Stickers, stuffed animals, Disney pen cases, a furry mascot. What do all these things hold in common? They are all objects held in high regard for the Japanese young adult. Is that a problem? Well, I sit on two sides of the fence on this one.
Every day I see 12-15 year old junior high school kids obsess over these objects. One part of me is happy that they aren’t joining gangs or worse. They have found some kind of outlet for their anxieties that is soft and warm. The other part of me is highly concerned.
You see, this affinity for childhood things doesn’t just linger into those pre-teen years. It continuous well into high school and than beyond. My wife sat next to a forty something salaryman yesterday on the bus. He was clutching a rather large stuffed fox and tenderly caressing it the whole journey. This is a suit wearing, briefcase toting, adult. He had spent the day at the office. He is carrying around a stuffed animal.
The police force has a mascot. Hell, everything has a mascot! My first take on that was, “Gee, that’s interesting.” Now, after relentlessly being onslaughted with mascots, and plush toys, and echoing high pitched screams of “kawaii!”, I am worried.
What’s really going on here? You don’t see this in most other nations (it has crept into Korea and China). I have a theory, or perhaps I remember reading this theory, that this is a case of arrested development. A very pronounced, society wide case of it. It makes perfect sense. Elementary school is really the last vestige of freedom for most people here. After 6th grade (and often before) students free time is squashed by juku (塾), then high school entrance exams, more juku, college entrance exams, a brief 2 year college “study time” reprieve, followed by 2 years of company recruitment sessions. Then the salaryman/office lady hamster wheel begins.
So it makes perfect sense for the public to pine over those childhood days, to reach out and remain intimately connected with those idols of the past.
The rest of us have to put up with it I suppose.