JAPANESE CHILDREN: CUSTOMS, DISCIPLINE, DAY CARE, BABYSITTERS, VIDEO GAMES

JAPANESE CHILDREN

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There were an estimated 16.93 million children under the age of 15 in Japan as of April 2011. This is 90,000 less than the year before and the 30th straight year of decline. In 2010, children accounted for 13.2 percent of the population---another record low. About 1.1 million babies were born in Japan in 2006. About 1 in 30 children born that year had a non-Japanese parent.

According to one estimate it costs $662,000 to raise a child in Japan. One survey found that child-raising cost avenged ¥72,000 a month and ate up 26.2 percent of a household’s budget. The expenses included spending for schools, cram schools, enrichment lessons, food, clothing, allowances to children, deposits for children, and insurance premium payments

In 2005, Japanese family-related government spending for things such as management of day care centers and child allowances was 0.81 percent of GDP, compared to 3.2 percent in Britain, 3.17 percent in Sweden, 3.02 percent in France and 0.62 percent in the United States.

A family counselor in Japan told the Washington Post, "Here, the children inherit a position as head of the household. It's not the individual identity which parents nurture, but the successor of the house."

Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive of Babies japan-photo.de and Children japan-photo.de ; A Day in the Life of a Japanese Kid cusd.chico.k12.ca.us ; Photos of Japanese Children phototravels.net/japan ; Japan with Kids tokyowithkids.com ; Kids Web Japan web-japan.org/kidsweb ; Research on Japanese Children childresearch.net

Links in this Website: EDUCATION SYSTEM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SCHOOLS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TEACHERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SCHOOL LIFE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BULLYING AND SCHOOL PROBLEMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE FAMILIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SALARYMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MOTHERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE WORKING WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KAWAII, GOSU-RORI, AND STREET FASHION IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE CHILDREN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Number of Children in Japan Hits New Low

In May 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Japan’s population of children as of April 1 was estimated at a record low of 16.65 million, falling 120,000 from a year before for the 31st consecutive yearly drop, government data showed. The estimate of children under 15 years of age was the lowest since comparable data was first tracked in 1950. The number of boys totaled 8.52 million, versus 8.12 million girls, according to the latest data released by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. [Source: Jiji Press, May 5, 2012]

The number of children accounted for 13 percent of the nation's total population, down 0.1 percentage point from a year before for the 38th straight yearly decrease. Among major countries with a population of 40 million or more, Japan ranked at the bottom. In the United States, children make up 19.8 percent of the population, while in China the figure is 16.5 percent and in Germany 13.4 percent. [Ibid]

By age, children 12 to 14 years old formed the largest group, totaling 3.57 million. As the age became lower, the total number of children also fell, with 3.47 million children aged 9 to 11, followed by 3.25 million children aged 6 to 8 and 3.21 million aged 3 to 5. There were 3.16 million children below the age of 3. The proportion of children was the highest in Okinawa at 17.7 percent, followed by Shiga with 14.9 percent and Saga with 14.5 percent. Tokyo and Akita shared the lowest ranking, with a proportion of 11.3 percent. Hokkaido was the second lowest, with 11.8 percent. [Ibid]

Japanese Government Child Allowances

Among the issues taken up by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)–the new party elected into power in 2009 bu thrown out in 2012—was the creation of more day care centers to meet a shortage of them and increase government payments to parents with children. The DPJ originally promised to pay out ¥26,000 a month for child-rearing allowances but backed down from that figure to ¥ 13,000, arguing justifiably that government didn’t have the money to off such a generous handout. Under the old system a payment of ¥10,000 was given to children under three and ¥5,000 was given to children between three and sixth grade of primary school.

A bill to offer parents ¥13,000 a month for each child middle school age or younger and high school tuition free was approved by the Diet in March 2010. The first benefits of ¥13,000 were paid out in May to families for each child age 15 and younger with most the first payments made in June. Municipalities rushed and put in a lot of time to make sure the payment were delivered.

Many questioned the effectiveness of the allowance. There was nothing to stop those who received it from using the money to pay for a trip abroad or to fill the refrigerator with beer, although of course most recipients didn’t do this. Many put the money in the bank. A study found that 49.8 percent of women and 36.5 percent of men are saving their children’s allowances for the future.

Many thought the money could have better spends on something else such as day care centers or school improvements. A 39-year-old mother with two children told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The money is great” but “it would’ve been better to use the money for subsidize medical costs or purchase teaching materials for schools.”

