Every morning I go down to the neighborhood entrance and spend about 30 minutes being a crosswalk guard. I've done this for more than 6 years now and I'd say I know the kids in my neighborhood pretty well and they all know me. Just because I'm the only American for miles around, all the kids know who I am, where I live and that I'm from the States. A couple of them come for English, but not all. Every morning, I'm standing out at the crosswalk with a little yellow flag, stopping cars and greeting the children in both English and Japanese. I'm not some stranger!
"Good morning! Ohayou gozaimasu! Have a good day! Kiostukete kudasai!" (be careful).
I'm almost embarraseed to tattle-tale on these kids to you, but do you know, not more than three or four of them say anything back to me or even ackowledge that I am standing there. What is so hard about saying hello to someone? Instead they all plod along, looking at their feet and they act like they're headed to the gallows or something. No smiles, no chatting, no expectations for the day.
This is not just true of grade school kids. On our walks in the morning, Tetsu and I greet the high school kids going to the station by bicycle. Most of them ride by without a glance in our direction let alone a simple reply to our greetings. It makes you want to grab the handelbars of their bicycles and say,
"Look at me! I exist! What do you lose by saying hello to me?"
Of course I never have, but I have repeated myself very loudly and gotten a startled nod though it only worked the first time. Every day the same kids go by and every day they ignore us completely. Some of the cute little jr. high girls are so pretty...if only they'd smile... Someone should tell them that a smile will make up for however many hundreds of dollars they may someday spend on make-up.
I have often heard parents and teachers say, "We want to raise children who will be able to say hello to people." That always seemed like such a low goal to aim for. Say hello. Everyone says hello. Or so I thought. Nowadays I'm really feeling that there needs to be a "Say Hello Campaign" in our area (and there are some schools in Japan that really have such a thing!) It's true though that even some of my neighbors will refuse to exchange a greeting with anyone so the children are learning this behavior or lack of it from the adults around them.
I guess I'm just wondering what I can do about the situation in my corner of the world. I can't grab kids and make them smile and say hello. I can't change whatever it is that they are feeling or thinking that makes their outlook on life seem so dismal. I doubt scolding would help and tattling to the parents or the school seems like a good way to make them gloomier. For now, I'll just go out there and say "Good morning!" as always and maybe years down the line some child will remember and think, "Hey, that nutty American lady's smile made the day a little brighter. Maybe I'll try that too."