Sunday, December 04, 2022

Are children an endangered species in Japan?

Japan is a country with a rich cultural tradition focused on childhood. You actually need to look no further than the obvious and ubiquitous anime and manga, but there are many hidden treasures in addition. The Hayao Miyazaki films, My Neighbour Totoro in particular (at least in my opinion), is a great tribute to the magic of childhood. The Japanese are in general very well at keeping the inner child alive, and then at being kind to the actual children.

So it came as a great surprise that there was a high profile case in the city of Nagano, where a playground was reported to be closed due to the complaints of a few residents nearby. Allegedly, the kids were making too much noise.

Well, it does not require much common sense to realize that the name of the game for children is to make some noise. Actually, a lot of noise. They need to play together, to the accompaniment of cries and calls, in order to develop their cognitive skills. When I wrote about this incomprehensible incident on my Japanese twitter account @kenichiromogi, a majority (say, 95%) of people responded with indignation and calls for a better environment for children in Japan, a nation where the combination of aging population and fewer childbirths is perceived to be a serious social issue. Only a minority of people seemed to sympathize with the complaining residents, with less persuasive powers obviously.

So, it appears that the spirit of My Neighbour Totoro, where the magic of the childhood is appreciated and protected, is very much alive, despite the presence of a few impatient people. These complainers would have been children once. It is sad when someone conveniently forgets his or her own past and live in the echo chamber of the present. It would be quite a wrong case of being in the here and now.

Are children an endangered species in Japan?

If the number of people who become oblivious to the magic of childhood increases, the answer to this question might turn out to be an "yes." I do hope that would not come to pass.