Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Every winter time with calendar-setting regularity we enjoy the exorcising Setsubun festival, and then the quainter Baby Crying Sumo event. The untrained or uninitiated eye might call it the season for child abuse festivals in Japan, where so many seem to take sadistic delight in making babies and young children cry. The owner of untrained eyes might ask if no one here thinks critically about the wisdom of making youngsters cry as entertainment. Television newscasts always show clips of kindergarteners wailing in fear as some adult terrorizes them in a store-bought demon mask while they and their teachers perform the mamemaki bean-throwing ritual. The untrained eye might see child exploitation in such broadcasts. Later, newspapers will feature front page photos of sumo wrestlers shaking babies as if it were a joke or a game, or the babies were only dolls - maybe the same wrestlers who associate with gangsters, then get into drunken saloon brawls, and then later participate in the hazing murder of young acolytes at their stables.
It’s all in good fun, perhaps based somewhat on the idea that strong lungs are a sign of health and strength and a portent of future good fortune. But to the untrained eye it might surely look like culturally-sanctioned child abuse. The untrained eye might even trace connections between such unfortunate childhood experiences here and later social burs like school bullying, juvenile crime, social alienation and eventually adults who, for a variety of reasons, refrain from large families - perhaps as a strategy for minimizing the perpetuation of such abuse.