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Japan: When Your Wife is Sick

When Japanese “corporate livestock” (社蓄 shachiku) culture and values on marriage collide – more than 300 people responded to this question on the mega forum Hatsugen Komachi: Should a husband take time off work when his wife is sick?

Situation

Rina has been married for 8 years and has a daughter in the third grade. She is getting divorced and recounts an early episode in her marriage that has stuck in her mind since then.

When their daughter was a baby, Rina became very run down from sleep deprivation due to her night crying. She fell sick with a high fever and wasn't in a state to take care of their baby girl but her husband refused to take paid leave or come home earlier than usual. Rina was extremely disappointed that he didn't even call. It took two months for her condition to improve and she can't forget how her husband didn't help out at all.

Question

ここういう状態の場合、会社を休めないまでもせめて定時で帰ってきてほしいというのはわがままでしょうか。

みなさんのご家庭はどうですか?妻が病気の時、夫は会社を休んで子供の世話をしてくれますか?また、会社で「妻が病気だから」と言って休んでいる人をどう思いますか?

In a situation like this, is it selfish of me to want my husband to at least come home without putting in overtime, if not take the day off?

What about your families? Does your husband take the day off from work to take care of the kids when the wife is sick? Are there people at your companies that take the day off because their wife is sick?

Responses

Right away, many veteran mothers righteously posted stories of the times that they were sick and still dragged themselves out of bed to take care of themselves and their children without any help from their husbands – not that they expected or wanted help from them.

‘Married with two children’ said:

インフルエンザで寝込んでいるときも、40度の熱が三日間下がらない時も、一週間38度から熱が下がらずいた時も夫に休んで欲しいと思ったことはありませんでした。夫の職種が営業だったので客先と約束があれば休めないのも仕方がないし、客先と急に約束が入ったら帰れないのも仕方がないので。会社に勤めてお給料を頂いている以上会社に損害を与えるような休暇をとれないのは当たり前。
トピ主様のご主人の業種がわかりませんが当人の体調不良と家族の体調不良はまた別でしょう。夫の風邪を理由に仕事を休む妻というのもありえないと思いますがどう思いますか?

Even when I was in bed with influenza, or had a 40 degrees temperature for three days straight, or 38 degrees for an entire week, it never crossed my mind to want my husband to stay home. He is in sales so he has to meet clients and late nights can't be helped if there's an emergency.

It's obvious to me that if a person receives a salary, they can't take days off that will impact negatively on the company. I'm not sure what your husband does, but him being sick and a family member being sick are two different things. I can't believe that there's a wife that wants her husband to stay home just because she's sick. What do you think?

Miri says you must consider your husband's reputation.

旦那さんのお仕事の形態にもよると思いますが、急なお休みは周りにとても迷惑をかける事となります。それに自分(妻)の管理が出来ていない事で夫の会社に迷惑をかけるなぞ夫の評価を下げる事と思って居ます。
妻が病気(入院する様な病気以外)夫が会社休むは普通とは思えません。ヘルパーさん頼むとか考えます。

It depends on what kind of job your husband has, but suddenly taking days off usually creates a lot of trouble for that person's colleagues and clients. Your lack of (health) management is damaging your husband's reputation by creating trouble for his company. I don't think it's normal for a husband to take a day off from work because his wife is sick, unless it requires a hospital stay. I would consider hiring a nurse or caretaker.

Teardrop recalls a similar experience. Her husband went off to drink with his work buddies when she was sick, resulting in a huge fight.

でももっとびっくりしたのはこの話をした時の女性達の反応!「そんなことで・・・。」という反応なんですよね。ウチなんてもっとひどいわよ~って。
妻たちはみんなこういう仕打ちに慣れてしまって、感覚がマヒしてしまっているんだなぁって、悲しく思ったことを覚えています。
でもあれから数年・・・完全に私もマヒしてます。

What surprised me the more [than the fact that he went drinking] was the reactions of my female friends! They said “You're angry just because of that? I have it much worse!” I remember thinking how sad it was that the wives are so used to this bad treatment that their senses have been dulled.
It's been a few years since then…. and my senses have dulled completely.

Kanon says her husband shows his love in a different way.

夫の会社の激務や夫の社内での立場を思えば「体調悪いから帰ってきて!」とは言えません。私の体調の悪い時に夕飯を外で済ませてきてくれる。駅の自販機でポカリを買ってきてくれる。私にはそれだけで十分に優しい夫です。

Thinking about the sheer amount of work that my husband does and his standing in the company, I just can't say “Please come home early because I don't feel well!”. When I'm sick, he eats dinner at a restaurant. He buys me a can of sports drink from a vending machine at the station. To me, he's a caring husband for doing these things.

‘Kengyo-shufu’ (Working housewife) said:

ちゃんと仕事をしたことないから言える言葉だと思います。
ご主人だって休みたいんだと思います。でも休めないんですよ。自分が体調悪くて休むのは周りに風邪をうつしてはいけないとかそういったことではないですか?
簡単に休めないという現在の多くの日本の企業が問題だと思いますが休めないのが現実です。

These are the words of someone who has never really worked. I think your husband wants to stay home, but he can't.
That employees have a hard time taking days off is a problem at many Japanese corporations, but the reality is that they just can't take time off.

Some are sympathetic, like nabe.

リナさんの言うことは正しいです。全然わがままではありません。
 私はもちろん休んでいます。 […] 妻が病気になっても働く時代は終わってます。
二人で力を合わせて生活守って時代です

Rina, what you're saying is correct. It's not selfish at all! I take days off when my wife is sick. […] The age where men leave their sick wives to go to work is over. Now, we must join forces and protect our livelihoods.

