Not Shinsaibashi shopping street with its eateries and drinkeries but a temple and its cherry blossom not 800m away

Before our trip to Osaka, our daughter could not remember that much about our life in Osaka – only some images of her favourite park and restaurants, her school and school friends, and some key Osaka landmarks – after all she was 2 ½ years old when we moved to Osaka and 5 when we moved back to England.

But one additional thing that she does remember is many people calling her Kawaii (‘cute’) when she with her blond hair but somewhat Asian facial features frolicked around the busy Osaka streets.

Before we arrived in Osaka this time, she was a bit worried that now that she is 7, she would no longer be called kawaii. In my eyes, this would not be the end of the world really. I mean, her passion in life is not beauty pageants, but gymnastics, reading and pugs and she wants to become a vet or an archaeologist and in the case of the latter find something super old and exciting, which she says she wants to bury with me when I die (to which I say that there is no point in burying it with me if she’s just dug it up, but the idea is rather sweet in the context of a 7 year old already worrying about her mother dying one day). But because her vivid memories of people smiling at her, calling her kawaii, taking her photo and talking to her in Japanese on a daily basis, and those memories being one of the only handful of things that she does remember, for her, kawaii is an important association with Osaka.


But she didn’t need to worry. The first night back in Osaka, when we walked through the busy Shinsaibashi area with party goers traipsing around finding their way to their alcohol filled destination while the yakuza (Japanese mafia) men in their black suits, earpieces and stern faces stood on every street corner keeping an eye on the people coming and going to make sure there wasn’t any drunken monkeying around going on (and that hostesses were bringing enough men into hostess clubs and other yakuza business was taking place as per protocol) we walked past the yakuza bouncers, they looked at her and with great big smiles on their faces exclaimed kawaii and high-fived her.

When we come back to Osaka next time, maybe the thing my daughter will remember is the high fives from the yakuza!

Cross-cultural observations of women’s roles

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Some of you who used to read my blog might assume that my several month-long radio silences mean that now we are back in the UK I no longer write blogs. But, I do actually still have some blog posts on the backburner that will appear in the blog eventually, only with several month-long lead times.

You see, my intentions to write blog posts for the past year or so have been as successful as Finland’s intentions to qualify for the World Cup, the European championships or any international-level football competition (i.e. practically never!). Not that I care about football – in fact, I opt for a nap when my husband and son are watching the World Cup (even when England’s playing).

The reason for my slow blog posting is that I’ve been so incredibly busy since I moved back to England that I just don’t seem to find the time to put my thoughts on paper. In fact, I’ve been so busy with juggling family life and a full time job that I think I’ve actually started to lose my hair! And this is not a figure of speech! After every shower when I brush my wet hair, I’ve got something that looks like Donald Trump’s toupee attached to my hairbrush! I hope it is the stress (and is something that can be reversed with a slightly less hectic lifestyle) and not for instance that I’m subconsciously synchronising my hairstyle to that of my husband’s. After all, they say that married couples start to resemble each other! (By the way, if you haven’t met my husband, he has slightly less hair than Vin Diesel.)

In any case, it wasn’t my hair’s protests that made me realise that my life’s pretty hectic, but my student’s comments.

You see, we recently had one of my former students from Japan stay with us (as an au pair) for 2 1/2 months. Before she went back to Japan, me and her were having a chat about life and I light-heartedly mentioned that she might have noticed that our life’s pretty busy. She didn’t respond to my comment with a similar light-hearted approach as me. Instead, she looked at me concerned and asked if our life was always like it had been during her stay with us. I sat there for a couple of seconds stumped, trying to decode her utterance and the tone of her voice and then I realised that she thought that our lives were as enjoyable as me greeting Donald Trump’s toupee every morning.

I rushed to explain that yes, we were busy but that my husband and I were very lucky in many ways – both of us love our jobs, we have two wonderful children, who have several lovely hobbies, we have lively social lives, travel a fair amount and feel that we have been able to combine full-time work and family life successfully. And most importantly, we were busy because we chose to be busy! Working was a decision I had made and not something that was forced into.

