Ever wonder what a typical Japanese home looks like? Well now you know.
Indeed my Japanese in-laws are “typical” in many ways…with a few exceptions:
Exception 1: Most Japanese aren’t lucky enough to live in Atami, a hot-springs resort historically considered the ideal honeymoon destination. But Atami has lost its luster through the years as Hawaii became more and more popular as a vacation destination. But it’s still a great place to visit. Some Japanese friends say it’s now cheaper to vacation in Hawaii than in Japan. (Not sure if the claim holds up under scrutiny, but with the strong yen it’s likely not far from the truth.)
Exception 2: Most Japanese families don’t have a “foreign barbarian” (that would be me) as a son-in-law. And how many barbarians speak Japanese? This worked in my favor and elevated my status to “acceptable barbarian”. Truth be told, my mother-in-law was shocked when my wife informed her 26 years ago that we were tying the knot. But to our utter surprise Japanese dad embraced the idea (not at all typical). In retrospect my wife and I have concluded that deep down dad was thrilled about his daughter marrying an American. And the proof is in the pudding: we’ve grown close over the years–and even mom has come around. But make no mistake about it: I had to earn her approval. It helps that we gave her 2 grandchildren and made the marriage work. (The Japanese stereotype of Americans is that we all get divorced. Last I checked the U.S divorce rate was hovering around 50%, so it’s not a stretch to call this a “half-truth”.)
Exception 3: Most Japanese don’t have an ocean view like this:
No, it’s not Hawaii. But by Japanese standards it’s about as good an ocean view as you’re going to get.
Enough of the exceptions. In an earlier post I wrote about Japanese attitudes toward death. Below is a picture of a typical Japanese “Butsudan”, a portable alter for the home to honor deceased relatives. This is all about traditional Japanese ancestral worship. The Butsudan below is set up for my wife’s late grandfather and grandmother. Every night my mother-in-law makes an offering. This has nothing to do with a belief in the afterlife as my in-laws are not religious folks at all; it’s about bringing memories of the deceased into this world. Mom continues to keep the tradition alive, evidence of the power of culture in driving behavior.
The most striking physical feature of Japan is how “crowded” everything is and the narrowness of the streets. Indeed when I drive in Japan I feel like a mouse scrambling around in a maze. In Atami it’s not just a maze, it’s a maze with a very steep grade–think Waipio Valley. The video below was taken from our camera as a taxi driver brought us home from town. Check out the driver’s white gloves; taxis are extremely clean and well-maintained in Japan, and drivers treat customers with utmost respect (with rare exceptions).
Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009