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The Japanese American Family - Part 3 of 8

>> Part 2

Education and Traditional Japanese and Japanese American Families (Cont'd)

A second common pattern among Japanese and other Asian Americans centers around child-rearing patterns that promote greater family identity and cohesiveness than is typical among mainstream white American families (Conner 1974; Rothbaum et al. 2000. Underlying these patterns are collectivist beliefs that people are more inherently the products of their social and family environments (Reischauer 1977) rather than being somehow intrinsically “individuals” who have their own innate sources of uniqueness that must be respected and nurtured (Lareau 2002). Asian parents’ group-oriented beliefs lead them to place greater emphasis on shaping and molding their children into being what parents deem to be more ideally desirable rather than what their children may individualistically prefer to do with their lives. Asian parents are therefore more likely to believe that their appropriate role is to push their children into achieving higher educational attainment—even despite their children’s own personal proclivities and individualistic interests—because Asian parents are more likely to believe that their primary parental responsibility is to promote the long-term interests of their children by shaping their personal development (rather than allowing their children “to just be themselves” or to experience “natural growth” [Lareau 2002:752]).

In keeping with that cultural predisposition, Japanese and other Asian child-rearing patterns do not promote independence but rather accept dependency as being natural, normal, and inevitable. Indeed, Japanese child-rearing patterns foster greater psychological dependency in their children and forestall the development of a psychological sense of individualistic self-identity that is separate from their parents (Doi 1971). Although Stevenson and Stigler (1992:74-80) discuss the apparently greater permissiveness of early child-rearing practices of Japanese parents in relation to enhanced educational attainment (arguing that it leads their children to develop a greater appreciation of learning as a reward or end in itself), the authors’ discussion does not adequately recognize the consequences of this early socialization in fostering a closer psychological bond or emotional interdependence between mothers and their children (Ben-Ari 1996; Doi 1971; Reischauer 1977:140-141; Rothbaum et al 2000). Lacking a strong a sense of self, Japanese children are more readily influenced by their parents’ wishes and expectations (De Vos 1973; Shimahara 1986).

One relevant process in this regard is the practice of co-sleeping that has been traditionally practiced and considered normative in Japan and elsewhere in Asia (Caudill and Plath 1974; Reischauer 1977). It also appears to be commonly observed among Japanese Americans (Kitano 1976:131). That is, Japanese and JA parents routinely sleep in the same bed with their young children. Even if Asian children begin sleeping in their own bed, often it is in the same room as their parents. This practice is usually continued until the child is as old as 12 years of age. Co-sleeping reduces the child’s independent sense of self and thereby facilitates a greater emotional dependency of children upon their parents (Caudill and Plath 1974).

The result is that Japanese and other Asian and Asian American families and children are comparatively less individualistic than white Americans (Bumpass 1990; Kim and Wong 2002; Rothbaum et al 2000). In contrast to Japanese parents, white middle-class American parents typically train their children to sleep by themselves even as infants (McKenna 1996). White middle-class American parents (in contrast to Japanese parents) are careful to promote independence in their children’s behavior at a young age such as encouraging exploratory physical mobility even as toddlers. White parents tend to encourage their children to feed themselves their own food despite the consequent mess that is often made by toddlers when learning to do this. In contrast to Japanese culture, independence and rugged individualism are traditional ideals (and may perhaps even be somewhat exaggerated) in American culture (Reischauer 1977:135). The child-rearing practices of white middle-class Americans train their children to be more independent resulting in a greater psychological insulation from their parents’ expectations regarding educational attainment.

Space limitations prevent a detailed discussion, but the Japanese cultural idea of amae (which has no adequate simple translation in English but is sometimes referred to as “permissiveness” or “being spoiled”) further enhances the interdependence in the behaviors and feelings between Japanese individuals in primary relationships (Doi 1971; Meredith 1966). Amae is said to originate in Japanese child-rearing practices (Kumagai and Kumagai 1986; Reischauer 1977:141). While the extreme forms of “co-dependence” would be viewed as dysfunctional in most any society (Borovoy 2001), the greater cultural proclivity towards amae is considered normal in Japan and is likely to promote interdependence between Japanese parents and their children. Being more dependent upon their children’s success for their own self esteem, Japanese and JA parents are more inclined to seek to highly motivate their children who are in turn more dependent upon their parents’ approval in their own self evaluations.Amae thus facilitates the transmission of expectations for high educational achievement from Japanese and JA parents to their children.

Next: Part 4 - Change and Adaptation


* The following article is a shortened version of a chapter to appear in
Ethnic Families in America: Patterns and Variations, 5th Edition, edited by Roosevelt Wright, Charles H. Mindel, Robert W. Habenstin, and Than Van Tran.

© 2010 Arthur Sakamoto, ChangHwan Kim, and Isao Takei

academic education family history japanese american