August 15, 2005

How Do You Say "Lawsuit" In Japanese?

The playground by our crashpad in Tokyo has a huge jungle gym made of logs. Granted, the suspended log bridge does have a net below it, but there are slick wooden ramps and steep dropoffs; the gaps between levels could easily swallow a first grader.

Roppongi Hills, the giant theme park for and by real estate developers, is landscaped with sharp, thorny bushes, all at knee-- and toddler-- level.

Every elementary school we've seen has a nearly identical course of old-school steel jungle gyms and hanging bars on either asphalt or packed earth.

Yesterday, we went with my wife's work colleagues to Hakone, Tokyo's weekend destination [combine one part Yellowstone, one part Lake Geneva, and two parts Adirondacks, add a million people, bake for 12 hours at 89 degrees]. Since the one disguised as a Mississippi riverboat had already left, we rode a boat disguised as a Spanish galleon. The gaps in the railings were big enough to let an entire preschoolful of kids plunge overboard. Or down the winding staircases. Or onto the deck below.

It might not be until you have a kid running around, always one misstep away from disaster, that you realize how much personal injury litigation--both the threat and the reality of it--defines the culture and the landscape in America. And how its absence defines most of the rest of the world.

Elsewhere: an article on lawsuits' influence on the rise and demise of playgrounds in the US


Out of curiosity, would you define that as a good thing or a bad thing?

no, I figure I wouldn't. I want to make obviously dangerous things--like gaping stair and boat railings--default safer, but then I wonder, if there were a rash of kids overboard, maybe they'd have already done something.

There's stuff that legitimately makes things safer, and empty/excessive/ridiculous gesture stuff that just lets parents--or potentially liable third parties--off the hook. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say the former is good, and the latter is bad.

Living in Japan, I kind of like the fact that there's the assumption here that parents should take responsibility for their kids, rather than offloading it onto some third party. Not criticising the US - just pointing out that there's more than one way to live your life.

Did you notice that there are no more revolving doors in Roppongi Hills because a while ago, a two year old was squashed? That was one case where not the parent, but the door manufacturer was blamed...

I used to like revolving doors as a kid, but I guess ours is not going to see so many of them...

I noticed the same thing while I was working in Zurich many years ago: not a lot of "idiot proof" stuff around.

In our hotel kitchen, the area around the potwashing area was really wet and slick. (Mats did not reside in any kitchen I saw over there, just tile floors. Great for lower back pain, too.) When the guy I was working with took a fall and smashed his elbow, I asked him if he could sue the Hotel:


Why? Because he was aware of the slick surface, and as such should have been wearing proper "non-slip" kitchen shoes. Case closed.

I bought new shoes the next day.

Personal responsibity in the US? It went out the door - along with the adverb - a long time ago.

Funny too: screaming babies in public places were few and far between. My buddy's newborn and 1 year old never said a peep. Why? They treat them like adults and pay attention to them from the get-go. Day care is for suckers. He also lived in an apartment complex with his wife that was set up for families, so there was a ton of "community care" for free. Try that one at home.

Also: Fat kids. The only fat (ok, "weight-challenged") folks I saw were the 11-14 year olds that hung out by the McDonalds. Ya-ya: "Supersize Me," bitte. Danke! Really, really sad and pathetic.

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