Tokyo Life Cycle


Originally published on on May 2012

Delivery Details

Childbirth in Japan can go smoothly—with a little planning
by Ashley Thompson

Congratulations! You’ve confirmed your pregnancy and have decided to give birth in Japan. As nerve-wracking as it may sound, it isn’t as foreign as you might think, and there are steps you can take to ensure you’re as comfortable as possible.

Japan has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the developed world, so rest assured you are in competent hands. While there’s a lot more to know about giving birth in Japan than this space allows, the following suggestions might put you at ease as you get started.

Begin looking for a place to give birth as early as possible. You can see any obstetrician during your pregnancy, even if they don’t deliver your baby, but you should begin looking for a place to give birth right away. Decide if you prefer to deliver at a hospital, maternity hospital, a smaller ladies’ clinic, or a midwife clinic. All have advantages and disadvantages, similar to your home country, so it really depends on personal preference. Ask around for recommendations (from both expats and Japanese).

If you live in Tokyo or another large city, an expat pregnancy or mothers’ group will have resources. Another option is to contact Brett Iimura of the Childbirth Education Center. If you’re up to navigating an all-Japanese website (online translation tools can be of help), Women’s Park offers a large database of clinics and hospitals across the country with reviews. Keep in mind that you and baby will probably be required to stay four to seven days after you give birth.

Before you start visiting potential clinics and speaking with doctors or midwives, write up your birth plan and divide your list into these categories: “must have” and “would be nice to have, but can compromise on.” Nevertheless, try to be as flexible as possible, and prepared for whatever could happen during labor.

Here are some more things to consider:

  • What are the visiting hours? Will your partner be allowed in the room when you’re delivering the baby? At most places it’s fine, but some have restrictions.
  • Are episiotomies always performed? Many doctors in Japan do so.
  • What pain relief options are available? Many places outside of large cities don’t offer epidurals.
  • Does anyone on the staff speak English, if necessary?
  • Do they allow rooming-in with the baby?
  • What kind of food do they serve, and do they allow outside food to be brought in?
  • Are they strict about weight gain during pregnancy?

Translate your plan to Japanese to ensure the doctor and nurses understand it and can go over it with you. Most importantly, don’t be afraid about giving birth in Japan. Find a doctor you’re comfortable with, and trust that they will do everything they can to help you bring your baby safely into the world.

school of thought

Pondering your child’s education in Japan
by Ashley Thompson

A good education is high on parents’ priority lists wherever they live. In Japan, however, different questions apply. Keeping in mind that no school is exactly the same, here are some things to think about.

Location While those living in major cities like Tokyo have access to international schools, those in quieter corners are usually limited to public or private schools. However, it is common for high-school kids to commute, so work out a reasonable radius from where you live.

Cost International schools tend to be expensive, though some offer financial assistance. Private schools are more affordable, while state schools are technically free. “Technically,” because other expenses often apply, such as school lunches or the costly randoseru backpacks elementary students are sometimes required to have.

Curriculum Do you want your children to study similar subjects and material as in your home country? If so, an international school might be best—unless you pursue some type of alternative education. Otherwise, you might find yourself at odds with how certain subjects are taught in public school—history class is a common sticking point.

Time in Japan Are you planning to repatriate in a few years or will you be in Japan long-term? For short-term, state school might not be best, especially if your child is in junior high or high school, because of the emphasis on entrance exams and the typical establishment of social groups in the first year. With the Japanese scholastic year starting in April, an international school can keep you on home time, or you could find one of the few Japanese schools that employ the Western calendar.

Language Perhaps you’d like to expose your child to an all-Japanese environment if you primarily speak English at home, or vice versa. A public school is best for immersing your children in Japanese. However, some international schools offer Japanese alongside English learning. Conversely, some Japanese private schools offer English immersion, and some public schools have English or international tracks.

Other things to consider might be your child’s age and when they will start school in Japan (for social and academic reasons); learning style (Japanese schools tend to focus on rote memorization); your child’s personality; and post-graduation opportunities, among other factors. Ultimately, the decision of how to educate your child is a personal one. As you go through the process, remember to keep the lines of communication open with your child and, relative to their age, involve them in the process.

family bonding

Fun for international families in Tokyo
by Robert Purss

One sunny day in the park with my two-year-old boy it dawned on me that we had no friends. By “we” I meant my family. While my wife and I both had our BC (before children) group of single friends, there were no families around us—at least not with whom we could really relate. Despite one in twenty-four children born in the Tokyo/Osaka region being mixed race, we found it difficult to meet other multicultural families.

Those of us in mixed marriages face daily challenges; dealing with cultural differences, language, and the elusive, unspoken ways of the Japanese. We were looking for others sharing the same questions, ranging from which hospital we should give birth at, to how we could raise multilingual kids.

Established in mid-2011, the Facebook group Tokyo International Parents & Pals (TIPP), was formed in an attempt to deal with these perennial problems, and bring parents together who don’t have the time or energy to go out and find each other. Now with more than 250 members, the page serves as a rich, interactive forum for help and resources. It also provides a platform to promote a range of fun family events. Events to date have included Christmas, Halloween and hanami parties, as well as an English adventure day trip. But the one that impacted the most on the community was a seminar on how to raise multilingual and multicultural kids.

This is a hot issue for most mixed parents, and those who are not keen on sending kids to international schools have to come up with creative approaches for multilingual immersion. At the seminar, Mary Nobuoka of the Japan Association of Language Teachers presented, along with Megumi Nishikura and Marcia Lise from Hafu (a documentary about mixed-race Japanese). The event was attended by over 30 families, showing a clear need in the community for a group like this. Since TIPP was set up, it has gathered momentum, and members have been pleased by its success. More events are always in the pipeline, while folks are free to suggest ideas for new ones. If you are an internationally minded family living around Tokyo, join up—and you might not feel so lonely in the park next time the sun’s out.