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Thievery and redemption: a normal Sunday

by Zoe Bird

I am seduced by a late-flowering sprig of cherry blossom in the morning. Number Two Son — all of 6 years old — thoughtfully snags my nose with it as he lays it on my pillow. Feelings of undying gratitude are quickly spiked by concern about provenance. Not our garden, not the neighbors’, not the nearby park — is it plucked from some poor innocent’s terrace on the way to the convenience store?

“Shush, it’s a secret,” Number Two mouths, dripping cornflake crumbs. Oh well, ignorance and bliss twinned as usual.

Six o’clock. There is only one reason Numbers One and Two Sons are up at this hour on a Sunday morning. The cause is not Number One Daughter, 1 year old and rejoicing in the moniker “La Diva” for her ability to indicate commands with the token lifting of an eyebrow. No, it can only be the craze currently sweeping the country: Yugioh cards.

The card game is based on the phenomenally successful TV series “Yugioh,” a modern Errol Flynn tale about derring-do, monsters and the like with less buckle and more swash. It shows on Channel 12 on Tuesday evenings, which explains why the streets are deserted of primary school children at 7:30 p.m., and has taken over from the ubiquitous “Pokemon” as fast as platform shoes superseded sneakers. The marketing concept is simple: If there’s a character, there’s no need for a plot.

You segue smoothly from the TV screen to the card game, where the real money is made, which in turn ensures that hundreds of thousands of kids spend Saturday afternoons hunting down and consuming Yugioh products. It’s a bit steep at 150 yen for a pack of five “common” cards, or a big 300 yen for the cooler and shinier power cards. What happened to freebies with bubble gum?

While a recent Yugioh pencil case caused much groaning of admiration at school, the cards take precedence — including over any need or inclination to eat, sleep, bathe or, certainly, complete homework assignments.

To date, Number One Son has held the upper hand, amassing cards from friends, flea markets, gomi collections, train floors and street gutters. Nothing escapes him. Number Two has carefully hoarded his 100 yen weekly pocket money (currency exchange for washing up and vacuuming) and now boasts a sturdier stable of cards than his eternally lusting brother.

Cherry-blossom sprig in hand, I tiptoe past the blissfully sleeping La Diva and into the world of Yugioh battles, where cards are slapped down in an intricate succession of power and surrender. The piles of cavalry cards held in reserve in neat patterns on the tatami seem to have grown suspiciously since yesterday’s mammoth tourney. Oops — the parenting nose smells a Situation.

“I found them in the park,” blurts Number One Son, eyes beguilingly open and trustworthy. Silence and a lowered gaze from Number Two.

With some gentle but pointed prodding, the dastardly scheme is uncovered 10 minutes later. Number One Son has given (egad, not even traded) the bulk of his store of cards to Tomoya at school in return for temporary acceptance in his group. One of the “cooler” kids and an attractive little bully in his own way, Tomo-kun is the child of divorced parents who cough up literally hundreds of cards every month in guilt-laden compensation and should have scorned Number One’s puny offerings. Number One Son has replenished his stock by lifting a bunch of packs from a nearby restaurant.

A criminal in the family! Much sternness ensues, followed by an apology to the restaurant and repayment from Number One’s depleted pocket-money stocks. Amazingly, the restaurant manager smiles, pats Number One on the head and says, “Sho ga nai, ne.” I eyeball him away from admiring the fair hair of the perpetrator and into administering a mini lecture. We then have a talk with the eternally decent Miyasaka-sensei at school and a lengthy discussion at the next PTA meeting. It transpires that there is a budding criminal (male) fourth-grader in every family for miles.

Number One, in an epic moment of heroic self-redemption, offers to burn his remaining cards. There is a solemn purging in the back garden, although I notice it is only the foot-soldier cards which meet this fiery fate. Number Two Son is downcast all afternoon and refuses to be drawn or comforted. Shared sibling shame, I guess — wrongly as it turns out.

The next morning, at a slightly more civilized hour, he wakes me minus floral tribute. “I took the cherry blossom from the park,” Number Two confides somewhat moistly in my ear. “I won’t do it again.”

Aghast that my vigilance with those damn cards should rob me of such unexpected beauty, I reassure him that taking the occasional flower from the lower branches of bushes encourages growth. Of smiles and love, as well as shrubbery.