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Japan Diary

Until Death. Really? (Part 2)

Until Death. Really?

Welcome to part 2 of a 2 part series. If you missed it you can read part 1 here.

With reluctance I accepted this fact and self-relegated myself to being the breadwinner – a label I could wrap my head around. Don’t get me wrong I never became one of those absentee fathers in Japan I used to hear so much about. These are Japanese business men who work long hours including weekends for the sake of the company. The company first, family a far second. Sure the money may be good and the camaraderie among peers in the same boat is reassuring, but what awaits them at the end of the tunnel (retirement) they hadn’t a clue.

This older generation put their trust in the company for job security sacrificing family life. For many, after retiring they came to the realization they no longer had a bond with their wife or children and ended up spending their remaining lives gambling during the day at pachinko parlors (gambling halls) and drinking in the evenings at izakayas. Then one day while walking home from a night of drinking keel over from a dark epiphany in which they could no longer deny reality; lack of connection or direction in life.

Worse case scenario, jump in front of a fast moving morning or evening rush hour train with two objectives; put an end to their miserable life and disrupt as many commuters as possible while the train line grinds to a halt to scrape their remains off the track. They usually choose the very same train line they used to take for thirty plus years of their working lives. (As of 2019 the suicide rate – 19,959).

Now what I have said up to this point is not some sort of anomaly. This is based on experience being on a train where a jumper ended his life, and also supported by my English Circle community center class I taught for more than eight years to mostly retired men and women. In the case of these men, they have found meaning in retirement. They are the outliers choosing to engage with a hobby, learning and studying English among others.

The women in the class over the years have offered insight into the reality of family life. While privacy is held to high esteem I have had the privilege to have been give the “inside scoop“. It seems over the years they have come to trust me. I would add that Minnesotans tend to be trustworthy folks. We are good peoples,” as my friends like to say.

At times it does seem the English class had become both a place of language learning and therapy. While I do not necessarily plan the class, I prefer to let it develop organically and on occasion when it airs towards therapy I have become privy to family life, mostly in the form of complaints from the women. Love is not part of their lexicon, it’s more like annoyance. They would prefer that their husbands continue after retirement to remain outside of the house for as long as possible. This explains why pachinko parlors and izakayas are so popular.

Don’t get me wrong the men in the class are inspirational. These men realized somewhere along the line during and after their careers that while they had to follow the cultural expectation of work life, they knew deep down that there was more to life than that. These guys not only study English regularly, but have been and continue to be engaged with their families and have other hobbies such as tennis, cycling, and hiking. One eighty-two year old in my class even after retirement returned to school to learn acupuncture at age sixty-two, graduated and has had a practice ever since.

Bringing it back to my family life, I want to end on a positive note. That is I have learned never to let work life interfere with my now ten year old son. To always be engaged in his life and to make that a priority over many other things in my life.

So far I have done pretty well.

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