It turns out that while the world knows a lot about bringing up babies, maybe there aren’t as many universally agreed upon facts as I’d thought. Almost one year down the track from becoming a Dad, I’m wondering if there is any topic that isn’t disputed from one culture to the next. But I guess that is one of the things that makes bringing up a baby – your baby – so eye opening when your partner is from another culture. Generally what we believe is best for our children is a concentrated version of the kool-aid that we drunk as a child, or at the very least, what the society that we were brought up in led us to believe. I can tell you now, you will learn more about Japanese culture by having a baby than you ever will by taking the class of the similar name in first year University!
Maybe you didn’t fall into the same trap as me, but I never got around to reading the 9th chapter of any of the “month by month” books on pregnancy. In fact, I didn’t even bother buying any books on bringing up an infant. I was too focused on the pregnancy and on how big my baby was after X number of weeks. I wish someone had have sat me down and just said: “Stop reading the pregnancy books. The baby will pop out regardless of what you do! Start reading up on what you’re gonna do after the big day now because as a sleep deprived Dad you won’t have the time or the energy to be reading anything for months after your baby arrives!” In fact, just like most of the stuff that I wrote in the pregnancy series is most relevant to Dads who aren’t pregnant yet, I have a funny feeling that a lot of this series will be most relevant to Dads who aren’t Dads just yet.
Even mono-cultural Dads don’t have an awful lot of time to recover after the birth before the reality of your new life sets in, but you, the newly Knighted bi-cultural Dad, are in for twice the onslaught. The differences will start to slap you in the face from the first few days in the Hospital. Whereas most English (language) academics are now recommending a more natural environment for your newborn, Japan interestingly chooses to focus on cleanliness and often puts this before many other considerations when it comes to your baby’s health. Take your baby’s belly button stub for example. Whereas you’d probably be encouraged to ensure it was clean with warm water back home, the standard in Japan is to regularly sterilize it with alcoholic swabs. (This used to be the norm in the West, too, but recently Doctor’s are discouraging it as they don’t understand the potential side-effects for the baby from the alcohol). The desire for sterilization doesn’t stop there, most nursing Mums are encouraged to rub their nipples with alcohol before breast feeding. I guess they deem a little grog to be better for the baby than what other potential germs could be on its Mummy’s breast. Clearly babies have been breast feeding without sterilizing breasts for thousands of years so I’m not sure why we’d want to start now. I’m guessing that this must stem from the poor hygienic conditions in war-time Japan but I’m not sure. (If anyone knows the real reason, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.)
If you’re lucky enough to learn how to bathe your babe at the hospital, you’re probably wondering why you can’t let water in your baby’s ears or whether you really do need that gauze on his/her stomach at all times. Then there is the perpetual desire to feed him/her mugicha (麦茶, wheat tea) from 2 months onward or the Japanese book that insisted that if your baby doesn’t eat rice regularly during infancy then they won’t grow up to be a real Japanese person. (Yes I really read that in a book about rinyushoku (離乳食, solids)! The list goes on…
Believe it or not, we’re not much better. Have you ever tried explaining the nursery rhymes that you sing to your child to your Japanese spouse? How do you go about explaining why you dance to and laugh about a song about Tuberculosis? And what about rationalizing poor Georgie Porgie’s pedophilic tenancies? Even better, why on earth a dead man in a ditch and the flaws of the judiciary system shows it’s face I don’t know. Don’t get me started on teapots or people with four names. (Sorry for the Windows media stuff, couldn’t find mp3s..)
But most of these differences are just cosmetic. The last thing your baby wants is a tense house because of small difference in opinions and most of these you just have to wash under the bridge as being interesting and educational. My intention is for this series to focus on areas that I found either confusing, frustrating or educational while bringing up my son in our bi-cultural household. For most gaijin like me, living in a foreign country, it can be difficult to get balanced information with your family living in another country and the local medical staff speaking another language (in more ways than one). Hopefully this series will serve to be a bit of a resource for foreign parents in Japan who are keen to share their questions, worries and advice with out parents. I’ll be writing from a Dad’s perspective but there is no reason to limit it to just men. In fact, I have a funny feeling that there should be a whole separate series for Gaijin Mum’s in Japan married to Japanese guys and their experiences. In the meantime, this will be the story of how I endeavored to become a balanced Daddy-san. If you have any requests or worries to begin with- don’t hold back – share them with us in the comments section below.