Protecting my daughter from culture shock on a 6-week-trip to Japan
January 10, 2016 10:58 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning a 5~6 week trip to Japan this spring. (post-grad-school, pre-starting-new-jobs) I am bilingual and speak to my 5-year-old daughter in Japanese daily, and she understands it at maybe a Japanese 3-year-old's level. We'll put her in a nursery school over there, and I'm looking for things I can do (both now and when we're there) to keep her from having (or reduce her inevitable) full-blown culture shock.

The main goal of the trip is to get her speaking back in Japanese and to have her learn a lot more. She usually replies to me in English.
This is our first time overseas with her, and her first time away from home for more than 3 weeks.
She's been a great traveler on all trips to date.
She'll be taller and blonder than everyone else at school.
She's fairly introverted when she doesn't know other kids, but can go along with a group well.
She's been going to a Spanish immersion preschool for years, so she's well adjusted to not understanding every word a teacher says right away.

Any ideas of things I should do now to prepare her?
Any warnings from experience of things I should plan to do while we're there?
posted by chickencoop to Travel & Transportation around Japan (12 answers total)
From my experience of taking a toddler and, many years later, teen for long-term stays in other (non-English-speaking) countries, it's really important to have a daily routine that grounds them in a world that might feel chaotic to them. For the teen, it was important that he have down time; I don't remember that being important to him when he was 3, but there was need to recognize emotional as well as physical exhaustion.

Have a great time!
posted by correcaminos at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly try & keep the same routines for bedtime meal times etc that you currently do. Maybe pack a few favorite foods if she's a problem eater. My mother traveled with me a lot at that age & my niece & nephew are world travelers from that age on. Kids handle it better than adults in my experience because every damn thing is new & different to them to them anyway so whats more new stuff they don't really understand. Don't presume culture shock is going to happen, it will more likely simply be change of routine shock.

Seriously, my niece went to live in Denmark for 3 months at around the same age as your daughter. Her only experience of the language was from cartoons her mother played for her for a few weeks before going & learning some basic words like hello etc.

Being blonde etc in Japan may get her looks & stares but in bigger cities you should mostly be left alone. It is only likely to cause comment in rural areas. But again this is true for all foreigners not just blonde haired blue eyed kids.

Talk to her about where you are going, maybe show her some cartoons/videos/books of life there. Then you can always refer back to it. If you can get videos of the nursery schools etc to let her see the differences.

Also let her see you guys looking forward to going, that it's a good thing not a scary thing, not stressing etc will have more influence on how she processes what is happening than you expect as she will look to you guys for guidance. So make sure you both watch out for JetLag etc.
posted by wwax at 11:38 AM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

If she has a go-to favorite snack food (especially something hard to find abroad, like peanut butter), stockpile a bunch to bring with you. Comfort food is a real thing.
posted by Mchelly at 11:44 AM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Start telling bedtime stories about a little girl traveling to Japan. Describe her adventures - include some mixed experiences and make sure they end up happy. Maybe each story could end with the little girl coming home to her japanese apartment where her mommy and daddy put her to bed with . Show how little girl uses her resources to solve problems. (like if she isn't sure what to do so she watches another kid or asks the teacher) and admire the character for showing the values that you would like - kindness, patience, persistence, politeness, creativity, willngness to try new foods - whatever strikes you as important.

You could tell other stories about little girl's sister/friend who does everything wrong (especially in a funny way) and the little girl helps her out. I'm thinking of Amelia Bedelia type stories where they do things really, really wrong in a big (but very funny way). Then when you are in Japan, when something goes wrong, you could ask later how would have responded (way worse than anything your daughter would do>, how would have handled it? As a way to bracket her own experience and help her think through what she can do differently next time without making it about her.

posted by metahawk at 1:54 PM on January 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

