Mommy Clique in Japan

by Bob Bookner
(Tokyo, Japan)

Mommy Clique in Japan

Like a Slap on the Face

"The mommy clique is unique to Japan. You suffer if they don't let you in, you suffer if you join."

--Tamiko Kodaira, who manages an Internet discussion board for young mothers. (Asahi Shimbun)

Every weekday morning, all over Japan, Japanese housewives and their
children gather in their neighbourhood park.

I've been coming to this neighbourhood park for over a year now. I
know most of the housewives by name as we all bring
our young children to play here each day. As my wife Naomi is
pregnant with our second son, I volunteer to take our two
year old Naoto to Iwahara Park almost every weekday morning.

My Malaysian friend Lee Kwan complains about the women. She says
they aren't very welcoming. It is hard for me too.
My friend says that Japanese women experience that same sense of

It is hard to break into the housewife clique of your local park.
I find the whole experience disheartening. I don't fit in, and it
is silly to think that I could, but I wish I
could. I miss the free and easy exchanges with North American women.

I am regarded as an oddity at Iwahara Park--the range goes from strange,
to handsome to great. I like the last two!

There are unstated social rules here. Membership in the clique
requires that you be a woman. Being a "gaijin" and being
a man, I have two strikes against me. The women here
can be very friendly to you one day, and not so much
as say hi to you the next. I sometimes wonder what I did
wrong, then remind myself this is Japan. I didn`t do anything wrong,
they are not required to say hi to me. It is a cultural difference.

Hiroko and I spent nearly 40 minutes talking about various
things one day. That was yesterday. Today she sees me in the park
but doesn't say hi. She talks with the other
women. Did I say something wrong? No, I remind myself. This is just
the custom of the neighbourhood park in Japan.
I am not new and interesting today. Yesterday I was, but today
she has no obligation to say hi to me. That`s just the way
things are, I am outside the group. And that is

what the word "gaijin" literally means: outside person.

Hiroko and the other women talk at one side of the park
while their 2-3 year olds climb all over the playground monkey bars,
slides and other amusements.

I sometimes come to the aid of one of their children as they
almost fall from some precipice. I
am thanked before they go back to their conversation. I complain to
my wife about this behaviour. "No wonder so
many Japanese children die in accidents I rage." She seems to agree.

"Naoki will be dead within two years. His
mother is just too inattentive," I predict. Naoki is two and
rambunctious. He climbs all over the playground, and I have to
admit, I have never seen him fall, but I am always afraid for him. I
seem to be the only one, as his mother is usually
50 metres away and too engaged in some conversation about the latest
gossip to wipe his forever runny nose.

When we see two year old Naoki walking home, his big sister is
with him but 30 metres ahead. His mother predictably
is not around. Essentially he is walking down the road by himself
and he is only two! His "big" sister is only five.

Two years later, Naoki and his beautiful sister lie dead on a Kanagawa
freeway. Their mother had fallen asleep at the wheel
and they were not seat belted. The mother survives. My wife tells me
the news in tears. I feel angry. I feel sad.
Why don't people see? Why don't people say anything to try to prevent
such a tragedy? Naoki's mother may spend
time in a traffic prison. Japan has traffic prisons for people who
have driven dangerously and killed people.

Another day I come to the park and there is excitement around the
bridge over the brook. Someone has caught some
crayfish. These crayfish are native to North America but have
inundated Japan's fresh water brooks and streams.
Unfortunately they are displacing some of the native wildlife, but
that doesn't concern us now. Tomohiro and the other kids are fascinated.

For this moment I am part of the group. For that I must be thankful,
for I know in the next, that it will end, like a slap
on the face.

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