Happily Ever After

Last Sunday, we attended our first Japanese wedding.  For my part, I was excited and a little nervous– and not just about keeping a toddler and a newborn happy during the ceremony, but about celebrating appropriately Japanese style.

So, I thought I’d share about our experience.  Our friends do speak some great English, and so there was a bit of an international feel to it… as compared to a super traditional wedding at a Shinto shrine….

The venue was a beautiful little cove in the heart of one of the ritzy areas of downtown Tokyo.  This place specializes in weddings, and it seems that many such places have full-service packages– from the invitations to menus to flowers to the bride’s dress(es).

Yes, in Japan, most brides rent their dresses.  When I was engaged and living in Japan, I wanted to do some dress shopping but no one could point me in the direction of a place that actually sold dresses.

So, the bride and groom were able to choose everything with simplicity (from what I heard).  Besides having a number of women who seemed to be coordinators running around, there was also a make-up artist who kept the bride and groom looking great (no, the groom didn’t wear make-up, she just made sure his tie was perfect during pictures and such).  As far as attire, the B&G were dressed western style, and later changed to something very slightly more casual half-way through the service; the parents of B&G were in tuxedos and kimono– it was very charming

One highlight for us was that our oldest daughter had the chance to walk down the aisle with the groom. It seems that in western style weddings in Japan, there is no tradition for the groom to walk down the aisle with his mother.  He said that his mom was too shy to do such a thing as well.  So our daughter had the honor, and for an almost 3 year old, I think she handled herself well!

A notable aspect was that they announced everything.  For example, each person coming down the aisle was announced beforehand (similar to an American reception??) and during the reception, there was a MC, who announced all the participating parties and some of their details. The bride and groom’s background info was also shared. Even the menu and wine menu were announced.

Reflecting on these various announcements, while teaching at the elementary school (rabbit trail: many of the groom’s students– he’s an English teacher at a middle school– showed up in their uniforms to watch the ceremony), often before I began my lesson, the teacher would signal a student to stand up and announce the previous period of study had ended and from now, we would begin to study English.  Everyone would respond with “We begin!”.  Lunch menus are also read before serving lunch and everyone confirms what they have on their plates. To me, it seems to show an inclination for organization in events, where clear beginnings and endings are defined and proper recognition is given.

During the reception, a number of speeches were given.  The groom gave a welcome at the beginning, the employers of both B&G spoke, a few friends spoke, there was a quick interview from one guy about the groom, the bride gave a speech to her parents and the father of the groom gave a speech… and perhaps others.  Near the end, giant bouquets were given to the parents and there was a lot of formal bowing from the B&G and their parents to thank us for joining them.

The B&G’s friends also prepared a very short piece of entertainment for the company. The groom’s friends- a short skit; the bride’s- a cutesy dance.

On to gifts.  If you are invited to a wedding in Japan, the gift to give is money (crisp bills) in an envelope inside a special envelope.  As a foreigner, be careful to confirm it’s a wedding envelope at the store and not a funeral envelope– they can look similar. How much do you give? Hold your breath, it can vary but the customary amount for a friend is about $300 USD (Three $100 bills).  Yup.  Employers typically give $500-$1000 and for family members, it depends on the area whether you give or not, it seems.  Two and four should be avoided because they are unlucky (4 and 2 put together in Japanese sounds like the word for death).  Even numbers should also be avoided because they can be associated with being split or divided.

In Japan, it’s custom to give a gift back.  In America, we give party favors. However, on the guests’ seats (one per couple), was a bag with two beautiful gifts inside.  One had an assortment of pretty desserts (not quite cakes, but more like breads? and some cookies) and the other contained a catalog.  A catalog from which you could choose a gift that would be delivered to you.  These were gifts similar to what you would give the B&G as a wedding gift in America and ranged from kitchen pots or pans to towels to make up bags or special jams or teas.

Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt? Yeah, that was my expression when I opened it. I’m not sure if that’s how it generally is here (I know that the gifts are usually very nice), but I was floored.

Each kid also had a sweet coloring book and a nice pack of crayons and snacks at their seat.  As we left, we received tiny little boxes with cute little heart cookies inside. And Rosalyn received a beautiful little bouquet. Speaking of leaving, the MC closed the reception at exactly 2pm.  Like on the dot.

Amazing, huh?  Very different than an American wedding.  Literally, every detail was thought of. Everything was sweet and beautiful and carefully prepared.  It was a highlight for us, and celebrating their marriage over course supersedes all these details.  We are excited to see what God has in store for them together!

