Daddy-san (part 1): The adventures of a first-time Gaijin Dad in Japan

Bringing up a bi-cultural kid - it can be confusing
Bringing up a bi-cultural kid - it can be confusing
When I discovered that I (I guess I should say “my Japanese wife”) was pregnant, every day was an eye opener. Being the excited, first time Father that I was, I was keen to get everything right. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I got confused. Why is that something as common as pregnancy could be so unscientific? Furthermore, why is that the “rules” surrounding pregnancy for human beings could be so different across our two countries? My belief that this must be a peculiar situation specific to pregnancy led me to write my pregnant Dad series (click here if you haven’t read it yet). Hah! How naïve was I. Just like Richard commented in series five of the pregnancy series, the fun had only just begun.

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.

15 thoughts on “Daddy-san (part 1): The adventures of a first-time Gaijin Dad in Japan”

  1. I find all the articles on you wife’s pregnancy and your new fatherhood very interesting. I would never imagine so many differences.

    Wow! Alcohol on the nipple of the mother? I don’t think it’s dangerous for the baby, but it is a bit extreme.

    Please keep writing about your discoveries. 🙂

  2. I am going through a lot of the processes about 6 months after you by the sound of it. Our boy is almost 3 months now.

    For us there has been nothing about sterilizing the mummies nipples with alcohol (there was for the babies umbilical cord though). The one that got me a bit has been the insistence to wash hands and gargle (only with water) any time coming into the house from outside. I am not to sure what gargling with water will really do.

    Look forward to the future updates.

  3. Thanks for putting in the time GaiJin Dad. Please keep it coming – your comments could define my future!

  4. Just wait until you get to your 4th (or 2nd or 3rd). What you thought was gospel truth for the first no longer has much relevance!

  5. ” … 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? …”

    I’m not familiar with any TB nursery rhymes. You wouldn’t be referring to “Ring Around The Rosie” would you? That one is about the Black Plague.

    But, it’s a good illustration of what many nursery rhymes represent … they were a means of telling news stories in a Medieval world without print, in a time when few could read and write.

  6. Here is some food for thought for you. It’s from a survey that Benesse did of 400 Japanese couples done before and after they gave birth to their first child. A whopping 30% of women claimed that they stopped feeling truly in love with their husbands after their first child was born! (71.3% before birth fell to 41.6% a year after). It sounds like you’ve got a bit of work on your hands there, red!

    Here is the link:


  7. Feeding a baby mugicha? I guess it’s better than fruit juice (now considered “empty calories”), but why not plain water?

    Maybe that’s why my host family laughed about my beverage preferences!

  8. Hang in there Red.
    Apparently according to this survey written up in yesterday’s Asahi, there is a direct correlation between the number of hours a child spends with his father and his mental stability. I guess it is a nice change to see that the Japanese government is doing research like this. Maybe one day they’ll give us paid paternity leave.

  9. I just found this site and as a Gaijin dad of a 3 year old girl and a 2 month old boy I’m looking forward to reading this series.

  10. Congratulations!
    I’m a gaijin mom in Japan, had my son here in October 07, 08. Anyway I never got alcohol on my nipples! What is going on?

    I thoroughly enjoyed having the baby here it was totally relaxed and I did it completely naturally – not that I had a choice. The hospital I went to had a no painkiller policy which was a little hard to comprehend in the middle of labour.

    I don’t think only Japanese women love their husbands less – I would almost say it is a biological defense to protect the baby that for the first year of life you put your mate in the background. Just my humble opinion! (Although my husband and I seem to be doing fine!)

  11. Hello all- I stumbled across your website while doing some research for a nursing school project. If anyone could help, I’d be very greatful!

    Can anyone share information about nutritional / dietary practices during pregnancy or the postpartum period in Japan? I’m interested in finding out whether there are particular dietary practices during these periods (i.e., foods to avoid, specific foods to include, special preparations, rituals etc.) Of course, comments from foreigners who have gone through pregnancy and birth in Japan are welcome too. I always like to get firsthand information and anecdotes…much more interesting.

    Thank you so much!

  12. Dear All

    Great to see Richmond’s article on Dads and talking of surveys…

    Amongst my friends and colleagues there is a bit of a babyboom going on at the moment.
    So have put a survey together for these new mums and dads to see how having a newborn in Japan is impacting on their work patterns and lifestyle here.

    Happy to share the results once all in.

    If anyone here is interested in completing this survey too…Stippy is this ok?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *