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?


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.




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?


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:


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.

 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。

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.


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:


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:


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.


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.


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.


  • “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….

  • 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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