Between the Japanese ethos and the English way of raising children
Born in Japan, studies in the US and currently living in London. The world is our oyster and bringing up children in a different country more and more common.
But is it really that easy? How can we show and teach our own roots to our children? The traditions we grew up with, the rituals and all the little things that remind us of our own childhood and we want to pass on.
We met with a woman who knows. Yuki Oshima, the founder and creative director of the children’s wear brand, Owa Yurika. Yuki grew up in Tokyo and went to university in the US. When a job opportunity in London came up she moved across the pond. That was 15 years ago.
5 years ago she became a mum. Her daughter Honor Yurika is growing up between English and Japanese traditions. By the way, the Yurika from Owa Yurika comes from her middle name and she is the inspiration behind the brand.
Luna: What made you launch Owa Yurika?
Yuki: After university, I began a career in finance but quickly realised that my passion was in fashion. So I started working for Harper’s Bazaar in Toyko as a fashion editor and then became a worldwide contributor for them. Since then, I worked in women’s fashion while also assisting the family business. When I got pregnant with my daughter I started looking more closely at children’s wear brands. That is when I noticed a gap in the market for something unique, stylish, three-dimensional with proper pattern cutting and high quality. In women’s wear, there are so many options from brands like Valentino to Balenciaga. But most of the children’s clothing I encountered either seemed very feminine or casual / street-wear. So I thought there must be a demand for modern, interesting and carefully created clothes.
You decided to create the brand with your mother, how did that happen?
I am extremely close to my mother but we have lived worlds apart since I was 19. We had been discussing starting a business to give us the chance to spend more time together and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. My mother has always been extremely stylish and has written best-selling books on colour theory, so her input to the business is absolutely crucial. We have completely different sets of strengths. Therefore it’s always helpful to run things by her when I feel stuck with a decision or an idea as she can add a fresh perspective. I love being able to share the joy of our achievements.
How difficult was the transition from Japan to the UK?
I spent some time in London in my youth as my father had some business dealings here and we sometimes visited the city as a family. I always had a great impression of London and it felt like a natural transition to move here. The only struggle at first was how slow it was to get things installed or repaired in the house. It was quite a big adjustment having grown up in Tokyo where things are so efficient!
What is the biggest difference to having your child grow up here in London to your memories of being a child in Japan?
I used to go to school from the age of 6 with my brother or on my own taking public transport. We were not allowed to be dropped off in a car – the relative safety of the country plays a key role in this. But also there’s a sense that the whole community supports children which is very sweet. Independence was very much encouraged by the school. For example, pupils were expected to take on chores such as serving food, cleaning up and tidying up the classrooms and various areas of the school.
What traditions do you follow to preserve your roots?
We observe and celebrate fun holidays like Setsubun on 3/2, which symbolises the beginning of Spring when we scatter soy beans to clear away any evil spirits. It’s always so entertaining to appoint a grown-up to take on the role of the evil spirit! Another tradition we observe is Girl’s Day on 3/3.
What languages do you speak at home?
I speak Japanese to my daughter but she often replies back in English these days. Her Japanese was very strong to begin with, but it’s a bit of a challenge now to keep it up as she only speaks in English at school and with her father.
Is there anything you would like Europe to adapt from Japan?
I think it is great that people in Japan encourage children to be independent in terms of looking after themselves. And also to be very polite and respectful towards grown-ups.
At the same time, we breastfeed for much longer and sleep and bathe together until children are much older than in Europe. Which I do feel creates a beautiful bond between the parents and children.
There’s also a strong emphasis on national holidays which often involve appreciation of nature and seasons. So we grow up being very much more aware of what each season brings to us which is so beautiful.
Education in Japan vs. UK. Your thoughts?
I find great characteristics in both countries.
There were strict rules in Japan but at the same time I wasn’t given much homework from school and sometimes I wonder if it’s necessary for my 5 year old to be learning how to spell! I think math education somehow seems to work much better in the Japanese system. It was very easy to learn the number table and math somehow feels a lot more complicated in English. Also, many schools in London look like townhouses rather than schools. And it was surprising having gone to schools where there was literally a mini forest behind the school building where we did so many activities. Our schools also had our own vast gardens where we were able to grow vegetables and play too.
I do admire how my daughter’s school here cultivates creativity, individuality and confidence and also the focus on community involvement and charitable work is very impressive.
What do you like about the English way of raising children?
I like that there’s more freedom of expression here. The education here that I’ve seen so far seems to foster the joy of learning and my daughter absolutely loves her school, which is so fabulous!
I also think it’s beneficial that society does not expect mothers to sacrifice their lives completely for their children.
I hear that Japanese mothers often get frowned upon if they ever take a break from parenting to treat themselves for an adult-only trip with their partners or friends. So mothers get overly stressed and frustrated which can lead to their forgetting to actually enjoy the time with their children. Or have any space left to sustain a connection with their partners, which is not beneficial for the children after all. I think it’s valuable that couples here allocate time to go on date nights etc.
And what has room to improve?
The idea of sending a child to a boarding school from a very young age feels very foreign to me. And I feel it could affect the establishment of a close bond between parents and children. But I do understand there’s a benefit as day schools in London are so limited in terms of space and facilities.
Also I personally don’t know if it’s necessary to have babies and children sleep on their own from such an early age. Because they will eventually sleep on their own anyway. And it’s so special to be able to cuddle with your kids to sleep.
One thing I find problematic sometimes is that the pupils seem to be given freedom at meal times. So my daughter and her friends often come back saying they’ve only had bread and rice for lunch. When I was at school, I had to sit through until I finished everything on my plate which was difficult but it ended up encouraging me to enjoy a greater variety of foods.
We often hear that Japanese children grow up with strict rules and pressure to conform to society needs and views. Being the perfect child. Do you feel that this is how it is done?
There are some elements which agree with the stereotypical impression people have about the Japanese culture. When I visit Japan and meet children at events for our brand, I see how extremely well-behaved and polite they are. It is very sweet, but it could sometimes mean that their individuality and self-expression may have been slightly suppressed. When my daughter was two and took some ballet lessons in Japan. And I was astonished by how strict the teachers were telling such young kids to follow tight structures and not to stray at all, which I thought was extreme. And I feel an excessive focus on conformity can stifle creativity and enjoyment. As a child I didn’t like my dance and piano lessons as the teachers were too scary, but luckily my parents have always been so relaxed and created a good balance. Teaching kids a degree of discipline is important and this strictness does seem to produce some competent athletes like top ballet dancers and figure skaters. So, I guess moderation is the key. People in Japan are increasingly aware of the issues in the education system, so I hope there will be some positive shifts.
Do you mix the English as well as the Japanese way of raising children? And if so, what do you adapt from each?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, there are amazing qualities in both cultures which I try and adopt as much as possible. I want my daughter to grow up to be a content and confident woman. And I give her a lot of freedom, which may not be stereo-typically Japanese. Such as letting her choose what she wears, which activities to pursue, and even whether she does her homework or not. At the same time, I value manners and kindness. I encourage her to understand the importance of showing gratitude by writing old fashioned thank you letters and always remembering to say “please” and “thank you”.
Your daughter is growing up in the UK, how do you make sure that she learns about her Japanese roots?
I often read old Japanese tales to her which I grew up with, and she really enjoys the stories which are often didactic. I am a Buddhist and do my best to instill in her the Buddhist values. Such as the importance of meditation and kindness to all living beings. She also goes to a Japanese kindergarten on Saturdays where she learns the language and culture. She’s very close to my parents who are based in Tokyo. And I believe daily interactions with them through Facetime remind her of her roots.
Thank you Yuki for the nice interview.
A different take on motherhood, how about this Kate and her life as single mum in Tokyo?