A few weeks ago NYT ran this great article about the difficulties of raising a son in both Japanese and American cultures:
My Un-American Son
By KUMIKO MAKIHARA
Getting Yataro ready for his first sleep-away camp overseas is turning out to be much more than counting T-shirts and towels. I’m having to review the way children interact here to see which behaviors would go against American codes of conduct. American parents have higher standards than Japanese when it comes to acceptable behavior among children.
Take “kancho” for instance, a popular prank where kids creep up on and poke each other with pointed finger in the behind, shouting “kancho!” or enema. That would likely have the camp counselors in America alleging sexual abuse.
Kancho certainly isn’t encouraged in Japan — a friend of mine is convinced her daughter failed a preschool entrance exam because she playfully jabbed her mother in the rear during the interview. But Japanese parents usually bestow only a mild rebuke.
Please head on over to NYT to read the original article!
Other differences mentioned:
- In Japan, racial epithets directed at her half-white son tend to be tolerated (and he is apparently not fazed by them), but in America they would be a cause for great concern.
- In sports, coaches and other players tend to use positive reinforcement, while in Japan when her son makes a mistake he is told to “stop screwing up.” This might mean her son could take praise far too seriously and not understand where he needs to improve (his English language skills, in this case).
- As someone from a country where communal bathing is common, her son might not understand the more chaste attitudes toward nudity and privacy in America.
- Her son has never been given truly “free” time or open-ended choices, while the summer camp he is to attend consists of almost nothing but free time and freedom to choose.
- In Japan she wouldn’t think twice about scolding using insults to scold her children, but American parents who see that behavior might think it’s abusive.
All these observations ring very true, though obviously your mileage may vary. I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve never been kancho’d.
What I like best about this piece is that she resists the temptation to theorize or lecture about which society has the better practices. That’s the right approach because proclaiming one country’s education/child-rearing regime to be superior to the other’s does nothing to help Yataro navigate his new summer camp. By talking from her own experiences as someone who has had to navigate both societies (and offering some speculation about how Americans at the summer camp will react), she is able to shed light on cultural differences without getting into ultimately unhelpful broad conclusions. And in the process she has given us an entertaining and enlightening case study in the form of her own son. I look forward to the follow up article to hear how Yataro fared.
(A Google search for “Maki Katahira” “Kumiko Makihara” reveals several other articles about her son and life in Japan, along with this right-wing conspiracy theorist who implies she must be a CIA agent and part of the Trilateral Commission‘s plot to control Japan because she was married to former Newsweek Japan bureau chief William Powell (though apparently they divorced) and once worked as an executive assistant for a firm partially owned by private equity group Ripplewood. I don’t want to lend any credibility to this crackpot, but even if she is working for the man, this is still a pretty great article)