I’m sure that there are many variations on weddings here, but the fundamentals will likely be the same.  Fascinating!  So, if you ever have the chance to go to a Japanese wedding, you have some idea of what you might encounter!


All in a Name

Well, well, well.  Turns out two kids is more than one.  I’ve been home now for about two and a half weeks.  It’s been… busy.  I’m not sure how any moms get anything done??

One of the challenges since we’ve been home is in the actual name of our new daughter.

Wait, what?

I know right.  My husband and the pastor of the church took our paperwork, including the birth paper issued by the hospital, to the city hall to get her birth registered and get health insurance, etc.  More on all that later.  However, the gentleman at the birth register desk insisted that the Japanese way to write her name was not the way that we wrote it.

Let me explain, using initials, for discretion.  Her initials will be E V A, according to how we’d write it in the States.  In Japan, using the format of our passports, her name would be written A E V or, more rarely A, E V.  That’s the way my name, my husband’s name and our other daughter’s name is written for all of our paperwork.

Well.  Gentleman-behind-the-desk didn’t care about that.  He insisted (and refused to argue) that it should be written A V, E.  So, that’s what her Japanese birth certificate shows.  Though this made me very frustrated over the phone when I heard about it, it’s not a super big deal because we can change her name for US stuff.  The problem comes in that all of her paperwork here will have to reflect her passport, which means we’re going to have to go back and file a name change here after we receive her passport.  (On a side note, after the unexpected trip to the embassy, the staff there wondered why the city hall staffer wrote her middle name in the last name box!)

Speaking of names though, something that stumped me when I was at the hospital was how many of the sore and exhausted moms I’d talked to had still not chosen a name for their baby.  I was flabbergasted.  With our first daughter, we had her name chosen even before we were planning to have kids.

I made some inquiries over breakfast of the moms and learned much in the process!  You think choosing a name in English is difficult?  We’ve got nothing on the Japanese.

Japanese obviously use kanji (Chinese characters) for their names.  Every kanji has one or more meanings and sometimes numerous pronunciations.  And every kanji has a stroke order and a stroke count (that’s how you look it up in the dictionary).

For the Japanese, the number of strokes in the kanji chosen for their name can either be lucky or unlucky. Certain numbers are lucky and others are not.  In fact, there are about five different categories (for example, love, job, money, etc.) that have to be determined, and while a name you’re considering may be lucky in 4 of the categories, parents want it to be good in all five.

It gets more complicated. The kanji of the last name have to be taken into consideration as well, as it’s the total number of strokes in a name that matters.  Apparently, the combination of kanji (first and last, first kanji of both names, second kanji of both names, etc.) matters too.

Then you want to be careful that the kanji of both names make sense together.  You wouldn’t want to have a mix-up of number kanji, or seasonal kanji or recurring syllables when you write/say it all together.  And, of course, too many over-all strokes will be time consuming for your child.

Parents these days use online dictionaries to investigate potential kanji for their child. Once they find a number that will work for them, they can get lists of kanji and start piecing together their child’s name.

Of course, then both parents (and often grandparents) have to approve of their name and it has to feel right for the child too.

(Apparently, some women who have gotten married changed the kanji for their first names to maintain a lucky balance with their husband’s last name)

It had always been a mystery to me why none of the Japanese pregnant moms I’d met had revealed the name for their child before birth.  I wondered if it was a bad omen to say the name before the birth or if it was a secret or just not their custom. We announced our daughter’s name when we confirmed the gender, but none of the Japanese thought to ask the question (whereas for our American counterparts, it was one of the first questions!).

But now I know…. it’s complicated!

Busy bees 

Well, it has been a busy busy day for me! Since feeding time will be coming soon and I want to catch some Zs before then, let me get to it. 

-I was feeling well enough to eat breakfast with the other moms in the lounge this morning. Thankfully they were more talkative than last time. I got a lot of insights about their process of choosing a name (goods for a later post) and they asked a lot of questions about America and hospitals there. Anyhow, as we were all leaving to collect our babies, one mom came to me to let me know she speaks a little Spanish. She is part of a group interested in learning foreign languages with their kids and asked me if I would come and participate sometime and if maybe we could even share about our countries (V and I) with the group. So, awesome new momma friend and probably it will be a few months before that comes to pass but what a great opportunity !

