It seems a number of the people tuning in to Stippy are married and have kids. I, also a parent living in Tokyo, just checked out an old site that I used to look at for News on Japan. Aptly it is called newsonjapan.com. Looking at the society section I wanted to check if a certain story that I have a personal connection to, was in the English news yet. It isn’t but what I saw was quite scary.
On the Society page for the news on Japan, there were three articles about little kids suffering and dying thanks to their parent’s lack of ability to cope and act maturely when making basic parental decisions. What is happening to parents in Japan these days? Is there a distinct change in the way that Japanese parents treat (through action and inaction) their kids, leading to this scary spate of twisted horrible crimes that we witness daily?
This news reminded me of a story a month or so ago of an 18 year old (assumed single) mother whose 2 year old kid died in a house fire. The mother left the kid sitting in front of the telly with some snack food and ducked out to a Nagano ski field for the day, leaving at 6am and coming home at 10pm, to find the house burned down. This is so unbelievably sick but she at least stated to the Police “I feel really terrible about my actions”.
One of the stories making the news today was about a set of parents who popped out to their favourite Pachinko parlour for a bit of a break, leaving their 3 year old kid at home alone, front door locked and balcony door open. While they had told the kid not to climb on top of the air-con unit, the 3 year old didn’t listen (as 3 year old tend not to) and proceeded to climb up over the railing to see what was on the other side. Sadly, tragically for the infant there was a 10 foot drop.
Another story was of a father, 25yo (profession: driver), who lost control with his 2 month old kid during a crying fit. Those of us with kids – especially first timers – know just how stressful screaming kids can be at midnight, but this incident was at 6pm and the guy’s method to stop the baby crying was to put the child under a hot shower, causing severe burns and the poor baby to die from shock.
I am sure we can dig up a lot more sickening stories both here in Japan and back in our home countries but this stuff really disturbs me personally. I happen to have a couple of kids now and seeing this stuff in the news with such regularity disturbs me. It just goes against the stereotype of Japan being a safe country. What is going on here? Why are so many kids dying?
As pop-psychologist (and I did do honours in Psyc many years ago), I’ll throw my two cents in. One part of this I assume has to do with the “lost generation”. When I was studying at University here, we looked closely at this generation as they really seem to have had everything delivered to them materially speaking, but had no love or attention from parents who were hell bent on fulfilling the “salaryman” and “shufu” dream. They just didn’t communicate to their kids on how to be good parents, because they didn’t know how themselves – their own parents being tough, hard asses who built the place after the war. Possibly they “know” what is right and appropriate but they don’t actually practice it; leaving the kids confused as to how they should handle such a situation when they become adults and it is their turn. This is not a rich kid, poor kid issue either, as plenty of dual income families earning 20 mill a year have these issues as well. Take a look at the “suspect”, Tatsuya Ichihashi (22) in the case of the young English girl, Lindsay Ann Hawker’s death a few weeks ago: his parents were a doctor and a dentist.
As an example of ill-communication between parent and child, I sat in a kaiten sushi shop a year or two ago with my boy on my knee and we happily ate some sushi and communicated in our Father to 2 year old son kind of way. A guy next to us was in his late 40′s and was with his son aged in his mid-teens. They did not say a single word to each other for the entire time we were there, except for “is it okay if I have another one?”, “hmm”. Maybe that was not how they act normally, but I suspect it was, as I have seen plenty of other examples like this where the parent seems to be so out of touch with their kid (or is this just Japanese style “wordless” communication!?)
Another reason for this problem of messed up parents may well be the fragmentation of the “nuclear” family in big cities like Tokyo. Many of young kids come to Tokyo with dreams of success, leaving their rural furusato (home town) and taking up a lonely existence in the big city. It is a hard and trying place to be for some people and for many who come here, there are many frustrations that really yearn for family support and comfort in order to break through to the other side – at least that’s how I felt at times.
Being a parent in Japan is not an easy thing. There are all sorts of societal pressures that “mum/mom” faces in the neighbourhood. Conforming with the school system, choosing the “right” kindergarten, being nice to all those other bitchy mothers at the bus stop (bitchiness it seems depends on the “level” of the school to a degree), not inviting your child’s friends around for a party because the parents of the kids who do not get invited will talk about you and shun you. It is a weird system to live in and it must be even more difficult for single mothers like the stupid snow boarder girl above. However let’s note that there are also a lot of great examples of the parents these days as well. There are some genuinely great Mum’s and some great Dad’s out there doing their bit. I love to see these people and to meet them at school events as they come across as such “enthusiastic” parents.
So why is it we see so many sickening stories like the above examples? Does anyone have any deeper insights on this? I guess there is a Darwinian aspect to this and if you have ever read the Darwin Awards, you will know what I mean.