This month we meet one of the KA Blog and Facebook team, Jennifer.
Hi everyone, I’m Jennifer Chau. I live in Tokyo with my husband, Jason, and our two daughters, Ellie and Kaylie. Both my husband and I are Chinese Americans born and raised in California.
Touchdown: the why, when, where and hows of your being in Japan.
Jason and I met in California while attending university. We didn’t start dating until after graduation. We moved to Japan in August 2006 and have been here since. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would one day be moving and living in Japan, I would have given you a funny look and laughed. Coming to Japan was never part of my plans for the future, much less living here.
I grew up in a very tight knit Chinese family and would never go a month without seeing my extended family at least once a week. I even attended a university that was an hours drive home just so I can see my grandparents whenever they needed me. Jason’s family is also in California so being near family was always something I thought we would have even after we got married. So why are we in Japan, 5458 miles away from everyone? Simply put, Jason is the reason we are in Japan.
Jason has had an interest in moving and working in Japan since his early university days. He applied for JET but was rejected. Even after he graduated and had started working, living in Japan was always a goal he had wanted to achieve. He had already quit his job and was starting to make plans to move to Japan when we began dating. I was at a weird place careerwise during that time so I took the chance to learn Japanese when I decided to go back to school for a second time (I’m still not very fluent unfortunately).
Then things between us got really serious and Jason told me that he was willing to give up his Japan dreams so that we can get married and live close to our families. I was really touched that he was going to sacrifice the dreams he had been working so hard to achieve just so I can be happy. In response, I applied to the Temple University, Japan (TUJ) study abroad program to see if I can help him achieve his dreams of living in Japan. Things became a big blur to me after I was accepted into the program. We were married several months after I was accepted into the program and a month after that, we packed our stuff and moved to Tokyo.
We were originally planning to be here for a year but Jason found a great job in Tokyo 7 months after moving here and so we decided that it would probably be better to stay here a few more years until the economy in the US was better. That’s how we ended up here 7 years, 2 kids later. As for how long we plan to stay, to be honest, I really don’t know. I would like to move back to California one day but every time we visit family in California, I find myself longing to be back in Tokyo more and more (except in the summer).
Being away from my family is perhaps the hardest thing for me but with the economy in it’s current state, everyone is now a bit more spread out in the US. We try to go home at least once a year and spend Christmas with Jason’s parents and my sister and her family though.
Your feelings about being a parent in Japan.
Being a parent has always been something really foreign to me. I’m not a “kid-friendly” person. Just ask my family and they would all agree that I never had a maternal bone in my body. However, now that I’m a mom to two beautiful little girls, I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
I never had any expectations of what it would be like to be a parent in the US or in Japan. I do find that there are certain things easier in Japan and some that are easier in California. Overall, I do find it a bit easier to raise kids in Tokyo compared to Los Angeles (where I’m from). Breastfeeding in public seem to be a lot more welcomed here than in LA. A lot of the places here have nursing rooms and changing tables in public bathrooms, making it easier for me to go out with my kids. I tend to get glares whenever I feed my kids at restaurants back in LA and not all bathrooms have changing areas either (I know from experience. Poo explosion at a Cheesecake Factory resulted in lots of angry looks while I tried to wash baby off in the women’s bathroom.)
I also enjoy carrying my baby around more than using a stroller or car seat. Both Jason and I hate driving (LA traffic is one of the worst) so being able to take public transportation is pure joy for us. The downside to public transportation is that it’s not as easy to maneuver or as quick when you have a stroller so carrying our kids has been a necessity for us.
My kids are still too young so we haven’t reached the elementary school stage yet. International school might have been an option if we only had one kid but with two, we decided that we’re going to try sending them to a Japanese school instead. Jason is optimistic about the system but I’m a bit more wary. We do live in a more international area so the chances of the Japanese school we send our kids to being more “international” is higher.
One of the strangest things that I find about being a parent here is how calm parents are when their kids run off in public. When I’m back in LA, I can never feel that sense of calm because of kidnappings, shootings, etc that seem to happen a lot. My sister and I had kids around the same time so whenever we visit, we tend to go out to the zoo or kid friendly places so our kids can play together. We are constantly on alert and making sure that our kids are not out of our sights, especially if a place is crowded. However, in Tokyo, I’ve gone to places and playdates where kids can run off and play with each other and the mom’s would be chatting away without the constant worry that their kid has gone missing. It’s actually nice to be able to not worry all the time but also a bit strange how relaxed they seem.
Working Life: Do you work? How do you manage your family? Necessity or choice?
I use to work part time at an international school as an IT technician before I had my 2nd baby. I prefer part time since it gives me a chance to work on my own art projects since I was studying art at TUJ. These days, I’m making less art and spending more time with housework and taking care of my family. If I could, I’d love to go back to work again but probably in a different field. As much as I like working with computers, I’ve always wanted to do something more with my art. I guess we’ll see what happens.
Three random Questions
I have a blog, hamster-central.com, where I write about my family in Tokyo but I haven’t been really good at keeping up with it as often as I use to. I also just started a new blog project with my younger sister at 5458miles.com, which is a photography collaboration between the two of us.
Thanks for reading!
Mum to three very loud boys and wife to a patient Japanese man, I'm Australian and moved to the Kansai area in 2012. Aside from navigating all the craziness of being a mum in another country, I work semi-full time and try to keep my sanity! Of course I clean but I don't cook!