The park in Hiroo

Last weekend, I finally made it to the park in Hiroo. I was lucky, the last two Sunday mornings were sunny, so I spent a long time there. We don't get many sunny afternoons, often clouds start coming in after midday. The park is beautiful! I posted some pictures on Google+. Plum trees were in full bloom last week, and other flowers started appearing this week. But no Sakuracherry blossoms yet.

It was wonderful to just sit in the middle of the Japanese tamed nature, study Kanji, eat, take pictures and watch what was going on around me. A lot of small children were there, and people walking dogs. Both times, there was a man playing guitar, but not the same one. It was very interesting to see how the children reacted. Sometimes they didn't at all, sometimes they watched from a safe distance, and at one point there were five small Japanese kids standing around him. Japanese children seem a lot more serious than Swiss ones. They were watching without saying a word or laughing, serious looks on their small faces. Except for one boy, who was approaching more and more, almost touching the guitar, but then his mother carried him away.

In general, there were a lot more mothers with their child (or more rarely, children) than whole families with both parents, and fathers with child were even rarer. My guess is that the fathers get to sleep in on Sunday morning and the mothers take the child to the park so it doesn't disturb him.

I was a bit sad to see this, I thought that Sunday was family day, during the week the father comes home too late to see the children. The Japanese family model hasn't changed much. Women are encouraged to study and work, but as soon as they have children, they're expected to stay at home. The fathers on the other side work very long hours and then go out drinking with colleagues or friends, and sometimes don't even sleep at home during the week if the commute is too long. I don't know which part is worse. Not surprisingly, a lot of people don't want to have a family, especially in Tokyo. The Japanese are one of the oldest societies in terms of demographics, so there is a big need for children. But changing the family model takes time, and there doesn't seem to be much movement. Part time jobs and childcare are often mentioned as first steps, but they're opposed to Japanese values like putting the company above the individual, and raising children in 24 hour contact with the mother to instill the complex culture and create an extremely polite, sensitive and subtle Japanese person.

But there were families having the romantic picnic in the park too. Romantic at least until I saw that the food was from McDonald's :) I can't blame them though, preparing Japanese food takes a lot of time because there's usually a variety of small dishes, so I fully understand that they'd rather enjoy the sun while it's out. I actually want to try McDonald's food here, it's a bit different in every country and I wonder what the Japanese version will be like.

Another observation I made was that the small children usually don't interact with each other. It seems like they don't know what to do with each other, which also makes sense if they're brought up in the constant company of the mother as I suspect. I need to talk to some Japanese people to find out more.

Dogs in Tokyo are always a source of great amusement for me. Many people have very small dogs, but in the streets they're most often carried, even in the afternoon when there's not much danger of them being stepped on. What is even funnier are the dog strollers. They look like normal buggies on first sight, but when you look inside there's a dog sitting there instead of a baby! The first few times that was a bit of a shock. And the dogs seem to be used to sitting on their owner's lap, especially in outdoor cafes. Sometimes they even sit on a chair of their own.

I think all of this has to do with the strong distinction between inside and outside (the Japanese terms I know from my cultural analysis class are uchi内, inside and soto外, outside, this is also the gai in gaijin (derogatory term for foreigner)). Uchi is clean, safe and good, whereas soto is dirty, dangerous and best avoided. Those terms are applied to people, places and activities. Some in-groups a person belongs to are family, friends, the community of neighbors and the company. There's less need for polite language and behavior in these groups, and a person can be more relaxed. Similarly, home is uchi, very clearly marked also by the antechamber where you take off your dirty outside shoes and step into clean inside slippers. It is important to understand that this distinction is strongly emotional with the above mentioned associations. I'm not sure how much of it is conscious. This is one of the things Japanese children learn through watching their mother, I don't think it is ever explained in words. But to get back to the dogs, my theory is that the dogs are clean inside dogs, so they can't walk on the dirty ground. :p I wonder if they also have a litter tray like cats then?

2 responses to “The park in Hiroo”

  1. Interesting Observations!

    Your observations and interpretations are most interesting!

    Now I'm beginning to understand why Japanese tourists usually cling together in groups when they visit Europe. Do they move more freely in Japan?

    I could be wrong, but my impression is that a lot more Japanese girls in their teens and twenties visit Europe than guys. Do you have an explanation for that?

    Submitted by Hans

  2. Japanese culture

    I'm surprised to see that my "tourist" view of Japanese behaviour seems to be fact, not "cliché; regarding Hansens remark about female/male young tourists in Europe, I suppose that the youg men are under too heavy (future) career stress for travelling abroad; my observation in Japan was that even locally the ladies of all ages are touring the country in female groups, usually accompanied by a "flower" = a young woman who has to organise the much beloved singing in the bus.

    I came back last night from Spain/South of France where I spent 3 cold, rainy, windy weeks and look forward to seeing you (perhaps) on your birthday. Elisa yesterdayfromLooing

    Submitted by Elisa