Wednesday morning, the boys and Mom took a walk over to the Kyoto Imperial Palace grounds, which is close to our house. We were looking for a children's playground that was supposed to be there. The palace grounds are a large public park area; in the center is the old palace, which you can tour by appointment. The palace is from when the Emperor of Japan was based in Kyoto (until 1868). Here is one of the gates:
We found the playground; there were a few swings and seesaws. Most of them were in the direct sun, so the boys didn't really want to play on them. (Did I mention that it is hot? Did I mention that it's ridiculously humid?) I have smart boys. Yes I do. They picked up crow feathers and danced on top of a downed tree trunk. Shady activities.
On the way back down the park to our house, we stopped in the snack bar in the park for kakigori, which is Japanese shaved ice. We shared one mango and one strawberry. Soooo good. It was only 10:30am; but when it's 91 and humid, it just can't be too early for crunchy shaved ice with sugar on top.
Later that afternoon we met V. once again at the ward office. It was time to pick up our health insurance cards and to learn how to pay our premiums. Our family of five will be covered on Japan's national health insurance for a total of about $500 a year. We will pay only 30% of any medical costs here. We also picked up the boys' gaijin cards, which were ready that day (Darrin's and mine will have photos, so they are not ready for 3 more weeks).
Then the lady at the health insurance window points at our kids, and asked if we had been upstairs to learn about the children's welfare programs. We hadn't. The boys were getting a bit impatient waiting for us to finish all this bureaucracy....but we trekked up to the third floor anyway.
V. is talking to the woman at that window, and I'm looking at this handout that's all in kanji, which I can't read...but it has the figure Y13,000 (about $145) on it and V. is saying "every month?" in Japanese to the lady. And I'm thinking to myself, "oh boy, this sounds expensive!" And I also hear him say "13,000 for each child?" and I"m thinking "oh, crap, this is really expensive..." And then V. turns to me in English and translates the conversation: "The Japanese national policy is to pay families 13,000 per month, per child, as a child benefit." Huh...? Are you shocked, too? Apparently Darrin and I are supposed to receive this child benefit--13,000 yen per month for each of our three children. It definitely feels a little weird. Okay, it feels a LOT weird. But as V said, it's in the national budget... and the friendly ladies at the child welfare window didn't bat an eye. It's ours. I hereby promise, you, Japan: We will put every last yen of that benefit right back into the Japanese economy.
After that, we splurged on a cab down to our neighborhood for the last task-setting up a bank account. (Did I mention that it is hot and humid? Did I mention that cabs are air conditioned? Did I mention I have to give back to the economy?) The first bank near our house would not open an account for us because we don't have a hanko (an identity stamp). The second bank was hesitant, too, and in fact V. said the woman was trying her best to dissuade us from keeping our money there ("Oh, we're a small bank....there are not so many branches in Kyoto...we're only open until 3pm..."). Clearly she was uncomfortable, but ultimately, we got the account all set about 40 minutes later (after V had to write my address in both kanji and katakana). And her parting words, (according to V) were to the effect of, "please ask for me if you ever need help here...you are most welcome and I will help you any way I can; here is my card." This bank is really convenient, since it's right around the corner from our house. In these pics you can see us waiting for the account to be set up.
Finally we took the boys up to visit their school for a personal "sneak a peek" and out for dinner later. But this post is too long already. I will post more on that later!