Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Breastfeeding in Japan

I have been reading lots of parenting blogs and forums lately. I happened to stumble on one where a few non-Japanese people were wondering about breastfeeding in public in Japan. They wanted to know if it was legal, if people commonly did it, and if they could conveniently travel around or live in Japan with a young, breastfed baby.

I was very surprised to read replies along the lines of:

2007/3/24 08:45
Why would you breastfeed publicly anywhere? Its not that is bad, because, you know, you have to love him and take care of him, but its not... right. If you wouldn't expose yourself without out a baby, you shouldn't expose your self with one, it's not an excuse. Breastfeeding should be practiced only at home, in privacy. But that's what I think, its just my opinion, you don't have to take my word for it.

how to breastfeed in public
2007/3/24 09:54
Breastfeeding can be done in public, and is accepted by many people in Japan. The baby can't possibly wait until (s)he gets home!
But as a courtesy to people :) you can ask around for private rooms to breastfeed your child. For example, department stores and airports almost always have breastfeeding rooms. Shinkansen trains also have breastfeeding rooms nowadays, but if not, the conductor can surrender his room while you breastfeed.

2007/3/24 12:33
i think you'll get discusted looks ANYWHERE no offense, but it's just not something you should do in public anywhere.

2007/3/24 12:34
if your baby can't wait to eat baby bottling your breat-milk would be best.

it is okay
2007/3/24 13:34
Unlike some of the posters here, most people are mature and sensible and will prefer that you see to the needs of your baby. Babies need to be fed often and you do not need to hide at home simply because you are breastfeeding. If someone is offended, think of it as their problem, and pity them for not understanding what the real purpose of the breast is. Usually the same people who are inclined to complain about breastfeeding in public are the very same individuals who are likely to object to a baby's crying.

2007/3/24 13:36
you're right. i don't like babys crying in public, i dont like babys that much. i think a mother should know it's rude not to keep her child calm.
oh i am evil *rolls eyes*

2007/3/24 13:56
In my experience, it is extremely rare to see mothers breastfeeding in public in Japan, and when you do, it is often foreign women.
As many places do seem to have baby-feeding rooms these days, I suggest you do what the Japanese do and use these where possible.

I asked my Japanese friend about laws specifically regarding breastfeeding in Japan, and she said that she couldn't find any concrete info about laws.  She said that the previous generation was much less squeamish about public breastfeeding.  She mentioned seeing a photo of her aunt feeding her cousin without covering up and no one was bothered by it, so much so that she didn't even (obviously) cover up for the photo.  

My baby is now seven months old and she still breastfeeds. We decided to breastfeed her because I have the ability to do so and the facts show that it is unequivocally the healthiest choice for the baby. Besides that, it is convenient (when I'm out with the baby, there are no hassles about washing bottles, carrying formula, finding warm water), eco-friendly, and free. Now that I am working full-time, it has become a much bigger hassle, and it would be a lot easier to switch to formula. I have to lug my breast-pump to work and back with me every day on the crowded bus and every time I get a spare moment I have to go lock myself in a room and hook myself up to a pumping machine like a cow. I usually have to pump two times to get enough for one feeding, because the pump is not as effective as a baby at getting the milk out. In fact, if I didn't know that it was the best choice for our baby, I definitely would have given up pumping milk in the second week of work. I really hate pumping. For someone to suggest so cavalierly that if I want to go out with my baby on a Saturday afternoon, I should wake up at 3:00 am to hook myself up to the pump (I can't just pump breast milk during the baby eats everything I make.) is a pretty clear sign that they have never pumped. The other people who suggest (so blasé, like they're the experts) that breastfeeding should be done at home have obviously never been new parents.

My husband and I used to love going out on the weekends, going to parties, movies, playing soccer in the park, and camping with groups of friends on the beach. Guess what? We STILL love doing those things. Having a baby is an intensely isolating experience. You're tired more often than you ever were before. You're worried and stressed out more than you ever thought possible. Going out becomes a logistical nightmare of organizing the baby's nap time with the bus schedule and weather report, packing the baby's diaper bag, grabbing an umbrella (just in case), a blanket, a baby carrier, and some people have strollers and car seats too. It's hard enough getting out of the house, and I should have to add the stress of pumping milk and putting it in a cooler and bringing that with too? Perhaps to avoid offending these people's delicate sensibilities, I should simply stay home all the time? Perhaps baby and I should never travel farther away from home than 20 minutes so we can make it back home and eat?

