3 Tokyo Teachings for Parents

Greetings Everyday Spy,

Our children aren’t that different from us. All they want is freedom.

Freedom to explore. Freedom to learn. Freedom to have fun.

You are your child’s hero. They watched you from the day they were born. They mimicked your voice pattern to learn how to speak. They modeled their social and personal behaviors off of yours.

You are preparing your child to succeed every day.

My children are still very young. My son is six and my daughter turned two this week. For those of you with grown children of your own, you understand the chaos and the joy in my life right now!

My son is the explorer. His mind is always pulling his body away from us so he can get a closer look at some bug or chase away a flock of birds.

My daughter is the great white hunter. She will stalk something for long periods of time without concern for comfort or safety. Whether its a squirrel running through a park or a discarded plastic bag blowing in the breeze, once she locks on her target she doesn’t stop following it.

305,500 American children go missing from their parents for an hour or more in public places each year.

Every parent shares the nightmare of being separated from their child in a public place.

And the nightmare comes true for nearly 1,000 parents a day.

I’ve seen how quickly a bright colored bus or jumping grasshopper can divide my children from me. I’m sure you’ve had similar things happen in the park, the mall, or at a birthday party.

A lost child experience is traumatic to both the parents and the child.

When my wife was my son’s age, she was living in Japan. She went with her parents to visit a large shopping mall one day in Tokyo. While her parents were speaking to a sales person, she decided to play an impromptu hiding game.

She found a round rack of ladies blouses and climbed in the middle. She hunkered down, hiding in the middle of what must have been horrible ’80s fashion, and waited to be found.

When my wife tells the story, she remembers clearly the day, the store, and the feeling of anticipation that her parents were going to find her.

She waited, but they never came.

She was lost in a moment, and the moment became a lifelong memory for my wife and her parents.

When my wife finally emerged from her hiding place, her parents were nowhere in sight. Scared and alone, she started to search for them. She went down an escalator, out a sliding glass door, and onto a busy Tokyo sidewalk.

A Japanese woman stopped her on the street and recognized she was a lost ‘gaijin’ – a foreigner. The woman called out to the people around her to find a ‘gaijin’ couple nearby missing a little girl. The message spread like a game of telephone.

My wife’s parents were found a few minutes later, still inside the mall. With one Japanese woman leading my wife and another leading her parents, the family was reunited outside the mall entrance. 

99% of the 800,000 missing children reported to police each year are successfully reunited with their parents.

8,000 American children who get lost each year are never found.

My wife was lucky. Japanese culture places great pride and honor on teaching children self-sufficiency. When you visit Tokyo, Osaka, or Nagoya, you can expect to see children as young as 5 traveling without an adult escort. Subways, sidewalks, and buses are filled with independent young children, always traveling together in pairs, going to and from school.

Had my wife been separated from her parents somewhere in Africa or Europe, the story would have ended differently. 

Spies travel the globe and learn the best that the world has to offer.

As parents, my wife and I recognize that there will be a day when we get separated from one or both of our children. And whether they go missing for a few minutes or a few hours, we’ve borrowed the best of Japanese training to make sure they always find their way back to us.

Here is how 1,200 years of Japanese tradition can keep your children safe:

     Stay in sight

We give our children lots of space to run and explore. So much space that we often see people get confused about whether our children are lost, alone or abandoned. No, we are not neglecting them. We are practicing the art of ‘miru,’ or ‘view’ in Japanese. 

In western culture, parents take on the responsibility of herding children and keeping them close. You and I grew up hearing, ‘stay close,’ ‘stay here,’ ‘stay beside me.’ But the problem is that a child’s mind and body wanders.

Rather than make the adult shepherd the child, ‘miru’ trains the child to always keep the parent in sight. Miru saves the parent from having to constantly hover over the child, and it gives the child the freedom to explore safely. Even as their mind (and feet) venture, a simple call-out from mom or dad will get them to look up, make visual contact, and keep the family unit together.

Our son started practicing miru at age 4 and had it mastered in about 3 weeks. Now at 6, he looks back at us every few seconds to keep us in sight even when he is half a football field away.  

     Keep recontact simple

The most important message a child needs to communicate if they are lost is how to contact their parents. Common western thinking is to force a child to memorize a phone number or a home address. If your parents were like mine, you probably still remember your childhood landline!

In Japan, they don’t take the risk of a child forgetting a phone number or saying ‘street’ instead of ‘lane.’ Instead, they use creative kid-friendly tags with detailed recontact instructions that children can show adults or police when they get lost. The tag has the child’s name, parent’s phone number, important allergies, school address and other relevant information needed for safe recontact.

Like miniature luggage tags, some parents put these label on a kid’s book bag or shoes. Custom bracelets, stickers, watches, or dog-tags can be easily ordered online. You can even order temporary tattoos printed with key contact details for your children that work great at theme parks, resorts or on a cruise ship. 

     The best learning happens in life

Japanese culture encourages people to learn by doing. No child will learn how to live in a big world by spending all their time in a small house.

My kids practice constantly. When we go grocery shopping we let them run free and practice ‘miru.’ If they go out of our sight, we pull them back, review miru, and let them loose again. We practice getting lost in public places so that they can take charge of recontacting us.

With real-world practice, children learn to differentiate between helpful people and suspicious people; police officers and security guards; random adults and parents. They learn to find their way back rather than find themselves scared.

They learn that freedom is a joy and a responsibility… and they love it.

We drill with our children regularly and see the benefits daily. 

And when the moment comes that it isn’t a drill, we know exactly how our children will respond.

And they rest easy knowing exactly what they will do to reconnect with us.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy

Author: Andrew Bustamante, Founder of www.EverydaySpy.com. Andrew is a former covert CIA Intelligence officer, decorated US Air Force Combat Veteran, and respected Fortune 500 senior advisor. Learn more from Andrew on his Podcast (The Everyday Espionage Podcast) and by following @EverydaySpy on your favorite social media platform.

1 Comment

  1. Nocturnal

    July 16, 2019 at 5:15 pm

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