Saturday, May 09, 2009

Early family life

Tetsu and I lived in little two room apartments for years and years before we bought our now home. For the first years of marriage Tetsu was transferred around a lot and so we'd live in one city for a year and then be transferred to another city for a year. When Takumi was born I just decided I didn't want to do that any more. It was fun for the first 5 years but I wanted to live in one place for awhile. So when Tetsu was transferred to Tokyo I said,

"Bye, have a nice time. I don't want to live in Tokyo."

Doesn't that sound awful?! No, we were not considering separation. This is a rather common practice in Japan. It is called tanshinfunin, and in the dictionary it is translated as a Business Bachelor. Companies will transfer their businessmen and the husbands leave their families and go off to live alone in a mini-apartment until the next transfer. Many (many!) times, the company will send their businessman on an overseas post and for 4 or 5 years the family will live apart if they choose not to uproot the whole family. In some ways it makes sense. The children don't have to change schools all the time, the wife can keep her job if she has one, if the family is living with the husband's parents (another very common custom) then the wife and grandparents can care for the children together. Sometimes the wife cares for the in-laws which can also be very convenient (for the husband).

I thought tanshinfunin a horrid example of how little Japan thinks of husband and wife relationships.

"I would never think of such a thing! What is the point of being married if the husband and wife never see each other? Where do the children get father influence if the father only comes home once every six months or so? Where does love and understanding and building a life together take place in a situation like this?"

Actually I have many friends whose families have chosen the tanshinfunin route yet the husband and wife obviously have a loving relationship, the children are proud of their father and his work and the whole family considers the absent father to be a huge presence in their lives.

Back to 23 years ago. Tetsu wasn't really happy in his job anyway and didn't think he was going to make it his life's work so we decided that he would go to Tokyo alone for a few months, quit, and then return to the city where we were then living. Baby Takumi and I lived in our apartment with Tetsu coming home on weekends and a month or two before Tetsu quit his job Takumi and I went to California. After leaving his job, Tetsu joined us in California and the three of us spent a month together, the longest Tetsu has ever lived in the States.

(Before cats and dogs we used to keep birds! Notice Takumi sitting on the tatami mats in our apartment.)

After returning to Japan, and a few false starts, Tetsu found his place in convalescent care and we settled down enough to consider buying a house. When Takumi was 7 and Leiya 3 we purchased our house in Nikko and I have been happy here ever since.

(Takumi at our old apartment on his skateboard visit last summer.)

I love having nature at my doorstep. I love having more than two rooms. I love being able to keep animals. And I love walking with Tetsu in the morning and having him come home every night.


Amanda said...

It's fascinating to hear about how differently things are considered in Japan. When our sons were small we lived pretty close to London, where DH worked, but his hours were so dreadful he only ever saw them at weekends, and we hated it. Our younger son still begrudges the fact, and has said that he doesn't feel that he and his father ever got to know each other properly.

anne bebbington said...

When our three were quite small Nigel had to work away from home from Monday to Friday both in this country and Europe because that was the only way he could get sufficient work to provide for us - we all hated it but accepted it with gritted teeth because it was either that or a vastly reduced income which would have lost us our home - at the time I felt inside that I had the hard deal, I would never have chosen to effectively be a single parent most of the time, but in hindsight I feel Nigel got the worst deal as he missed so much of the two younger ones toddlerhood and early schooldays. Thankfully we both bore it with stoicism, it made us stronger and we all got through it into a better place and situation but I can imagine it could easily tear apart weaker families

Shasta said...

What a great picture of the three of you! When I was younger, my father moved to the city, and visited us every weekend - he actually drove to the town in the morning, took us into the city for worship services in the evening, drove us back in the evening, and then drove back home the next evening.

Betty (picture circa 1954) said...

I really enjoy reading about all the different customs. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

The Calico Quilter said...

About 20 years ago my husband was temporarily transferred to another city in the state, and lived out of town Monday through Friday. He would get home late on Friday evening and leave Sunday afternoon to drive back to the other city. He lived in hotel rooms for over a year but he was working so many hours he was only at the hotel to sleep. At least I was home (and had the cat for company), but I was very lonely and felt the time apart was destructive and terribly divisive. It's difficult for me to visualize a situation where a couple would choose it for a long term solution - a year was more than enough for me.