Raising Kids in Japan as an Expat: How Hard is It?
Japan is a very appealing country to move to and work in for people all over the world. While it can be easy for someone to pick up their life and move to Japan by themselves, the decision to move is much more complicated for families with children. If you are planning to move to Japan with your children, or are an ex-pat with children that were born or are going to be born here, you probably have a lot of questions like these:
"What is it like raising children in Japan?"
"What are the biggest challenges for ex-pats raising their kids in Japan?"
"Are there good childcare and support services in Japan?"
"Do I need to be able to speak Japanese?"
These are all important questions you should be asking yourself if you are planning on raising kids in Japan. So let's look at some of these concerns, as well as some solutions so that you can have the knowledge you need to raise a happy family in this country.
Is it Hard to Raise Children in Japan?
This is not an easy question to answer, so first let's look at the traditional child-raising culture in Japan and if that culture is starting to change.
While in many countries, especially in the West, traditional family roles have been changing over the past decades, many would say that Japan is still very much rooted in "traditional" roles: mom takes care of raising children and housework while dad works. Because of the long working hours expected of employees in Japan, moms often find themselves raising their kids by themselves.
In Europe and North America, hiring a babysitter to watch your children for a night while you go out is common, but in Japan, babysitters are considered a luxury that can be quite expensive. Therefore most Japanese people never use babysitters and take care of their kids entirely by themselves.
This means that unless you have in-laws or friends living nearby that can help you out, raising children in Japan can traditionally feel like a lonely, daunting, and challenging task--especially for mothers. And since people in Japan can be very private when it comes to their family life, it can be hard to find someone to talk to about their worries and stresses.
All that being said, things are changing slowly in Japan and some aspects of raising children are starting to become easier. The government as well as more companies are encouraging fathers to take paternity leave, and more nurseries and childcare services are being developed. While Japan may still have a ways to go in terms of making raising children easier on parents, progress is being made.
The Biggest Challenge for Ex-pats Raising Kids in Japan
The biggest challenge for foreigners raising kids in Japan will usually be the language barrier. If you or your spouse does not speak Japanese, it will make handling many different aspects of child-rearing in Japan much more difficult.
While it does depend on where in Japan you live, finding nurseries, pediatricians, and other facilities where some of the staff speak English can be very challenging. If your child is sick or injured and you can't communicate with the doctor easily, it can be a very stressful experience and make it harder to get the proper care for your child. If you're trying to sign up your child for a nursery school and can't understand the paperwork or speak to the nursery school staff, it can be very hard to enroll or understand the nursery's policies. This, coupled with cultural differences between your home country and Japan, can lead to misunderstandings, stress, and other unexpected problems. In big cities like Tokyo, it is much easier to find services where you will be able to speak English and be understood, but you may need to travel long distances from your home to get to them. And in smaller towns or the countryside, your best hope may end up being to use Google Translate for every conversation you have.
On top of this, if you don't speak Japanese it may be much harder to make friends in your community who could give you advice, recommend good schools or doctors in the area, or help you out if you have any problems. Unless you live in an area with a large foreign community, this can lead to you feeling isolated and alone raising your kids. This added stress will only make life in Japan more difficult.
How to Make Raising Children in Japan Stress-Free
While there are definitely many challenges to raising children in Japan, many ex-pats have and are successfully and happily raising their kids here. So let's look at some things you can do to make raising kids in Japan easier for yourself and look at some of the many different kinds of support available to parents in Japan.
If you are moving to Japan or already living here, you need to strongly consider taking Japanese lessons. If you can, start taking lessons before you move to Japan! If that's not an option, there are tons of language schools and private lessons available to you to begin learning the language.
Tokyo Apartment Inc offers Japanese lessons to help ex-pats who have recently moved to Japan. Our courses will help you learn how to have conversations in Japanese, which for daily life and raising kids is the most important skill to have.
The cost of personalized in-person lessons is ¥4,000 + tax per hour, while online lessons cost ¥3,000 + tax per hour. Contact Seiya Kato at email@example.com for more information.
In Japan, child healthcare is free or heavily subsidized as long as you are enrolled in health insurance (be it through your employer or through Japan's National Health Insurance) and you apply for the Free Medical Care Certificate for Children at your local municipal office. Up until your child is 15 (age may vary depending on the city), visits to the doctor will only cost ¥500 at most, and medicine is free. You will also receive coupons you can use for health checkups and vaccinations, meaning that almost all medical costs for children in Japan are free.
Each city has slightly different healthcare support systems for children, so be sure to check with your local city hall or ward office.
Tokyo English Life Line (TELL)
TELL is a non-profit organization that provides counseling and support services for adults and children at their physical clinics in Tokyo and Okinawa, and also has a lifeline and online chat you can contact if you need to reach out to someone for support. If TELL isn't able to help you with your concerns or worries, they may be able to refer you to someone who can. If the stresses of childcare are causing you too much trouble, or if you're worried about your child's mental health, contacting TELL can be a great option--especially if you live in Tokyo or Okinawa.
For more information about TELL's mental health support, click here.
Tokyo Child Guidance Center
This service in Tokyo provides consultations for children under 18 years old. They provide consultations not just for the children themselves, but also for parents. If you have some concerns or worries about childcare in Japan, you can try to contact this service.
For more information, click here.
Should You Raise Your Kids in Japan?
If you are thinking of moving to Japan with your children, or are planning on having kids in Japan, there will be challenges--just like there are challenges raising kids in any country. As the number of support services available to parents increases and as the social acceptance of childcare leave improves in Japan, the ease of raising children is also getting better and better.
Ultimately, where and how you raise your children is your decision. But if you do decide to raise your children in Japan, know that there are support services available not just to reduce the financial burden on you, but also the emotional burden. As long as you know and are prepared for the challenges you might face day-to-day, raising children in Japan can be a wonderful, rewarding experience.