What is living and travelling in Japan with kids like?
I was delighted to connect with Andrea on Instagram, who calls herself Andrea Expatosaurus for a reason. Having lived in multiple countries worldwide, she now calls Japan home, where she lives with her husband and their young son. She is sharing her story of living in Japan with kids below.
RLT: Please take us back to where this adventure started, and how did you find yourself in a small town in Northern Japan?
A: I am Andrea, and I am originally from N. Ireland. I moved to Dubai when I was 21 to pursue my dream of being a flight attendant!
I met my husband when I lived in Abu Dhabi, and my son was born there. We moved to Orlando, Florida, where we thought we would settle, however, we got itchy feet and took the opportunity to live in Newcastle, Australia.
We are currently living in Northern Japan and are fortunate that my husband’s company allows us to live in many cool places around the world and experience it from a non-tourist point of view.
RLT: What were your first impressions of moving to Japan?
A: I knew we were moving to a quiet part of Japan, but I felt happy about that because I hadn’t driven a car for 3 years before and felt better about getting back into it in a quiet town rather than a busy city.
Living in a small town in Japan is very different from a busy city like Tokyo. Roads are small, and it’s not uncommon to see tractors. There is lots of beautiful nature around and fields with farmers growing garlic and many other fruits and vegetables. We are extremely lucky to have so many farms in the area and seasonally, we can enjoy apple, peach, strawberry, and blueberry picking.
RLT: Please tell us more about family life in Japan, what facilities and activities exist for young children
A: Japan is fantastic for families and kids. There are many parks and museums and people really respect children here and are very kind.
There are bathroom facilities practically everywhere and cater very much towards children with mini toilets and urinals in most restrooms!
RLT: What are the schooling options for expats in Japan?
A: My son attends an American school but he does do Japanese culture classes in his American school twice per week. Japanese schools are very good from what I hear and are very structured.
RLT: What does your son think of Japanese food?
My son isn’t a huge fan of Japanese food but does enjoy shrimp tempura and Japanese curry. Japanese curry is very flavor-able and you can pick your spice level from 1-10! Coco Ichibanya is a popular curry house found all over Japan.
My son’s favorite dessert is a chocolate cake from the local bakery.
RLT: What are the biggest challenges as a parent in Japan?
A: I would say the biggest challenge here would be the language barrier. It is very difficult to find information for activities online because it’s all in Japanese. Even something as simple as swimming lessons or karate would have a language barrier.
RLT: What was your experience integrating into the local community?
A: Integrating wasn’t as difficult as I thought. Everything in Japan is very structured, and people are very patient with you especially as a foreigner. They understand that you might be new to the country and they are very helpful! If I am looking for something in particular I use my google translate which has come in very handy!
RLT: Could you tell us more about the costs and standards of living?
A: Fruits and vegetables are very expensive here and also seasonal. You won’t really find special offers, so you have to prioritize what you want. Our bills in the winter are definitely on the higher side because of the heating. To fill up your car is $1.5 per litre in comparison to the USA price of $0.90 per litre. Rent is also not cheap, road tolls, bullet trains, and flights are very pricey, so yes the cost of living, in general, can be expensive here.
RLT: Please tell us more about local families? Are there any differences in how they raise their children?
A: There is a huge difference in how Japanese people raise their kids, and it’s admirable. Children are given a lot of independence. It’s not uncommon to see small children as young as 4 walking to school alone. This shocked us because as Westerners, we mollycoddle our children. But Japan is a very safe country.
And as I said before, look out for and respect children, so everyone is in it together to look out for each other’s children and there is a great sense of community. When you let a kid cross the road at a zebra crossing, they will bow to say thank you. We are huge fans of the bowing culture and have embraced it ourselves now.
Shoes are not worn in houses or even some offices, so slippers are provided. They even provide slippers going through security at the airport!
Japan has been a wonderful place to live, and it has opened our eyes to a different way of life.
RLT: What would you recommend to expats looking to move to Japan?
A: Research exactly where you are going to live and reach out on social media platforms to other expats for advice. If you have any food allergies it may be even more challenging for you. Some Facebook groups I found and use are
Gluten-Free Expats Japan, Your Japan, and Hidden Gems In Japan.
RLT: And finally, what are the top 5 places in Japan that you recommend visiting for families traveling with kids?
A: Top 5 places you should visit with kids are:
RLT: Thank you, Andrea, for taking the time to share your story about living in Japan with kids! It is always interesting to see the country through the expat’s eyes. Connect with Andrea on Instagram @Andrea_expatosaurus to follow her adventures, tips on living and traveling in Japan with kids, and so much more!
Another way to learn about countries from a non-tourist point of view is receiving snail-mail letters sent by post by a magical bird called Patrick. This is an educational subscription service for children. Patrick sends personalized paper letters with activities to children every week. There is a letter from Japan too! Learn more about it on Your Letters from Patrick
This living in Japan with kids as an expat family interview with Andrea is a part of our Global Parenting interview series. If you are an expat parent and would like to share your story, let us know by sending an e-mail to [email protected]