A New Story from Japan

Written by Lorna Shapiro

It was 7:45 in the morning and Chisato and I were walking along the streets of downtown Shibuya on our way to the train station where we were to catch a train out to the suburbs.  I was spending the day at Mariko’s high school English Conversation classes as a sample Canadian.  The sidewalks were busy with people on their way to work.  Coming towards us on the street I noticed two young boys, looking about 10 years old, wearing school uniforms, backpacks, and happily clowning around with each other as they walked through the busy sidewalk traffic.  My eyes instinctively started searching for who was with the boys, thinking they would have a challenge keeping up with them as they hopped and skipped, dodged and weaved their way through all the people.  I could find no one looking like they were paying any attention to the boys.  So, I did what I usually did in these circumstances of not understanding what was happening… I asked Chisato.  She was confused by my question.  The boys are on their way to school, she replied, no one is with them.  Imagine downtown Toronto on steroids, and two wee boys walking along the streets, having taken the subway downtown from their homes, and heading, unescorted, to their school.  Try as I might, I could not see that happening.  But in Japan it is commonplace.  Every Japanese person I have spoken to since has seen this experience as commonplace and has been surprised at my finding it unexpected.  Turns out these kids are safe as they make their way along complex commuting routes to school.  I`m glad of that, and wish more parents here were comfortable to let their youngsters develop that sense of independence.