The one thing you have to get used to if you live in a Japanese city is the hordes of people. That’s no different from any city in America, but you tend to feel it more in Nihon because it is likely that you use public transportation more than your own kuruma. There are a few reasons for this.
First of all, Japan does public transportation really well. Densha and buses are dependable, clean, and benri. Of course they are faster than driving in most cases and you don’t have to work to find a parking place. I don’t know if it is true, but I have heard that to buy a car in Japan you have to prove you have somewhere to park it. I never had a car in Japan and never felt I needed one. A bicycle and public transportation covered all of my needs.
But when you have kodomo, you have different issues. Try taking a baby on a train. If you’re lucky, they are lulled to sleep. But if you are unlucky, they are going to bawl their eyes out in distress. And then all eyes turn to see what’s going on. Here’s what happens next:
It becomes a project and everyone gets involved. The obāsan sitting next to you jangles a key ring to distract the baby and if the baby reaches for it, she’ll let the baby grab it and hold it. The slightly older mother across the aisle will open her bag and reach into it for a small omocha and offer that up. The grandmother sitting two seats down pulls out some plain cookies and offers the baby those. The teenage boys standing up near you make funny faces to amuse the baby. And the older men do bero bero bah — the Japanese version of peekaboo or any antic done to amuse a baby.
Everyone’s been there. Right?
Recently I read in the news that people sitting in the airline’s first class think that babies should not be allowed to sit there. They pay extra for the luxury and listening to a crying baby disturbs them. Sekkaku okane o dashita noni! You can just imagine the indigence.
You can also imagine what I think of that. They are missing a chance to make a connection and be of help. Too bad for them.
Once I’d experienced the treatment of a baby on a bus in Japan, I began to carry small toys in my own bag and look for opportunities to give them to mothers with a fussy child. When I took a flight a few years ago, a mother with a toddler sat down next to me in the middle seat. I offered to hold the little girl while she settled herself. I am a nervous flyer and having a toddler on my lap diverted my fuan. She ended up having fun looking out the mado and then eventually fell asleep on my lap. I told the mom that I was a grandmother and this was a joy for me. We all had a very good flight!
- Nihon – 日本 Japan
- kuruma – 車 car, automobile
- Densha – 電車 train
- benri – 便利 convenient
- kodomo – 子供 child
- obāsan – おばあさん grandmother
- omocha – おもちゃ toy. Be careful not to confuse with matcha! And yes, somehow toy takes the honorific ‘o’
- Sekkaku okane o dashita noni -せっかくお金を出したのに Literally, “Even though I went to great pains to pay for this.” Sekkaku is a good word to know. You could say, “Sekkaku benkyō shimashita noni, I flunked the test. Get it? (Even though I went to great pains to study, I flunked the test.” It’s a good word for when you want to bitch about something.
- bero bero bah – ベロベロバー Used like peekaboo with a baby. You say it and then make a funny face perhaps.
- fuan – 不安 uneasiness, worry
- mado – 窓 window