I am an English teacher living I Japan. I am from England in the UK and I married my wife, who is Japanese, about four years ago. We had a baby in March 2007, and these are some things I noticed about having a baby in Japan.
When I found out my wife was pregnant I was, of course, over the moon. We had been wanting a baby for some time, and we were both really happy that we would soon become parents. While we were waiting for the big day I soon discovered there are quite a few differences to being pregnant in Japan and in my native England. The first thing I noticed was that in Japan it is said that women are pregnant for ten months rather than nine months. I also found out that it is quite common for Japanese people to want to know whether their baby is going to be a boy or a girl before the birth. In England people seem to prefer to wait until the birth to find out. The doctor in our hospital didn’t really give us a choice: when explaining about the different organs of our unborn child on an ultrasound image he blurted out, “This is the baby’s penis”, and then followed up with, “Ah, do you want to know if it is a boy or a girl?” At least knowing we were having a boy meant that we could prepare clothes and halve our time spent thinking about names.
Not so long after that time, which was about half way through the pregnancy, we had to go to a special shrine. At the shrine we received a charm and a white belt that my wife wore around her stomach. The shrine was in Hyogo prefecture near Osaka and is one of many shrines that are meant to bring good luck to expectant mothers.
Despite the extra month of pregnancy we are given in Japan the time soon passed, and the expected arrival day soon came and went. We had to wait five more days, and then I got a call from my wife. I left work and rushed home quite excitedly only to find my wife and her mother watching TV and relaxing. After a few hours my wife’s contractions reached the frequency and length that meant the birth was coming quite soon. We arrived at the hospital about midnight, and soon my wife entered the final stages of labour. The actual birth was probably similar to what happens in England except that, of course, all the doctors and nurses were speaking in Japanese. The baby was born without any problems, and we enjoyed the first few hours of life with our son.
My wife and the baby stayed in hospital for one week, and I visited them everyday. I noticed that I was probably the only father who did this. My work is quite flexible, and it is easy for me to take time off. However, I think for most Japanese people, even for this sort of occasion, it is difficult to get time off work.
After they left the hospital my wife and the baby went to live at my wife’s parents house for almost one month. It is quite common for a first-time mother to stay with her parents for a while and learn about how to look after the baby. I visited them at the weekends and helped out as much as I could. I found this also helped increase my Japanese vocabulary as I learned a lot of baby related words.
Now my wife and the baby are back home in our apartment, and we have got used to life as parents. We received a lot of cards and emails from people back in England. It is interesting that in England everyone says that he looks Japanese whereas everyone in Japan says he looks British. We think he is great, and we are looking forward to bringing him up in Japan.