Recently, I wrote an article about the positive points of having pleasant Japanese in-laws. The response to the article from other men seemed positive for the most part, as their experiences with their in-laws seemed similar to mine.
However the responses from female readers made it very clear that some more light should be shed on this subject to allow for a more complete picture.
As I said in my previous article, I cannot make blanket statements about every in-law out there. However, it appears that while many foreign husbands have pleasant relationships with their in-laws, many foreign wives do not have the same luxury.
The Japanese idea of a good wife and the western idea of a good wife, while there is much similar ground, differ in terms of intensity. While the child-rearing and housekeeping are areas too often expected of women in many parts of the world even though the male partner is also fully capable of sharing the responsibility, in many traditional households the ideas of how to perform these tasks are much stricter, and subsequently many in-laws have great expectations for their potential daughters-in-law.
The Japanese family system of ie (literally “household”), when the woman goes off to marry a man she becomes are part of his lineage, of his family. In effect, his parents become her parents. As the new daughter, she is expected to take care of him as befits a Japanese wife, or a yome. The yome is expected to be subordinate in nearly every regard—not only to her husband, but to his parents. In some cases, especially to his parents.
So what happens when the parents end up with a daughter-in-law that aren’t Japanese? Well, there are a variety of responses, ranging from the few that happily bless the marriage with no opposition to absolute refusal to allow the marriage to take place at all.
For those that make it through these barriers, life around the in-laws can be weird and uncomfortable or absolutely miserable for all parties involved. If the daughter-in-law expresses her opinion or makes independent decisions, does something that the in-laws consider unorthodox or anything of the sort, they may very well make her life very difficult.
It is important to understand, however, that Japanese parents-in-law more likely than not are not doing this out of any sort of malicious feelings or ill-intent. They only want the best for their son and for the future of the family, and it is difficult for them to see this happening when, during this new global age, their son is married to a foreigner who will likely not uphold traditions.
With these feelings moving about, it’s easy to see how visits with the in-laws could be uncomfortable. Maybe the daughter-in-law doesn’t speak any Japanese or maybe it is just too difficult for them to find a common ground in order to converse.
So why aren’t the foreign guys experiencing these kinds of problem as much as the foreign girls? While there are probably a lot of reasons, one of the biggest may in fact be because of what I said before: when the girl leaves to marry the man, she is considered to be more a part of his family. It is not her job to move on the family name, uphold family tradition for the good of the household or any such thing.
So when a Japanese girl marries a foreign guy, the household/lineage is nearly a non-issue. His parents are obviously not going to force her to be a yome, making that particular stress a non-issue as well.
As a last note, I would like to reiterate that I am aware this doesn’t happen with everybody and everyone is different. No matter the nationality of the person you are married to, if you have a good relationship with your in-laws, consider yourself blessed. If not, try to be as respectful as possible and move forward with the wonderful partner you married as best you can.
Good article! Yes, I agree that the expectations for a son- or daughter-in-law are very different. I am lucky that my in-laws are not very strict, but I do try my best to fit in. I asked my husband how I should behave, I always use polite language and offer to help, I try to engage in fun and light discussions and steer clear of any political or otherwise opinion-prone subjects and I always thank them profusely for anything they do or give to me. And they give me a lot. So far, it all went very well, I even got granny-approval and I honestly like his family, including said granny and all the uncles and aunts. Everyone is very nice to me and they seem like pretty open and relaxed folk. I guess they also notice that I give my husband a lot of support (without being sub-ordinated) and that family is important to me (even if I don’t just play the house-wife) and hence, they approve of me. Having said that, I know they are expecting children within the next few years, and as we also like the idea, I shall see how and if things change, once the offspring has arrived. I think it will be fine, though.
Really intelligent, illuminating article. I’ve heard it said before that it’s indicated even in traditional wedding vows that the husband is “consuming” the bride, or maybe more like subsuming. Making her a part of himself, which is bound to create an imbalance to anyone not ready for it (ie: me, until the day I die). I highly doubt any Japanese man would see messy, independent me as yome material, so no worries on that score!
Nah, normal Western (? Sorry if I’m wrong) girls (messy and independent as you described) are completely eligible. Not all Japanese guys and their parents are traditonal like in this article.
Thanks for bringing this up in another article (I was one of the people who commented on your last article which I also enjoyed). You are right about everyone’s situation not being the same but that there is definitely a lot of expectation for foreign wives that may not be there for foreign husbands and it is nice to have that recognised 🙂
NHK is airing a drama based on the life of a Scottish wife of a Japanese executive in the early 20th century (when foreigners were even more fewer than now). Good watch, even if you’re not into the genre: