Motherhood

10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Japan

For our Motherhood Around the World series, our second interview features photographer Yoko Inoue, who moved from Brooklyn to the Japanese countryside with her husband and son. Here are 10 things that have surprised her about being a mom in Japan…

Yoko’s background:

Photographer Yoko Inoue grew up in the suburbs of Japan and moved to New York when she was 21. “I always felt like I was born in the wrong country,” she says. “People in Japan like to be the same. There’s a lot of pressure to fit in. But I always wanted to be different. In New York, I felt at home. You have to be different. Everyone is trying to stand out.”

But in 2010, after seventeen years in New York, her American husband suggested they move to Japan for a few years with their young son Motoki, and Yoko agreed. “New York gets tiring. When we went home to visit my parents in the countryside, we always had a great time. I wanted my son to be able to speak Japanese and learn Japanese culture.” So, they moved to a rural neighborhood, close to both mountains and a river, which is about 15 minutes from the medium-sized city of Okayama.

When they first moved back, she was in heaven: “The food is good; the people are so nice; the pace is slow. I thought, this is amazing!” Having lived in Japan now for over three years, she’s started to experience some of the challenges, as well. “It’s very different to be a mom here—in some hard ways,” she says. “There’s so much pressure to fit in, versus being an individual. But, on the flip side, the close community provides so much safety. Motoki can go outside and play and I don’t have to watch him. He can trust people, whereas in New York he had to learn from an early age to doubt. Here, everyone is family, and everyone is aware of him.”

On pregnancy: I’m six and a half months pregnant right now and have been going to a Japanese doctor. In New York, when I was pregnant with Motoki, my doctor warned me, “You can’t eat sushi, coffee, alcohol or raw cheese.” She gave me special vitamins. My Japanese doctor says nothing about any of that! No diet restrictions at all. I did pick up flyer at the doctor’s office that said I can drink a few cups of coffee a day and a glass of alcohol.

On making friends: Most of the moms I’ve met here are full-time homemakers. In New York, most women I knew worked and had careers before and after they got married and had kids. I still work full-time as a photographer, so I find it’s hard to relate to the moms here sometimes…it’s hard to make a friend.

It has taken me a few years to learn that Japanese moms communicate differently than Brooklyn moms. In Brooklyn, you would meet a mom on the playground and tell her everything about what is going on in your house—problems with your husband or kids. You could be very open. It made me feel like, “I’m not alone—everyone is going through similar things.” Here, if I am open, I get strange looks. It’s easy to feel like you are the only one having problems. But really, everyone is going through similar things—they just don’t share it in the same way. People really draw a line between public and private.

On parties: When we go to a get-together with other families, men and women are totally separate. The women are usually in the kitchen cooking food and watching the kids, and the men are in another room drinking beer. I don’t understand this…I want to be sitting and drinking! In Brooklyn, we were always mixed, mothers and fathers. Moms don’t seem to make friends with other fathers here.

On date night: Date night is not a thing here. I once told some friends I had hired a babysitter to go out to dinner with my husband, and they were shocked. Restaurants are very expensive, and men tend to work very late—even on weekends—so it’s very rare to eat out…maybe just once a year. On your birthday. Sometimes I feel like once a Japanese woman marries, she just becomes ‘mother’—not woman or wife. She and her husband lead separate lives. She eats early, with the children, and he eats late, often with his business associates. Couples still seem happy and friendly with each other, but it’s a man’s world inside of marriage. Men don’t help with housework.

On nursery school: There are two kinds of nursery school in Japan: one for kids whose moms work, and one for kids whose moms stay home. The one for working moms runs six days a week, from 7am until 6pm, and your child can’t go unless you prove you have a job or can’t take care of him for some reason. I sent my son to the “working mom” school, and it was wonderful. It’s supported by the government so it only costs about $150 per month (including a balanced lunch prepared by a chef in their own school kitchen). It’s mostly about being outside, touching bugs, building in the sand. The philosophy is “learn by playing.” The other school goes just until lunch and it’s more academic and structured and focused on teaching in a classroom.

On kindergarten: Motoki just ended his “preschool” and started the Japanese version of kindergarten. Here are photos of his preschool graduation and his “opening ceremony” for kindergarten. The year changes over in March, and you go right from one grade to another, so there’s no summer break.

On walking to school: All the kids in our town meet in the road and walk to school together…as young as seven. The elder people in the neighborhood volunteer to make sure the kids safely cross the roads. They are so happy to help and to do the “exchange of greetings” with the children. As parents we have to make sure our kids always say greetings “with big voice! Good morning!” (No mumbling or looking down.) If you don’t, it’s considered so rude! Parents also take turns watching the kids walk to school to make sure they do the greetings and stay safe. The parent who is watching takes notes in a community record book—things like “Junior high school kids were riding their bikes dangerously fast!” or “Steps are wobbly and should be fixed for kids’ safety.” Then these problems are discussed at the next PTA meeting.

On food: Kids here eat mostly very healthy…tons of rice! Lunch boxes are mainly rice balls—sometimes wrapped in seaweed—with a little egg omelet, sausage and broccoli. The tricky part is that there isn’t labeling like in the U.S. So when you buy eggs or vegetables, you don’t know if they’re organic or not. My husband thinks it’s because all the food is good quality, but it frustrates me not to know. In Brooklyn I was part of a food coop and I bought all organic…Here I just have to close my eyes and buy it!

