Monday, March 19, 2018

When the Cherry Blossoms Bloom

It's mid-March, and cherry blossom buds all over the country are plump and can hardly contain themselves. To be sure, some varieties of cherry have already bloomed, their petals have all completely scattered and their branches are already green with fresh new spring leaves. But those are only the rare, special kind; most cherry blossom trees are only just now on the verge of bursting forth with pink glory.

The time of cherry blossoms has a lot of significance in Japan. Though the Japanese celebrate the New Year in December, the fiscal Japanese year begins on the 1st of April. The whole country is currently abuzz closing out the old year, and getting ready for the start of the new one. Books must be closed before new ones can open. Kindergarten graduates can't wait to begin their lives as 1st graders, and elementary school graduates wonder what awaits them in jr. high school. Jr high school and high school students await the results of their entrance exams to get into a high school or university respectively. By this time, most university students have found jobs at companies and will be beginning their lives in the Japanese workforce. One might liken Japan to a bulging cherry blossom bud; preparing, getting ready to bloom in glorious splendor.

So in many ways, the time of cherry blossoms symbolizes fresh, new beginnings.

For me, this cherry blossom season indicates the end of a lot of old things, and the beginning of a lot of new ones. I won't go into much detail, but this year I'm trying out a new profession. I've been an English teacher through out my time here, but this year, I'm actually going to start work at a company, where my Japanese language and critical thinking skills are going to be put to the test. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, as it were, but they say that to grow, we humans need that.

This year, my eldest son ends his 3rd and final year as a kindergartner, and will soon begin his first year of elementary school. It's a kind of a happy sad feeling; happy that my son is growing up and moving on to the first grade, but also sad, because a part of his childhood has ended.

There's something about Japanese culture, where they have definite ceremonies marking ends and beginnings. Ends and beginnings have to be celebrated or commemorated in just the right way, at the right time, with the right songs and the right speeches, sung and spoken by the right people, at the right halls with the right decorations in the right colors etc. All graduation ceremonies happen around March, and all entrance ceremonies happen around April. All schools put out a billboard announcing that year's ceremony, and most if not all students and their parents take a picture in front of it for commemoration.

At graduation ceremonies, graduating students collectively give their thanks to their parents and teachers for helping them get to that point, and often collectively sing a "thank you" and/or "goodbye" song, and students staying behind collectively give thanks to their graduating seniors, sometimes singing their own "good-bye" song. The whole thing ends with the principal hand graduates their diplomas, congratulating the graduating class, and officially saying "This concludes the graduation ceremony for the class of 20XX." Curtains close, people get up and leave with the sense that the years culminating to the concluded graduation ceremony are now in the past.

At entrance ceremonies, all the new students gather well-dressed in a hall, where the principal will open the ceremony and officially welcome all the new arrivals. Speeches are given by the principal, as well as an important guest speaker. Current students will often give their own speech, and songs are often sung. Sometimes the band will play a welcoming fanfare. The principal gives the students his final congratulations and wishes them luck before officially ending the ceremony and people are free to leave.

As I sat there in the kindergarten's auditorium, the lights went out, and a projector played a short movie up on a screen. The movie was a commemoration of all 3 years the graduating class spent there. Pictures of the students as 3-year-olds flashed across the screen, with a sentimental song in the background. (Most Japanese kindergartens are 3-year schools, where students enter as 3-year olds and graduate as 6-year-olds.) The pictures cycle through the students' 2nd and 3rd years, and as a parent, you're able to see just how big your child has gotten. At the end of the movie, you can see parents dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs, myself included.

After the principal gave his opening remarks, the graduating class was allowed to enter the hall. The kindergarten principal, as well as as visiting principal from a nearby elementary school gave their congratulations to the students. Afterward, a group of 1st year and a group of 2nd year students each gave "thank you for playing with us" and "good luck in elementary school" speeches. Finally, the graduating class stands up, turns around, gives a collective "thank you" speech to parents, and then they sing a "farewell" song. This is what sent me over the edge; by the end of the song my handkerchief is damp with tears.