In April 2010, a South Korean residents filed to get the ¥13,000 per child fee for 554 children that he said he had adopted in Thailand. The law does not require the children to live in Japan. The man provided the names and birth dates of the 554 children and said they were certified by the government of Thailand. In any case, the application was turned down over questions on whether documents the man presented were authentic.

In December 2010, the Kan government proposed raising the child allowance to ¥ 20,000 per month from ¥13,000 for children under three years old. This idea was shelved after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, when many thought the money used for the allowances should go to help earthquake and tsunami victims.

In October 2011, monthly child-rearing allowance payments were reduced to ¥10,000 yen per child aged 3 to 12 and of middle school-age. Before households received 13,000 yen per month per child of middle school-age and under. However, households will receive 15,000 yen per child younger than 3 years old and the same amount for third and subsequent children from 3 to 12 years old. Households will receive 10,000 yen per month for first and second children aged 3 to 12 and those in middle school.

Boys and Girls in Japan

The number of male births is declining in Japan as it is in the United States. More males are born than females but the ratio has been steadily declining over the past three decades. In Japan the male to female birth ratio dropped from 107.1 boys for every 100 girls in 1971 to 105.2 per 100 in 2004.

It is not clear why the drop in male births has occurred. Many think it is because many couples prefer girls because they are easier to raise. Some scientists believe the decline may be connected with declining reproductive health of the Japanese male population and this may be caused by environmental toxins such as certain pesticides, heavy metals, solvents or dioxins---a conclusion based on studies that show that men that have been exposed to high levels of toxins father fewer boys.

A preference for boys remains imbedded in the culture. One homemaker told the Asahi Shimbun: “When I became pregnant with my second child, there was the unspoken understanding that I must have a boy. When a test at the advanced stage of my pregnancy suggested that I would have another girl, my mother-in-law looked very disappointed and immediately asked if the test was really reliable...I was shocked by her reaction and started to feel that I had no value as a member of the family unless I gave birth to a boy.”

Child Development in Japan

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Throughout his or her growth and development, the Japanese child is expected to experience certain events and to develop certain skills, so that development of a mature consciousness and behavior will be promoted. Regular mother-child behavior like breast feeding during infancy is believed to stimulate mental activity of the baby and to enhance a trustworthy relationship between parent and child. Based on this sort of relationship, the time spent in play and fun experiences between the two would promote a sense of playful exploration and form the basis of interpersonal relationships, as well as emotional security. This in turn enhances the ability of a child to play with other children and successfully join in peer-group activities. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 hu-berlin.de/sexology ++]

Peer-group activities, especially involving play activities among young children, is believed to develop the social aspect of personality. It seems that social development of an individual includes acquisition of communication skills with of hers, procedures to maneuver human relations, leadership development within a group, and coping skills between boys and girls, between elders and the young, and between the strong and the weak. As a person grows and becomes ready to engage in heterosexual relationships and sexual behavior, these human relationship skills will become necessary to cope with the opposite sex. Likewise, the above skills are needed when a person becomes a parent. ++

Child Customs in Japan

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When a child reaches the age of seven days, his or her father bows before the household Shinto shrine and places on it a paper with the child's name. This informs ancestors of a the new addition to the family. Friends and relatives give gifts in the name-giving ceremony.

At the age of 32 or 33 days a child is taken to a Shinto shrine. The child's name is recorded and the child officially becomes a member of the community. At four months of age, the mother helps the child with chop sticks in the "first eating ceremony.” At the ages of three, five and seven, a child is take to a shrine and thanks is offered that the child reached these ages.

Boys have traditionally been given an elevated place but this not necessarily the case anymore. Discrimination for women sets in more when they reach working age.

After a baby tooth falls out it is thrown onto a roof rather than collected by the Tooth Fairy. Throwing baby teeth on the roof is supposed to help the teeth grow straight.

