Adventures in the East

Hello my wonderful readers! You might be wondering why the long spaces between posts. As I’ve mentioned  before, my full-time job is at a children’s hospital and I have found that it keeps me very busy. Not only that, but the last few months I have been working  on some very big projects! Today I want to share with you one of my projects!

Two weeks ago I got on a plane and traveled all the way to Japan so I could visit friends I haven’t seen in years. Not only that, but I was also given the chance to network and even shadow a few child life specialists at their hospitals! This was a dream come true for me because I got to combine 2 things I love, Japan and child life!


My explorations of Kyoto, Japan

I’ve been interested in Japanese culture since high school and in college I was able to take Japanese language classes and study abroad in Japan. After I learned about child life, I did look into whether  child life existed in Japan. Turns out it does and it is growing! Due to my elementary proficiency of the Japanese language, I don’t plan on becoming a child life specialist in Japan any time soon… but the future is always in motion! Though currently, I am happy enough to just have the opportunity to visit and network with some of the Japanese child life specialists.

Going into the visit I did have some goals. Other  than to just learn about the similarities and differences between child life in America and Japan, I also wanted to be able to apply the knowledge. I wanted to see what things the Japanese child life specialists were doing that I could bring back to America. Additionally I had just been a preceptor for a child life intern from Japan and I realized that I had no idea how similar (and how different) the child life jobs in Japan are to jobs in America. Not only this, but I was willing to share my own experience and knowledge with my new contacts, creating professional relationships where we freely could share our resources together.


Sitting on the special chair at the Golden Temple

10 days later I am back in the U.S. and everyone has asked me “How was it?”. I can honestly say, it was AWESOME! I learned so much in my time at the hospitals in Japan and talking with many different child life specialists. It’s almost difficult to know where to start. I had the pleasure of meeting 5 different child life specialists from 2 different hospitals. I was able to shadow a few procedure supports, listen to a school re-entry discussion, participate in a group medical play session, and of course tour the hospitals.

I learned that first and foremost, child life in Japan looks very similar to child life in America. In fact, one child life specialist emphasized the importance of the Japanese child life student first learning the “American style of child life” before learning the “Japanese style of child life” (as in, the small differences between how hospital utilize child life in American versus Japan). She felt that this was important because the student will be able to bring new ways that things are done abroad and thus advance the field of child life in Japan.

What really struck me was how the acceptance and importance of child life specialists on the healthcare team has grown in leaps and bounds. Listening to the child life specialists’ stories about the walls they scaled and bridges they built was inspiring. Seeing the respect that the healthcare team had for them was wonderful. If I could take away anything, it would be that it is critical to be good at having what we call “crucial conversations” and forging professional relationships. Most of these specialists did not walk into a position that was open from somebody’s departure. Each of them has to create their position from scratch, teaching staff the importance of child life and showing the medical team how child life specialists can impact the healthcare experience.

So you might be wondering what I learned from my visit. For one thing, I finally saw a great use for fuse beads! You may already know this trick, but I’ve always struggled with what to do with the fuse beads when they are done. Well, in one playroom someone had strung a bunch of them up to hang in the window, it  was so cute! Sorry, I was just super excited. But that was definitely one thing that stood out. They were so good at decorating! Maybe it has  something to do with the Japanese culture of “wrapping”, but they did some amazing decorating jobs. They created great works of art on the wall with bits of colorful paper. There was a beautiful quilt that covered the medical supply cabinet in the procedure room. And of course there was lots of origami!

I also really like how open the playrooms were. Most of the toys, books, and crafts were kept in the cabinets  along the walls when not in use. That meant there was so much space to move around, making it very easy for multiple kids to move around, even with IV polls. Also you had to remove your shoes before entering the playroom, which kept things much cleaner and allowed the younger kids to crawl and me to easily sit on the floor to be eye-to-eye with a child. No crouching necessary!

It also struck me how calm the hospital was, especially in regards to staff. Everyone was cheerful, but also peaceful. I could see staff talking one at a time and never over each other, especially during procedures. Patients are usually assigned a primary nurse who takes care of them most days. The patient and nurse  form a relationship with each other and the patient learns to trust the nurse and become comfortable. The nurse in turn becomes a great advocate for the patient because of the knowledge she or he gains about the patient.

I saw so many things on this trip that I can’t tell them all in one blog post, but I hope that you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about child life in Japan. It was such an amazing experience that I wanted to share it with my readers! If you have any questions about this post, or any others regarding child life, please feel free to leave a message or send me an email!


Me and Sento-kun, Nara’s mascot!

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