She was not convinced. She stated that our life was certainly something that she wouldn’t want for herself. She said that she hopes that when she gets married and has children, she can become a shufu (housewife). I really hope this decision was not brought about by her 2 ½ month experience of our parents-working-fulltime-lifestyle but that she is just a typical Japanese woman whom chooses home over career.

You see, in Japan even in the twenty-first century it is difficult to be a woman and have both children and a full-time career, partly because Japanese society assumes that outside kindergarten or school hours, children need to be cared for by their parents or other family members (and not for instance by a child minder, a concept that practically doesn’t exist in Japan). So, unless grandparents are willing to help with childcare, the mum returning to full-time work would be very difficult.

This was supported by my off the cuff research while in Japan. Namely, when I asked every cohort of students that I had in Japan about their future career plans, some of the female students said that they want to be career-women, which in most cases means that they plan not to get married or to have children. But similarly to our au pair, most of my female students said that they were hoping to work until they had children, but then essentially retire in their 20s or 30s. Most of them said that that would mean marrying a relatively well-paid husband which would take the pressure off them working. That is, it seems to be that for most women, work was something that they had to do if they failed to find an ideal husband, not something that they would choose if not working was an option (I am not going to go into this here, but I’m assuming one reason for Japanese women’s indifference to work might be their experience/knowledge of the unequal treatment of women and men in many workplaces).

Unlike many British and Finnish mums who might take several years out of work when their children are little but then return to work when they feel their children no longer need their full attention, many Japanese mums stay as housewives even when their children have gone to school or even left home!

If you are a British or a Finnish parent, you might be wondering what Japanese mums do when their children are older? Well, it seems that they still devote their lives to their children in many ways. For instance, many of my university students who still lived at home told me that their mum would get up around 6am to fry salmon and cook rice for them for breakfast and make their bento boxes for lunch – and these students were 20-year-olds! It also seems that the mums do the majority of the domestic chores, or at least many of my students said that they did very little cleaning. However, even though Japanese housewives look after the home they seem to find a fair amount of time to spend in coffee shops, restaurants and onsens (hot springs) with their mum-friends (which is a huge contrast to their husbands, who typically work extremely long hours).

What about the Finnish mums? Well, they tend to go back to work after having had children. Labour Source Survey (2013) reports that about 70% of Finnish mums of children under the age of 3 either work (35-40%) or are on family leave from work (this consists of different types of maternity leave which you can take until your child turns 3 years) (25-30%). Furthermore, approx. 90% of Finnish mums with school-age children work. This is to say, the housewife role is relatively uncommon in Finland.

Furthermore, what I can’t see many Finnish mums doing is to mollycoddle their older children let alone adult children in the same way that Japanese mums do. My understanding is that most Finnish 9-10-year-olds can (and frequently do) make their own breakfast and snacks such as sandwiches, fill/empty the dishwasher, contribute to keeping their own room clean and tidy and survive home alone for several hours after school before their parents come home from work (but please correct me if I am wrong – I haven’t lived in Finland for 18 years, things might have changed!). Surprisingly, it seems that many English kids are only trusted to stay at home alone from their 12th-13th birthday which is much later than for many Japanese or Finnish children.

Unlike English kids, most of whom are taken to school by a parent until they go to secondary school (12 years of age) many Finnish children, at least outside of Helsinki, start walking/cycling to and from school independently around the age of 7-8 years. Believe it or not, but in this respect, Japanese kids are even more independent than the Finnish kids! I have seen children as young as 7 make their school journey alone on super-busy commuter trains through Osaka!

