Photo/IllutrationKamiko Inuyama, left, and Mikito Tsurugi (Hiroki Nishida)

When musician and cartoonist Mikito Tsurugi took his 2-year-old daughter on a Shinkansen, he couldn't stop her crying.

Despite Tsurugi, 40, being a caring father who routinely participates in child-rearing, he soon found himself being questioned by police as a suspected kidnapper.

Tsurugi’s tweets about the mix-up caused a stir on social media. However, his essayist wife, Kamiko Inuyama, 37, points out that men riding a bullet train with a toddler are rarely seen in Japan.

The incident occurred at the end of the midsummer “obon” holidays while Tsurugi was taking a Shinkansen with his daughter. But after a while, she began fussing and crying. The father tried his best to comfort her, but she bawled even louder.

A male passenger in the back row shouted angrily: “Be quiet! Go to the deck!”

But as Tsurugi was comforting his daughter who kept fussing in the deck, he saw several police officers enter through the door when the train stopped at a station.

“We received a call about a possible kidnapping case,” one of them said.

Tsurugi overheard an officer communicating on the radio, saying things such as, “There is a man and a girl. No mother is in sight.”

The comment made Tsurugi think that he looked suspicious, being that an adult man was with a small girl.

The Shinkansen made a prolonged stop at the station, and police officers continued questioning him in the car even after the bullet train left the station. Tsurugi was cleared of suspicion only after he showed his health insurance card for ID and called his wife after they got off the train.

SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION

Tsurugi and Inuyama posted about the incident on Twitter and other social media, resulting in heated discussions about the public’s views on men with small children and the pros and cons of calling the police.

“I never imagined it would create such a buzz because it was only meant to be a ‘funny story’ for me,” Tsurugi said.

But the musician also said he was hit with some misguided criticism from online users who said he shouldn’t have been doing what he wasn’t used to doing.

However, at least one user suggested it might be better for a father and his child to wear matching clothes when they go out together to avoid suspicion as much as possible.

“I thought I should take to heart that men are under such pressure when they participate in child-rearing,” Inuyama said.

“I think it was also partly due to the fact that men are rarely seen riding the Shinkansen with their children,” the columnist continued, saying that things would have been different if about an equal number of men and women alone with their children were taking bullet trains.

Tsurugi added: “There are still deep-rooted views that, after all, it is better for children to be taken care of by their mothers. But I don’t think that’s true. I think things will change if there is a growing number of fathers participating in child-rearing on a regular basis.”

CALLING POLICE STILL NECESSARY

However, the couple emphasize that they believe the act of calling the police is necessary. They tried their best to avoid being misunderstood when they posted their entries on social networking sites.

They also encourage people to call the police to protect children when they think something is suspicious. Many online users shared the same view on this point, the couple added.

Some of the feedback also pointed out the fact that crying children inside Shinkansens and their parents are seen as a public nuisance in Japan. Many social media users poke fun at families who bring strollers on crowded trains, often describing them as thinking they were something special.

“It made me think about a social structure that creates a conflict,” Tsurugi said.

It is a society where each member--whether they are a man, woman or family member--posts about their individual views on the world in a one-sided manner.

“I think we should talk about how we can help each other, hand in hand,” Inuyama said.

She proposes that people should seek ways to achieve that goal by placing “children’s rights” at the core.

“When we think in terms of children’s rights, we would say, 'Thank you for calling the police’ when someone calls in, it would be all right for children to take Shinkansens, and it would be all right for them to cry because they are children,” Inuyama said. “I hope adults can work hand in hand together to think about it from the children’s perspectives.”