The other day we went for a family walk in Hibiya Park, scouting hiding places for Easter eggs. You can never start early enough. I became aware that I had never been to the park before properly, I only ever went for Oktoberfest. When I lived in Munich I wouldn’t have been caught dead at Oktoberfest. As a dedicated beer lover I consider it strictly amateur hour. Yet in Tokyo I rarely miss one (there are about twenty over the course of the year). I suppose homesickness takes the strangest manifestations.
Despite being cold, muddy and barren in late winter, and despite no beer booth in sight, Hibiya Park wasn’t so bad. A sentiment we shared with a club of elderly photography enthusiasts, happily snapping away at naked trees, the occasional sturdy winter flower and a few early arrivals for spring.
One elderly couple we caught happily snapping pictures of our three-year-old daughter Hana, collecting acorns with grim determination, as if botanic currency might be the next big thing. Before we could confront the toddler paparazzi, they saw that we saw and asked us for permission, after the fact. They were nice and without ill intention, so we engaged in a quick round of small talk about the joys of photography and the cuteness of our child. At one point one of them said: “Oh, her father is German? No wonder she is so cute!”
When they left, my wife said: “So Hana is cute because of you? I am offended.”
I said: “So I am considered cute? I am offended, too.”
In my life I have heard many generalizations about Germans, not even all of them negative, but Germans being exceptionally cute must be one of the rarer assumptions. I am not much of a macho guy. I have zero interest in team sports or cars, and I have even dabbled in vegetarianism in my wilder years. And yet it troubles me that my masculinity is increasingly called into question. In the streets, neighborhood kids often point at me, calling out: “Look! Hana’s mommy!”
Not that they are far off the mark. I often jokingly refer to myself as an honorary Japanese mom, since I spend so much time among them when I take Hana to playgrounds and community centers on weekdays. Maybe the joke is becoming reality: maybe I am actually physically transforming. To paraphrase Franz Kafka: “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that on his futon his head had grown a full set of shiny black hair and his hands were clutching a Louis Vuitton diaper bag.”
The incident in the park brings to mind our earlier days in Japan, when we could hardly walk for a minute straight without someone assaulting us over the cuteness of our baby and lecturing us about the general cuteness of hāfu children. It was often annoying, but I kind-of missed it when it got less. At times I felt like berating strangers: What’s wrong with you, just walking on by!? Can’t you take a moment to compliment me on my very cute daughter!?
Perhaps we are getting less compliments, because Hana has grown so much. Sometimes I think she looks more like a 12-year-old then a three-year-old. A very cute 12-year-old, mind you. But apparently 12 years is outside of the compliments-from-strangers bracket.
One early encounter especially comes to mind: Hana and I were riding an elevator with an older gentleman. When we left, he called after us in English: “Cute boy!”
I always assumed he either got the word wrong, or telling the gender of hāfu children was difficult for him. Now I have a new theory: Maybe he was referring to me.
Main Image: Shutterstock (signed model release on file)