Raising Kids in Japan – Changing Schools

One thing that struck me as my kids entered preschool here in Japan, was that the teacher-to-child ratio was quite generous. Also, the cost is quite manageable compared to the USA. The children by all accounts love where they are and enjoy themselves, looking forward to school just as kids should. In short, I’ve been mostly happy with it.

Side note: Their Japanese Hoikuen 保育園 preschool is really more about socialization and play than it is about studying. If I had wanted them pushed in education more early-on, I would have put them into a Youchien 幼稚園 type of preschool, however I figured the relocation from the US was stressful enough.

Now after 2 years of their adjusting and making friends, we may be imparting another shock upon them which concerns me. As we consider building a home in a nearby area, we must also consider changing their preschool. If we do not – then they will be faced with entering an elementary school later down the road with no friends/acquaintances. If we move them now, they have a solid year to adjust and make new friends.

This in itself is not insurmountable. But I then consider the other issues:

  • They are the youngest in their classes: Children in Japan are placed into classes strictly by birth date, and the maturity difference between oldest to youngest can be striking. The US seems to be much more flexible in this regard. Studies have shown, the older kids in the classes perform better.
  • They are the only “hafu’s” ハーフ: In their current school, and likely in their new school they will likely be the only non-full-Japanese kids. Isn’t fife is hard enough without being regarded as different, especially as a kid?
  • My kids are small: Being the youngest, and having parents who are relatively short means my kids are relatively small in stature. Sure, being bigger and stronger isn’t everything. But, this effects their sports and athletics ability (rather important in the countryside schools), and likewise their confidence.

I should also say – these are my concerns, my own demons. Not my kids’ worries. They simply take one day at a time. They are happy, well-adjusted children. But I know that childhood is far from simple. For now I must consider how I can ease them into this new possibility. I plan to:

  • Visit the new school often, even if to just play
  • Start meeting member of the new school
  • Let the children know, a move will put us closer to grandparents

Do you have children as you live in a foreign country? How have they adjusted? Any tips you can provide for changing schools? I would love to hear the thoughts of others. Comment below.

Small Town Japan

Funny Habits From Living In Japan

After about a year and a half of living in Japan, things have gotten into a regular routine. I guess a small town – is a small town, regardless of what part of the world you live in. I take my kids to school, I work, I pick them up, dinner, bath and bed. Rinse and repeat. Of course I’m not mentioning the magnificent nature that we experience, my hours spent teaching them English, and other things unique to our location. Living in another culture means making personality adjustments if you want to be successful in that society. Has it changed me? Probably not at my core. But there’s many small, social habits i’ve picked up.

BOWING FROM THE CAR

Ok, this one may be a bit silly, but it’s a simple matter of courtesy. Americans wave – Japanese bow. If someone pulls over to let you pass them on a narrow country road or intersection, it only makes sense to give them courtesy bow to say thanks. Should i mention the flashing of the hazard-lights as a thank you when someone lets you cut in front of them? I guess I just did.

APOLOGIZING BY DEFAULT

This relates both to Japanese language and culture. Japanese apologize about everything. But it’s not always a grand gesture. Often it’s more like… “Hey, sorry if I inconvenienced you” or “Excuse me”. Do I have to do it? No. But i think you can come off as rude when people are so used to hearing it, and suddenly they don’t hear it coming from you.

MORE SELF CONSCIOUS IN PUBLIC

Along with the Japanese habit of keeping harmony, and preventing yourself from bothering others, comes a certain self awareness. When my kids are screaming, and how I react to it has a bit more value here in Japan than the US. If I need to blow my nose, or sneeze, or anything else loud and potentially offensive I tend to be a bit excessively discreet about it. Yes, part of this is that as a foreigner my profile my stand out a bit more than the average Joe.

