The Japanese Extended Family

By Donald Ash | Articles

Let’s start off with what an extended family is:

Extended Family: A family consisting of the nuclear family and their blood relatives.

Members of one of my favorite extended families in Japan

In the United States, it is often frowned upon to still be living with your parents once college is finished. With the downturn in the economy, of course, there have been many exceptions to that rule. Jobs may be a bit harder to come by these days if you didn’t have one of the more lucrative specialties (pre-law, pre-med, etc.). As a result, more and more “children” are forced to eat a humble pie and move back in with mom and dad. I definitely know the feeling. Without going into specifics (and embarrassing myself), I was a late bloomer as far as moving out concerned. I have always had steady work, but I was slow to make that move. Economic instability may be considered a special, extenuating circumstance in the United States. However, when the economy is strong and jobs are readily available, fewer and fewer Americans stay home with their parents. In Japan, though, I have been very surprised at how different the culture is.

I can instantly think of three different cases, where a Japanese woman is a full-adult (25 or older) but lives in her parents’ home with their grandparents. In the first case, the woman is a nurse in her late twenties but currently single, her family owns a farm, and a house that has been in her family for over 100 years. Her grandmother is still living, and stays in the same home. Another instance is a teacher in her mid-thirties who lives with her mother and grandparents. The final case is a single, nursery-school teacher in her early forties who lives at home with her parents and grandparents as well. To be honest, I could probably give about ten more examples, but you get the idea.

What did you notice about the three cases that I just mentioned? Well for starters, all three of the cases were women. To be honest, it’s not nearly as common to see an adult, Japanese male living at home with his parents if he has a job. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, because I’m sure it does, but I haven’t met many men in this area who were still living with their parents (unless they own the home themselves and take care of their parents). The other major similarity among my examples was that all of the women were single. I have seen it time and time again, here in Tsukuba. There is a woman who has been single for quite some time, and just lives with her parents. I actually have a couple of co-workers who have been teaching for 4 years or more, but still live with their parents…and guess what? They’re all single women. I think it’s safe to say that for women in relationship limbo who haven’t found a husband or a potential husband it’s completely okay to live at home. It’s hard to say whether the reasons for these customs are financial, personal preferences, traditions, or recent phenomenon…but they happen.

It’s quite fascinating to me to hear some of my students who talk about the lack of privacy, or sometimes being irritated by their parents. I had student the other day whose mom still tells her when to get up and to clean up her room. I truly didn’t like living my parents as an adult. I like making my own rules, handling my own problems, my own bills…living my own life. Having my parents on my case about cleaning my room would really drop my self-esteem and self-respect a couple of notches.

Living with your parents and grandparents can be a hassle if you want privacy and if you want freedom, but what are the good things about having an extended family? Well, I think the major benefit is that the family unit is closer. I would think nuclear families spend alot more time together (you kind of have no choice, right?). Financially, I think it’s a huge benefit. Many of the same women who are single and living at home have loads of additional cash to take trips abroad or to buy things they want/need. In every one of the examples above, the woman has traveled to another country within the last four months…every single one! It makes perfect sense. If they’re living with their parents, most likely, there is no rent or expenses to pay.

In the end, there are pros and cons to having a large, extended family under one roof. In general, though, the family unit in Japan is extremely important, and the nuclear family is a way to maintain the all-important family bond.

What do you think? Is an extended family under one roof a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Emma


    • Donald Ash

      THANKS, Emma.

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