Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Un shopping mall de tête

Kid heaven - parent's hell

"Lets's go to Apita!"

From the sublime to the ridiculous, yesterday I spanned the extremes that Japan can offer. Having indulged in a beautiful bike ride in the morning I decided to pay my family dues, and foolishly asked my son and his friend if they would like to go out somewhere, "Anywhere you like." I should have known this lamentable lack of parental direction would only end up one way, in a visit to a busy modern shopping centre.

These four words, that are merely unappealing in themselves, become downright horrible when put together. This particular BMSC (say that to yourself as an acronym and you will get the picture), seems to be the font of all that is wonderful to children around here. It exercises a Pied-Piper like fascination beyond anything that is actually in the building. Having once broken with thousands of years of agrarian tradition, this generation has gone the whole hog and fetishized modernity. Apita seems to have become the family outing of choice for the under 50's brought up on TV advertising.

Escape pod

To be fair, you can see the attraction for those who are in the mountains all week, eating traditional food day in, day out, working at construction or road maintenance, or small-scale farming in all weathers. The blaring distractions of the BMSC are as different as can be: a screaming illusion of vacuum packed freedom and limitless choice, as effective a myth of redemption and immortality as any tinpot religion. All that is not in the valleys seems to be there.

And yet when we arrived in the arcade section, the children seemed at a loose end, wandering aimlessly without playing anything. 'How about this one?' 'Nah.' 'Or this? 'Nooo daddy.' It seemed to be enough to stand dazed and confused immersed in the dinning babble of electronica beneath the flourescent lights. To be there, be seen, to be part of something, a badge of courage and belonging at the centre of the child universe. Groups of older boys blasted aliens with realistic machine pistols, and children hunched over baffling machines as if communing with new life-forms. A few furtive adults fed gambling machines with pots of change. M-chan fed the change machine with 1,000 Yen notes, and got through two (£15), with some fluffy toys, and a few impossibly cute video game goes to show for it.

Downstairs the other games section contained machines that appear to cost 100 Yen (80p). They spat out a gaming card for that, then ask for more cash before you can play a game. Neither the boy nor myself understood, with tense fathers and children of the zone breathing down our necks, craning to be at it with folders and stacks of cards representing a huge investment in hand. One child kicked his father for something, and it was clear who was in control, the parents cowed by the intensity of their children's fixations.

Not me though. An hour and a half left me with a splitting shopping mall de tête, and we were off into the night, with the only view of a BMSC I like - the one you get when leaving.

Bye bye BMSC


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