Independence through Community

Three small children walked on the streets ahead of us, heading to school, waiting for the public buses and subways. Clad in distinctive yellow caps and colorful backpacks, still swaying slightly on undeveloped legs as they walked, they were carefree and unsuspecting…highly prone to tragic accidents, and the perfect targets for child abductors. Had any parents in my hometown given their child this level of independence, child services would have been knocking at their door in a second. My biggest surprise in Kyoto was really my own realization at my level of distrust of strangers and neighbors. In the US, it seemed natural to walk my sisters to and from school each day, to buy their tickets at the train station or bus stop if I needed to. They still don’t know how to use public transportation, and neither of my parents have ever trusted them to ride a train alone.

Yet in Japan, these schoolchildren are not as vulnerable as they appear at first sight. Nearly every school requires that their students wear uniforms, distinguishing them from other schools in the area. From elementary to high school, any student caught out of school or committing some small crime can be identified and referred to school officials even before their parents are notified. It is also understood that, should anyone – civilian or public official – see a child out of place, they would see to it that they are taken to safety.

I guess it isn’t particularly strange to see children with greater independence in a country with a strong communal culture. The children in yellow hats and tiny uniforms are not only their parents’ responsibility, but that of the community as a whole, affording them a greater level of security as they make their way through city streets and subways to school; given such a safe social environment, children are free to learn to navigate their world at a younger age.



2 thoughts on “Independence through Community

  1. How do you think that such a level of trust was established within the Kyoto community? Do you think we could encourage America to integrate this kind of uniform system to guarantee more security for the children? Or on the other hand, why should we avoid such a thing in the United States?

    • I think it’s more of an observation that I’ve made in Japan as a whole, not just Kyoto – the school uniforms and responsibility given to homeroom teachers are really the only institutional ways that schools and parents use to keep their children out of trouble, but I don’t think that that alone is enough for parents to be okay letting their children trek miles to school. People in Kyoto would have to trust that their neighbors, and complete strangers, would go to the trouble of reporting or preventing incidents involving the children.
      The uniforms themselves aren’t really a solution at all, they’re just an easy way for any helpful neighbors to identify children. This is why I think that integrating uniforms into the public school system in the USA wouldn’t have any effect. The people there are too hesitant to get involved in any issues, so maybe if they saw something happen they would have more eyewitness evidence available for investigators, but the uniforms themselves wouldn’t serve any preventative purpose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s