Being a first-time parent is a roller coaster of emotions ranging from the excitement of nurturing a family to the general anxiety of “doing it right.” In collaboration with Saraya, a leading manufacturer of baby care products in Japan, Tokyo Weekender is introducing six new and expecting families and inviting them to talk about their experiences being pregnant, giving birth and being a parent as a foreign resident of Japan. Read our last interview with Caitlin Steiner for tips on expecting and giving birth in Japan.

This time, TW met with Takako and Todor Panev, a Japanese-Macedonian couple living in Setagaya. They have two sons, Niko (age 3) and Toma (age 1.5), who are growing up around and thriving in both cultures thanks to the unwavering dedication of their parents.

Bilingual Upbringing is a Labor of Love

“When I was pregnant, I read many books on raising bilingual children. We decided to go with direct communication and reading, no TV,” Takako says. 

“I am strictly using Japanese with the children,” Takako says. “And I pretend not to understand Japanese and I only use Macedonian,” Todor adds. This way, the couple explains, the children are motivated to master the language of each parent. This method helps children acquire languages separately without awkwardly mixing the two, which can be a common issue with bilingual children. 

Growing up and being raised bilingual is challenging at the best of times but it’s especially tricky when one of the languages is only spoken by about 3 million people worldwide. In Tokyo, there are virtually no resources, books or schools for Macedonian. Todor worked hard to create equal learning opportunities while living in Japan. He even built a library of children’s books and textbooks in Macedonian, and he reads to his sons regularly to enrich their vocabulary.

The children speak Japanese with Takako’s family and friends, and Todor’s parents call regularly and talk to Niko and Toma in Macedonian. 

During the pandemic, thanks to remote work, the Panev family spent almost half a year in Macedonia, where the kids honed their language skills further. They travel as much as possible, splitting their time between the two countries. Todor owns his own IT business, which allows him much-needed flexibility to raise a happy multicultural family.

Best of Both Worlds

Beyond bilingualism, the Panev family blends traditions and celebrates all holidays. “I like to take the best things of both cultures and make our own customized culture,” Takako says. Both parents agree that they like many elements of each other’s home countries. Perhaps, they mention, they fell for each other because they were open to other cultures. 

“We like to teach them the order and politeness of Japanese society,” Takako explains. “But I don’t like to teach them to blindly be like everyone else, without showing their will or individuality.” This is an aspect of Japanese society that frustrated her growing up. 

“I don’t want them to be insular, I want them to learn about the whole world,” Todor adds about his hopes and dreams for their sons.

Niko and Toma are learning to navigate both cultures and are already thriving in both countries and languages. When talking to each other, they switch between Japanese and Macedonian easily. They seem to be on the right path to enjoy this world and its diversity.’s Products

The Panev family puts love and care into everything they do, whether it’s building a library or choosing the best hygiene products for the children. The family tried two products: the milky lotion and the foam body soap

“I am the ofuro (bath) guy,” Todor says. “I bathe them and we use this soap for skin, hair, everything.” The foam soap is gentle, cleans without pressure and washes away completely. The pump helps dispense the product easily, a plus when you’ve already got one arm busy with a little one.

“It’s important to put the milky lotion after bathing because baby skin is thin and needs protection,” Takako adds. The lotion has helped improve Toma’s skin. 

Takako mentions she has also used the laundry detergent. She chose it because it’s gentle. “I trust the brand,” Takako says. “I was happy to try the soap and the lotion too.”

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