Or, The Screaming Toddler, or The Real Reason I Had To Revise the Fashion Report
This post is only about fashion because it has to do with the Kokura fashion report posts. Other than that, it’s a rant about the strangeness of Japan. So if you’re traversing my site by category, you might want to skip this one. The rest of you will either be amused or horrified.
Saturday before last, Jarrod had ping pong club followed by the usual Saturday afternoon daycare activities. Lia went to Fukuoka City for a shamisen class. I had a day to myself. So what did I do with this freedom? I stayed home and wrote the first draft of the fashion report. The things I do for the lurking masses. From about 10 o’clock onwards—Lia left at 11—we heard the kid in the apartment below us. He’s just old enough to toddle around, so probably about 18 months. He was screaming at the top of his lungs.
I paid it no notice, as at any given hour of the day or night, in and around our building there are often screaming children, yapping dogs, cats doing that inimitable moaning yowling thing that they do, and often a combination all three varieties of sonic mayhem.
Plus, I learned to ignore that sort of stuff back when Jarrod was a baby. Anyway, when Lia returned in the early evening she asked me how long the screaming went on after she had gone. I hadn’t really noticed, but I guessed maybe another hour. Lia then told me that as she had walked past the door on the way out that morning—these are big, heavy steel fire doors—she heard the kid on the inside of the door, screaming for his mom. This is pure conjecture, but we think that the mom went out to do errands with her two older kids, who are around six and three-and-half.
Before you ask me why I didn’t call the local social services agency, let me tell you about childcare here. Just as with fashion, standards of acceptable behaviour are way different than what I was used to in Canada. Babysitting—in the form of teenagers making a bit of extra cash—is virtually non-existent. Middle and high school students aren’t allowed to have jobs, even if they have time for them between all of their other responsibilities. Attending classes, doing homework, going to cram school, spending upwards of three hours a day each commuting and on club activites, and so on. Notice that “sleeping” is not on the list. At my school it’s against the rules for students to have part-time jobs.
Ad hoc babysitting would be considered “part-time work” so it’s forbidden. Looking after one’s younger siblings, however, is totally acceptable. Expected, even. I knew a couple of kids who broke the no-work rule—no, I didn’t tell on them—and knew of one student who was permitted to have a job because of his family’s financial situation. I’ll repeat that. One student permitted to have a part-time job, out of a school population of nearly one thousand at the time. And probably dozens earning their shopping money in fear of the school finding out about it. Employers here probably have a similar amount of power over their student workers as sweatshop owners in North America have over illegal immigrants.
While I’m on the subject of student entrepreneurship, have I mentioned compensated dating? There’s probably a series of posts in that topic, but you’ll be spared, since I’m unqualified to write about the subject. I am blissfully unaware of it being an issue at my school. But that might be because of the strong sense of “don’t ask don’t tell,” where teachers ignore the obvious until someone informs them directly about something being amiss or rules being broken. Of course, in my case it’s more a matter of me being kept out of the information loop. Not maliciously, I should note. I think it has more to do with the fact that most information given out during staff meetings is superfluous and therefore not worth the effort of translating.
Returning to the subject of childcare, it’s an activity that is usually done either by the wife, who probably quit her job just after getting married—they call it “retirement”—or by one or more grandparents. But Japan being the relatively safe country that it is, parents will often leave their kids home alone. Even when they’re still toddlers. So it’s common for parents here to go out on a date, or do errands or shopping, while leaving their children at home to fend for themselves. My co-workers are still occasionally surprised when I tell them that I can’t stay late at school because I have to be home for Jarrod. Though that’s often more for his psychological comfort than any physical need. And I think it’s also shock from—gasp!—the concept that a man would take an active role in childrearing.
Sometimes I think that we North Americans are overprotective of our children. But then on my way to the grocery I’ll see a child standing on the front seat of a moving car, sometimes holding onto the family pet. Or I’ll read a news report about an apartment fire where the parents went out and left their kids at home with a kerosene heater. These are both are common enough—the latter during the winter—that they don’t really surprise me anymore. The child car safety, or lack thereof, reminds me of the seventies in Canada. But I remember being made to at least wear a seatbelt.
And although this stuff doesn’t really surprise me much these days, I still find myself rolling my eyes a lot.