Reiwa: The Next Imperial Era for Japan

A little after 11:30 this morning, productivity in Japan came to a halt as people tuned in to watch the country's chief cabinet secretary unveil the name of the next imperial era. This is something that is generally only seen once or twice in a person's lifetime, and is something that affects just about every document that gets written in the country. Unlike most countries in the world, Japan has two official date systems: the Gregorian calendar, and the 元号 (read as "gengo") Imperial era. Much to the surprise of many, the next era's name will be 令和 (read as "Reiwa"), meaning "fortunate harmony".

Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the name of new era, Reiwa

In my neighbourhood the new name was met with a bit of confusion, as the majority of people expected the next era to start with some form of "Kei" rather than "Rei", but soon everyone was on board given the general simplicity of the characters. For me it'll be quite easy to write as the first character, 令, is the same as in my wife's name. The 和 is also similarly easy as it's the second character in 昭和 (read "shōwa"), the era I was born in. Traditionally when a new emperor is crowned, the 元号 that denotes the era is changed. There are also times in history when the era name was changed after a large natural disaster or when an unpopular emperor wishes to recast the latter half of their reign. There have been close to 250 eras since this tradition began some 1300 years ago, two dozen of which I can name. This new era begins on May 1st, coronation day for the next emperor of the country.

This means the Japanese calendar will go like this:

平成31 4月 30日 - April 30, 2019
令和1 5月 1日 - May 1, 2019

The Japanese calendar dates are used on all official documentation, particularly if it is related to money and/or the government. All of my mortgage documents, for example, show the year I signed as being 平成29 or 平成30, with the final payment taking place in 平成65, even though everyone knew that the current emperor had signalled his intentions to step down ahead of these dates. Fortunately we will not need to go back to the bank to update the paperwork for the new era, but we will need to remember that 平成65 is actually 令和34 which will be in 2053 … assuming that Emperor Naruhito is still in good health at the age of 93 and has not stepped down for his son Hisahito to take over.

As one would expect, this semi-regular confusion around dates has lead to some people calling for the abolition of this "imprecise" calendaring system for the full adoption of the Gregorian calendar that is used across much of the globe. Given the cultural propensity to hold onto tradition, there is little chance that Japan will completely step away from using 元号 in the near future. The idea that Japan is living in the future or otherwise throwing caution to the wind by forever living for tomorrow is terribly inaccurate. Like many countries a long history and deep sense of pride1, most adults are generally conservative and follow traditions. The culture has certainly evolved over the course of its history, as one would expect, but not at the expense of what's been considered good from the past.

When the next emperor is crowned it will be akin to a new year for people across the country. Some will make "resolutions", just as people might for January 1st, and others will choose not to. One thing is for certain, though: everyone will appreciate the incredibly long Golden Week holiday this year. In my case, I get to clock off work on Friday April 26th and not do a thing for the day job until the morning of Tuesday May 6th. Six days of paid national holidays, and more than 65% of the country's employed people will take advantage of it.


  1. The average person that I've spoken to is very proud to be Japanese and have a deep respect for the culture and history of the country. The imperialist expansions across Asia and into the Pacific during the first half of the 20th century are generally regarded as terrible mistakes that must never be repeated. Only once have I met someone who felt the country needed to go into Korea again to "bring peace to the region" … which would do anything but.

Five Things

Ten days ago the spring equinox ushered in hope that the winter weather would not return until Christmas, but this didn’t stop a 5-minute bout of snow and hail from falling in the afternoon while I tried to enjoy a few moments of peace in a nearby park. Fortunately the unwelcome precipitation and colder temperatures did not interfere with my can of Kirin vodka.

One of the many things that I find interesting about the weather in this part of the world is it’s sheer unpredictability. When I moved to Japan in 2007 the forecasts were uncannily accurate right down to the hour. As technology got better, the forecasts became less accurate and often plain wrong. This culminated last summer when people started to joke that if the forecast was sun, you’d best carry an umbrella rather than a parasol. Last year I blamed this on the software, as it stands to reason that if things were better before the technology became more complicated, then clearly the technology is at fault. Turns out the actual issue was an unseasonably mild series of seasons between 2006 and 2009, making the weather much more predictabile than normal.

