Monday, October 01, 2007

Japanese Husband & Wife Living Arrangements

You might be wondering what the hell does this title have to do with teaching in Japan. Well read on and you’ll find out.

Today I was teaching a special education course where we teach English to two children who are mentally handicapped. Both boys are a pure joy to teach though you have to be extremely patient and understanding to get them to even repeat simple phrases.

I teach this class with two teachers, F-sensei whom I have written about previously as well as N-sensei. Today I got to chatting with N-sensei about her private life and she told me something that kind of shocked me. I normally don’t pry into other people’s personal lives because I don’t want anyone to pry into my own. But during our conversation it just sorted of drizzled deep into her private life.

I had asked N-sensei about her Internet usage or something like that. And then she told me that she never uses the Internet. Well I am a huge proponent of the Internet and I encouraged her to jump on it and get to surfing. Well somehow our conversation turned from Internet related activity to her home life. I think I asked her if her husband uses the Internet or something like that and from there it spiraled down the hole of N-sensei's life.

She then told me, that her husband lives in Tokyo, way on the other side of Japan from the Kansai area where we live. I then asked her several follow ups about this and she proceeded to tell me that they have lived apart for 30 years, that he is a salary man, that they meet once a month, and they call each other weekly, but that they have not lived together for over thirty years.

That threw me for a serious loop-de-loop. I was wondering what in the hell kind of relationship they had that would cause them to live apart for that many years, if she really knew who her husband was, and so on. I probably shouldn’t have asked all the questions that I did but curiosity got the better of me. She said that it’s quite normal in Japan for families to live separate and that she is fine with it. I asked her how her children felt about it, and she said it was the same for them.

This is just so bizarre for me because as an American, the only families I know who live apart like that are military families, and they don’t live apart for periods like 30 years. It was just a big shock.

I went on to tell her, that when he retires (next year) that if she doesn’t like him she can divorce him and with the new pension rules in Japan, she could take half his pension. She just gave this impish little smile and didn’t say a word. I was wondering if she is actually contemplating this, or just wanted to ignore me after having dug so deep into her life.

I felt bad afterward for I know Japanese people are not that open about private matters, but for me it was like a cultural archaeological dig. I was finding out more and more about family matters despite living here for over six years. I just don’t see how the family stays together when they are separated for that long of a time. You’d think they’d lose interest in each other after living separate lives for such a long time. But I guess living apart also might be one of the reasons Japanese divorce rates are so low. They don't have conflict because they live apart... I wonder if N-sensei will remain married once her hubby returns and retires?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's quite common actually. One of my husband's friends is in his late 50's, and his wife and kids lives in Hokkaido, while he works and lives mostly in Tokyo, and commutes back to Hokkaido every 3 months for a few days time.

I guess families like this get used to the routine, and i'm sure the wife, having the husband around after not having him around would probably be annoying after all the time they haven't spent together. Can you imagine what will happen in retirement though? Will they live happily? Or will they get on each other's nerves? I'm sure it will be a trying time as they will have to get used to being with each other 24/7.

I couldn't do that, i just couldn't. I'd follow my husband wherever he had to go because i couldn't stand to live without him. I guess other people have different priorities though.