top of page

Take Me To EVENTS page

ACT in Japan: Bridging Cultures to Help Families Raise Children without Violence

Japanese family in the park

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is the third in a series of posts about APA’s ACT Raising Safe Kids (ACT-RSK) program. ACT-RSK teaches positive parenting skills to parents and caregivers of children from birth to age 8. Read our first and second posts in the series here and here.

By Reiko True, PhD & Nahoko Nishizawa, PsyD (ACT Raising Safe Kids Program Coordinators in Japan)

Looking out at the beautiful snowy mountains of northeastern Japan, Tohoku, it is hard to imagine the terrifying earthquake-tsunami disaster that hit the area in March 2011. All the debris has been removed and construction activities are going on. However, many survivors still struggle with the slow and difficult process of “recovery.” Many of them still live in temporary housing and are still unemployed. Under such prolonged stress and profound grief, domestic violence and child abuse are increasing.   Unfortunately, many government and volunteer supporters began pulling out from these areas at the end of March 2015.

Our team began translating the ACT Raising Safe Kids program into Japanese before the earthquake, because we thought that many parents in Japan needed a structured workshop style group program focused on parenting, which also addresses participants’ emotions. We completed our first translation right after the earthquake, and conducted pilot programs to adapt this program to fit Japanese culture. The results of the pilot programs showed us that Japanese participants reacted differently to the exercises and content addressing emotions.

They did not know what to do when asked about emotions, and could not express their emotions. Their emotional reactions to certain activities were much bigger that those of US participants. Their group process also seemed to move slower. Theories of multicultural psychology, such as interdependent self vs. independent self (Marcus & Kitayama, 1991), high and low context of communication styles (Hall, 1976), group oriented and collectivistic culture (Hofstede, 1980), helped us conceptualize such differences. Based on such understanding, we adapted the program to better address participants’ emotions and permitted them enough time to build trust in each other (Nishizawa et al., 2014).

With support from APA’s Violence Prevention Office, we finalized the Japanese version of the ACT program in August 2013. Since then, we have conducted 5 facilitator trainings in Tokyo, and trained more than 90 ACT Japan facilitators. They held ACT program trainings for parents in Yokohama, Tokyo, Hino (a suburb of Tokyo), a few towns in Hokkaido, and Sendai. Parent responses to the program evaluations have been positive, with an average score of approximately 4 on a 5 point scale (from 1 being “not helpful at all” up to 5 being “very helpful”).

Now we are initiating another cultural adaptation project to develop appropriate guidelines to hold the ACT Japan program for parents in the Tohoku disaster area, mainly Miyagi and Fukushima. When we completed the ACT Japan program, we hoped ACT Japan could become helpful for parents recovering from the disaster, but in fact, ACT Japan facilitators from Tohoku areas expressed their concerns that the current ACT Japan program might not fit the needs of parents in small towns affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Tohoku has its own unique culture which is different from the culture of big cities like Tokyo. In addition, parents who are survivors of the disaster and its aftermath have different needs from parents without such difficulties. Also, parents in Fukushima have a strong fear of the unknown effects of radiation. Our hope is to have ACT Japan address the needs of parents in post-disaster areas in a safer and more effective way.

Cultural differences exist in many aspects of our lives, but parents everywhere want the best for their children. This unifying goal and our good results with ACT in other parts of Japan motivate us to take the program to the disaster area that has so many needs. We will be bridging cultures to help families raise children without violence.


Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequence: International differences in work related values. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Books.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self. Implication for cognition, emotion and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253.

Nishizawa, N., Portwood, S. , Knox, M., Cuevas, M., & Williams, L., (2014, August). “ACT project in Japan” In True, R. (Chair). ACT parents raising safe kids cross cultural adaptation of a violence prevention project. Symposium conducted at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

Image source: Flickr user Katsuhito Nojiri via Creative Commons

8 views0 comments


bottom of page