Nippon Day Thirteen: Parenting In Japan

Yesterday was a special day, for it was my mother's birthday. I'd just finished making a batch of lemon sorbet (strong enough to knock the socks off Goliath) to go with a lemon cake, when I had the idea to look into parenting in Japan.

As with the rest of the world, Japanese parenting has gone through many stages of evolution through out time. I'm going to focus on modern parenting for this post, that is to say, as things have progressed since the post war era. Since this time the mother has been in charge of raising the children, as the father has always been the bread winner. This is changing as women are more likely now to keep working after marriage and childbirth. However, mother's are still very active in their children's lives, especially when it comes to education. They are expected to participate in PTAs and other school activities. Education is very important in Japan and there is much pressure for children to succeed by studying hard and often attending extra classes at cram schools.

There is a theory that Japan's recent economic slump could be cured if they could simply get more women back into the work force. However, this is difficult as there are few options for childcare. As of April last year 23,000 children were on waiting lists for daycare and preschools. Many parents simply can't get into a daycare and give up. The government is so concerned about this that they have made it a goal to open 400,000 new subsidized daycare facilities by 2018. They also plan to help lower income families pay for childcare. In the mean time, most mother's who work do so part time, so they can be home when their children get back from school. 

Bragging about your children's achievements is considered extremely rude, but everyone knows what your child is up to anyway. There is a good deal of competition between parents, but it is all under the surface. When a child grows up "wrong" it is seen as the fault of the mother. This is why news broadcasts often have interviews with the mothers of criminals apologizing for their children's crimes. It is see as the mother's job to get her children into the best universities so that their lives will be the best possible.

Children in Japan are expected to be independent. The crime rates in Tokyo are so low that parents are fine with their small children wandering the city by themselves, something that most American parents would not do in say New York. Children as young as six often take themselves to school, riding trains and buses on their own. Japanese children are expected to solve their own problems, meaning that they are almost always more independent and self sufficient then their American counterparts. However, having a job while still a student requires special permission from the school as it is seen as a child's number one responsibility to do well in class.

Exuberant behavior is frowned upon and most Japanese children are respectfully reserved. Often I am surprised by people's children who run around, yelling and bumping into people without apology. When I was a kid my mother taught me and my sisters that you do not behave that way in public, as it is disrespectful and distracting to others. I think we would have fit right in in Japan where children are taught to always conciser other people before themselves. These manners are taught by example, not by criticisms or corrections.

When children are small, though they may be wondering the city on their own, when at home mother's tend to stick close. Most children sleep in their parents bed well past preschool and babies strapped to their parents go everywhere from the ski slopes to the hot springs. In spite of this, most parents avoid hugging or kissing their children. Love is expressed in different ways.

One of these ways is with the lunches that mothers send to school. I've written about bento before, but my skills are as nothing to the Japanese mothers who make elaborate lunchbox creations everyday. Teachers and mothers are in constant contact, sending notebooks back and forth keeping tabs on behavior, grades, home life, and participation. But be careful, because if your bento aren't up to scratch they might get a comment from the teacher.

Japanese families are often close and have long relationships, mother's often moving in with their children after they marry. The idea of it being a child's responsibility to take care of their aging parent is firmly ensconced in the culture. I'm very close with my mother and would be happy to have her live with me in her old age.

I shall leave you here with a picture of me and my mother, when I was about six.

Until next time, happy birthday mom!

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