SEEING MYSELF AS AN EXAMPLE

As one of the few (non-tourist) foreigners in town, you tend to stand out. Someone passing through town may be able to momentarily get away with acting like an ass, but I (as a resident) cannot. Sure, part of me wants to single handedly disprove the negative generalization of the scary, uncultured foreigner. But let’s face it, negative people rarely change their views. Setting myself up as a high-standard is far more for me, than it is for anyone else.

REDUCED PDA

I’ve never been one of those people who makes-out with someone else in public, nor is it something that i really care to observe. Though I would say that small-town Japan takes it to another level of reservedness, and typical PDA between couples seems rather rare, usually just young people and tourists. While I am affectionate on rare occasion and dish out the hand holding, hug, or kiss – I’m just far more aware of it. Nobody needs to see that stuff except my wife and kids anyway.

These are just a few tiny habits, and there are no doubt many more. Having said all that, these are all basically social, or cultural considerations in my opinion. I’ll always hold a certain reverence for the cultural traditions in which I was raised. At the end of the day, when you come home, kick off your shoes, pants… take of your makeup, you’ve gotta look yourself in the mirror. That person you’re stuck with when you are alone, that’s who you are, regardless of what you put out there socially. So hopefully you can respect that reflection. (Check out my post on other Cultural Differences.)

8 Things That Are Cheaper in Japan

Sushi – Fish (and Really Anything From the Ocean)

This one comes as no surprise. While sushi can be a specialty item in the US, often reserved for an expensive night out, it’s availability has exploded over the years in Japan. For those on a limited budget, $1 sushi restaurants are widely available – while those with a discerning palate can find the best there is to offer.

Haircuts

I have friends that have made quite a name for themselves in the US hair salon industry. I think that haircuts here in Japan are generally seen as a bit more utilitarian. Also taking into account that Japan is a non-tipping society, you can expect a reduced cost from this alone. But what about quality you ask? I’ve had great luck with my notoriously difficult hair, and stylists generally tell me that my soft foreigner hair is actually easier for them.

Dental Health

Healthcare

Japan has a national healthcare system with prices that are set by the government and guarantee relatively equal access. I won’t debate the politics of what may, or may not work in the US – but I can tell you my personal experience. I have received excellent and affordably healthcare in Japan, and never have to worry about whether or not I can afford it. Nobody goes bankrupt in Japan due to medical expenses.

Take for example Jameson seen here for 1695¥, or roughly $15.50, not bad at all!

Many UK and American Whiskies

When shopping here in the Japanese countryside I expected American whisky (like most American items) to be more expensive, as well as my favorite Irish and Scotch whiskeys. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually cheaper than  in the US. I’m not sure of the reason, but if I had to speculate I would say that these brands just aren’t as known here. With the rise of Japanese whisky fame, local brands are a more popular part of the social consciousness. There may be import tax reasons as well, of course – but whatever cause, no complaints here!

Chicken Breast / White Meat

Coming from supposedly health-conscious California, where chicken breast is prized for its lean dietary benefits I was surprised to find how inexpensive it is in Japan. I guess it makes sense as it is a rather bland cut of meat. Last sale price I saw was 38¥ per 100grams, or roughly $1.60 a pound versus the US which can range $3-6/lb.

Child Care

I good but relatively average-cost preschool in Los Angeles cost me ~$900/mo, before that my kid was in an expensive daycare where they played, but no education. Preschool in Japan is government subsidized for working parents. In the US I had to prepare his lunch daily, while in Japan they receive healthy school lunches. The cost to me is minimal ~$200/mo. Not only that, but I would make the argument that early education in Japan is far superior to the US, safe, healthy and the teacher-to-student ratio is excellent.

All You Can DrinkAll-You-Can-Drink

I’m not sure if this one counts, as I rarely ever even see “all you can drink” in the US unless your’e talking about someone who contracted an “open bar”. It’s probably due to fears about liability or disorderly drunks. But in Japan, it’s rather common to see this featured at various restaurants with a set price and time limit (usually a couple hours).

