When we came back from Bangkok I was afraid I would have to buy new wheels for the stroller.
One of our strollers is a twin Airbuggy stroller, Japanese designed but made in Taiwan. It has a very sturdy aluminum frame, and pneumatic tyres. Which is why I needed help. I was not going to complain about the frequent punctures (it is still beyond me why they do not use foam tyres).
But this time, the wheels were not working right. They were not rolling smoothly, the stroller kept bumping and cringing. So I went to the Airbuggy store.
The store person looked at, me, looked at the kids, and looked at the stroller. I described the problem in my halting Japanese.
"Left wheel, is it? Well, let's see." And she took the wheel off (the Airbuggy has wheels that are very easy to remove).
"Oh, you need to center the tire on the wheel. See this circle? It should fit into the rim of the hub. Let me fix it for you."
And she emptied the air out of the wheel, centered it, and pumped it again.
"Let me check the other wheel. Oh, you have the same problem there. Let me fix that."
And she emptied the wheel, centered the tire, and pumped it up again.
"But you have mixed up the right and left! See these arrows? They are supposed to sort of roll forward. We need to put this wheel to the right, and this one to the left."
And she put the wheels back in their right places.
"Do you want me to pump the front wheels for you?"
I thanked her politely as she added air to the wheels. As we rolled out the door (much more smoothly), she said:
"Do the brakes work OK? Allright? Well, drive carefully and safely and have a nice day! Thank you so much for patronizing our humble establishment!"
This is actually the kind of service you usually expect in Japanese stores. The tyres are getting smooth, so it may be time for another store visit soon. For once, I actually look forward to go shopping.
Japan is one of the safest places in the world, according to crime prevention statistics. There is less crime in Japan than almost anywhere else where statistics are not lies. The secret is a combination of ubiquitous police and popular high morals.
Even if you include active volcanoes, the risk of tsunamis, tornadoes (yes, Japan does have them), frequent heavy rain and thunderstorms, Japan is a safe place. And it has a well functioning welfare system, which even if stingy makes sure that children do not have to go without food and clothes. Where we live, the city pays the hospital bills for children.
Money is not usually the main objection in Japanese society, though. This is the third richest country in the world (assuming China is not fiddling with the statistics). But wealth is more evenly distributed than in China, perhaps even than in the US.
The general attitude towards children is a bigger problem. There have been isolated instances of violence towards children by people who are angry at them being noisy. Children will not be quiet and sit in a corner unless they are sick or mentally if not physically beaten into submission, but that is how they should be according to many (elderly) Japanese. Children screaming loudly in trains and restaurants will be given the same welcome as children screaming on airplanes.
That Japanese, outside the immediate family circle, are giving children the cold shoulder is one reason that Japan has so few children. Contrast that with two very different places with very different attitudes to children, which we also have some experience from: Honolulu and Bangkok.
It was a complete surprise to find food banks adverising the need of children to get a decent evening meal. According to the food bank advertisements, one in four children in Hawaii have to go to bed hungry.
If that is not disgraceful in the richest country in the world, it is doubly disgraceful in a culture which prides itself on how it values the Ohana - the family. How can you even imagine letting your child starve, or even the child of your neighbor?
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.