[URBANTH-L]response to query about walking in japan

Lisa Maya Knauer lknauer at umassd.edu
Thu Jul 6 12:57:39 EDT 2006

dear all:
some weeks back there was a posting from david levinger. i forwarded it to
a friend who is not an anthropologist but does work on/in japan and she
forwarded it to h-japan list. someone responded.. but to h-japan, not
so, she sent it back to me and i am posting it here. how many degrees of
separation is that?

Begin forwarded message:
> Date:    Tue, 4 Jul 2006 01:28:38 -0400
> From:    H-Japan Editor <j-edit at MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU>
> Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Walking to school in Japan
> From: Tom Gill <251060tom580715gill at ytv.home.ne.jp>
>                                    H-JAPAN
>                                 July 3, 2006
> Re: "Research Question in Japanese Context" (posted on H-Japan July 1
> 2006)
> To: David Levinger, Executive Directior of Feet First, and fellow
> H-Japaneers
>     I'm an anthropologist and father living in Japan. I just wanted to
> tell
> you I have very mixed feelings on this issue. Yes it is good in
> principle
> for kids to walk to school -- more healthy, less traffic congestion,
> etc. On
> the other hand, many Japanese cities do not have adequate pavements on
> all
> their streets and some drivers go much too fast through those narrow
> streets. Consequently there are many traffic accidents involving kids
> walking to and from school. When my wife and I had kids at elementary
> school
> in Kyoto, we were invited to talks given by the police at the start of
> every
> school year, telling us parents about how many kids were killed and
> injured
> in traffic accidents last year and urging us to train our kids to be
> careful
> on their way to school. I can't remember the figures, but I do
> remember that
> they were shocking enough for my wife and I to stop letting our kids
> walk to
> school. We did not consider it safe and we became almost the only
> parents to
> violate the school principle that all kids should walk to school.
>     Also: You say: "In Japan, there is a very organized, yet normative
> practice of having children walk to school in self-managed groups."
> That is
> true about the walk TO school, but in my experience the walk HOME from
> school is not nearly as well organized. In the morning there is the
> system
> of tokodan,  (a group of kids with an agreed time and place to gather
> and
> walk to school toether). However, there is NO system for the walk
> home. Such
> at least has been my experience in Kyoto and Yokohama. You see, kids
> do not
> leave school at the same time in Japan. Each class finishes at a
> different
> time, and sometimes there are after-school activities too. No attempt
> is
> made to organize the walk home. Consequently, the kids walk home in
> dribs
> and drabs: sometimes very small children walk half a mile or more home
> on
> their own. Every now and then one of them gets hit by a car or
> kidnapped by
> some pervert, and everyone throws up their arms in horror...
>     Over the years, images of Japan have vacillated between that of a
> super-organized society, almost to the point of scarey imposition of
> group
> norms (QC circles, group calisthenics etc., etc.); and that of a
> casual and
> lackadaisical society (tolerance of public drunkenness, loose sexual
> morality etc., etc.) It is kind of interesting how the walk to school
> seems
> to match image 1 and the walk home matches image 2.
>     I am British and 45. When I was a kid, most kids walked to school
> in
> Britain. Now I believe most go in the parental car or a bus. It's a
> shame,
> but when parents are faced with a choice between their own child's
> safety
> and upholding the principle that it should be OK to walk to school,
> most of
> them will eventually vote for the former. The same will probably
> happen in
> Japan over the years to come.
> Well, that's my ten-yen worth anyway.
> Tom Gill

Lisa Maya Knauer, PhD
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and  African/African-American Studies
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
285 Old Westport Road
N. Dartmouth, MA
508-999-8405 office
508-999-8808 fax

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