During my second extended homestay with the Shinodas in the mountain village, I found it necessary to get a car for transportation, and at this point the otoosan finally decided to get his driver's license, too. He was now 55, and had always driven a motor scooter, but by this time nearly everyone in the area was driving a car. While otoosan was studying for his license virtually no other topic of conversation was heard in the house. All of us sat in the kotatsu, watching in numbing boredom as he traced and retraced practice routes on a map of his practice course at the driving school, endlessly, day after day, week after week. Clearly things had gotten out of hand.
When the otoosan finally got his license, and with it, a car, I fervently hoped that the subject of driving would cease to be the focus of the entire household. But it was not to be. Shortly after he started driving the otoosan hit a post and knocked the side mirror off his car. Then, while it was in the garage being fixed, unbeknownst to me, he borrowed my car. While driving the same route, he hit another post and knocked the mirror off my car. I was away at the time and when I returned to the house, the otoosan muttered cryptically that he had done something in driving my car and had had to buy another mirror for it. And he repeatedly pointed out that this had cost 1500 yen (about $5.00 at that time).
For the okaasan this was simply too much, and speaking privately to me in the kitchen, she commented on the otoosan's behavior: "I can't believe how puffed up and angry he is, even though he did this whole thing himself. To absolutely never admit that he's the one who's wrong and never to apologize even in the tiniest way—this is very strange behavior! It was clear that she opposed the otoosan on this issue, but it was also clear that she could not express her opposition directly to the otoosan —at least not in the way she had to me. (See Module 6.1)
Two weeks later the yooshi (adopted husband) from next door came over in the evening to escape from a difficult domestic situation—namely, his wife. He was a frequent visitor, and he and the otoosan would often use the occasion to drink sake together. This time the yooshi —named Ishihara—was, as usual, complaining about his wife's nagging, and the otoosan was going on, as usual, about his driving lessons. Someone mentioned that I had a driver's license, and the otoosan responded that this was only an international driver's license and that I was really a bad driver "Heta na unten desu yo."
Then the okaasan entered the conversation. Only now she was airing her complaints with the otoosan in an absolutely direct manner, just as she had spoken to me in the kitchen, and the list was even longer now than it had been two weeks ago. She began by stating that the otoosan was very egocentered (wagamama) and thought only about himself: "Jibun no koto kiri kangaeru hito." At this point I could not resist adding that it was strange how he smashed up my mirror and then called me a bad driver. "It certainly is," the okaasan agreed.
The okaasan proceeded on in great detail. No matter what happened, she said, the otoosan would absolutely never admit he was in the wrong—and that is the problem! She thought he should certainly have apologized when he drove my car into a post, but instead he got uppity and became angry at what he himself had done.
I realized that the forthright manner of the okaasan's complaints about the otoosan was in part because she could present them in the guise of "telling it to the yooshi " from next door. In front of a soto person, the otoosan could not respond to the okaasan in the same manner she spoke about him (that is, critically), for it was no longer the same kind of communication situation. Before the arrival of the yooshi the okaasan had had to indulge the otoosan ; now they were both uchi , indulging a soto guest. And to make the guest, who is escaping a difficult domestic situation, feel more comfortable, the okaasan was giving him an earful about the difficult domestic situation in her own household. The otoosan now had to maintain a joking good humor, in sympathy with his wife's efforts—for he was indulging the guest now too. But the okaasan had made her point. And her strategy was surprisingly effective; it brought an abrupt end to the otoosan's discussions of his driving, and complaints about the accident.