Pochi is surprised at how harsh everybody is, and sarcastically asks if they work 15-16 hours each day of the year.

家族がせっぱつまった状態のときに、仕事のほうがどうにか都合がつきそうだったら、少々遅刻して病院につれていくとか、コンビニで食料を調達するとか、残業はせずに急いで帰ってくるとかするのは社会人失格?頭から「休めるわけない!!」と決めつけるのは、ストイックな姿を会社の人に見せたいから?自分の楽しみのために有給をとることもあるでしょう。(有給をとって友人とゴルフにいく上司をなんども見てます)

If I take a family member to the hospital and come in a few hours late, buy food from the convenience store, or hurry home without doing overtime when the situation permits, does this mean I'm not a proper member of society? Are you prematurely declaring that “There's no way I can take the day off!” because you want to show how stoic you are to your colleagues?
People take paid leave for enjoyment, right? (I've seen bosses take paid leave to go golfing with friends many times.)

Tokumei says it depends on how sick you are and goes on to say:

結婚生活を快適に過ごすこつは、お互いに相手に期待しないことではないかともうすぐ銀婚式の私は思っています。期待すると裏切られたと思うし、期待しなければ些細な優しさもありがたく感じられます。再婚の際の参考までに

I'll be celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary soon and I can tell you that the key to a comfortable married life is not to expect much from each other. If you don't expect it, any small act of kindness will please you. Just some advice for when you get re-married.

This is Echika's advice:

うちの会社の場合、男性が家庭の事情で会社を休むと、上司はあまりよく言いません。なので、私も自分の体調不良と偽って休暇をとり、妻の看病をしました。

My boss doesn't think highly of men taking days off for family matters. What I do is tell the company that I'm sick myself and stay home to take care of my wife.

‘Usuaji’ says that this would be impossible at his/her company.

でも、文句を言い続けて一生夫婦であり続けることよりも、離婚と言う手段を選んだトピ主さんの勇気は素晴らしいと思います。

All in all, I applaud your courage of choosing divorce, rather than spending the rest of your life with your husband complaining.

Nya says it can be bothersome but men are not good at guessing what women want, unless it's spelled out.

妻が病気の時、「食事を作るのは難しいだろうから、外食して帰るよ」という夫さん、よくいますよ。高熱で起きられない妻の食事は??思いつきません。面倒だけど「作れないのでコレコレを買ってきて(何か買ってとまかせると、こってりしたコンビニ弁当とか買ってきてしまう)」

There are many husbands that will say “I'll eat dinner before coming home because it must be difficult for you to cook”. It doesn't occur to them that the wife with the high temperature also needs to eat. It's a bother but you have to say “I can't cook today so please buy by this and this for me”. If you leave it up to them, they'll get a greasy convenience store lunchbox or something.

It must be noted that Hatsugen Komachi is very female oriented or even housewife oriented. An interesting tangent to this story is that reactions from Hatena, a much more male oriented community, was totally different (There is no job in the world that's more important than the health of myself or my family. 自分、もしくは家族の健康にも優先する仕事なんてこの世に一つもない。) as was the discussion on the professional SNS LinkedIn (login required: Japanese Businesspeople Even Sacrifice His & Her Families) but that's a story for another day.

10 comments

  • “It’s a bother but you have to say ‘I can’t cook today so please buy by this and this for me’. ”

    Funny, it doesn’t even cross her mind to say ‘I can’t cook today so *could you cook instead*?’.

    • Nah, he might set the kitchen on fire.

      My guess is that she would rather he not attempt to cook because she would have to clean up the mess in the kitchen after she’s recovered.

      • True, but it just seems strange to me that buying something and bringing it home is the goal. Shouldn’t that be the baseline?

        I really don’t think this is about male/female roles, it’s about common sense: someone is sick and can’t cook, so you (as their life partner/parent) should at minimum bring them what they need to survive. The company can get one of those slackers sleeping at their desks to fill in for you on the 9-12 shift.

        • If some husbands/wives have seemingly illogical definitions of “pitching in” but those align with that of their partner’s, I guess that’s all there is to it.

          This reminds me of something I read in a book by astronaut Chiaki Mukai’s husband (君について行こう). When she was in the States for intensive pre-launch training and her husband came over for a couple of weeks, their American friends said to her “Great, you can use some help!” and the Japanese friends said “大変ね、こんな忙しい時期に!In a busy time like this, you have to take care of your husband on top of everything!”.

  • Japan: When Your Wife is Sick…

    Advice from fellow housewives about whether one should ask your husband to look after you when ill….

  • […] here to see the responses via Global Voices […]

  • JeanRae

    I had something like this happen to me last week. I didn’t want my husband to stay home from work when I was sick last week, but I did want some babying.
    He didn’t want to give me money for food to be delivered and he didn’t have time to make me food before leaving to work. So I cooked for myself. When he got home I was still ill and he wanted me to clean my dinner mess up. I said I was still feeling bad. He then went to say “if you well enough to cook your well enough to clean”.
    I just don’t get it. If men get sick, us as wife’s have to drop everything we’re doing for days and when we get sick we cant even get a good hot meal with no string attached from our husbands?

  • MC Okii Dokii

    I feel sorry for the soon to be ex-husband. All he had to show was some TLC.

  • angell

    I think, if the wife is sick, she may go to a doc for consultation and buy meds. If the doc says she must be confined at the hospital, off she can go. Husband just have to visit, nurses care for her anyway. If the illness is severe, that’s the time that the husband has to be concerned. Culture differs in every country. If you have kind relatives who can help, good. Ready-made foods can be trusted more than cooking in time of illness. How about hiring a house helper for a day, instead of letting the husband cut an important transaction?

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