-Today I had meetings galore with staff members. 

  • A Momma Check to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go home
  • A long discussion with one staff member about vaccinations* and the process, where different ones are done, next appointments for the baby and how to schedule them. I have lots of paperwork about that all and she even did research to find me the some of the same files in English! How kind!
  • A meeting with the midwife to discuss how to take care of myself and the baby, when to be concerned about things, when to call the doctor, things to watch out for. 
  • A meeting with the… pharmacist? To discuss medication, if I requested any prescriptions, what to tell any other doctors I visit, etc etc. 

So I’m a bit Japanesed out today. 

-I got a rubella vaccination- something mentioned many times over the course of prenatal care since it seems I didn’t have the antibodies for it or that they were low or something. So the conclusion was finally understood that today we’d be taking care of that. 

-I learned how to bathe my baby. Well- the nurse knew that I have a kid and so she didn’t really show as go through the motions with me. They do it with all moms, so it had to be checked off the list. It’s been a while, so it was a nice refresher course on how to wash a slippery little human being. 

-Guests popped in and out for visits. 

-I got paperwork and surveys filled out in Japanese. The staff helped answer the paperwork that will be turned into the government– some questions I wasn’t sure how to answer.

And I think that’s my day. Besides time with family and of course my newest daughter and later tonight packing everything up for our “tai-een” (check out) tomorrow. 

Overall, it’s been a great stay, despite the problems. I’ve learned a lot and received a lot of care and help. While I will miss having nurses that I can call at all hours of the day to request a specific amount of formula, warm and ready to go, I’m ready to go too. 

So, yes! Thus has been my Japanese hospital experience, I give the clinic here an A+ in every area from medical care to baby training to facilities to hospitality to bedside manner to everything. To any foreign woman in the general vicinity who may have found this post, I give this place two thumbs up- please use this clinic! 

And to the rest of you, I’ll catch you on the other side of the hospital doors!

Alive Again

Yesterday, I didn’t even proofread the post before hitting publish (which I never do!). I was functioning but at an apparently low level. So I apologize if there was anything incoherent in there. 

Anyhow, today’s post won’t be long but I did want to say thank you to everyone who has been praying for us– the headache source was indeed epidural related and by the morning, I was unable to even sit for more than 30 seconds before the headache became absolutely unbearable. 

The doctor came, explained what a blood patch was to me and the success rate, had me sign papers in Japanese and viola, I was scheduled for one at 1pm, which could not come soon enough. 

The nurses, as always, were extremely kind to me. They really helped me during the process and the doctor talked to me during the procedure about the difference between American accents and that he has had trouble with British and especially Australian accents in the past. Apparently 1-2 Americans (or English-speaking women?) give birth here every year.

Anyway, PRAISE THE LORD, it worked (the back up plan was vague and scary), and I almost hugged him as he helped me down from the OR table (a place I didn’t really want to see again but now have been able to exit from with a sense of closure- no puns intended).  

Every staff member throughout the rest of the day stopped to chat with me and ask me about my condition and to be elated that I was better. I’m guessing they heard about my hot mess postpartum breakdown last night in front of a nurse and my family with my two year old getting in my face to ask, “mommy, what’s torn? What’s torn?”, which we understand to mean “what’s wrong?”.

So I’m alive again, and so, so happy to enjoy the simple pleasures of life again. Like moving my neck. 

So onto more interesting things:

-Also included in my room “gift bag”- I can’t believe I forgot- was a tiny little wooden box with gold kanji to keep the umbilical cord. Said box is now occupied but what I’m going to do with it, I have yet to figure out. 

-I know not all hospitals offer this here, but included in the hospital stay is one “relaxation time”. I was able to get mine after my headache was gone. It was basically a 30 minute-ish mini-massage and stretching of arm/chest muscles. All is supposed to help the mother recover and be relaxed to help with breastfeeding and all that. I was impressed that she did a massage pull down from skull to shoulder and at one spot I thought, wow that hurt. She stopped, pinpointed that exact spot and asked, “did it hurt here?” 

I’ve found myself asking “how did they know I was going to need…” “how did they know to come with such and such at this moment?” “Oh yeah, I’m gonna need one of those” multiple times during my stay. The Japanese are great at looking ahead and thinking through what you will need and providing it before you need to even ask (or in some cases, think about it). 

