Saturday, January 01, 2011

A New Year and a Baby

Well, I am still in Japan and still have reason to write. Japan remains peculiarly repellent, infantile and intellectually vacuous. But personally, I have much to be happy about.

We have a baby. Born a couple of months ago, he has turned me into a walking cliche - I am shamelessly devoted to him, guilty of speaking hours of baby talk, convinced he is the cutest and most lovable thing in the world. My feelings have genuinely surprised me, because I had thought, inasmuch as I had thought about it at all, that I would more or less ignore him until he could do talk or walk or learn. But I have found that even his current modest abilities- the power to cry, feed, poo, pee, laugh, gurgle- seem to me sublime achevements worthy of global recognition.

Fatherhood is a funny thing.

So the wife went back to her hometown to have the baby, which I highly recommend. In fact, the whole experience of the hospital stay, support and nurse care was very positive. The Japanese know what they are doing in this area. Possibly because they have so few babies in her hometown, they were very prepared for mine. The hospital faciltities were excellent. She had her own room, a marvellous room, twice the size of our living room in Yokohama, with attached toilet and sink. The clinic seemed to me to be superb. The staff were professional, kind and attentive - they seemed to have unlimited time and unlimited patience. The nurse who attended my wife the evening after she gave birth, well, I am in awe of her support, advice and practical help. I am, in general, suspicious of things Japanese, but this clinic put me completely at ease. She stayed 5 nights, I was in the room for 2 of them. As for the cost, the usual practice in Japan is for the fee of about 4500 dollars to be taken straight out of the government grant of the same amount.

As for the babe himself, I am happy he has no obvious defects, no third ear, no flapping cowl, no tail, no alien implant under the skin behind the ear. Hard to ask for more at this stage.

The wife's relatives and friends, who came in droves, all had their initial (and in my opinion, absurd) opinions about who he resembled and in what way. His father's eyes, his mother's lips, 30-years-dead great uncle Tsutomu's left ear. Many of these first ideas were cheerfully contradictory but nobody seemed to mind or notice. I guess it's a worldwide woman's birth hobby, this playing with guestimate looks. To me he looked (and still does) merely like a baby, less Japanese than those around him.

My suspicions that the 'who does he resemble game' is a social exercise rather than empirical observation were further confirmed during the visit of Tomiko, the clan's middle-aged and influential social matriarch. She looked at the lad and exclaimed, 'He's the spitting image of his dad'. Her three adult daughters all immediately backed her up, and by the end of the day this idea had become so fixed in the minds of my wife's relatives that it is almost impossible to locate anybody who will admit to ever having a different opinion.

When I pointed out to the boy's grandma that previous to Tomiko's visit she had maintained he looked exactly like her other daughter, the boy's aunt, my mum-in-law matter of factly said,

"That was yesterday"
"So he's changed appearance since yesterday?"
"Of course. They change every day."

Whatever. Considering the fact that there are hardly two people on this green Earth who are more dissimiliar in appearance than myself and my wife's sister, the overnight metamorphosis is noteworth indeed. Myself, rather than believe in the daily magical facial tranformation of infants, I would suggest that the belief that my son is the spitting image of me can be traced, not so much to his actual appearance, but more to the influential social position that Tomiko holds in the family.

I've even wondered whether the whole incident was just a way for Tomiko to inform me as to where the real power lays in the clan.

But I've been told I think too much.

When I sent a pic back to my mate in Yokohama, who is nothing if not an objective observer, who responded, "He just looks like a Japanese baby to me."

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