Last night I was awed twice while on a trip to the grocery store.
I had just walked into my super market, Super Fresh Sato, to buy something for dinner when I saw the strangest thing. I had just made it through the automatic doors and I noticed a door close on the little van parked nearest to the door. Out of the van comes this little kid that was no more than three years old. He had on the super colorful pajamas and little sneakers and no parents. I repeat, no parents. Where were his parents? Who knows. Did the Rapture magically happen and leave this child orphaned with no parental guidance? Maybe.
So this little kid decides he wants to come into the store and happily walks right past me. Now, if you were a munchkin, roaming free in your pajamas in a grocery store on a cold November night, where is the first place you would head? Yes, the ice cream section. But the little guy is too short to actually see the ice cream so he proceeds to climb almost all the way into the freezer bin to get a better look at all of the frozen confections Super Fresh Sato had to offer. Still no parents. It should also be mentioned that this kid had a sister who was also spared from the Rapture but was still sleeping in the van. Like a good brother, he left his female sibling to fend for herself...or just sleep.
By this point the kid has climbed out of the freezer bin and I am standing in the same place I have been for the past couple of minutes, just waiting to see what this kid does next. I also noticed people staring at me so I decide to move around a little bit so people don't think I am getting ready to kidnap this kid or worse, think that I am his father. So I leave the tyke to his own devices. A minute or two later I noticed him wandering some aisles but still without a mom or dad. The rest of the people in the store seem to be oblivious to the free range toddler but I figure that his newfound liberty isn't really my problem so I proceed to checkout and go home. As I left the store, his sister was still asleep and unattended in the family vehicle.
A few minutes later, I am walking though a neighborhood to get to my apartment and I hear screaming. These are not playful screams or screams obtained through various pleasureful acts, these are blood curdling "I am wading through the blood of my dead family members" kind of screams. Then I hear some furious kicking and hitting at the door sounds. I am just going to speculate here but if I were to guess, I would say a little girl or perhaps a sissy sounding boy was being punished and locked in their room. The punishment sparked a hissy fit so loud I could hear it from the middle of the street outside the house. Also, by the sounds of it, the door did not make it through the ordeal unscathed. Or the entirety of a family, minus an aforementioned girl or sissy sounding boy, had just been slaughtered, leaving the little kid to wail amidst splatterings of familial blood and gore. Either way, that was some really loud screaming and punching and kicking at the door.
Parenting in Japan is pretty much non-existent. I wish I could say that kids roaming free in department and grocery stores was uncommon but it isn't. Parents pretty much just let their little goblins do whatever they please when in public places. They figure that the kid will eventually come back to them and that all will be well. This leads to kids being kids and generally annoying me while I shop. If I were these kids' parents I would have them all duct taped to my shopping cart and most likely gagged. The one thing that parents do in an effort to keep track of the kids is to give the smallest of them squeaky shoes. You know, the ones that we see as toys in the United States? In Japan, the squeaking that is made by the shoes is employed as a way to always know where your kid is. What is really fun is when you have a handful of two and three year old kids running through a store. I hate squeaky shoes despite their being adorable for about ten seconds.
I have a feeling kids are left to run wild because this is how the parents kind of get them ready for going to school and riding trains and buses by themselves. I have been in cities like Tokyo and Osaka and have seen two or three six or seven year olds riding the train together sans parents. Japanese people look out for kids and there is very little in the way of kidnapping or violence against children but to me, it is still ludicrous to think that I would let my seven or eight year old go to and from school alone in a city with 14 million people.
I was talking to the mother of one of my private lesson kids and she was asking if there are kids in the US that are very well behaved when playing outside and then go crazy when they play indoors. I told her that usually if I was being crazy indoors, my mom told me to go play outside. For Japanese people it is the opposite, being crazy and hyper outside is not good because then the neighbors can see how nutty your kids are and how bad of a parent you are. The downside to this is when your kids are nuts, you have to put up with them being around you inside the house. I would take my sanity over what the neighbors thought of me any day of the week.
The other funny thing about Japanese families is how discipline is metered out when it actually is...which isn't very often. Every family has one parent who is the disciplinarian. In Japan, 99 times out of 100 it will be the mom that is the bad cop while the dad plays good cop. The reason for this is that fathers in Japan work all of the time and mothers generally are around home a lot more. When dad comes home from work, it is his time to see his kids and hang out with them. Kids here are brought up to see bonding time with dad as much more of a valuable commodity over quality time with mom. Moms on the other hand, are almost solely in charge of making sure that the kids do well in school and do not fall behind their peers. This is the reason why many of my kids are taking English whether they want to or not. Japanese mothers are super competitive when it comes to their kids' educations.
Some new classes just started in one of my schools and there are three boys who get along great together in one of them. Evidently, in their real school, two of the boys are troublemakers and one is the good student. The mother of the good student is asking the Japanese teacher of my classes to take out the other two kids and put them in a class separate from her son. When the Japanese teacher said that the three boys played very well together, the mother threw a fit and said her son was not like the other two boys. I guess the mother was actually crying by the end because the Japanese teacher would not move the two other boys just because one mother had a problem with them in school outside of my English class. The next night the grandmother came in to try to get the two other boys moved. Japanese mothers make American soccer moms look like deadbeats.
Having said that, when dads do get into the chewing out of a kid, usually it is something to watch. I was teaching a lesson that the parents were allowed to come and observe and one little boy tried to kick me in a not happy place. He missed but the fact that he tried at all, Set.The.Dad.Off. The guy who had been quiet all night, gets up, grabs his kid by the collar of his shirt and drags him into a corner. What followed were the hushed shouts of a father educating his son about why you never, ever, for any reason kick a guy in the Southern Hemisphere of his body, especially in the magical island in between his legs. After this speech, he smacked the kid upside the head and then pushed him back into the group of students. It was almost awe-inspiring. Never before or since have I seen a Japanese parent lay into their kid like that guy did to his son. Amazing.