Sunday, 9 June 2013

Foreigners, You Know, For the Kids

Japanese toddler on gaijin lap in okonomiyaki joint
I haven't obscured her face because it was so long ago that I can't imagine her being recognisable today

I have no idea who this child is. I was having dinner with some friends circa 2005, and her parents just walked over, put her in my lap and took a photo. I’m not sure who was more freaked out about the situation, her or me.
I was walking with the man-person recently when a little girl, about five years old, yelled out 外人だ (foreigners!) and broke away from her mother, running over and throwing her arms around my waist. Beaming up at me she pleaded 遊ぼう (play with me)??
It’s been the case for a long time that foreigners, specifically English-speaking foreigners, have been prominently employed in the education field. A lot of kids have happy experiences playing with a fun, cheerful foreigner at an “international pre-school”, English conversation class, baby “let’s sing and play in English” class and of course at elementary school. It’s not surprising that kids see us and assume that we are there to entertain and play with them. What is slightly less understandable is the way adults push children to interact for them. “Ask her where she’s from” the mother on the bus will ask her child in Japanese. The child turns to me and says “where are you from?” in Japanese. I answer in Japanese. “What is she saying?” The mother asks the child, and the child repeats exactly what I said back to the mother. “Wow, foreign languages really are easier for children!” The mother marvels. The child and I roll our eyes in synchronisation.  
While I don’t mind at all (I love kids and do actually find them easier to communicate with), I wonder how safe it is for the children involved. I guess paranoia about stranger-danger is a very un-Japanese thing, and I usually like that about Japan.
Kids playing in the red light district? Why not?
No idea where they were heading after we decided to go home... or what they were doing in the red light district in the first place for that matter. A lot of the working girls bring their children to 'work' with them, but this lady wasn't dressed like the usual employees in the area.
Once when an Australian friend was visiting we were out in the red light district late on a Friday night, on our way back from some all-you-can-drink karaoke. A woman with a six year old boy wanted to practice her English and engaged some of our group in conversation while the visiting friend and I played a wild game of tag/dragon ball through the nearby park and side streets. His mother never even turned around to see where he was. While I think it is wonderful that children are given more freedom and that society as a whole looks out for all children in a communal way in Japan, I was pretty shocked by that particular incident. A group of drunk strangers, chasing a very little boy through the bushes in the red light district in the wee hours of the morning surely warrants at lest the occasional look-see. Being foreign doesn’t automatically mean someone is safe to leave your child unattended with, any more than being foreign makes them automatically more dangerous.
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  1. Awww I can so picture that situation you describe with the kid running up to you. Kids are sooooo cute and I miss it.

    But as cute as they are, I would also be pretty freaked out if some random kid ran up to me like that. O_O It's one thing when it's at work and the kids know you, but another if it's a stranger, eh? All the same, parents in Japan seem to be very OK with their kids walking around town and riding buses by themselves. Seeing that also throws me back a bit.

    1. Yeah, I'm so torn about it. In my head, I think it's great for kids. In my nerves, DEAR GOD SOMEONE KEEP THAT BABY AWAY FROM THE ROAD!!!!!!!


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