Last month I wondered when to expose my three-year-old daughter to Star Wars. Last weekend my wife and I decided that for the time being we will only do stars, not war. So we took Hana to the planetarium at Gotanda’s Cultural Center.
I had been to a planetarium only once before, relatively late in life, but still long before I became a husband and father. I took a female companion to the one in Ikebukuro‘s Sunshine Building, because visiting a planetarium seemed like the thing to do with a female companion. We both fell asleep within five minutes and only woke up when we were politely ushered out. I remember that date fondly – it was one of our more harmonious outings.
Still, that afternoon did not give me a representative impression of what it is like to be at a planetarium. If somebody had asked me, I probably would have said: “Um … it is sort-of like being in bed, just with your shoes on.”
I was worried that Hana might not enjoy the experience. She does not like being in bed. She suspects that somebody will try to trick her into sleeping, the ultimate insult. Also, I was afraid it might be a repeat of what I like to call The Hikarie Incident.
Once Hana and I went to a light installation at Shibuya’s Hikarie complex that had been advertised as fun for the entire family. It started with sitting in total darkness, on the floor, in a room packed with strangers, occasionally being scolded by staff in scary animal masks for accidentally shifting your legs. That part felt like being the unlucky family in one of those modern, nihilistic home invasion thrillers. Then we were subjected to a flashy and noisy onslaught of light and sound that was nothing else but a techno rave party, just without the drugs and love. It lasted for an hour, but it seemed much longer, and you were not allowed to leave (guards in scary animal masks still on patrol). Hana was not amused, and after a while I gave up trying to convince her that she was actually having so much fun. I stopped short of crying with her, but I admitted that I was as bored and irritated as she was. It was a bonding experience of sorts.
When we were finally allowed to leave our torture chamber, we came into an area where we could roam and play freely. Hana would have liked that, but by then she had cried herself into deep sleep. (Coming across TV commercials for that event later, Hana would cheerfully proclaim: “I want to go there!” Her happy mind had erased all the unhappy memories.)
At the planetarium, my worries were unfounded. The presenter, a soft, female voice in the dark, was happy to involve the children, discussing with them at length their favorite onigiri fillings and sandwich toppings, which really wasn’t that farfetched since a lot of star constellations are triangle-shaped.
My mind soon began to wander, away from onigiri and outer space, towards a writing assignment I had picked up the other day. A rather complex task, unlike anything I had ever done, and on very short notice. It was pure arrogance and stupidity that had made me jump at that impossible opportunity. It was silly pride that prevented me from simply bowing out. Alas, I had no idea how to tackle it. The client had gently rejected my first draft and kindly given me another week to come up with a completely different approach. I had already spent half that week just thinking about the project, not writing a single word. Which is unlike me; I strongly believe that writers should write, and that just thinking about writing does not count.
Suddenly, underneath the stars (and the animated animals in their space rocket), everything became clear. I knew how to do it, how to tell the tale that I had been close to deeming untellable. Hana sensed that my mind was not completely with her and the great onigiri in the sky, so she punched me with considerable force in the stomach: “Daddy, wake up!”
But I wasn’t sleeping. Never had I been more awake. In the darkness of the planetarium, I had seen the light.
So, I found our trip to be a source of inspiration. Hana found it to be a good opportunity to discuss food with voices in the dark. And my wife probably learned something about our solar system. Win-win-win.