International Family Configurations in Tokyo and their Cross-Cultural Approaches to Language Socialization

International Family Configurations in Tokyo and their Cross-Cultural Approaches to Language Socialization

Donna M. Velliaris (Eynesbury Institute of Business and Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8668-7.ch003
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For children raised in a primarily monocultural setting, where their passport or ‘home' and their residential or ‘host' countries are the same, the knowledge/skills developed in one area may be applied in the broader contexts of their lives in a gradually more complex and fulfilling manner. Some of the knowledge/skills learned by ‘cross-cultural children', however, may be applied in a restricted range of settings and may be of limited use in ‘other' contexts of living. A prime example relates to ‘language' proficiency. This may be well developed in the particular language of one context (e.g., English), but not yet acquired in the language needed for a different context (e.g., Japanese). For this exploratory study, face-to-face interviews were conducted with ‘international parents' residing in Tokyo, Japan. Of the four themes that emerged from the qualitative data, this chapter is specifically focused on one—Language Socialisation—of cross-cultural child(ren).
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Japan has a reputation for being one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in the world (Kim, 2002; Lu, Menju, & Williams, 2005; Tarumoto, 2002, 2003; Willis, 2002). Tsuneyoshi (2004), however, has claimed that this image is more “simplistic than realistic” (p. 56). According to Kubota (1998), during the 1960s and 1970s, Japan’s economy began to surge ahead, increasing the amount of contact among Japanese and foreign people (p. 296). Additionally, there has been an influx of other Asian and South American foreigners to Japan in the form of workers, immigrants, refugees and spouses (Tsuda, 1998, 2003, 2004). Since the 1980s, the slogan kokusaika or “internationalization” has become prevalent in Japanese businesses, national and local government offices, schools and communities. New social categories have been, and continue to be, constructed or deconstructed as the majority of Japanese society attempts a “re-examination of mainstream assumptions”, particularly with regard to foreigners living in Japan (Lu, et al., 2005, p. 132). The resultant diversification and co-existence of different cultures has prompted the rearrangement of group relationships and brought to the forefront issues such as Japanese citizenship, nationality and identity.

The context of this chapter is cosmopolitan Tokyo, which is discussed as the city of residence for three groups of international families as depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Three Types of International Parents, and their Subgroups, in Tokyo, Japan

(Velliaris & Willis, 2014)

While cross-cultural children from these three groupings may be advantaged by exposure to a wider world perspective and/or the opportunities of travel, at the same time, they may have limited experience of their homeland’s social, cultural and educational practices (Velliaris, 2010).


Background: An Exploratory Study

International parents were recruited throughout the 23 wards of Tokyo, but predominantly from the expatriate and high foreign population areas in and around “Minato” ward (Minato City, 2014). For the qualitative elements of this research, “face-to-face” (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998; Gillham, 2000) and “semi-structured” (Kvale, 1996) interviews were conducted. A total of 17 parents (Group One: n=4; Group Two: n=7; and Group Three: n=6) engaged in dialogue individually, and on behalf of their spouses and children (see Table 1).

Table 1.
International Parent Interviewee Demographics
Groupings of International Families in TokyoMother’s
Cultural Background
Cultural Background
Total Participants
Group One:
Dual Japanese families
JapaneseJapanese4 interviewees
Group Two:
Japanese intercultural families
JapaneseUS7 interviewees
Group Three:
Dual foreign families
USBritish6 interviewees

(Velliaris, 2010, p. 232; Velliaris & Willis, 2014)

Key Terms in this Chapter

School Choice: The concept of ‘school choice’ is centred on parents being able to decide how and where their children will be educated. In this thesis, school choice denotes the propensity of parents to implement their concerns about the beliefs, norms, rituals, traditions, and values to which their children will be exposed.

Jus Sanguinis [Latin]: Meaning ‘right of blood’ and the policy by which citizenship is determined not by place of birth, but by having an ancestor who is a national or citizen of the state.

Code-Switching (CS): This occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. For example, bilingual/multilingual speakers of more than one language sometimes use elements of two or more languages when conversing with each other. Thus, CS is the use of more than one linguistic variety in a manner consistent with the syntax and phonology of the language.

Cross-Cultural: Dealing with or offering comparison between two or more different cultures or cultural areas.

Code-Mixing (CM): In studies of bilingual language acquisition, CM refers to a developmental stage during which children may mix elements of more than one language. For young bilingual children, CM may be dependent on the linguistic context, cognitive task demands, and interlocutor. CM may also function to fill gaps in their lexical knowledge, and such lexical uncertainty may subsequently lead to naming errors. Hence, nearly all bilingual children go through a period in which they move from one language to another without apparent discrimination.