The cherry blossoms this year, mark the end of an era in my child's and in my life. I knew my son was becoming a 1st grader this year, but it wasn't until I heard my son sing "Goodbye, Our Beloved Kindergarten" in Japanese, with his graduating class that this fact hit me in the face. My son is no longer a babe, he is no longer a kindergartner, he is no longer my "baby boy" that I held in my arms when his vocal chords were used to scream for the first time; he is now officially on his way to becoming a young man. I guess this graduation ceremony makes me rather sad because it marks a real, tangible separation between me and my son. Someday he'll no longer be just "my son," but an independent man. This year, he begins to spread his wings, and someday he'll fly away. He won't be "my little boy" anymore. Boyhood ends, and this ceremony marks the beginning of that end.

I know that growing up is inevitable. We all have to grow up. We all have to leave the nest and learn to stand on our own. I want to do the best I can to appreciate my son while he's still a boy. I don't want to be one of those fathers who wakes up one day and realizes he missed the whole thing; his boy is now a man and it's too late. The song "Cat's in the Cradle" comes to mind...

It's also sad for me to imagine how hard this must be for my son. 84 students were in his graduating class, but they're all going to go to 7 different schools. This means that some of the children he made friends with he will most likely never see again. One of his closest friends is moving to Okayama, two prefectures over. Yes, we've exchanged contact information, and we the parents agreed to keep and contact and possibly meet in the future, but it's not the same, is it. Another friend is moving to Higashiosaka, a city not too far away. Again, close, but yet far. Most likely we'll all get on with our lives, and the last three years will have been just a memory. Yes, the time of cherries is a time for goodbyes... but also the time of "hellos" too. Who knows what's in store for us this year!

"Goodbye, Our Beloved Kindergarten"
For his kindergarten graduation, my son sang the following song with his class called "Goodbye, Our Beloved Kindergarten." I decided to translate it, since the lyrics are so moving. English translation, followed by Japanese lyrics below.

"Good-bye, Our Beloved Kindergarten"
For many days, every day
We spent time together, didn't we
We laughed, many times, we cried many times
We caught colds many times
With many friends, every day
We played here together
We ran everywhere, we fell down everywhere
We had fights and arguments everywhere

Good-bye our beloved kindergarten
The playground where we all ran and played
When the cherry blossoms are in bloom and scattering
We'll all be Lancel-donning first graders

For many days, every day
We spent time together, didn't we
All the happy times, all the sad times
I'm sure, I never will forget
With many friends, every day
We played here together
We played in the water, we built snow men
I never, ever will forget

Good-bye our beloved kindergarten
The playground where we all ran and played
The next time we come and play
We'll all be Lancel-donning first graders

さよなら ぼくたちの幼稚園
何度笑って 何度泣いて
どこで走って どこでころんで

さよなら ぼくたちの幼稚園
桜の花びら ふるころは

うれしいことも かなしいことも
水遊びも 雪だるまも

さよなら ぼくたちの幼稚園
この次 遊びに来るときは

My son's ceremony went something like this. This is the song his class sang at their graduation ceremony.

Relevant Post:
Hanami: The Japanese Tradition of Cherry Blossom Appreciation

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Women in My Favorite Videogames

Touched off by my previous post thanking the women in my life, I decided to dedicate a blog post as a tribute to the women in my favorite videogames.

First off, who can forget Princess Toadstool, otherwise known as Princess Peach?

As the woman in the first games, I ever played, the Super Mario Game series, she comes first.

Not to forget Princess Daisy!

At first I thought they were one and the same, and Nintendo made some sort of mistake. Nope! Turns out there are two princesses Mario has to rescue.

Not forgetting Princess Zelda.

I first encountered the princess in The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past.

I had some sort of thing for Marin, from The Legend of Zelda, Link's Awakening.

After all, she helps link and teaches him the Ballad of the Windfish. they also seem to have a moment at the beach.

Whenever I think of the Ballad of the Windfish, I think of her.

I know you're already hearing the melody in your head... La ti do... la ti do... ti la mi so... la...

The Metroid Series has always fascinated me. I guess one of the biggest things I like about the game is that the protagonist is a woman, and this isn't revealed to you until you beat a game.

