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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HAVE YOUR SAY

Gawking children are tolerable, but adults have no excuse

Belated readers' responses to "Parents, please keep your kids away from me at feeding time" by Christy Bridgeman (Hotline to Nagatacho, May 22) and J. Bradley Bulsterbaum's letter on the subject, "Cut gaijin-gawking children some slack — it's how they learn" (Have Your Say, June 26):

Think, ask before you touch

I read both articles and found them very interesting. It led me to think back on the time my family arrived in Japan a little more than five years ago.

It is not only Japanese kids who stare; we adults stare too in the beginning, and especially the young children stare at everyone. Japanese adults also stare.

When we moved here, our son was 3½ and our daughter had just turned 1, and they got a lot of attention from all ages of Japanese, with us being an American/Danish family, all with blond hair — especially our son, whose hair was almost white at the time.

We moved into a community outside Tokyo where I don't think any Western family had lived in a long time. My children took it fairly well, although my son absolutely hated everyone touching his hair.

After six months most people in our community seemed to have gotten used to us being around, participating in the local kindergarten, festivals and other activities, or walking in the parks. However, we still got a lot of attention whenever we went to the area where the train station is located —even more so when we had three kids, all with very fair skin and blond hair.

Anyway, shortly after my son's fourth birthday, we were shopping near the train station and two nice elderly ladies came over to see my two children. There was plenty of the usual "kawaii," but when they touched my son's hair it sent him over the edge, and he hit them both before I managed to get him under control. I gave lots of apologies and dreaded going out with my children for a long time after that.

I understand children are curious and the curiosity between children is to me acceptable, but at the same time, Japanese children and their parents have to understand that it can be overwhelming for a 4-year-old to constantly be touched.

I as an adult don't have a problem with being stared at, even though I find it odd, but when it comes to Japanese adults being curious about foreign children, it's another matter. I can't find a way to justify invading a child's personal space and completely ignoring the fact that many 2-5-year-olds — and even older children — are shy of strangers.

My now 2-year-old was born in this country and has been looked at and compared to Japanese babies intensely since she was born, and still is every time we meet new (Japanese) people. She absolutely hates how everybody has to touch her hair and face, but she has had to grow up with it.

Yes, I know everyone is just curious and they have the best of intentions — that's OK. You can stare at me all you want, even if I am not completely comfortable with it, but please consider what it would be like if someone constantly touched you without permission.

If you have such a strong desire to touch that blond hair, try and talk to us a little bit first and ask. We won't bite. The two oldest children are fluent in Japanese; I understand some, and speak a little; my husband speaks more Japanese than me.

Our youngest does not have any developmental problems despite the fact she is 2 (Japanese people often think she's 3) and not yet talking. She just seems to struggle with three languages.

Thank you, Japan Times, for being a great online news source.

TOVE KORSGARD NIELSEN
Atsugi, Kanagawa

Parents shouldn't stress difference

Bradley (Bulsterbaum), I agree with what you say 100 percent. Children look at things they find interesting — it's a matter of fact. Also, as you said, the more exposure children have to non-Japanese when they are young, the less inclined they will be to stare when their grow up (unlike their senior-citizen counterparts).

What does ruffle my feathers, though, is when parents point their child's attention towards foreigners when they are in sight. I've see many a parent tap their child on the shoulder and point in my direction.

It's fair enough for children to distinguish difference on their own, but to have their parents reinforce it is a different matter. I think this does more harm than good and further enhances the idea that "We are squares, those are triangles — remember that."

LYNDEN CLEMENTS
Osaka

No Japan exemption for manners

Although I agree with J. Bulsterbaum's piece in general — that children should be cut some slack — I think that just maybe parents have a little bit of responsibility not to let their children stare and gawk to the extent it offends others, even if the others are non-Japanese.

Would these same parents allow their kids to do the same to a Japanese person? Is it OK in Colorado to allow your curious kids to go up and stare at strangers to the point that it makes them embarrassed or uncomfortable? If not, then why is it OK to allow kids in Japan to do so? Is there some "only in Japan" exemption to good manners in these situations?

It is not the occasional curious child that is the problem, it is the rare (at least in Tokyo) parents who allow that curiosity to become excessive.

DAVID HUFFORD
Tokyo

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