My in-laws and She Who Must Be Obeyed are currently engaging in negotiations that can only happen in families in ways that can only happen in Japan. As Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed undergoes a second surgery, this one for a hip replacement, it’s clear that someone is going to have to be close by to take care of her and Father of She Who Must Be Obeyed.
They’ve asked my sister in-law to watch over them and, if possible. to move into the house. The problem is that her husband is the oldest in his family and they may someday be expected to move into his family’s house to care for his father or mother. My brother-in-law lives in Yokohama and it would normally be his responsibility to move back but he can’t drive, which makes him less useful if he moves back. That leaves She Who Must Be Obeyed, who is the second oldest child, but she’s also the only one with kids and the only one married to someone with familial responsibilities in another country.
It’s all very complicated and I personally suspect there’s less to worry about than everyone thinks, but how it works out is how it works out.
However, it has reminded me two of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard that didn’t involve death.
When I was in Niigata, after my first year, my Japanese English teachers switched out and I started working with Mr. Oguma. He told me that he originally went to Tokyo and became a punk rock musician (I’ve got his CD somewhere in the Variety Closet. It’s okay.) But when his father died it was his responsibility to come home and take care of the family.
In his case, he may have actually found a calling. Not only did he improve the crappy boys rock band that all junior high’s in Japan have, but he was also one of the few JTEs I worked with who was concerned that everything he put on the board was correct. For all his energy, though, he did seem to be rather sad and on a lot of pills as I think he lost his second love as well. I’ve mentioned before, that he seemed to want to work in crappy schools. Being in a school where he was dealing with pettiness and family conflict was clearly eating away at him.
The other sad story involved Mr. I, one of my JTEs at my other junior high. He was in every stereotypical way imaginable the cliche Japanese English teacher: old, male, always in a suit, bad English, conducted class mostly in Japanese and didn’t seem to care about anything other than the book which made my classes, to him, useless distractions. He was one of the few teachers I ever got angry with in the teachers’ office.
Then, at his retirement party, out of the blue, he came up to me and said with a wistful laugh “I never wanted to be an English teacher.” He explained how after university he’d gone to Tokyo to work in a major company as a “salary man” (office worker). Then, after his father died, he moved back to Niigata to take care of the family and about all that was available was teaching. He then said that he’d told the officials involved in his hiring that he wanted to teach social studies. They told him there were too many social studies teachers and he had to teach English even though he didn’t speak it. He then spent the next 35 years or so doing a job he wasn’t trained for and never wanted to do.
It was one of the few times in my life I was so deeply moved that I was speechless and to this day the story makes me sad. Mr. I and Mr. Oguma are the few true examples of Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation” I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know where they are now. I hope they’re doing well.