Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Japan Files ~ Kid Edition

Look at them.

Adorable aren’t they?

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, children are full of life. They make you laugh; they make you cry; they make you grin from ear to ear with their incredible antics, and we as the adults just can’t help cooing at them. And Japanese children are no different. Some of them are adorable; shy little critters that make your heart melt. And some of them are genki grapplers, full of energy and bursting at the seams. But there are certain things about children over here that I’ve noticed that are a little bit worrisome. And even though my Japanese is still below par, I’ve started to pick up on things that once again, make me raise my eyebrows.

It’s been noted over many years that children seem to have an uncanny obsession with genitalia here. They feel quite comfortable talking about it and making jokes about it while their adult counterparts completely shy away from it (unless they’re half cut, of course). I’ve heard a three-year-old girl giggling about “cold boobs” and six to seven-year-olds having a “penis” discussion. They chortle about toilet habits and have no concept of inappropriateness. And to be honest, the lack of understanding – of knowing what’s right and wrong - is common in children all over the world but what I don’t understand is why they talk about this particular topic so freely here. After all, the Japanese are considered a conservative people, are they not?

And these antics don’t just stop at talking, but continue onto exploring it as well. You see, foreign teachers here tend to be larger in stature, which means that in some cases, our assets are also much larger. But it isn’t uncommon for children here to reach for said assets and give it a quick poke, or for some of the more confident children, a well pronounced punch in the goolies.

Children – 1, Teacher – down!

What’s more is the childhood phenomenon known as “koncho”, whereby children put their two index fingers together in an attempt to shock each other – or adults too – but prodding one forcibly in the anus. To them, it’s harmless fun, but to people like me, it’s a giant question mark. I mean, who does that really? Why would anybody want to voluntarily stick their fingers into someone else’s ass?

I’ve had a five-year-old boy attempt to flash me. Please note that not only was there a co-teacher in the room but also, his father was present – so why he felt comfortable enough to do that was way beyond me. I’ve also had a six-year-old mimic pinching nipples which was not only in front of his older brother but in front of a selection of parents coming to pick up their children as well. Young children here seem highly sexualised – whether they’re aware or not – and I’m really not sure where they’re getting it from.

Heck, when I was six-years-old, I found it embarrassing to say the word “kiss”. I didn’t know about the birds and the bees until I was eight, but I knew that discussing certain topics or making certain gestures was highly inappropriate (if I knew them at all).

But maybe it’s because of the customs here. As I mentioned in a previous entry, porn is readily available here. It’s even accessible at your local convenience store at eye-level of an unsuspecting child. What’s more is that cartoons are slightly more grown-up here – or generally what we in the west would consider to be. Twelve-year-olds can watch fairly-realistic cartoon violence, while four-year-olds can tune into cartoons like Crayon Shin Chan who I’ve been told, has been noted to pretend he’s a gay cross-dresser.

Note: I didn’t even know what a cross-dresser was until pre-adolescence.

Culturally, there are also a couple of annual penis festivals that take place. These are often a celebration of fertility but I suspect that if a child saw a giant phallus walking around, he might somehow interpret it to be okay to whip out his private parts…

As a result, I often have children attempt to get a rise out of me by screaming out rude words. Whether they’re simply doing it because of my lack of Japanese, or whether they’re doing it just because is beyond me. But as a child, if I ever did say a rude word, it was never in the presence of an adult.

What I’ve also noticed however is how the reverse seems to happen between our two cultures. Because children will freely discuss these things here but as they age, it becomes more taboo and for some people into adulthood, sex and the like becomes almost embarrassing to talk about. It’s something considered private despite its relatively easy access. But in the west, we started out relative innocent. And then we went to school, learnt secrets from our friends, had special lessons at school and now into adulthood, we can freely talk about it with no qualms whatsoever.

Even now, in the west, there’s debate on the sexualisation of children. We may not put our porn on the bottom shelf, but subliminally, sex is everywhere and it’s caused quite a stir. But it’s because we acknowledge it as a problem, that people are working towards trying to keep children innocent (granted, on the playground, it’s a little difficult). But in Japan, this discussion does not exist. And if there is a concern about children and sex, they’re keeping tight-lipped about it.

So it’s an interesting contrast between our two cultures. A little food for thought. Is it really just the media influencing kids? And is it really influence, when eventually, it’s something they will grow out of? Is this level of intrigue just kids being kids and not knowing where to draw the line? Or is there something else we’re missing completely? 

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