Moving to Japan can be a daunting experience for everyone involved, and that goes just as much for the teenagers in your family as it does for the adults. Being uprooted from everything familiar and flown halfway across the world can be traumatic if you don’t plan things properly. That’s why we’ve put together this series of hints and tips on bringing your teenagers to Tokyo for ex-pats who are living in Japan.
Finding the Right School in Japan
Japanese teenagers put more hours in at school than their western counterparts. While the situation there may not be quite as extreme as it is in South Korea, anyone moving to Japan from a western education system is likely to feel at least a little culture shock due to the workload and focus on rote learning. You can make the transition slightly easier by signing your teenager up for one of the 41 international schools in Tokyo. By choosing this option, you’ll be dealing with a school that understands the American qualifications and transcripts that your child already has. Also, the language of instruction will be English, absolutely essential if your child is not already fluent in Japanese.
Also, keep an eye out for Juku (sometimes known in English as cram schools). These institutions provide the after school lessons that are part of day-to-day life in the Japanese education system. If you choose an international school, they will be able to point you towards one that operates in English.
Japanese Teen Subcultures
Try not to be too worried or overwhelmed by the images you may have seen of Japanese teens dressed in ridiculous or unusual clothes. While teenagers who take subcultures to an extreme do exist in Japan (as they do in almost any country), the vast majority of teens in the country tend to be somewhat lower key. J-pop may not have made as big a splash in the west as Korean pop music has, but Japanese idol groups are very big business in their home country and tend to operate along roughly similar lines. Cosplay (dressing up as favourite characters from films, TV shows and anime series) is also very popular, and conventions featuring guests in truly elaborate costumes take place on a fairly regular basis in Tokyo.
If your teenager is already a massive fan of Japanese popular culture, then it’s probably a good idea to try and moderate their expectations. While they will indeed find elements of the culture that they have previously seen online, it’d be wrong to expect all of Japan to be like this. Popular hangouts such as Akihabara do have some of the glitz and glamour that Japan is known for worldwide. Still, the majority of Tokyo, particularly the suburban areas where you are likely to be setting up home, tend to be a little bit more low-key.
Dating in Japan
This is one area where Japan does things somewhat differently to the west. However, the influence of western TV shows and films is starting to bring the two societies closer together. Firstly, a note that while LGBTQ society does exist in Japan, it is much less open than in the west. There are several support groups for LGBTQ people in the country that can provide help and advice that you may want to put your teenager in touch with before you make the move.
Even for heterosexual couples, dating tends to be far more low key. As a parent, it’s pretty much expected that you won’t be involved in the process. While it may be reasonable for western parents to meet their son or daughter’s other half after a few months of dating, in Japan, it can be years before you finally get the chance. Please don’t put too much pressure on your child to bring their other half home to meet you as this can put a strain on the relationship and cause misunderstandings. As in the west, dating apps have exploded in recent years, and all of the usual suspects are available, along with several Japanese alternatives. Make sure that anyone using these apps takes all of the general precautions, such as meeting in a public place and telling somebody where you are going.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with a little bit of reassurance before your big move. The most important thing to remember is that a move to Tokyo can be just as confusing for the rest of your family as it is for you and that it’s vital to give them some time and help to adjust.