Finnish parents who want to go back to work are often able to successfully manage full-time jobs and parenting. This is partly because of the above reasons to do with children acquiring independence relatively early in life (i.e. walking/cycling to school on their own and staying at home alone until the parents come home from work) but also due to the fact that Finnish schools assume that most mums work and thus schools do not expect that mums have time to create elaborate fancy dress costumes, bake cakes for cake sales and organise other fundraising events, come into classes to help with maths/literacy or attend school trips. These extremely common tasks for British mums (largely due to the persistent underfunding of schools!) are practically absent from the Finnish parent-school relationship. English mums who want to go back to work full-time are likely to find it difficult to meet the expectations not only of their bosses and social workers (re independent school runs and leaving primary school-aged children home alone), but also of their children’s teachers (and even other mums!). It is no wonder many English families with working mums rely on help from grandparents or child minders/au pairs or work from home on a regular basis. Given that my husband or I don’t have family living nearby, we belong in the latter group and have an au pair who helps with childcare and housework. Not having an au pair would make it practically impossible for me or my husband to work full-time.

Our lives are busy (even with an au pair!) and we don’t have much time to watch TV, write blog posts, or take naps (which I would love to do if I had more time, and not just during World Cup matches!) but we seem to be able to just about fit everything in. We work full time, but spend our evenings and weekends playing Monopoly or Uno with the kids, bake cakes, flip pancakes, pan pop pop-corn, throw a baseball around in the garden and socialise with our friends, and that makes me feel like I’m just an ordinary Finnish mum who manages to do this without a detrimental effect on their children or their own wellbeing.

But could it be that my hairbrush is telling me that one should be choosing one or the other?

Hanging out with my younger self


If you are lucky you might be able to live to 100. Thus, one could think about life a bit like a 100 metre race (that most of us want to get through in Usain Bolt-style but in slow motion). Worryingly, instead of slow motion, I have started approaching the halfway mark of the track in Benny Hill show-style (in fast forward). Worse still, pretty much at every birthday for the past 10 years I have been able to visualise my young self around the 30 metre mark blow me a kiss goodbye.

But, this last month has been different, even though it saw me move another metre further down that 100m track. For the first time in nearly 9 years (since my son was born), I’ve had a chance to remind myself what it was like to be spontaneous and carefree. The reason being that while I have been in Japan for work for a month, my children and husband have been back home, in England.

So, four weeks ago I walked back to that 30 metre mark, embraced my young-adult self and went wild. Well, maybe wild is not an accurate word here, given that wild in my 20s meant something quite different than it means to me today. I will not go into explaining what wild meant to me in my youth, but for the past four weeks it’s meant:

  • not cooking a single lunch or dinner
  • checking my alarm clock at 6.45 am on Saturdays and Sundays, and going back to sleep for another 3 hours
  • indulging on culture (visiting temples, shrines, cemeteries and bamboo forests)
  • my social calendar having been so full with BBQs and dinners with friends, colleagues, school mums and even with some new acquaintances, takoyaki (octopus dumplings) gatherings and birthday parties that my young self would have been proud of me. (If I wanted to show off my busy social calendar I could mention that I’ve had 18 social events in the past 30 days!)

Even though I’ve loved my freedom, seeing new places and meeting new people, in a moment I will start making my way back to the 42 metre mark on the track of life. And I will do that with unprecedented enthusiasm. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am today. You see, I am at Kansai Airport on my way back to England where I will be reunited with my children and my husband.

The education that saved my daughter’s life


My daughter was 11 months old. For the preceding 3 months she had lost a lot of weight, so much so that the health visitor at the community centre (in Brighton, UK) where I took her for weighing once a month recommended that she be seen by a doctor. But when I took her to our doctor, she just said ‘Let’s keep an eye on it’.

In addition to losing weight, my daughter started drinking loads of water, wetting her nappy unusually frequently and instead of being her usual little sweetheart self she became ratty and miserable and she cried a lot.


My daughter around the time of diagnosis

My husband and I started to think something was wrong when it got to the point that she would finish a beaker of water in one sitting and her nappies were completely saturated one hour after she had gone to bed. One evening my husband and I discussed what the cause of the drinking and peeing was: The heat wave that we were experiencing? Salt in the food that we didn’t know was there? And then it hit me.

I remembered that at secondary school during a health education lesson the teacher had talked about Type 1 diabetes. I somehow recalled that the symptoms listed were excessive drinking and peeing.

So, I booked an appointment for her to see the doctor the following day.