I started out playing Metroid II. At this point, I had never played a Metroid game, and all along I thought the character was just a robot. I first beat the game in say, 10 hours, so at the end, I only got to see Samus in her suit. But then, after I decided to play through the game as fast as I could (the last time I beat the game I was at about 1:49 or so...), I got to see Samus' true identity! I think it was then that I really started to like the game, and I decided to go play Metroid I and Super Metroid.

Princess Camile is worth mentioning, because even though she isn't a playable character, she was a character in one of my favorite games as a child, Little Nemo the Dream Master.


Princess Camile appears in both the video game and the anime movie!

Aerith is a female character from my favorite Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy 7.

In addition to having an interesting story and role, I really like her musical theme. When I think of Final Fantasy 7, Aerith's theme is the first piece of music that comes to my mind.

Growing up, girls were always so rare in video games to me, that I always found girl characters alluring. Whenever I had the chance, I tried out girl characters when they were playable. One of the first girl characters I played, aside from Samus Aran (unwittingly of course), was Chun Li.

I always kinda felt sorry for her, though, especially when she was knocked out and I heard her scream as she fell to the floor. "Ah! Ah! Ah!" Still, she had very powerful kicks and signature moves.

And who can talk about female Street Fighter characters without mentioning Cammy?

I was excited when this female character was introduced in Super Street Fighter. Up until then the only female character was Chun Li.

From the Samurai Shodown series, I really liked Nakoruru, and her sister Rimururu.

Something I really liked about the Samurai Shodown series is the fact that each character has control of some element or weapon. Nakoruru was given an eagle, Mamahaha, and Rimururu was given control of ice. Nakoruru and Rimururu were kinda sort of like the "nature sisters" in the game.

Mai Shiranui was my favorite girl character from the Fatal Fury/King of Fighter's series.

Something I have noticed is how female characters are often sexualized. I swear what attracted me to Mai was her use of fans and the cherry blossom motif.

Finally, a latent character in the Super Mario series, Rosalina.

Rosalina appeared in the Mario Galaxy series. She always struck me as a more mature, more serious, less girly version of Princess Peach.

Welp, that about does it for this post!

Related Post:
A Shout Out to the Women In My Life

A Shout Out to the Women In My Life

I guess today is some sort of day for women I don’t know about? (Women stuff keeps coming up on my Facebook news feed.) So here’s to the women who have shaped my life.

Thanks mom, for giving me life.

Thanks to my Tia Alicia for being my 2nd mom.

Thanks to my sisters Rocio and Sarah for always being there for me, even after a fight.

Thanks to Ms. Saavedra for having patience with me (2nd grade), thank you Ms. Falk, for taking me and my sister to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (3rd grade).

Thank you Ms. Anthony and Ms. Kitch for praising my musical inclination (4th grade).

Thank you Ms. Singer for teaching me Japanese and for telling me about the Jet Program (HS).

Thank you Ms. V, for believing in me, and showing me I could do better; thank you for pushing me to go to college, helping me to choose, apply for, and get financial aid for the university of my choice. Thank you for coming to pick me up that twilight, being the shoulder for my mother to cry on, and driving me to Stockton for my freshman orientation.

Nicole, thank you for being there when I needed you the most. I wouldn’t be who I am without your help.

Thank you Carmen Matty, for guiding me through the Study Abroad process.

Thank you, Ms. Okamoto, for being my Japanese host mother. Thank you for being my mother at my wedding. Thank you for being a host-grandmother to my children.

Aki, thank you for accepting me and loving me as I am, for choosing me as your life partner and being the mother of my children.

Yuka and Naoko, thank you for accepting me as your brother in-law.

Reiko, thank you for accepting me as your son.

A big thank you to all the sisters and hermanas at church who helped raise me. (And you know who you are.)

Thank you to all the batchans who decided to adopt me as their own.

And to any other woman in my life I missed, thank you. Feel free to chew me out in the comments if I missed you. ^_^;
Is there a day for men? Cuz there’s a shit ton of them I’d like to thank as well! :-D