Parent-Child Relationships in Japan

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: The “tendency to a small number of children is a reflection of urbanization and a high-economic, growth-centered family life with the wife being a highly educated career woman. This tendency for Japanese couples to have fewer children may also reflect the lack of sufficient social welfare and public child-care systems, which pressures mothers to stay home and take care of their children. Many Japanese women are reluctant to have more children because of inflexible working hours required by Japanese companies, long-distance commuting to work, the high cost of housing, and the lack of child-care facilities. (Kaji) Apart from the need and preference of each individual family, this trend is not necessarily a healthy phenomenon for society in general, particularly because of the consequences of impediments the individual single child encounters in his or her development. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 hu-berlin.de/sexology ++]

In the past, the Japanese family was often situated in a large, family-tree system where several families related by kinship lived together on the same land but in different houses. This arrangement sometimes accommodated different families of three or four different generations. The children learned many important matters from the members of the various families, as well as from their own immediate brothers and sisters. With many children in each family, each child enjoyed excellent educational opportunities within the family community. Indeed, everyday life in the community functioned as the community education. The advent of modernization brought an urban life that forced the extended family and neighborhood community to abandon its educational function. In addition, the daily human exchanges and the network system with the neighbors were lost. ++

This is not to imply or suggest that today’s children will grow up to become sexual deviants or criminals. However, it is obvious that attention needs to be paid to the fact that in Japan today, the psychosexual developmental processes of the infants and children are experienced in abstract textbooks rather than in actual experience-oriented activities.

Japanese Mothers and Their Children

Child development in Japan is seen by some academics as one of symbiotic harmony while such development in the United States is characterized more by generative tensions.

Studies indicate that Japanese mothers’ communications with their infants tend to be oriented toward the mother-child relationship while those of U.S. mothers tends to be oriented towards the outside world. Studies have also show that Japanese mothers tend to negotiate with the children on many matters while American mothers are likely to give orders.

A young Japanese child once wrote in a poem: "I am like clay, always being molded into different shapes by mother's firm hands." Japanese mothers are almost never separated from their children. They carry their infant children almost everywhere; and they often sleep with their children instead of their husbands. When the children enter school mothers often sit next to them in the class room. At home, their children have desks outfit with buzzers that alert their mother when they need a snack. [Source: Deborah Fallows, National Geographic, April 1990]

Watching a group of young children at a playground long-time Tokyo resident Lavina Downs wrote in the Washington Post: "None of the toddlers would ever stray more than 20 yards from their mother; an invisible cord seemed to pull them back. The women chatted with each other but rarely spoke directly to their children. Nevertheless, I seldom sensed anything but affection and trust, often spiced with good humor, between mothers and children.” [Source: Lavinia Downs, Washington Post, April 3, 1994]

Mother used to carry their young children on their backs. But these days most urban women anyway use strollers and slings. Young children are often carried everywhere by their mothers on bicycles. Many mothers like to dress their children in hats with ears.

Mothers feel a lot pressure when it comes to childbearing. One child psychologist told the Washington Post, "In Japanese society there is a notion that if you have children, you must get 100 points in raising them. You must be the perfect mother with no mistakes." A Japanese proverb that refers to the importance of childcare in the first years of life goes: "The soul of a 3-year-old stays with him until he is 100."

In Japan it is generally regarded as impolite and bad taste to boast about yourself or members of your family. It is okay to say that someone else’s child is cute but not your own. However one can praise one’s own child if the statement is prefaced by the remark oyabaka dakedo (“I’m a doting parent but...”) or say good things about one’s spouse if prefaced by the remark haigushabaka dakedo (I’m a foolish spouse but...”). One way for a person to compliment themself or a family member is first to make a self deprecating remark about a fault and then have the person one is talking to say “oh, no that not true, and have the original speaker agree. [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri]

Education Crazy Mothers, See Education.

Poll Finds 72 percent of Japanese Worry About Child-Rearing Costs

Nearly 72 percent of respondents to a 2012 Japanese government survey said increasing financial burdens of child rearing are a source of anxiety. The second-largest group of respondents--47.1 percent--cited concerns about juggling a career, household chores and child rearing responsibilities. The third-largest group, at 43.7 percent, cited unstable employment and job situations as a major cause of parenting-related anxieties. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 6, 2012]

the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Cabinet Office said the survey results showed economic anxieties are accelerating the nation's declining birthrate. Asked about the shortcomings of government child-rearing support measures, 57.8 percent of respondents said the government did not do enough to help young people live independently and find jobs. Fifty-six percent said there was no established societal support system for young people raising children, while 53.8 percent said efforts to reduce the number of children on daycare center waiting lists and improve the quality of child education were lacking. The nationwide survey was conducted through the Internet, and 14,159 males and females between the ages of 15 and 65 responded. [Ibid]

Children’s Behavior in Japan

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Young children are given a pretty free reign, and allowed to do pretty much what they want. They are often noisy and rowdy in supermarkets and other public places. One reason this for that young childhood is one of few period when Japanese can truly enjoy themselves. Children often learn more discipline in school than from their parents.

