Every culture has different standards and practices of child development. But one thing that I find very different in Japan is the trust they put allowing young children to use public transportation alone at a very young age. This would be unthinkable in the U.S. and many other countries. It just wouldn’t be safe!
Many years back, my Japanese girlfriend’s daughter, Kana-chan, attended the local kindergarten and they used to walk to school together everyday. This is a great time to bond with your kids because you have no other distractions, giving full attention to your children. I highly recommend this!
Upon reaching elementary school age, which is six years old, my friend and her husband decided to send her to a private school that was about a 40 minute train ride from their residence. Life as they knew it would become very different and it seemed like this little girl had to grow up overnight. This may sound rather incredulous to some, but in Japan, it is common practice for children to commute long distances to go to the school of choice.
Kana-chan now had to wear a uniform with a traditional leather backpack. Furthermore, the school encouraged the parents to allow the students to travel alone. They believed that this helped create independence. Of course any parent would be very concerned to allow a six year old to commute to a school that was a long train ride away. So, what did my girlfriend do?
The first week, she secretly followed her daughter keeping a good distance away so she wouldn’t be caught. She even rode the train, getting on a different car carefully staying out of sight. Once she saw Kana-chan was safe inside the school gates, she took the train home. This went on for a week, until the mother had the confidence to know that her daughter was capable of getting to school safely on her own.
There is a popular T.V. show in Japan whereby they film little children going on errands alone called “hajimete no otsukai” which means “my first errand” In this video clip, a little boy who is four years old, experiences his first independent errand. It’s pretty amazing and heart warming! Would you be able to send your four year old on an errand alone?