Japan’s Independent Kids

As part of my graduate school promise to keep writing (be it blogging, twitter or better yet, academic papers), I’m doing something different today by writing my thoughts on a cultural aspect of parenting. I think that language and culture are inextricably intertwined so it’s hard for me to speak of teaching my daughter Japanese without bringing in cultural values. It makes even more sense when we are actually a bi-cultural family ourselves.

Photo Source: SBS Japan’s Independent Kids
Photo Source: SBS Japan’s Independent Kids

Where we live, I sometimes get comments from others about how independent R is. Interestingly, these comments are usually framed like this. “You’ve raised her in the Japanese way. She is so independent for her age!” or “She’s so independent. That’s because she is Japanese, isn’t she?”

There is a saying in Japanese, 可愛い子には旅をさせよ which translates to “Send your beloved child on a journey”. In other ways, you push your dearest child away from you on a learning journey to do things they have the innate ability to. By now, this video has made several rounds on the web-sphere, how little schoolchildren commute to school by themselves, some even taking and making several transfers on the subway. I find it interesting because it shows both cultural viewpoints I am familiar with–Japan and Australia.

Thinking back to my own experience, my mother drove me everywhere–between home and school and vice versa. This happened right up until I was 14. On the other hand, my husband, who lived in rural Japan, at aged 7 walked with his brother, aged 10 for an hour through forests and tunnels to reach their elementary school. Granted we both lived in very different worlds and had we swopped, our parents might not have behaved the same way they did. On my husband’s island, there were wild boars and poisonous snakes and depending on the seasons, darkness along parts of their one-hour trek  to school. My only dangers as far as I can remember, were rumours about guys shooting up (heroin) during the day by the train station and how young girls are target of a flasher.

So it was interesting when my husband and I became parents in a reputably safe country. While my daughter is still really young for me to consider her doing anything independently, such as running an errand at the local shops (check out this post by Hiragana Mama) , I have been trying to set up age-appropriate developmental tasks which she can do. So for the past few months now, this is what she does on a daily basis.

R is 2 years 5 months.

  • Clears out her school bag/ 給食 (lunch) bag
  • Separates the clothes/ fabrics to be machine-washed into a mini laundry basket
  • Separates her lunch items on a tray for washing
  • Empty her mini laundry basket into the washing machine and setting to a wash cycle
  • Fetches her own diaper and throws away the soiled ones
  • Returns her utensils and cutlery after each meal to the kitchen
  • Pushes in her chair at the kids table for the night

I would like for her to do more. At one stage she was washing rice for me but as the teaching semester now sees me returning late, the babysitter usually gets started on cooking rice before I return home.


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