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Tuesday, July 4, 2006

How not to lose your cool with the kids this summer


Special to The Japan Times

July and August are brutally hot across most of Japan, and for parents with young children at home, the challenge is on to somehow enjoy the summer without getting bitten, burned or bummed out.

News photo
The Yukagir Mammoth is on display as part of "Warnings from Mammoth; Burning Forest, Melting Earth," at the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) in Odaiba until Sept. 3. JAPAN TIMES PHOTO

My neighbor's solution was to build a loose replica of the polar bear cage at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, with its joys and limitations. They bought a blowup kiddie pool, filled it with water and bags of convenience store ice, then added their own sunscreen-coated toddlers.

Water play is a good front line defense when the mercury rises, but if you haven't got a pool, yard, or big balcony, you'll need other ways to chill.

While retreating into the shade, why not use the scorching weather as an opportunity to teach your youngsters about global warming? Most kids have heard the phrase but few have any concept of what is at stake. This summer, events around the capital make the topic interesting, accessible and way cool.

The display that had people lining up for hours at Aichi Expo 2005 -- a massive woolly mammoth head, one of the most intact ever exhumed - will be exhibited this summer at the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) in Odaiba. Global warming across the Siberian permafrost made it possible to excavate this astounding tusker, but the show, titled "Warnings from Mammoth; Burning Forest, Melting Earth" spells out the downside of climate change.

The Yukagir Mammoth, named after the area it was discovered, is thought to have been a 4 1/2-ton fully grown male that lived 18,000 years ago. The remains include the head, tusks, cervical vertebrae, as well as skin and a lot of hair.

Miraikan is ideal for kids in the third grade and up, but the facility welcomes all ages with barrier-free access, a special room for changing and nursing babies.

Another place to get cool and collected is the National Science Museum in Ueno, which from July 15 will launch a special exhibition titled "The Mysterious Continent of the South Pole." Highlights include plenty of touching experiences -- "touch a walrus beard!" and "touch a penguin flipper!" -- and displays of polar fossils, marvelous photographs and ice drillings from a million years ago. To make a day of it, combine this trip with a side visit to Ueno Zoo to see if the penguins march around in 35 C weather.

Many big-screen movies seem off-limits to parents with kids, and doubly so for foreign films. "La Planete Blanche," or "The White Planet," however, is a glorious movie no matter what language you speak. Bring a wrap (seriously) -- the film evokes frozen tundra, as does cinema air conditioning -- and marvel at the otherworldly terrain of the Arctic.

Directors Thierry Piantanida and Thierry Ragobert reveal that the Arctic is as foreign to most of us as an undiscovered planet, and suggests that its beauty is fragile and melting. There's little moralizing involved here, however. Many scenes, such as that of a mother polar bear snuggling her two cubs through bitter winter months in a toasty den below the snow, are deeply heart-warming. Better that kind of warming than the global sort, which has landed the polar bear on the Red List of Threatened Species this year.

If mushing out to frigid destinations is too daunting for your dogs, try announcing a snow day. Line up kitchen ingredients and ice cubes to see which bores "a hole in the pole" fastest: sugar, flour, pepper, soy sauce, or salt? Play ice hockey with ice cube pucks and sponges in the bathroom. String together an ice cube necklace (thread a plastic lanyard with large beads, tape each bead down in an empty ice cube tray, pour in water to cover the bead, freeze, then wear. One time-honored Japanese tradition is hand-cranking feathery kakigori (shaved ice). Kakigori machines are available at Tokyu Hands and some toy outlets. Simply pop in ice cubes, turn the handle, and let it snow. Top with lightly sweetened fresh lemon or berry juices.

If all else fails, you could always do the polar bear thing in the bathtub with ice cubes and mint-scented shaving cream for "icebergs." Ice, ice, baby!

"Warnings from Mammoth; Burning Forest, Melting Earth" at Miraikan runs till Sept. 3. For more information call (03) 3570-9151 or visit www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/index--e.html

"The Mysterious Continent of the South Pole" is at the National Science Museum in Ueno, July 15 through Sept. 3. For more information call (03) 3822-0111.


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