Monday, October 19, 2020

SHUKKOU – The first step in Japanese socialization


I had to walk my son to school this morning as he's still getting used to the new direction. It was eye-opening. You can see that the walk to school en masse in uniforms in the morning is really the start of Japanese socialization. Meet up at the appointed time, wearing the appointed clothes (unless you have special permission, like the kid in jeans because of a field trip), and with the same people every day Monday to Friday. There is a huge sense of belonging, of solidarity there.


As a foreigner, I have a knee jerk reaction against group proceedings. The hundred kids who flood the road in similar white shirt, blue vest, blue skirt or shorts depending on gender, and bright yellow hat and rucksack remind me of an invading army winding its way through the street on its way to a massacre or bivouac.


The foreign is tempted to see the masse movement as a loss of identity and individuality. Nothing could be further from the case. Every one goes together in the same direction in their own way. There are the gangly older kids leading the pack, each with some sort of individualized marker (glasses, a hanging strap, jutting hair). The fidgety younger kids can easily pick each other out of the crowd based on movement, sound, tidiness of attire, etc, despite the added barrier of facemasks. The proceeding is in fact a sensitization to individual differences, of all the little conscious and unconscious movements and signals that mark who we are.


I thoroughly enjoyed my walk amidst the throng today, and they seemed to enjoy my funny dances, matching mask and shirt, and the weird English (Gimme a break!) I taught them. More than that, I got to see my introverted son chatting easily to kids he knew and who knew him.


I think my wife saw today's walk as an imposition, a duty she had to invoke, and was ready to fight to make me go. Instead, it was a great joy for me to peer into the workings of Japanese socialization, as well as the increasing socialization of my boy.

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