Owing perhaps to what seems like a strong strain of introspectiveness, there are a lot of books in Japanese about what it means to be Japanese. They don’t get translated and seldom get any attention outside Japan though. Since I’m interested in both Japanese society and the language this suits me well. Anyway, I thought I’d do my part and write something about one of these books.
The book has six chapters, each chapter focusing on one particular man and his situation. Following is an outline of the chapters:
- A Guy Who Don’t Go Home? A Guy Who Can’t Go Home?
44 y.o. advertising agency worker
Started not going home just after getting married and changed jobs, because he had to work late and the commute too long. Got divorced but still maintains the mostly unused house in the suburbs, two-and-a-half hours from his workplace. Sleeps in capsule hotels and likes to go out drinking on weekdays after work. Sees his kids on the weekends but always brings them to his parents home instead of the house they grew up in. The reason why he retains the house is something of a mystery.
- A Dreamless Person Chasing Dreams
22 y.o. guy who does day jobs for dispatch companies
Came to Tokyo to get “big”, but can’t really define what that means. Won’t return home until he’s “made it” in Tokyo. Says it’s important to be independent and take care of himself but still lets his parents pay the mobile phone bill. Sleeps at net/manga cafes. Seems generally quite stupid to me but the author stresses that he is at least polite.
- Going Home Is Scary
43 y.o. salaryman
Came from the countryside and made it as a sales guy in Tokyo. Has a home in the suburbs and a family. Gets on the train home every day, but when nearing his station, feels scared and gets on to the backwards-bound train into the city again. Says he doesn’t want to ruin the perfect balance of his home, which he thinks is what would happen if he was there on weekdays, but enjoys spending perfect weekends with his wife and kids. Sleeps at capsule hotels or saunas or, to save money, at the office.
- Weekend Marriage
38 y.o. high-earning IT industry salaryman
Spends only the weekends in the house with wife and daughter. Used to rent an apartment between the office and the house, but left it after realizing it was more fun to spend the night at saunas where he could chat with others. The weekend marriage is by mutual consent with the wife, whom the author also met and interviewed. Both enjoy this lifestyle, but are prepared to change it once the kid grows up and maybe starts thinking it’s odd.
- Has Everything, No Problems
50 y.o. salaryman-turned-self-employed
Formerly a salaryman who was stationed all around the country by his company, and even in the Middle East for a few years, but grew tired of that and started his own company with a friend. Lives quite close to the office, but still started to think it’s unnecessary to go home in the evening. Enjoys the communal aspect of staying at saunas. Kid has moved out. Returns home occasionally. Wife doesn’t seem bothered.
- A Double Life
46 y.o. designer
Grew up in the sticks where everyone was expected to become a factory worker/engineer, but went to Tokyo to go into design instead. Has wife and kids, but shares an apartment with his 21 y.o. hostess girlfriend during the weeks. Wife thinks he is working hard, or at least that’s what he thinks. Loves his family and realizes this can’t go on forever. The girlfriend is also interviewed and she seems to enjoy the situation. The girlfriend is otherwise the female equivalent of the guy from chapter 2.
Matsui frequently makes a point of having interviewed many people as material for this book. I think the men that this book centers around are all quite stereotypical and easily imaginable – but all with some disturbed psychological twist in their heads. I’m not sure if that’s because he incorporates material from other interviewees into these men, thus making them somewhat generic, or because he hasn’t actually interviewed many people at all, but just invented most of it. In any case, it’s an interesting read, not an academic paper.
From my own experience, I have heard Japanese coworkers say things like “the office/train is where I can relax”, claiming their houses (with wive, kids, and parents) are stressful. It’s not uncommon for Japanese office workers to spend all night at the office – it seems to give them credibility and respect among their peers too (despite being completely unproductive the following day). This book sheds some light on why. Saunas’ communal aspect, with people napping in reclining chairs in a common area, is one thing.
The language is quite simple: Not much specialized vocabulary outside of society-related concepts such as 脱サラ (quit working as a salaryman) and プータロー (loser). Grammar is about between JLPT level 2 and level 1. The author uses quite a lot of non-general use kanji, though, as well as kanji for words usually written in hiragana, and there is almost no furigana. Not because the vocabulary requires it, but because he just likes to, I suppose. That’s good for learning a little extra that probably won’t show up on a JLPT exam.
Anyway, this is the first of Matsui’s books that I read but it is unlikely to be the last. If you don’t know who he is, he’s famous for having been homeless, but he then wrote a book about being homeless and now he’s a successful author, writing mostly about typical Japanese social phenomena.