This is not a rant nor is this an anti-child proclamation or how you can be a better parent so if you happened to see the title of this post and thought to yourself that this would be the perfect place to spew your frustration please take a moment and relax before proceeding on. For the rest of you who are reading this because you are wondering about what to expect when you make your way over to Okinawa I apologize for the blunt introduction.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way let me explain why I am writing this post and what you can expect from the content. I was recently asked a question from a reader who had previously read a post where I explained that here in Okinawa we use out indoor voices even when we are outside. She explained that she has a young child who enjoys yelling, running and playing and wanted to know whether or not people in Okinawa would actually get angry at this occurring. In this post I am going to offer my observations both from what I see, what I have experienced speaking with various people from Okinawa and Japan. Before we begin there are a few things that I want to make clear that may give you a bit of perspective from where I am coming from. I have been working with children and their parents for over 12 years now. The fact that children can be difficult is not lost on me but neither is the fact that nothing is impossible with a lot of hard word, consistency and dedication. Again this is not a parenting guide, all I am offering is words of encouragement for those out there who might be reading this feeling like ever gaining control of their child is helpless. The second thing to make clear is that I am offering your real life answers to your questions. I’m telling it how it is. If you are looking for someone who is going to tell you that even if your child hurls food across a restaurant regularly you should still take them out because the staff and other people won’t mind this is not going to be the post for you. Finally I ask that, as I do for all my posts, you read this with an open mind and an understanding that when coming to Okinawa you are entering an entirely different culture. Regardless if we are talking about children, food or driving in your car some changes to the way you look at things are ultimately going to have to be made. As always my goal here in to inform so that you don’t have any surprises. I hope that you find this post beneficial and of course if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to leave them in he comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Using Indoor Voices”
As I had said in the post that I had listed above it is common practice for people to use their indoor voices throughout Japan, even when outside. Let’s talk a little bit about this. American’s are loud, there’s no way around it. The kids are loud, the adults are loud the cars are loud. . . . . we’re loud. In Japan, and particularly Okinawa this is not the case. It’s quite here which is why you see me say that using your indoor voice is “common practice” and not “common courtesy”. Again (I know I have talked about this in other posts but for the sake of ensuring I am consistent) it is about the culture. This is a laid back relaxed quiet culture and does take some adjustment when you come here. There is also a different attitude when it comes to being out in public places (which we will get into here in a bit so keep reading). Some places are for relaxing, some places are for conducting business and other places are for having fun. A great deal of consideration is taken by all people to ensure that you are able to relax, conduct business or have fun at these various facilities and therefore I believe it is safe to assume that everyone, including foreigners, have the same type of consideration when out in public.
“Kids will be kids”
It’s no surprise to me, or to anyone else in my honest opinion, that kids have their moments. After all they are still learning how to handle themselves in public situations, control their emotions and overall function as a part of society. There are going to be up’s and down’s and yes from time to time dreaded center of the aisle tantrum. That’s life. Are the people here in Okinawa going to get angry with you? To be honest this completely depends on how you handle the situation as a parent. Again, it’s a different culture here and therefore some of the parenting techniques that are acceptable in the US may not be as accepted in public here. To better illustrate what I am talking about let’s go over some of these techniques:
The Separation Technique-
Ok. . . . so I don’t know what you would call this but I am coining it as “The Separation Technique” maybe you have used this technique as a parent or if you are like me it was used on you as a kid. So what is The Separation Technique? This is when a child , who is of an age where they can walk on their own and/or are not sitting in a stroller, is misbehaving and/or not listening. The parent then starts to walk away from the child saying something like “Ok. . . . . . bye. . . . . I’m leaving now. . . . ” until the child decides to go with the parent rather than being separated. Usually with each remark the volume of the parent’s voice increases and potentially the pitch gets higher and higher but that is depending on each parent’s preference. The Separation Technique.
This technique is not necessarily one that would be acceptable to use here especially if you know that it will result in your child becoming overly upset. Remember it’s quiet here so doing something that might involve you becoming intentionally loud or that might trigger your child to become overly upset is going to get a bad reaction from the people around you. This also leads us to the next technique. . . .
Raising of the Voice Technique-
As you might imagine in a society where people are quiet raising your voice at your child is not necessarily something you might want to resort to. I won’t hold it against you but trust me when I say an American raising their voice in a shopping center in Okinawa is like Zeus’ thunderous voice calling down from Olympus.
If you want to know when people in Okinawa are going to become upset or even angry at the behavior of a child it is almost always when the parent is using a technique which I refer to as the “Avoidance Technique”. This is when a parent completely avoids any and all confrontation with their child allowing them to conduct themselves in any manner they so choose. In other words the parent completely ignores the child altogether as well as any consequences or effects that their child’s behavior may have. An example of this might be a baby in a fancy restaurant. (One might wonder why there is a baby in a fancy restaurant in the first place but we’ll get there in another post.) If the baby cries and the parent tries to sooth the baby or if the crying continues removes the baby from the situation there will be no problem. However, suppose the baby is crying and neither parent makes any attempt to stop the child from crying but just allows it to happen. This would cause anger or frustration with the people around you because you are not being considerate by even making an attempt to sooth the child.
