The Oyakoko Mindset: Lessons From Japan on Keeping our Kids Safe
April 13, 2023
By Kate Cier

After seeing a video on Instagram about an American family observing the way Japanese citizens work together to keep children safe in public, we were inspired to do some research.  


In Japan, the culture of taking care of children is deeply ingrained. It is believed that every child is the responsibility of not only their parents but also the entire community. This cultural mindset has led to the creation of a supportive environment for children to grow up in, and has contributed to the country's low crime rates and high levels of social cohesion.

One of the most prominent examples of this cultural mindset is the concept of "oyakoko," which translates to "parenting together." Oyakoko is a belief that all adults in a community have a shared responsibility to ensure the well-being and healthy development of all children, not just their own. This means that adults are expected to keep an eye out for any children who may need help or assistance, and to offer support where they can.

One of the most visible ways that this concept is put into practice is through the use of crossing guards or "koutou-anzen-sha," who are often elderly volunteers who help children safely cross busy intersections on their way to and from school. These crossing guards are a fixture of many Japanese communities and are a testament to the country's commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of its children.

In contrast, the United States tends to place a greater emphasis on individualism and personal responsibility, which can sometimes lead to a lack of community support for families and children. This can be seen in the higher rates of crime involving children in the United States compared to Japan.

According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the rate of intentional homicide of children under the age of 15 in Japan is 0.1 per 100,000 population, compared to 0.8 per 100,000 population in the United States. Similarly, the rate of sexual assault of children under the age of 15 in Japan is 0.4 per 100,000 population, compared to 9.1 per 100,000 population in the United States.

There are several steps that the United States could take to keep children safe in public. One potential solution is to increase the number of trained crossing guards or safety patrols, similar to the koutou-anzen-sha in Japan, to help children safely navigate busy intersections on their way to and from school. Additionally, implementing more effective public transportation systems could help reduce the number of children who must walk to school, particularly in areas with higher crime rates. Increasing community involvement through programs that promote neighborhood watch groups or volunteer patrols can also help create a safer environment for children in public spaces. Finally, education programs that teach children about safety, including how to identify and avoid dangerous situations, can empower them to take an active role in protecting themselves while out in public.