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Bilingual Child Rearing: An American Couple, Formerly in Japan

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Bilingual Child Rearing: An American Couple, Formerly in Japan

Bilingual Child Rearing: An American Couple, Formerly in Japan

Sara Edwards

33, Houston Texas

Housewife. Hometown: Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Worked in the financial industry post-graduation, married 2007. Accompanied husband in the US military on his stationing in Japan, spending three years at Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture from 2012 where she gave birth to a boy and a girl at the military base hospital. Even after returning to Houston in 2015, the family continues to passionately study the Japanese language and has a collection of over 200 Japanese picture books. The photo shows Sara with her handmade English-to-Japanese flashcards.

By Sara's side is her three-year-old son Eli. The image on the picture book reads “shimauma” and “zebra” and when Sara presses the image, a lively voice answers “SHIMAUMA.” Thanks to this book, although he cannot yet read Japanese, Eli is able to remember the names of his favorite animals and vehicles, and his four-year-old sister Seyshelle can say the Japanese terms with expert pronunciation. The siblings take lessons from Japanese instructors for two to three hours a day, five days a week.

“Spending three years in Japan as a married couple was filled with surprises and learning experiences,” Sara reflects, “they were truly special  days  in which we cultivated a “perspective of an entirely new world.” She says that the incredible smoothness with which everything runs in Japan made a lasting impression on her: “the railway system always ran exactly on time.” Before her children were born, Sara and her husband often used the train to go on trips, touring the temples of Kyoto and Kamakura, and the Sapporo snow festival. “It’s that my husband has a rule where we devote money to experiences rather than things,” she explains.

The family has steadily collected Japanese children’s books not only from bookstores in Japan, but also from Japanese residents in Houston. Amongst their numerous children’s books, Seyshelle and Eli’s favorite Hajimete Zukan 415 (My first Picture Book #415) has Sara’s number one seal of approval. “Just by looking at it, the book brings up fond memories of Japan. My daughter’s first Japanese word was tanpopo (dandelion), so I always think of happily picking dandelions at the start of spring. Because the book can be enjoyed in this way, I absolutely want beginning Japanese language learners who have experience with Japan to read these books.” Sara continues, watching Eli play with the book, “we are paying our respects to Japan, the country in which our daughter and son were born. Choosing Japanese as our children’s second language came as an obvious choice. We hope that, by acquiring Japanese, our kids will grow up to have confidence and to be open minded toward many other cultures. We’re also hoping they’ll have the possibility to work in Japan or in the world in the future.”

My First Picturebook 415

A Variety of Familiar Things From Which to Understand Japan: A Picture Book That Children and Adults Alike Can Enjoy

There are 57 kinds of Eli’s favorite “rideable things” in this little Hajimete Zukan 415 (My first Picture Book #415). There aren’t any children’s books in America that have such a wealth of information on just one genre like that. And it works together with electronics so you can hear sounds in both languages. My kids are living in the age of smartphones, so they get totally engrossed with pushing buttons (haha). I can’t speak Japanese myself, but I’m able to hear it at home every day, so I can more or less understand the basic Japanese my kids are learning. This picture book not only makes my kids remember vocabulary, but it also teaches them Japanese culture and customs like how amazingly convenient the special delivery service is in Japan.

(Sara Edwards)

Photos and report by Rika Grant. Edited by Yu Fijita. Translated by Devon Lois Duncan.