I received a couple of emails recently from people asking questing about moving to Japan with kids, which is, lets be honest here, both incredibly flattering (blogs pay dividends in ego strokes) and entirely laughable (I’m no Japan expert, I mean I know about six words in Japanese and one of them is pee-pee.)
Still, I thought that I may have stumbled on a nugget SEO traffic potential here: a series of posts about moving to Japan with kids. Ergo, I present to you the first in my series entitled So You’re Thinking of Moving To Japan With Kids (creative!)
I’ll cover a lot of things here - some informative, some based on my opinions, but all snappy and entertaining.*
But for my first post, my general opinions and feelings about life in Japan with kids.
*oh gawd. I may have just painted myself into the worlds worst bloggy corner by committing to this mini project.
And so, with that, AWAY WE GO!
So, you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids. Your brain is swirling with questions. You’re wondering about housing, and schooling, language learning, adjusting, and transitioning, and Oh MAH GAWD will we be able to find goldfish crackers in Japan!?!?! (Doubtful).
But before we get into the details, here are my impressions about wee ones in Japan. Take them under advisement (if you want) if you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids.
My overall impression: Japan is a great place for kids, but arguably, a less great place for mothers. Japan is extraordinarily child-friendly: it’s safe, it’s clean, and especially compared to it’s Asian neighbors, it’s pretty pollution-free. The demands on mothers, however, are significantly higher here, with strongly entrenched traditional gender roles and week social networks. If you’re thinking about moving to Japan with kids, you probably don’t have to worry too much about your children, for it is a lovely place for kids to grow up.
Japan is really very safe. Crime rates are very low, and fears of "stranger danger" just don’t seem as prevalent here. I regularly see kindergartners walking and playing outside without adult supervision, and virtually all first graders make the trip to and from school alone.
The environment is also relatively clean. In comparison to most other Asian countries, the levels of air pollution and smog are low here. The food system is safe; arguably safer than that of the US, and problems of food contamination that plague other Asian countries just don’t seem to happen here, (all fears of radiation contamination aside, that is. But still, on the scale of food dangers, this is not a big one, really.)
Japanese people seem to love kids and are tolerant of all their annoying little foibles. Children are welcomed in most restaurants, and most people don’t seem to mind (or at least are too polite to say anything) if the kids act out. Kid free zones are not a thing here, there's no need for them. Everyone excepts that kids cry, make messes, and are sometimes a bit annoying. And it's no big deal.
Foreign children, especially babies, will garner a lot of attention. People will want to play peek-a-boo (or enai enai ba!), pat your kid’s cheek, or shake their hand. I willingly accept this and my daughter LOVES the attention. If that kind of thing would freak you or your kid out, sorry to say, but there's almost no escaping it.
Japan is also pretty baby-friendly. Subways are easily accessible by stroller and have well maintained elevators. It’s pretty easy to find a clean place to change a baby’s diaper (subway bathrooms are surprisingly clean) or nurse an infant (there are wonderful nursing rooms in most department stores).
There are lovely parks in Japan and some great playgrounds. Each neighborhood seems to have it’s own little play area, some better than others. The bigger parks have great features such as hand washing stations to clean up after playing.
There are also wonderful libraries that, in bigger cities, have English language books. And drop-in play centers that are free and full of fun toys and other kids.
Demands on the Mother
For the mother, however, things are more difficult. Most women do not work outside the home, and their husbands work long hours, leaving virtually all the child care and house work to the woman. It is pretty typical for the husband to leave for work early in the morning and not return until 9 PM. Every day. Oh, and many also work on Saturdays.
If you're a mother thinking of moving to Japan with kids and working while you're here, it may be a bit difficult to find anything beyond teaching English, that is unless you have strong Japanese language skills.
The Japanese school system requires a great deal of participation from the mother, with sport days and concerts and PTA involvement all being virtually mandatory. In addition, there are frequent holidays and half-days which can leave working mothers scrambling for child care.
Lack of Support Network
Outside the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka where there are thriving expat communities, it may be difficult for a foreign mother to make friends in Japan. Japanese people are fairly reserved. Invitations to someone’s home for coffee are rare, so are neighborly chats. It is pretty easy to feel isolated and alone, especially when the husband is working such long hours. Learning Japanese is really important for getting along and thriving in Japan.
Domestic helpers, quite common in other Asian cities, are not typical here in Japan. Just FYI.
Japan, like any country, has positive points and negative ones. Personally, I really appreciate the child-friendly life here. It’s reassuring to know that food and water are safe and that air pollution isn’t (such) a big problem. And so, while it’s not always easy, I’m honestly happy that my daughter was born here.
So, if you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids, it’s a pretty good place to be.