Rubber Duckie

My “Rubber Duckie”

It’s really weird the things you think about and do as you reach the autumn of your years.

One of the great joys of life in Japan is the tradition of taking baths — at home, a public bath house, a hot spring resort or a fitness club. Soaking in a tub is a relaxing and refreshing experience, a habit I adopted during my early visits to Japan. Those of you who visited our former home in Gray Maine will recall the bath/shower room we built based on a modified Japanese design.

Bath time has become a time of thoughtful reflection. While my mind wanders widely as I relax in our home tub, there is one constant element of the experience as my eyes fix on a small bath-time friend, a Rubber Duckie!? I have had it for many years but can’t recall why I have it. But as this duckie prompts many powerful memories of my children I wonder if it may have been salvaged by me from the remains of my past life. Whatever its history, I am certain that its possession reflects a romantic and nostalgic desire to stay connected to my girls who were hugh Sesame Street fans.

Recently, the once silent experience has caused me to break into song, singing lyrics from “Rubber Duckie”:

Rubber Duckie you’re the one
You make bath time lots of fun
Rubber Duckie I’m awfully fond of you
Rubber Duckie joy of joys
When I squeeze you, you make noise
Rubber Duckie you’re my very best friend it’s true
Oh, every day when I make my way to the tubby
I find a little fellow who’s cute and yellow and chubby
Rubber Duckie, you’re so fine
And I’m lucky that you’re mine
Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you

It is not the only Sesame Street song I sing at bath time as the repertoire now also includes “The Rainbow Connection” performed by Kermit the Frog from The Muppet Movie film. My favorite version of the song was a duet recording by Barbara Streisand and Kermit.

The song also has a special place in the Myer family history … we named our vacation home in Bethany Beach Delaware “The Rainbow Connection.” It was a dream come true!

“What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing
And what do we think we might see
Someday we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me”

BTW …. Mark your calendar, January 13 is National Rubber Duckie Day. :-)

The COVID Experience

As we enter the third year of the Covid pandemic I am indeed very grateful for not getting ill with the virus. Nonetheless, I have frankly come close to cracking under the strain of constant mask wearing, self-isolation, social distancing and all the other restrictions.

It has perhaps been especially hard having moved to a distant land with high hopes for a new life adventure. I had anticipated there would be many challenges but was unprepared for the Covid experience. Being deprived of the company of family and friends, the added barriers to building new relationships, and otherwise unable to live a “normal” lifestyle has been disappointing.

Japan’s “New Capitalism”?

With the luxury of time and experience, I enjoy studying and observing the political dynamics at play in Japan. My conclusion: The more things change, the more they remain the same.

The most recent example: Japan’s “New Capitalism.”

Japan’s new prime minister Kishida Fumio’s promised a “New Capitalism,” his big idea to reinvigorate the country’s economy.  Months after his election its meaning is still unclear.

The biggest changes under Mr. Kishida have been rhetorical.  His “New Capitalism” appears to be a collection old ideas and empty buzzwords rather than a dynamic approach and structural reforms to deal with the country’s chronic economic ills and growing inequality.

Independent analysts point to the ghosts of the failed policies of former LDP prime ministers, from the “garden city” concept advocated by Ohira Masayoshi in the 1970s to Abe Shinzo’s so-called “Abenomics” from 2012 to 2020.

With Mr. Kishida’s voter approval ratings near 60%, it would appear that barring a major pandemic-related setback, there is little expectation of any significant change.

Bold words may make good politics, but are unlikely to help the economy.

Setsubun 2022

Setsubun is a season changing festival held on February 2, 3 or 4, the day before “Risshun”, the first day of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar. In 2022 it is celebrated on February 3rd.

Although not a national holiday, the Japanese have been celebrating Setsubun for centuries by performing rituals with the purpose of chasing away evil spirits at the start of spring.

In earlier times it was customary to loudly bang drums while burning dried sardines in order to deter evil spirits from entering your home. Now a common setsubun ritual is the throwing of roasted beans around one’s house. When throwing the beans, you shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, happiness in”) and afterwards pick up and eat the number of beans which corresponds to your age. There are many variants.

But the most widespread custom, with or without other various embellishments, is the eating eho-maki sushi rolls.

Keiko and I have had much fun over the years with Setsubun celebration rituals.* Today we simply and quietly observed Setsubun by eating eho-maki sushi rolls for dinner.

However, like most Japanese customs, we had to follow the Rules about the proper way to eat the eho-maki! The most important thing about eho-maki is the unique way in which you eat it.

First, the eho-maki is not an ordinary sushi roll. There are Seven Gods of Fortune that symbolize wealth and happiness in Japan and this sushi roll is prepared using seven different ingredients representing these Seven Gods of Fortune. The ingredients are wrapped into a very thick roll with rice and seaweed.

Second, you must eat it whole. Failure to finish the role risks losing your good fortune! Considering the roll is about 1-2 inches in diameter and 5-8 inches long, it is easier said than done. Washing it down with ample amounts of sake helps the process.

Third, when eating your eho-maki, stand facing the lucky direction of the year as you wish for prosperity and good health. The lucky direction changes every year. The direction to face while eating your eho-maki in 2022 is north-north-west. And don’t look away!

Fourth, eat in complete silence until you are done! It is believed that speaking while eating could let your luck escape.

If you have not had a Setsubun experience, give it a try. It is a great fun way to celebrate the start of spring!


*My favorite memories are of those we organized at the University of Maine. Check my blog post archives.