Saturday, 1 May 2010

Taken for a ride

On a summer’s day, in a country where living space is relatively constrained, one might think that a day out at the park would provide respite from flashing lights, thuds and bleeps, animation, Japan. This is certainly true of many of Japan’s urban green spaces as well as, at first sight, Okazaki’s ‘South Park’, where I occasionally go for a run. Not at weekends, though. Across the small lake, there’s a mini-funfair, with rides and (of course, the ubiquitous) ferris wheel. It is truly a park of two halves.

I pity the parents. Even if they bring their children here for some fresh air and a walk in the woods, it’s likely that they’ll be digging into their pockets for something loud and plasticky too.

How about a shopping trip? Well, on the second floor of Wingtown, which is nothing more than a mini-mall, there are two separate arcades targeted exclusively at kids: the gaudy, noisy, flashing Nicopa, one of which – called Heartful Square – is an immense child-“friendly” games centre. I think of it as Pachinko for Beginners, Gambling for Boy Scouts. Addiction begins here, with a family outing, so lose yourself in the noise.

Heading back along to the Valor supermarket, at least here there’s the chance of a free ride: here you can pick up a colourful, cartoony shopping trolley to whizz your toddler around in. Everywhere you go, Japan is geared up for youthful escapism. For better or for worse, fantasy sits alongside the mundane.

There are days when I actually like the Japan that I have described above. But it's me that sounds a little hopeless today, isn't it?

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