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kodomo no hi (children’s day)

May 8, 2007

Yesterday {edit: I started this on Monday} was “Boy’s Day” in Japan. In the interest of equality (there is a girl’s day however it is not a national holiday) it was changed to Children’s Day, which I suppose would be like changing Mother’s Day to Parent’s Day . . . if there wasn’t already a Father’s Day.

Anyway, the Little Dork was not able to celebrate as he has in the past, since in the past years he’s been in Japan during Golden Week. He missed the festival and the associated goodies, and my late attempts to approximate the festival by flying our own Koinoburi fell flat (as if I could find one in Nashville). He did come away with a little haul, a nice tub of Legos and a singing, chattering, plastic Blues Clues dog.

I’d been thinking about the topic of raising an interracial/cultural/national kid in this alleged melting pot of the United States of America ever since Rachel’s post on her adventures as learning about race from a 7 year old, co-parenting of a phenotypically Black child.

I don’t know that I’d say there are “challenges” raising him. Perhaps there are matters that don’t occur to other parents, even those already raising a child born of an interracial union or even adoptive parents. I talk about the subject after the jump.

Language matters: We want him to be proficient in both English and Nihongo. It’s easier than you lot are thinking. He’s clearly going to be as good or better a mimic than his Dad, because he has a good ear for phonetics, even though his pronounciation is sketchy at this point. He is only 2 1/2. We accomplish this in part by having me speak English to him only. That’s easy enough, lol. He does seem so surprised if I ever bust out some Japanese when we have a little guest. His mother speaks to him primarily in Japanese. Still, being here in the US, he’s constantly exposed to English and so for a brief time his English linguistics were better. Now that he has a couple of Japanese kids to play with and can watch some kid’s shows in Japanese, his skill is really taking off. It’s funny that with all his exposure to English, his pronounciation of Japanese is better.

His paternal grandparents were skeptical of the plan. He’s living in the US, they thought, he ought to focus on learning English exclusively and pick up Japanese later, like you know, a hobby (no they didn’t actually say that last bit). Well now they see their worries were all for naught.

Still, he’s got a slight accent in his speech, sort of a mix between West London and Tokyo. I think it will vanish in the future, but . .. Psychick has experienced that people here have a tendency to presume that they wont be able to understand her English. They have their mouths poised to say “Huh?” before she’s started her sentence. I just wonder how much of that will be seen in the Little Dork’s teachers.

Language is also communicated in written form of course. It makes sense that if he is to be bilingual in speech he should be with the pen. I’ll be right there with him learning those 2,000 characters in kanji. Someday . . . 🙂 I truly do not understand the parents of similarly situated kids who, for whatever reason, don’t equip their kid with the skill, to give them the gift of being able to communicate in two languages. One, how do they expect he/she will talk to Grandma on Skype? Two, do they not realize the pay differential for some jobs between monoligual and bilingual? Three, easy A in college!

The process I imagine will be somewhat similar to teaching speech. There are flash cards and all that, of course, however, exposure is important.

In all of this, whether living in the States or in Japan, we’ll have to compensate for the lack of a regular school teaching one of the languages. That is going to be the most difficult. In Japan, there are schools that cater to International students. The problem could possibly be overcome by just sending him to the right school. As we know, it’s hard enough to get some US schools to teach Latinos and Hispanics in their native language. Japanese? Fahgeddaboudit.

Appearance is something: It’s hard to say how much effect this is having on him, only that there is some. First, there’s some parents out there raising some rude, obnoxious little brats. They’re likely just absorbing what they’ve seen from their role models. I suppose if they shun a kid who may look a little different then perhaps the parents are to blame. Black kids, foreign born kids from the Middle East, have generally been quicker to accept him in the impromptu play groups on the play ground, even though he doesn’t particulary “look like” he’s a member of either group. I hate to speculate on his future social life while he’s still in diapers. There will certainly be some growing pains that we should be able to navigate, like all the haters looking at him sidways because he’s so damned handsome (don’t believe me check da flickr).

Still, kids are noticing differences even at this early age. Kids his age don’t apply meaning to these differences in appearance, however, it’s clear kids just a year or two older do.

Holidaze: Not a big issue. We don’t have a problem recognizing the significant dates in either culture. I’m not so terribly interested in holidays in general save Halloween, which isn’t so much a holiday as an “event.” So I’m easy.