At the doctor’s surgery I voiced my concerns about Type 1 diabetes. The GP didn’t take it seriously and asked us to come back in three days time if my daughter was still feeling ‘poorly’.

But having Googled Type 1 diabetes before the appointment, I was prepared. More specifically, I had collected a urine sample from my daughter beforehand and I asked the doctor to dip the urine to check whether there was sugar in it (indicating diabetes).

The doctor dipped it, re-dipped it, and turned to me to ask if there was any chance that the Tupperware box I brought the urine sample in was contaminated with sugar. In-between tears all I could was whisper: ‘No.’

The doctor rang the hospital, where they urged us to drive over immediately. But before we left for that hospital visit that confirmed that my daughter was indeed Type 1 diabetic the GP said:

‘Lucky you had the urine sample with you’.

Yes. My daughter was lucky. She was ‘lucky’ because a teacher in Finland had spent 5 minutes talking about Type 1 diabetes and I vaguely remembered what the symptoms were. Whereas, shockingly, the doctor in the UK didn’t recognise the typical symptoms of Type 1 diabetes that my daughter was displaying: weight loss, excessive thirst, excessive peeing and tiredness, even when these were specifically spelled out to her.

Worse still, I don’t think this GP was a one-off case. Most people in the UK, including many GPs, seem to be oblivious to these symptoms, even though the UK has the fifth highest number of Type 1 diabetics in the world per capita (approx. 32,000 Type 1 diabetic children under the age of 14 years) and has about 2000 people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes annually (ref.). Instead, it seems that GPs, the press, and thus also the general population in the UK are more aware of the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes (a less dangerous condition, that often affects people over the age of 40).

Had I not remembered that health education session from my Finnish high school, the chances are that, similarly to 1 in 4 Type 1 diabetic children in the UK whose diabetes is not diagnosed in time, my daughter would have collapsed, convulsed and needed serious and urgent hospital care. After all, when we got to the hospital my daughter’s blood sugar level was so high that the hospital’s blood sugar meter could not read it (> 42 mmol/L). Such high blood glucose level indicates that she had a huge insulin deficiency and as a consequence she was likely to start developing something called diabetic ketoacidosis, an extremely dangerous complication of Type 1 diabetes which, if left untreated, will lead to coma, organ failure or even death in a matter of hours. The thought of us following the GP’s suggestion to go back home for another three days is a thought I don’t really want to think about.


My daughter after diagnosis (what you can see sticking ou under her top is a tube that connects her insulin pump to a cannula on her leg, she has been wearing it 24-7-365 for the past 4 years).

We were lucky, but many parents whose child is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes go through the frightening experience of diabetic ketoacidosis, and even worse, some parents lose their child because of it. These medical emergencies could be relatively easily avoided by educating people (and GPs) about Type 1 diabetes.

So, to contribute to many Type 1 diabetics’ and/or their parents’ attempts to educate people, below I have written a short description of Type 1 diabetes and added a picture of the four most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes (taken from diabetes.co.uk).  If your high school health education syllabus did not include Type 1 diabetes, I would recommend you familiarise yourself with the symptoms and make your friends aware of them as well.


Type 1 diabetes in a nutshell

Type 1 diabetes is not the same as Type 2 diabetes, the latter of these being the one that most of us have heard about in the news, and is most commonly associated with lifestyle choices. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune illness whose onset is usually in childhood, puberty or early adulthood, but people of any age can develop it. Importantly, the amount of sugar/fat in one’s diet or the patient’s weight or activity level is not related to the onset of Type 1 diabetes.

In Type 1 diabetes, like in other autoimmune deceases, for some reason white cells attack the person’s other cells. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the cells that have been attacked and destroyed are the Beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a vital hormone that enables glucose (sugar, carbs) being transferred from blood stream to the cells as energy. Without insulin a person will die in a matter of days. Thus, Type 1 diabetics need to inject insulin every day (in fact many times a day). No diet or herbal remedy will take away the need of insulin in these patients.

Type 1 diabetes – Typical symptoms pre diagnosis



You can read more about our life as a family with a young diabetic child here, here and here.


My daughter