Saturday, August 20, 2011

Children in Japan: Have They Ever Had Fun?

The art of child raising in Japan generally has high expectations of children, but with a high amount of indulgence (and that’s not just anecdotal: see this study and this discussion).

Make Wise Mothers

The focus on children and their mothers began in the late Meiji period (1900s), when men’s jobs kept them away from home and women had the responsibility to become the family’s “supreme ruler.” Many of these women learned how to be “wise mothers” from their education; the last two years of girls’ high school was devoted to becoming a good mother. That makes sense--it takes time to learn how to make tempura and learn to teach children morality (girls’ morality classes were twice as long as boys’). While the samurai lifestyle expected children to be little adults, the turn of the century saw a heightened sensitivity to children’s needs. It’s this emphasis on mother-child relationships that, in my opinion, led to its idealization and spillover into non-maternal relationships (referred to as amae, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Expectation of the Superior Student

So as not to cramp the child’s energetic nature and individuality, mothers started giving their children more practical clothing and their own self-decorated rooms. This included in one instance, hanging the bookshelves crooked at the child’s request. The child was to have the most spacious, sunniest room (as referenced in Real World: "We'll make Ryo's room the sunniest one on the second floor"). Along with these indulgences, mothers expected their children to be “superior students.” The pressure on boys and girls to be at the top of their class so as to get a good job later on remains to this day. And it wasn’t just for men; the higher and more prestigious a woman’s education, the higher her desirability as a wife.

Mothers and Children In Japan Today

Many mothers are also working, though they do not receive the same seniority pay raises as their male counterparts, and about 40% of Japanese people think that women shouldn’t work while they have children at home (my source is from 1999). There’s still this incredible pressure on children to do well in school, but Japanese people are recognizing that sometimes kids need a break from studying. Indeed, one magazine found that children who had time to relax in the summer got better grades (so... they want children to relax so they can do better in school, basically).

I think it’s great for a mother to stay home with her children if she is able to and desires to do so. I don’t think I would raise a child in the indulgent style, but it appears to work alright. What do you think of traditional Japanese child rearing practices?

Most of the information in this article came from Children as Treasures.


lisalou said...

Interesting. We must talk about this some time. I found that coming to America there was this huge emphasis (especially in high school) on grades. I found myself battling to give my children time to play and just be kids.

Andrea said...

Wow, this was really interesting! I think we could learn a lot from some of the Japanese methods, like emphasizing getting along with others and group behavior, and not expecting too much of little kids.

I know I am a lot more indulgent with Sapphire, and I feel it has been much better for her.

I wonder how the children's books that are available in each language also serve to reinforce these social ideals? I think cross-cultural childrearing practices are fascinating!