Parenting styles and cultural differences: This is a thorny one, and we each have our own opinions. Psychick can speak for herself (and has her own Mixi blog to prove it) on the issue. My take is that we tend to draw on sources outside “culture” for advice on how to be parents. One may not be able to separate the book or piece of advice from the culture from which it sprung. I tend to rely less on my parents advice (they have experience, sure, but that was in the sixties). All that to say that our outlook on parenting tends to be more similar than dissimilar*.

However, at times issues to arise that could be based in cultural differences. American culture tends to be an “ends” culture, meaning we look at the result. Yes, we are concerned with how we get there as much as getting there with some things, still we’re less “means” oriented. It is a simplification to say that Japanese culture, as rich as it is, can be summed up as a means culture, however, there is more emphasis on the order of things (not in a hierarchical way). We might think, oh, the shoes are off, the end, now we can go inside. No. The shoes have to be turned so that the toes are facing the door. It’s easier to put them on once you’re going to leave and it appears more organized. We might think, well, so what, just turn them around when you’re ready to leave.

We have to avoid value judgements when looking at differences, then. Don’t say, “the Japanese way is too strict” or “the American way is lazy.” It’s easy to slip into that kind of thinking when it’s midnight and the kid is still running around like he just had a pot of espresso. I suppose this kind of cultural relativistic thinking is not in line with Gingrich’s thoughts on the innate superiority of American culture (btw, forget Newt’s recent statements about the language of the ghetto. They aren’t thoughtless. He actually has been contemplating that stupidity for years. Similar thoughts are in his book, To Renew America. Hmm, to renew America. Sounds like, To Serve Man. It’s . . it’s  . . . it’s a cookbook!)

You’d think that being in an international/cultural/racial marriage would disabuse some folks of the cultural superiority notions. It don’t. You’d be surprised at the people who enter into these relationships illequipped to deal with these issues. I’m not just talking about the Pinkertons, either . .

Too sleepy to go on . . . Spock out.

*I think there are some similarities between Japanese urban(e) culture and African American Southerner traditions that perhaps serve as briding some gaps, however, as individuals we tend to be on the edges of our sending cultures anyway, so . . .

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2007 11:31 am

    “You’d think that being in an international/cultural/racial marriage would disabuse some folks of the cultural superiority notions. It don’t. You’d be surprised at the people who enter into these relationships illequipped to deal with these issues.”

    This was a good read. I am the father or a mixed race girl & its been a rough in spots. To be perfectly honest (rather to put myself on blast) its been difficult at times for me not to slip into thinking “white folks are crazy” when it comes to some parenting choices. Guess I better work on that. 🙂

    One question though, you talk about difference in parenting terms of American & Japanese, do you think race ever plays a part in the difference? I guess I am asking does being Black American and her being Japanese add a different spin on things?

    -T

  2. May 8, 2007 12:27 pm

    Actually in this case I think culture supercedes race in terms of differences in approach. Race and culture are different concepts. I probably learned/experienced things differently than a Black guy growing up in LA since I lived in the South and my parents were born in Mississippi. Like I said, I think there are some similarities between Southern Black culture and Japanese culture on things like fealty to elders and the importance of family. We may not totally buy into the culture we experienced in our youth, however those formative years do have some kind of effect.

    I don’t know any White/Japanese or Hispanic/Japanese couples so I don’t have anything to judge against. My guess is that the couple w/ the POC could experience less discord over culturally significant matters because POC in our country may be more aware of the significance of maintaining a cultural identity.

    I tried to blank preconcieved notions about what “Japanese culture” is. I mean, I can’t possibly know vs the level of expertise of someone who has lived it, I can just make observations and try to make sense of what I read. Ultimately, you have to take the view that you’re dealing with another individual and focus on the people involved rather than thinking about group dynamics so much. You don’t want to discount culture completely, however, you can confuse yourself with disasterous results once you start down the road of saying, “This is happening because of culture (or race).”

    Probably where race plays a role is in other’s perceptions of us and how that affects things like dealing with people or our son. Down here, people are really curious about us. People were always trying to sneak a peak into the baby carriage to see exactly what the mix would produce. So I’m concerned about how others preconcieved notions could end up affecting the Little Dork. Do our attitudes differ in how we handle situations where it seems someone may be put off by us being together? Those kinds of issues.

    What do you think, Terell?

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. May 9, 2007 12:52 am

    What you saying makes sense but it seems like the mixing of black & white has its own specific baggage. Or maybe its me?
    Its hard to say. I guess the most important thing is to be able to talk it.

    -T

  4. April 2, 2009 10:17 am

    hey this is cooooolllllllll. i love japannnnnnnnn. Y0!

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