The Baker family – Yokohama life: “Culturally diverse, convenient, kid-friendly”

By on April 7, 2014

(Left row) Bill Baker, Connie Baker, and Rose Baker (Bill’s Mom). (Right row) Liam, Ally, and Sophia.

Where are the Bakers originally from?
Bill was born in New Jersey and was there until 21 years old. I was born in the Philippines and moved to Hawaii’s North Shore at age 3.

On a scale of 1-10,  how would you rate the quality of life in Yokohama?
  Cost of living –              5
Education                       8
Childcare / safety       10
Healthcare                      9
Taxes                                5
Community support     8
Transportation             10
Social life                         8
Housing                            7 

When did you come to Japan and what brought you here?
Bill first moved to Japan in 1994. His company had bought its Japan distributor the previous year and Bill transferred to Japan to support the new organization. I moved to Japan in 1997 after we were married. We returned to the US for 3 years in 2002. We moved back to Japan in 2005 when Bill took a position as GM of Asia for a Silicon Valley software company.

How did you and your spouse meet?
Before Bill had moved to Japan, he lived in San Francisco. I was living in Sacramento and working as a nurse. One weekend, my best friend, Sandra Abe, and her boss, John Baker (Bill’s brother) flew up from Los Angeles. By coincidence, Bill had a rugby game in Sacramento that weekend. Bill had just happened to talk to his brother the day before and the two made plans to get together after the game. He was covered in mud when we first met that day. It was not love at first sight!

How many children do you have and how old are they?  We have three children: Ally, 16; Liam, 14; and Sophia, 11.

Whose choice was it to live in Yokohama?
This is our second stint in Japan. The first lasted until 2002. We then returned to California for three years. Bill changed jobs and we moved back to Japan in August of 2005. Bill choose to base his operations in Shin-Yokohama so we mutually decided to live in Yokohama after looking at the schools and the available housing. Yokohama is a great place to establish a sales office.  Rents are significantly less than Tokyo. Also, with Shinkansen access in Shin-Yokohama, you’re just 15 minutes from downtown Tokyo and only 2 hours from Osaka.

How does living here compare to your home country?

The first thing that jumps out to me is convenience. Our house in California is in the country. It’s a 10- minute drive just to get to a general store. In Yokohama, there’s a Denny’s, a bakery, two convenience stores, a supermarket, two barbers, a pharmacy, plus three or four additional restaurants all within a 2- minute walk of the house.

The second thing that is different is the overall lack of crime. There are no guns and relatively speaking, no crime in Japan. It’s a great feeling and a fantastic environment in which to raise children. I was going to say that we can leave our door open in Japan, but that wouldn’t be very smart, would it! Let me share one example. Last Christmas we went back to California for three weeks. When we returned my husband couldn’t find his bike – and thought it had been stolen. As he walked to the convenience store, he saw his bike parked – unlocked! – outside the store, where it had been for three weeks. Nobody had touched it. Apparently, just before the Christmas break, my absent-minded husband had ridden to the convenience store, bought some items, then walked home!

The third thing is that it is more expensive. Housing, utilities, and food costs are quite a bit higher than back in the states. It has gotten better as megastores like Costco, Homes, and Autobacs have become more widespread. Also, there are ways to save when food shopping that become clear with more experience: use local ingredients, understand when the sales happen, etc.

What is the biggest change in your life since being here?
Life has been pretty stable since moving from the states to Yokohama. In the eight years, we’ve been here, the kids have grown quite a bit. As they grow, the activities and rhythm of daily life changes. Specific to being in a different country, you grow to have a broader prospective. In the US, the news and prospective are in relation to the US culture. Here, you are exposed to different people with views in interpreting global events.

Did you have to make big adjustments when you first arrived here? 
When we first arrived in Yokohama and met with the international schools, we came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough Japanese language in the curriculum. We decided to put our children into local schools. That was a big adjustment because all the communication from, several of the local moms reached out to me to make sure that I understood everything.

Another very different aspect is that the Japanese local schools also teach life lessons (students cleaning the school, etc). We kept the kids in local schools for three years. When they got to the point where they were speaking Japanese at home, we moved them to international school. The Japanese families that helped us during that period are still friends today. It was a great experience attending the local schools.

What does your family enjoy doing in Yokohama?
Yokohama is a world class city with all the amenities such as great restaurants, sports teams, lots of activities. We live in Naka-Ku, the center of Yokohama, so we have easy access to the magnificent waterfront, China town, and the shopping at Minato Mirai (the harbor of the future). There are always new activities happening at Akarenga (the red brick warehouse at the waterfront) and Yamashita Park. It’s just a 10-minute bike ride from our house.

Where’s your favorite hangout in the area as a family?
There are three places that would qualify:
YC&AC (Yokohama Country and Athletic Club) is a great place to hang-out with kids. The kids play soccer, volleyball, and basketball there. The pool is great in the summer. Bill plays rugby and baseball. Bill and I also take a latin dance class there as well.

Minato Mirai has great shopping and several movie theatres.

Our house. The kids often invite their friends over for a meal or a slumber party. There’s always something going on at the house.

How has the school helped/supported your family in adjusting to life here?
Initially, in the local schools, the children were able to get a deeper understanding of the Japan culture and language. The local schools worked hard to make sure the children received the support they needed to be successful.

Now, the children are in Saint Maur International School. Of course, the first thing is that the school is filled with students that are living a similar lifestyle in being out of their native countries. The school challenges the students academically. In addition, our kids are heavily involved in the school’s sport, music, and drama programs so they are experiencing a great deal.

The critical success factor for the family in adjusting to the ex-pat life is ensuring the non-working spouse is happy in the new environment. Saint Maur has a very active program for the spouses. They have sport/exercise programs, cooking classes, Japanese cultural activities, etc. I’m participating in several of the programs such as learning Aikido; teaching English to the non-native speakers; teaching first aid to the mothers, students, and teachers; participating in the yoga class; and participating in food fair (I manage the Hawaii booth. Please come to the food fair on 4.29!)

What three things about Yokohama life do you appreciate the most and why?  

The diversity of culture   Yokohama’s history as the entry point for foreign trade has imbued a sense of openness and acceptance of diversity in the people that live here. The mixing of cultures that you see in Chinatown and the surrounding areas is also unique in Japan.

Access to transportation
From our house, we are 5 minutes from the highway entry point. The bayshore highway is much less congested then the loops within Tokyo so it is very convenient. Bill frequently travels to other Asian cities. Haneda is only 20 minutes door-to-door. In many ways, we are closer to Tokyo than when we lived in Tokyo.

It’s kid-friendly
The combination of safety, access to parks, and lots of fun things to do make it a great place to raise a family.
If you can change one thing here that will make family life better, what would it be?

It’s a great place to live as is, but I’d like to see more outdoor recreational facilities like basketball courts (all three kids play) and tennis courts.

If you could bring back a piece of Japan to your home country, what would it be?

In my opinion, Japan is the most civilized country in the world. The diligence at work and the respect for one another are traits we could use more of globally, not just in my home country.

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