Oops.

That said, it’s time for another instalment of Five Things, so here we go!

The Kids Ain’t Happy

Today, March 31st, is the last day of vacation for kids across the country as tomorrow marks the official start of the new school year. Advertisements on TV and in the papers have been pushing hard all the things that kids will apparently need to succeed this year. Stationery, books, backpacks, clothes, computers, and even cell phone accessories have all been peddled at kids and their parents without a hint of shame from the resellers. Back when I lived in Canada I would often make use of the back to school sales1 to pick up pens, notebooks, and usually some new computer hardware. Fortunately I see little reason to buy into the false notion that sales at this time of year are any better than what one might find on a random Tuesday.

Companies are in business to make money, by sell things at darn near cost.

Blogging Daily is Really Hard …

… unless you talk to yourself (or your dog) a lot. One might be surprised by how many posts on here were the result of a “conversation” with Nozomi. Then again, maybe people wouldn’t be surprised by this in the least.

Unsubscribed

After yesterday’s post, I decided to unsubscribe from every news site that has perpetuated the false narratives and siren calls regarding politicians and mudslingers in the US and Europe. The loss of credibility has made it hard to take anything these sites have published recently with any seriousness unless it was clearly marked as “celebrity gossip”2. I’ll reassess this lack of attention in a couple of months time. Until then, I’ll use the extra time saved by not reading news sites for something more productive.

Ubuntu 19.04 Beta Is Out!

With just a few weeks to go before the official release, Canonical has pushed out a beta of their upcoming 19.04 operating system. There are a number of bug fixes, performance improvements, and general polishings that have made this update one that I’ve eagerly looked forward to, so getting the beta installed and tested will show me whether I’ll want to take the plunge and upgrade the work notebook on day one or wait a month for the first point release.

If you’re interested in kicking the beta tired, the ISO can be downloaded directly from Canonical here.

No More Electron “Apps”, Please

I understand that a lot of developers think that JavaScript and other web technologies can do anything, but I would like to respectfully ask for my RAM back. 2.6GB of physical memory3 consumed for a text editor with zero open documents is a little excessive, but not unique. Let’s go back to writing applications in the “less cool” languages.


  1. Back to school would have been in August, as the school year there runs from September to June.

  2. Nicholas Cage is in the news again? This can’t be good …

  3. Physical, not virtual memory.

Been Had

It's not too often that I write posts that talk about politics anymore but, since the release of the Mueller Report a lot of the news organizations I once read on a daily basis have gone silent on the sitting president of the United States. There is still the occasional article here and there, but gone is the fever pitch, the pitch forks, and the forking priorities1. Given the adamant insistence these news organisations had just two weeks ago about Trump's ties with Russia, I am left wondering how accurate these depictions were now given the crickets that have taken up residence on the websites that screamed for two years about the injustice of a widely unpopular person leading the most powerful nation in the history of humanity. Where is this fervour now? Was the rage just a sham to boost page views? Have we all been had?

There's no question in my mind that Trump and his motley crew of enablers have done questionable things, lied incessantly2, and made the world a more dangerous place. That said, the radio silence from the various news sources that I read makes me wonder just how much of what they've reported was presented accurately and without the convenient bias that makes it possible to hide, bury, or otherwise obscure the whole picture behind an event. What's odd is that in addition to the radio silence, there appears to be more articles about the large number of people crossing the southern border in the US, giving credibility to a long-standing claim that Trump has been making for two years. It is as though these news sites are trying to give the appearance of being balanced in their reporting despite the two years of overtly negative reporting about anything and everything related to the United States.

Again, I wonder if we have all been had, and for what purpose. Ad revenue? An attempt to defrock a wanna-be dictator?