Jus Soli [Latin]: Meaning ‘right of the soil’ or birth right citizenship and the policy by which citizenship is granted to an individual born in the territory of the related state.

Haafu [Japanese]: The most commonly used social descriptor given to multi-ethnic people in Japan. In mainstream Japanese society, the word haafu enjoys some positive nuances, inferring on its recipients cosmopolitan qualities of internationalism, elite bilingualism and worldly experience. However, many parents of Japanese intercultural children oppose this term for its negative connotations in English i.e., half-breed or half-caste, and for its nuance of incompleteness.

Kikokushijo [Japanese]: These children have accompanied their parents on overseas work assignments and subsequently returned to Japan. In other words, the approaches to education for these children assumed a handicap. That is, overseas experiences were not regarded positively and their apparently low academic performance was considered in need of special remedial attention.

Parent(s): Although ‘parent’ includes those with legal, quasi-legal custodianship, whether biological, adoptive or foster parents of the child, the constructs examined in this study applied equally to mothers and fathers as a means of establishing the cultural ecology of the only or eldest child in each family.

Keigo [Japanese]: Meaning ‘honorific’ language used to show respect when the Japanese speak to superiors for example. It displays rank and seniority according to culture, but not gender. While keigo is similar to polite language in English, there are differences in the degree and complexity of relationships, and in interpreting those relationships.

Municipality [Japan]: The basic unit for Japanese administrative services including public health and preventive health services.

Kanji [Japanese]: Refers to the writing system originally developed from pictographs used by the Chinese thousands of years ago. Some characters retained their pictographic form and remained similar in appearance to the objects they were intended to represent. Others were developed using combinations of single characters or were formed to represent more abstract ideographs.

Internationally-Oriented: This term refers to many of the Japanese parents in this study who, to some extent, have rejected the Japanese homogenised imperative of cultural uniformity and see themselves as ‘internationally-oriented’. Though they may or may not have lived abroad as a family, they tend to have had international experiences and be functionally fluent in English.

Alien Registration Law [Japan]: The Japanese law requiring that all non-Japanese/foreign residents be officially recorded. Foreign persons are then issued a document called a Certificate of Alien Registration, and a photographic identification card that is colloquially referred to as Gaijin Card. All foreigners are required to carry either their passport or card at all times.

Children: ‘Child’ and ‘children’ refers to the beneficiaries of parental involvement; a heterogeneous population of predominantly school-aged individuals who included preschoolers and adolescents between the ages of 2-18 years. Understandably, within this population, children may vary in how they are affected by changes in their social and educational ecologies, their understanding of those changes, and their capacity to respond adaptively.

Tokyo: The capital of Japan, centre of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the most populous metropolis in the world. Greater Tokyo is composed of 23 wards, 26 cities, five towns and eight villages.

Kokusai Kekkon [Japanese]: Literally, ‘international marriage’ is the Japanese cultural category commonly used to designate any marriage pairing Japanese and non-Japanese/foreign nationals.

Certificate of Eligibility [Japan]: This is evidence that the foreign applicant fulfils various conditions of the Japanese Immigration Control Act. This certificate confirms that the activity in which the foreigner wishes to engage in Japan is valid and comes under a recognised Status of Residence.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [Japan]: also known as MEXT, Monka-sho or Monbusho, is one of the ministries of the Japanese Government. The Meiji Government created the first Ministry of Education in 1871.

Gaijin [Japanese]: In Japan, gaijin is the colloquial Japanese expression meaning ‘non-Japanese’ or ‘foreigner’. This word is composed of two characters, gai meaning ‘outside’ and jin meaning ‘person’. Thus, the word literally means ‘outside person’. While the term itself has no derogatory meaning, it emphasises the exclusiveness of the Japanese attitude and has picked up pejorative connotations that many Westerners resent. In general, Japanese people treat foreign visitors politely, but always as outsiders.

Lingua Franca [Latin]: Also called a bridge language or vehicular language; a language systematically used to make communication possible between/among persons not sharing a native language, particularly when it is a third language, distinct from both native languages.

International Parents: All the parents who contributed to this study are referred to as ‘international parents’. Apart from sections of this thesis that are focused specifically on the three main family types, namely Japanese, Japanese intercultural and foreign (as well as their subgroups), international parents will be used as the collective term of reference.

Internationally-Mobile: This term communicates the essential characteristic of many of the Japanese intercultural and foreign parents who participated in this investigation. They may come from any country and move frequently for varied reasons, but predominantly for employment purposes.

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