Raising Jamaican children in Japan
Kerry with children Taiyu and Kaiza.

MY four-year-old and I are walking up a hill on a cold winter evening. We walk up this hill lined with apartment buildings every day, so there's no longer anything special about it for me, and I presume, nothing remarkable for him. Maybe it's this evening or a previous time or all the previous times, I think how quiet the area is, even though it's an hour many families would be returning home. In the middle of the afternoon, this hill can reasonably be called dead. Now, it's quiet. Lights are on in windows, whiffs of dinner emerge, but there is really no sound to speak of. There are signs of life, but you can't really hear them. I'm thinking or have thought how somewhere in Jamaica it's definitely not quiet, even though it's around 4:00 am there. There are a few places in Jamaica right now, I imagine, where sound fills every pocket of air.

As I linger in this space between disparate worlds, my son, as children are known to do, asks a question that seems to come from nowhere. Why is it called Green Hill? That's the translated name of our neighbourhood. Why isn't it pink hill? Or orange hill or, haha, red hill? I said, "Well, you know there's a place called Red Hills in Jamaica. It's well known, and there's a Red Hill where I grew up. Do you even know where mommy is from, baby? I'm from a place called Victoria Town or Queen Town, or actually most people say Kwin Town. Anyway, there's a Red Hill there, Redil we call it." At this point, the child runs off and leaves me. But somewhere in the middle of my awkward geography lesson/autobiographical account, I think: There I go again shoving myself down his throat.

Unfortunately, I cannot help myself. I am seized from time to time by what the young folks call FOMO - fear of missing out. Not for me. For my two children (four and two) not growing up in Jamaica where I'm from, but in Japan where we live. Actually, it's more often than from time to time. It's constantly on my mind. Complicating things is that they are Japanese, too, by way of their father. They do, of course, need to appreciate their Japanese heritage. But I tell myself there must be something I can do to get in some of the Jamaicanness that they're missing out on. Hence the shoving.

Apart from ad lib streetside geo lessons, I try to show them videos or pictures. I've tried everything from dancehall videos to cartoons and newscasts. One day, as I watched an animated series not meant for children, my son came into the room and said, no, not the Jamaican one. At least he recognised it was Jamaican, right?

Taiyu, 4, and Kaiza, 2 at play.

One of his favourite books is a story of the letters of the alphabet climbing a coconut tree. He once asked me about some feature of coconut trees that I can't recall now, and I thought: How sad, the poor thing has never seen a coconut tree. Because of his obsession with this picture book I'd tried showing him videos of people climbing coconut trees on YouTube, just to spark a little interest in the real thing, you know. We once went to an amusement park of sorts that had some tall palm-looking trees and the child exclaimed, "Jamaica!" Anyway, whatever he asked about coconut trees that night made it clear to me that he needed some proper information. Time for more shoving. "Oh honey, when I was a little girl I had my own coconut tree. Oh you know what, hold on, I'm gonna show you some coconut trees." It was around 10:00 at night in Japan, 8:00 am in Jamaica. I called my cousin at the family home. I said please show us the coconut trees. There they were in that radiant Jamaican sunshine (it always looks radiant, never hot, when you're overseas). Maybe 10 coconut trees in my yard and my son has never seen a tree. But after about 30 seconds he asked if the letters were in the tree. And what colour they were. "No honey, there are only coconuts in the trees. And they're all green. Well I think some of them might be yellow or brown. Do you know that they have different colours?"

Why do I consider this shoving necessary? It could very well be so I'm not the only weirdo around here. Japan is often cited as being racially and culturally homogenous. I stand out. Some assimilation does occur, but I am who I am and sometimes cultural differences are pronounced. It would be great to have more people on my team. But it's also because the shoving, I hope, will help them to understand who they are. Importantly, there are aspects of Jamaican culture that could benefit anyone. And there were many fun things in my childhood that I would love for them to have.

Sure foreign has parks, and the children have fun when they run up and down in bowls of dust and concrete (or expanses of grass) and swing on swings with hard plastic seats and iron chains. But no park compares to mango bush or a swing with a wooden seat roped to a rooted tree. There is just a sadness I feel when I know all they are missing. I might not be in Jamaica, but I am still Jamaican after all. There are things I can impart from myself, with the help of a few tools. Some of the most obvious are the language, music, and food. I can try to make the best of what I have.

So little by little I will intentionally "Jamaicanise" my children. Some things they will pick up naturally, but they spend eight hours in Japanese day care. They can go weeks without seeing another black person, let alone a Jamaican. Some shoving is absolutely necessary.

Kerry Furukawa recently gave up full-time employment to have more time with her family. A Jamaican living in Japan, she has hopes of contributing to the wider parenting discussion.

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