This post will likely come across as less cohesive than the general stream-of-consciousness articles on this site because I'm genuinely troubled by what I see in the news media. It's always been a challenge to separate the signal from the noise. However, if these last few years of siren calls and "exclusives" have been intentionally painted in such a way as to drive traffic at the expense of accuracy, then I'm going to question the accuracy of everything that I've read. Not just the articles about the United States, but those involving the various societal and political issues in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and South America. How much of what is reported is real? How much is blown out of proportion? Despite my best efforts to understand the world from many angles, there's only so much time in the day. If I can't trust that my sources of information are accurate, then why continue to give them the benefit of the doubt?

I strongly believe in "read, but verify". Verification often involves reading a corroborating article on a different site. Echo chambers do exist, though, and this could result in a misunderstanding about how accurate a story is. If the left-leaning media organisations have over-played their hand, then the unexpected result of the Mueller Report could signal the end for many of these organisations.


  1. Forking for this last item being a homonym for something else.

  2. Often without reason. This is the most damning of all, as a person who lies when they're innocent is often considered guilty of other things regardless of reality.

When Everyone's Asleep

Almost twenty ago, when it was possible to get by on three hours of sleep before working a 12-hour shift, I would often go for a drive late at night in order to step away from the computer and clear my head. This was back when I still lived in Hamilton and worked at an appliance repair place in town. The days would be spent at the day job, and the evenings would be spent playing Age of Empires or writing software for Palm handhelds. By midnight I would be tired of looking at a screen, sore from a lack of movement, and generally bored of being at home. So, having no other commitments, I'd choose an elaborate driving route to get a cup of coffee from a Tim Horton's somewhere within a 60km radius.

Late Night Drive

My favourite route would involve driving from my apartment to a nearby highway, heading north to Oakville some 35km away, buying a large two-cream, no sugar coffee for $1.75, then driving right back to Hamilton. If I was thinking through a problem or otherwise uninterested in sleep, I'd stay on the QEW1, sometimes travelling another 30km to the suburban cities of Beamsville or beyond. If I wasn't already on my way back home by 2:00am, I'd find a place to turn around and head home, knowing that I'd need to be in bed by 3 in the morning if I wanted to be back to work by 7:30 to open the shop and get things ready. These night drives were incredibly relaxing given that the vehicle I drove at the time didn't have a working stereo. With just the sound of the engine and the tires on the pavement, the mind was free to process the stresses of the day, or think through some programming problem, or wander off to some other place as the world went by2.

The drive, while terribly wasteful in terms of money and pollution, was quite therapeutic. No matter how much stress I might have felt at the start of the journey, the anxieties and pressures were always reduced by the end of the trip. This, in addition to being just 20 or so at the time, is most likely what made the power naps until sunrise possible.

In Japan these sorts of drives can be attempted, but they're nowhere near as enjoyable. Highways in this country have too many red lights. The only way to escape the endless stop-and-go is to use some of the toll expressways that cost about $0.50 per kilometre. The trips in my youth could see me on the roads for two or three hours. That would translate into a $60 joyride in Japan … or a 45km journey that involved 90 minutes of waiting for a light to change. Instead what I do now when it's time to unwind and everyone's asleep is read a book or play a quick game of 囲碁3 against a computer. It doesn't get me out of the house, but it works just as well.


  1. The Queen Elizabeth Way, a rather wide highway that goes from Niagara Falls to Toronto and beyond.

  2. I always paid enough attention to the road, given that the average speed on a Canadian highway is anywhere between 110km and 120km per hour.

  3. Igo (or go), the classic Asian strategy game.

I'm Not Blocking Ads

The number of websites and domains that I cannot visit continues to grow as advertising networks acquire new domains and digital publications put up inaccurate messages like the one below. When I see messages like this, I generally close the tab and make a note to not visit the site again as it does neither of us any good. The publisher doesn't want to send a couple of hundred kilobytes from their servers to my browser without getting far more information about me than is necessary, and I outright refuse to allow invasive, processor-intensive JavaScript written by unscrupulous individuals to be run without so much as a glance at the code. Ads I'm fine with, though, as this has been the primary source of income for websites since the 90s. If I didn't want to see any form of advertisement, I wouldn't even allow images from websites that were not already part of my trustworthy domains list.

