One of the aspects of Japanese living that I really respect is the importance of raising independent children. It’s one reason that children wear uniforms with blazers to preschool. Each day they have to change their clothes for PE or art including doing and undoing buttons. Then they also must put their belongings in the proper place. The children also go on small field trips about once a month. The parents are not invited nor do we sign permission slips. I usually don’t know about it until after it happens. It’s not uncommon for locals to send their preschoolers to grab something from the neighborhood store. There is even a reality TV show that follows children as young as 2 or 3 on their first errand. We live near an elementary school, and I have never seen a parent walking their child to school. Depending on where they live they may have to take the train there too. I still do a double take when I see a small child standing by him or herself waiting for the train. Kids under six ride the train for free if accompanied by an adult. By themselves, it is half price. I often threaten Will if he is not behaving that I will ditch him at the station without fare home.
Today, I tested Will’s independence at Kidzania, Tokyo, another indoor play place that has been on my list for awhile. One of the key concepts of Kidzania is that the kids, as young as 3, are the workers in this make believe city, and they must perform their duties without parental involvement. In fact, there are lots of areas where parents are not permitted. Annaliesse and Shawna also had this on their bucket list, so we planned a day to go together. We weren’t sure if we were allowed near our children at all during the day so figured it would be more fun for the three of us to hang out together. Shawna volunteered to drive so we wouldn’t have to crowd onto a commuter train, and we arrived right as the 9-3 day shift began.
With over 100 activities to choose from, I had shown Will the list the day before to get an idea of what he was most wanted to do. All three children expressed interest in the train activities, so we reserved the next shift. You can only reserve one activity at a time but can stay and wait for one with an opening. In hindsight, since it was only 15 minutes until the next session started, we should have gone and signed them up for another activity that had a longer wait. We could’ve then come right back to the train station and maybe squeezed in an extra activity for the day. At least we didn’t waste this time since we took them to the bank to open their accounts. A sign outside read “Kids Only” so they had to figure this out on their own. We could peek as they stood at the counter. They emerged a few minutes later with a wallet, a bank card and slip stating 50 Kidzania dollars, or kidZos, had been deposited in their account (50 Kidzos are given on arrival).
We walked back to the train station for their first job. Addie and Brian had chosen to drive the train while Will picked working on the tracks. I was surprised at his choice but agreed working with power tools was a great fit for him. As with all the activities, the children had to first change into their work uniforms by themselves. Addie and Brian were taken inside the train out of sight from the adults, but I was able to observe Will work outside the train. His task was to take apart the track and move it to a new location with assistance from his “boss”. My vantage point was also next to the Japanese equivalent of the DMV where older children that wanted to rent a car had to spend a shift listening to a fairly lengthy lecture then take their driver’s test to obtain a license. Kidzania was definitely resembling the real world. As with each job when the children were done, their boss paid them for their job, and the money was stashed in their wallet.
From there we walked by the Kidzania Police Department and signed the children up for the next available slot at 11:45. They were already hungry so we headed up to get some pizza. On the way we passed the hospital where a couple shifts were about to start. Being a surgeon was one choice, but the kids picked the ER as soon as they learned they could ride in the ambulance. We were told we could wait by the ambulance outside the hospital to see them perform their duties. I was pleased to see that once in their EMTs outfits, the children were brought into a room where I could watch through the window as they were trained in CPR. A call came into the ER, and the three loaded into the ambulance. We followed the ambulance (lights and sirens blaring) to a courtyard where a dummy lay unconscious. Brian’s job was to check for a pulse while Addie was the one to give CPR. Will was in charge of keeping people back especially when it was time for him to administer the defibrillator. The children worked on their patient longer than I expected before helping to load him on a stretcher and into the ambulance. I loved that Will learned about CPR on this job; one reason this was my personal favorite of the day. It was also just absolutely adorable.
After feeding the kids pizza and chicken nuggets at Pizza La (there was also a Mos Burger), we dropped them off for their shift at the Police Station. Once dressed in their uniforms, they attended a meeting with the Police Chief then were sent into town on patrol. Will had the radio in order to receive instructions. We followed behind them as they entered the souvenir shop to check with the clerk that everything was OK. They collected a lost wallet then Addie told us to stop following them. We hung back as they left the store hoping to follow from a greater distance. They had successfully been trained in losing their tail, and we didn’t find them again until they returned to the station at the end of their shift.
