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Letters from Japan: 'Where should we live?'

13 Comments
By Hilary Keyes

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with the subject "Ask Hilary."

Hilary,

I have a major problem with my boyfriend. He’s Japanese, I’m American, and we’re both in our mid-thirties. Neither of us wants kids, we have our own hobbies, and our lives are otherwise good, I think. We’ve been together for five years, and are talking about getting married, but we can’t agree on where we’ll live in the future.

He’s an only child, so he feels responsible for taking care of his parents. He thinks we should move into their house and live with them, and that I should stay home to take care of them when the time comes. They’re both active and healthy so it wouldn’t be a concern for a long time yet (I hope) but still. It’s ridiculously traditional, but the cheapest option, frankly speaking.

I have one sister and she’s got four kids. I don’t think she can look after our parents and take care of her own family. My parents are the same age as my boyfriend’s, but they aren’t nearly as healthy—my dad had a heart attack last year. My parents have good private insurance but I feel guilty about having strangers or my sister take care of my parents. My boyfriend and I are very serious about one another, but we can’t seem to find a solution to this whole thing. Any advice would be appreciated. — Grim Future

Dear Grim Future,

I don’t think your future is as grim as it might seem. I’ve known a few international-Japanese couples that have run into the same concerns when it comes to aging parents. While they’ve coped in different ways, what has gotten them through was remembering that they are a team, not individuals, dealing with these issues.

Was your father’s heart attack significant enough to warrant you immediately traveling to see him? If so, then you need to have a very serious discussion with your parents and your sister regarding their futures. This might be better done in person—one, face to face communication is more honest, and two, you need to see the situation with your own eyes to know what is going on.

I assume that your sister is relatively close to your parents, so this is a discussion that should involve her (and her partner if they are in the picture) as well. She may already have some plans in place for your parents’ future care. You might think it sounds impossible, but she might have already talked about these matters with your parents/her partner, especially given your father’s health scare. This whole discussion won’t be resolved overnight—you may need to stay in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, so you’ll also need to make sure everything with your Japanese visa and career are in order as well.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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13 Comments
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I think this woman will greatly regret moving in with her husband's parents and agreeing to take care of a non-blood relative. Sounds like servitude. No thanks!

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Japanese first-born sons are expected to take care of the parents when they get older. It's a cultural and familial obligation. The first-born sons know this as well, they grow up with this expectation.

Going into a relationship with a first-born son, without the willingness to take care of his parents when they get older is going to eventually doom most relationships. Especially if the partner expects to take care of their own parents.

It's unfortunate, but some relationships won't work. Of course people in love don't always like to look at the practicalities.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I think when a Japanese women marries a Japanese man and moves into his family home to care for his aging parents for many causes a great deal of stress for the Japanese wife.

The mother remains the female of the house and the wife is expected to adapt to her ways of doing stuff like cooking.

I think for an American to do the same who be that much difficult especially if there are language problems and lack of understanding of the cultural needs and wants.

The boyfriend needs to lay all the cards on the table so the American women can best decide.

I know of Japanese cases but never heard of the story with foreigners.

Going down that road though, there is an alternative which even foreigners have. Don't move into the family house and instead make their own home separate but nearby. That often works out. Even some Japanese couples take that route.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I’ve known many foreign wives who live/lived with their Japanese husband’s parents. For some it’s been a successful, happy arrangement. For others, it has not, sometimes resulting in divorce, moving out of the family home, or just a festering unhappy condition that lasts for years. Just like in the cases I’ve known of Japanese wives in the same situation.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Japan isn't the only country where children are expected to care for their parents. Italy is another one.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Living nearby is one solution that sometimes works. Another is a “nisedai” two-generation house that is like a duplex, completely Or nearly separate living quarters, kitchens, entrances etc but in one building. But those solutions are difficult if money is an issue and may be harder to justify the necessity of if there are no children in the younger household.

invalid CSRF

5 ( +5 / -0 )

sorry but if she agrees to this they are almost guaranteed to fail sadly!

Bottom line is growing old in japan is no fun for anyone, in fact almost guaranteed to be the extreme OPPOSITE!

DONT DO IT!!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

He’s an only child, so he feels responsible for taking care of his parents. He thinks we should move into their house and live with them, and that I should stay home to take care of them when the time comes. 

Well then tell junior that "he should stay home to take care of them when the time comes." And as to zichi's comment about Italy, be that as it me, his parents are NOT her parents. This train wreck can be avoided.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If the Japanese parents do not need help, there is no need to live in the same house with them just yet. Another option is to live nearby. If they have room for you to move in, one option is to use that space as a garage where you keep stuff, thereby letting you rent a small place of your own. No place for stuff is a huge problem for many renters.

Living with relatives is an often-quoted reason given for sexless marriages. 95% of Japanese homes have thin walls and sliding doors. Moving in with in-laws when not necessary sounds like a recipe for killing intimacy and in the long-term killing the marriage. The couple are childless, which means no children of their own to kill intimacy, and no childcare bonus from living with elderly.

To be cruelly analytical, it sounds like the Japanese parents will outlive the American ones, in which case I would worry about the American parents first. In fifteen or twenty years time, the couple may have the means to built a suitable two-family home that is universal design for the elderly in laws but still allows privacy for the couple. Moving in with them now strikes me as too submissive.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I think this woman will greatly regret moving in with her husband's parents and agreeing to take care of a non-blood relative. Sounds like servitude. No thanks!

Plus her father has had a heart attack. Likely she will be called upon to care for him in the future as she has no kids and her sister has 4 kids.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

He thinks we should move into their house and live with them, and that I should stay home to take care of them when the time comes.

How about he stays home to look after his parents?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I’d look to live up a mountain away from other humans...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Don't marry him. He seems to think it's acceptable for you to give up your career and life to look after his parents. He says it's his respondibility yet gives you the work. Don't move into their house neither, it will never be your home.

He seems to be marrying for a free live in carer and housekeeper.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

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