Ad Blocker Message

The idea that "every visitor blocking domains is a content thief" is patently absurd and should be blindly obvious even to digital publications that rely heavily on advertising revenues. What I find troubling about messages like this isn't so much that someone thought that guilting a person into allowing ads might work1, but that someone hasn't considered a better way to make use of the narrow window of opportunity that continues to exist. The picture of the kitten had to come from somewhere, right2? So what's preventing websites from using semi-static links to generic advertisements? This is what we did 15 years ago with a great deal of (initial) success.

Connection Refused

This drum has been beaten a number of times in the past, but I am not at all keen on random companies following me around the web, regardless the reason. Showing targeted advertisements does not "add value to my reading experience". Fingerprinting my browser in order to build a history of what websites and specific pages I've visited without prior consent is not at all permitted, and I challenge anyone to convince me why it this isn't something that is disabled by default and we much individually choose to opt into3. Does this mean that visiting an article about this year's upcoming Lenovo notebooks can't have ads on it? Not in the least.

If I were to run an advertising network that made the bulk of its money collecting and selling information about website visitors while also presenting semi-meaningful advertisements that fit into specific boxes, this is what I would do:

  1. sell "generic" advertisement space for a fraction of whatever the average real-time bidding price for a site or genre happens to be
  2. have websites dedicate a certain amount of storage space to keep static advertisement images local
  3. have plugins for the site's CMS (be it WordPress, Joomla, Moodle, or what-have-you) regularly sync keywords from the site's pages with generic-enough advertisements
  4. have the JavaScript that collects people's data and shows ads replace the generic advertisements with targeted ones
  5. profit a little bit more

People who block domains will then continue to see ads, though they may not be the most targeted. If collecting as much data is absolutely crucial, which many seem to believe is true, then perhaps the images could be served a little more dynamically with the CMS plugin recording the browser information at the same time as an advertisement is requested. That data can then be sent back to the ad network for analysis. IP addresses and basic browser details are generally part of every web request already, so it's not like we're giving up an excessive amount of personal or private data this way.

Perhaps by doing this the asinine little "please let our dozen revenue streams track you!" banners can go away and sites can continue to earn a bit of revenue from people like me who are wholly untrusting of disrespectful website code.


  1. I'm sure this does work for some people, but anyone who is easily guilted into doing something a website tells them will probably not use an Ad Blocker browser plugin or outright block domains like I do.

  2. Looking at the source CSS, the image is coming from a static file on the web server itself, which naturally would clear the domain blocking list if I can access the site to begin with.

  3. As one might expect, I have serious trust issues with opt-ins and opt-outs as I believe most of these are just placebos to cover up the fact that our data is being siphoned/stolen/sorted/sold regardless what level of permission we give a web service.

Opening a Can of Worms

Yes, it's another 10Cv5-related blog post. This time I get to ramble incoherently about one of the first functions that was coded into the API but has not yet appeared in the beta due to the can of worms that was opened when the feature was first written, which ultimately resulted in me choosing to create v5 rather than building on top of v4: following websites.

One of the first thoughts that I had when reading through a lot of the IndieWeb documentation was something like: "This would all be a whole lot simpler if our RSS readers were also our blogging tools". With that thought firmly implanted, I started sketching out how an RSS reader might look if it also had facilities like you'd find in a blogging application like MarsEdit. Images of late-90s-era Netscape UIs bounced around in my head, where single applications tried really hard to do five things but accomplished none. A reading application is no more a place to write than a novel … right?

