Supporting foreign fathers in Japan
Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Eric Hora, is originally from the US, Ohio. He is the founder of the Facebook Group “Dads in Japan” and also the founder of Hora Coaching which concentrates on helping expat families to have a better quality of life.Eric himself just became a dad recently. He has lived in or around Tokyo for about 9 years.
Eric, how did you come up with an idea of the facebook group “dads in Japan"?
It seemed like a really obvious thing. There are tons of groups that are focused on mom, so it felt like this was an obvious hole that needed to be filled. Also I thought it would be a great way to build up my support group too.
Does it have to do anything with the coaching you offer?
My coaching is about moving towards your goals with confidence and clarity, all while having a balanced life. I think there is this idea that when you have a kid, you have to put your life on pause and sacrifice everything to parenting. I really do not like the idea of that and I don’t think it healthy. Sure, you need to be realistic and realize that some goals you’re working towards may take long after having a child, but it is very important that you keep working on your goals and moving forward with your own life. My style of coaching helps with that.
What do you think is different for foreign dads in Japan?
I think one thing that is difficult is that in Japan, people will usually talk to the mom first. Even if the dad is there the conversation will be directed towards the mom. I think this is exacerbated if the dad is a foreigner.
How is it especially difficult for foreign dads?
I think this is a bit for any international couple, but if the dad isn't home much, there’s a good chance your child will be stronger in the mothers language. Especially in Japan, since there is still a high percentage of dads who work and moms who stay home, I feel like this really can be felt. If you are not so good at Japanese and your kids end up speaking it most of the time, it can feel like there is a bit of a gap between you and them. I feel that worry myself a bit. My wife speaks German to our son and my German is not great. It is something that I need to make sure I work on because I do not want to be left out of conversations just because I didn't put enough into studying the language.
What are some differences you noticed between Japanese and foreign dads? How have you experience the roles of Japanese dads?
I don't know if I have really noticed a difference. I mean, you always hear stories about how uninvolved Japanese men are in bringing up their children, and my feeling is that foreign dads are more involved than the typical Japanese dad. Honestly though, I would say most of the dads I know, Japanese or foreigner, try to be involved as much as they can be. I feel I notice a bigger difference in the couple dynamic. A lot of time when I go to my coworkers place it does feel like the wife is mostly just trying to help serve us and doesn’t really join in on the conversation much… that is a bit awkward to be honest.
From my perspective there is a lot of focus on the moms, which is of course very good, since they are giving birth, but at the same time, it often seems to me that we don’t talk about the dads at all. What do you think?
I agree that having a lot of focus on the mom when they’re pregnant is super important, and if they’re breastfeeding after birth that is something that needs a ton of support too. I also agree that dads aren’t talked about as much. I feel that basic childcare material is mostly written for moms and dads are not talked to as often. If you list all of the things that need to be done in order to take care of a child, the only thing I cant do is breastfeeding. Sounds guess I feel a little sad when I am reading a book that has really good content, but yet I feel like I'm not included in it.
How can Dads manage work and life balance? How can they still support their partner and how can they take time for their new role as a dad? Is it feasible at all?
I guess I will answer the last question first, is it feasible at all? I totally think it is, but one of the most important things to ask yourself is what do you want your life to look like? If you do not know what you want your life to look like, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for you to get there. But by creating a clear picture and knowing what you want, it will be much easier to get there. It’s also important to check in with yourself from time to time to see if your thoughts on what a balanced life looks like has changed.
As for supporting your partner, I think being proactive is the best thing you can be doing to support your partner and make sure you have a good relationship with them. What I mean by that is asking them what they need from you before they feel they need to ask you for something, and if there is something that you know needs to be done, and you have the space for it, to just do it. For example there’re times when my wife is super tired, so if my son wakes up at 6 am, I’ll just take him downstairs and play with him or let him kick around on his play mat for a while so my wife can get some more sleep. She does things like that for me all the time too. That happens because we check in with each other everyday to see how the other slept, so if I know I’ve slept better than her recently I make an extra effort to try and make sure she gets her rest. And then I don’t wait for her to ask me, or ask her if she wants me, to take Robin downstairs I just do it.
What have you noticed are one of the biggest challenges to overcome as a foreign family here in Japan? What would be one or two of your hot tips for expat families you could share now with us?
If both of you are expats I think language is the biggest challenge. Especially if you don’t have confidence talking about child care or things children need for school because you’ve never had to talk about them before in Japanese, that can lead to some challenges.
My two tips, first, try to find a support group and friends as soon as you can. It’s so important to have people you can talk to, lean on, and just have fun with. If you don’t have that it’s easy to feel isolated and not enjoy your time in Japan. The second one would be learn about the culture. That way you can minimize culture shock, understand why people may act some ways, and what Japan “expects of you”. Now that doesn’t mean you have to start acting exactly like a Japanese person, but just learning about the culture will help you navigate Japan and have more confidence.
How can you help expat families? How much do you charge?
There’re many ways I can help. If families do need help navigating life on Japan I can help with that, but as I said before, I mainly work with people to work towards their goals. It can be a family related goal, like better communication with their partner, or more career oriented. I help my clients get clarity around their goals, and then develop a path so they can move along that path with confidence.
So my coaching is tailored to the individual. The price will vary depending on how often they want to meet, how long they want coaching and a few other factors. I offer a complimentary discovery session to best understand the clients needs and how to best support them before recommending the right package 😉
You are a father since three months, what was the most challenging part so far?
The constant balancing of stress, emotions and reactions. There is no way around it, parenting is a lot. There are a lot of emotions going, lots of new things to learn, things take longer, and it can feel as if there's always something to do. I only recently realized that I was putting a large amount of unnecessary pressure on myself that was leading to a lot of stress and affecting my interactions with Laura. As you know the idea that the women take care of the children and the father goes and provides for the family is still really strong in Japan. It always feels like if the dad just shows up or takes the kids to the park he is considered a "good dad". And that just doesn't sit well with me. I hate that dads aren't held to a higher standard and eventually I realized that I had put this pressure on myself that I had to "prove I was a good dad". And that lead to me reacting defensively anytime Laura said that we needed to do something. I would react defensively because I was subconsciously interpreting her as saying that I did not fulfill "my duties", but all she was doing was stating something that needed to be done. When I came to the realization of what I was doing it felt really silly. It really showed me how important it is to have an open conversation where you don’t let your dictate your responses. So that has been the most challenging thing for me. And I have to say I’m happy I found that out as soon as I did. I feel like that would be something that could lead to a lot of conflict in a relationship later on.