On community: Community is everything here. The town holds lots of events, and everyone goes. Once a month everyone gets together to clean the neighborhood and local Buddhist temple. When you’re out walking around you always have to “do greeting,” which is a formal bow and hello. It’s so nice, but also sometimes I think, leave me alone! In New York I could be anonymous and never know my neighbors. Here, I might want to stay in with my family on a Sunday, but we have to go to a community festival. It’s very important to attend if you want your children to be accepted.

On modesty: Most department stores have separate “nursing rooms” so that mothers can breastfeed. The flip side is, I never see moms nursing in public. People are very modest. Women wear a lot of black and cover their arms and legs—even in the summer! They are always covering the shape of their bodies. In Brooklyn, I wouldn’t think twice about a woman walking down the street in a tank top and no bra. Here, a whole community of people would be shocked if I wore a tank top!

On the pace: No matter how much you make in New York, you always feel poor. School, rent, medical bills—everything is so expensive. In Japan, I found something I couldn’t have bought with money: a feeling of safety—no pressure. Childcare and school are inexpensive, and healthcare is cheap as well. My husband and I joke sometimes that it’s like we’re living in a retirement community. You can just enjoy your time. It took me about a year to get used to not worrying about something constantly. I kept thinking, “Did I forget something?” Sometimes I feel like I’m not using my brain enough so I started learning French!

Thank you, Yoko! (And isn’t her home, above, beautiful?)

P.S. 10 surprising things about being a mom in Norway, and why French kids eat everything. Yoko also spoke to our friends at Momfilter about her experience a few years ago.

(Thank you to my fantastic friend and writer Lina Perl for help reporting and interviewing)

  1. Beautiful story and photo! I really miss the countryside in Japan. Also… the good food and scenery

    The level of trust is amazing in Japan. It is common to see little children as young as 5-yr-old walk home on their own from school, even in a big city like Kyoto.

  2. yoko, i love your black coat on the first picture.would you please share where it is from? thanksa million!

  3. This is such a great story. I am currently dating a Japanese girl in my home country and I am terrified of her becoming distant when we marry. She’s even visited a fortune teller who told her that would happen. I hope to god that doesn’t happen.

    • Donats says...

      If you go to leave in Japan it will happen. Just don’ t move and you ll be fine. But what if she wants to give birth in Japan ( usually they feel safer) ? If you move here you ll be expected to work like crazy, you won t see her anymore and won t communicate. Just don’ t come here, unless you are ready to leave a virtual relationship;)

  4. I totally love this series! Will you do one of switzerland?

  5. I’m loving this series but Yoko was the first mom I’ve read who didn’t seem happy in her destination. Is it just me?

  6. Wow. I can so relate to many of her experiences, but some of mine were very different as well. My son (now 4) was born in Japan and my daughter attended a Japanese yochien as well. But I did see breastfeeding… especially at PTA events. It was my first exposure to nursing beyond a year in fact. My experience in Japan caused me to awaken from my American cultural auto-pilot way of parenting and adopt a more open minded attitude.

  7. What a great story! I would love to live in Japan! Too much pressure here in the USA! Your family is so lucky!

  8. What a great story! I would love to live in Japan! Too much pressure here in the USA! Your family is so lucky!

  9. wow! the place to be! fantastic!
    I could say I feel the same about London as the author about New York. i wish when we have children to move to such place as japan! :)

  10. Great article, but as people have said, its a pity its comparing bohemian USA with rural Japan and not more representative examples of the respective cultures.

    The information about hoikuen vs. yochien in Japan strikes me as perhaps not so representative also as all the “full-time mothers” Yoko knows would not get their kids into the “working mom’s daycare” if it were thus restricted. It depends on the area but daycare that is limited to working mother’s only and hard to get into will mostly be for “mimanji” (3s and under). Once kids hit 4, pretty much anyone can get into hoikuen if places are available, which is an almost cert in rural Japan. Public facilities like daycare are classic pork barrel construction projects beloved of inaka politicians. Even very small communities will have plenty.

    We have three kids in the Japanese countryside. I love to see my daughter walk to school and am happy with the general discipline and manners taught at school. She’s only second grade, so lessons are still fun and free of the top-down rote learning that I hear is served up to older children. However I’ve been disappointed in that my daughter’s school has a constant stream of open days and events and volunteer jobs that parents are supposed to come in for, often during office hours. I would say there is one every two weeks on average, without even being on the PTA! Ours is a traditional rural school and I’d imagine things are better in the city, but there is no way a mother of a child at my daughter’s school could work a full-time professional job. You’d be constantly taking time off.

    • Donats says...

      It’ s the same in Tokyo ( talking about Youchien). Last year I had to give up my onlinee course to attend the events I HAD TO VOLUNTEER FOR in october. There is always something. If you work, Hoikuen is the only solution…

  11. I didn’t read through all of the comments, but I just wanted to say that I LOVE this series. We are an American couple and lived in Japan for the last 4 years. I 100% relate and agree to everything that Yoko writes about, and she explains it so well. We had our daughter in a rural town as well, and after moving to Tokyo to advance our careers, we put her in a “working mom” school that was amazing (and cheap!) I remember having to prove my job, too. We’ve only been back for 7 months, but I am already missing our great life there. The pressure of family and putting down roots finally brought us home to the USA, but I will never regret starting my daughter’s life in Japan! She has blonde hair and blue eyes, but her first language was Japanese. When she see’s a Japanese girl on TV or in a book, she says “That’s Ella!” She is only 3 and already embraces other cultures. Yay!!!