In the late 2000s when teachers were asked informally by the Yomiuri Shimbun about the difference between students today and students in the 1990s, many of the teachers said that children today are more “immature” and “childish” and “lack communication and social skills” which they blamed on life in the information age.

Kids like to pull and feel the hairy arms and legs of adult Westerners.

A lot of societal restrictions are made on what children can and can not do. In October 2007, a fountain in Tokyo was turned off after a woman claimed that the children who played in made too much noise. A court ruled in her favor saying the noise the children made exceed permitted decibel levels.

Disciplining Children in Japan

Japanese children tend to be well mannered. If a child behaves poorly often times the parents are blame more than the child. There are number of expressions that reveal this such as “your bad behavior reveals how badly you were brought up.”

Japanese mothers generally don't scold their children, and try to train their children as much as possible through encouragement and praise. As punishment, they show their displeasure with a mild rebuke or a threat of exclusion. A crying or misbehaving child, for example, is told that everyone is looking and laughing at them so they had better stop. One reporter heard an American six-year-old tell her mother: "If I was gotten mad at by someone, I wish it would be by a Japanese." Even so may Japanese mothers are not adverse to giving their children a good swat if they deserve it.

Children are sometimes punished by being locked out of the house. Children often cry with fierce shrieks when this happens."From our bedroom window," Downs wrote in the Washington Post, "I saw Satoshi, a little boy of 5 or 6, pounding on his front door and frantically screaming to be allowed back in. Over and over again he repeated that he would do what she wanted only 'Please mother, let me in. Please! Please!' I have never heard a child as desperate as that boy. The threat of separation from his mother was profoundly disturbing, and it was clear he was willing to do anything to avoid it."

On his experience getting shut out of the house, Sawa Kurotani, a professor of anthropology at Redlands University, wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “I have a vivid memory from my childhood of being shut out of my house. I was pretty young---4 or 5 years old, perhaps. I was standing outside the front door looking in, with my mother’s angry face disappearing behind the closing door. Panic came over me the moment the door closed shut, and I started banging on the door, crying and apologizing. I must have sounded so distressed that my mother opened the door right away to let me back in.”

By contrast American kids are often punished by having a “time out” in a corner or being sent to their room, limiting their access to the outside world.

The horror that Japanese children experience in this situation Kurotani said can be explained in terms of uchi (“inside”) and soto (“outside”) distinctions. “Children are taught from early on to respect the uchi-stor boundaries, and to recognize the different values associated within these realms. Uchi is a clean, safe haven and a place of belonging, while soto is a space of unknown danger and possible contamination. Everyday routines, such as taking one’s shoes off when entering a building, do not only reinforce the distinction in abstraction, but also inscribe it in our body as concrete reality.”

A survey in 2005 found that 70 percent of parents in their 20s and 40s have a hard time disciplining their children.

Kejime, Drawing the Line

Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Educational anthropologist Joseph Tobin has argued that kejime, which he defines as "correctly reading the context for what it is and acting accordingly" is the key to child socialization in Japan. At the nursery school level, contexts include the physical environments of home and school as well as situational points of view and demeanor while engaging in various kiddy activities, like running around, eating lunch, drawing pictures, and singing songs.” [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, April 26, 2010]

Elwood views kejime as akin to “drawing the line.” “While American children may learn "a place for everything and everything in its place" with coat pegs and cubbyholes,” she wrote, “their Japanese counterparts additionally begin training in the mental pegs and psychological compartments associated with varying circumstances. While there are few clearly defined margins between American preschool pursuits, and one activity often casually slides into the next, with some stragglers making the switch between modes more slowly, Tobin, based on ethnographic observation, asserts that Japanese preschools deliberately plan and execute clear-cut events throughout the day in order to train children to move appropriately from one mindset to the next. Kejime is most often used in the phrase kejime o tsukeru---distinctions are marked. Boundary lines are drawn, attitudinally and behaviorally. Toddlers are encouraged to recognize these territories and shift efficiently between them, developing an internal on-off switch.” [Ibid]

