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I was on the subway one morning during one of my very first trips to Tokyo when I spotted two unaccompanied elementary school-age girls riding through downtown together. How could two kids who weren’t old enough to drink even a sip of coffee without freaking out be traversing the country’s densest urban center all by themselves?

In Japan, though, very young kids commuting to school without any kind of adult supervision isn’t anything unusual, and as such no one paid the two unaccompanied tykes any mind.

Likewise, sometimes things that seem like the most natural way of raising kids to parents overseas might seem totally bizarre to Japanese adults, as this collection of reactions to parenting around the world by Japanese experts and expats shows.

Japanese society isn’t so big on physical displays of affection, whether in public or the home. This makes it the polar opposite of Italy, where no one bats an eye about such things. “In Italy, the popular parenting policy seems to be to raise your kids with as much love as possible,” one Japanese commentator states. “I’d heard that Italian mothers were affectionate, but even still I was amazed by what I saw there. Even the dads, they don’t worry at all about saying things like ‘my kids are so cute’ and hugging or kissing them in front of others.”

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Speaking of countries where moms and dads follow the same script, Sweden’s social welfare system allows for a new set of parents to stagger their parental leave, making it easy for an infant to have a stay-at-home parent during the entire first year after birth. Once the child gets older and enters daycare, it’s not uncommon for the father to swing by and pick his offspring up on the way home from the office.

Sweden’s progressive attitudes extend to regulations regarding disciplining children. In 1979, the country enacted laws strictly limiting corporal punishment of minors, even by their own parents. In the time since, 29 other countries have enacted similar laws.

Of course, European kids aren’t given completely free rein. Japanese observers were impressed by how parents in the U.K. set about teaching their children proper manners from a young age. This is in contrast to an attitude that many have in Japan, which holds that that it’s OK to wait until children enter school and start regularly dealing with people outside the family unit.

▼ Pictured: British baby. Also pictured: stiff upper lip.

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France gives its babies a double dose of discipline. First, many parents follow a strict schedule of feeding times, instead of the Japanese custom of offering milk or food whenever the child gets hungry enough to cry for them.

Second, French parents stop sleeping in the same bed with their newborn after three months. The reasons for this are numerous, including promoting greater independence in the child, fears of crushing or suffocating the baby by accidentally rolling on top of it, and of course letting the mother and father resume their “regular lifestyle.”

▼ Sorry Junior, but if you want a little brother or sister, you’ve got to get used to sleeping in the nursery.

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German parents also train their babies to sleep alone in their cribs, along with not picking them up immediately if they start crying. On the other hand, they can show concern for their child’s comfort in surprisingly tender ways. Perhaps due to the country’s cool weather patterns, parents worry about exposing their children’s feet and ears to the elements. Even inside the house, babies aren’t left barefoot, and when going outside on chilly days a hat that covers the ears is a must.

▼ So, in Germany, would this kid need a second head-covering?

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In Japan it’s common for new babies to be kept indoors as much as possible for the first month after being born. Switzerland is not nearly so cautious, though, with locals taking their newborns outside the very next day after delivery. “I often see babies in strollers who don’t have a single hair on their heads yet,” remarked one Japanese expat. “Even my doctor said, ‘It’s fine to take your baby outside right away. Just bundle them up if it’s cold, and dress them lightly if it’s hot.’”

Japan’s closest neighbor, Korea, also shows some unique post-delivery practices. Citing the importance of ample recovery time after giving birth, many Korean mothers check into recovery clinics after leaving the hospital with their new baby, with the average stay lasting two weeks. These clinics are so popular that savvy parents recommend making a reservation as soon as the mother knows her due date.

In China, pre-delivery customs are what surprised one Japanese expat. With the nation’s strict limits on the number of children a couple is allowed to have, for many people a pregnancy is a once in a lifetime opportunity. In order to have the healthiest baby possible, pregnant women are encouraged to eat amounts beyond what Japanese mothers are used to. “I asked my friends about their experiences,” says one Japanese woman of her Chinese acquaintances, “and most of them said they gained between 20 and 30 kilograms (44 to 66 pounds) during their pregnancies.”

“Keep those dumplings coming.”

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Of course, once the umbilical cord is cut, babies can’t get their nutrition directly from what their moms are eating. But how do you handle nursing after you head back to work? Sure, you could pump breast milk ahead of time and leave a supply with the babysitter, but what if the stock runs out before your shift is up?

In Indonesia, working moms can take advantage of a breast milk delivery service. For a fee of around 300 yen (US$3), motorcycle couriers will come to your office, pick up the canister of breast milk you provide, and whisk it off to your hungry infant.

South African babies’ drink option aren’t limited to plain old milk, though. There, some parents mix their children’s milk rooibos tea, a mildly sweet, non-caffeinated tea. The drink, rich in minerals, is said to help children with stomach disorders and asthma.

Another surprising baby-friendly use of an ordinarily adult beverage comes from Brazil. There, parents are said to pour the drink onto their children’s scrapes and cuts in order to promote clotting.

“Is there a doctor in the house?”

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Moving from South America to North America, we arrive in the USA, where two things stood out in the minds of Japanese expats.

“No one seems to be that concerned about getting their kids out of diapers,” remarked one. “Most of them seem to have a vague target of the age of three, but even if their kids are older than that and still using them, there isn’t any pressure for them to hurry up from the people around them.”

Finally, another mother from Japan was surprised, then grateful for the openness shown to her by other parents. “In New York, when I met other moms at the park, they’d talk to me about anything that was going on in their families. It made me realize that we all have the same kinds of concerns in bringing up our kids,” she explains. “But when I tried to be that open in Japan, people looked at me funny. It made me feel like I was the only one going through the difficulties I had, so when I talked to other moms in America, it felt good to know I wasn’t alone.”

▼ Truly touching stuff (provided you’re not getting an earful about someone else’s three-year-old’s diaperfull).

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Source: Naver Matome
Top image: Zen Babies Massage
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