  12. Thank you for doing this series! My boyfriend and I always read it together and discuss the differences even without having the kids. Bringing different cultures into our lives is always important to us, and having the different tools to come back to when we do decide to have children is worth millions!

    Thank you!

    http://www.britniebanks.com/blog

  13. This is one of my favorite series you’re doing. I also enjoy reading about you and biking! Great blog, Joanna!

  14. It sounds so similar to any other Asian culture. Pakistan and India are the same way.. while there is the 10% where men are helping around the house and women do have jobs and spouse do not live separate lives. That is not the majority and people are still quite happy.

  15. I loved reading this! Sounds like a really great place to raise a family.

  16. So interesting. Although i can’t imagine for myself to want to give up individuality, the safety and reduction of worry about school/healthcare etc. sounds very very appealing. Thank you so much for the post Joanna!! Can’t wait to learn more about other cultures!!

  17. I’m loving this series. As a daughter who was raised by a proud Mexican mother and Italian father in the US, it was tough for us to find a balance between the cultures. I’m looking forward to reading more of these!
    http://www.notesfromtheslife.com

  18. Love this series! It’s relevant too me in so many ways. I’m a first time mom, I’m American with Asian immigrant parents, so I have my own cross cultural issues just with that. My husband and I also are planning to move and raise our family to (rural) Italy or France so the insight on expat parenting is fascinating. I’m surprised that it seems must people aren’t aware of the mostly patriarchal society in Japan. Modernity and technological advancement have nothing to do with culture. Even here in the US, men and women tend to separate in social occasions especially at family gatherings. Case in point, on our summer vaca, I found that I was stuck with the women and kids, as the men drank and fished, which I found annoying because I wanted to be kid free and relaxing and drinking myself. So we’re not as equal as we think we are.

    I’m hungrily waiting for your next installments. This is your best series yet!

    Cheers! From,
    http://www.champagnesundayliving.com

  19. Love this series! We moved from Boston to Japan last year, I really love living in Japan. I have a one year old baby girl. Our doctor is already asking us what kind of school she is going to attend! The food is so healthy, and the transportation is great. My only complaint about Japan is that whenever I tell people I’m American they always say “but where are you from originally” i feel like Japanese people have this picture of Americans being all blonde and blue eyed. I am Salvadorian American so I guess it throws them off. But yes I get the sense it’s hard to fit in. However it’s a great country and I love living here. Can’t wait for the next post!!

  20. I love these series!!! I am a Nigerian mom who has been living in the US for the past 10 years and I struggle with being able to strike a balance with my cultural differences. I love it!!! I anxiously await the next Monday’s post. Thanks Jo!!!

    http://kahyzen.blogspot.com

  21. Didn’t have time to read all the comments, so I’ll add this knowing it may have been mentioned already:

    In Japan, the reason it seems to Yoko that food isn’t labeled is because there is no organic food where she is. Japanese produce is, as a rule, grown with heavy fertilizer and pesticide/herbicide use. No need to label when farming practices are almost universally the same. The exception is usually organic-only supermarkets which can only be found in population centers, and direct marketed produce by organic farmers. Also, sometimes local farmer coops sell produce directly that has *less* chemical use involved, and in my area, they have a special local label for that.

    The main way to get organic produce in the country-side is to grow it yourself. There is usually a great deal of support for growing at home in rural areas, and many chemical using farmers use as little chemical input as possible to grow the small portion of food they consume themselves, so they are usually aware with some organic methods. However, a warning, one shouldn’t just suggest them to grow only organic because non-organic is “bad”, because their livelihoods depend on that chemical use and complaining about it is often seen as snobbish.

    The second way is to look around the community. There are usually a few small scale organic farmers, typically immigrants to the area, who grow organically and will be willing to sell some produce. My town has a community of immigrants (Japanese from other parts of Japan) who buy organic dried goods in bulk and hold a monthly market, to which often local organic sellers show up.

    The third other way, which seems counter intuitive living in the country-side, is to order online.

  22. Men don’t know how to cook and make a mess! so said women want to do it by themselves(^o^)v quickly.
    love ur blog d=(^o^)=b

  23. Fantastic article as someone who just hit her twenties its so wonderful to see what its like to raise children in different countries. I love hearing about new cultures and how it compares to mine. Its so wonderful. It also gives me an idea of where I would like to raise my children someday :) (When Im done with school )

    sidenote: can someone please tell me where she got those boots in the first pic??

    thanks <3

    anfonsec@student.uiwtx.edu

  24. i love how the kids are wearing little scarves on their heads as they prepare their snacks. very sanitary! so cute!

  25. this was a great read. thanks so much for this series! i look forward to every post!

  26. I’m fascinated by this series.. I can’t wait for more!! I also like your choice to choose women from relatively similar backgrounds because it helps to have some (loose) standard that ties the viewpoints.

