Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cultural Difference at a Moms' Class

Getting into a group is one of the most important things you can do to minister in Japan. That's why when I learned about the new mothers' class at my city office, I jumped at the chance to participate.

The class brought together women from the same neighborhoods with due dates close together for conversation and lessons about pregnancy and motherhood. Of course, these classes were all in Japanese, but understanding the content was a bonus in my mind. I was going with the intention of breaking into the "mommy" group in my community.

The class itself was broken up into 4 teaching sessions and 1 postpartum play group scheduled for September. I was surprised how much I actually understood from the class. It's probably due to the text book (with pictures!) they handed out the first day. Well, that and the very kind women who helped the confused gaijin (foreigner) in their group.

new moms practicing diapering and dressing baby-dolls

Some of the information was old hat. Things like, eat proper meals that include all the food groups. Some of it was surprising, like finding out that fruit is on the "only eat a little bit" side of the food pyramid, rather than next to the vegetables.

During the class, I kept a running mental note about things to share with you all from my experience. so, for your enjoyment, I present:

"strange and interesting things I learned at "moms' class"

I've already mentioned about the food guide strangeness I encountered. I also was not expecting 10 pages of a 70 page book to be devoted to telling women things like "don't eat a lot of fatty and salty foods." In our discussion groups, I got the feeling that these women are terrified of gaining too much weight while pregnant. One woman said it was important to "not eat your favorite foods, so you don't get fat." And all the rest of the skinny Japanese ladies agreed that getting fat would be horrible. The lone American just kept quiet and thought about the candy bar waiting for her in her purse.

Pain relief:
In two of the four class sessions, a woman from my group was brought up for a demonstration. A strip of bleached cotton cloth was pulled tightly around her hips. When I asked my neighbor why, she explained it was for pain relief. Not being satisfied with that answer, I asked when one would do this. I assumed after birth, since I know the Japanese have a tradition of wrapping one's hips to put them back into place after birth. Nope, she said you do it before birth, to ease back and hip pain. I was under the impression that my hips and back hurt because my hips were supposed to move outward to prepare for labor.
I think I'll stick with tylenol, thanks.

Bathing babies:
Using life-like baby-dolls, moms (and some dads) practiced bathing babies

I was really glad we got some instruction and practice on this topic. Since I've never bathes a slippery little baby before, I'm going to assume everything they taught was standard procedure in the US also. One thing I was surprised to find out, though, was how frequently they recommend bathing your baby. When I asked my instructor, she said "Mai nichi" (EVERYDAY!) How dirty do these babies plan on getting? I thought rolling in the dirt was an activity for older toddlers, myself.
The advice does fit with the culture though. Japan is all about their baths. Whole vacations are planned around where has the best "Onsen" (public baths/spa). I'm sure my instructor thought Americans are filthy when I said most people only bathe their babies every other day or so (I think even this frequency is being a bit generous.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day, or Baruntine Day バレンタインデイーas it's called here in Japan, has always been a favorite of mine. From childhood, it has been a source of a much needed post-Christmas refill of my chocolate stash. Giving and receiving chocolate, sweets, cards, and gifts is what Valentine's Day is about, at least in the US.

Here in Japan, things are a little different. For one, the givers are limited to women, and the recipients are limited to men. (It's good to be a man in Japan on February 14th!)

Don't worry ladies, you have your own special holiday on March 14th called White Day (ホーアイトデイー ) to receive "obligation chocolate" ( giri-choco,ぎりチョコ) from all the boys you gave sweets to the months before.

Another difference is what is being given. I haven't seen too much in the way of flowers or cards, and Valentine's day dates don't seem to be too popular from what I've been hearing around the English class. In Japan it's all about the chocolate.

One very popular thing to do is to make "deco-choco" (デコチョコ) or decoration chocolate for male friends.

Here's a close up of some deco-choco I found through google.
(Photo source:

Another popular thing to do it to make cookies.

Here are some chocolate-raspberry heart cookies I made for Stephen and my English students.

Stephen had a doubly good Valentine's Day this year since there are two girls in his family now (me and the baby) to give him chocolates.

When I was at the mall recently I saw these chocolates and knew it had to be Stephen's gift from the baby-to-be.

Here's the display case...

Can you tell what it is?

How about now...

It's a line of chocolate called Unchi-kun うんちくん (little poop).

I have never seen something like this before coming to Japan. But what a fitting gift from a baby.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What I learned in a Japanese parenting class

So today Kathryn and I went to the Birth Clinic for a Parenting Class. We weren't quite sure what to expect and were a little nervous since the whole class was going to be all in Japanese. We wanted to go to so that we could learn more and so that we could meet some new friends around our community.

We gradually learned that most of the material was meant for the Fathers, which was interesting since the class was labeled as a parents class

It began with the head doctor giving a speech about what to expect, what the first stages of labor feel like, and when to go to the hospital. We then watched a video produced by the National Japanese Broadcasting company about the importance of Fathers speaking to the baby while it is still inside the womb. It was then scientifically demonstrated how much the baby can hear whats being said outside the womb by making a test subject swallow a small microphone. The Japanese are very thorough! They also showed how even at a very young age, a baby will respond in a special way to his or her dad.

After the video, us men all got to take turns wearing the "empathy belly'. Many laughs were had when grown men were putting on the suit. It didn't matter what language you spoke, it is universally funny to see a man wearing one of these things.

Then it was my turn.

They first wrapped a Velcro band around my chest, simulating the tightness of a woman's chest during pregnancy.

Then came the suit! I couldn't believe how heavy it was, my hat is off to you ladies.

After they put the maternity shirt on me, they made me take REQUESTS from Kathryn. So Kathryn being the loving wife she is made sure to let me get the full "experience".

I had to reach for things on the floor, lay down on my back, march up and down the stairs, get up and down from chairs. If I didn't know better I would have thought Kathryn's old job was a drill sergeant.

I think Kathryn was going to have me start doing some push-ups, thank goodness the time was up and I got to take the suit off.

What was great about this class is that it was all geared towards Fathers and the important role a father has in the life of his soon to be child. Many Fathers are closed off and distant from their children in Japan, and it was great to see how this Christian Clinic engaged the hearts of these men.
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