Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, July 21, 2008

When Crisis Turns to Soap Opera...

A couple of days ago the uncle who renovated our house last year arrived, his stated plan being to stay with us until work back home in Hokkaido summoned him away again. Meanwhile, he would help out with the house and yard work. He didn't waste any time, either. The next day (i.e. yesterday) he was up almost at the crack of dawn, calling me to come out and assist him outside in the yard. By the time the day was halfway over a wide swath of the front garden was pruned, a huge pile of rubbish was burned and/or hauled away, a whole grove of trees was trimmed down to size, my arms and neck were the color of well-cooked salmon (Lovely UV rays this time of year!), and the expected guests showed up.

Yes, the guests. Yesterday a group of relatives, specifically two of my father-in-law's cousins and the doctor/university professor husband of one of them, arrived here at the Homestead. The stated plan was for them just to stay long enough for a cup of tea and small talk before loading up in their expensive Mercedes and continuing on over to Hokota to visit my mother-in-law in the hospital.

Imagine our surprise when they suddenly changed clothes and went to work cleaning up the in-laws' house. I mean they REALLY socked it to the place. Father-in-law was surprised, but he quickly got into the swing of things. So did the uncle, who once again wasted no time in issuing orders at me, as well. By the time we were done the front rooms and entrances of the in-laws' place were spotlessly clean, furniture rearranged into a pattern that actually made sense, and a mountain of inexplicable trash (not to mention a mountain of dust twice as big) hauled off. They even had a new carpet in the living room.

Naturally, my mother-in-law was tickled pink when she heard the news.


She was furious. So was my wife. She apparently phoned her father several times begging him to make the relatives stop, but he wouldn't. He was touched by the generosity of his cousins, who were apparently observing a tradition from their home prefecture (Iwate), anyway. Both of the ladies of our Homestead, however, were feeling insulted as their enormous prides couldn't allow that sort of assistance.

That was just the beginning.

Over the past week I tried, as surreptitiously as possible, to outfit my kids for the inevitable funeral. I had terrible luck. My daughter was easy. My son was not. Unfortunately, between the constant guzzling of juice (when I'm not looking, since I quickly stop it) and frequent trips to McDonald's with his grandfather, he has developed a beerless beer gut. And unfortunately, even despite rising obesity among Japanese children nowadays, makers of children's clothing here in the Land of the Bloating Gut are stuck in the "one size fits none" point of view with anything other than shorts and sports wear. Had I been looking for something for him to wear at a picnic it would have been simple. However, I was looking for plain, black slacks, and no one had anything even remotely feasible. I finally ended up having to go all the way to the Aeon Shopping Mall down in Narita to get something that he could actually get around his belly, but I still had to have them hemmed up. That necessitated a return trip to pick them up, and therein lay the problem.

You see, I was able to bullshit my way around during my first shopping trips. However, with all the recent activity at home, it was hard for me to get away. I finally had to tell my father-in-law directly, without revealing too much, that I had to take about an hour away so I could run to Narita and get something I'd ordered for my son. I'd hoped that would be that.

"Great idea!" replied my father-in-law. "In fact, why don't we ALL go together?"

I tried and failed to dissuade him, and I have a feeling he had an ulterior motive. You see, my wife and I often take the kids and go down to Aeon Shopping Mall when we're able to scrounge up some free time on weekends. I also go there a lot because there are shops there, such as the musical instrument and import goods shops, that we don't have close to home. FIL has often complained about our trips there, demanding that we do all our shopping at the local supermarket instead. I have a feeling that he wanted to take this opportunity and spy on me, hoping to find some new argument against our going there in the future. (His constant statements like, "Things like that are cheaper at the store down the street," and "I can get you discounts on that sort of thing back home," lend evidence to that theory.) At any rate, all the time we were at the shopping mall he basically hovered over me, looking over my shoulder at everything I did. There was no way I could hide the fact that I was picking up plain, black slacks for my son...slacks whose purpose was painfully obvious.

"You could've gotten those at the Aoyama Men's Wear back home!" he remarked. I then took great pleasure in the irony of informing him that these slacks were the same thing, only much cheaper...and guaranteed to fit. That shut him up.

But it didn't shut him up enough. You see, after we got back home, he headed off to the hospital to relieve my wife in the care of her mother. The first thing he did when he arrived was inform my MIL that we had gone to Aeon Shopping buy formal, black slacks for my son.

He may as well have said, "Okay, we're ready for your funeral. You can die now."