While it’s awesome to be on the receiving end, in every day relationships, it can be hard to reciprocate to such a degree because they are so good and reciprocation is always expected (though they’ll say “no, no”). For example, my prego neighbor took me to an appointment in her car a couple of weeks ago and we were going to do baby shopping afterward. I had Rosalyn with me and she had packed a bag of snacks and juice for Rosalyn to enjoy while waiting. I have more stories, but how do you get to be so thoughtful? 

-I get to control the temperature of my room. That is control, people. I think it’s a requirement that all American hospitals be like ice boxes (I understand cooler temperatures mean germs increase more slowly). But not mine! We are nice and toasty up in here. 

-I have a paper from the hospital certifying that baby was born here. This paper I will take to city hall to eventually receive the birth certificate. That’s a process I’ll describe later. But it’s so interesting that I have to go file for myself, it’s not something the hospital does for you here. Everyone has to go through this process. 

-I was handed my paper today telling about how much it would be to discharge from the hospital (to be paid in full on exit). We already paid a down payment to register and leaving will be more than I expected (I think due to the blood patch, but worth every yenny), but it’s really nice not to have a foreboding sense of doom at multiple, vague invoices to be later received asking for payment- a doom augmented by another language. I remember cringing I opened the mailbox. When I’m done here, I’m done. 

And we’ll, for the time being, I’m done here too. I’m going to catch some Zs before the next feeding. 

I’ll keep you posted if anything else interesting happens around here!

I thought I’d post a few pictures of the food and lounge, where I happen to be right now, enjoying a cup of coffee which I was able to locate yesterday. 

Recovery continues and the hospital has been extremely helpful. My only serious malady is the continued headaches. There was a bit of discussion as to whether they are related strictly to the out-of-whack neck or if it’s related to the epidural and it’s after effects. 

Nonetheless, when the nurses heard, they gave me bean heat packs to help with the sore muscles. And after asking 3 times or so for meds, the doctor finally gave me my own stash in my room. 

In other news, the thing that blew my mind yesterday was that they served créeme brûlée for the afternoon snack. Seriously? What places serves it in the first place? 

It was wonderful. 

I was able to have breakfast in the cafe this morning (lounge). It’s where breakfast is normally served but until today it’s been delivered to my room. Today there was a special treat apparently because one of the staff members who is an artist did pictures of the flowers associated with the birth days of our babies and what their meanings where. It was copied onto a paper placemat and we received the original on a 4×6 size postcard. You can kinda see what it looked like on the bottom left corner of the French toast picture above. 

Yep, that’s what I had for breakfast. 

Anyway, everyone here is very thoughtful and helpful. All details are thought out and what you could possibly need is so often provided before you could even think to ask for it. 

Again, the only thing I don’t quite get is the low, flat beds and how that works for a c-section momma but I suppose I’ve survived. 

Well they are getting to the afternoon snack time so I better beat them to my room. 

Wonder what it will be today?!?

Post Op Perspectives 

So we are on day 4 of the hospital stay. And yes, it has been an adventure. 

It makes sense to say so but today I feel my best. 

Thursday was the surgery with all the attending prep. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the Japanese are very sensitive to your “uncoveredness”…. anytime I’ve had to be changed into new clothes, they always arrange it all underneath a blanket or towel. On the OR they literally changed me from one outfit to another underneath a towel. Don’t even ask me how. I wondered though why they didn’t just have me change beforehand. But, well, this is their show. 

We will do it their way. 

Surgery is surgery and the first part was horrendous (let it be noted that I’m typically not the type of person to use such strong “negative ” words about experiences. So when you read them in this post, realize that I really mean them!). I felt like I couldn’t breathe and uncomfortable in every way imaginable. But then Vicente came in and held my hand and that was a great comfort. Of course, he looked like he would pass out himself since he had a full access view to everything going on.  

But the baby was born, and the pressure relieved off me and I practically slept through the rest of the surgery. 

I spent the night in the recovery room. Every hour or so, and they did checks on me. I was amazed at how much the majority of the nurses had memorized from my file. They knew my job, my husbands job, that I had an older daughter who was born in America. And many other small details that took me by surprise. 

Though I got to see the baby right after surgery, the nurses took care of her and I didn’t see her again until just before leaving the recovery room. Of course, laying flat on your back with multitudes of wires doesn’t really provide for the agility needed to take care of a newborn. I was pretty wiped out anyway and just slept as much as I could. 

