Three surprising things about having a child in Japan

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Having a child in Japan may not be quite as easy as it is back home.

I had my firstborn just about 5 months ago and I’ve been through quite a ride - just as one would expect. But the things that occasionally caught me off-guard weren’t so much related to taking care of the baby, as much as the paperwork involved and which types of support from the government you were eligible for. There’s only so much research you can do beforehand - and surprising things would constantly pop up.

1. Size matters, apparently.

Everyone is constantly shocked whenever they see our baby. The first reaction is the mandatory: “Aww, kawaii!”, followed by asking how old he is. Whether the answer was 2 months, 3 months or now 5 months - everyone was always left in disbelief given his size. Myself being Swedish and my wife Japanese, our baby ended up being more or less your average European sized baby which, turns out, is much larger than Japanese babies. Meeting up with my wife's friends and their kids would also be a little bit jarring as our baby would be comparable in size to someone 6 or 7 months older. A fun observation that never seizes to surprise people.

2. Government support.

Coming from a socialist and highly taxed country like Sweden, I’ve always been used to a very high level of governmental support both in terms of healthcare, child support, pregnancy/childbirth and everything that comes with that. Hearing certain anecdotes from friends who have been faced with a similar decision; Should we raise our child back home, or stay in Japan - I definitely understand where they’re coming from now.

From what I gather, the support given by the Government varies from prefecture to prefecture and while they will support you with some of the cost of the actual birth - don’t expect too much else unless you’ve got additional insurance that covers that. It is worth reading up about child support that you may be eligible for, along with maternity leave which might differ slightly to what you’re used to back home.

3. Family-in-law.

I’ve always heard that many Asian cultures value family greatly, but experiencing it first-hand left me in awe. My family-in-law spoiled us like no other and have been a tremendous support throughout this strange and exciting time in our lives. Somehow managing to insert themselves into our lives without intruding or ever feeling like it was too much was a blessing. Everyone’s experience will vary on this one, but I’m genuinely happy and impressed by how invested they are in their newest grandchild. It goes without saying that our little one would’ve been looked after and spoiled back home as well, but not even close to as much.

It has been an interesting ride so far, and I can’t wait to see where this leads us.