Out of Japan: Rising Sun colours view of foreign lands

TOKYO - European and American children generally paint the sun yellow in their youthful art works. Japanese children, however, paint it red.

They probably don't realise why, but it is largely because the red sun is an omnipresent national symbol, appearing on the Rising Sun flag. In isolation, such cultural differences are not important - until a child from one culture is transferred to another.

Children tend to have fairly fixed views on things like the colour of the sun, as they do on the fair distribution of dessert helpings or the rules for hide and seek. So for a child who has been brought up painting the sun red to be confronted with others who paint the sun yellow, the experience is likely to be unsettling, to say the least.

But for Yoshiko Otsuka, a counsellor in Tokyo who helps Japanese children prepare for a stint abroad, the sun's colour disparity is something that can be turned around to help her young charges adapt to European or American life.

'I say to them: 'Hey, isn't that interesting?' and try to let them see it is not wrong, but just different, and that it is OK to be different,' she says.

Learning that it is 'OK to be different' is a particular novelty in Japan, where schools go out of their way to press everyone into the same mould.

Conforming, learning by rote, and adhering to the group are promoted as virtues.

'Japanese culture tries to persuade us we are all the same. But it is just not true,' said Ms Otsuka, who has a masters degree in counselling from Columbia University in New York.

Ms Otsuka set up the Intercultural Counselling Institute in Tokyo in 1986, and since then has been running courses for children whose families are being transferred overseas - usually because of the father's work. As the number of overseas subsidiaries of Japanese corporations has increased over the past decade, so too has the number of Japanese living overseas.

Some 660,000 Japanese citizens live outside the country, according to the Foreign Ministry. And whereas in the past fathers would often go overseas on their own, leaving their children and wives in Japan, these days more and more families are travelling together.

Expatriate life is fraught with problems and potentially embarrassing situations. For the parents, the principal fear concerns language, since the teaching of spoken English or other foreign languages is notoriously poor in Japan. But for children the means of communication is less worrying.

'The main fear of most of the children I work with is whether they will be able to make friends in the foreign country,' said Ms Otsuka. 'Compared to their parents, their concerns are very positive.'

Ms Otsuka holds three two- hour sessions with the children before they leave Japan, during which she tries to give them a few ideas on starting a new life in a foreign country.

At the first session, for example, she pairs the children off - most are strangers to each other - and tells them to get to know each other. But they are not allowed to speak. There are a variety of toys, ropes, blackboards and paper cut-outs in the room, which the children can use. After some time, Ms Otsuka sits everyone down and gets them to relate their experiences.

'A typical response might be: 'I gave her a paper cut-out, she smiled, and we became friends'.' Ms Otsuka says. 'I use the fact that they are strangers among themselves, and when it is all over, I tell them this was a practice, and how much easier it will be when they try it again after going abroad.'

The older the children, the more difficult it is to get them to open up. At kindergarten level, everyone just plays together, with no concern for race or language. From the age of 11 or 12 onwards, self-consciousness begins to develop, and the children are afraid of losing face.

'It is difficult to make mistakes at that age,' says Ms Otsuka with a smile.

But often the most intractable problems are the fears of the parents, which the children simply reflect in their own behaviour.

'We Japanese are brought up not to speak freely in front of other people,' Ms Otsuka says. 'Often when mothers come to me to discuss their children's fears of going overseas, in fact, they are talking about themselves.'

Adults, it seems, find it even harder to accept that the sun can be either yellow or red.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?