One of our first days in Japan, my husband’s father was driving us downtown; his friend came long for the ride. Not speaking more than five or so words of Japanese, I understood nothing about what they were saying, but it sounded like the two elders in the car were great friends who took care of each other and made each other laugh. At one point, my husband laughed too, and looked at them with an expression of wonder.
I asked him what I missed. He told me he never would have expected something like this to come out of his father’s mouth.
His father’s friend, a feisty man in his eighties who was wearing a straw hat that almost engulfed his already endearing face, noted that there weren’t any kids out on the street, even though it was summer vacation.
“Where are the kids,” he wondered.
I was still very new to Japan, and hadn’t yet been inundated with news of the national panic over Japan’s aging population and dramatic decline in the childbirth rates. I did, however, notice that there never seemed to be kids running and shrieking about, and this had made a subtle but powerful impression on me.
My husband’s father responded: “Oh, they’re here, they’re just in their own world and we can’t see them.”
I was also blown away by his father’s imagination, genius, even. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the secret world of children since.
Do we really have no access? Am I so old that I’ve leaped into an orbit divided from children by an impenetrable barrier? Obviously, I’d rather be on the other side, not because I want to be younger, but because I want to experience a world where anything’s possible again, where imagination reigns, where some pretty ugly things have not been born.
Do I even have the imagination to wonder, to imagine what might be going on in this world of children-only, like I would love to do?
I could say we were in a land far away with mysterious jungles and tiny strawberry-scented fairies and talking trees and clouds that shape-shift into magical things like outfits that make you invisible and bottles that sprout heart-shaped flowers and sing during twilight.
But I’m going to go in another direction. I’m going to say that they’re in a world exactly like ours, only we are not in it. I guess it’s another possible world concept, a parallel universe. Only how can it be the same if the people who made these children no longer exist? Who gains entry to this Child World, and how do they get to be here without having really been born to, or borne of anyone?
I’m already thinking too much. They’re alive, and so it’s possible. The kids are running across the street in the sun, like we do, only they don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic, because there are no cars, though the roads prepared form them are still around. In Child World, they have endless trees to climb and play in, because they haven’t all been cut down yet. All the buildings remain, because we’re still in transition – even in this other possible world – but they’re open to anyone, no one’s turned away, and they can turn them into whatever they’d like as soon as they enter.
All the cars and car repair shops are now (sugarfree, healthy) candy shops and (locally-produced, recycled) toy stores, because we’re still a little while away from realizing we don’t need these things – and the clothing stores are all superhero costume shops. Only they’re not known as superhero clothes, because superheroes aren’t fictional characters in cartoons or in the movies. When you put the clothes on, you simply become a superhero – not a recognizable brand superhero, but your own – what’s already inside your heart and soul is simply displayed in all its splendor and beauty for all the other kids to see and enjoy.
In fact, the shop changes every time a child enters it, so that the clothes, the magic of who they are, exist just for them. Each shop is a kaleidoscope of constantly changing outfits, and gives each child its own personal history of superhero-dom.
And of course they’re not really shops, and there’s no such thing as money, and the currency is love and communication and connection and imagination and sharing. And all that’s asked for in return is that the kids continue to play, have fun, and be happy.
Yes, I like this world very much and will try to find it and peek in, if only to prepare myself for entry.