Aug 19, 2018

Casual Observation of Public Parenting Practices: Japan VS the US

    Back in July, we took a family trip stateside and it was my first time heading back with my kid being able to walk and talk and get into trouble. Among the cultural differences present and observable, the one that stood out most right off the bat was parenting in public.
Casual Observation of Public Parenting Practices: Japan VS the US photo
Pouting at lunch. Like you do.

    As an American mom in Japan, I am frequently scowled at by a number of Japanese people, ranging from grandma-aged women who forgot or never knew how exhausting this job is to teens and twenty-somethings who have yet to find out. Other mothers are busy dealing with their own situations for the most part and while they might consider my techniques strange or brash, there is little interaction.

    For example, when my daughter and I were waiting to board our flight out of Narita, we went to use the bathroom. While standing in line, I cautioned my daughter to stand directly ahead of me, not beside, as there was little space for people to come out of the bathroom. The second someone approached, what did my kid do? Pop right out of line and stand there, staring at the random lady and blocking her path. The lady leaned down to talk to my daughter as I grimaced. I just did not have energy for this interaction, so I said, as I attempted to lift my child by the armpits, "Come on, kid! Don't stand in the lady's way."

    At this point my daughter chose to plant her feet so only one foot came up and she moved sideways in a diagonal fashion, still blocking the path with her planted foot.

    From behind me, I heard a young, well-rested, judgmental voice pipe up with, "Oh My God!!" as if I were publicly beating my child.

    At this point, I decided that my desire to not have my kid wet her seat on the airplane was not great enough to warrant more backseat parenting by people who have no idea what they are talking about, and we left the line to go get in the line for boarding instead.

Casual Observation of Public Parenting Practices: Japan VS the US photo
Actually, we enjoyed the massage chairs first. Didn't have to go that badly anyway.

    There, other foreign parents were trying to keep things positive with their little ones and I felt somewhat less out of place. Once we landed in the states, though, I saw lots of parents like me, issuing quiet guidance to their little people, occasionally with warning tones as necessary. I don't think we had left the airport in the US before I saw another mom looking at her little guy and saying something like, "Luke, no. Pay attention now. Don't do that thing." which back in Miyagi would have sent several nearby non-parents into a tizzy of questioning glances. So it turns out that my parenting style, seen here as too abrasive, is about normal for middle-class Americans, or at least the ones I saw.

    I don't really understand Japanese parenting techniques as I've seen moms put up with being physically beaten and verbally assaulted by their 5-year-olds, all while remaining silent and passive. I'm not a trained psycho-analyst or anything but teaching your kid not to assault people might be a better idea? Even so, when I see this, there are no weird looks from me. I just walk away. It's not my business how those people raise their kids. My daughter knowing right from wrong is far more important.

    When we were stateside, not only was I not party to admonishing looks, but my kid was extremely well behaved according to most random strangers. At one point, while my father was watching her at a play area, my kid went to a boy who had fallen down after being pushed and starting to cry. She was the first one to try to console him. His mom was fast to retrieve and help her son, and made a point of letting us know that we were doing something right.
Casual Observation of Public Parenting Practices: Japan VS the US photo
She's also good with birds.

    I cannot be sure what parts of my kid's "helped the injured" tactic are brought about by Japanese kindergarten, our parenting style, my in-laws' influence, or her own natural human compassion, but whatever it is, it seems to be working.

    How do you parent your international children? Have you seen these techniques in practice? Does anyone else get glared at so often?



A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.


  • KevinC

    on Aug 20

    Yeah, always see those kids hit their parents on the train and most 'Good' parents let them scream and cry. I agree with your parenting style and don't let the social pressure get to you, I think the parenting style in Japan created the 'Hikikomori' phenomenal.

  • JTsuzuki

    on Aug 20

    @KevinC Thanks for the vote of confidence! That may well be the case. Letting society discipline your children for you may create children who just reject society. Makes sense to me.

  • edthethe

    on Aug 21

    Their is so much I could say about this, all full of opinion s that would probably get me as many stern looks as my parenting style gets out and about. But I know that my kids aren't going to grow up being selfish a holes as much as I can help it. Sounds to me like yours too

  • JTsuzuki

    on Aug 21

    @edthethe That is the whole goal, isn't it? Getting the kids to be decent people when they are grow up, and it only works if you help them figure out how to be decent people now. It's good to know I'm not alone out here.