Symposium TOP

The Cultural Milieu of Child Care
Comment to Sarah: The Role of Women and the Socialization of Children in Japan and the United States

Miya Omori, Ed.D.

Sarah's presentation in Tokyo, on the effects of day care on children in the United States, took place on a Sunday a few months ago (for more details of the presentation, please go to: Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care). Despite the day of the week, the auditorium was filled with eager parents, teachers and policy makers, trying to get some hints from the United States, on how they should proceed in raising children of dual income families in Japan. There seemed to be a definite concern about how the mothers will be viewed if they put the child in day care from such an early age, and an unspoken doubt of, who would be responsible if the children developed behavioral problems? In addition, there was the question of what is high quality care and how could quality be standardized and assessed? After hearing Sarah's wonderful presentation, it was clear that Japanese are not the only people with these questions, as it seems that many US parents have them too. However, I think the difference comes in how these questions are handled and how the Japanese are able to take these issues and draw from the experiences of the US, yet customize it to the needs of the Japanese mothers, fathers, caregivers and children, to optimize the day care system in Japan.

As many of you already know, the Japanese woman has changed with the times, and the accurate picture that Lebra (1984) gave more than a decade ago is changing. Iwao's (1993) portrait of the Japanese woman is also accurate as well as updated. She describes the woman's work force in Japan by dividing it into two kinds,: working as an option and working as a profession. However, the role of the mother in the home, remains somewhat similar in both accounts. Also, there are core characteristics known in the American literature on Japanese childrearing, such as shudan seikatu (group living) or omoiyari (thinking about things from that person or object's perspective) or amae (mutual consideration and indulgence of each other's feelings and frustrations). However, in Japan, parents and educators are concerned about heinous crimes committed by juveniles who have no sense of the above "core" characteristics of a "good" person in Japan. I suppose the point I am trying to make, is which is true and which should we focus on, when we are considering such issues as quality of daycare and childrearing.

One of the problems I see, is that the Japanese are extremely introspective and are very modest. Thus, they have a tendency to focus on the bad aspects of the society so their mutual considerations can give rise to new directions for the future of the country and the children. However, living in Japan and observing the socialization practices of many parents and seeing the coverage of youth in Japan, makes me think twice about the literature that is available to the English-speaking population on Japanese childrearing. One very clear example of this, is the ironic trend for the Japanese educational system today trying to incorporate more creativity and individuality-enhancing activities in the curriculum, while in the United States are facing a more rigid curriculum with the incorporation of more assessment tools. What is happening here?

The danger in dealing with these issues, such as education, the role of the woman and socialization in Japan and the United States, is the lack of knowledge on both sides that may lead to misunderstandings. Not only, might there be misunderstandings, but misinterpretations leading to missed opportunities and wrong implementations of policy.

How can we begin to think of these issues in a global way? What are the physical needs of the children that are universal? What are the emotional needs of the children and the mothers that are universal and what are those that are specific to the culture? Can a cross-cultural study or perspective on an important issue as day care open our eyes to the necessities and constraints of doing cross-cultural research?

Copyright(c) 2001, Child Research Net, All Rights Reserved.