Getting Pregnant in Japan – Part Two: Which baby books to buy, and in which language?

Which book should I read to learn about my baby in Japan?This is the second installment (find the first here) in a series about my personal experience of being pregnant in Japan (or perhaps I should say, of my wife being pregnant). Although I hope that some of the observations have value for gaijin of both sexes, I’m intentionally writing this series from my own perspective – a Gaijin Father / Japanese Mother. There is no topic better than pregnancy for old wives tales to prevail, and I’ve been amazed by the seemingly endless views about pregnancy that differ between Japan and the West (where I’m from). While it is hard to argue that either view is right or wrong, I personally would have loved to have had a resource that taught me about both sides of the fence – hopes, expectations, taboo, you name it. That is the purpose of this series. (You can find the introduction here)

For first time parents (like me) absolutely everything is new and while you thought you knew a lot about pregnancy from seeing your friends/relatives go through it, most of us want to double check the stories we’ve heard. After all this time it is your kid – and you wouldn’t want to get anything wrong that you could have prevented. While people back home probably turn to Mum and Dad and other relatives, there isn’t always someone to turn to when you’re living overseas.

In Tokyo, the most obvious place to look for advice is in your local Kinokuniya bookstore. I’ve read at least half a dozen books (in two languages) on pregnancy in the last few months and can confidently tell you that you don’t need to read lots of books to learn the key concepts. Don’t repeat my mistake and buy half a dozen different books about the same topic as you’ll end up wasting good money that could be put towards a dummy and rattle or some nappies. Buy one large and comprehensive book which deals with not only the various stages of pregnancy but also the various potential complications of pregnancy. You know what thinks about the Japanese health system. You want to make sure that you have one good reference book so that even if your Doctor doesn’t explain it, you can research what is happening to your baby and understand what it really means. The best news it that you can’t really go wrong. All of the books that I read were helpful and covered the bare basics in some way, shape or form.

It seems in the world of pregnancy there are two kinds of expecting Mothers (and Fathers). The kind that just wants some moral support, someone to hold her/his hand and say that everything will be alright. Then there is the kind that wants to know absolutely everything, regardless of how unlikely certain situations mate be, so that he/she can “always be prepared”. Make sure you know which you are before you buy a book. If you fall in the former category then the last thing you want is a detailed description of every single thing you can go wrong as it will just make you even more stressed out. I’d recommend buying one of the many Japanese language magazines that are available about there. For some strange reason, most of the Japanese magazines out there are designed more to be a form of entertainment and much less to be a source of reference. In fact most of them are written by professional editors as opposed to Doctors and are filled with fascinating stories and episodes from other pregnant Mothers and lots of colorful photos and cartoons. On the other hand, if you fall into the former category (I did, so some of my observations in this series are likely to be a touch biased), then I recommend that you stick with one of the popular English reference books on sale. While some English books verge on scare tactics, there are a few very well balanced books out there which tell you both the risks and the benefits of many things (foods, tests, practices) and leaves the ultimate decision up to you. Not great if you are 優柔不断 (yujufudan, a poor decision maker) but great if you want to know just why you are being advised something.

Let me introduce what I found to be the best in each of those categories below:

Book: The Expectant FatherAs I am a soon to be Daddy, I spent a lot of time looking at books for expecting Dads. By far and away the best is “The Expectant Father” (Link to the book on It goes into significant levels of detail (often more than the books designed for expecting Mothers) but better yet it explains the world to you from the eyes of a Dad. It seems as though the Author has done a lot of research into the psychological impact of a pregnancy/birth on Father’s as he makes many interesting references to recent research (Did you know that when a man becomes a Father he – like his partner – experiences an increase in the amount of female hormones in his body??). Although the book is written from the perspective of a US Dad where there are much greater expectations regarding your participation in the pregnancy, having it down on writing does give you confidence as to what is “fair” to ask for if you are in a Japanese (please stand outside, Sir) pregnancy.

hajimete-demo-anshinFor Japanese readers, the most popular domestic option is something from Bennese’s TamaHiyo Club. (just in case you don’t have it yet click here). But there is no point me recommending it to you as your Japanese partner (or Mother in law) will have already bought it for you. It is filled with lots of stories from readers and real-life examples of problems that people have had and how they got over them so it is interesting but not as “helpful” as I would have hoped. Instead I’d like to recommend a less well-known book called はじめてでも安心!妊娠・出産 (link to it here on The title loosely translates to “Nothing to worry about for your first birth/pregnancy”. So many so called “reference” books that are published in Japanese seem to have been hijacked by the editor (or the artistic director) and lack detailed research and references. As far as our experience goes, both my wife and I think that this book has not only had the most reliable information, it has done a great job of answering our questions in a balanced way (because too often there is never one “right answer” in the world of pregnancy.)

