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The quiet desperation of teleworking

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Novel situations spawn novel expressions, or novel meanings to old ones. The novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 has been especially fertile in that regard. Teleworking is not new, only newly mainstream. Divorce is certainly not new, but “corona divorce” – not divorce in the literal sense; more an estrangement brought on by forced domestic intimacy – is, and proliferating.

Then there’s fuyo fukyu – “not necessary, not urgent.” It’s the guideline governments national and local are urging upon us as we consider whether or not to leave the house. Is the errand or diversion fuyo fukyu? If not, err on the side of caution: stay home.

You never thought staying home could be so stressful. You were never home long enough to know. Stressful? Home should be a haven from stress. A deadly pandemic is an education in more ways than one.

Shukan Gendai (April 11-18) introduces some people who are learning the hard way. All names are pseudonyms.

Yoji Okamoto, 72, went independent 30 years ago; he runs his own textile importing firm. It’s grueling work, but the long, exhausting hours brought rewards. The business grew, the savings account swelled. His wife, you’d think, would be grateful. He’d assumed she was.

COVID-19 was a blow. It didn’t shut him down completely, but business is way down, and he’s home a lot more than ever before. Grateful? “She hardly knows I exist,” he complains.

One thing about all-consuming work – it keeps family members out of each other’s hair. The Okamoto couple now had ample time to experience how they grated on each other, when together. Mrs Okamoto, still working part-time, makes a point of putting in extra hours when she knows her husband will be home.

To add injury to insult, she insists, since he’s free, that he drive her to and from work. Is that too much to ask? Not at all, Okamoto acknowledges – “except that on those days she won’t let me drink. One of my very few small pleasures.”

“All you ever talk about is yourself!” she cries. “You never listen to me.”

Okamoto sighs. “If this goes on much longer,” he says, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Yoshimasa Kubota, 49, would understand perfectly. He too is something of a workaholic by nature. Now teleworking, he feels home as something of a prison. His wife and teenage daughter – the daughter home from school – treat him as an unwelcome guest foisted on them. His daughter seems particularly resentful. Usually, as the last one home, he bathes last. One day he bathed first. The daughter made no secret of her disgust. She promptly emptied the tub and made what seemed to him a rather exaggerated show of scrubbing it.

He swallowed the insult in silence, seething inwardly. At times he feels an almost convulsive desire to escape. “Does fuyo fukyu,” he wonders, “apply to me?”

Yusuke Hosoda’s rude awakening has nothing to do with his family. We’re not even told if he has one. He’s 53, a mid-level executive with a maker of electrical appliances. At the office, he makes decisions, is listened to, is accorded respect and a measure of deference. Now teleworking, he finds all that gone. His subordinates, also teleworking, make decisions themselves, conferring with each other and bypassing him.

And in fact, he notes with alarm, things go smoothly anyway. What does that say about his role? Is he redundant? Will he recover his authority when things get back to normal – if they ever do get back to normal?

The COVID-19 hiatus from normality is giving him much to think about – him, and all of us.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

5 Comments
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This virus is revealing the flaws of each and every society.

Even here people are starting to think about their life, "couple", appearances.

Let's hope they re open the kyabakura soon before everyone understand their situation.

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One day he bathed first. The daughter made no secret of her disgust. She promptly emptied the tub and made what seemed to him a rather exaggerated show of scrubbing it.

In the old days, the dad always went first. Then the kids, then the mom. How Japan has changed.

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I wonder if some of these factors are keeping the morning stations relatively crowded, like Shinagawa station that we see on the news every morning. Shinagawa, particularly the area around the east exit, is the whitest of white collar office space, so in theory they should be the most able to do telework. But the amount of passengers still seems to remain stubbornly high.

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I think Mr. Okamoto needs a divorce and to enjoy his retirement either alone or with a lady friend who appreciates him.

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In the old days, the dad always went first. Then the kids, then the mom. How Japan has changed.

In comfortable, economically developed, modern societies men are not worth as much as they were when life was much harder. Younger men understand this and are less willing to sacrifice for unappreciated women. And you know, women are fine with that too.

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