“After reading Tobin's assertion, I garnered the opinions and insights of a range of Japanese acquaintances, who agreed to the notion of kindergarten kejime-fication. They noted that its development is even more explicit in primary school. Kejime is a word that is quick on the lips of teachers, and often parents. One fifth grader mentioned that the first thing her teacher said when the new school year began this month was "Kejime o tsukete, yaru toki wa yaru, asobu toki wa asobu (Make the distinction: when it's time to do something, you do it. When it's time to play, you play.)." [Ibid]

“Naturally American teachers and parents also hope that children will learn to focus on a given activity and not, for example, run around the table rather than sitting properly at mealtimes. But the teaching of the importance of making a thorough transfer of attention and conduct is less explicit. The point Japanese teachers are making is not that study should take precedence over play, but rather that each is important yet they need to be understood as wholly discrete activities.”

Children’s Physical Fitness in Japan

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The fitness levels of children has declined in recent years and is regarded as “critical” by some sources. The average time its takes a boy to run 50 meters declined from 8.6 seconds in 1987 to 8.89 in seconds in 2006. For girls the decline was from 8.6 seconds in 1987 to 8.89 in seconds in 2006. The average distance a boy could throw a softball declined from 33.41 meters in 1987 to 29.46 meters in 2006. For girls the decline was from 20.32 meters in 1987 to 17.24 meters in 2006.

A government official told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Many children can’t run straight while others get injured because thy are too slow to duck out of the way of a ball. Some particularly inept kids are shown videos to demonstrate to them how to jump.

The decline of children’s physical ability is blamed on modern sedentary lifestyles and the reduced emphasis on physical education. In the old days children were expected to learn how to do a feet first somersault hanging from a horizontal bar now all they have to do is a somersault on the ground. Physical education classes have been cut from 105 hours a year to 90 hours a year.

Teachers say there are two groups of kids: ones that exercise and engage in sports and physical play after school and those who don’t and the statistical decline of all children is mainly the result of expansion of the number of non-exercising children.

Children Walk 30 Percent Less than 30 Years Ago

In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Primary school students in Tokyo walk an average of 11,382 steps a day, according to a recent survey conducted by the Tokyo metropolitan board of education. The figure marked a more than 30 percent decline from the 17,120 steps found in a 1979 university survey. The trend was even more evident among middle and high school students. An expert attributed the decrease to children spending less time outside after school due to video games and other indoor activities. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 11, 2012]

The board asked 16,100 children from 135 primary, middle and high schools in Tokyo to track their steps using pedometers in September and October. The survey represented the first large-scale study on children's walking habits. The average number of steps per day was 11,382 for primary school students, 9,060 for middle school students and 8,226 for high school students. Based on past data, the National Institute of Health and Nutrition estimated figures of 18,000 to 21,000 steps for primary school boys and 14,000 to 17,000 for girls in the 1980s.

In 1979, Yoshiro Hatano, a professor emeritus of Tokyo Gakugei University, surveyed 18 fourth-grade primary school students attending a public school in Tokyo. The survey showed the students walked an average of 17,120 steps on clear days, or 18,260 steps for boys and 15,980 steps for girls.

Comparing the latest survey with a study of physical strength and athletic ability conducted by the board last year, the board found that primary and middle school students who walked more exhibited higher physical strength. However, no correlation was found in the cases of high school students. "High school students spend a lot of time commuting to school and move around in a far wider area. We assume such factors make the correlation between physical exercise and the number of steps weaker," a board official said. In addition, though boys up to the middle school level were found to walk 1,000 to 3,000 more steps than girls in any grade, no clear difference was seen among high school students.

An expert attributed the decrease in children walking to children spending less time outside after school due to video games and other indoor activities."Children today spend a lot of time watching TV or playing indoors after school, instead of playing outside," said Shigeho Tanaka, chief of the institute's energy metabolism section. "Lifestyle changes are probably linked to a decrease in walking."

Smart Japanese Kids

In 1995, Sho Yano, a 9-year-old third generation Japanese-American won admission to Loyala University after scoring 1,500 on his SATs. A year later he graduated from university at the age of 10, a record.

At eight months Yano could read the television lists. At one he could order food from a menu at a restaurant. His mother told him not to speak in public because she was tired of people staring. Some referred to him as "natto brain" because of his habit of eating natto at an early age. At the age 4 he was told he had photographic memory and an IQ of 200. He was raised in a Chicago suburb. He likes mathematics and music.

