The following was submitted as part of a contribution to a The Atlantic report on Japanese children being independent, my comments didn't make it. Here is a link to the Atlantic article. It was written a month ago and is still in the top five on their citylab page. I just missed that one!
My doctoral dissertation was on the differences between Japan and America in relation to how they choose partners for marriage or one night stands. As an international school counselor that lived in Japan for four years, I witnessed the phenomenon of children marching to school like ants wearing their unique hats and uniforms that change based on the season. The majority of Japanese children walk to their nearby schools. Neighborhood roads are quite narrow, and most school districts do not use a bus. An older child escorts children and community members or moms are often at the street corners to stop traffic. For students that attend private schools further from the neighborhood, they take the public trains and buses that are prevalent in most towns and cities. In a country that has its elderly walking and riding bikes, it is normal for people to be walking and taking public transportation. Fathers are off to work around the same time as young children are headed to schools. If a family has a car, the mother keeps it during the day.
Fathers do not play a role in the household; they are primarily the breadwinners coming home late in the evenings. They may only see their children at the breakfast table and on Sundays. The mother is up early to prepare breakfast for the father and the children, and then she spends her day shopping and hanging out with the other school moms. She may have a home business. Children are raised to not be an inconvenience to their parents, and Japanese society has a belief that hard work builds character. Children walking to school and learning to be independent fits with their cultural norms. There is virtually no reported crime in Japan, so it is perfectly safe for children to walk the streets to and from school. Adult supervision of children is not rigid in public places. When they act like children they are told how their actions affect the people around them, and to be less of a baby. They perform tasks independently, but that is not a real indication of their independence, it's more like conditioning. Japanese children are taught to act adult so they do not reflect poorly on their parents.
While it may seem that kids are much more independent than in American or other Western cultures, the reality is that Japanese mothers are more overbearing and micro-managing than Western mothers. They are nose wiping and co-sleeping with their children until their teenage years. Because the Japanese marriage becomes mostly sexless once children are born, mothers have only one consistent source for emotional validation, their children.
Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist
photo credit here