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Time in the Park with Ellie

Ellie on the SlideA Daddy-Daughter Date

A couple days ago, Ellie was off of school. So I took a couple hours off myself to take her on a Daddy Date. So we got a quick Mister Donut treat, and then to the park we went. We spent about two hours at the park of her choice -- actually a playground geared toward younger kids. She played, and I watched. But I also observed the social behavior of those around me.

Out of Place

I felt just a little out of place, and not because I was the only gaijin (/guy-jeen/, foreigner). I mean, here I was with Ellie amidst 20 mothers and 35 children. I was the only dad for most of the time. For a brief time, one father did come with his energetic 2 year-old son and his even younger cell phone. They stayed about 15 minutes, during which time this dad multi-tasked. Between the many photos he took of his son with his mobile phone, he often checked his voice mail and sent text messages. Even though his son played with other kids, the man did not interact with any of the 20 women there; neither did I obviously.

Group of Moms Chatting at the Park
Several moms talking in a circle. I was outnumbered 20:1

Observing Social Behavior

Here are some of my observations from our visit to the park…
  • Moms rule in Japan (and let’s face it, everywhere).
    This truism probably could be left unsaid, but when it comes to kids in Japan, moms are the primary influencers with young children. Dads are often -- or should I say always -- at work.
  • It’s a group thing.
    Exactly at 12 noon, one mom announced, “Ok, it’s lunch time! Let’s eat!” Suddenly 14 of the 20 moms spread out their blankets and sat with their kids -- all about the same age -- for a picnic lunch. In all likelihood, this was a kindergarten class investing a day off from school to spend it together. It's about relationships. This is community. In North America, I think Moms and their kids would tend to go their separate ways on a school vacation day, rather than hang out together with classmates.
    • Moms generally stood in groups of 2-8 women and talked. Larger groups of 5-8 would stand in a circle to talk. I did see a mom or two off by themselves, but this was the exception that proved the rule. It probably reflected that these aloof moms had no relationship with the others.
    • Not one mother pulled out her cell phone during the entire 2 hours I was there. They were busy talking to one another. I was surprised because cell phones seem to be attached to everyone’s fingers in certain public situations (texting is quite big here); but usually this is when people are “alone in a crowd” -- not in a group of friends.
  • Clear Priority
    When a child got hurt and/or began to cry, his/her mother would drop her conversation and run to the child and hold him/her for several minutes. This happened several times to different moms. Her child is clearly her first priority.
  • Clear Rule
    Absolutely no shoes on the picnic blanket! Everyone understood this unspoken rule and no one broke it. Shoes are obviously considered dirty, so why would you want your shoes on your clean picnic blanket anyway? Would you step on your dinner table with your shoes on?
  • "Boys will be boys."
    • When one boy began to scream (in delight), the rest of the boys followed suit. They each tried to out-yell each other. Moms just smiled.
    • When boys wrestled on the picnic blankets and rolled their competitors up like burritos, moms just smiled.
  • Lapses of Harmony
    Public temper tantrums (on the part of the kids, not the parents, that is) seem to be quite normal. Kids will even hit their mommies and yell at them. When temper tantrums happen, parents generally don’t correct the child in public. Everyone seems to watch the spectacle with great interest, then smile. The mother may hold the child to console her or even drag him off by the hand/arm but only to escape being the center of attention.
Lunch Time in the Park
A group of moms enjoy a picnic with their kids on a day off from kindergarten

This little ethnographic study is not intended to be a universal description of Japanese. It's just a few observations from 2 hours in the park. But there are some interesting ways it reinforces what I’ve already experienced in different social settings here.

Missionaries are students of culture. We come as learners, and we want to maintain that kind of posture.

Ellie on the Slide
Ellie enjoys the slide on her day off from school


Ellie played nicely that day, but usually a little by herself. In similar situations in America, she typically made friends very quickly. She is geared to be a social butterfly. But the language thing is a big hurdle -- for both of us.

Pray for insight into culture, acquisition of language, and lots and lots of friends. Thanks for your prayers on our behalf.

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