Sigh... just when I start to think that things are going smoothly and I'm beginning to "fit in" around here, I go and put my foot into it yet again. Last night after I returned home from work my wife pulled me away from talking to our daughter to inform me, somewhat sternly, that I have, yet again, caused an uproar at our daughter's kindergarten. Before I explain, perhaps some brief background is in order for those unfamiliar with daily life in Japan...
Readers might be familiar with the fact that the Japanese are not as hung-up on the body and bodily functions as North Americans (and perhaps English-speaking people generally) often appear to be. I think one reason for this (maybe the main reason?) is that, from the time they are born through to the end of elementary school, boys and girls in Japan share the same changing rooms and, in kindergarten at least, the same washrooms. (I know that elementary school kids change their clothes together, but I'm not sure if they use the same washrooms.) These kids typically are not "ashamed" of their bodies and the things their bodies do because they've seen it all and have learned at an early age that there's nothing to be ashamed of.
Related to the above, it's also customary in Japan for immediate family members to share a bath, and there's nothing unusual about a mother being in the bath with her young son, or a father with his young daughter. In fact, in our household it's generally my "job" to give my daughter her evening bath, so we share the tub together. (Yes, my 4-year-old daughter has seen me "naked". Hundreds of times. If anyone is shocked by this then I respectfully suggest that that's their problem.)
Anyway, it should be clear from what I've already written that my daughter knows the difference between a boy and a girl (well, she knows the physical difference). And, like most Japanese kids, she also has a pretty rich vocabulary for describing those differences. She knows, for example, what "chinchin" (ちんちん) means. In Japanese "chinchin" means "penis". A few nights ago, while we were in the bath, she asked me how to say "chinchin" in English. I was reluctant at first to tell her, but then, in a chain of perfectly logical but fatally flawed reasoning, decided that since she already knew what a "penis" was and knew how to say it in Japanese, there could be no harm in telling her how to say it in English. "Penis," I said. "Penis," she repeated and, apparently satisfied, she nodded her head and seemed to forget about it...
Back to last night, my wife, looking somewhat exasperated, pulled me aside and asked me if I had taught our daughter how to say "chinchin" in English. Suddenly I felt all cold and sweaty. In the realm of possible questions a man might be asked by his wife, this was one question I had never considered, one combination of words that had never occurred to me. Without yet knowing how or why, I knew with dread certainty that I was guilty, trapped, doomed. I made blubbering noises as my mind frantically tried to figure out what had happened, what had gone wrong. Finally, feebly (having drawn a blank), I said that yes, I had told our daughter the English word for "chinchin"...
According to my wife, who heard it from my daughter's kindergarten teacher, yesterday while my daughter and the other kids were changing into their swimsuits, my daughter pointed at one of the boys' "chinchin" and said "Penis! In English "chinchin" is penis!" This new word spread like wildfire among the children, and apparently the boys (being, after all, boys) were especially taken with this new word. "Chinchin is penis!" "Hey! I have a penis!" "This is a penis!" "I pee with my penis!" What a scene it must have been! As my wife was telling the tale I was trying to keep a straight face (and I was certain that I caught a fleeting, quickly-stifled smile on her face too). My wife finished with an admonishment to be more careful about the words I teach our daughter.
"But really, dear, what's the big deal? What's the harm?"
"What's the big deal!?"
"Yeah, the whole thing sounds kinda cute and funny to me."
"Oh really? Tell me, do you have classes next Wednesday?"
"What? No, you know classes finish this week. Why?"
"Next Wednesday is parents day. It's in the morning, so it's mostly just the kids' mothers because the fathers are at work."
"I have to work next Wednesday. You don't. You're going. Have fun..."