You might think that the sound of children singing in the bath and shower next door, at the top of their voices; loud; boisterous, energized, happy, amplified by space and tiles and windows not completely closed; the distance between plants ; after a day of full throttle playing… …… …….that the intrusion on your own silence might be annoying.
But no. When will these kids ( aged seven? ten?), a brother and sister staying with their grandmother, Mrs Takai – an unfailingly smiling, friendly – you can always hear her laughing somewhere in the distance – woman in her late seventies who must be tired from cooking every day and keeping them occupied and from getting too frustrated – ever have this opportunity again? The chance to just be free, in space and nature, playing hide and seek in her big house, unsullied by school, for weeks and weeks on end ?
Never. Yes, I am sure that they have their homework regimens ( both parents are out working somewhere; they usually live elsewhere, in the city: rules will be set). They are definitely quieter during the day – except when they are thundering up and down the muffled stairs giggling or all playing some kind of ball game out on the street – the feeling sounding like general delight – the energy uninhibited and totally free.
Otherwise, Japanese kids’ daily lives are so regimented; controlled, burdened, with all their insurmountable ‘activities’. Cram schools. Clubs. ‘Tasks’. They would usually be visiting their grandmother (her husband died about ten years ago) , at most three or four times a year for short ‘family visit; not now living here. I know they must miss their schoolfriends, and sometimes get a bit bored, but how wonderful that right now they can just be unhindered: rely on their brothers and sisters; just run around : make up stories and adventures. SING. Their hearts out every evening.
The children next door take no notice of we Grey Garden foreign weirdos sitting on the balcony; shielded but that overlooks them. We are there, with our late afternoon wine and newspapers and perfumes while their grandmother is cooking dinner; they scurry around her house down below playing games together, glancing up furtively sometimes and then disappearing, but we all coexist peacefully, along with our other neighbours and daughter across the street who are out in their back garden having a barbecue: we wave, and we meet them on our bikes on the street and say hello when we come back from cycling to temples we have never before visited, or are revisiting, in Kamakura ( they are closed – but you can stand outside the gates ). We found an old book – a guide to all the off ten beaten temples and shrines, and are going deeper.
All this beautiful sunshine. I remember my own six or seven week summer holidays from when I was a child. The time spent lazily in the garden under the weeping willow (you scoff but literally). Reading Russian fairy tales and the Arabian Nights. For hours and hours on end. Playing Swingball on the lawn. The time to just pick sweetpeas. Climb trees. Let the rabbit out and then try and catch her. No external requirements. To make your own pleasure, pierce your own boredom to more crystal clear places. These times were essential to my nourishment. I could breathe. Lie in the shadow of rhododendrons, laburnum, trails of clematis. Just dream. And wait to be called in when it was dinnertime.
Ordinarily, children in Japan simply do not have this opportunity. To spend so much time with their grandparents, their siblings : themselves. And I am really glad for them. Months on end. The changing flowers and plants in her garden. All that homecooking. The joy that is ricocheting off of their echoes is pure: palpable. Seasons are metamorphosing and they are growing with them. They don’t even realize it now, but once everything speeds up again and the other life takes over, hectic, predetermined time management, deadlines and examinations, I do know that deep in their adult souls, one day, these strange, unforgettable – but gentle, limpid; and for them, probably seemingly endless – days will be their sweet, and golden future memories
20 responses to “THE CHILDREN NEXT DOOR”
Just like you to understand that. Very true. Their sweet, and golden future memories.
We were both lucky to have long unstructured summers in the garden. And those Russian fairy tales and Arabian Nights! It’s a fine way to feed the imaginative and sensitive spirit. Wish more kids had that chance.
So do I.
It is so sweet to hear them running around in a different way to usual – uplifting to be next to.
And tell us, where is the house in the third photo? Love it.
I know! I had never seen it before and then D took me to show me it; right in the middle of Kamakura down a side street! It’s apparently some posh restaurant and cafe, but looks like a scene from an Ingmar Bergman movie or something. Closed now for the virus, but I am definitely going back. It’s divine, isn’t it?
It is. So stylish but unplaceable. At first glance, first reaction, it looked Hungarian! Don’t know why.
It could easily be. I was moaning to Duncan that I couldn’t be bothered to go any further and take a detour but I was gobsmacked when I saw it. I think it looks positively magical. Can’t wait to go there!
I feel as if I had just been transported to your neighborhood while reading this. Oh for those carefree days of youth, they were lovely.
No matter how old we become, we should always try to hold on to a bit of that carefree innocence we once had. I know I have held on to a good bit of it. When we eventually meet in person, you will see.
Ditto! D too. Absolutely.
“The corpse of childhood is adulthood”” or something…
“Grey Garden foreign weirdos”—I had to burst out laughing there. Such an image.
Meanwhile my own child (3 years old) has made it his mission to ensure that neither of his parents can work while in quarantine. Yesterday when I went to make him lunch he got hold of my work laptop and messed up the login so many times that I got locked out of it and had to frantically Skype our IT team in Bogota.
When he’s about 30 I’ll make him get me a really nice perfume to make up for it all.
Or sooner – when he gets his first paper round.
I imagine they are beyond wonderful, kids, but I know I would be terrible as a parent. I would NEED a holding cell where they could be placed for certain periods in order to stay sane.
What a beautiful neighborhood. Says a lot about Japanese culture that the joyful noises of children playing outside are an oddity.
Despite the nationwide lockdown here in Nepal and insistence by the government that all stay indoors – children can still be heard playing outside all hours of the day. The forest birds have been unusually raucous too. “Buddha Jayanti” or Buddha’s birthday was just celebrated in our neighborhood the night of May 7th with an improvised fireworks display and annoying rave/techno laser show. I guess I was the Grey Gardens foreign weirdo sitting in her yard being ignored during the festivities.
That sounds amazing. I would love to see that.
The joyful noises of children playing outside are definitely NOT an oddity, by the way – just hearing it all the time at the lady’s house next door. I was thinking more about the fact that they wouldn’t usually be so……untethered.
Young kids especially are actually really spoiled and adored here, contrary to what I might have been seen to be suggesting in this piece.
As they get into double figures though I think the stresses start to really mount. I know a lot of kids will be bored: I know that I would have definitely loved it!
Oops! My bad. For some reason I thought they started the “work culture” early in Japan?
They do, in a way, but the kids are actually really spoiled when quite young : the grind starts when they get into their teens, and then it is for life (aside four years of dossing around doing nothing at university!)
Swingball. That’s a blast from the past. Nice flower pictures.
I know! I had to call up to Duncan to check that was the name of the thing I was thinking of. It really does evoke 70’s childhood summers, barefoot on grass with the sprinkler going. I hate sport, but I did quite like that!
I suppose you had a soda stream machine too! 🙂
Oh my god. My friend did, and I was obsessed with it! My mother never relented.