Family Journal: June 24, 2017

We are nearing the end of our school year, which runs longer than most international schools. It is a busy time for teachers and admin as we close the academic year for summer. I am trying to find time for doing family stuff as I realize the kids are growing quickly and it is important to find a balance among the competing demands on my time in my life. School, jobs around the home, exercise and my health, my relationship with my wife, helping the kids with homework, reading, etc.

I had almost the perfect Father’s Day last Sunday. I got up early as I do most days and got some work done with a cup of coffee. Writing relaxes me and starting my day with some time reflecting and thinking is good for my psyche. Unfortunately, it is the peak performance time for my brain and so it is all downhill the rest of the day. Owen’s father’s day gift to me was a ride up into the hills of the Minoh Quasi-National Park. I am doing more and more cycling lately and really want to get a good road cycle. The forests and hills of the park which is about 10 minutes from our home are such a refuge from the megapolis (Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe) of 20 million people. As you can see in the video above, the calming green and dramatic slopes make it an ideal place for cycling.

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Oliver doing drills with the International Soccer School of Senri (ISSS)

Waking up from an afternoon nap, Nadia prepared a delicious dinner in my honor. The highlight was a glass of “noble rot” (a late harvest botrytis grape) dessert wine from South Africa, accompanied by a raspberry pie. After dinner, the kids and I played a game of baseball in the park. They love baseball and I am so pleased we can enjoy the Kralovec family tradition of Sunday afternoon batting practice/baseball game. My coaching of Ocean in an elementary baseball club really helped her appreciate the sport. We are hoping to catch an MLB game while in the US this summer.

Oliver’s team won the intramural soccer league this week. The final game went to penalty kicks and Oliver’s shot in the top part of the goal, was the first goal during penalties. He enjoys soccer immensely. I am looking forward to coaching him this winter on the middle school basketball team.

Nadia was so happy with the professional cleaning done on our house yesterday. Inside, the kitchen and shower room were cleaned and outside, the walls of the house. The change is amazing, as the stove looks new. The support wall looks great after years of mold and algae were taken off the rocks.

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Finally, I am posting a video of Ocean singing with her friends. Elementary music teacher, Daniel Ligon gave the kids a performance day in the class on Thursday. My daughter Ocean is in an informal after school singing club with her friends. She loves performing and a special thanks to Daniel.

 

Ocean's performance

Oliver & Ocean in Swim Carnival

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A third place finish in the father-son relay!

Our school held its annual swim carnival yesterday. We are fortunate to have an indoor swimming pool at the school. The architect did a good job by having a natural light come into the pool, despite it being below ground level. The elementary school students competed in over 60 races in the afternoon. Parents and students alike were entertained by the races. I was the starter for many of the races and so you can hear my voice in the videos below.

The first video is Oliver’s 25-meter freestyle race. There are a couple of regular swimmers in the school, so Oliver held his own and earned a ribbon. There is no need to point him out in the video as he is in the lane nearest to me.

Ocean is competing in the next video in the 25-meter fin race. The students wear fins and start in the water. She has nice form and I think finishes second or third in the race.

The highlight for me was the father-son relay race. The fathers started on the blocks and at the half-way point, picked up the sons and dragged them holding onto those foam worms. There was a bit of confusion at the start and we all started at slightly different times. It was very funny and Nadia got a good laugh at us trying to swim.Oliver and I went to dinner last night to celebrate. It was good to spend time with him alone.

 
Both Ocean and Oliver earned ribbons in the relays and solo races. It is nice that they learned to swim and feel comfortable in the water. They also have good attitudes towards competition, trying their best and being positive about athletic competition.

Oliver Finishes Elementary School

The International Baccalaureate curriculum requires students to demonstrate their learning at the end of their elementary school with an exhibition. The students dive deep into a topic, and this year, Oliver’s grade 5 class looked at the push and pull factors causing migration around the world. It is a very relevant topic in today’s world. The video above is the opening speech. Oliver was a bit nervous but did a good job.

Besides introducing their topics, the students sang a couple of songs and showed the video of the process of the exhibition. They then went to their booths where parents and students could ask them questions about their topic.

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Oliver focused on Libya and the perilous journey of refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Italy. His research led him to look at dictators around the world and how oppressive governments push people to migrate.

