Tokyo Daddy Issues: Culture for Cry-Babies

We have started going to concerts again well over a year ago. The other day last week, however, can still be considered a milestone. It was our first concert in what seems like an eternity that did not feature performers in animal costumes and sing-along tunes in high-pitched voices. It was a real classical concert at a real classical music venue – Shibuya’s Hakuju Hall.

It still was a kids’ concert, though. Real musicians playing real music for real listeners starting at age 0. Indeed a lot of the patrons seemed to have been directly taken from the delivery room to the auditorium. They were not that interested in listening to music, since they were still pretty occupied with announcing their presence to the outside world and expressing their irritation about this new stage of existence.

It was wonderful. There is nothing that lets me relax better than the sweet sound of crying and screaming children. The more and the louder the better. It gives me the comfort of knowing that my own kid is at least not as bad as them. And if somebody should complain about my toddler eventually raising her own volume, I can point my finger at those babies and reply: “But they started it!”

As comforting as all the wailing was, it sabotaged my plan of closing my eyes and imagining myself at an entirely real concert, one of the grown-up variety. Of course that was not our main reason for attending anyway. Mainly we intended to gently expose Hana to some proper culture. It’s not too late to prevent her mind from being exclusively informed by pop culture, like so many minds are these days, like her dad’s certainly is, who is beginning to feel a bit silly and insufficient still obsessing about comic books and TV shows now that the first light breezes of life’s early autumn can be felt.

Sometimes I wish my parents had been stricter about my own musical education. I did not like playing the damn flute, so I did not have to play the damn flute. Even my music teacher begged me to stop. Once he advised me to just pretend playing my instrument at a school performance. That was fine with me then. Today I can’t help thinking that if somebody had pushed me just a little bit harder, maybe I wouldn’t have turned out a complete musical illiterate.

But how much is too much? The other day a Japanese mom was shocked when she overheard that Hana hasn’t started studying kanji yet. “But… but… it’s already too late!” she blurted out.

In a way she took a weight right off my heart: If it’s too late for a three-year-old to start studying kanji, then I probably don’t have to bother in my late 40s. Now I just have to figure out how to tell that to my Japanese wife and parents-in-law.

On the other hand, a German tutor recently was alarmed that Hana more or less knows the alphabet and can write most of her own name (she tends to skip the N). Impressed as she was, she gave me a look that subtly implied I might be pushing my daughter too hard. That can’t be further from the truth, I’m pretty laissez-faire. The only thing I might be a bit pushy about is making Hana memorize all the Star Wars characters’ names. But that’s a father’s duty.

We are thinking about enrolling Hana in music lessons, even though I have mixed feelings about that. When I think of music teachers, I think of geriatric sadists with hard faces and harder hairdos, making delicate, innocent children pound the piano keys until their fingers bleed. Not that I ever encountered such teachers: I’m probably just obsessing over the wrong TV shows. Ballet, which is something Hana has expressed interest in, is even worse. My only frame of reference for what a ballet school is like comes from classic European horror movies. I can’t shake those images of evil teachers, mean students, and the centuries-old, bloodthirsty witch taking a nap in the attic.

Maybe we don’t have to go down that road anyway. After the concert I asked Hana: “Did you enjoy it?”
She replied: “Yes, they had pretty dresses.”
“What did you like best about the concert?”
“The lady in the green dress.”

So it’s fashion she’s interested in. We should support her going in that direction. The fashion industry seems like such a lovely working environment.

Image: Shutterstock, signed model release on file with Shutterstock, Inc.

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