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Home arrow Political science arrow Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty

Family Life at the Fujiis

Generally, blue-collar workers engaged in shift work in Japan have more discretionary time after working hours than do their white-collar counterparts (roberson 1998; roberts 1994). The latter tend to spend much more time doing unpaid overtime (sābisu zangyō). Working hours for managers at azumi were long, but blue-collar unionized employees tended to leave work after their shifts unless there was paid overtime to be done. Because of his illness, Masaji had only infrequent overtime duties, and when he was home, he spent a lot of time on housework, playing with the children, or taking the family out on the weekends. His job was actually less burdensome than sachi's in terms of hours, as well as in terms of human relationships. Sachi noted that the family usually had dinner together:

Sachi: “when we had dinner, he would listen to my complaints about work.”

Glenda: “Did he do the same with you?”

Sachi: “no, he didn't. In men's workplaces there doesn't seem to be much of that. His workmates really liked him, and he was happy with his work. They treated him very well, and even now [after he had passed away] his close friends would come over. He listened to me unilaterally!”

Masaji had one week of night shift every fourth week. When working the night shift, he could not participate much in the household labor, but during the rest of the month, he pitched in with every chore: changing diapers, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, cleaning, vacuuming, making repairs. Once he had to have dialysis, his company shifted him to desk work and took him off the night shift. Monday, wednesday, and Friday he would have dialysis after work. Tuesday, thursday, saturday, and sunday, he would make dinner and do everything for sachi. Masaji had also been walking the dog when the children were in elementary school, but sachi took over this task because it was becoming increasingly difficult for Masaji as his illness progressed. Instead of walking the dog, Masaji would make boxed lunches for the children, which they needed when they began junior high. Although making boxed lunches is iconically a mother's job (allison 1991; roberts 2011), sachi was happy to relinquish this chore:

He really made nice ones [boxed lunches]. He'd get up at 5:30 a.m. He took a little hand vac and vacuumed the steps on the way down to the kitchen. The most i ever did was wipe the steps with a tissue! i'd be sleeping in the morning and then hear the sound of the vacuum—so noisy, right?—rrrrrrr!!!! I'd think, “Oh! I'm trying to sleep [and there he is at it again!].” But he'd get up early, do the hand vac, and then make miso soup and the lunches and then go to work. He wasn't a total neat freak [keppekishō], but he hated to see dust on the steps! On vacation days he would vacuum for me. I'm really in trouble now that he's gone. He did so much.

When i asked sachi if they ever enlisted the children's help in household chores, she said they never did; they did it all themselves as a couple: “it's normal for the wife [okusan] to do it all. . . . Nowadays some wives and husbands do it together and children fold laundry. . . . Now. . . . But when my husband was alive, the kids didn't do it. They did nothing.19

Relationships between husbands and wives in Japan have often been portrayed as distant, with each partner maintaining his or her separate friends and pastimes, growing further apart as the years of marriage pass (iwao 1993; salamon 1975). Such was certainly not the case with the Fujiis. As sachi Relates, “we didn't do things separately. No. And we were really open [with each other].” Her favorite thing about being married to her husband was that they were blessed with children and that they were able to create a cheerful family. They were together on holidays, and they went on many family trips, singing in the car as Masaji drove. Even in illness, Masaji did not sit at home: “even after he got sick, once every two or three months, when the kids were of high school age, we would leave them home and stay overnight somewhere. We'd take the car. Because he loved to go all sorts of places. To Kumamoto, to shikoku. And we went swimming a lot with the children, in my hometown, and to festivals.”

The children in the Fujii family adored their father. The older daughter called him “Masaji,” which is quite unusual in Japanese families. The second daughter called her dad “Baldy.” Only the son used “Dad” as an appellation. Between mother and dad, Dad was the children's favorite, and Masaji was a warm and indulging parent: “He'd do anything they wanted. Let's say they blew their noses and left the tissue over there. They wouldn't throw it in the wastebasket themselves. Their father would do it for them. Maybe he wanted to protect them. . . . He would always be on their side. The kids loved having him there!”

Sachi says they were not at all strict in teaching their children manners and only scolded them on occasion. the most serious incident of punishment sachi could recall was when elementary-school-aged ami and yūji were misbehaving and wouldn't stop, so she sent them outdoors and closed the door on them: “i heard them say, 'Mother's mad!' i think yūji peed his pants. I don't think i told them what to do very much. Maybe i just left them to their own devices!”

Most married couples have their disagreements, and the Fujiis were no exception. Although they quarreled quite often, they soon made up, and Masaji never raised a hand to sachi or the children. Sachi noted the most angry she ever saw her husband was when he threw his rice bowl down onto the floor. But then he picked up the pieces himself and went off to work. Most of the quarrels she can remember had to do with money—her husband loved to buy motorbikes and take out loans for cars and fancy accessories to the cars, buying a new car every four years. Also, they fought about hospitalization costs after Masaji became ill. His supplemental insurance plan paid him a lump-sum condolence benefit only after he had been in the hospital for at least twenty days. Masaji, who could never keep still, hated hospitals and wanted to be discharged as soon as possible. (there was some leeway in negotiating an early Discharge as doctors tended to favor longer hospitalizations even though they were not strictly necessary.) As he was often hospitalized in his final years, they fought a lot about the early discharge issue: “we argued over money. We didn't have any. . . . Even though tomorrow would be day twenty, he'd come home on day nineteen. 'you could have stood it for one more day!' i'd say. . . . He would say, 'Don't tell me that. I'm begging you; let me go home,' and he'd come home.” As a result, after Masaji became ill, sachi frequently found herself borrowing a bit of money (¥10,000 or so) from her parents until the next payday. When her husband was hospitalized, his salary decreased, so they could not make ends meet. That was why she fought him over the insurance issue. They also fought over giving their son video games. She opposed it, but she lost that argument. She told me she connects her son's failure to do well in school to his video game console.

From sachi's narrative we can discern that Masaji was the more indulgent parent, and he was less careful about family finances as well. The Fujiis had separate bank accounts. Masaji paid for his hobbies—such as the expensive auto accessories—out of his own account, but from sachi's description, it sounded as if he purchased what he wanted when he wanted it. While it is customary in many salaryman/professional housewife families for wives to manage the family finances singlehandedly, sachi did not enjoy this total control.

 
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