The more I thought about this the more I saw the RSS reader as being more a part of the social elements than any other. A syndication feed of "informal posts" like one would find on any modern social network is not that different from an RSS application where every update is shown in the same scrollable view. This is essentially how the big social networks operate today, with personal items from friends and family being broken up by a blog post from a website we're interested in. On App.Net, a person could have syndication feeds from websites appear in the timeline by creating an account, hooking up an RSS feed via PourOver, and following that "bot" account. This works to a certain degree, but it annoying as heck for anyone who wants to follow a bunch of websites. As someone who has created social networks, having a bunch of bot accounts is a lose-lose proposition. These things consume far more resources than even the most expressive fans of the platform and give nothing of value back to the people who use the system. Oh, sure, many people can follow an account named @BBC for posts from various BBC feeds, but there's no interaction possible beyond "comments to nowhere". Then there's the problem of "who owns the ever-growing collection of content in the database?" Is it the person who created the syndication account? Is it the website owner? How can a website owner even know that someone on a tiny social network like 10C created an account in their name?

Looking at the notebook where I first started sketching out how a feature like this might work, I asked 14 hard questions about content ownership, ancillary distribution, and phantom archival. At the end of the day, I did not want these bot accounts on 10C. The risk of copyright problems was just too great, and this was before the recent EU legislation on copyright was passed into law.

Having RSS feeds from external sites appear in our timelines is an attractive idea, though. So why not give people the ability to "follow" websites? The RSS feed would be read on a per-account basis and kept only for that account. As the RSS feed cycled, older items would fall off the end and newer items would appear at the front. Nothing would be saved in the database and, if a website disappeared from the Internet or otherwise stopped distributing their content via the old standards, the information held by 10C would naturally expire and disappear. Content ownership would continue to to be 100% controlled by the content owner, as it should be. As these posts would appear in a social timeline, they could be commented on. IndieWeb standards makes it possible to send a WebMention to the content owner's site, letting them know that someone has written a comment. If that site follows IndieWeb standards, a handshake will take place and the comment will be recognized. The 10C database would hold onto my comment, along with a link to the source content that I commented on, but not the other person's post data, as it does not belong to me.

This is how people using self-hosted versions of 10C will be able to communicate with each other in a decentralized fashion, and this is how people using 10C will be able to communicate with people using a self-hosted WordPress blog, or micro.blog, or TheGuardian.co.uk … if they were to ever embrace some IndieWeb interactivity.

The can of worms is still very much open, and there are a number of issues that still need to be handled, such as parsing really bad XML and JSON syndication feeds. That said, the technical hurdles are always the easiest to overcome. The complexity is always in how people respond and react. 10C's approach to RSS is rather conservative and perhaps a bit over-cautious, but it may be the most logical way forward given how governments around the world are slowly closing off the web.

This feature will be going live on the v5 Social Beta site in the next few days, and it will be interesting to see how well it operates when there is more than a single person using it.

Alternatives

A number of technology-related roadblocks have prevented me from completing work at the day job in an expected amount of time this past week and it makes me wonder how different life would be if I were not someone like me. These issues, while not terribly complex to resolve, did require a little imagination to work through. One involved virtual file management for a key part of my day-to-day. Another consisted of restoring a 288GB database onto a 100GB storage device without deleting any data. A third required creating a working database snapshot from a deteriorating server located somewhere in Japan where the only place to store the backup was on an unreliable hard drive that typically resulted in a corrupted file. All three of these had something to do with SQL Server on Linux, but none were specifically problems with SQL Server or Linux. The problems were just luck of the draw, and the universe decided that I should tackle all three in the same 3-day period.

There are a number of IT professionals in Japan I know who would need at least a week to resolve each one of these problems, and half of them would most likely give up and look for shortcuts before lunchtime. This isn't how I do things, though, as it's important that technology solves problems more often than it creates new ones.

So what would life be like if I wasn't a stubborn dolt with a love of databases and logic who battles the endless highs and lows that sit between accomplishment and burnout? Simpler, perhaps.

