Same Difference (or something like that)

It happens occasionally: Me Too and I find ourselves with a large swath of day and nothing to do.  If the weather is nice, usually we’ll go to the park or maybe down to the outlet mall for a cinnamon roll. If the weather is not nice, I can often find someone to come over and get her off my back play.

Today, though, we seem to be out of luck. (Sigh.)

It’s one of those cold, dreary, days where the sky kind of leaks rain, like it can’t go the trouble of actually producing a rain pour but wants us to remember it could if it wanted to.

It’s the first day of the season cold enough to actually warrant a winter coat, which means we have spent a good part of the morning desperately pulling out winter coats only to discover they are too small or soiled beyond use.  Of course a certain first grader refused to wear a winter coat. I put him in the obligatory undershirt (Japanese wear undershirts year round. Really.) Then a long sleeved tee, with a sweatshirt on top of that and a lightweight fleece since he refused to wear a proper coat. He has probably taken off the sweatshirt and fleece and is in the process of freezing to death as I write.

Japanese society puts a lot more emphasis on “dates” than in America where I grew up.  No matter how cold it is, the school will not turn on the heater until Dec. 1. Period. When he had a uniform in preschool, they weren’t allowed to change between the winter and summer uniforms according to the weather, but were required to change on a certain date. It’s very hard for me to comprehend any advantage to having children be uncomfortable. Surely everyone is shivering too much to get any studying done today.

But everyone has to be same, you see. That’s all the explanation I seem to be able to get. Why is this “sameness” so important?

It’s bothered me for a while (if you can’t tell.) I observed a first grade art class earlier in the year where the children were doing self portraits. The teacher distributed mirrors to the class and told them to look carefully at the shape of their eyes, nose, mouth and then draw what they saw. So far so good, right? Then she says to the children, “Next let’s draw your hair. Everyone pick up your black crayon…”


My son doesn’t have black hair. There’s another child in his class who actually has very light, mousey brown hair. Heck, anyone who has been in Asia for ten minutes can tell you that lots of  people, especially children, don’t have black hair.

I had a moment of inner panic. Do I stand up and announce the emperor has no clothes on? Do I let it go? I’m a wimp, I let it pass, but I talked to my son about it afterward, about how there are so many different colors and shapes of people in the world, about how God made each of us unique, about how we are all “different,” some in more easily observable ways than others.

He hasn’t realized that he’s different yet. He thinks he has black hair.

This insane (or so it seems to me) drive for same-ness has become really obvious with the accident, or should I say incident, in Fukushima. I kid you not, they are distributing the radioactive rubble and waste around the entire country. The idea seems to be to pollute everyone equally. It doesn’t make any fucking sense. (Sorry, mom.)

The day Yokohama admitted they had fed contaminated beef to schoolchildren, I broached the topic of sending Me First to school with a lunch box. HRH would have none of it. That would make our son different, he would be teased, it was a bad, bad idea.

So being the same as everyone else is so important that we should let our children eat poison?!

And, um, hate to break it to you, but he’s already different.

Insert exasperation here.

The Japanese word for “different” is actually also the same as the word for “wrong.” I’m not sure if that explains more about their feelings on being different or demonstrates an unwillingness to call out something as being mistaken. Maybe both?

The rain seems to have slowed, and I’m thinking too much. That never ends will. Perhaps Me Too and I will walk to the grocery store and have a coffee. We’re really missing our coffee buddy today…




1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. chrysanthemummum
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 19:43:40

    My son announced that he had black hair the other day (it’s actually light mousey brown!). My daughter also thinks she has black hair (it’s brown and curly and so not like her classmates). I also thought it strange that they don’t realise they are different yet.

    I’ve often thought it speaks volumes about the culture the fact that the words different and wrong are the same in Japanese. And teach and tell – as a teacher this irritates me greatly and reminds me of that saying “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” A nation full of people who have forgotten everything they were “told” at school!


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