  27. What an awesome series! I missed the other posts so I’m very excited to go back and read them.

    Thanks for posting!

  28. i’ve been living in the czech republic for the past 18 yrs (was born here but raised in the US(4-18yrs)), and i see the large differences of raising kids in both countries (i have 2 small boys)! it’s very interesting to read about other places in the world – great series :)!

  29. I find this interesting and I’m not even a parent (nor do I plan to become one.) I am interested in the expat life so I am always interested in how people settle into their new lives, and how they compare to their lives in the US.

    However, I think it’s a stretch to say that this post has “10 surprising things about parenting in Japan.” We’re getting the affluent expat take on it, which I think in many ways is different from how a native might describe it. It’s also about parenting in the countryside, which I doubt is representative of parenting in the entire country. I wonder how parenthood in Tokyo might differ. And, we’re also having it contrasted to hipster parenting in Brooklyn, which in some ways is quite unlike parenting in other areas of the US. You could probably do a series in which hipster moms from Brooklyn are plopped down in some rural Heartland location, and find similar “revelations.”

    To MJ, above, I assure you the pre-baby focus on “stuff” definitely does exist in many countries outside the US.

  30. MJ says...

    Joanna, in future entries for this series could you ask your interviewees more about baby/pregnancy preparations? My Japanese friends have told me that baby showers are taboo and that traditionally the mother will sew her baby’s first outfit. Also, mothers stay in the hospital for two weeks after childbirth and it’s like a hotel experience. I would love to know more about that, as I think that Americans are so “stuff” focused and seem to need to have everything lined up prior to baby’s arrival (crib, basinette, etc…the exploding baby registries!)…I just don’t think this exists in other countries.

  31. I can’t get enough of these posts! As a mama of almost two kids, it really puts my life in perspective with my struggles and successes. I could read a book of these essays!

  32. MJ says...

    Awesome series so far. What other countries will you be featuring? I would love to see something about parenting in poorer countries or on a tropical island. Japan and Norway are both very wealthy countries, so I guess it’s not surprising that the living is easy :).

  33. This is such an interesting series. Thanks so much for running it.

  34. love this series! so much to learn from everyone around the world!

  35. This series is my favorite yet! Kuddos, Joanna!
    Ten years ago, we were in Osaka, Japan for six weeks and I had the opportunity to meet and spend a significant amount of time with a wonderful group of Japanese moms. Some of us (and our children) still stay in touch to this day). So much of what Yoko shared is relevant even in a large urban city.

  36. So interesting… I love the walk to school concept. That’s cool!

  37. RR says...

    Very interesting series, despite the comments getting caught up in generalities. There are so many ways to raise a child — it is so pleasant to see many different perspectives. Keep them coming.

  38. also, please dont assume that school is super idyllic and chill beccause this wee one’s kindy looks awesome. Its pretty ughhh in my first hand experience!

  39. I agree with people who are saying that some of your readers are taking things quite out of context with the parties comment-i lived in Japan when I was 15 (about 5 years ago) in a host families, and its not that men are super sexist or wont “let” you party with them, its more that, the women have women stuff to talk about, and men have men stuff. because their lives are so separate, there is a natural effect of like attracting like and two groups forming, Iithink. the men are very shy often, very culturally burdened with their role as “breadwinners”, but in my experience, very kind people. The separation is because the parents spend almost no time together and marriages suffer, not because the men are not by and large lovely, kind compassionate people. I have never been in a country where I as a young, busty, blonde girl have been treated more respectfully by men and I come from one of the worlds most pro female equality countries. Please dont assume things out of context.

  40. This series is awesome, I just LOVE it! Also, on a side note, HOW AMAZING IS HER HOUSE!?? I think I want to move there!

  41. This was very interesting to read, even for me, a working pregnant woman living in the middle of Tokyo, because life in Okayama sounds very different from life in Tokyo!

    A lot of my Japanese friends who are moms work (there is a shortage of daycare so I was recommended to start looking once I hit my second trimester, and to apply to as many different pre-schools as possible), I’ve never been to a party where the men and women were separated, and date nights are very important for parents!
    But there is not much sense of community- everyone is busy getting on with their lives.

    Yoko’s home is beautiful!

  42. This series is wonderful! I am not married or a mom yet and I have lived all my life in India, in small towns and bigger forward cities.
    I can find so many similarities between the Japanese culture in terms of men women being separate at parties and women being predominantly responsible for children and housework. It’s the same thing here, but things are changing fast and as women work today these responsibilities are being shared too. Can’t wait for the next post in the series…

  43. A lot of readers seem to be interested in Yoko’s experience in Japan as an Asian American but, it sounds like Yoko is native Japanese, since she grew up in Japan until the age of 21 and is now returning with her husband and child. Having said that, her life experiences and background do give her authority to speak on the differences between American and Japanese culture and I loved her story. It would be great to see another post on Japan in the future, hearing about motherhood from a true “outsider’s” perspective. Perhaps an American woman married to a Japanese man – similar to Rebecca’s situation in Norway.

    Seems like this series is a big hit, so I’m sure there will be a time and place for it. Keep ’em coming!