The idea that someone would be offended by public breastfeeding is pretty ridiculous anyways. The baby's mouth and head covers the nipple, and you can see less of my breast than many ladies who are wearing even a slightly low-cut top.

As for Japan, this is my experience. My baby was born in October, but it was December before I ever had to feed her in public. I didn't want to leave the house very often with her before that, and when I did, it was only short trips to the grocery store and back. (re: isolating experience) In December, my husband and I had to travel to a nearby town. I decided I was going to feed the baby on the train. It was a much bigger hassle than I thought it would be. The blanket wouldn't stay over my shoulder, the baby kept wiggling and I couldn't see if she was comfortable or eating right with the blanket in the way. However, we figured it out and I have since fed her everywhere. There are often nursing rooms in public buildings and department stores, so that is convenient, and I sometimes use those. When there isn't one of those, I usually use a blanket to cover myself up. The baby bag gets so full with diapers, wipes, toys, bibs, spare change of clothes, burp towels, and etc, that sometimes I forget to pack a blanket. I wear nursing tank tops, so when I pull my shirt up, and my tank top down, everything is still covered and you really can't see anything. There's been plenty of times that people have come up and wanted to see the baby or talk to me and didn't even realize that she was eating until I told them. As it gets hotter out, I'm using the blanket less and less. The baby doesn't really like it and spends her time trying to pull it off rather than eat. It gets pretty hot under there pretty quickly.

I've gone out often with my Japanese friends who also have infants and some of them only use the nursing rooms, while others have no problem feeding their baby anytime and anywhere. I have noticed women feeding their babies in restaurants and parks, too. The nursing rooms often have a large room with a couch for relaxing, and then smaller curtained off rooms for nursing. I've sometimes gone in and all the curtained rooms are full, so I feed the baby on the couch, but I've noticed women who come in and will wait until a curtained off room is free until nursing too.

As I have been writing this blog entry, I've been thinking a lot about the breastfeeding rooms. On the one hand, they are very convenient, and when I'm out alone with the baby, it's nice to be able to dump all my bags and things in the corner and relax on a comfortable couch to feed Cora. On the other hand, I'm rarely out by myself, I'm usually out with my husband or other friends. When I have a free afternoon to go out, I don't want to spend 40 minutes away from my husband or friends walking to the seventh floor of the nearby department store to feed Cora. If I'm alone on the train, I don't want to lug my suitcase through four rickety train cars to get to the breastfeeding room. What I want to do is stay exactly where I am and feed my baby. More and more often, that's what I do.  I haven't noticed anyone giving me looks and no one has said anything negative to me, but I can be pretty oblivious about that sort of that with a grain of salt. 

 Anyhow, that made me think, "What if the existence of these breastfeeding rooms are even more isolating than the absence of them?"  Do women feel pressured to go sit alone in them when they might otherwise stay in the cafe chatting with friends? Do people judge moms for breastfeeding in a restaurant and think, “There's a breastfeeding room just a few blocks away. Why doesn't she leave her husband alone by himself and leave her hot meal and go to the designated room to feed her baby?” I'm lucky that I have an extremely supportive husband who always helps me out when I'm feeding the baby (Or anytime). If it weren't for him assuring me that no one could see my boob, and that no one cared anyway, I might still be schlepping my things three blocks out of the way and missing out on lunchtime to feed Cora in a breastfeeding room rather than discreetly in the restaurant.  In the end, I think the breastfeeding rooms are nice, but as more time passes, I use them less and less.

Oh wait, actually, I mean, in the end, Japan is one of the more baby-friendly countries I've ever lived in and would be a great place to visit, especially if you have a breastfeeding infant.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things I'll Miss About Being an ALT / Things I won't miss about Being an ALT

4 Things I’ll miss about being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan

1-My Japanese is really terrible and I'm pretty shy, so I'm often too shy to strike up conversations with the other teachers at my schools.  However, they have been super friendly and when I make a tentative effort, they ignore my terrible Japanese, try to figure out what I'm saying and get to know me.  When I meet people outside of work, they often want to talk about differences between Japan and America.  Anyone who's lived in Japan any amount of time has answered "What surprised you about Japan?" or "Why are you in Japan?" about a million times.  Per year.  However, when I talk with the other teachers at my schools, we can talk about the school lunch, hobbies, our kids, and just have normal conversations about things we have in common rather than things that make us different. 

