Thursday, May 05, 2005


Every American (I don't know what they think about this in Europe) who comes to Japan and sees children playing kakurenbo is deeply shocked, even more so an American who raises children here, and grandchildren, and watches them participating in it all unaware of the horror that attends the violation of childhood's fundamental rules at whatever age.

The way we used to play it when I was a kid - and these are strict rules, you don't fool around with these rules - was that the one who was 'It' would count loudly to ten or whatever assigned number, while all the other kids ran in absolute silence (who would do otherwise?) as far away as allowed by the count to find a really sneakily deviously unfindable hiding place that would lead to victory for the hider and defeat for the seeker. That's the name of the game.

'It,' upon reaching the agreed number count, would then say loudly (heavy penalties for whispering) "Here I come, ready or not, anyone around my goal is It!" (to catch the sneaks who ran zero feet away), then begin to seek as sneakily deviously as the hiders had hidden. Contrast this with the way kakurenbo is played in Japan, a comparison perhaps revelatory of fundamental international differences, as the hiding-and-seeking children of these two noble cultures grow up to become the hiding-and-seeking leaders of their respective nations.

In Japan, for some reason I have never been able to fathom, 'It' shouts "Mo ii kai?" ("Is it ok yet?") over and over and over in response to the hiders, who as they seek their hideaways repeatedly say "Mada da yo!" ("Not yet!") thereby regularly revealing their direction of travel; then at the end, when at last they are satisfactorily hidden, do they remain silent? NO! They yell out "Mo ii yo!" ("It's ok now!") thereby giving away their exact location to 'It,' who immediately heads straight for where the hider's voice last emanated. Try as I might, as an experienced former child I cannot see the charm in this.

In the American version, the object is clearly to give yourself all the breaks you can possibly get, thereby to stay hidden in what is nitty-gritty competition for victory; in Japan, by contrast, it seems that the object is to be found, to be of material assistance in your own defeat!

So each time I see the game played here I am sorely tempted to tell my young relations to say nothing in response to the call of 'It' and just hide quietly, but that would bring the Japanese version of the game to an instant halt, since 'It' would never receive the signal to begin seeking, so would stand there forever, presumably. For whatever reason, that ploy has never been allowed to survive here...

As to what this means at the international level, all I can say is mada da yo...

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