Overall what I hope that I was able to illustrate with what I have said above is that yes things are different here. You are going to have to take a few things you wouldn’t normally into consideration but overall if you remember to be considerate to those people around you and try to prevent and stop situations which might disrupt people around you then you have nothing to worry about. If you, on the other hand, don’t care about other people or how what you or your child does affects them than yes you are gong to cause frustration and in some cases you may even cause a disadvantage for others in the future, but more about that later.
Child Friendly Places
With all this talk about keeping in line there is bound to be places where kids can REALLY be kids right? Absolutely! In fact one of the things that I found remarkable about Okinawa is the fact that there seem to be parks (and I don’t mean the ones where the old people walk and enjoy the sunshine but ones with swings and kid stuff) all over the place. Not only is there one in almost ever neighborhood but they are clean and well kept too. These are places where kids can get out of the everyday shell and just enjoy being a kid. There are usually swings, things to climb on, sand and almost always some sort of large and ridiculous slide. Not only are these fun places to take your kids but they are also nice places for you to sit and enjoy being a parent with covered tables and benches as well as usually a water fountain so that you can keep yourself refreshed.
If you are willing to pay a little bit of money to give your kid the chance to play there are various other places where you can take them for some indoor fun. Although I do not often remember the names of these places because I personally do not frequent them there is one which is referred to as the Jungle something and another one which is located in a San A in the Naha Area. There are also sometimes special performances at shopping centers and even times of the year where they set up ball pits and bouncy houses right int he shopping centers for the kids to enjoy. These indoor areas are great for air conditioned fun especially in the summertime when mom’s and dad’s want to avoid that summer sun.
If you want to be out in the sun there are also a variety of playgrounds, such as the one at Araha Beach, which are on the beach. The kiddles can play in the sand and pretend to be a pirate while mom or dad sits in the sun and works on his/her tan. . . we are on a tropical island after all might as well look like it. This particular playground is known for being a lot of fun among many of the military families because of it’s location in central Okinawa as well as being a 1 minute walk from pirate ship to ocean with a bathroom near by (although be warned the are squatty potties) and a refreshments stand.
Of course you are going to want to be a tourist sooner or later and there are many child friendly tourist destinations as well. This would include the Aquarium and Okinawa World. These are both great fun for kids offer fun activities for children and over all are safe even if you have a child who likes to dart out of your sight.
Places Not For Every Child
Like anywhere else there may be places where you don’t want to take your kids. I will maybe go over more of these places in the future but for the sake of this post and the topic that we are on I am going to take about places you might not want to take your child if they are a screamer or a runner.
For a moment let’s go back culture (don’t worry I will do my best to summarize). Here in Okinawa the outdoors are very important to people for various reasons some religious. This is why when visiting some places you may find yourself encountering people praying, shrines or monuments. These things can be found at parks (the big and culturally protected ones not the ones that I described above), castle ruins, caves and shrines. People regularly visit these locations to honor ancestors or pray and therefore when visiting these sites it is important to ensure that you are doing so with the upmost respect and consideration for the people around you. This may be a tourist destination for you but it is a huge piece of history and culture for the people of the island.
The reason that I have titled this section “The Screamer” is because for children who have an uncontrolled desire to scream and/or yell this may not be the place you want to take them. Remember this is a place of worship for many and in some cases people travel great distances (even from Mainland Japan) to worship at these sites.
When it comes to children who run it no longer becomes a matter of consideration for other people, in my opinion, but more a matter of safety. The one thing that you will notice about Okinawa when you first get here is that it is considerably smaller here than it is in the US. In stores, for example, aisles are half the size that you might find in the US. In many cases it’s just enough for two people with shopping carts to pass through and corners are very tight so the odds of your child running through the store and getting hit by someone’s shopping cart or accidentally running into a display case are pretty good. This isn’t really the concern though. There is a bigger concern for parking lots in which people drive considerably faster than they should most of the time. The biggest concern in my opinion, however, is when taking your children to tourist locations much like the ones I mentioned above (Caves, Shrines, Recreational Parks and Castle Ruins). Many of these places have stairs and walkways made of coral which is sharp and slick. Stairways are also extremely steep as if you are climbing a mountain (I realize that seems exaggerated but I honestly do not know how else to describe it) These castle ruins are also built on mountain tops which undoubtably mean that there are cliffs in some cases they are straight drop offs. I have seen them and yes they are there without any barrier. Again it is a matter of knowing your child and determining whether you believe they are capable of handling a trip to a location such as this.
With all this being said what can we really conclude here? To be honest I leave it to you. Questions or Comments can be left below or you can email me at OkiNinjaKitty@yahoo.com. If you would like more information about kid friendly activities please let me know and I will be happy to do some research and post information. Thanks for reading and I hope that you find this post helpful.