There are times when I'd love to have some TV technology like the sliding wormhole from Sliders or the portal gun from Rick & Morty in order to see what other versions of me are doing in other dimensions. Could I find a me that chose to become an architect? Could I find a me that opened a decent coffee & sandwich shop? Could I find a me that became a celebrity of some sort? Infinite dimensions would make for infinite combinations of possibility1, and seeing "what could have been, given slightly different circumstances" would be incredibly interesting to explore … for a short while. After a week or two I'd lose interest in what different versions of me were doing and would instead look at different versions of human history.

What would the world be like if China colonized the Americas first? What would the world be like if humans did not evolve the ability to speak? What would the world be like if societies had been matriarchal for thousands of years? What would the world be like if we never stopped at the Moon and pushed to send people to Mars and elsewhere after Apollo 17? What would the world be like if Genghis Khan, Napoleon, or Alexander the Great never existed?

So many questions … and no dimension-jumping technology to help answer them. Fortunately there are works of fiction written to consider some of these questions.


  1. the IDIC principle as described by Vulcan philosophy … and many human belief systems as well.

Here Comes the Documentation

System documentation is not something that I tend to spend a great deal of time on. This doesn't mean that I don't have any documentation and I most certainly do not ascribe to a "the documentation is the code!" mentality. As crazy as it may sound, the vast majority of the documentation for my projects, be it 10Centuries or something else, is found in one of the many A5-sized, graph-ruled notebooks. It's in these notebooks that ideas are first described, (literally) sketched, and refined before being transformed into code. Whenever I have one of those "what the heck was I thinking?" moments, I can grab a physical book, flip to the appropriate pages, and get an idea of where my head was at that day.

Unfortunately this doesn't help anyone else who might actually want to use the tools that I create, which was driven home this past weekend when @phoneboy asked me when there might be some sort of resource that he could look at to get his workflows ready for the upcoming switch from the 10C v4 API to the v5 API. Today the first iteration of a public documentation site goes live.

The New Documentation Site

As with just about every first iteration I release, there will be some blank pages and incomplete placeholders. People will wonder why the Contact form is fully operational while something a little more important like the glossary is incomplete1. Some might take a look at the documentation from a phone and see that things are not aligned quite right. Others will find grammar and/or spelling errors and decide the whole thing is untrustworthy. As the person who designed the website in a couple of hours, then wrote the documentation, I accept any critiques that might be levelled at the work. That said, more of the site will be filled out this week as we get closer to the switch from v4 to v5.

So what sort of things are ready on the documentation site?

  1. the Authentication API
  2. the Terms of Use page
  3. the Contact form

That's about it for today. Tomorrow I'll aim to get the Account, Files, Posts, and Search APIs written and published. If there's still time after that, Bookmark and Locker would be good utilities to document, as these could branch out into their own services given the right use cases. So long as the day job does not require more than 9 hours per day this week, it should be feasible to have the first complete set of documentation ready before April … which would be a solid start to encouraging more people to try v5.


  1. This is simple: the Contact form is already built into the API. All I had to do was wire up some of the HTML to make it work. Everything else needed to be researched, written, and/or modified from the (now retired) v4 documentation site.

Five Things

You win some, you lose some. Today I most certainly lost some … storage space. Turns out that when you make use of VirutalBox and want to shrink some drives, you really shouldn't use an XFS file system. After a ridiculous amount of time, I discovered that 430GB of SSD storage cannot be easily recovered because I made the foolish decision of using XFS instead of ext4 when building the Ubuntu SQL Server VM. XFS partitions cannot be shrunk, and the zerofill tool won't even read the file system. Given that the server that's hosting the VMs only has 936GB of SSD storage in total, something tells me I'll be recreating my local SQL Server playground at some point this week and sticking with the defaults a bit more.

Fun? Wow!

Now on with the list …

Lots of Air Traffic Recently

Being on the Pacific side of the continent, there is typically a constant stream of planes flying overhead as people make their way over the ocean. Lately the number of vehicles ferrying passengers to and fro seems to have increased in the skies above my home. This might just be something that I'm noticing more thanks to the darker night sky that Nozomi and I enjoy every night, though.