  44. This is so interesting and timely for me! I have just finished reading “Bringing up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, about raising children as an American in Paris and I am a Brit living in Seattle. When i was in the UK I wasn’t thinking about having children so I never paid attention to many of its aspects but now I’m starting to really notice them! Thanks you for this wonderful, insightful series!

  45. This is so interesting and timely for me! I have just finished reading “Bringing up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, about raising children as an American in Paris and I am a Brit living in Seattle. When i was in the UK I wasn’t thinking about having children so I never paid attention to many of its aspects but now I’m starting to really notice them! Thanks you for this wonderful, insightful series!

  46. This is the most fascinating blog series I have ever read – thankyou so much!

  47. CC says...

    I can’t wait for more posts in this series. I’m not a mother but I find them fascinating. This one made me a little sad though about the differences in roles that men and women play there. But I love their take on privacy. I definitely feel the U.S. has gotten into the realm of over sharing and complaining about the small things.

    candidcerebrations.blogspot.com

  48. This culture shock of differences she is experiencing is amazing!!! What a fabulous series to have started!! Can’t wait to read more!!

  49. No date night? That was what made me the saddest about the post. So much of it I loved/envied, but she makes it sound like the romance get turned off once a wife becomes a mom.

  50. What a cool series of blog posts! I really loved reading this. Bookmarking you now!

  51. This is now the best part of my Monday, Joanna! Such incredible content. I’m absolutely fascinated by the way these different mother’s live. I love the focus they place on healthy eating, education, and community. That said- it would totally be hard not to be able to “dish” at the playground- and I don’t even have kids!

  52. Amazing series of articles! One commenter referred to Japan as “backwards”, and another commented on how it’s not as advanced as she’d thought. While I agree that I would like to mingle with both mothers and fathers at a party, I think that this is simply a cultural difference. Japan sounds as though it’s much more advanced than the US in most areas, when it comes to the organic way they approach education, the way they value good nutrition, and the importance they place on community.

  53. I’m loving this series too – particularly because we (inc my 3 year old son) had the luck to spend 3 weeks in Japan last year and we fell madly in love with the place. SO interesting – and I love how both mums so far have been able to see both the positive AND the negative about their new homes. So balanced!

  54. LOVE this series. Ticks all the boxes-motherhood, life abroad, a look into other people’s lives and culture. Thank you for sharing!

  55. Thank you so much for this wonderful series. I am an Australian living in NY and raising two children; my sister and I often laugh at how different our parenting/living experiences are in two relatively similar countries.

  56. It’s so interesting to hear all the different experiences around the world. :)

  57. This is an amazing new series. As an expat myself (not yet a Mom) this is definitely fascinating. Thank you!

  58. This is an amazing new series. As an expat myself (not yet a Mom) this is definitely fascinating. Thank you!

  59. I LOVE this series so much!! Please keep them coming!

  60. love love love this! so fascinating

  61. Very interesting!
    I work in a japanese company, so i have knew some japanese woman.
    They have very deep culture feeling.

    Thanks for sharing!

  62. Loved reading this post. The cultural differences are interesting, even being an Asian American. I could only imagine living in Asia with children, but if given the opportunity, I would jump! I love that Yoko is giving her son a chance to know his Japanese heritage fully.

  63. so fascinating. i’m starting to see a theme here about individuality vs. conformity. part of me wants so badly to raise my kids abroad but some of the points she makes here is exactly the reason why i’m happy to be raising my kids here in the U.S. especially the aspect of individuality, critical thinking and well as having a strong connection to a place and culture.

  64. I agree with Erin- This series is awesome, and I’m not even a mom!! I would be interested to see some remote locations as well :)

  65. I think without the cultural reference, the reader’s can’t help but take the gender role thing a little out of context. It’ not that women are not allowed to sit with the men, it’s that women are supposed to be preparing and doing housework (remember women don’t work outside the home) and the separation happens more organically. Even here in NYC, it’s often funny when you find how women/moms will end up in one end of the room and men/dads in the other (especially if there’s sports on tv). It’s just a more traditional (of course annoying and sexist) version of that. And I’m sure Yoko doesn’t go join the men for a beer, because she’s already different and doesn’t want to stand out with everything she does. That’s the part that’s really annoying is that you don’t necessarily do what you want, because you don’t want more attention. Also as someone else noted, it’s not really like this in the cities. Now you see tons of dads everywhere wearing baby carriers (more so than here).

  66. Joanna,
    I am obsessed with this series! Thanks so much for sharing the lives of all these wonderful women! AMAZING!

    Cortney

  67. I don’t usually leave comments, but I just want to say that I’m really enjoying this series! I’m not a mother yet, but I love reading about the various cultural differences/observations/challenges of living abroad and raising a family. Really well done :)

  68. It would be interesting to hear what it’s like for her son being half Japanese, especially given the pressure to fit in that she mentioned. Also has it been an adjustment for her husband, as a caucasian in Japan?

    • i was curious about that too! i work at an international school in south korea. there are several students who are half korean at the school (half canadian/half korean and one student who is half korean/half jordanian). i’ve heard from their parents that it going to a korean school was very difficult for their children as they were often picked on and bullied. the international school environment has been a lot more open and accepting.

  69. I love love love this series!

    And how can we see more of her home? It looks amazing!

  70. jm says...