If you haven’t already, I seriously recommend that you compare the Japanese reference magazines in your home with your English books. It is amazing how different they are (both the contents and the visual presentation). Whereas English books often tend to be close to a text book in presentation, half the time you could be excused for assuming that the Japanese version isn’t a mix between a fashion magazine and a manga (漫画, comic book)! My favorite pages to compare are the “your body month by month” pages. Just like you saw back in High School, the American books that you’re likely to order from Amazon are filled with full body photos of a naked Mother showing how her stomach and breasts change in size. Now turn to your partner’s Japanese book and note how there isn’t a single photo of a naked mother in the whole book. I personally find it ironic that it’s okay to show photos of scantily clad women all over the subway station walls but its somehow seen as taboo to publish a picture of a pregnant woman in a reference book.

My wife pointed out interestingly that her Japanese books are much more feminine than our English ones. Her point was that it might be because Japanese men are still not that involved in their wives’ pregnancies and so authors are more than happy designing the book 100% for women. whereas in the West, you wouldn’t be able to get away with that due to the higher participation of husbands in pregnancy. What do you think?

The list of differences between our reference books is much longer than just what I’ve referred to here, but I’ll save some of the rest for a later installment.

11 thoughts on “Getting Pregnant in Japan – Part Two: Which baby books to buy, and in which language?”

  1. I don’t know if I’m quite as keen as you are about the Japanese language books/mags out there. My snuck a look at some of the mags that my wife was reading when she was pregnant and they seemed nothing more than a collection of whacky stories from other pregnant women in Japan. The editor made no effort to offer any sort of interpretation or balance opinion as to wether the stories that they were going on about had any basis in medical knowledge. My favorite one was a woman who was being interviewed as to an “anzan episode”. Apparently she got sick of waiting and one day after her due date she was told by her “Doctor” that the best way to finish her pregnancy off ASAP was to spend the entire day walking up and down a staircase. I just shuddered to think of my wife (or anyone else’s wife) reading that and copying it. Surely if that was any other country there would be law suits against mags like that!

  2. My second episode of the story of my child’s birth was not as obvious, but equally frightening for me as the first. (See here for the first)

    I found that not only was I alienated by the doctors and nurses at the sanfujinka, but by my own wife and her family. I was shocked when she told me that she agreed with the Doctor, and thought it was a good idea that I wasn’t there for the birth, and didn’t really expect me to take part at all. It wasn’t until later on, that I found out that it is kind of normal for Japanese ladies to think like this. After all those years of being together, I thought some of my gaijin-ness would have rubbed off on her, and that she would eventually agree to a gaijin style of pregnancy – meaning where the husband at least gets to sit in the passenger seat, rather than in the back (or worse still being dragged behind the vehicle all together!).

    So, the doctor trips continued on, and I continued to be left out of the equation. After a while, I actually became used to this, and at around 6 months, I resented the fact that she was pregnant at all. I even went through a stage where I wished I had married a non-Japanese, someone with the same cultural understanding of pregnancy as me. Then at least I may have a chance to take part.

    This type of pregnancy is not good for the father. The shock of having a baby after my child came into the world was immense. Because I was left out of the whole deal, I felt like I was dropped into another world. My “kokoro no jyunbi” just wasn’t done, and when I spent the first night in the hospital with baby and mum, I actually cried – but not with tears of joy. I was thinking, “this was all meant to be so different”, it was supposed to be happy, I was supposed to feel like my family was just created. I was not happy at all. I had a little baby in my arms that I felt detached from, and certainly did not feel love for that baby.

    Well, it isn’t all gloom and doom. I am pleased to say that after a few months I did get used to it all (reality pushes its nose into our lives, whether we want it to or not!), and I now feel a deep love for my kid. It is deeper than the love I have felt for my own parents I am sad to say, and probably deeper than that for my wife, although that is hard to say, because it is a totally different type of love. Much more binding and lifelong than any marriage bound relationship could ever pose to be.

    What books did I read? Not many. I had almost no interest in the pregnancy. At the start, I was very keen, and sat on the Internet for hours researching the same sort of stuff that you are researching now Red. But after a few months of not being able to see the ultrasounds, and not “feeling” what I was reading in real life, I stopped the reading, and stopped caring about the first months of my kids life inside my wife.

    I deeply regret that situation now that I have the relationship with my child like I do, but at the time, I felt there was not much I could do…. Id be pleased to hear others thoughts about your emotional state in the second half of pregnancy, through to the 6th month of your kid’s life. Did anyone else feel like I did?? Am I normal?