Imaginary Problems Cause Real Anxiety?

Twice this past week the anxiety monster reared its ugly head after walking the puppy outside over imaginary problems that the mind concocted while in the park. The rational mind dismissed these issues as the fictional nonsense that it was, but the irrational mind refused to let go. This resulted in an inability to calm down until after 2:00am twice in the last seven days. The only good thing that came from this is the Search API that has recently been released for 10Cv5. Not being able to unwind and having a couple of extra hours in a day can give a person incentive to get important work done.

Docs For Sure!

Speaking of 10Cv5, I need to get some documentation out. This week I'll invest the time to make some basic documentation showing how to authenticate, work with the Posts API, and how to change settings for Personas, Channels, and Sites. Having some pages that explain what these things actually are would be useful, too, as there may be some confusion between Accounts and Personas, and Channels and Sites. They're similar, but different in important ways.

Japanese News Priorities

Last week Ichiro Suzuki decided to call it quits and retire from the sport that he loves. There was nary a word about this in any of the European or Canadian newspapers that I read on a daily basis, as might be expected, but every Japanese news program cancelled every non-Ichiro story to dedicate their entire program to his announcement and its "analysis". Given the amount of coverage that the man received, one might think the guy is more popular than the emperor … and maybe this is true. Baseball is very much a part of the country's modern identity.

The Boy Likes Noodles

This weekend the boy was treated with some udon from a popular restaurant in the area. As expected, he couldn't get enough of it. We've been careful of what he eats while we're out and about due to possible allergies and a concern about the high salt content in foods in this part of the country but, as he's already two, we're showing him that there are lots and lots of different kinds of food to enjoy.

Udon.jpeg

Something tells me he's going to be asking for "maru game"1 a lot in the coming months and years.

Fortunately noodle-based restaurants are relatively cheap.


  1. Pronounced "mah-roo gah-may" … more or less.

Body Parts

Over the last couple of months the boy has become quite the talker. He’s always been verbal, but he’s starting to make three and four-word sentences in order to communicate everything he sees to everyone within earshot. He’s particularly interested in trees, leaves, and parts of the body. Sometimes he’ll sit down and point at his knee and say what it is in both English and Japanese, then move on to other easily recognizable bits. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, neck, shoulder, chest, tummy, belly button, hips, bum … and then he’ll ask me a question.

これ何?1

While I generally answer every question he asks, I don’t know how I should teach him to describe his penis or scrotum. Do I use the proper words? Do I use the childish forms? Do I use colloquial terms? Do I continue to avoid answering the question like my parents did for years on end?

The boy can clearly point and describe his ankle, heel, sole, and toes on his feet, yet he doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe all the parts of his body that he’s aware of because I have some deep-seated squirmishness about … what, exactly?

It’s absurd, and I recognize this every time he asks the question. Part of me would like to answer so that he’s better equipped to describe injuries or follow-up questions, or simply to not feel weird about himself. We don’t avoid nudity around each other, as I’ve changed thousands of diapers and given him hundreds of baths. He has seen me go into, and come out of the shower, so he knows that we both have the same basic parts.

Am I avoiding the question because he already likes to shout words like NECK! and SHOULDER! and ELBOW! when we’re out in the park or at a busy mall? I’ll admit that I would be embarrassed if he were walking around a store shouting PENIS! while pointing at himself because he doesn’t yet have the social awareness that some things are better left unsaid in public, and often better said with fewer than 120 decibels.

These are certainly all my problem. A neurosis that accomplishes little beyond (potentially) saving me a moment of public embarrassment and having strangers judge me either as an uncouth father or a threat to my child’s safety. But this asinine anxiety over body parts is clearly something that the boy will pick up on. I should fix my own head on this matter before I inadvertently mess up his.

If only all the world’s problems were as seemingly inconsequential as this one ….


  1. Translated, he’s asking “What’s this?”. I don’t know why he doesn’t ask questions in English given all the other things he can do with the language. That said, he still has time to learn ?