Jan 31


How to Pass Your Love of Japan onto Your Kids

By Jessica Kennett Cork (CIR, 1997-2000, Hiroshima-ken)

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My kids (7, 5, 2 and 4 months) are the only blond-haired kids in their school.  My two oldest know the names of all the Pokémon characters in both English and Japanese. My toddler can sing the Totoro and Anpanman theme songs in Japanese.

No, we don’t live in Japan. We live in a suburb of Atlanta.  But I knew that even though we live in the United States, I wanted to share my love of Japan with my kids.  I don’t want to “force” Japan on them, and it is fine with me if their future careers have nothing to do with Japan. But at the same time, I want for them to appreciate our family’s adopted culture, and to understand that since I met their dad in a Japanese class in college, they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Japan.

And so I decided to enroll them in Japanese/English bilingual immersion school. We’re lucky to have several here in Atlanta: two daycare centers and one elementary school. Almost all the other kids in the school are full Japanese or half Japanese, so it is not always easy on my blondies.  The elementary school is Japanese Ministry of Education approved, which means homework every day, even during summer vacation, and lots of parental involvement expected from the PTA.  Not to mention the pressure to come up with a decent o-bento for lunch. My seven year old often wonder why his o-bento doesn’t have cute rabbits made out of apples and carrot flowers. But at the same time, he got to pound rice for New Year’s, grow tomatoes and morning glories as part of his life skills class, has mandatory music and art class, and can use chopsticks better than I can.

But what I love most about the school is the global perspective he is learning. Take Social Studies class. The class is taught on some days in English using an American textbook and on other days in Japanese using a Japanese textbook. Imagine the discussion the kids will have when covering World War II.  My kids are native English speakers, so obviously English class is easier for them, but sometimes they really struggle with Japanese.  When they see the native Japanese speakers struggling in English class, they understand how the Japanese kids feel and they help them out. They realize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and if we help each other out, we can all reach the same goal. They are also learning that even if the Japanese kids know more words than they do, they don’t necessary know more kanji. My oldest son takes great pride in beating the Japanese kids on kanji tests!

If you are lucky enough to have a school with a bilingual immersion program in your area, I encourage you to consider it. It can be a bit daunting at first, and you may be concerned about what effect it will have on your child to perhaps be the only non-Japanese in the school. But the benefits to your child far outweigh the negatives, and once your child begins to speak and understand Japanese more fluently, things get easier.

If you do not have such a school near you, I encourage you to seek other options. Many large cities throughout the United States have Japanese Saturday schools. While these are primarily for Japanese kids who are attending local English-only public schools to keep up with their Japanese, anyone is welcome to attend. You can get information on the Saturday schools from your local Japanese Consulate. Another idea is to hire Japanese nanny for your child, either full time or after school.  Many Japanese wives of expatriate businessmen are interested in this type of work since it does not require a high level of English. Advertise in your local Japanese newspaper or put up an ad at an Asian grocery store or Japanese owned restaurant. You could also start a playgroup of parents who want to teach their kids Japanese and invite local Japanese parents who want to teach their kids English. And you can ask your local Japan-America Society or JETAA chapter to plan kid-friendly events so that you will get to know the other Japanese parents in the area.

I didn’t start studying Japanese until college, and there was so much to learn in just four short years. I remember hours of cramming to try to remember 50 kanji per week, which were promptly forgotten to make room for the next 50 kanji required on the subsequent test. I’m glad my kids have the opportunity to take it slow and truly master a foreign language. And I love it when my son says to me, “Kanji is my favorite thing to study at school.”

2 comments so far...

  • Kyle M Said on January 31st, 2012 at 10:27 pm:

    “While these are primarily for Japanese kids who are attending local English-only public schools to keep up with their Japanese, anyone is welcome to attend. ”

    Sadly the one in Raleigh, NC, is for Japanese nationals only unless something has recently changed. I really wish there were more immersion opportunities for those who aren’t native Japanese in this area!

  • Jennifer Said on February 2nd, 2012 at 12:22 pm:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective Jessica! I always thought the bravest parents at the school when I worked there were the ones like yourself who have a love for Japan even if there wasn’t a Japanese parent involved. Good luck with everything and I’m sure the kids will enjoy their elementary years immensely at the school!!


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