Consider the baby carriage. It seems an odd notion, given the rock-bottom birth rate, and odder still in view of the seeming innocence of the item in question, but freelancer Shuntaro Fukagawa, writing in Sapio (March), has his eye on a heated, if not quite raging, controversy – just the sort of thing to work chronic Internet posters into a lather.
Baby carriages take up a lot of space. Trains and buses are crowded enough without them. When the occupant is a baby, that’s one thing. When it’s an elderly person using it in lieu of a seat, maybe it’s another. And when it’s an 11-year-old kid? That happens too, apparently, though the example given pertains to a shrine rather than to public transportation, frustration and fatigue can get the better of one.
Here, says Fukagawa, symbolized and compressed, are all the divisive forces of modern society: left vs right, men vs women, old vs young and so on. Insults fly back and forth. Carriage users parry accusations of gross inconsiderateness with cries of “Discrimination! Misogynist! Narrow-minded! No wonder people don’t have babies anymore!” And when tempers really flare: “You’re just like Donald Trump!”
If ever a crowd should come together in the spirit of peace and conciliation, it’s on the occasion of "hatsumode," the year’s first visit to a Shinto shrine. Enter the baby carriage, and harmony cracks and shatters.
The episode Fukagawa recounts occurred at a suburban Tokyo shrine on Jan 1. Signs posted on shrine grounds read, “Please refrain from using baby carriages.” What was this? Until recently this particular shrine had made available a special lane for carriages and wheelchairs. Had society taken the forward step of recognizing and facilitating universal access only to retreat to the bad old days of “discrimination” against the weak and infirm?
Yes and no. Yes, the retreat was a fact, the shrine explained - but only for the reason that there had been abuses. Large family groups clustered around a single baby carriage in order to beat the crowds created bottlenecks that discommoded the elderly and people in wheelchairs. Unseemly melees had broken out. There were reports of injuries – adding insult to which was the spectacle of an 11-year-old in a baby carriage pushed by family members who no doubt thought what they were doing was very clever. Outrage went viral on the Internet.
The shrine (which Sapio’s article does not name) said it withdrew the carriage lane at the request of police. The intention was not to discriminate against the weak but on the contrary, to protect them.
Fukagawa uses this particular incident to make a general point. He divides humanity into two types: sly people and honest people. The latter must be constantly on guard against the former, who will do anything they can get away with, if it’s to their advantage. As at shrines, so at supermarket check-outs and train station platforms. There’s always someone poised to slip in ahead of you if your attention seems elsewhere.
At the height of the 11-year-old-in-the-baby-carriage incident someone posted: “Baby carriages are not for school kids!” Fukagawa foresees that becoming a proverb expressing more than one kind of outrage.© Japan Today