I had heard of this paper and had heard of its importance. I sat up a little straighter.

She showed the yellow slip glued over the place where I had filled out the information on the front cover. And it didn’t look like she had any information like I thought I’d been told to do.

But what really tripped me up was that she kept saying, “glue it to the back of the renraku-cho”.

Now I was really messed up because she had clearly glued hers to the front. Is it a western book now? Was I not supposed to fill it out the information? Where did I go wrong? Which side is the back of the book?

Am I being gaslighted?

What is going on here?

I browsed my paperwork trying to read it more carefully.

Yup, fill it out and glue it to the back of the book.

Well, I wasn’t sure of the information to fill out on the magic yellow paper anyhow, aside from her name. I puzzled it out again later that night, figuring that I’d just have to find out the next day.

The next morning, I stuck the yellow paper in my purse, and took along a health card I had filled out with my daughter’s daily temperature readings and sleep times/breakfast confirmed eaten.

I asked a parent in our assigned group what to do with this health card. She gave me a look of panic and concern and told me to put it in my dispatch bag. She noticed the yellow slip was missing and quickly explained how to fill it out.

Happy to know how to complete it, I now asked her where to attach it.

“To the back of the renraku-cho.”

Great.

BUT WHICH SIDE IS THE BACK???

My daughter returned home. I demanded the dispatch bag, which contained paperwork to be completed.

I opened the renraku-cho to find a note from the teacher glued in. Sometimes homework comes in this notebook. Sometimes I stamp, sometimes I’m to sign it. At any rate, I now assumed that this must be the front of the book, confirming my original suspicion that we were dealing with a Japanese-style book.

I flipped to the back to glue in the yellow slip and to my dismay, found the health card (which I had thought missing) folded and glued on one edge like a fold out. Apparently the teacher must have done this.

Well, now what to do??

In the meantime, I sent a message to the aforementioned neighbor to confirm the information I was to fill out.

THANKFULLY, she sent a picture. And as I zoomed in, I looked for clues on the edges of the yellow slip to see where she might have glued it in.

And I think I figured it out guys.

The yellow paper was to be glued onto the back of the front cover of the renraku-cho– glued on the top edge, laying over the information I’d filled out.

I said I think… but that’s the way it’s going to be guys. Because I glued that thing in, washed my hands of it, and put it out of my sight for the evening.

I have the whole weekend now to finish the rest of my tasks and submit my Dispatches to the teacher on Monday morning.

First Day Frenzy

Yesterday we got an email from a fellow worker here in Japan regarding our ministry. It began like this:

“Sorry it has taken me a few days to respond… Things have been crazy this week with school starting back up for the kids and especially figuring everything out about my son’s new school as he just started first grade at the local Japanese school.”

I grinned, sighed and sent a commiserating nod across the internet wavelengths.

The evening after the entrance ceremony found me sitting among my kids’ bookbags, paperwork and uniforms sprawled across our bed. We had closed the sliding doors, effectively hiding the piles of “important things” from our neighbors who came over for a lunch celebration after our kids’ entrance ceremony.

Now it was time to deal with it.

I set all my preschooler’s items aside. I knew how to deal with hers and sort through her papers.

I tried to organize my first grader’s things into final details to finish up, needed items, things to be sent later and then took a quick flip through the folders and packets of papers. I kept referencing different papers and trying to decide what needed to be done first.

Meanwhile my preschooler was singing at the top of her lungs and my toddler stood, hanging onto the side of the bed, throwing papers with glee across our living room.

Eventually, I was able to pack the bags with needed items which were all adequately and sometimes doubly labeled.

As I labeled her gym clothes name tags with info I had just received that morning and ironed them on, I scorched the label on the shorts. I quickly called my husband who was out, asking him to run by the special store from which I had to buy specific labels. Unfortunately they were closed.

I knew my kid wouldn’t wear the clothes the next day but she still had to take them. So, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best until I was able to repair the damage.

After the kids went to bed (a bit later than I planned for!), I sat down with the stacks of papers and began reading, sorting and putting into my own system of comprehension and organization.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but in English, you can simply glance at something and within a split second understand it’s meaning and relative importance.

Even having lived here and spoken Japanese for years now, none of these papers completely do that for me. At least not that fast. It takes looking, processing, comprehending and deciding.

I’m rather like a computer that’s a wee bit old. You know– you click and the wheel spins and a few moments later it does what you want it to do. Or at least, you hope so.

But, at least I’m getting faster and not slower.

Anyway, this isn’t a one-time-and-you’re-done deal. Everyday needs checking and confirming, because everyday is different. For the time being until the kids get used to carrying all the text books back and forth to school each day, I have a list a different items to send with my kid each day and a list of what she will study at what time, on what day and what time she gets off school.

Well… we made it through the first day of class (a Friday, thank goodness) with only a couple tiny mistakes. I have paperwork to fill out over the weekend and then the real fun begins!

If you think of me, say a little prayer for me, eh? And for my guinea-pig daughter!

Nyuugaku

So the day I’ve been preparing for for months finally arrived– The Nyuugaku-shiki or Entrance Ceremony for first graders beginning elementary school.

The gymnasium was lined with thick red-and-white-striped material on the walls, flowers across the front, and a wide, high desk on the stage. Chairs were social-distance spaced, and overall, a guarded silence pervaded the room as we waited for the children to enter and the event to begin.

The actual ceremony contained the parts of a “ceremony” we’ve come to recognize in all meetings Japanese– an official declaration of beginning the event…. speeches from so and so…. standing, bowing multiple times and eventually an official declaration of ending the event.

This time we got to listen to the national anthem, which was moving.

At one point (all the parents were seated behind the classes), I smiled behind my mask to see all the little boys in row line swinging their little legs (some of which barely touched the floor) while the girls in the next row to them held still legs.

During the course of the morning’s activities, the children learned who was going to be in their classes, who their teacher was, where their shoe cubby was. They turned in paperwork and received name badges with colors and numbers that all meant something. They deposited items we had been told to bring to their respective places, received their text books and… so. much. paperwork.

Class pictures were taken with everyone in their finest, and families looked forward to their individual celebrations at home or in the home of a friend.

It’s a big deal here in Japan and the start of a new season for children AND parents.