Japanese Parenting Issues | Cultural Differences
Updated: Sep 10
A conversation about babies and bullies in Japan
A while back, when walking home from a trip to Japan's best supermarket - Life - we encountered a young Japanese couple with a newborn baby. It was the first time I saw a Japanese man carrying his child in a baby sling. This made me think about Japanese parenting.
The following text is a recap of the conversation that followed between my wife (a Japanese national) and myself (a Norwegian expat in Tokyo). I tried to write down the dialogue as quickly as I could after we had come home, in order to keep it as close to the actual chat as possible.
The dialogue is presented without any interpretations or arguments about the differences of Japanese and Norwegian parenting. It is merely a recreation of a chat that hopefully will make you aware about some important cultural differences. For anyone interested in reading more about parenting in Japan, we added links to some interesting articles on the topic at the end of this blog post.
This blog post is a new format that we are testing out, just for fun. If anyone likes it and want to read more of our everyday conversations, please let us know.
The Pressures of Japanese Motherhood
Husky: How come I almost never see people with baby strollers in Tokyo?
Onigunsô: Because Japanese people don’t want to inconvenience other people. In fact, many Japanese cafés and restaurants are not so welcoming of parents with babies. They want to preserve a quieter atmosphere for their clientele.
Also, Japanese mothers never hire babysitters, because this will label them as bad mothers in their community. In Japan, it is believed that a mother is unfit to care for her children if she is not available at all times.
This is why so many Japanese mothers are struggling with mental problems and feelings of solitude. Many of them are left the sole responsibility of child rearing, while their husbands spend most of their adult life working double hours at some company.
Japanese Parenting and the Educational System
Husky: Norwegian parents take their strollers everywhere, be it fancy restaurants, tiny cafés, shopping, or museums. We believe that they have every much as right to use the city as all other people.
Whether the kids are noisy or not, is not an issue, at least not for many. Not all children are as noisy as this Husky was, of course. I believe I could be quite the pain when I was growing up.
Onigunsô: I was a quiet child. I may have hidden my mother’s «hanko» under the carpet, sometimes, but mostly I spent my childhood years reading books or practicing the piano.
Husky: I was such a nuisance that I got a letter from my school to give my parents two times. (At the time, a letter to parents was the strictest form of punishment students could get at Norwegian elementary schools.)
One time I broke a window on school property. The other time, I decided to carry a bunch of freshly cut grass into the classroom and throw it around, like a drunken pixie hopped up on Red Bull and M&Ms.
Onigunsô: If this happened in Japan the parents would be raising hell. They would ask the school teachers why they are not raising their children properly. It is the teachers’ job to make sure that the kids learn how to behave themselves.
Husky: Really? Never have I heard about any such reactions in Norway, at least not at the time when I went to elementary school. Parents would usually choose to either discipline their kids, or ignore the pointless ramblings of the so-called role models you would find in the Norwegian school system.
The only time parents would be angry with teachers in Norway, is if their child were not given proper attention, or if their kids were victims of bullying or injustice.
Onigunsô: Bullying is a common thing at Japanese schools, and no-one ever says a word about it. Mostly we think that if someone is not conforming to the system, or if someone is a little out of the ordinary, they cannot be helped. They will probably end up alone and isolated in adult life. In the end they will just be another number added to the Japanese suicide statistics.
Most food hauls and Tokyo strolls of ours are much less depressing than this dialogue might indicate. That is to say, they are not noteworthy enough chats to mention. This particular conversation struck me as interesting enough to make a blog post about.
More interesting reading material on Japanese Parenting
Frontiers in Psychology: Infant sleeping arrangements and cultural values among contemporary Japanese mothers
National Library of Medicine: Child rearing in Japan: Current trends and problems
Savvy Tokyo: The Japanese Way Of Disciplining Children
The Japan Times: Raising Japan's children the right way