Essential Things I’ve Learned From Raising Kids in Japan

Lesson From A Tokyo Mom

By Kirsty Kawano
December 27, 2016
Families

From daily park visits to an accidentally-achieved eye contact at the dining table, raising children in Japan teaches you a thing or two.

Only after we start out on the journey called parenting we do realize how unprepared we are for it. Yet, as we muddle through, along with countless mistakes, we also make great decisions, too. Things that work for some families won’t work for others, but nonetheless, as food for thought, I’d like to share what I consider to be some of the best things my husband and I have achieved through raising our daughters in Tokyo.

Discovered the joy of playing in the park

Before my daughters entered kindergarten, going to the park was how we spent the best part of nearly every day. Our local one had a variety of play equipment: swings, slides, climbing structures, a water-play pond and a catch-ball net. We found frost needles in the soil in winter, gathered acorns in autumn, collected cicada shells in summer and gazed at cherry blossoms in spring. That park taught us a lot. It is said that park play will hone a child’s all-round physical abilities far better than specialized exercise classes will, and indeed my daughters have fared well in that regard.

It is said that park play will hone a child’s all-round physical abilities far better than specialized exercise classes will, and indeed my daughters have fared well in that regard.

One of my most inspired parenting tactics was born at that park. For a couple of days in a row I had had trouble getting my preschooler daughter to head home. I had the bright idea of looking at the situation from her perspective. To her it looked like I was suddenly saying, “right, stop playing – we’re going home, NOW!” So the next day, ten minutes before leaving I held up both my hands and all my fingers and told her, “We’ll leave in ten minutes.” I kept an eye on my watch and five minutes later held up one hand and said, “We’ll leave in five minutes.” Five minutes after that we happily headed home.

Rediscovered the importance of greetings

Since I stand out in a crowd here about a mile more than Japanese do, I one day wondered whether I was unconsciously snubbing people who remembered me, but who I couldn’t quite put my finger on. So I decided I should be liberal with my greetings. If I greeted someone I didn’t know, basic etiquette required them to answer anyway, so the plan was failsafe. My daughters naturally grew up mimicking my approach and that tactic got us acquainted with neighbors, locals, shopkeepers, park-goers and has helped make us feel that we are part of our local community. It has also given my daughters confidence and great social skills. It is also reassuring for me to know that there are many people around town who are looking out for my girls.

Established eye contact on daily basis

My husband and I have never owned a dining table. Our one, all-purpose table is our kotatsu – the much-loved piece of Japanese ingenuity that attaches an electric heater to the underside of a tabletop to warm users’ legs as they sit. Although tall-legged versions exist, we’ve always used a low, coffee-table height one and sat on the floor. That has put us at eye-level with our toddlers, which is a big deal for a little being with not many words. That eye contact has been the cornerstone of communication in our household.

As we muddle through, along with countless mistakes, we also make great decisions, too.

As my daughters have grown, I’ve realized just how important communication skills are to good parenting and that, in large part, good communication equates to the expression of mutual respect. If kids know they are sincerely cherished just the way they are, then all that other parenting stuff falls into place – at least that’s the tinpot theory of parenting I’ve reached after 11 years in the game.

Ditched the TV

I’m not going to brain-bash anyone with this because I understand that on this count my husband and I are freaks of natural parenting. However, by far the best premeditated act of parenting that my husband and I have done is to have thrown away our television. To put it in perspective, our TV broke down just before our elder daughter turned one. My husband proposed that we not buy a new one – for our daughter’s sake. I said “great idea” – for my sake. Busy enough with a baby, I wasn’t watching much television anyway, but had noticed my TV-junkie husband relaxing in front of the box just as always. You know how, when you get home and you’re kind of tired, you sit down and turn on the TV for a bit? It took three years for me to lose the inclination to do that.

We thought our lack of a television might make it hard for our daughter to fit in with other students when she entered elementary school, but it hasn’t been a problem.

We thought our lack of a television might make it hard for our daughter to fit in with other students when she entered elementary school, but it hasn’t been a problem. Now in grade five, she sometimes gets onto the computer to look up what the kids at school have been talking about. Although the internet and YouTube have their own insidious natures, at least she is intentionally, actively seeking what she is interested in, rather than sitting back and being told what is entertaining.

Learned to ask and give a break

It is rather common among parents to focus on their children’s failings, perhaps largely due to our instincts to protect them from anything bad that may come their way. Or perhaps, just because they so closely mirror our own failures as parents. But, my years of experience raising children here in a foreign country where things don’t always go as planned and where it’s easy to point fingers at others, I have learned to every now and again give my kids and myself a break by looking at all the good things we do on daily basis.

What are your best parenting moves? Share your thoughts in the comments!