Singaporean mama Junel Che Fujinuki tells us about her family life in Yokohama, Japan where she says parenting really differs (there’s a lack of baby facilities, kid-friendly cafes and playgrounds!) though she loves her toddler experiencing the four seasons – especially snow!
In our latest Overseas Mama series, Singaporean Junel Che Fujinuki talks about her life in Yokohama with her husband, her son and her two cats. She shares her struggles with the lack of child-friendly facilities available and the challenges she faces when taking her child out (hardly any cafes even have baby high chairs). Read on for her insights about living abroad in Yokohama, Japan, what it was like to give birth at the height of the pandemic with her husband unable to be in the hospital at all and why she misses her home country Singapore.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Junel, I am a full-time marketing professional with the Financial Times (yes, that pink newspaper!), and a mother to a two-year-old boy and two cats. I’ve just turned 37 with a couple of grey hairs creeping up, but am still young at heart!
I am also a freelance illustrator although I no longer work with editorial and corporate clients after going back to work full-time. I’ve exhibited in different art book fairs across Asia, like Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, and Taiwan.
I paint story-zines and travel-zines every time I travel to a new place or have a story to tell. I hope to do that again when my kid is a little older.
What brought you to Yokohama, Japan? How long have you been living overseas?
I arrived in Tokyo, Japan on a windy late summer or early fall day in 2012 because of a career switch, an excuse to travel to Japan, work and learn the language at the same time. Initially, I had planned to stay for only a year or two but I ended up meeting and marrying my partner here. My husband and I moved to Yokohama two years after we got married so that we can have a bigger and quieter space. Can’t believe that soon it will be a decade since I’ve packed my bags!
Favourite aspect about living in Yokohama?
Actually, Yokohama reminds me a lot of Singapore and that made me want to live here. At the port area at Minatomirai and Yokohama stations, because it is along the coast, the air smells like Singapore. The huge commercial buildings, the sea view with big ships in the distance, the wide roads… they all kind of remind me of home. I guess I’ve grown to miss home a lot more!
And the worst part?
It is a very hilly area when we leave the coastal areas so basically, my stamina has never been better since I moved here.
What are the current restrictions in Yokohama due to Covid-19?
We still sanitise our hands and undergo temperature checks whenever we enter a building or facility. With the mask-wearing culture here in Japan, it doesn’t really bother me at all that we are all in masks every day once we are out of our houses.
How do you think parenting in Yokohama differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Very different! I guess it’s not only in Yokohama but Japan in general. It was challenging bringing a baby out because there weren’t many baby facilities. I can count the number of restaurants with baby high chairs. When my child grew a little older, I was constantly worrying about the narrow alleys as well as the lack of pedestrian walkways and child-friendly playgrounds. Also, it is quite upsetting to see that there is a small group of people in Japan who aren’t very welcoming of babies and toddlers. So I miss the family-friendly environment and facilities we have in Singapore!
On the other hand, we have four seasons here in Japan, and I find it really nice that my kid can explore nature in different seasons. We rarely get heavy snow in the metropolitan Tokyo and Yokohama areas, but last year we had a good snowfall and it was my kid’s first time coming in contact with snow. It was interesting to see him get excited while walking in snow that is a few inches deep, and yet he didn’t have the courage to touch snow with his fingers when I tried to pass him a snowball.
Did you give birth to your child in Yokohama? If yes, what was memorable about the experiences?
It was tough. I gave birth at the height of the pandemic during Japan’s state of emergency. My husband wasn’t allowed into the hospital and we also couldn’t ask my parents for help either. I also tried natural birth without an epidural and it was quite an experience!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I was a social media analyst with Japanese confectioner BAKE Inc. and also a freelance illustrator before I had a baby. I then took a break from work till he was 18 months old before I went on to pursue a full-time career with the Financial Times.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Yokohama?
We rarely dine out because it’s quite a hassle to find kid-friendly places. But if we do, it is niko and … KITCHEN at Yokohama Bay Quarter because it has baby high chairs, omelette rice and fries for the little one! See, I’ve definitely lowered my standards!
Top five places in or around Yokohama you would recommend to parents travelling with kids.
Osanbashi Pier – It has a curved observation deck with grassy areas that leads to a rooftop with timber flooring, making it the perfect place for kids to spot ships and run around while parents enjoy a bit of peace with drinks from the vending machine. Try spotting the Yokohama Three Towers when you are there, also known as King, Queen and Jack!
Cupnoodles Museum Yokohama – Probably one of the most well-known attractions for the young and old among both locals and tourists. This museum by Nissin Food Products has fun and interactive exhibits to show you how cup noodles were invented. And the best part? You get to make your very own cup noodles to bring home! It also has a playground for children who are still not tired at the end of the visit.
Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise – Just a 30-minute train ride from Yokohama, this huge aquarium and amusement park is a must especially if your kid loves aquatic animals. There are many from polar bears to fishes and seahorses. Kids can also touch a walrus or try their hand at feeding animals!
Zoorasia – We are lucky to have Japan’s largest and most well-kept zoo right here in Yokohama! The zoo has many animals and recreates an environment that is close to the animals’ natural habitats.
Yamashita Park – A spacious park with nice greenery and flowers plus it’s by Yokohama Port and the sea so there are lots of ships to look at. It reminds me of a beach-less East Coast Park and Botanic Gardens all in one location!
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with his Singaporean roots?
I occasionally speak Singlish to him and I tend to bring him back to Singapore every summer for a good month to let him have an opportunity to learn more about his Singaporean roots.
Best souvenirs one could bring back from Yokohama
– for a child:
Dove-shaped Hato Sabure cookies from Kamakura, not far from Yokohama, and a DB.Starman mascot plush from the local baseball team Yokohama deNA BayStars.
– for a mama friend:
Japanese baby food for mama friends with babies because there are so many varieties from fish porridge to even hamburg steaks.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Being away from family as well as friends back home who also have kids of the same age, being so near yet so far.
On raising multilingual children …
I speak English and my husband speaks Japanese to him. He attends an English preschool too. Hopefully when he’s older, we can introduce a tiny bit of Chinese?
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
I am going back to Singapore (finally!) next month and I am planning to bring back tons of English story and picture books!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Okinawa Taco Rice. It’s fast, healthy, and has greens and cheese!
What’s the one thing you would miss about Yokohama if you moved away?
The greenery and quiet surroundings.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
I always grab kaya toast and a soya bean drink or bubble tea at Changi Airport T3 basement first thing upon arrival.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The cost of living, especially housing!
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
We will learn to appreciate Singapore, our efficient and proactive government, and the warmth of the people (not the weather!) more.
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