Author: Deanna Ferrante

Deanna Ferrante currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children ages seven and three. She has always been afflicted with wanderlust, having lived in Germany for a year after college, and traveling as much as her budget would allow. In 2005, seven weeks after giving birth to her second child, Deanna and her family moved to Tokyo, Japan for two years. Her family's motto was "make the most of every moment," and they tried to squeeze as much travel and cultural immersion as was possible with a newborn in a country where they didn't speak the language. Two years later when they headed back to the States, Deanna had climbed Mt. Fuji, was conversant in Japanese, and was committed to bringing home some Japanese traditions so the children wouldn't forget their experiences in Japan. Everyone takes their shoes off when they come into the house, they still eat Japanese meals on a regular basis (Deanna bought a rice cooker as soon as she returned home), and they even found a cherry blossom festival in Newark this past spring. Pied Piper Kids in Deanna's hometown of Cranbury sells an assortment of Tea clothing, and Deanna loves the fabrics, colors and designs that remind her of Japan.

no toy for you! a lesson in cultural differences from japan

While I was living in Japan with my husband and two small children, I kept a running blog of our experiences. At one point, a friend asked me if there was anything about living there that really drove me crazy.

Honestly, there was very little about living in Japan that annoyed me, including some of the cultural differences that I understand drive many Americans crazy. For example, I knew a lot of Westerners who were constantly incensed while driving — muttering curses at pedestrians who didn’t yield to cars, etc. But since I was most often the pedestrian and not the driver, I tended not to see what’s so wrong about that. And I think many Americans in particular get annoyed at the whole “rules are rules, and they must be obeyed no matter what”-aspect of Japanese culture, but I didn’t run into many instances where I was truly irked by that. Bemused, perhaps, but not angry. If you lived in a country with so many people crammed into such small spaces, you would find that following the rules allows for a more peaceful coexistence than you might otherwise find. (Imagine riding the subway in New York City during rush hour and finding that it is almost totally silent – no one speaking to anyone else, no laughing, nothing. That’s the norm in Tokyo.)

However, one admittedly minor incident did get under my skin, both because it adversely affected my five-year-old daughter, and because it illustrated the downside of always following the rules and not recognizing the usefulness (and in this case, kindness) of making an exception. I took my daughter out to dinner at a local restaurant where she remembered getting a toy at the end of her meal when we’d been there in the past. This time, we sat down, ordered off the menu, and ate our dinner, but when we got to the checkout counter, there was no toy for my daughter. There *were* toys, right there in front of us, but the cashier told us they were only for kids who ordered off the children’s menu. We hadn’t been offered a kids menu, but that didn’t phase this woman. Neither did my daughter breaking into inconsolable sobs when she realized that she wasn’t getting the (crummy, cheap) toy that she so desperately wanted. Obviously, the woman was just following the rules. No kids menu, no toy, even if the kid had ordered a full-price adult meal

Needless to say, it soured my daughter on that restaurant from then on, but it did provide us with a lesson on one aspect of Japanese culture that we would encounter at other times during our stay in Japan. Recognizing that it was a cultural difference and not just rudeness on the part of the cashier helped both of us understand where the woman was coming from, and prepared us for similar experiences in the future.

a perfect park for kids in tokyo

For a great outdoor experience for kids in Tokyo, try Showa Memorial Park (Showa Kinen Koen). About a 45 minute train ride outside of Tokyo, this park is just another one of the happy surprises we keep finding on our Tokyo tours. I’m not sure that words can honestly describe Showa park — it is huge, and has such an array of offerings, there is no way to see everything in one visit. And to think, we almost didn’t make it. It was sunny when we left our house on a lovely spring day in April, but by the time we got to the train station for the park, it was freezing cold and pouring rain. We stopped for lunch and were going to head back home, but the rain stopped and the sun came out in time for us to play!

At the entrance gates, we paid our 400 Yen ($3.70) and made our way into what seemed to be sort of a typical Japanese public park. We headed to the left, knowing we wanted to explore the “Children’s Forest”. We first came upon the water park section, which was closed until the warmer weather arrives. But it looks like a great place to splash around during the hot summer. Further along we encountered the beginnings of the Children’s Forest where we found an installation of mosaic tiles in fantastical shapes, including some pretty scary snakes!

We continued on our way and found a colorful playground of gigantic rope hammocks for kids to bounce around on. Our daughter, Emilia, had a great time, but we big kids weren’t allowed to play on the hammocks, so after a little while we moved on. The best was yet to come — huge air-filled trampolines in the shape of clouds appeared around a little hill, and we went wild! I think Mike and I had as much fun bouncing as Emilia did. We both agreed that a place like this, astounding and wonderful as it is, would never be developed in the States. Too great an opportunity for injury and lawsuits. But what great fun we had!