I was taken into Family "K" on a homestay through an exchange program, on a paid basis. The mother owns a shop, which is located in the house. The father is a tanshinfunin (living away from the family, on a company transfer), working in a company in Niigata and returning once a month. The daughter works during the daytime and studies at the university in the evening, and the younger brother also works. I will describe the once-a-month visit when the father returns home. In this family the mother is called okaasan by all family members and the father is called otoosan.
When the otoosan comes home on his monthly visit, he arrives late in the evening around 11:00 p.m. Usually at this time the okaasan is already in bed, but on these Fridays she stays up. When he is coming, she does not show her tiredness, even when she seemed to be very tired before. She warms up dinner for him, brings it to him, asks him if he'd like to drink sake, and warms it again when it isn't the right temperature. The otoosan sits and eats and talks about his job or about various news. Mostly he talks about the latest progress in his research on three-dimensional cloth. In doing this he is smiling softly and talking in semi-polite language. He is totally dominating the topic. Sometimes he brings an omiyage (gift) from Niigata like a guest or like he is returning from a journey. We all sit around him (except for the son, who never joins the family) and listen to him.
From time to time he asks for sake or something else. The okaasan is always moving back and forth from kitchen to table. Sometimes the daughter or I am asked to help her. In between trips she sits down and listens, her eyes wide open, as she is looking admiringly at the otoosan. She makes short comments in semi-polite language. When the otoosan decides to go to bed, we all get up and go to bed.
Everyone eats breakfast when he or she gets up. But everyone will run into otoosan. During his return week-ends the otoosan seems like he is on vacation, with nothing to do. He sits in the dining room (the living-tatami room is never used by the family) all day. Sometimes he prepares the meals or cleans up the stairs. His face is always smiling. But when his daughter wants to talk about some family matters she is concerned about, he turns toward the newspaper.
We all have Saturday night dinner together. On such week-ends we have especially good dishes. The okaasan has been thinking for days what she can cook on such week-ends, whereas she usually cooks spontaneously with what she has at home. Again the okaasan is the person who listens and serves, while the otoosan starts talking on topics like golf or work. At the end the okaasan mentions some topics from the neighborhood. After dinner everyone goes off and does his or her tasks, and we enter the bath in random order.
Late Sunday afternoon the otoosan returns to Niigata, after having an early dinner, getting some meals prepared and obento (take-out lunch) wrapped to take back, and daily life with the okaasan, me, and the late-returning daughter and son starts up again.
When the father is at home he is the center of attention. The okaasan shifts between relaxation (sitting with legs up on the chair) and tension when serving. She holds her feelings back before the otoosan, while before us she does not. During the week when otoosan is absent okaasan will not try so much to supply everyone with everything. The returning otoosan is a special occasion. The otoosan is always smiling, showing only feelings of hunger, thirst, and joy. In a very sweet way he is letting himself be indulged. He keeps his feelings disciplined and he shifts between a soto role (of guest) and the uchi role of being indulged. He behaves only toward the okaasan in an uchi manner, asking for things to eat or drink. But he doesn't want to be involved with family matters and he turns to the newspaper when his daughter wants to discuss something with him. He never asks how I am doing. The only questions he asks me are informative questions about Germany. To me he shows himself as the authority figure. In his presence I feel like I am in a soto situation and treated with soto behavior.
In the presence of the otoosan, even though it is an uchi situation, the okaasan is behaving in a soto manner. She is disciplining herself, not showing her emotions, and indulging (amayakasu-ing) the otoosan.
The okaasan does not seem unhappy or stressed on such week-ends; moreover she seems to enjoy her role. What makes her expend so much effort on giving deference to (indulging) the otoosan? The reason she told me is that otoosan is stressed at work. Since he has to control himself in this soto situation, she indulges him (amayakasu) enabling intimacy for him, and giving him the feeling of home. Since the otoosan is so rarely at home, this seems to be very important for the family.
This okaasan seems to understand her role in the family much differently from Mrs. G (in Erika's First Family). When I came to Family K it was my second trip to Japan. I was already used to Japanese culture, older and no longer so shy. On the first day they told me how things should be done. They explained that they did not expect me to help with the family chores, but they did expect me to wash my own clothes and clean my room. This made me feel separated from family life, so sometimes I offered to wash the dishes. And sometimes the okaasan would allow me to do so. But often she told me that I should go and study, since this was my purpose for coming to Japan. I understood that my role is that of being an exchange student whose purpose is to study about Japan. The family provided me with what they think is material for me to study about Japan (like how to wear a kimono, about the tea ceremony and Japanese dance).
The mother pays me a lot of deference. She makes an extra western breakfast for me. When I come home from the university she serves me tea and sits beside me to chat as if she has a lot of time. In the evening she makes dinner for me and since she is recently on a diet and not eating in the evening she sits beside me and talks to me like at tea time. At first I thought her deference was like wrapping. But she is the same toward her children, especially toward her son, even more than toward me. Toward her daughter she is sometimes rather strict. If the son opens the drawer and something falls out she will rush to pick it up. When the son comes home and screams "Oi!" the okaasan comes running. He will then eat very fast, not saying anything to anyone. Soon he disappears from the room and the okaasan draws a deep breath.
The okaasan acts every day toward me and others as if she does not mind doing all this deference. Only in the evening she shows us her tiredness. Every day she is the same nice person with the same smiling face as she gives deference. However, she herself receives scarcely any deference. Sometimes from the otoosan she takes it, from her daughter she asks it, but from me she rarely accepts it.
There is a difference between her behavior towards her family members and her customers who come to the shop and to whom she offers tea. Towards these guests she speaks in very polite language and gives deference more diligently. Afterwards she reports to us that she is tired.
The shop gives the okaasan many possibilities to make close friends. When these friends come she serves them tea, and then remains sitting and talks and laughs a lot, receiving presents and favors from them. Since she is running the shop she has no time to go shopping, so her friends provide her with various materials and news. That is her chance "to be indulged" (amaeru). Her shop is her uchi and she calls the shop "watashi no heya" (my room).