After reading these Japan Culture Series blogs for quite awhile now you may have come to the realization that in almost every way Japanese culture appears to be the opposite of Western culture. Perhaps one of the areas in which a stark contrast exists the most is in child rearing practices otherwise known as Ikuji. Raising our child here in Japan has certainly been a learning experience in that as an American we tend to focus on individual values (independent decision making, creativity, etc.) and discipline (direct communication, yes/no), whereas the Japanese way focuses primarily on the feelings of the immediate group and larger society. As Americans we tend to place a lot of emphasis on direct verbal communication for instruction (do what I say), while Japanese tend to follow by example and the actions of non-verbal communication (do what I do). In this way Japanese children gradually learn to be aware of what others are feeling or thinking, and to adjust their behavior accordingly.
Japanese children are given a great amount of freedom to behave as they like until they gradually realize through observation of others that their behavior is not accepted and eventually need to conform to the group standard, whereas American children are typically told verbally by their parents that their behavior is wrong and that they need to stop immediately. An ideal child in Japan is one who is well-mannered in group relations as well as obedient to the group expectations, whereas an idea child in America is seen as one that can think for themselves and communicate directly. In this way Japanese people tend to see what the group thinks or does and listen rather than give their own opinions, which may disrupt the group harmony. Here in Japan it is clear that other people and society come before the individual opinion.
Each way of raising a child has its benefits and detriments. Some difficulties for American parents occur when their children become too demanding, assertive, and self-centered. Some of the difficulties for Japanese children are that they have a difficult time thinking outside of the group or giving their own opinion of anything. Certainly a balanced approach is ideal in which truth in open communication as well as harmony with others is emphasized. As Christians when raising children we emphasize not necessarily what others think as the most important thing in life (or even our own will), but what God thinks. Our behavior is to be governed by God-centered principles as opposed to man-centered individualistic or group-oriented thinking. Rather than teaching a child that something is wrong because the group does not like it, or only because “I said so”, we operate on the premise that it is because it is wrong in the sight of God. As Japanese become more influenced by Western thought, and as Americans become more influenced by post-modern group thinking we need to remember that Godly biblical principles ought to govern our approach to life no matter where we are from!