2-Sports Day – This is a fun day where the students run relay races, go through obstacle courses and learn sports/dance routines to perform.  They practice all week and it takes place on a Sunday so everyone's families can come watch and cheer. 

3-It's a great paying wage for the level of work required and stress level. My husband and I lived off of one paycheck and sent the other one home to pay off our student loans and we never wanted for anything.  (Well, I wanted a pet giraffe--still waiting on that.)   There's no work to take home, no extra work days, no overtime. In fact, most days, you have an hour or two free to read a book or study Japanese.  Sometimes, like end-of-semester testing or the week long lead-up to Sports day, you can have whole days with no classes and nothing to do.   I always kept myself busy reading books, studying Japanese, or writing my novel. 

4-The students can be a lot of fun.  They say funny things, they're goofy, they're excited when you come to class, most of them like English and they're interested in learning about the world.  That's the greatest thing about being an ALT. 

6  I Won’t miss about being an ALT!

1-Most of the teachers we work with have never been abroad and have no idea how to work with foreigners.  Even after 10 years of having ALTs in the classroom, they don’t know how to work together to plan lessons, they can’t speak English with you, and they don't know how to use you to enrich the students' English education experience.

2-Most of the teachers will occasionally teach incorrect English vocabulary and often (usually) teach incorrect pronunciation.  I’ve spent 20 minutes drawing diagrams on the board of how to correctly shape your mouth, demonstrating, having students repeat and finally getting the whole class to correctly pronounce English sounds, only to have the teacher say dismissively, “English is hard, so we just say it this way.”  Then they write the word, math on the board as masu and just have the students say it with Japanese pronunciation.

3-Peeing in winter....There isn’t any central heating/cooling in the schools.  The various rooms have heaters in them that you can turn on only during class times.  This means that all the rooms are freezing in winter for the first 10 minutes of class.  (They turn off the heaters in between classes and then open the windows.) It also means that in winter the bathrooms are freezing cold. There’s nothing worse than peeing in a freezing cold room on a freezing cold toilet with your bulky winter coat on.

4-Students don’t seem to understand that English is a language.  It’s no more mysterious or hilarious than that.   They shout “HELLO!” at you ten times in a row in the hallway.  They laugh when you ask their friend, “How are you?” They hear things like “Shut up!” or “Oh my God!” on their TV shows and shout them in class at the teacher. They laugh hilariously when you ask them to speak English like it's a big joke. 

5-School lunch- Often, your rice is cold and your milk is warm from sitting out for 30 minutes before you eat it.   There are all sorts of foods that I think are gross.   Raw cabbage with tiny inch-long dried fish.  Soup with slimy seaweed. Liver with gross sauce on it. Fish with their stomachs full of eggs.  Sometimes it can be good!  Curry and rice.  Tofu soup with veggies.  Grilled fillet of fish. Yogurt with fruit…..but when it’s bad, it’s bad and all you can do is be hungry till 4:30. Most Japanese teachers will just eat all their lunch weather they like it or not.  I didn't grow up for nothing though.  If I don’t like it, I don’t eat it.  I give everything the good old college try, but if it’s gross, I don’t eat it. This can be frustrating, especially when you’re pregnant.  People loved trying to boss me around and get me to eat all the food on my plate like I was 7 years old. “Liver is good for the baby!  You should eat it!”  I don’t care how good it is for the baby, I’m not eating it!  (They don’t take prenatal vitamins like we do in the states, so it is a bit more important for them to eat a balanced meal.  I tried to eat as healthy as I could, but it was nice knowing that my vitamins could take up the slack if I didn't get enough folic acid one day.)

6-I was spread very thin over two schools.  I was the only Assistant English Teacher for all three grades of two middle schools, meaning I had a total of 875 students.  I didn't get to know any of my students, they didn't get to know me, and I wasn't able to tailor lessons to their exact needs or see any of their progress.  The novelty of having a "foreigner" teacher was never able to wear away, so I was never there to be their English teacher, I was there to be a "foreigner."