This past Sunday, my wife, daughter, and I joined in an outdoor barbecue at a prefectural park originally built for a Japanese emperor. Sounds impressive, I guess…Taisho Tenno wasn’t a particularly long-lived emperor by modern standards, and was in poor health, so as a result many parks were built for him as recuperation areas away from the smog and pollution of industrial Tokyo. The park near us named after him comprised a giant pond in the shape of the palm of a human hand, and a ring, whose symbolism escapes me (there was a sign written in incredibly ornate Japanese to honor the late emperor, but I was too busy running after my daughter to read the sign carefully).
There were about a dozen or so families at the BBQ, all of which had members of our Shorinji Kempo training hall. It was the first time in three years that the “recreation” had been held (as the event was called), and the first time for my Shorinji Kempo training partners to meet my daughter. And of course the first time for their children to meet her, also.
She was an instant hit. At one point she was actually physically surrounded by seven or eight kids, ages ranging from 6 to 16. The most common refrain was Mecha kawaii! (wicked cute!), often followed by someone trying to touch the palm of her hand or touch her cheek.
My daughter looked a little taken aback by all the attention, but she didn’t back away. She certainly would have in February or March, and even a couple of months ago she practically fled from the advance of a fellow toddler at a day playroom. I started getting a bit uncomfortable when other parents asked to pick her up, particularly when she was passed from one parent to another and then another in quick succession.
For a brief moment I thought, “It’s because she’s got a foreign parent.” One of the older kids even wistfully exclaimed, “Man, I wish I were a haafu…” Part of his reasoning came from having to study English for his upcoming high school entrance exams (and his supposition that kids with foreign parents somehow no longer need to study English). But another part evidently was his perception that kids with a foreign parent are just flat-out kakkou-ii (cool).
That may all have been part of my daughter’s popularity, but soon I realized that all the attention could have been simply because she was the youngest present at the BBQ. The next youngest was 3 (and celebrated her birthday at the BBQ). Most of the kids were already elementary school age or above and had no younger siblings. Either my wife or I always had to keep an eye on our daughter during preparations. She was still too young to play with other kids. She was much physically smaller and easily fell over while running after whatever ball she had thrown or kicked. Still, I think she had a good time just being outside in a new place and especially meeting new people.
All of which made me once again feeling fortunate for my choice of martial arts styles. This blog is not about my personal hobbies, but I can’t help mentioning that encouraging the long-term development of community well-being by teaching children to respect one another is a major part of the Shorinji Kempo philosophy. I’ve never experienced any form of prejudice from the organization or from people who practice it, and the outing my family attended this past Sunday is just another indication of the kind of community-oriented and family-oriented attitudes that Japan needs in the 21st century.
Back to the BBQ…The sauerkraut I had brought proved a hit with the older folks (meaning those roughly my age, some of whom apologized for having three separate helpings, pronouncing it cho-umai (fantastic taste)), though the kids wouldn’t touch it. The barbeques that I’ve been to in Japan are somewhat different than those I’ve experienced in the US with friends and family. No charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid, but actual charcoal and kerosene. No hamburgers, no fried chicken, lots of veggies, tons of rice (sometimes formed into triangles, doused with soy sauce, and then fried as yaki-onigiri), lots of little finger strips of beef in teriyaki sauce, and pork/chicken/beef hotdogs without buns.
But of course there’s always beer. Or happoshu (“lite” beer made from corn, rice, or beans). And someone always brings a thermos of shochu mixed with hot water (o-yu-wari). Kids make friends, adults reminisce or rekindle friendships, people get to relax outside in unspoiled nature.
All in all, a good time, and perfect autumn weather (about 17 C / 63 F and sunny) in the great outdoors.