Being Baba: Parenting and the Japanese art of shitsuke

The Dictionary of Folklore says shitsuke is "the putting into the body of a child the arts of living and good manners in order to create a good grown up person". It also translates to "do without being told".

By Mihir Joshi

I’ve always found Japanese culture fascinating – their history, the food they eat, the places, the way they live and most recently, after becoming a parent, the way they raise their kids. I love collecting statues of DC, Marvel and Star Wars characters; a Japanese company that makes them shows me that their neatness and attention to detail is absolutely incredible.

So what brought this to my attention recently? I walked into a Japanese store for baby products in Andheri recently and was absolutely blown away. Their senior manager, a Japanese gentleman, greeted me with their trademark politeness and gave me a tour.

I’ll tell you why I was truly impressed. Sakura has a lot of products we see in India and a few that I had never seen, but the underlying connecting thread is something that I spoke about before – the incredible attention to detail!

This got me thinking about an article I read a while ago by an American journalist who spent a fair amount of time in the country. He mentioned that no matter where he went every toddler or child he saw in Japan was so well-behaved. His own kids would scream and shout and run around in a restaurant but if ever there was a Japanese family around, their kids sat like perfect little angels who calmly ate their food and smiled at the parents.

That got me thinking. Have you seen any Japanese kids in a movie or a TV show or travel videos? Think back! I can bet they were amazingly well behaved. Why is that the case?! I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Surely there was something the parents did right that ensured that the kids grew up so nicely and that’s when I came across this word – shitsuke!

Also Read| Why peaceful parenting is better than traditional parenting

The Dictionary of Folklore says shitsuke is “the putting into the body of a child the arts of living and good manners in order to create a good grown up person”. It also translates to “do without being told”.

It is well-planned and executed not just on a personal but social level as well, where the entire community expects children to be well-behaved and disciplined. In my opinion it truly has to be on a larger scale. If you and everyone around you wants a better quality of life, you will all work together to achieve that.

So how do the Japanese parents manage this seemingly impossible task?

Parents practice attachment parenting, something my wife Neha and I are also working on with our son Neil. Simple things like babywearing or co-sleeping or just spending meaningful time with their kids. This helps build closeness and a sense of respect in children from a very early age.

Despite this, the Japanese reportedly make sure their kids are independent from a very young age. Kids go to school by themselves and are even taught how to use public transport. They believe that their neighbours and the community can be trusted and that is true because people in general are trustworthy and work towards helping each other in their communities.

Parents culturally don’t talk or brag about their kids. They think it is poor form to do so but while they don’t brag, they are super competitive and work hard on making sure their kids do well in every way.

Parents teach their children from a very young age about restraint. Teaching your kids about peace and harmony in the early years is very important. It teaches them that tantrums and random outbursts will not be tolerated, and they learn early on about being well-behaved. Rewarding good behaviour with kind words and actions goes a long way with children.

Family time is important. Storytelling, sharing of myths and cultural tales, going out into nature and spending quality time away from technology helps a lot. This is something we can do as well with the rich culture that Indian mythology has and while we may not have pristine parks in our busy cities, we can certainly plan trips outside the city and spend some quality time with our kids.

And finally, food! Preparing food for children and ensuring they eat well and eat healthy should be a priority for us as it is for Japanese parents. We don’t really need to introduce chocolates or biscuits or other processed items in our kids’ lives. Childhood obesity is such a major worry in urban India right now and bad food habits are the main cause of that. Rewarding your kid with chocolates or candy for good behaviour is the worst thing you can do. Keep them away from bad food and a lot of problems will automatically disappear.

Incredible, isn’t it? Seems simple but it all needs to be actually practiced. When I read about all this it really motivated me to do better with Neil. We all want the best for our kids and I think if we just take that extra effort and put in that attention to detail that Japanese people do, not just in their products but also in their lives, I don’t see any reason why our kids won’t turn out like little angels too.

(The writer is a singer-his debut album Mumbai Blues won the GIMA Award for Best Rock Album in 2015-hosts his own talk show-The MJ Show and does live Hindi commentary for WWE. Follow him on twitter @mihirjoshimusic)

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