  3. This is slightly related but I have a question for you/your readers. My wife is now half way through her pregnancy and she’s started wearing a real tight girdle around her stomach. Apparently it is a Japanese tradition that dates back a long time (they used to use “obi” belts). How can that be good for the baby? Does anyone know why/what it’s for?

  4. Nice link FG. I like this one:

    “Men: To prepare for paternity, go to the local drug store, tip the contents of your wallet on the counter, and tell the pharmacist to help himself. Then go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office. Go home. Pick up the paper. Read it for the last time.”

  5. Another book that my wife and I did well with is “The Baby book” which is available in English and Japanese. My wife and I bought both.

    We had our first child at a nearby midwife’s place. It was a normal birth so apart from a few regular doctor checkups it was all done (even ultrasound) at the midwife’s house/clinic. The birth was great, and I literally supported my wife (like a chair backrest). They even offered to let me cut the cord, but that was a little beyond what I was prepared for. Afterwards all three recovered in a private room like a tatami bedroom next to the birthing room. This lasted for about 3 days (and I stayed there as well) where my wife’s needs were taken care of , and we were taught all about the care, feeding, bathing, dressing etc of the little creature in a completely stress-free environment. This was important to my wife as she had lots of doubts about being able to breastfeed (which worked out in the end) and taking care of a newborn in general.

    We had our second child at a local sanfujin clinic because the midwife developed severe arthritis and could not longer practice (she was 40ish). The clinic was very new and “at home”. I was also able to participate in the birth (just as a holding hands thing) and stay overnight during recovery in a cot. It was very clean, personal, and professional buy not as “warm” or relaxing as at the midwifes.

    Having tried both, I’d reccommend the midwife again, but for either midwife, clinic, or hospital do your research beforehand and trust your instincts. When we searched for a good clinic for the second child we tried a number of clinics. Some were just OK, and others made my wife downright nervous, scared, and generally uncomfortable.

  6. Papa (entry #2), I’m an American woman married to a Japanese man (17 years married, 19 years in Japan). I gave birth to all three of my children here in Japan. I was tempted to go back to the U.S., to have my mom help with the new babies instead of my Japanese mother-in-law, but in the end decided it was more important to be here with my husband–for the two of us to share this experience. After all, these were the children we had made together.

    I got a look at a very different way of thinking about these things from my husband’s two sisters, who were, by coincidence, pregnant at the same time as me. (This was my first pregnancy.) Both sisters lived far away from here with their husbands, but both came back here, where their parents live, to have their babies, one of them when she was just about 4 or 5 months along. Both their husbands stayed behind because they had jobs, of course. All 3 babies were born within 2 months of each other. One of the sister’s husbands didn’t see his new son until about a month after he was born, when he came to pick them up and take them home. I remember he came to the genkan, and was ushered into the fancy o-kyakusan room, not the kitchen/living area where we all always hung out. His son was carried into him by my mother-in-law and he was “allowed” to hold his son. It was beyond sad to me. I couldn’t understand it.

    The other sister’s husband didn’t see his daughter until she was already 5 months old, when he came to pick them up and take them home! (By this time, he hadn’t seen his wife for 9 or 10 months.) I was just beside myself with frustration and sadness at this way of doing things.

  7. this is in response to shell, I am an american woman living in japan for the third time,(so far i’ve been here 2years and 1 month, and i am planning on living in japan for many many years) my boyfriend(he is japanese) and i have been together for 2 years now, and recently marriage has become a major topic of discussion. my question is…well i just have many questions about getting married in japan and having children here. please send me a email at [email protected], i would love to talk to you about your international marriage and about having children here. this story is about a gaijin having a child in japan, and is of course from a foreign man married to a japanese women’s perspective, and i know that if i marry my boyfriend it will be a completely different experience than what has been written about here. I have found it hard to find sources of foreign women married to japanese men….thank you in advance for any help.

  8. newcomer,
    You should always check with your doctor just in case but as far as I know you don’t have to worry about them although it depends on how and where they are tied. The idea is that they support the weight of the baby for the mother, a little like a bra (or more importantly a materity bra) does for the mother’s larger breasts. If the obi is tied around the stomach then that will just put pressure on the baby which is clearly no good but if it is tied around the bottom of the waist, below the uterus then it should act as a support for your wife. A lot of women suffer from back pains due to the extra weight that they have to carry around and sometimes this can help lighten it. If you wife suffers from katakori or gikkurigoshi then it’s probably worth a shot.

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