    I love the schooling, healthcare and security, but would definitely not be able to handle the way men and women have such different roles and are kept separate such a large part of the time. Very interesting read.

  71. Great post! The house and the view are gorgeous!

  72. jm says...

    This is so fascinating! I am totally loving this series.

  73. wonderful read ! so fascinating. far and away the best series you’ve done, Joanna. Brava.

  74. A very interesting series. Looking forward to the next interview!

  75. Wow!!! When you’re from NY, I think sometimes we forget that not every place is like ours. I do wish more people cared a teensy bit more what others think of them so we could all enjoy things like better manners (Hold the door please! or Please don’t cough on me!). Life in Japan sounds lovely in a different way. I just don’t know if I could deal with it! Great series. Love it.

  76. Thanks for this, very interesting. :)

  77. Just a little coucou from Arles, France to say that I am not a Mom and I love this series too. Oops, I see April above said the same. But I think it is a very positive thing to be doing. I know from my travels that the more that we all know about each other, the better the world works. Merci. :)

  78. This series is an AHMAZING idea! You absolutely must speak to moms in Eastern Europe (primarily Russia). I am from there originally, and everything about the daily life to moral priorities and ethics is so different from what I have grown used to after immigrating to the US. If you don’t know any Americans living there, I might try to get a hold of someone via my friends network. Please let me know, I am sure many people would be fascinated!

  79. This series is great – loving it!

  80. i love this series so, so much! so fascinating. some of this sounded so hard, but after that last paragraph about the pace, i just want to live there. i think it would do my heart good :)

  81. What a wonderful series! Thank you so much for exposing us to the facets of parenting in other cultures. There’s so much to gain from learning and considering those habits and cultural norms we’re accustomed to in our families. Looking forward to the next one!

  82. This was so eye-opening! I learned a lot about Japanese parenting and how it compares to life in an American city. I think it’s funny that there are nursing rooms in department stores but she never sees anyone nursing in public!

    I really love this series, Joanna.

  83. This series is wonderful. I’m 32 weeks pregnant with my first, my husband is Danish, and I also spent some time in my 20s living in both Russia and Central Asia…so I’ve both seen and felt the role that culture plays in everything we do, especially on how we parent our children. Looking forward to reading more!

  84. So so beautiful. I love to see this perspective of American mom’s abroad. Its so interesting to me because we’re all so different. Whenever I travel I always encounter a few differences when it comes to childcare, like how the Spanish bring their babies out for dinner at 10pm and don’t think twice about it. Being there with my son who was 4months old and had a 6:30pm bed time was incredibly challenging, no restaurants were open at that time!

  85. This was really interesting, thanks!
    My husband is Japanese, and would love to live in Japan again, but we are raising our son in the states. He will be a citizen of both countries until he is 20 years old when he will have to choose between the two because Japan does not allow dual citizenship after that. Even if you speak Japanese, living in Japan can be difficult for Westerners, especially women, which is why I don’t want to move there. We hope to spend lots of summer/winter breaks there with his parents though :)

    • Transitioning to any culture can be difficult for anybody. However, having lived in various countries around the world, I would say that the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. It all has to do with how open-minded you’re willing to be about the cultural differences and challenges.

  86. Wow this was a cool post to read. I can definitely relate to the culture differences being an Asian American myself. Also, that is one stylish kid.

  87. Nothing more to add, I LOVE this series! I agree that it should be a regular feature. I appreciate being reminded that no place is perfect to be a mother, but I have been inspired to take little tidbits of these countries and try to add them to my parenting. Thank you for such a refreshing and inspiring series!

  88. I am not a mom and I love reading this. It’s so interesting to see what life is like for women in different countries… and I’m sure it’s different in a big city than it is in the country. We all live such interesting lives…

  89. This series should be a regular feature! It’s great to see how mothering works and doesn’t work elsewhere. No place is perfect and there’s lots to learn and perhaps borrow from. Love this! http://exileinmomville.blogspot.com

  90. Echoing everyone else, this series is SO great. I love it! I am moving to Switzerland for a few years with my husband, and although we don’t have kids right now we have talked about starting a family while there. I imagine that raising a family in Europe would be quite different than here in the States. I actually look forward to it given the amount of opinions in US culture regarding pregnancy dos and don’ts.

    Already looking forward to the next installment!

    xo Kristina

  91. This interview is very interesting and timely. I heard a report on NPR’s Morning Edition last Friday that Japanese gov’t officials are looking towards Robot Nannies as the child care of the future. The reporter also talked about the very patriarchal culture that has clearly defined roles for men and women – as Yoko mentioned here – where men work long hours and women are home makers and the two spheres don’t mingle very much. Working women who become mothers are in essence structurally forced to be at home because of the limited day care options. It’s interesting because as an technologically advanced nation, there are so many things that seem antiquated relative to the US. There are advantages and trade-offs everywhere you go.

    As a working mother, I don’t think that we have it all figured out in the US. My husband is from eastern Europe and we have bandied the idea of moving to his home city but am hesitant since I haven’t really been able to talk to someone who might share my perspective. I really love this series, Jo! Can’t wait for the next one.

  92. Awesome! This is a great series.
    whereisjune.com

  93. I’m from Japan, and I think Motoko’s observation is pretty accurate–but in the context of a rural life. Things are much different in the big city life nowadays. Many women are now balancing career and family life, men are also helping out (even taking a Parental leave). The separation between men and women are not so “backward” as she says anymore (or maybe it’s just me in what I see in the big cities like Tokyo and Kobe). Overall, an interesting read.

  94. Wow! I have been living in Japan for four years (both in rural Japan and Tokyo), and Yoko is so right about everything! It’s interesting to read from her point of view especially, as she is Japanese but lived in America for so long- her insights are amazing and she describes things perfectly. It’s difficult to fit in in Japan- whether as a foreigner or a Japanese who has lived abroad. I love also how she shared those nice details about children walking to school together as it’s such a big part of Japanese daily life. Thanks, Yoko, I LOVED this post and your little boy is adorable! And I love Okayama :)

  95. Thanks for sharing! We live in the US but my son is 1/4 Japanese. It’s interesting to see how they do it over there.

  96. I love this series – totally fascinating and gives a really great perspective.

  97. Even though I do not have children, I’m getting a lot out of this series! By focusing on parenting, the articles really provide a snapshot on different cultural approaches to life in general.

    The divide between women and men even at parties in Japan really surprised me, but those delicious, healthy lunches did not! I guess all cultures have their ups and downs and it is valuable for parents to be able to pick and choose between customs from various cultures (although I guess that fitting in could then be difficult).

  98. A really insightful article. Where I live, in a small town in West Texas, I consider it a micro culture of it’s own. It’s nice to hear what’s going on around the world.

  99. LOVE this series. Can you keep it going forever??? :)

  100. Fascinating! I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  101. Beautiful post and so informative. I had no idea about raising kids in Japanese culture. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am curious to know if big cities like Tokyo have similar culture? Going from NYC to a completely rural neighborhood is a big adjustment, culturally and socially. Are most of Yoko’s experiences so because she lives in the rural suburbs or it is culturally the same everywhere in Japan?
    Maybe she would have experienced something diff. if she went from NYC – Tokyo. Found like minded moms?

  102. So interesting…I think I’d miss chatting with men as well. Once again, jealous of low cost health care and child care. Nice work ladies!

  103. Just had to add my two cents, that I love these vignettes of motherhood around the world! I have always wondered… thanks!

  104. This series is awesome!!!! Love reading something a little more cerebral/fascinating than the fashion blogs I follow. Thank you!!!

    anniereeves.com

  105. I’m sure pulling this series together was a ton of work, but it’s quickly become my favorite part of your blog. If you’d ever consider continuing it full time (even once a month!) I know I speak for a lot of your readers when I say, I would love it!

  106. This series is so so interesting! I love the perspective it gives and I can’t wait to read more in the coming weeks!!

  107. I am absolutely LOVING this series – devouring every last word of the last two. I’m not even a mom, but it really strikes me – both as someone who’s always been fascinated with sociology, as well as having to move around the world due to my husbands work. Can’t wait for the next one!!!

    • ditto, I am not a mother either, but I am finding this series of interviews fascinating and enlightening in broadening perspectives and opening a small door onto the lives of women in various cultures.

  108. This is so interesting ! I have to send it to my daughter in law and son. She is Japanese, living in NY now .. she just had a baby. She had lovely American non-Japanese doctors and due to her own research, ate nothing raw but she is a vegetarian so her natural diet was good.
    She and the baby are perfect, we are a very lucky family.

  109. This series rocks! Could you also do one on dating in different countries? :)

  110. I love this series! I just had my first child (she’s 6 months) and I’m so intrigued by all this. I love your blog. Get some rest :)

  111. A great series Joanna. Lately I have been wondering if I should have traveled more before having a family but this series allows me to share in the adventures of other mothers which I enjoy very much.

  112. OMG, Joanna I L-O-V-E this series. I’m years away from having kids, but this is just so fascinating! A coffee table book should follow, perhaps? (I want 5% for the idea haha.) I hope you and the family are well.

  113. I am loving this serious so much!

    I taught in Hokkaido for a year and I could not believe how patriarchal the culture still is. We tend to think of Japan as such an advanced country but in so many ways it really is not.

  114. So interesting, thank you for sharing! It would be such a culture shock to move to a country where men and women are separated at parties, I don’t think I could do it. But it’s wonderful that there’s a sense of community and safety. So interesting too, that Yoko is Asian-American and living in Japan–do people perceive her as Japanese or American?

    greenmountainglobetrotter.blogspot.com

  115. This series is absolutely fantastic. Best idea ever.

  116. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this series!! You could make it a book!

    But oh my, am I envious about cheap daycare. I pay $230 a week.

  117. Another great post. Thank you.

  118. how interesting!! i’ve said this before but i absolutely love this series.

  119. Can you talk more to being Asian American in Asia–of Japanese American in Japan as is in your case? What are the conflicts posed when your subculture clashes with the dominant culture?

    • I’d love to hear more on this too!

  120. I love this series; it’s so interesting to be able see the differences in cultures from someone who’s experienced it firsthand.
    I’m Chinese and although I’ve lived in America my whole life, I can still relate to a few of these things.