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Oliver is growing up and like his grandfather, Popa and his mother who are both quite social. He loves spending time with his friends. I snapped this picture of him riding around the neighborhood with one of his classmates. Our house is one story above ground level with a garage underneath, hence the view from above.

Congratulations Oliver! We love you!

WJAA Volleyball Champions

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(I am catching up on blogging this weekend.

Owen’s middle school “B” team won the Western Japan Athletic Association volleyball championship on May 20. This was his first year out for the sport and he really enjoyed it. The “A” team also won their division. Both teams are pictured above.

He was the captain of the “B” team although he could have been a substitute for the “A” team. It was his first year and he wanted to play more and when the coach gave him the choice, Owen chose to start and lead the team. It was a good experience for him.

Owen loves sports and played baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball this year. I am glad we are at a small international school where he can play different sports, not specialize like many students have to in the USA to even make the team, and he can make the teams. His team won first in the WJAA in all sports except basketball, where they finished third. I would like to thank athletic director Pete Heimer, and coaches Mike McGill, Rodney Ray, Michael Routh and Nakamura sensei for their work with Owen this year!

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Family Journal: June 10, 2017

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I have been super busy with school as we are approaching the end of the year, so I have not been posting as much as usual. Yesterday, Oliver, Ocean, Nadia, Kenta and I biked to Expo ’70 park. We spent the morning walking around the park while Nadia and Ocean shopped in the mall. The park is a huge green space near our house in the north of Osaka. It was the site of the Exhibition 1970, similar to the world fairs they used to hold in the 19th and 20th centuries. The park today is a multi-use area with fields for playing sport, playgrounds, a couple of museums, some nature areas, etc. Behind the boys is a massive work of art built for the expo, called “Tower of the Sun”. 47 years later, I wonder what they were thinking, although it is quite distinctive. We met up for lunch at the food court in the mall and then biked home. A really nice time!

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Ocean right before the conference

Thursday we went to Oliver and Ocean’s student-led conferences. You can see the videos of Ocean going through her learning on our family YouTube channel.

It is so funny that the kids get really nervous and excited for showing us what they have been doing in school. Oliver will be heading to middle school next year and I think it will be a good change for him. Being with the same teacher all day must be hard for him and the teacher. The moving around and different teaching styles will help him. However, the challenge of staying organized will be tough for him.

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My new favorite drink in Japan

The convenience stores always a huge variety of cold drinks they come out seasonally. I discovered the “Relax Orange – Orange + Jasmine”. It was the perfect refreshment on a bike ride on Thursday night. It is not very sweet and the jasmine gives it a nice aroma and after taste. It will be replacing the “Litchi + Salt”, which is a spring drink.

Finally, the weather in May and early June has been perfect! It feels like that Mediterranean sunshine, with bright blue skies. The nights and mornings are cool, however, the humidity feels like it is lurking. The summer in Osaka is oppressively hot and wet. I often go to the university for meetings and I snapped the picture below. The Spanish-style buildings and Chinese fan palms give it a California feel.

 

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Academic building off the main lawn at Kwansei Gakuin University

 

“Pachinko” book review

 

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The narrow streets of Osaka’s Korea town, Tsuruhashi

This book is right “in my wheelhouse” in many ways, so of course, I liked it. I enjoy historical fiction, the story takes place in Osaka, where I live, and expatriates play a role in some of the stories.  Author Min Jin Lee is Korean-born but raised from age 7 in New York. Her book brings attention to the discrimination Korean immigrants faced and are facing, in Japan, still today.  It follows four generations of a Korean family, starting in a fishing village in Busan in 1912 and ending in Yokohama in the late 1980s.

Many Koreans immigrated to Japan from when Japan annexed Korea in 1910 through to the Korean War in 1953. Over 2 million Koreans came to Japan, but most repatriated to their ancestral homes following the end of World War II. They were treated very badly in Japan, not being able to find jobs or good housing. The book really gives you the sense of how tough they had it, always on the brink of starvation and struggling to get ahead. Adding to their misery, life in Korea at the time was probably worse, so they were stuck in Japan. The Korean people had been through a lot in the 20th century, and even today, the misery continues for the North Korean people.