After my wife came home, when she finally stopped screaming at me, she said her mother's morale level took a quick, chronic plunge after hearing that. She's apparently still stressed out about all the kind help we received from the relatives yesterday, too. As far as MIL's condition is concerned, she has dropped several levels in one fell swoop.

You know the old adage, "The road to ruin is paved with good intentions"? Well...

In other news, the lilies and gladiolas are starting to bloom in the garden. Maybe I'll post a pic if I find the time to take one...and don't collapse from stress and/or heat exhaustion in the meantime.


  • FIL was not using his best judgment, but I think the lesson here is to wait until the passing to buy the funeral clothes because information security is impossible to assess in a family.

    Now you've got a mess to deal with. MIL is the important one here. You will have to judge what the best course is for her sake.

    (Fair warning: if I am dying and someone buys funeral clothes prematurely, I will have my henchmen deal with you).

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:49 AM  

  • FIL's judgment has often tended to be very suspect, especially with regard to others' feelings.

    I think the lesson here is to wait until the passing to buy the funeral clothes because information security is impossible to assess in a family.

    Here in Japan the battery (and I DO mean "battery") of funeral-related events starts almost immediately after death, so there's virtually no time to prepare. That's why we opted to get it done now. The reaction of the stores underscored this; they all assumed we needed the clothing sized and finished within the day if not the hour as a matter of urgency. My comment of "I'll pick it up tomorrow" raised some eyebrows.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:10 AM  

  • That makes more sense now. I will have my henchmen stand down.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 5:08 AM  

  • It wasn't a mistake to be prepared. It was probably FIL's mistake to mention it to his wife. So don't blame yourself.

    Paving a road with good intentions implies that the road was a little bumpy to begin with.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 7:46 AM  

  • Take deep breath, ok....

    By Blogger Selba, at 10:05 AM  

  • Don

    Yes, it was the sort of mistake I would never think even he would make, but you know...

    I guess the question is which was worse, the original bumps, or where the road wound up.

    Feel free to slap me again, if you like.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:01 PM  

  • Poor MM. I'm sorry about the drama that's built up over the past days. Hang in there, friend. I'm wishing you well.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:50 AM  

  • Oh, the neverending dance with the in laws.

    If you can take a moment to yourself I think you need to put some music on and sit amongst the lilies and gladioli, and smell some roses if you have any.

    Chill time, Minstrel. And more good wishes your way.a

    By Blogger Olivia, at 2:34 PM  

  • 1) my love and support are with you and your family. Though often silent, they are always present. Always.

    2) while it doesn't address the pain of receiving verbal anger from your partner, I am in agreement that your FIL was the perpetrator of destruction in this particular situation. It began when he insisted on involving himself in your business and culminated when he insisted on informing your MIL about it. It's certainly not out of character. It's just tragic for your MIL and everyone else. You did the best you could reasonably do with the circumstances you were handed, it sounds like, and I support you.

    3) losing family never leaves any person feeling reasonable, of course. All those who are choosing negative actions are choosing them through pain. This comment is intended as judgment-free support for your soul and includes love for all of the wounded.

    Thanks for the keeping me posted, friend. You are in my healing meditations. :)

    Birdie :>

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:43 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger DewKid, at 5:51 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger DewKid, at 5:58 AM  

  • wow, what a weekend..

    especially with in-laws and out-laws.

    By Blogger Robin, at 10:58 AM  

  • The things you put up with.

    Just say no to tag along in-laws should be in the rules to live by.

    Alternate suggestion: mail order clothes - don't like it? doesn't fit? send it back. No one looking over your shoulder. (I realize that ruins the fun of driving your BLUE RAV4 to Narita - trade off).

    I sincerely hope your MIL's passing is peaceful and leaves no one with any regrets. Keep a cool head. This will affect the family dynamics in many ways forever more.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:11 PM  

  • i left my earlier comment on the wrong post... but i agree w/ your buying the clothes early... never knowing what would happen. when i read that you took your son to get the pants and such, i saw nothing wrong w/ it... but hey, i'm not used to the culture there and would make many fupahs (how is that word spelled anyhow??) :)

    i haven't read the first post yet.. but i do hope your tensions have eased and things are going well at your house w/ all the guests and such.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 1:45 AM  

  • not sure which post it is, but i wanted to comment on the sunset you saw and the feeling you got ... i think it was your MIL and what a beautiful way for her to say her goodbye's to you... i think it's very touching and i'm glad you had that opportunity to see such beauty and to feel her near you.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 1:08 AM  

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