Yesterday, the first full day after the surgery, was pretty awful. While I did get my baby back (which does in fact lower the suffering factor in most categories), i found the room’s accommodations difficult to adjust to fresh out of surgery. 

The bed, while very wide, was flat and difficult to get in an out of without the necessary use of the abdominal muscles. That was my biggest problem. Who wants to lay down and get back up a million times while taking care of a newborn and feeling like you’re being ripped in half each time you get up and down? Really, I just do not understand these arrangements. 

My other issue was also bed related. And this is probably more of a personal issue, but I am used to sleeping with about 3-4 pillows of the good feather type sort. I’ve had neck problems for the better part of my life and two flat pancake pillows (I had to ask for the second one) just hasn’t been doing it. This leads to migraine type headaches. 

Last night though, the nurses said they’d take care of the baby so I could rest. I definitely took advantage of that offer. I still had the issue of having to get up every couple of hours to visit the restroom, but finally- and I don’t know what changed- but around 4:30 or 5, I was able to get up pain free. 

This helped restore my general mood in ways I can’t even describe. Since then, recovery has been easier. I’ve also been relieved today of my IV and epidural, so my ever present luggage has disappeared and I am finally free! 

I’ve placed an order with my husband for two pillows from home (which I’m praying will take care of these neck and headache problems) and a chocolate bar, which cannot fail in being an excellent restorative. 

As of yesterday, I was completely against ever having another child again. Today, I’d have to give it some serious thought. But you can see the progress– and it’s significant. 

Well it’s time for baby to eat so I’d better be getting on. 

“The food is really good there…” 

I started to label this post “Giving Birth in Japan, part 1”, but then that gives the idea that there will be a part two, etc. And I’m not making any guarantees. 

I do want to document it though as much for myself as for anyone else who might be interested or who might give birth in Japan some day. 

I think this is my first post this year, much to my shame, therefore I’m not guaranteeing more while I’m here. Nonetheless, eventually I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about the experience and getting foreign babies registered overseas. 

Though we had the option for VBAC, we went with a scheduled csection (most hospitals in Japan don’t offer VBAC it seems, ours does). Our reason has little to do with convenience or preference, but with the fact that VBAC is considerably more expensive than a csection, which happens to fall under regular health insurance. Giving birth naturally does not. Go figure 

A friend recommended this hospital once we moved to a different city and prefecture, around 16-18 weeks pregnant. In our previous city,I had been to a regular city hospital and a medical college hospital. The latter I was extremely unimpressed with. 

And I love this hospital- Matsuda Boshi Clinic. It’s clean, nice looking and the staff is friendly and helpful to the Nth degree. Whenever I’ve mentioned that I’m giving birth here (the which-hospital question is a common question wherever you go, it seems), I always get the answer, “Oh! I’ve heard the food is very good there!”

And so it is. One thing different than America is that the check you in about 24 hours or so before the csection. So, tonight I’m chillaxing here in my huge bed, watching Japanese game shows and writing this post. 

I received a nice bag upon arrival full of goodies– hospital gowns for pre-birth and after birth, the afterward undies, socks, a gift set hairbrush and toothbrush and random other things. Also, I have an iPad at my disposal (but not for taking home!) that I can watch YouTube on and a key to my room and drawers. 

Since arrival, I think I’ve been visited by a different staff member every 30-60 minutes, either for food or baby monitoring or looking at the mother-child handbook, discussing medication, and for pre-op preparations and notifications on what I will need to do. Every staff member asks me similar questions about my Japanese ability, though I think they discuss it at the nurses station. But they are kind to answer all my questions. I’m sure I take up more of their time than the average patient. 

The most amusing thing that happened today was that my actual doctor came in (great doctor- apparently he was so popular at his previous hospital that he opened his own clinic) and he stared for a few moments at my hair straightener (I had just taken a shower (in the general use shower room down the hall), and asked what it was. He wasn’t sure and so I explained the use to him and he’s like, oh I’ve heard of them but never seen one before. He left and I chuckled. 

The sole purpose of his visit though was to basically tell me to go to bed earlier than usual tonight. 

Aye, aye Captain. No problem there. I’ve had a cold/sinus infection going on for the last 5 or so days and between that and preparations for my husband and daughter to be at home without me for a week, I’m wiped out. 

[I miss them already…] 

I think I have one more visit tonight to do some baby monitoring and then I’m headed to bed, for my last full night of sleep for the foreseeable future. 

Tomorrow is bound to be an interesting day! Will be back when I have both time and energy…