Golden Boy

By on April 9, 2015

Did you know my kid is kind of a celebrity?

He wasn’t when we lived in Ohio. He’s cute, sure, but his blue eyes and blond hair only garnered him the occasional “Aww, isn’t he sweet?” from other shoppers or moms on our grocery store or park outings.

Then we moved to Japan.

Then his cuteness quotient skyrocketed, at least judging by his appeal to strangers on the train, at the mall and on the street. He’s starting to think his name is “Kawaii,” given how often he hears that word when we’re out-and-about. I’d heard that blond kids in Japan get a fair amount of attention but I assumed that in a place as big, sophisticated and international as Tokyo, he really wouldn’t generate that much interest.

I was wrong. My kid is a 5-year-old chick magnet. More sweet, beautiful and gorgeous girls have ogled him in the eight months since we moved here than I think he will experience during the rest of his lifetime in the U.S. They coo, wave hello and sometimes even clap their hands in delight when he gives them a ‘What’s up?’ head nod.

He might as well have a modeling contract, given how many photographs have featured his toothy smile.

To be clear, we don’t truly get mobbed. Most people are relatively discreet. This is Japan, after all. On the train, I’ll glance up from my phone to see someone has pointed their phone in our direction or that he’s getting stared at by the little kids seated across from us. People walking by will do a double-take, sometimes turning around to get a second look at him.

Other adults are more direct, asking if they can take his photo. I’m less bothered, actually, by the plain requests. It’s creepier to have someone sneak a photo, I feel, than when they openly acknowledge their interest in his appearance. He’s different. That’s interesting. People are curious. I’m cool with that. While they are busy staring at him, I’m busy staring at them.

Photographs, whatever. Touching him? Now I’m a little nervous. That’s a bigger cultural leap to make. In America, I’m used to living in an ultra-cautious, overly-protective society, where even a teacher can get in trouble sometimes for giving a loving hug to a crying child. We don’t want people to have physical contact with our kids. Especially if we don’t know them well.
Here? People don’t have the same worries. See a cute kid? Of course you pat him on the head or lightly touch his cheek. You can even offer him candy, at least if you’re an old man or a doting grandma-type. I understand the attention isn’t creepy. There’s a greater level of trust in this culture when it comes to children out in the world. Just think of all those little kids in their school uniforms commuting on the metro unaccompanied. The Japanese seem better at assuming the best in people and that’s usually a good thing.

And yet. I have to adjust my sensibilities and that isn’t always easy. A few weeks after arriving in Tokyo, we were out shopping. I became busy looking at bike helmets and glanced over to my son. He’d been joined by a smiling male clerk in the bike aisle. The man reached out and brushed his fingers lightly through my kid’s hair. Stateside? I might have been looking around for store security. But there was nothing to report here. My child was grinning and so was the guy. They were having a good moment and no one – including me – should have been bothered. Was I bothered? Yeah. A little. But I got over it.

For my family, Japan will only be our home for a few years. When we return to the U.S., my son won’t be followed by paparazzi everywhere he goes and I know that the random head pats from strangers will abruptly end. He’ll have to adjust to the lack of attention and learn that not every crowd will care that he’s in it. A celebrity no more, he’ll just be another cute kid, going on about his day.

With any luck, though, his time in Tokyo will have taught him that there is value to interacting with strangers, that you don’t need to automatically fear everyone you haven’t already met. My hope? May he always be open to seeing the best in people and may they always be open to seeing the best in him, too.

Do you have a Tokyo tale to share? 
Send it to

About Susan Dalzell

Susan Dalzell is an American freelance journalist living in Tokyo. Follow her Japanese adventures on Twitter, @susandalzell, or on her blog: