This is a common question raised by foreigners (and Japanese!) people living here with their families. Is Japan a good place to raise kids? Certainly there is no easy answer to this, but I will answer it from an ordinary Japanese mom’s point of view.
In short, it is a great place for young kids, until about elementary. Then it is not a really good place after that.
The good sides of raising kids in Japan
First of all, Japan offers one of the best levels of medical services in the world. Neonatal death rate and maternal mortality is the lowest in the world. As long as you are registered in the pubic health insurance, kids can get medical checks free (or at low-cost). There are easy access to family doctors, children medicines, public health nurses, children’s dentists, and so on. My first daughter had a surgery when she was a baby, but it was all covered by insurance. So, if you want to baby to survive birth, Japan would be the best choice.
Another upside of raising kids in Japan is public safety. Japan is known for allowing kids to commute to schools alone, without parent’s guidance. It is also very natural for young kids (usually from elementary) to go play in parks by themselves. Some even travel on trains for an hour at the age of 6! This is all possible because Japan is such a safe country. Of course, there are rare times when kidnapping or murder occurs, but the numbers are so low. Because they need to be independent, kids quickly learn skills like how to get on the train, when to call for help, how to follow house rules (eg. what time they should be home by), and how to socialize with friends without parent’s supervision.
Furthermore, the public kindergarten and school system is good in that every child gets a chance to have equal level of education. I personally like how Japanese schools has “Katei-ka” （家庭科）, home economics class, where kids learn basic living skills like cooking, sewing, cleaning, and using money.
The bad sides of raising kids in Japan
The worst side of raising kids in Japan is that everyone has to fit in the “ideal” form of life, whether it’s education, work, style, or living.
For example, Japanese schools generally set very strict rules on how students should look. Girls need to have hair tied with brown or black bands, or have them short. Boys need to have it short. No hair dyes are allowed. Color of socks and shoes are designated. Shockingly, some schools force students to dye their hair black if they were born with brownish hair!! And even more shocking is that there are schools which designate girl’s underwear color!! As a Japanese, I am very disappointed and embarrassed at this reality.
Of course not all schools are as strict as this, but in general they expect students to be the same. If a foreigner child (or a ‘foreigner-looking’ child) enters a normal Japanese school, he or she will definitely stand out and may find it difficult to fit in.
Furthermore, Japanese education is concentrated on memorizing tasks instead of thinking critically. Debating is not a thing in Japan, so students just memorize what is in the textbook to get good grades. Not many students are enthusiastic about asking questions during classes. This education system is somewhat due to the Japanese university entrance exam. In Japan, entrance to universities are admitted by the entrance exam, and to get good scores on this strict exam, memorization is key.
Technology education is very bad, and many students grow up not being able to use a computer. Even teachers have trouble using Word or Excel. English education is also not good and despite that every Japanese learn English in junior high school, almost no one can speak English. Sadly, it is common for students with good English skills (like having good English prununciation) gets laughed at from other students during class
So… do I recommend raising kids in Japan?
As a conclusion, I trust the medical services in Japan so if you are a pregnant woman planning to give birth in Japan, DON’T WORRY because you will get the best medical care in the world. If you are planning to live here for a long time and your child is going to experience school life here, you should be aware that it could be difficult. You should check different schools, like public/private/international schools, and see which one has high levels of education and supports diversity. I am not saying every school is bad. There are excellent schools here too, and the features I described above are only one side of the whole education system.
So, the best scenario I think to raise kids, is to live in Japan until elementary, and then move abroad after that! 🙂