Toshiki Kataoka, a 12-year-old six th grader from Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture, made the shortlist to represent Japan in a prestigious international math competition. While in elementary school he studied middle school and high school math with his father, a doctor.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Hioryuki Goto of Tokyo recited pi to 42,195 places in Tokyo in February 1995.

Little Free Time for Children in Japan

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Playground
Elementary school students have plenty of time to play around with their friends after school if they are not too busy with after-school activities. A typical middle school or high school students, however, arrives home from school at around 4:00pm, has a quick snack and attends cram school classes, often three times a week from 5:00pm to 10:00pm. Sometimes students have cram school classes Saturday and all day Sunday too.

Elementary school kids are usually very busy with activities two or three days a week after school Girl usually take ballet, dance or piano. Boys play baseball or do karate. Both boys and girls take English, calligraphy, arithmetic or swimming lessons.

One of the biggest tragedies of the Japanese education system is the fact that children and teenagers study all the time and they have little time left over for fun or developing social skills. Students at one Japanese high school were beside themselves with envy when a visiting American high school student talked about how he spent his after school hours driving a car to the mall, dating, making money with a part-time job and talking on the phone for hours in the evening.

A typical Japanese student takes a break after school and then runs off to juku classes. Later he or she often does homework. One Japanese student told U.S. News and World report, "I can play an hour with my friends before cram school."

Kids Watch Less TV in Japan

In November 2011, Kyodo reported: “The proportion of children who hardly watch television or DVDs stood at 6.6 percent in 2009, more than doubling from 2.6 percent in 2004, a Japanese government survey showed. Viewing times also declined among children who watch TV or DVDs, with those watching for ''three hours or more'' a day dropping 3.4 percentage points to 25.8 percent and those watching ''from two hours to less than three hours'' falling 3.7 points to 26.0 percent, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey. [Source: Kyodo, December 23, 2011]

In contrast, cellphone use among children increased, with those using mobile phones for ''two hours or more'' a day rising 2.8 points to 16.7 percent and those using them ''from an hour to less than two hours'' increasing 3.3 points to 9.8 percent. The survey conducted every five years, covering children ranging from fifth graders to less than 18 years old, received responses from 1,098 children.

Japanese Children, Television, Cell Phones and Video Games

Japanese kids watch as much television as American kids: 2.7 hours a day.

A study by Hyogo University of Teacher Education found that children who watch a lot of television have difficulty developing social skills that result from interacting with others such as being able to compromise and waiting their turn.

Japanese kids play a lot of video games. According to one survey 90 percent of kids age 10 to 14 own video games. Otaku (computer-game obsessed boys) seem to as passionate about video games, computer software and the Internet as Japanese girls are with fashion and pop singers. During one video game event at the Tokyo Dome riot police had to be called in after a crowd of 50,000 fans, most of them children, got out of control as they tried to get their hands on limited-edition cards from the hit game Legend of the Duelist.

Especially with the growing popularity of hand-held devices, video gamers are growing younger and younger. It is not uncommon to see nursery-school-age children sitting alone playing a game even when they are in park. Among primary schoolers, it is not uncommon to see a whole group of boys gathered around a single hand-held devise. Kids that aren’t into games are ostracized by other kids or at least feel left out.

One survey conducted by Goo Research via an Internet site popular with primary-school-age kids found that 80 percent of respondents regularly play vide games and 30 percent of boys said they played for more than three hours a day. According to the survey 15 percent of 3½ year olds, 28 percent of 4½ year olds and 51 percent of 5½ year olds played video games and only 35 percent of families had special rules to limit the time spent playing video games.

Japanese parents have the same fears about violent video games, such as Street Fighter, as American parents do. Several violent crimes have been linked to violent video games, including the beheading of an 11-year-old boy by a middle school student in Kobe in 1997.

Effects of Video Games on Children

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Video games, computers and television have been blamed for the deteriorating eyesight of children. Parents and researchers worry most that excessive game playing prevents kids from developing social and communication skills and personal relationships.

A number of extreme cases of game playing have been reported. One kindergartner wet his pants because he was so consumed in a game and refused to go the bathroom. A primary school student continued playing with his handheld device even when kicking a ball around.

But statistics seem indicate that excessive gaming is less a problem than it used to be or that people are just getting kids playing games. The number of parents in Japan of 6-year-old who said their children played video games often decreased from 24.2 percent in 1995 to 20.2 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent in 2005. Over the same period parents said their children played more outside and were more likely to amuse themselves with puzzles and card games.

