There’s an anarchist in the house, tearing it apart — impervious to reason, impervious to threats, impervious to everything. A newborn infant has no sense of dignity, no sense of right and wrong, no regard for the most elementary human decency. Few things in life can drive an adult to greater extremes of distraction than a helpless baby that won’t stop crying.
What does it want? It can’t tell you, and nothing you can think of — milk, fondling, a walk, a toy — quiets it. Already, it seems, the world has let it down too grievously; the infant will wail its grief to eternity — and you have to be at work in the morning.
The Asahi Shimbun last month published a report on abusive head trauma in infants and small children. The most trivial action can produce the most tragic results. The baby howls and you’re at your wits’ end. You’ve tried this and tried that, nothing works; you give the baby a shake or a thump; it brings you to your senses and you hate yourself immediately. Too late — you may have impaired the child’s development for life.
An infant’s skull is soft and sensitive. An infant’s brain knows nothing of adult life — its demands, its stresses and strains. “I survive on catnaps at the office,” a young father tells the Asahi Shimbun. “My colleagues, I think, are none too happy about it.”
A mother tells the newspaper of being all alone with her infant after her husband’s transfer to Hokkaido, where she has no family or friends. She’s been driven at times, she admits, to “borderline abuse.”
There’s an infant in all of us. It wants what it wants, knowing not what but determined to get it whatever it is, whatever it costs and whatever the world may say. Maturity brings a measure of resignation. We learn and accept that we can’t have everything. We curb our appetites, settle down, make our peace with life’s natural limits — some of us sooner, others later; a few, of course, never.
Few venues defy life’s natural limits with more gusto and sheer force of will than “the nightless city.” It’s a worldwide phenomenon, represented most famously in Japan by the Tokyo neighborhood of Kabukicho. You’re more likely to read of it nowadays as a suspected ground zero in the surge of coronavirus infections than as a garden of earthly delights — but the delights are still there, as Shukan Gendai magazine reported last month with mingled awe and horror.
It’s hard to suppress a grudging admiration for people — overgrown infants — who can stand up to a viral pandemic and say to it, in effect, “Do your worst, you will not change my life one iota!” Shukan Gendai introduces us to a representative of the breed, a woman in her 20s who works at a hostess club and amuses herself at a host club.
She is, she says, “host crazy.” She describes the indulgences that beguile her nights off, with young men whose sole aim and apparently greatest pleasure is to please her. How she comes by the fantastic sums of money that buy their ministrations we are not told — probably by showering similar indulgences on her own clients. However that may be, the magazine assures us, a night’s bill that runs to ¥6 million is shocking only to the uninitiated.
What it buys is an orgy of excess that typically begins with a “champagne tower” — a master hand overturning bottles of expensive champagne above glasses arranged to form a tower and producing (one supposes) minimal spillage — and rises to various forms of close contact best left to the imagination.
Shukan Gendai poses the obvious question: “Aren’t you afraid of infection?”
The woman brushes it off with breathtaking nonchalance.
“The chief host is my boyfriend,” she says. “Not meeting him would be worse than dying.”
Besides, even infection, she says, has its advantages.
“I might pass on the virus to some of my more unpleasant clients,” she says. “Most girls in this business feel the same way.”
We leave the nightless city now, and bring the discussion down to earth, where ordinary people weighed down by ordinary cares cope to the best of their ordinary abilities. Spa magazine last month introduced a woman whose story is apropos. She’s single and 36. She works in a food processing plant. Her son is 3.
Single mothers have been hit especially hard by the epidemic. Often poor to begin with, surviving on low-paying part-time jobs, they are particularly vulnerable to job loss as restaurants, bars and stores cut staff or close altogether. This woman kept her job but the day care center her son attended closed. Time off to care for him reduced her pay. The center has since reopened, but could close again.
She thought of the nightless city. Should she work there? Why not? A stable, lucrative income would calm her nerves and assure her child a better life. She checked websites, made phone calls. It was tempting.
She decided against it. What if she got infected? What would her boy think of his mother doing that kind of work? Were the habits it imposed and the states of mind it required compatible with motherhood? Her doubts grew. She’ll stay where she is — for now. She’ll manage somehow — she hopes.
Fitness magazine Tarzan this month takes us deeper still into the mundane. Its concern: spreading waistlines. People kept home by the virus are snacking too much, exercising too little, yielding, for want of distraction, to the infantile lust for food and drink. It urges self-control.
It sees particular danger in a social custom given impetus by fear of infection — the online drinking party. The “real world” imposes limits — last call, last train, the simple need to stay sober enough to get home. Absent those, you must impose your own limits. “Last call, 9 p.m.!” the magazine suggests. Is it joking? Or is its point that if you’re not too strict with yourself you’ll be too lax? Surely there’s a happy medium somewhere.
Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations. Michael Hoffman’s latest book, now on sale, is “Cipangu, Golden Cipangu: Essays in Japanese History.”
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