Sunday, October 23, 2011

Two cultures

When your young child is naughty, what do you do? In my house I would take Takumi or Leiya aside, scold, and then send them to their room.

But in Japan, when a child is naughty, the parent will scold (maybe... Japanese parents are rather lenient with their youngest children) and put the child outside the house. And lock the door!

When I first observed a screaming child in the neighborhood pounding on the front door begging to be let in, I had visions of child abuse and neglect. When I realized that this punishment was the norm, my next thought was "How can a mother let her child scream like that OUTSIDE for all the neighbors to hear and wonder about?"

In Japan, the ultimate punishment at ANY age, is to be set apart from the social group. Junior high and high school students will be ostracized as a passive type of bullying which scars the child for decades. Even businessmen will be routed to a far corner of an office and ignored by the rest of the office workers all because of expressing an unpopular opinion. Women fear not being accepted by their neighbors or PTA groups. There is a saying in Japanese, Mura hachi-bu which is an example of this way of thinking.

Mura means village and hachi-bu means eight parts. In the long ago eras of Japan the way to punish someone in the village was to exclude them from eight of the village's social events, weddings, Coming of Age Day etc... To this day, the possibility of being excluded is the ultimate punishment for not trying to fit in, not living cooperatively in the very close social structure of Japanese society.

To be honest, Tetsu and I had the real concern that our children would not be accepted by their school mates or that I would not be able to fit into our rural neighborhood all because of being a slightly different (greatly different!) mixed-culture family. Happily, we never seemed to have too many problems fitting in though my children may have hid their school battles from me.

Naughty children in Western cultures will be sent to their rooms to ponder why they were scolded, to think about what rule they may have broken. Their FREEDOM is taken away from them for a short period and Westerners really value their freedom and independence! Maybe being set apart isn't as strong a punishment for the Western child but being confined makes him think twice!

Living in two cultures can be puzzling and frustrating at times. I would rather think that my family that having two cultures has enhanced our lives and made them more interesting.

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