Children and Cell Phones in Japan

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According to 2008 government statistics 31 percent of primary school students carry cell phones. DoCoMo Mo offers a line of cell phones for small children, with software ranging from picture books to school scheduling pads aimed t helping them to learn . In 2001, only 10 percent of Japanese elementary-school and middle-school-age kids had their own cell phones.

Many of cell phone companies offer special pre-paid devices designed specifically for kids. Parent purchase preset limits on how many minutes their children can use as a sort of allowance. This keeps them from racking up $150 a month cell phone bills.

Parents use cell phones to keep tabs on their kids. Some are outfit with GPS devices connected to a system that provides parents with a faxed map showing their child's location. The same devices are used to locate elderly people with Alzheimer's disease.

New phones with GPS can locate a caller who dials the 110 or 119 emergency numbers. Models for children have a GPS locator and emergency alarms. A couple of companies offer services in which users are given directions to a destination from a starting point identified by the GPS.

Cell phone companies have introduced website filtering services to stop children from acessing harmful sites but the filters have loopholes and easily skirted,

Babysitters in Japan

Japanese women have few opportunities to do anything without their children. Grandmothers who live nearby often watch the children while the mother runs errands, Some wealthy Japanese families hire live-in "professional aunts" to help take care of the children.

Babysitters are rare and frowned upon, and the going rate for one is about $15 an hour per child or more. They are used mostly in emergencies. A babysitter for three hours can cost $65 for three hours plus transportation. Teenagers don't babysit because they are too busy with after school clubs or are attending cram school or are studying for entrance exams.

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day care kid mover

Day Care Centers in Japan

There are two systems for the care of pre-school children in Japan: 1) day care centers; and 2) kindergartens. Day care centers are designed as childcare facilities for families with two working parents. Participants apply through local government channels for spaces. The kids are served food at the facility, take naps and usually come home around 5:00pm or 6:00pm. The fees are about $240 to $350 a month. Kindergartens centers are supposed to be more learning oriented. Participants apply directly to the schools. The kids have to bring bento lunches from home (they are not served food at the facilities), don’t take naps and usually come around 2:00pm or 3:00pm.

Children as young three months can be enrolled in government-subsidized day-care programs that are said to be so much fun that children sometimes hide behind stacks of blocks when there are told it is time to go home. Day care center cost are relatively low for low-income families and reasonable for those who are better off. Even so many parents dodge paying the fees. A study in 2007 found that 2.3 percent of parents shirk their responsibilities

For a child to enter a day care center his or her parents must get a certificate that shows proof that they are both employed. Some mothers want so desperately to get their child into good day care centers that they work long enough to get the certificate and then quit.

"The paradox," writes Nicholas Kristoff in New York Times, "is that Japanese society presents working women with every kind of hindrance and discrimination, yet one area that is essential in allowing women to pursue careers---the provision of reliable and affordable day care---Japan has a far more sophisticated system than the United States."

More and more companies are offering day care for their employees at in-house centers. Many of the employees that are taking advantage of these facilities are men, especially if their wives work and have longer commutes than they do. Demand for night time child care is high as working mothers and parents increasingly have to work late or do night shifts.

The Japanese government plans to integrate kindergartens and child day care centers in 2013. The plan is opposed by many parents, kindergartens and child day care centers who fear standards will be lowered and the emphasis will put on making money.

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day care kid mover

Day Care Centers in Japan

Day care centers are designed as childcare facilities for families with two working parents. Participants apply through local government channels for spaces. The kids are served food at the facility, take naps and usually come home around 5:00pm or 6:00pm. The fees are about $240 to $350 a month. Kindergartens centers are supposed to be more learning oriented. Participants apply directly to the schools. The kids have to bring bento lunches from home (they are not served food at the facilities), don’t take naps and usually come around 2:00pm or 3:00pm.

Children as young three months can be enrolled in government-subsidized day-care programs that are said to be so much fun that children sometimes hide behind stacks of blocks when there are told it is time to go home. Day care center cost are relatively low for low-income families and reasonable for those who are better off. Even so many parents dodge paying the fees. A study in 2007 found that 2.3 percent of parents shirk their responsibilities

For a child to enter a day care center his or her parents must get a certificate that shows proof that they are both employed. Some mothers want so desperately to get their child into good day care centers that they work long enough to get the certificate and then quit. "The paradox," writes Nicholas Kristoff in New York Times, "is that Japanese society presents working women with every kind of hindrance and discrimination, yet one area that is essential in allowing women to pursue careers---the provision of reliable and affordable day care---Japan has a far more sophisticated system than the United States."

