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The US didn't feel safe enough to raise a kid, so we moved to Japan

Trevor D. Houchen   

The US didn't feel safe enough to raise a kid, so we moved to Japan
  • Trevor D. Houchen and his wife were living in Atlanta when they found out they were expecting.
  • He and his wife felt it would be unsafe to raise their child there and decided to move to Japan.

My wife was already six months pregnant when we agreed she would leave the US and have our baby in Japan. I would join a few months later.

We'd been living in Atlanta for about seven years when we found out we were expecting. She's Japanese, I'm American, and we met in LA.

We both started getting nervous about what our life would be like living with a child in our one-bedroom apartment in Atlanta, a city where the crime rate is 122% higher than the national average, according to Gitnux, a market data website.

I had been working two jobs at the time, so it also felt like my wife was going to have to be home alone without any family support for too many hours of the day.

The final decision came at the beginning of her third trimester. Some bleeding led to a one-night stay at a hospital in Atlanta. The shockingly high hospital bill — we're still battling it out with our insurance company — came next.

So, on the last allowable day for a pregnant woman to fly, she got on a plane to Japan.

My pregnant wife flew to Japan on her own to have our baby, I followed

I was in the middle of semesters at two different colleges — Georgia Technical College and Georgia Gwinnett College — as an adjunct professor, and leaving my students right then wasn't an option. We decided I'd finish the semester, close shop on our apartment, and then fly out to Japan to meet my newborn. He'd already be four months old by the time I got there.

After my wife arrived in Japan she texted me from her parents' home in Yokosuka — about an hour south of Tokyo by car— and said she'd made it safely and was glad to be back "home."

But I was "home," or so I thought. I spent the next four months teaching, packing, and selling all the stuff we'd accumulated over the years in Atlanta. I wrapped up the semester, and flew out to meet my son.

Having our baby in Japan was the right decision

When I arrived, my wife was living comfortably with our son at her parents' house. The cost of delivering our baby had been 650,000 yen, or $4,186. Of this amount the Ministry of Health covered 500,000 yen — a government co-pay for babies born to a parent enrolled in the national health insurance. The extra 150,000 yen we covered was for the private room my wife opted for, otherwise, there would have been no out-of-pocket expense.

In Japan, the cost of delivering a baby in a hospital ranges between 400,000 to 600,000 yen, or $2,552 to $3,827, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. In the US, according to a survey by Perterson-KFF (formerly known as Kaiser Family Foundation) and based on data between 2018 through 2020, the average cost of childbirth for an insured mother is $18,865. While for insured mothers the majority of that is covered, out-of-pocket payments are still $2,852, on average.

My wife was ecstatic to be back in her country and getting help from her parents and sister with our son.

When we would take our son for walks in his stroller, older Japanese men and women would often smile, bend down low to get a close look at our son, and say, "kawaii ne," "he's cute isn't he," in Japanese. The warmth and feeling of safety on the street made us feel like we'd made the right decision.

Day care is affordable in Japan

Our son is now one and we've started talking about putting him in Houkien, government-subsidized day care for kids 5 and under. Last year, the Japanese government announced that by 2025 day care for all children 6 months to 2 years old will be free, per The Japan Times.

At these day care centers kids receive health checks and they are run by certified caregivers

According to, the average cost of childcare in Atlanta is $19.56 per hour, adding up to over $3,000 a month. We wouldn't have been able to afford that.

Safety is no longer a concern

I regularly see children no older than five or six taking the subway in Tokyo by themselves, which I find impressive. After 8 months, I still get lost almost every day trying to navigate the busiest subway system in the world.

In Atlanta, we had heard gunshots at least a few times a week and few parents let their kids do anything on their own before turning 12. I wasn't allowed to take the subway by myself in New York City — where I grew up — until I was 15.

The crime, danger, and ruthless nature of the life I had known in the US just doesn't exist to any discernible degree here in Japan, especially in Yokosuka, where we live. By contrast, even though Atlanta's rate has dropped, in 2023, there were 135 homicides recorded. In contrast, I couldn't find a record for a single murder in Yokosuka in 2023.

Even with the US Naval base right in the middle of the city, Yokosuka is low-key, quiet, safe, and family friendly.

When it's time for junior high, I'd prefer my son go to school in the US

I'm all for our son going to elementary school in Japan. I want him to learn to speak Japanese fluently and feel safe enough to enjoy his childhood to its fullest. I'm also happy he's able to spend his formative years near his grandparents.

But beyond elementary school, I'd rather our son go to junior high and high school in the US. As a professor myself and after a 20-year long career in education, I have read studies that note the lack of critical thinking taught in Japanese high schools.

The Japanese proverb "deru kugi wa utareru" means "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down." My interpretation of this is, "don't be an individual," learn to be exactly like everyone else.

And then, there's the bullying. In a 2022 survey by the Japanese government, 681,948 cases of bullying were recorded in Japan's schools, per The Mainichi. As a biracial child in Japan, I would be anxious about the difficulties my son would face.

Like everything in life, there are pros and cons, but for the time being, my wife and I are happy to raise our son here in Japan where it's safe, nurturing, and affordable.

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