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yaki-niku (grilled meat) restaurant in Tsuruhashi

Today there are about 800,000 Korean residents in Ikuno-ku, a ward in the southeast of Osaka. It is the area in Japan with the most Korean immigrants and their descendants.   As you can see in my top photo, it is a rather poor area, with narrow streets, older buildings, etc. It reminded me a bit like a typical Southeast Asian city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, but of course, somewhat cleaner and more organized, because this is Japan. We went to dinner a couple of weeks ago at a well-known Korean restaurant (second photo). We heard people in the streets speaking Korean. It is a really cool area to walk around and explore.

 

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The main avenue in Tsuruhashi

 

The title of the book, Pachinko, is a Japanese gambling game, something like a slot machine. They are quite popular in Japan, but like casinos, they have a reputation of being associated with organized crime. It was one of the few industries that Koreans could find employment. Several characters in Lee’s story become rich through owning pachinko parlors.

The book mentioned the burakumin (hamlet, or village people), which is a lower caste of people from the feudal era in Japan. I had never heard of this group, but apparently, they are still around today. I need to learn more about them.

In summary, Pachinko is a good story and brings attention to the Korean community in Japan. Lee has a good understanding of Japan, having lived here, and knows the Koreans here. I highly recommend the book.

 

Hanshin Tigers Defeat Ham Fighters

Tigers score! Itoi RBI single

Owen, Oliver and I enjoyed watching the Tigers beat the Fighters, 4-2 last night at Koshien Stadium in a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. It was the first time we witnessed a victory by the home team in the 3 years we’ve been attending games. Hanshin improved to 30-21, still 1 game behind Hiroshima Carp in the Central League. The Fighters are now 22-29 and in fifth place, of six teams, in the Pacific League.

The game was also special because it was one of the 16 interleague games the Tigers will play this season. There is a short span of games in the middle of the season that the two leagues play each other. I wish there was more because with only 6 teams per league, playing the same five teams regularly is boring. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the “Babe Ruth” of NPB, Shohe Otani who is rehabilitating from a foot injury with their farm club. They also have one of the best names in sports, Nippon Ham Fighters. Nippon Ham is a processed foods company (think Kraft), that owns the team. They play in Sapporo, the capital of the northern island of Hokkaido. For most of their history, they were the second team in Tokyo, sharing the same stadium of the richest club, the Yomiuri Giants, but moved north in 2004. I like that they represent Hokkaido and play a slate of regional games on the island. Sharing Tokyo Dome with the most popular team in the league must have been tough. We’ll try to see Otani play later in the season at the Pacific League Kansai-based team, the Orix Buffalos.

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As always, the best part of the game was spending time with my sons and our friend Kenta. To get to the stadium via public transport, we ride our bicycles about 2 kilometers to the train station. We take it to the center of Osaka and then take the express over to Nishinomiya, which is between Osaka and Kobe. It takes about an hour to get to the stadium from our house. On game days, Hanshin Railways run cars specifically for fans going to and from the stadium. It is a comfortable way to get to the game and it does not feel crowded, despite lots of people.

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Only in Japan – the baseball pizza ($7.60) 

 

As you can see in the video on this post, my favorite player for the Tigers, Yoshio Itoi, had a good game with the RBI single. Itoi is similar to Bryce Harper with his power and athleticism. He has a lot of range in center field, in the leadoff spot he hits for average and steals bases, but also has the power to go deep. He is an exciting player to watch.

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Press Row at Koshien Stadium 

 

I am always curious about the import players. The guys who end up in Japan are the fringe Major League players. These players usually excel in the top minor league (AAA) but are not good enough, or lucky enough, to stay with the MLB team for long. For example, the Hanshin closer, Rafael Dolis. He pitched 44 innings for the Chicago Cubs in 2013 before being demoted and then traded. He never made back to MLB with attempts in the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers. The 29-year old Dominican then gets to be the closer here in Japan and making good money. Or take Brandon Laird, the third baseman and #3 hitter for the Fighters. He played 53 games over three seasons with the Yankees and Astros. Brandon had a key hit in the World Baseball Classic this year playing for Mexico. His brother Gerald, was a back up catcher on the Detroit Tigers for a couple of seasons.

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Brandon Laird 

 

It is an entertaining atmosphere at the stadium due to the enthusiasm of the fans. They like to sing songs for players and the team throughout the game. They also like the routine of the 5th inning Asahi beer toast, the janken (rock,scissors, paper) scoreboard games, releasing of balloons during the seventh inning stretch, etc.