A British dad moved his family to Japan and copied Tokyo parents. He is raising his kids to be independent.

  • James Ould and his family left the UK to start a new life in Japan.

  • The dad said he was delighted by how the Japanese culture promoted independence for kids.

  • His daughters, ages 7 and 11, ride a public bus, go shopping, and play in the park on their own.

It's the type of scenario that would leave many Western parents in a panic. But even though it might be past 6 p.m. and dark, James and Morgan Ould aren't worried that their 11-year-old daughter, Lillian, will be riding a public bus home from school.

The British couple, who moved to Tokyo from England in 2022, have a relatively relaxed attitude to the comings and goings of Lillian and her 7-year-old sister, Esme.

Their father told Business Insider that it was a case of "when in Rome." Japanese parents, he said, are happy for their kids to walk — often long distances — to school or ride the train alone. "You see 5- and 6-year-olds walking to school by themselves," Ould said. "It isn't a big deal."

Kids in the country are encouraged to be as independent as possible from a very young age, he said.

In contrast, he said, children who are raised in nations such as the US and the UK tend to be supervised at every turn. He said that even though the family lived in a small village in England, either he or his wife always escorted their girls to school.

Ould's daughters use their own transport cards, which makes them feel independent

The 38-year-old said that Japanese teachers actively discouraged parents from accompanying their kids to classes. Many of the students are assigned chores in the morning to build a sense of achievement and responsibility, he added.

"They'll get to school early and are expected to clean and tidy up," Ould added.

Lillian and Esme have their own "transport card" that allows them to tap into the metro. The card, generally known as a JR Pass, is topped up with credit by their parents. It can also be used in stores and at vending machines.

"They love it because they know that we trust them to use it responsibly," Ould, who describes himself as a "house husband," said.

The Ould family pose among some cherry blossoms in Japan.
Ould said his family was enjoying their adventure in Japan.Courtesy of James Ould

The girls get a kick out of playing in a park near the family's apartment without supervision, he said.

"We used to say to Esme, 'You need to go there with your sister,' but now we're fine with her being alone," he added.

"They'll also go to local shops for us," he said. "If I'm cooking and have run out of something, I'll say, 'I've run out of this. Can you get it for me?'"

Concerns over strangers with sinister motives are far less likely in Japan than in Europe or America, according to Ould.

"Japan is an extremely safe place with a low crime rate and mostly law-abiding citizens who follow the rules," the dad said. "People mind their own business, but they'll step in if a child seems lost or in any other kind of trouble."

Some relatives were skeptical about the Ould family's free-range parenting

Still, the Oulds have given Lillian a basic Android cellphone. She'll text them if she's running late or has stopped off with friends. The device also lets them track her location.

The parents put Google Translate on the cell because the fifth grader can't speak Japanese. "She knows to use Google Voice if she ever needs help from someone," Ould told BI.

As for people's reactions to the couple's free-range parenting style, the dad acknowledged that his parents and in-laws were skeptical at first.

"They came to visit and were a bit taken aback by the freedom we allow," he said. "But they soon realized that the kids are safe here in Tokyo."

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Correction: February 13, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misspelled Japan's rail pass.

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