When a First-Born Japanese Son is Unlikely to Move Overseas

Wakabayashi wedding at Imperial HotelAFWJ is the acronym for the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese, of which I’m a member, even though – as the old Woody Allen joke goes: I would never join a club that would have me as a member.

Despite my reluctance to join the AFWJ, I did finally break out of my introverted shell a few years ago when Louise, a new friend, chided me for missing out on the best part of being a foreign wife in Japan. Friendships with other foreign women. I told her that I had foreign friends and that none of them were members.  As we are both writers, Louise reassured me that the AFWJ could be a creative outlet, or whatever I wanted it to be. And so joining the AFWJ became an outlet for me to vent, ponder, kvetch and overall write about family life as the Wagamama Bride for the rather pleasant AFWJ quarterly magazine.

Occasionally I go to AFWJ meetings too and learn interesting things like the fact that the majority of us are married to the eldest sons, the chonan.

This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the eldest son-if he’s a good boy-is going to reside close to his parents, or at the very least, take care of them in old age. When they pass, he will light incense daily in the Buddhist altar and take care of the grave with monthly visits. Or he’ll consign his foreign wife to monthly graveyard duty.

So where, you may ask, are the foreign wives married to jinan, second born sons?

They’re living back in their home countries with their trailing Japanese husbands! Jinan tend to be much more flexible. They can pick up and reroot in their wives’ country and leave it to their older brothers to mind the homestead and take care of future graves. Jinan tend not to have reserved places in the family cemetery if they remain in Japan, so why not?

Marrying the Chonan And Simultaenously Going House-Hunting

We don’t like to admit it–too blunt for words. But the truth be known, the first sighting of our in-laws in their own homes offers a wake up call. For foreign wives who choose to marry the chonan, you’re looking at some day inheriting the house of  in-laws and the security that comes with living rent free for the rest of our lives. That’s the upside. The headache that comes with living in a house or a neighborhood you would never voluntarily choose to consign the rest of your life probably won’t occur to you if your are head over heals in love with your chonan.

Nobody told me that when you first set eyes on your future in-laws house, do a visualization exercise and fast-forward through the decades. Inhale the tatami flooring, see if the kitchen has 3 burners and adequate ventilation, a room with southern exposure and good sunlight pouring onto the dining room table,  or whatever it is that gives you a feeling of home. Or to ask yourself: “Can I live with this?”

If the answer was yes. Ask the question again a new way: “Can I live with this forever?”

Nobody told me to do this, and so I nurtured another fantasy. That one day, once we were married, I’d somehow convince my chonan to move away, to buy a house of our choosing, in a country of my choosing, even though it wasn’t very realistic given that Aki would remain the chief breadwinner, or the chief bread-baker, as he fancied calling himself.

If I was going to get my wish, I’d have to do so another way. In the meantime the challenge would be to relax and enjoy the life I had chosen. . .


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