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One Son, Four Characters

March 20, 2010   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times The postcard-sized paper my son brought home from school had four imposing Chinese characters written vertically down the middle. It was from a school assignment where the fifth graders each selected a yoji-jukugo, or four-character idiom, that best suited another classmate. […]

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The Three R’s, Japanese Style

March 10, 2009   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — If sound travels 331 meters per second in zero degrees Celsius, and the speed increases 0.6 meters as the temperature increases by one degree, what is the distance between a person and lightning if the person hears the bolt […]

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Identically Distinctive

December 1, 2008 By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — I witnessed a bizarre scene at my son’s primary school earlier this year. A dozen or so school mothers had encircled a teacher and were bowing deeply. They were apologizing after being scolded for chatting too noisily at a field […]

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Homework for the beach

February 11, 2008   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — As I plan our spring vacation, I’m dreading how much homework my 8-year-old son will have. During our winter holiday in Hawaii, too many beach days were cut short by our laboring to get through the inventory of five […]

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For Japanese children, little time to daydream

April 28, 2006   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — Today is Thursday, so I meet my 7-year-old son after school at the bus stop and nag him to walk home quickly so we can make it to soccer practice on time. At home, Yataro changes into his soccer […]

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Are They Too Young to Ride the Trains Alone?

August 15, 2005   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA Newsweek Like most Japanese primary- school students, my son, 6, is expected to get to school on his own. Donned in his uniform, white, rolled-brim hat and navy blue shorts, and carrying a heavy black leather satchel on his back, he rides two trains and a bus for […]

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What the Tsunami Left Behind

March 8, 2013   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The New York Times Rikuzentakata, JAPAN —THE deserted white apartment building tells its story floor by floor. The street level has only gaping open spaces where there were once floor-to-ceiling windows. On the second story, pieces of aluminum protrude across some of those gaps. More metal appears on […]

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In Fukushima, Surreal Serenity

July 23, 2012   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times KORIYAMA, JAPAN — The traditional inn nestled amid the mountainous countryside offered all the luxurious comforts for which these old-style hotels are famous. An elegant and eye-pleasing eight-course dinner was served in our room. The outdoor hot-spring bath had a view […]

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My Un-American Son

July 24, 2009   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — “In America, don’t lay even a finger on anyone,” I tell my 10-year-old son as I pack his bags for summer camp in the U.S. I’m trying to reprogram him so he doesn’t casually shove another child in a […]

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Train to Nowhere

June 24, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA Foreign Policy KORIYAMA, Japan — On the first day of Golden Week, Japan’s string of national holidays that start in late April, I boarded the just reopened bullet train from Tokyo to the quake-struck northeast. I have taken that line many times before without special thought, but this […]

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Departure

June 20, 2009   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — My brother peered into the coffin lined with dry ice and tugged at the sheet of gauze that had frozen onto my grandmother’s cheek. “Let me do it,” I said, pulling the cloth away with the sound of tearing […]

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English Speakers are from Mars

December 6, 2006   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — Despite some predictions that Chinese will become the next worldwide lingua franca, the acceptance of English as the global language, spurred by the spread of the Internet, is here to stay. Fluent English is increasingly expected, rather than respected, […]

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A Battered Nation on the Mend

June 10, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times KESENNUMA, Japan — Imagine seeing your office building swept away in a wave and then spending all night on a freezing rooftop watching your beloved fishing boat on fire drifting back and forth in a murky ocean gone wild. The following […]

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A Month After the Shock, a Different Japan

April 13, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — A surreal chorus of clipped buzzing noises pierced the silence on my rush hour commuter train one morning this week. It was the earthquake warning alarms of the passengers’ cellphones indicating that another temblor was imminent. Everyone grabbed their […]

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Making The Grade

March 20, 2005   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The New York Times Magazine When I started inquiring about cram schools for my 5-year-old son’s primary-school entrance exams, I knew I would be chastised for starting late. It was May, and most children in Tokyo had already been studying a year or two for the tests in […]

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Navigating Japan’s Day of Disaster

March 13, 2011   By KUMIKO MAKIHARA The International Herald Tribune/The New York Times TOKYO — As I sat down with my laptop that evening, some hours after the massive earthquake had struck Japan, my cellphone emitted a grating squeal. It was a signal from the National Meteorological Agency warning that a large aftershock was […]

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