I signed Will up for the last slot at the fire station. Then he met Addie and Brian at the airport. All three signed up to be pilots, and Will was able to join their shift by waiting fifteen minutes. We were able to watch their briefing including learning how to file a simplified flight path. Then they were whisked inside the mock ANA plane to the flight simulator. I was able to watch the kids on a TV before I left to scout out the potential for one more activity. I figured Will would enjoy being a delivery man with Yamato, also known as the Black Cat Truck, which is Japan’s equivalent to UPS or FedEx. They had a shift ending right before his fireman shift so I rushed him over when he was done being a pilot. Unfortunately his stated report time (10 minutes before his shift’s start) at the Firehouse overlapped with the last few minutes of the Black Cat job so they wouldn’t accept him. Instead I took him to the department store, another place I wasn’t allowed to enter. I was able to see a table displaying items that were priced for children who had only worked one day at Kidzania and instructed him to look there. He selected a police car for which he wouldn’t need his fireman wages to purchase. He brought it to the register just when I remembered we needed to go to the ATM to get the 50 kidZos he’d received when he entered the park (yes, one often forgets in Japan that you must have cash in most places). The store clerk told him he didn’t have enough in his wallet, and we went to the “money machine”. Will loved using the ATM and going shopping by himself. This filled most of the time before he was due at the firehouse. It was also a good idea to go shopping then. None of us realized the department store closed right at 3 pm. Poor Addie whose last shift ended right at 3:00 couldn’t go spend her money.
Will was more than happy to go sit in the Firehouse until his shift started. From outside, I watched him wait patiently and then spied on him for firemen training, I realized that I was getting to see what my child is like at school. Just this week, his sensei told me that he is often the kid they ask the others to emulate. I’m not going to lie but my head exploded when she told me this. I’m a bit incredulous that my high energy child is the one modeling good behavior. However as I watched Will today, I saw a calm, attentive child. Throughout the day, he’d waited patiently without whining. I realized his jobs had been full of listening and following directions. All the jobs lasted 25-35 minutes in which from what I saw he was continually engaged and he reported thoroughly enjoying. As firemen they were assigned a number and had to line up in order or answer when their number was called. Although he saw it as playing, they had been given and were expected to be responsible in their chosen professions. He was expected to take turns while ringing the bell in the firetruck and to wait to spray out the fire until given the go ahead by the fire chief. It was pretty awesome that they got to spray real water at the burning building, but they also had to do roll call too. I’d prepared myself that I wasn’t going to be able to see my child throughout the day, but I got to be more of a spectator than I anticipated. Although not allowed into any of the “indoor” workplaces, most had windows so I could see and sometimes hear. If his job took him “outside”, I was able to witness more (unless of course he purposely ditched me). I honestly had as much fun as Will watching him excel at his independence.
We finished the day with my spending too much money on the professional photos from Will’s jobs and then reuniting with our friends. Addie had worked as a veterinarian’s assistant (including getting a rectal temperature reading on one of the patients), and Brian had worked at the Suntory Beverage Center stocking vending machines. Everyone declared the day a great success. Annaliesse, Shawna and I couldn’t get over how valuable the experience was for our children. We know a couple people who have gone to Kidzania but not many. It is on the pricier side–about $50 for both Will and I. I know people who do Disney often, and we discussed this was a less expensive yet more beneficial experience for the kids. In short, it was worth every penny, and I plan on taking Will again. Our children had a fantastic time too, and Will has repeatedly listed the jobs he wants to do next time. We also loved the attention to detail throughout the city and that it featured so many Japanese companies (Yamato, Tokyo Gas, Autobacs etc) that have become backdrops to our lives here.
At bedtime, Will was adamant that he wanted to sleep in his police costume. I convinced him to wear his policeman shirt which is too small for public wear but certainly more comfortable than the costume. He then got very frustrated as he needed the black thing for his head that was part of the uniform. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I just added to his anger when I suggested his police cap. He insisted I knew what he was talking about, and he “had to have the black thing to be a real policeman”. Where was my calm Kidzania kid? I finally realized that he was talking about the hairnet they made the kids wear with all the costumes. I’d luckily shoved one in my bag. It was retrieved, and he passed out with his proper uniform intact.
Important Note: Wednesday is English day. The English activities are noted and rightly half of the 100 activities were designated English. I highly recommend going on an English day or I think it would be very frustrating for your child.
Kidzania is currently in 19 countries and locations in Dallas, New York and Chicago are under development. http://www.kidzania.com/
Kidzania, Tokyo: http://www.kidzania.jp/tokyo/en/