More and more companies are offering day care for their employees at in-house centers. Many of the employees that are taking advantage of these facilities are men, especially if their wives work and have longer commutes than they do. Demand for night time child care is high as working mothers and parents increasingly have to work late or do night shifts.

See Educations, Schools.

Pros and Cons of Day Care in Japan

Some Japanese housewives, worry that they are doing their children a disservice by keeping them at home. "It's good for the kids in nursery school," one mother told Kristoff, "it's better for them to be in a nursery school than to be at home." An elementary school teacher at the day care center agreed, "Here [a child] can meet friends and play with them, and that's very important for development. He's learning to be more independent, and to do things on his own. Why, now he can put on his clothes for himself!"

A typical family pays about $150 to $250 a month for day care with wealthy Tokyo families paying up to $570 a month. Even then, a parent's contribution covers only about a fifth of the total costs of the system. The rest of the funding come from the government, who sees the money as an investment in their country's future. Working women that can't afford normal day care are sometimes forced to place their children in substandard day care centers known as "baby hotels," which are not illegal but are run without government approval. These baby hotels got a lot of negative press in spring 2001, when a 4-month-old infant suffocated at a center in Tokyo after another baby in the same crib rolled over on top of him . The owner of similar facility in Kanagawa was arrested for child abuse in connection with the deaths of two children..

The number of children on waiting lists to get into day care has risen from around 16,000 in 2003 to around 28,000 in 2009. The problems is particularly acute in urban areas like Yokohama where many parents struggle to find day care for their children. The shortage is linked more to more women seeking work than to an increase in the number of children.

Life in a Japanese Day Care Center

"From about 7:30am to 6:30pm," writes Kristoff. "the nurseries look after dozens of children ranging in age from a few months to six years. Divided into classes by age group, they spend the day playing, singing, drawing, making crafts and generally wreaking the kind of havoc that warms your heart. There is at least one teacher for every three infants. But that ratio falls steadily, so that one teacher must look after six terrible two's." [Source: Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, February 1, 1995]

Mothers and day care instructors exchange notes. "She woke up at 7:45am and ate bread, shrimp and milk for breakfast," the mother of a two-year-old wrote. "recently she goes to potty herself and when she's on it she says 'Mommy you shouldn't watch me! Then she comes to tell me when she's done." The teacher then wrote back: "She can put on panties and pants on by herself, and she can sit on the potty by herself. It's very impressive, and show's how she's developing."

The children also learn how to brush their teeth after lunch and change into their pajamas when they take their afternoon nap. Kristoff reports "By and large they seem better behaved than they might be at home." The children wear color-coded hats that indicate what grade they are in. Sometimes they are identified as individuals as a grape girl or butterfly boy and places for their stuff is identified with symbols of a grape or butterfly. When they go for a walk or to the playground the younger one are often pushed around in cage-like carts that hold fie or six children.

Japanese Schools

See Educations, Schools.

Independent Children in Japan

Is not unusual for 6-year-olds to take bus trips by themselves across the country to their grandparents house and 9-year-old girls to take trains by themselves to visit theme parks.

First graders in Tokyo often navigate their way to schools---taking public buses, making several subway changes, crossing busy streets and walking on crowded sidewalks---by themselves. Parents are not allowed to drive their children to school to prevent traffic jams in front of the school.

Before the children begin commuting by themselves they are given several trial runs accompanied by their mothers. They are told not to fall asleep on the train, to take stairs rather than escalators, and get off the right stop. If they miss a stop on the subway they are told to get off and ask a station attendant to help them. If they miss their bus stop they are told to remain and the bus until the last stop and call for help.

About five or six times a year a child is kidnaped for ransom. As a precaution parents give their children cell phones and have high-tech tracking devices placed in their clothing or belongings. The phone company NTT offers a service in which children carry a receiver and their parents can call a number at anytime and get a map on their cell phone or computer, showing child's location at that moment.

Middle school students typically receive a weekly allowance of around ¥3,000 while high school students typically get ¥6,000.

Image Sources: Ray Kinnane, Andrew Gray, Photosensibility

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2014

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