Matt and I recently traveled to Tokyo, where we visited a number of venues normally swarming with out-of-control children. I love my zoos and amusement parks, but dread dealing with the hoardes of screaming rugrats, pushing and shoving and acting like fools. However, I have to say that Japanese children are an absolute delight — polite, mannered, and well-behaved. Makes me wonder what the heck we're doing so wrong with kids in this country!
Our first encounter with a group of Japanese field-trippers occurred at the Tokyo SeaLife Aquarium. I can usually hear American school kids from a mile away (what happened to using your “inside voice?”) — but I had no idea these children were even in the same room until I got right up to them. They were so calm and quiet that I wondered if it's standard procedure for Japanese teachers to drug their students before an outing (I personally know a several kids who could benefit from the occasional shot of Thorazine!) Nope — they were simply well-behaved. They still got excited when a penguin splashed by, and there was much chatter at the touch tank — but it wasn't that shrill spike-through-your-skull noise so often heard from western school groups.
This scene was repeated wherever we went — children lined up in pairs, holding hands, enjoying the exhibits without disrupting the peace or inconveniencing anyone else. Even in places where kids were allowed to roam free (mostly the hands-on science museums), they were respectful and courteous. I was taking a photo of a sliced-up head (who I named Fred) at the Museum Of Emerging Science, when a couple of kids appeared at my elbow. wanting to see what it was all about. In the U.S., I would have expected them to shove right in front of me (because, you know, anyone under 4-foot tall inherently has more rights than an adult!) But no — even without an adult telling them to wait their turn, these kids hung back until I was done, then took their place at the table to examine Fred's brain. And it's not because I was a foreigner or bigger than them or that they knew that I could inflict pain if they pushed me too far — these kids acted like that with everyone, including other kids! I saw no bullying, none of that “it's-mine-and-you-can't-have it” garbage, and zero crying or whining because so-and-so is mean. Just children learning, exploring, and having a good time with each other. Wonderful! We even sat next to a pile of grade-schoolers at a Cirque du Soleil show, and they were model citizens — no fidgeting, no climbing over the seats, no talking during the performance. You can't even get teenagers to behave that well in the states!
Contrast that with a recent stop-off at the Key West Aquarium. All it took was one family (not even a whole class-full) to drive me out of that place — fortunately, I was mostly done looking at fish anyway. A toddler shrieking at the top of his lungs (while a decreasingly patient curator was trying to give a lecture on the sea cucumber), his brother mercilessly slapping the water in the touch tank with his palm (splashing the elderly couple nearby and keeping at least 10 other people from being able to fondle a horseshoe crab), and an older sister running up and down the aisles (begging for a ride to the hospital with a skull fracture, as far as I could tell.) And the parents just stood there, immobile, irresponsible, and completely oblivious to the effect their kids might be having on others. If 30 Japanese children can manage to behave in public with a single teacher in charge, why is it so hard for this one American family (especially with an adult-to-kid ratio of 2:3?)
You may think that I'm just a crabby no-kidder — but I'm not alone in my distaste for obnoxious children in public places. Matt's firm developed the Georgia Aquarium, and they designed the building to intentionally keep school groups segregated from other visitors (all because Home Depot founder and patron Bernie Marcus was fed up with being run over by wild field-trippers at other aquariums.) They come in through a separate entrance and spend their entire day on a different floor from the main aquarium viewing areas. Call it profiling, call it discrimination, but I'm in favor of the idea — I wish every facility that invited classes to visit did the same!
And my ankles love the fact that places like the Baltimore Aquarium refuse to let people bring their oversized strollers inside (if you've ever been clipped by an inattentive breeder pushing one of these monstrosities, you know what I mean!) I just wish Disney would outlaw the damned things — “parking lots” outside every ride and restaurant, filled with huge Winnebagos, big enough for a 9-year-old to sit in. Come to think of it, I only saw 2 people with strollers at Tokyo DisneySea — and they were umbrella-style, at that!
I actually have a theory about why Japanese kids seem better-behaved in public. You might imagine that it's generations of societal influence, the pressure to be “civilized,” the need to conform. But I actually think it's the clothing. Kids on school trips are all dressed adorably alike — either in uniforms (short pants and Madeleine hats) or matching casual outfits. Everywhere we went, Matt and I saw groups of them — wearing the same windbreakers, the same hats (with their names written in kanji on the brim so no one gets misplaced), even the same little backpacks. And I'm sorry, there's just no way that you can act out when you're so damned cute. American parents, take note — if you want your kids to behave, stop letting them prance around looking like fashion models and make them dress like children again!
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
If you would like to reprint this page, please contact me