Spa’s, Wellness Centers, and Public Baths

OnsenJapan is home to 10’s of thousands of hot springs, with a rich cultural tradition of cleanliness and wellness as achieved though mind and body purification. Public baths and onsen are found everywhere and often feature western recognized features such as sauna, massage (extra cost), and more. As one of the most popular activities, there are many destinations keeping the price affordable for all.

Did I miss one? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

How 1-Year In Japan Changed Me

It’s been a year and a couple months since our relocation to Japan, and it only makes sense to glance back and review how I’ve changed.  Not just the structural changes of everyday life, but also looking into my brain and analyzing what I’m thinking, and feeling as compared to a year ago. This probably leads right into how my anticipation of life in Japan “lives up” to the reality – but that may require it’s own blog post entirely.

Here’s what I think has changed in me after 1-Year:

Communication
I’m not exactly sure what I expected in terms of Japanese language growth. I’ll say that I feel improvement has been a matter of inches rather than miles – however, but simple conversation comes much easier. I’m no longer afraid to engage others, and even seek it out – while knowing there will be much I don’t understand. I guess I would say I feel like I’m at ground-zero, with everything still ahead of me, but enough of a “foundation” that I actually have something to build upon. I would call that progress.


Friendship
With so much of the last year about getting settled and getting our kids into a routine – I never gave much thought about making friends. But i do see now that in the long term, I could feel isolated without others to confide in. Due to recent events I’m meeting more foreigners and with improved language – more locals as well. While i wouldn’t say I have new close buddies, I don’t think it’s impossible if I stay longer.

Courtesy
It’s pretty clear that once among Japanese language and culture, there is a level of courtesy unique to the country. From bowing, and common phrases of appreciation to being quick to apologize – if only for the sake of politeness. After a year, these tiny rituals have become so normal that they almost come without thinking. Honestly I feel that if suddenly back in the US, it would feel quite odd, because I really do feel the urge to tell someone “Otsukaresama” when I see that they have worked hard, and there’s no English equivalent.

Public Persona
Right in line with courtesy, I am more conscious of how I am act in public. I generally don’t raise my voice or make a big deal about small problems – publicly, where as in the US – sometimes it’s necessary. It’s seen as immature here, while in the US – speaking out and being passionate about something be looked upon favorably. I feel adjusted to my surroundings but it may also highlight a weakness, of being unable to negotiate awkward situations. This can only come with improved communication.

Sense of Family
In the last year we’ve faced a challenges as a family and it has brought us closer. But it’s also made me value and miss my own family more, and wish we had easier access to my US family. So on the whole, I think it’s brought a greater perspective on the importance of family.

Grocery Shopping
Finding good deals and making delicious meals is a favorite pasttime of mine. But the foods which are available at different times of the year, their best prices, and meal outcomes are totally different in Japan! It’s been a lot of fun adjusting to the new situation, planting my own garden and learning some new dishes. I’ve also found ways of replacing “most” of the foods I love from back home.

Passage of Time
Time is passing faster here! I generally explain this by the fact that I’m living in a place with true seasons, and seasons that change quickly and dramatically. This leads to anticipating the next season, and preparation, and the feeling of forward movement. Everyone says they are jealous of my past life in California, but I actually feel more motivated to succeed right now as I feel time passing and I know the number of seasons ahead are not infinite.

Driving
Yes, I bow a lot and let other people go first. They do the same for me. I think being in a small town, and one of the few foreigners has me more cautious than normal, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to have others be equally courteous – especially coming from Los Angeles. (see my page about passing the Japanese driving test)

Sense of Acceptance
Is it there yet? Will it ever be? Hard to say. Probably not. By and large people are sweet and accepting. The kids of the city love me, but that’s most because I’m such an alien oddity here! There will always be those who simply don’t like foreigners and have to be the thorn in the your side, but we can’t let those people ruin our experience. If I think about how rude Los Angeles must feel to a newly arrived foreigner – there is no comparison. I’m rather happy where I am, and I only see improvement with time.

Thanks for stopping by! Give us your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Feel free to check out my blog post about 6 Striking Personality Differences.