I’ve been here a long time, but at the same time, I’m still American. It makes me a little sad sometimes when I see normal things here, and think that this is the way that they should be in the States, but they aren’t. Don’t take that as rose tinted glasses; I’m as aware as any other long-term resident of Japan that Japan is not perfect. No place is perfect. Part of the immigrant lifestyle is that slow collection of the perfect bits of the cultures that you do become involved with, a sort of intellectual cross pollination, hopefully keeping the parts that are good, and slowly weeding out the bad.
Childhood independence in Japan is amazing. This kid here, in the middle of one of the busiest stations on the planet, playing his Switch, is doing exactly the right thing. I’m sure that he’s in this particular place because of some logistical quirk. Maybe he’s waiting for a parent to finish a meeting, or do some shopping, or something. It doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is that a million other people walk by, and see him, and know that everything is fine, and there is no problem. He’s not lost, he’s not in danger. Well, I dunno. I didn’t ask him how many lives he had left. If he’s as good at Mario as I am, Game Over is probably just a few moments away.
But he’s not unusual. Grade school kids take public transportation to school, sometimes with friends and siblings, sometimes alone, and they do it perfectly, every day. This little girl was waiting at an exit to the busiest train station in the world late at night, all by herself, and in the second it took for me to pull out my camera, her adult rocked up and met her, and the two giggled themselves happily off into the night.
No, Japan isn’t perfect. It’s not really safe. Nowhere is. Life isn’t safe. But it seems like kids have the safety and latitude to live lives that American kids don’t anymore. And I don’t know why that is. I remember the freedom that I had growing up, and I don’t know what changed. But something did. Who knows, maybe it can change again, to a new thing.