The Japanese word “kirakira” is common and easy to define: shining, glittering. Then there are the “kirakira names” that more and more children are sporting lately. What can they be? What is a shining, glittering name?
It needs two qualities to qualify. One: it must be unusual, not to say weird. Two: the kanji character or characters that signify it must be incomprehensible to the uninitiated. For example: Raito – a Japanese pronunciation of the English “light,” written with the character for "tsuki," moon. That’s kirakira to the max. Or Cheri, pronounced not sherry but cherry and written with two characters, one of which is "sakura," cherry blossom.
One more example, because it’s irresistible: Naushika, presumably with Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film “Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind” in mind. Any guesses on how you’d write that? The first character is "ima" – now; the second, "shika" – deer.
So that, briefly, is kirakira naming. In that connection, an article appearing in the November issue of the Japanese Journal of Pediatrics offered an intriguing observation, which may be meaningful – or, the article’s author admits, may not be: Among children brought to a particular hospital emergency ward at night, a disproportionate number have kirakira names.
The article unexpectedly went viral on Twitter, which is how Shukan Josei (Dec 22) first came to hear of it. Kirakira naming has excited strong passions since it got off the ground at the dawn of the mass Internet age, circa 1995, with passions intensifying as the practice spreads. Most tweeters and posters of opinions on Internet chat sites are indignantly disapproving. What kind of parents, they fume, would saddle helpless, innocent children with names like Raito? The sympathetic minority, of course, champions individuality and originality. The debate rages on.
Among those taking notice was Yuji Matsuura, a 30-year-old pediatrician at the Japan Red Cross Wakayama Treatment Center in Wakayama. His informal survey forms the core of his article in the Journal. It covers only one week in December 2013, and only his own hospital, so it is more an invitation to further investigation than comprehensive research in its own right. He wasn’t even quite sure what he was looking for, but what he found was the disproportion referred to above.
Here are the numbers: The week in question (Dec 1-7, 2013) saw 104 children under 15 brought to the emergency ward, of whom 16 had names that could (in the absence of a precise definition) be considered kirakira. Of those 16, six – 37.5% – were brought in at night (between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.). Among the 88 with more conventional names, only 11 – 12.5% – were brought in at night. The gap seems too wide to be merely chance – but if it’s significant, what does it signify?
A first suspicion – that parents who give their kids name like that might be prone to child abuse – was quickly ruled out.
Matsuura himself draws no conclusions, or even, for the time being, hypotheses. One who does, tentatively, in conversation with Shukan Josei, is Kyoto Bunkyo University sociologist Yasumasa Kobayashi, who sees a possible link between kirakira naming and the deepening isolation of the nuclear family, cut off from both the traditional community which in less hyper-urbanized times provided friendly support, and from its own older generation. The parents and grandparents are more likely than not nowadays to live too far away to be helpful. Kirakira naming, then, is a kind of call for notice in an increasingly indifferent world. The high percentage of night-time emergency ward visits, at first blush seemingly sinister, may in fact, Kobayashi suggests, show a greater concern for their children among kirakira namers – they are quick to respond to symptoms that others dismiss (often rightly) as insignificant.© Japan Today