Who me? Was I a kahogo mom? My daughter and I were touring the after-school care center she’d be attending. She was in first grade and I was a working mother. The local government ran these gakudō kurabu so that kids didn’t have to be home alone after school got out. They accomodated first through third graders. Any child older than that was on their own. And this Gakudō Club made sure they were ready to be on their own by then.
They were just getting ready to have oyatsu and invited us to sit down with them. We were served glasses of cold tea by a second grade boy. Some of the girls were peeling the ringo that we’d eat. Yes, you read that right. In Japan apples always get peeled and a knife is used to do it, hopefully in one strip as you’d go round and round. And there in front of our eyes CHILDREN were using knives.
“Oh, doesn’t Shana know how to use a knife to peel an apple?” asked one worker.
“She’s SIX,” I wanted to respond indignantly. Instead I just murmured something about different customs. We’d just moved back to Japan after three years in America.
My daughter was wide-eyed at that one. And she could see these kids were really takumashii.
After we had our snack it was time for chores. Another surprise. The kids went in to clean the bathrooms!
The head of the center explained to me that these kids had two working parents so they needed to learn life skills so that they could help around the house. There was no coddling here of either children or parents. They were raising self-sufficient kids. Everything they did was based on learning a skill. So different from after-school care in America where kids were more apt to get extras such as art lessons or drama.
The children would go home at 6 PM. Parents did not pick up their kids. Some parents still wouldn’t be home, but the kids all had house keys. The kids walked home, often in the dark. They’d walk in groups, dropping each kid at their home and cheerfully saying goodbye. As luck, or no luck would have it, my daughter lived the furthest from the center and would be walking the last three blocks by herself. Gulp.
The second furthest away was another first grade onna no ko. Her mother was divorced so it was just the two of them. And her mother worked late, so sometimes she’d come back with my daughter. One evening she announced that she’d cook bangohan for the four of us (my son was two years old at the time). A six year old was offering to cook dinner for us… Okay.
And she did. Eggs, I think, and maybe a salad. She managed the whole thing on her own without my help. Very sugoi! My own daughter was amazed.
Now, what can we learn from this? I tried hard not to coddle my children and they both did their own laundry from the time they were in first grade or so. When my son went off to daigaku he was shocked that there were students that had never done sentaku before and didn’t know how to use a washing machine.
And this is just another reason why I am so deeply grateful that I got to raise my kids in two different cultures!
- kahogo – 過保護 overprotective
- gakudō kurabu – 学童クラブ after school care for kids with working parents
- oyatsu – おやつ a snack, used mostly for children. Adults might take a midafternoon break and call it “osanji” or a “3 o’clock.”
- ringo – りんご apple
- takumashii – たくましい strong, capable, sturdy
- onna no ko 女の子 - girl
- bangohan – 晩ご飯 dinner
- sugoi – すごい amazing
- daigaku – 大学 college or university
- sentaku – 洗濯 laundry