I've found that 5-6 weeks in a daycare might be difficult. My kid, at least, has a hard time adjusting. If possible, a nanny/babysitter would probably be easier on her adjustment-wise.
posted by k8t at 3:42 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Looking around at people I know who have moved country when their kids were nursery-school age (folks who have moved from Japan to English-speaking countries and vice-versa), culture shock hasn't really been a problem. From my limited experience, culture shock kicks in around junior high or so. Instead, during elementary school and preschool years you just have the typical shock of moving and being in an unfamiliar city with kids you don't know.
posted by Bugbread at 4:19 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

My kids are Japanese/US dual nationality and they've both been in Japanese preschool/grade school during our regular extended trips to Japan. Some differences would be that my children are native Japanese speakers who have a native-speaking parent, and they "look" Japanese. I don't know if your daughter has a Japanese native speaker parent at home or not. This could play a role in going to preschool if your daughter is not used to speaking with native speaker adults or children (as you surely know, young children and adults speak rather differently in Japanese) mostly in her ability to communicate with her peers. I frankly recommend against a non-native speaker attempting to raise a child in the second language, but that's beyond the scope of your question and I don't know if it even applies.

My observation is that from some of the country's largest cities to outlying towns, Japanese preschoolers are very kind and welcoming. I am sure being blonde and tall will not be an obstacle in the slightest. Any difficulties she has will likely be from not understanding her peers' Japanese very well. Japanese preschool is play time and she will have a fun time.

I don't know if a five-year-old can experience culture shock as an adult would because they do not engage in society to the same extent. From her perspective, she's still playing with other little kids. Probably the three big issues would be (1) language (2) food and (3) media content. We've covered language. If she's a particular eater, bring some familiar foods but be prepared for the fact that the food is likely quite different from what she is used to. Same for any favorite movies or tv shows. Of course, bear in mind that your DVDs will need to be played on a region-free DVD player.

FWIW, your daughter is (I presume) a native speaker of English and knows that you speak English (again, I presume natively), so she doesn't have very much incentive to acquire Japanese or speak it with you (more especially if you are not a native speaker). I was raised by a Spanish native speaker but I am not a native speaker of Spanish. My children live with a Japanese native speaker but it still takes a lot of conscious effort every day to make sure they can speak, read, and write at an age-appropriate level. So, have a fun trip - you and your family will surely enjoy your time but your daughter will probably keep replying to you in Japanese. "My child will speak Language X" is a very, very hard thing to do.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:40 PM on January 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The cartoon Usagi Drop is a super cute, mellow story about a little girl in Japan. Some of the episodes have mild family themes, but many are sort of just: there's a storm, She gets a cold, goes to daycare, etc. Lots of scenes of playgrounds, house interiors and the like so you could talk about what's the same/different.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:26 PM on January 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was five when my parents moved from the U.S. To Mexico. It was tremendous fun, and I effortlessly learned Spanish just playing with other kids. What I missed were my family who were not there (older sisters, aunts.) I can't imagine how different it would have been had we had high speed internet and video conferencing then. Have a wonderful trip. My money is on your daughter having a great time that she will actually have good memories of as an adult decades from now.
posted by bloggerwench at 8:26 PM on January 10, 2016

Best answer: I think the most important thing to do is give her something to look forward to.

You could try introducing her to some of the things that are popular in Japan with kids now, such as Yokai Watch. This would give her something to talk about with the kids in nursery, and might help her listening skills.

You could also get her excited about Japan by promising to take her to some kid themed places or promising to give her some Japanese food she might like. There's a careers type place for kids where they can try out new things (such as being a fireman for a day).
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:26 AM on January 11, 2016

There's an app called Dr Moku which helps you learn hiragana and katakana with flash cards - this might be worth trying? I was a very young and voracious reader and going to a place where I couldn't read very well, or as fluently, would have been very disconcerting. From your intro I wasn't clear on whether she was just speaking/listening or reading as well, so disregard if both!
posted by mippy at 6:04 AM on January 11, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks a lot everyone! I'm definitely going to tell some stories about a little girl in Japan, and I'll look for toys or shows that kids might be into these days. Glad to hear that culture shock isn't a big thing for kids. We'll definitely try to keep our routine, which won't be hard with this kid.
posted by chickencoop at 4:20 PM on January 13, 2016

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