  121. This series is so fascinating. Thank you so much for doing it.

    I’m travelling in Czech Republic and Slovakia right now and have thought so much about how different my 18 month old and 4 year old are to the other children we encounter. They’re 10 times louder and wilder! I’m sure it’s a parenting and cultural difference. This series is really helping me analyze that.

    Thank you!

  122. Absolutely amazing! I’m loving this series!

  123. i am really loving this series (i had sent in an “entry” when you first posted this idea) – i am an american mother in belgium with my husband from quebec and my 4 and a half year old twin boys. we are here for work (theater) and it is so different indeed. in reading the 2 posts in this series so far lots ring true. thanks for doing it.

    • Hi,

      I live in Belgium (Antwerp). Being Belgian and having lived here all my life, I’m very curious to know what is so typical about our parenting style :) I have two sons myself. 1 and 3 years old.

    • I’m also interested in the Belgian way of parenting, being a Belgian and living for 3 years in Switzerland with a 3 y-o boy and 3 m-o baby girl.
      Japan has some points to share with Switzerland, re kids walking alone to school (in Switzerland, they have to do it since the 1st year of kindergarten, 4 y-o! at least in the villages), lots of mums-at-home and kindergarten only in the mornings…
      Local moms are also discrete about their family life and it’s not easy to connect (furthermore if you don’t speak Swiss German). But when you meet an expat mom, that’s true you can share in 5 minutes private stuffs about you pregnancy, your gynecologist, your labour, husband or kids!
      Thanks for this series, Joanna.

    • This comment has been removed by the author.

    • I am planning on moving to Belgium and even though I do not have any kids I will most likely be there when I do and I would LOVE a post about expat mothers in Belgium!

  124. Thank you SO much for sharing these insights. How incredible that we can all learn something from other women and how everyone’s culture shapes them in different ways. So very fascinating. Please keep them coming! :)

  125. As an expectant first-time mom, I am loving this series. I spent the past five years living in Scotland and France and am now back in the US and am finding the transition challenging. Especially being pregnant! It seems like there are so many rules and methods surrounding pregnancy and parenting, it’s refreshing to see how other cultures approach these seasons of life. And frankly, it’s freeing. I think that there is a sort of cultural obsession in the US with doing everything “right” and it’s so good to see that we do not have all the answers. Living abroad helped me see this and this series is reinforcing the fact that I can learn so much from other people and cultures. Thank you Joanna!

  126. Beautiful post, and lovely information!
    It sounds like the community really focuses on the well being and growth of the children, this is so nice to hear.

  127. really enjoyed this one … nice to see variety in your moms (as in, not always euro moms)

  128. I’m loving this!!! So interesting and the moms are so insightful!

  129. no idea that Japanese culture was so patriarchal! truly fascinating!

  130. Wow! This series is such a great idea, I’m really loving it!

  131. So fascinating. I really like Yoko and her son’s clothes! Interesting that her son’s school there has something in common with the Norwegian school discussed last week- that the philosophy largely centers around playing outside.

  132. Wow, this was fascinating! Absolutely LOVING this series, it’s so interesting. It’s easy to find information about different countries online, but this sort of insight is so unique. Brilliant! Can’t wait for the next one!

    http://www.ciderwithrosie.com

  133. Tiny ones peeling carrots is so awesome!

  134. I loved this, espacially the part about children walking to school with the support of volunteers.

  135. So fascinating. I’m really loving this series!

  136. i am really enjoying this series! so interesting!

    • Me too!

      I really love how she has been so objective & sensible in what she says, sounds like she is really able to appreciate the pros & cons of each culture. And clearly there are some really good things about being in Japan, hence why they moved there in the first place….the sense of community and advantages for her child being one of them. And the lack of stress….love how she describes the feeling of thinking that she was forgetting something all the time, city life is terribly fast, not always a good thing.

  137. I loved this! I met Yoko when she photographed our house for a book about Brooklyn homes. This is such a great series, Joanna.

  138. oh my god…so interesting!!!! i knew a few things about how traditional and old school life is in Japan…but i had never imagined it to be that backward…i mean men and women separated at parties, come on!
    wow…fascinating.

    • Two things: first, others’ points about rural vs urban lifestyle are important to consider. I have lived in Japan in both rural and urban contexts and it varies as much as you might imagine it varying, say, in rural Kansas vs Boston.

      Second, “backwards”/ “patriarchal” (see another post below) are not labels I would automatically slap on another culture without nuance. All female environments are more common in many other countries, and not necessarily less “feminist,” just different. I am aware of the many challenges women face in Japan, but as a US citizen with a multicultural background I think that the challenges women face here are different — if perhaps less legible according to a Western cultural perspective. So I’m sorry to see a certain amount of stereotyping going on in the responses to this post.

    • Backwards? Surely you know that your way of doing things/living is no more progressive [or any less backward, actually] than someone else’s. Be careful with the language you use to describe cultures other than yours …. particularly, if all you know of it is what you’ve read/heard from someone else. It’s an unfair, and often, inaccurate assessment to make.

    • rk says...

      Backwards?? I don’t think so. Even in modern day New York City, the men often gather around the barbecue and women help each other in the kitchen. I also don’t think American women make friends with other people’s husband’s as easily and commonly as we would pretend they do. We have plenty of the same boundaries here in America. We like to pretend that such boundaries don’t exist or shouldn’t exist… It’s just a different way of life.