Every parent knows that raising a child isn’t easy. There are good days and not so good days. Each day comes with its own challenges. By the age of two, my son already had influenza A and B (who knew there were two types), chickenpox and hand, mouth and foot disease. Personally, I think we got off easy. No broken bones. No serious infections.
Injuries and illnesses aren’t the tough part though. For a few days, you lose some sleep, but that’s usually it. The real challenge of parenting comes in the daily activities: getting ready for school, changing, having breakfast, brushing their teeth, giving them a bath, helping them with their homework and putting them to bed. Sounds easy, but it’s surprising tough.
Five minutes here, five minutes there. It all adds up. Time just flies as any parent can attest to.
My wife and I have an added challenge – raising our son to be bilingual.
While I was born and raised in a small town in England, I’ve lived in Japan for going on 21 years. I never in my wildest dreams expected I’d leave England. The first eight years of my life the farthest I had traveled was a four-hour trip to London, once. But fate had something in store for me and my family. We made stops in the Philippines, Thailand, The US and Myanmar, but in 1998, I settled in Japan.
Growing up overseas I grew up with a real mix of friends, people from all over the world. One day in high school I looked around and none of us were from the same country. Going around the table: Italy, Germany, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Bangladesh, England, America and Canada were all represented.
It goes without saying that most of them were bilingual, one even trilingual and they hadn’t even graduated high school. Me, I spoke English. That was it.
While I loved my time in California, I felt that Japan was a better fit for me. An added bonus, my child would be able to learn two languages. Something that I struggled mightily with. Japanese from school and his surroundings, English from me and my wife (with a little help from the TV).
All I can say is so far, so good. My son turned nine a few months back and he’s flourishing. While I had my reservations when I was younger, I’ve come to believe that Japan is an ideal place to raise a child. There are five reasons why.
It’s hard to put a price on safety, but having lived through six revolutions myself, I can say it’s substantial. Each morning my son and his classmates gather at a meeting spot and walk to school. It really is quite wonderful to see. My son and his friends ride their bicycles about two miles every Saturday. How can you put a price on that?
When I first came to Japan, I thought the food was good. Today, I think it’s nothing short of amazing. Vegetables are heavenly. Sushi divine. Miso soup. Rice. Fruits. All I can say is yes, yes, yes. Japanese people tend to prefer quality over quantity. In other words, you get less, but they make up for it in taste. The proof is in the pudding. Ask my son what he wants for dinner and half the time he’ll ask for fish. How much does he like vegetables? One day he asked me, “Why do they give us chocolate at snack time, why not tomatoes?” Personally, I’m 43 and feel healthier today than I ever did in my 20s and I believe food plays a big part of that.
If there’s one drawback of Japan, it has to be space. In the big cities, everything is squished together. Big gardens are almost unheard of here, simply because of the price of land. On the flip side though, everything is within reach. While I do use my car to do the big shopping, more than half the time I just pop on my bike when I want to pick something up at the store. You’ve got trains for everything else. Ask any foreigner who’s lived here for a while and they’ll tell you that Japan is convenient.
Raising your child to speak two languages is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give them. Japanese may be tough to learn for English speakers, but it’s not impossible. I use myself as an example. Growing up I thought I had some sort of learning disability when it came to languages. 10 plus years of Spanish and I never got it. Japanese though, I wanted to learn it, so I did. It’s that simple. When it comes to learning anything, desire is the name of the game. But with kids, their minds are so malleable. So if you live in a country where they speak something other than your mother tongue, or your spouse speaks a foreign language, don’t hesitate to teach it to your kids. For them, it’s a piece of cake.
While Tokyo and Osaka are what would classify as concrete jungles, Japan is full of nature once you get outside of the big cities. I’ve been told by hikers that Japan is wonderful. Snowboarders tell me that Hokkaido has some of the best ski slopes in the world. My family loves the water and so each summer we explore the rivers nearby.
Speaking as a father, I’m grateful that my son is raised in such a welcoming country. He’s never experienced racism even though all his classmates know he’s my son, and looks just like me. He speaks two languages and can read and write Japanese better than English. He’s happy so I’m happy. What more could a father ask for?
Photo courtesy of the author.