A few months ago, my Little Piggies mums-and-babes playgroup expanded so much – we are now 10 mothers and 12 infants/toddlers, soon to be 13 – that we were forced to start renting a room in a local community centre for our meetings. The centre, administered by Kobe City, offers large, clean rooms at dirt-cheap prices, and is located very close to the station, all of which is a big deal in space-starved, time-pressed Japan where even young mothers rely heavily on public transport. We were extremely happy to get the room and we promised to abide by the strict criteria for usage. Here were the three main rules:
1. Bringing food or drinks into the room is strictly forbidden at all times.
2. Use of the table and a few chairs is free, but unauthorised use of any of the other equipment is prohibited. In other words, if you want extra, you pay extra.
3. The room may only be used for non-profit activities.
Needless to say, we merrily broke all the rules from day one, and we never imagined we’d get caught – after all, who’d suspect a bunch of mothers and babies? How wrong we were.
A few days ago, in the middle of one of our usual sessions involving rice balls, sandwiches, lashings of tea, and a soundtrack that played Incy Wincy Spider on an endless loop, there was a thundering knock on the door. We all looked at each other, silently thinking “oh shit!” In the next instant, the manager of the community centre – a heavyset 60-ish woman with a penchant for wearing bright red lipstick and really obvious wigs – burst into the room. She was so angry that she looked like nothing so much as a fire-breathing dragon. Oh shit. We really were in trouble.