At Home in Japan
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Module 7.3

Tricky Family Dynamics

Your next hurdle is to understand the relationship of okaasan with other family members, especially with otoosan. The okaasan is invariably central to your homestay success. Building a relationship with the okaasan is crucial because she is the gateway to understanding uchi– yet doing this is likely to strike at the core of your cultural assumptions. Is okaasan a slave? A superwoman? Understanding her place in the family can give you important clues about how family relationships work (which is essential to taking your relationships beyond the deference of the entry point).

1. First we will look at the okaasan's role in two families through the eyes of their homestay guests.

  • From a non-Japanese perspective, the okaasan might look subservient. Yet she is also clearly essential to these families. Is she like a servant? What basis for authority might she have?
  • Many non-Japanese guests might view the otoosan as self-centered, even domineering. How is his dependency, which might go unnoticed by the homestay guests, related to the role of the okaasan? (Module 6.2 relates to these issues as well.)



2. Now compare the above cases with the following two examples:
  • How does the okaasan in each of these families feel about accepting help from someone else?
  • In what situations does the okaasan accept help?
  • Why does the okaasan in Devita's family keep trying to do everything herself?
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Putting the pieces together. . . Reading family dynamics and understanding okaasan:
  • The okaasan has her own "sphere of competence". The okaasan and the otoosan expect one another to be the expert in their own spheres. Each expects to be indulged by the other in the context of that person's expertise. (See Module 6.1 for more on these issues.)
  • "Helping"okaasan is, therefore, trickier than it might seem at first glance, since her authority in the family is related to her demonstrating her expertise.
  • Properly running a home is considered to be a job for an expert and is therefore worthy of respect. It is acceptable to "lean on" the expert.

  • The trick is to determine when one is leaning on the expert as opposed to being wrapped as a guest.

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